Academic journal article Antichthon

Le Roi Soleil : Demetrius Poliorcetes and the Dawn of the Sun-King *

Academic journal article Antichthon

Le Roi Soleil : Demetrius Poliorcetes and the Dawn of the Sun-King *

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Louis XIV may have made the image of the 'sun-king' his own, but the equation of monarch and sun has a long pedigree that stretches back into antiquity. For the Roman emperors, an association with Sol became commonplace, and both Caligula and Nero were explicitly saluted as ... ... 1 One of the earliest rulers to have adopted sun-related iconography within the western tradition is Demetrius Poliorcetes.2 His self-identification with Helius is not, to be sure, the most pronounced of his divine relationships. This was a king whose elevation to divine status in the Greek world of the late fourth and early third centuries was accompanied by a great number of religious and semi-religious associations: honoured by Athens as a Saviour, Demetrius himself seems to have cultivated above all an identification with Dionysus, whose combination of ferocity with a delight in wine and revels seems to have appealed to the character of the young king. Nonetheless, it is clear that imagery of the sun and of the heavenly bodies was employed of Demetrius in the representations of his status and power. The most explicit instance belongs to an ithyphallic hymn performed in Athens in 291/90 BC,3 in which Poliorcetes was hailed as the sun. The opening lines of the extant text (which has not been preserved in its entirety) are as follows, in Duris FGrH 76 F13:4

...

. . . So the greatest and the dearest of the gods are present in our city. For here are Demeter (?) and Demetrius, whom the opportune moment has brought together. She comes to celebrate the sacred mysteries of Kore; he, as befits the god, is here in gladness, handsome and laughing. He appears something august, all his friends about him and he himself in their midst, his friends like the stars just as he is the sun. O son of the most mighty god Poseidon and of Aphrodite, hail! For other gods are far away or do not have ears or do not exist, or do not heed us, but you we see present, not in wood nor in stone but in truth; so to you we pray.

A somewhat similar compliment had been paid to Demetrius' father by the poet Hermodotus, who styled Monophthalmus the offspring of the sun (thus Plut. Mor. 182b cf 360d).5 According to a rather ambiguous statement by Duris (FGrH 76 F14), Demetrius was also apparently fashioned as Helius in the Athenian theatre:6

...

During the Demetrieia at Athens, he was pictured on the proscenium riding on the inhabited world.

Furthermore, Demetrius himself ordered the creation of a cloak with the universe and the heavenly bodies worked upon it (Duris ibid; cf. Plut. Demetr. 41.7-8, where it is noted that the robe was never finished). If later iconography serves as a guide, the wearer of such a garment may have intended to style himself as Helius, for Helius wears a corselet worked with the stars of the zodiac in Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica (4.90).7 An association of Demetrius with the sun is sustained into the late literary tradition. Alciphron's Epistolae contains a letter (4.16.1) purporting to be addressed to Demetrius by his beloved hetaira, Lamia, in which Lamia describes her fear at the imposing sight created by Demetrius with his troops and claims that she averts her gaze 'as from the sun' (...). While the letter itself is patently fictitious, Alciphron preserves traces of historical events and indeed of imagery from Demetrius' day,8 and his employment of the sun motif may well reflect a more contemporary usage.

Some have looked to eastern influences to explain Demetrius' adoption of solar images. Writing of the ithyphallic hymn for Demetrius, Ehrenberg characterises the sun with which Demetrius is equated as 'a rather un-Greek Helius', and sees in the metaphor a reflection instead of the king/sun-god association found in Babylonian, Egyptian and Hittite thought.9 That the Greeks perceived astronomical observation as a practice cultivated in the east is scarcely to be denied. …

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