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Head of Polyphemos

about 150 B.C. or later


Dimensions

Height: 38.3 cm (15 1/16 in.)

Accession Number

63.120

Medium or Technique

Marble, Dolomitic from the Greek island of Thasos

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

This head comes from a group, probably of the blinding of Polyphemos, similar to that constructed from fragments found in the grotto at Sperlonga, along the Italian coast southwest of Rome. Polyphemos is based, in details of hair and beard, on a Pergamene centaur. The sculptor was wise in rejecting the older tradition, one seen in Hellenistic terracottas, of showing the monstrous giant as a kind of fat-faced baboon, with large ears and his eye set like a beacon light in the middle of his forehead. Here the rugged, animal power of the creature has been stressed.
Broken off through the neck and the lower whiskers, the head is in relatively excellent condition, save for the damage to the beard below the mouth. The marble has a yellow-buff tone.

This is the head of the one-eyed, man-eating Cyclops whom Odysseus finally outwitted and blinded. Here the monster is in a peaceful mood, either waiting to receive the cup of wine offered him by Odysseus, or, more likely, gazing love-struck at the indifferent sea nymph Galatea. The head comes from a sculptural group that might have adorned a public fountain or a luxurious seaside villa. The type originated in the second century B.C., yet the lively and direct style of this piece makes difficult to judge whether it is a contemporary variant or a Roman copy.

Scientific Analysis:
Marble has been scientifically tested with X-Ray Diffraction and determined to be Dolomitic.
Harvard Lab No. HI363: Isotope ratios - delta13C +3.85 / delta18O -3.03, Attribution - Thasos-Cape Vathy, Justification - Dolomitic by XRD.

Provenance

By date unknown: R. L. Ashman Collection; by 1957: with Hesperia Art, 2219 St. James Place, Philadelphia 3, Pa.; purchased by MFA from Hesperia Art, February 13, 1963.

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated in honor of Edward W. Forbes