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Friday, April 17, 2015

The Pasiphae Mosaic in Zeugma (Turkey)

This extraordinary mosaic covers close to 800 Square feet of the floor of a huge meeting hall of a Roman Villa from Zeugma (Turkey).

It represents the myth of Queen Pasiphaé (sitting on her throne).

The Greek version of the myth goes like that (please keep in mind that the Greeks did not really like the Minoans, and were a very patriarchical culture) : Pasiphae - Sister of the beautiful and wicked Enchanteress Circe (who once had changed Odysseus comrades into hogs) - had been given as spouse to King of Crete Minos.  

For some obscure reason - either her or Minos had pissed him off - Poseidon curse the Queen to fall in lust with a White Bull belonging to the King.

The Queen hired the King's Engineer in Chief Daedalus to assist in her endeavour to be coupled to the Bull. With the help of his son and apprentice Icarus, Daedalos built a hollow wooden cow, wrapped in a bovine skin and endowed with mechanical life. Hiding inside this contraption the Queen was able to copulate with the Bull. From their unusual union she conceived and bore the hybrid bull-headed child Asterion, also called Minotauros by the Greeks.
Pasiphae & the Minotaur, Apulian red-figure kylix
4th B.C., Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

In the emblema of the mosaic pavement Pasiphae (ΦACIΦAH), an unidentified maiden and her Nanny - Trophos (TPOΦOC) watch as Daedalus (ΔΕɅɅΟC) and his son Icarus (ΕIKAPOC) with his woodworking tools are building the wooden cow. 

The same myth was represented in a fresco from the Casa dei Vettii in Pompeii. It is very interesting to note that the 5 same persons are represented, and above all, that the Queen is posing in almost the same posture and outfit in the fresco and mosaic.

300 years separate the 2 pieces... The fresco was likely realized during the 1st century AD (Pompeii was destroyed in 79 AD), and most of the Zeugma mosaics were laid during the 2nd century BC. 

Were there patterns or workbooks of mythical representations that master craftmen were passing to each other ?

The Zeugma Mosaics  can be seen at the Gaziantep Archaeology Museum in Turkey.

I am a modern mosaic artist with a deep admiration for ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Arts. I share my passion in my newsletter, as well as the work of other more modern mosaicists working with traditional or non-traditional media. You can see my own mosaics on my site at mosaicblues  If you are interested by my work or would like to drop me a line please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639. 

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your informative post. I love ancient mosaic!