Myths + Heroes

Cincinnati Art Museum Teacher Resource. Myths + Heroes will introduce viewers to a variety of mythological stories and folklore from across the globe.

The falcon-headed deity represents the soul of Pe Dep, the double mounds of the city of Buto in Northern Egypt. This represents the souls of the ancient pre-dynastic rulers of Lower (Northern) Egypt from whom the kings of Egypt were descended. The Soul of Pe is complimented by its counterpart in southern/Upper Egypt, the Soul of Nekhen, represented by a jackal-headed god. What does a raised fist represent today? Do you think there are any parallels?
The myth of the Roman deity Mithras does not survive in its entirety in any written documents. Our only knowledge of this figure comes from reliefs such as this one and mentions in other literary texts. Temples dedicated to Mithras were always underground and all featured a relief of Mithras killing the bull, known as the "tauroctony." Why would killing a bull be seen as an important feat?
The Gulistan of Sa’di was written in 1259 AD, is a collection of poems and stories, intended as a source of wisdom. This story is from Chapter 3, Story 24. "Moral: A fisherman cannot catch a fish in the Tigris without a day of luck and a fish cannot die on dry ground without the decree of fate.” Is there another modern proverb you can think of involving fish?
From the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Samuel, the story is told as the Israelites are battling the Philistines, victory to be determined by a single one-on-one combat. While the vulnerable Israelites are scared, David accepts the challenge with only his slingshot and stones from the nearby brook. The great (in strength and height) Philistine warrior, Goliath, is taken down by a single shot to his forehead by David, who subsequently beheads the giant. The story is said to assert David’s righteous place as the true king of Israel while defeating the godlessness of the Philistines. What symbols do you see in this painting?
In Roman mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, affection and attraction. He is the son of Venus, goddess of love and Mars (pictured here), god of war. Mars is identified by his helmet, sword and shield, symbolic of his warrior status. Cupid, often seen as a symbol of love, is distinguished by his chubby physique, wings and the heart grasped in his hand, soon to be pierced by his arrow. The arrow was seen as Cupid’s source of power, for it was the instrument by which unsuspecting individuals were pierced, literally struck with desire. What iconographic elements would be included in a portrait of you?
This mythological story originates in Ovid’s book of poetry, Metamorphoses. Jupiter (king of the gods), bore a child (Bacchus) with his mistress, princess Semele. Understandably, Jupiter’s wife, Juno, went into a rage. To keep his infant son safe, Jupiter sent Mercury (messenger of the gods), to deliver Bacchus to the nymphs for safekeeping. Bacchus later becomes known as the Greek god of wine, indulgence and ecstasy. What do you see that may allude to Bacchus’ future role?
Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, indulgence, intoxication and ecstasy; the Romans later identified this god as Bacchus. He is often represented by grape leaves, wine goblets and figs. Followers of Bacchus were labeled “bacchants,” a group whose feverish dancing to loud music was intended to transport them from their earthly bodies to an other-worldly state in which they were able to communicate directly with Bacchus, glimpsing at what could one day be their lavish afterlife. How does the body language of these figures relate to the cult of Bacchus?
Irish mythology attributes the deity Canola with the invention of the harp. Following an argument with her lover, Canola retreated to the beach, where she became entranced by music nearby and fell asleep. When she awoke in the morning, she discovered the sound had come from the wind passing through the remnants of a whale carcass. She designed the harp to emulate this enchanting sound, an instrument which would eventually become a symbol of Ireland and its people. In this allegorical painting, Ireland is symbolized by “Erin,” a beautiful young woman with shamrocks in her hair, who is chained to the unyielding rock that is England, longing for her freedom. Challenge: discover Irish folksongs on the subject of freedom via YouTube.
Maria Longworth Nichols Storer’s longtime rival, Mary Louise McLaughlin, called her largest vessel to-date the Ali Baba Vase after the jar that held the forty thieves in the book Arabian Nights. Maria’s response was this Aladdin Vase. "Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" were both taken from the Arabic book, One Thousand and One Nights (better known as Arabian Nights), composed during the Islamic Golden Age (mid-8th century – 13th century) and translated into English in the 18th century. Both stories feature fantastical tales of adventure, revenge, magic, secrets and treasure.
The Queen of Sheba is mentioned in several cultural texts under a variety of names – Sheba (Hebrew); Balqis, Bilqis or Bilquis (Arabic); Makeda (Ethiopian); Oloye Bilikisu Sungbo (Nigerian). These varied accounts describe her interaction with King Solomon of Israel who was believed to be a man of great wisdom. Sheba was inspired by Solomon’s wisdom and travelled to Israel from her African kingdom to meet with him (the two are pictured seated beside one another here). Ethiopians believe the Queen returned to Ethiopia expecting a child (believed to be conceived by King Solomon). Her son, Menelik was the first in a long, unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs.
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