Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art

By James Hall; Chris Puleston | Go to book overview

mans honoured the wolf for having suckled Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome 99 [i: Bronze, early 5th cent. BC]. They were the children of the Roman god of war, Mars, to whom the wolf was sacred. It was depicted on Roman battle‐ standards (The wolf is not associated with Ares, the Greek antecedent of Mars.) It is occasionally the attribute of APOLLO. The Egyptian god, Wepwawet, who was known in the pre-dynastic period, was, like Anubis, ajackal (see DOG). The Greeks regarded him as a wolf and renamed the city of his cult Lycopolis, or 'wolf‐ city' (modern Asyut).

Woodpecker. Sacred to several Graeco-Roman gods, especially to the old Italian god of war, Mars, from its supposed aggressive behaviour. It is his attribute. Its probing beak and long tongue made it a Christian symbol of heresy, which undermines the true faith [ii].


3. Artefacts

Abacus. Attribute of Arithmetic personified, one of the SEVEN LIBERAL ARTS [iii: 16th cent.].

Anchor. One of the oldest Christian symbols, found in funerary inscriptions in the Roman catacombs, possibly then a disguised form of the cross. Later, a symbol of hope, which St Paul compared to an anchor.' An attribute of HOPE personified, of Bishop Nicholas of Myra and of Pope Clement I [iv]. See also DOLPHIN.

Anvil. Often with a hammer, the attribute of the smith gods, Hephaestus, Vulcan, etc [v: Roman graffito]. Also of SS. Eloi, patron saint of metal-workers, and Adrian. See also FOUR ELEMENTS Fire.

Arch. An Egyptian creation myth from Heliopolis 2 tells how the god of the air, Shu, raised his daughter, the sky-goddess, Nut, into the heavens to form an arch over the earth [vi: coffin painting, 21st Dynasty]. The earth-god, GEB, brother/spouse of Nut, is sometimes depicted lying below, face up, with erect PHALLUS. The scene symbolizes the union of earth and sky that produced the pantheon of Egyptian deities. The arch was also a Roman symbol of sky and heavens, which were the abode of Jupiter. (See ZEUS/J.) The garlanded arches under which a Roman triumphal procession passed on its way to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill had this sacred meaning for the citizens. Christianity borrowed the idea. The architecture of early churches in Rome included an 'arch of triumph' at the east end of the nave beyond which was the sanctuary. To pass through it symbolized the transition from death to eternal life. See also TORI-I.

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