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Representations in Art

The portrayal of the Olympian gods in classical and postclassical art has been described in Chapter 5. That they have continued to be important is evidence of their unique power as universal symbols of humanity. As early as the sixth century B.C., philosophers were criticizing the myths of the Olympians on moral grounds; yet these very myths continued to be central to the life of Greek city-states and to take on new life in the Roman world. After a period of eclipse, the Olympians returned in their classical form in the Renaissance, and during the sixteenth and seventeenth century the gods and their myths were the subjects of narrative works of art, music, drama, and poetry, or, more frequently, as political and moral allegories. Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was unequaled in the allegorical use of classical myths, and his genius was equaled by the austere and spiritually profound work of his younger contemporary, Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). These two great artists have been the most sublime interpreters of classical mythology since the Renaissance.

Solon and Croesus. The Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 484–430 B.C.) tells how Cyrus ordered Croesus to be burned alive on a pyre (see MLS, pp, 141–149). Croesus called on Apollo to save him, and the god caused a miraculous rainstorm to extinguish the fire. The scene of Croesus on the pyre is shown on an Athenian red-figure vase by Myson (ca. 500 B.C., now in Paris)—evidence for the close relationship between history and myth. Evidence is found for the Argive heroes Cleobis and Biton, the second happiest of men, according to Solon. Shortly after 600 B.C. the Argives dedicated two statues of the young heroes (as Herodotus states), which still can be seen at Delphi. In addition, the "historical" boar hunt of Herodotus recalls the famous legendary Calydonian boar hunt (see Chapter 19).
The story of Croesus was also narrated in a poem written in 468 B.C. by the lyric poet Bacchylides of Ceos In this version Croesus himself ordered the pyre to be lit, but Zeus extinguished the fire and Apollo took Croesus to live happily for ever among the Hyperboreans as a reward for his piety.

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