Monday, 23 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part four

from the Vlasto collection, but not illustrated in op. cit. (part one).
Obverse: Taras astride dolphin, arms outstretched,  scallop shell below.
Reverse: Head of a Nereid within circle.
description of type: JH.
This episode focuses on misunderstandings and mythological conflations. The head on the reverse is often described as Satyra (Satyræa). However, this is not a name and means only "the daughter of a satyr". In other words, a nymph. However (again), the sea-nymphs (Nereids) are all related to Poseidon, and one of these was the mother of Taras.

Pausanias says (Book X, 10.6):
"They say that Taras the hero was a son of Poseidon by a nymph of the country, and that after this hero were named both the city and the river. For the river, just like the city, is called Taras."
Earlier, Strabo says: (Book VI, 38.28):
"There is a tradition that Taras was born to Neptune by Satyræa, daughter of Minos."
There is only one of the Nereids attributed by name on a coin of Taras, and that appears on a gold coin of the late 4th century BC, and the name is given as Amphitrite (although Vlasto said it is Hera). Amphitrite really only means the goddess or queen of the sea, so you can see how both Amphitrite and Hera could have been used. I can find no other classical reference to clarify the matter so I am leaving her identity simply as a Nereid. It might well be true that Amphitrite was adopted, by name, by the people of Taras to have been the mother of Taras, and less likely that Amphitrite and Aphrodite were conflated at Taras (both were loved by Poseidon and there was a very important cult of Aphrodite at Taras as is indicated by the common scallop shell symbol on the coins).

The explanation for the circle around the head of the Nereid is illustrated by this passage in The Argonautika by Apollonius of Rhodes, Book IV, line 936:
"And as when in fair weather herds of dolphins come up from the depths and sport in circles round a ship as it speeds along, now seen in front, now behind, now again at the side and delight comes to the sailors; so the Nereids darted upward and circled in their ranks round the ship Argo, while Thetis guided its course."
While the dolphins circling the ship might well have delighted the sailors, I once was fishing off the coast of British Columbia when a number of porpoises circled our boat. They were hoping to steal any fish we were hooking at about 400 feet down. We had some pebbles in the boat, according to a local custom, to throw at the porpoises to try to get them to leave, but I really doubt that any porpoise was ever hit by one except by pure chance as they did not stay above the waves long enough for me to even aim my camera at any of them. Dogfish, too, were present hoping for a free meal. Never saw any Nereids, though.

Obverse: Taras as founder of the city (Oikist) seated holding distaff and kantharos.
Reverse: Taras astride dolphin, arms outstretched, scallop shell beneath.
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
The second coin is another from the Vlasto collection and is illustrated in the book ibid. When Pausanius, in the above passage called Taras a hero, it was the Oikist cult to which he was referring. I could have used a better condition coin of the type, but this variety is not just from the Vlasto collection but only three are known to exist.

Tomorrow, more from Taras.

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