Head of Polyphemos
Greek or Roman
about 150 B.C. or later
Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 105; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 109 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 068-069.
Height: 38.3 cm (15 1/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Marble, Dolomitic from the Greek island of Thasos
Krupp Gallery (Gallery 215A)
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.
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.
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.
Museum purchase with funds donated in honor of Edward W. Forbes