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Art in Cultural Context
Cybele is an ancient figure who represented the mother goddess and in her was granted the ability to create and populate the world according to her desires. She was both the most powerful of the gods and also an amalgamation of the most powerful of the goddesses. In both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, cults which worshipped Cybele were established and elaborate temples were constructed in her honor which lasted throughout centuries. The woman was not just another goddess in the pantheon of deities established by the ancient empires, but was a uniquely powerful entity that people would worship and pray to in times of difficulty and suffering. She had within her the powers of many of the goddesses, including the Earth goddess Gaia, the Minoan goddess Rhea, and the goddess of the harvest Demeter, taking the role of each of these mythological mothers. So strong was she that in order to create the pantheon of Olympians, the Greeks separated the powers into various women rather than have any singular female be more powerful than the male gods. Her position was so strong in the belief structure of the people of the time that she was called by such names as "The Mother of All" and "The Great Mother of the Gods." These are just a few of her many titles and names. This paper will examine the statue entitled "Bronze Statuette of Cybele on a Cart Drawn by Lions," specifically focusing on the symbolism towards a greater understanding of the Roman people and their system of beliefs.
Cybele was worshipped in the Anatolian region of the world during the time of the Second Punic War in approximately 205 AD (Scullard 2003,-page 10). This was the part of the world which had been part of the Greek and then the Roman Empire which was then rebuilt after Christianity developed throughout the region and took over as the predominant religion of the world. Even when other gods and goddesses where introduced, cultists still worshipped Cybele, their mother goddess, above all others. However, because of the conflicts present in a society torn between ancient religions and an emerging new one, those who worshipped Cybele were subject to a very strict code of conduct and acceptable behaviors, particularly in terms of the clergy. Her popularity continued well into the period where the ancient religions and polytheistic beliefs gave way to the rise of Christianity following the death of Jesus Christ. Even in times when Christianity and the Papacy were the most important religious organizations in the world, there were still those who worshipped Cybele (Roman 2011,-page 107). In the period of the Second Punic War, the Romans did not seem to be winning the day. After consulting their means of prognostication, the Sibyline Books, they determined that they needed to recommit themselves to the ancient way, reinvigorating the belief in the mother goddess who existed long before the established Roman religion. During the invasion of Hannibal, the Romans' prophets told the leaders that Hannibal would be expelled from the Roman land if the "Idaean Mother" were brought from the ancient and into Rome. With her must be brought a symbolic stone which allegedly fell from Heaven and must be honored just as much as the goddess herself was worshipped. The cult of Cybele was a very important one to the people of Rome as indicated by the elaborate means by which the population went about honoring even the statue of the goddess. As quoted in The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Professor Furtwangler stated that this pose had to do with the pageantry of the Roman age. He says, "Noisy processions with the image of the goddess played an important part in the worship of Cybele. In Rome her statue was carried out of the city on a car in a great procession, and bathed in the Almo, then brought back, also on the car" (Metropolitan 1943,-page 145). Each year at the celebration of the goddess, her statue would be taken and ritualistically bathed to celebrate her gifts. This fact alone illustrates the importance of the goddess herself because even the care of an idol made to represent the goddess had to be precise and perfect.
Cybele was most noted as a goddess of ancient fertility. She was known as an embodiment of ancient fertility rites and is often shown with fruit; this association seems to be missing from the artwork that is featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The work of art discussed here is a piece called "Bronze Statuette of Cybele on a Cart Drawn by Lions." This particular piece is mostly a replica of a statuette that was damaged beyond repair long ago. The original piece was created in Rome during the second half of the second century AD. In one hand of Cybele is a patera or libation bowl. The patera was a shallow bowl most often made of earthenware or metal which was used by both the Greek and Roman cultures in performing ritual sacrifices and in imbibing libations, or drink (British 2003). In her left hand, she holds a tympanum or drum. According to archaeologists, "the tympanum was a round, shallow, hand-held drum with a wooden or metal rim around which as stretched oxhide, on which a player beat with open palm or stick" (Tympanum 2012). Cybele is very often shown wearing a crown on her head which resembles turreted walls which is representative of her servitude to her people and her vows to protect them (Roman 2011,-page 108). Such a crown is shown in this statuary. It is impossible to ascertain the importance or majesty of the throne which was designed for Cybele because it has been lost to time. In its place is a very bare pedestal which was added to the piece in the 19th century. This is also true of the chariot in which she rode which has also been lost to time. Physically, the female figure appears highly empowered. She sits atop her cart like the queen she is, ruling over everything that she sees. Cybele has holes in her ears but there are no visible earrings. It is possible that these were a valuable material that was taken at some point in time or that they were of a weak material and thus not as able to survive the centuries as the bronze statue itself (Thompson 2007,-page 108). Upon close examination one cannot help noticing that although the facial features are delicate and womanly and the feet just barely appear from beneath the robes of the queen, her hands are large and almost mannish in appearance. There are two possible reasons for this discrepancy between the hands and the other physical features. Either this indicates to those who might wrong the queen or her people that although she is a woman, she can defend like a warrior or it is simply a flaw on behalf of the artisan that is taken too much into consideration.
Usually in artworks which depict Cybele, the loyal lions will be seen flanking her throne; that is to say they are usually shown with one showing on each side of her throne. She is synonymous with the lion and it can be argued that this beast was the emblem of the goddess
Cybele. The mother goddess Cybele and her lions were depicted often together as this showed how she was the "mistress of nature" (Roman 2011,-page 108). On Roman coins of the post-Punic era, Cybele was shown to be either with her two lions or in some depictions even riding atop them as though she had conquered them like the ultimate versions of wild stallions. Sometimes she was depicted with the lions even in her lap as opposed…[continue]
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