The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times

By Adrienne Mayor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Artistic and Archaeological
Evidence for Fossil
Discoveries

THE MONSTER OF TROY

IN A GLASS CASE in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a strange creature lurks on an ancient Greek vase. This vase painting, made in the famous pottery center of Corinth in the sixth century B.C., is known to art historians as the oldest illustration of the story of the Monster of Troy, a creature described in Homeric legends. But the animal on this particular vase troubles specialists in Greek art, because it doesn’t fit the typical monster image.

The Monster of Troy was already an old tale when Homer retold it in the eighth century B.C. In that legend, a fearsome monster suddenly appeared on the Trojan coast after a flood. It preyed on the farmers in the neighborhood of Sigeum. The king’s daughter, Hesione, was sent as a sacrifice to appease the beast, but Heracles arrived in time to kill it. The vase painting shows Hesione and Heracles confronting the monster; she hurls rocks from a pile at her feet while Heracles shoots arrows. Two of Hesione’s rocks have struck home—there is one just under the eye and another lodged in the creature’s maw—and one of Heracles’ arrows is stuck in the jaw (fig. 4.1).

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