Academic journal article Antichthon

A Tale of Seven Nudes: The Capitoline and Medici Aphrodites, Four Nymphs at Elean Herakleia, and an Aphrodite at Megalopolis*

Academic journal article Antichthon

A Tale of Seven Nudes: The Capitoline and Medici Aphrodites, Four Nymphs at Elean Herakleia, and an Aphrodite at Megalopolis*

Article excerpt

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The Capitoline Aphrodite (fig. 1) counts among the most copied statues of antiquity. In 1951, Bianca Felletti Maj collected 101 replicas of the type compared with 33 for the Medici Aphrodite (fig. 2) and a mere five for the so-called Aphrodite of the Troad; and many more examples have surfaced since.1 Yet despite the Capitoline type's popularity, the date, location and authorship of its original remain clouded, as does its relation to these other 'pudica'-type Aphrodites, especially the Medici. Leaving aside the Aphrodite of the Troad, this article presents new evidence that may resolve one of these problems and sheds some new light upon some of the others.


First, what do we know about the Capitoline type (fig. 1)? Stark naked, the goddess stands on her left leg with her right leg relaxed. She covers her genitals with her left hand, begins to shield her breasts with her right hand, and starts to turn and glance to her left, apparently because some unexpected intruder has caught her attention. Beside her left leg stands a tall, slim water jar or loutrophoros , its upper part largely covered by a large, fringed cloak.2 Confirming that she has been surprised at her bath, her hair is gathered on top of her head and tied in a topknot or krobylos above her headband, carelessly leaving some stray locks to tumble down her back. A few copies substitute a hydria for the loutrophoros , and a third of them substitute a dolphin, often ridden by a little Eros.3 The authorship and location of the original statue remain unknown.

Praxiteles' Knidian Aphrodite (fig. 3), carved around the mid fourth century, evidently provided the inspiration for the Capitoline type's pose, but holds only one hand (her right) in front of her body while picking up her cloak from either a hydria or a perfume vase (again, the copies differ) with the other.4 Since her cult title was Euploia, 'of the fair voyage', this statue celebrated her as a sailor's goddess, bringing fair winds, calm seas and prosperous voyages, not as a newborn just emerged from the sea-foam.5 The iconography of the copies certifies this, since her cloak, bejeweled armlet and formal hairdo signal the mature, acculturated Aphrodite. The statue presumably referenced one of Aphrodite's bathing rituals celebrated in the poets, such as her pre- and post-coital ones at Paphos in Cyprus (a city closely tied to Knidos), described by Homer, or possibly the pre-nuptial bath that she would have taken before her marriage to Hephaistos.6

Like the Capitoline type (fig. 1), the Knidia also implicitly constructs not one but two putative spectators: the worshipper (us) entering the temple and fortuitously catching the goddess at her bath, and another individual off to our right, whom she greets with what pseudo-Lucian describes as a 'slight, haughty smile'.7 This invisible third party, surely male, must be one of the few lucky Olympians or mortal men who saw her naked, namely, Adonis, Anchises, Ares, Boutes, Dionysos, Hephaistos, Hermes, Paris, or Poseidon.8 Of these individuals, her immortal lover, Ares, is by far the best candidate, as a Hellenistic epigram about the Knidia in fact suggests:

Paphian Kythereia came through the waves to Knidos,

Wishing to see her very own image,

And having viewed it from all sides in its open shrine,

She cried: 'Where did Praxiteles see me naked?'

Praxiteles did not look on forbidden things, but the iron

Carved the Paphian goddess just as Ares wanted her.9

After first encountering the goddess frontally, surreptitiously admiring her, and apparently escaping her notice, one would of course be tempted to walk around to the right in order to look her in the face. By so doing, one would channel this notional third party and putative lover, the real focus of her attention.

As I have argued elsewhere, these cues implicitly link this lucky third party, the goddess and us in a triangular relationship of voyeuristic complicity and erotic rivalry. …

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