Globe from Antiquity': Hélène
Cuvigny [Copyright of this text resides with the author.]
Although numerous representations of the
twelve signs of the zodiac survive in the art of Antiquity, this silver
celestial globe is one of only three surviving globes which reproduce all the
constellations known to the ancient world. The remaining two are the marble
globe of the Farnese Atlas, in the
National Museum of Naples [1st or 2nd century AD], and a
Small Brass Globe recently
acquired by the Roman-Germanic Museum in Mainz [c 150 - 220 AD].
Made of precious metal, the present sphere is
the work of a goldsmith who was not knowledgeable in astronomy and was probably
simply copying from an existing sphere, likely to have been a repaired
celestial globe, since he appears to have reproduced its rivets faithfully,
taking them for celestial symbols: these are the small circles beneath Ursa
Major and a square above Leo.
The globe is far from respecting the
astronomical norms of the period as defined by Hipparcus, although the position
of the constellations in relation to the main astronomical circles is not
arbitrary. Notable mistakes include: the huge size and orientation of Gemini
(who should lie in the ecliptic, but are instead perfectly perpendicular to the
parallel circles so that their legs occupy the space which should contain
Orions torso); the pincers of Cancer failing to turn toward Leo; the head
of Draco passing south of the Arctic circle (it should be under the foot of the
Hercules who is supposed to be crushing it); Boötes floating parallel to
the tropic, cut off at the hips by the equinoctial colure (he ought to be
standing on the tropic); and Cassiopea seated, parallel to the tropics, on the
equinoctial colure (she should be resting on the Arctic circle since she was
suspended in the sky upside-down as a punishment for her pride). Certain other
iconographic peculiarities are also worth mentioning. The most interesting
concerns the ties linking the two fish of Pisces: instead of joining each other
behind Cetus they descend from one of the front hooves of Aries. This goes back
to an early iconographical tradition deriving from the Catastérismes of
Eratosthenes (and the De Astronomia of Hygin, which derives from it).
Sagitta, the Arrow, absent from the Farnesi
globe and of undefined form in the Mainz sphere, is easily identifiable here.
Its middle portion is crossed by the solstitial colure (it should be to the
east of this circle), which may reflect, again, a tradition echoed in the
Catastérismes and in Hygin. Triangulum, the Triangle, which is not
represented in the other two globes, is also present.
The constellation of the Horse has no wings
(and therefore could not strictly-speaking be called Pegasus), which is unique
in the iconography of this constellation, though it reflects astronomical
doctrine until Ptolemy (circa 150 A.D.), who was the first astronomer to annex
stars in Pegasus unambiguously as wings. However, before Ptolemy, the Horse had
sometimes been identified with Pegasus, as suggested by a passage from the
Catastérismes, which shows that during the 3rd century B.C. the two
traditions of the iconography of this constellation were in conflict: One
only sees the fore-body of the Horse, up to his navel. According to Aratos,
this is the horse Helicon, who, with one stroke of his hoof, caused to spring
forth the fountain which for this reason is called Hippocrene (Fountain of the
Horse). Others say it is Pegasus, the horse who flew to the stars after the
fall of Bellerophon. However certain people find this interpretation unlikely,
since the figure has no wings. Another notable feature is that the head
of Andromeda touches the belly of the Horse, alpha-Andromedae being the same
star as delta-Pegasi, a characteristic also commented upon by Aratos.
In the case of Cetus, the whale pursuing
Andromeda, the engraver has invested little imaginative effort, merely
representing it as a dolphin only a little more menacing than the constellation
of the same name, instead of as a sea dragon. This naturalistic bias can
perhaps be explained by the semantic ambivalence of the word kètos,
which in Greek signifies not only fabulous sea monsters, but also normal
cetaceans (as in Aristotle) and all fish of large size.
The constellations representing people and
animals are not interpreted as mythological characters but as naked figures
without attributes: the twins of Gemini are not identified with Castor and
Pollux (or with any other notable twins); the Kneeling Man is not identified
with Hercules, nor the Water Bearer with Ganymede.
The various constellations might have been
copied from different sources because of their stylistic discrepancies: Aries,
Cygnus, and Lyra are all finely executed, whereas the two dogs of Boötes
are only roughly depicted. Except for Aries and Leo, the quadrupeds are hardly
individualised: Ursa Major and Minor (the two bears) and Lepus (the hare) all
resemble canines. The male figures also have rather youthful anatomy.
An important characteristic of the globe
further demonstrates that the engraver ignored, or was unaware of, the norms of
representation of the constellations: he has not depicted the constellations
from the point of view of an observer outside the celestial sphere looking in
(with the backs of the constellations turned towards the viewer), but quite the
opposite. All the figures which should be seen from the back are shown from the
front, with the exception of Sagittarius. As a consequence, he has depicted
several figures left-handed: Aquarius, Perseus (holding his harp with his left
hand), and Orion (whose tunic reveals his left shoulder). Only one error of
this type was made by the creator of the Farnese globe, which shows Andromeda
from the front, but with her foot turned so that the sole can be seen. The
errors are more frequent on the Mainz sphere, but not as consistent as
Unfortunately, the iconographic details of the
globe do not help to date it with any great precision. Certain details suggest
the end of the Hellenistic period (the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C.), since they
are related to the texts of Aratos: the absence of wings on the Horse and
Virgo; the shape of Libra (here treated in the antique manner, that is, like
the pincers of Scorpio, although this iconography survives until the 3rd
century A.D.); and the form of the Charioteers chariot, which is more
akin to ancient Greek and Hellenistic chariots than it is to the familiar Roman
Conversely, the figure of Cassiopeia is
suggestive of the Roman Imperial period. Curiously, her throne takes the shape
of a ring, evoking representations found on coins of the goddess Rome, sitting
with a round shield beside her (such coins are mentioned from the end of the
2nd century until the Tetrarchy of the 3rd century A.D.). Perhaps rather than
indicating a later date this is simply symptomatic of the artist making the
mistake of engraving Corona Borealis in the wrong place, and to disguise his
error transforming it into Cassiopeias throne.
We have found on several places the influence
of a tradition close to the Catastérismes and to Hygin, however this
globe does not follow a pure literary tradition. There is clearly no influence
of Ptolemy: the three constellations that the latter has described as inverted,
the Eagle, the Altar and the fish are here turned towards the north.
It is unlikely that the sphere ever rested on
the shoulders of a statue of Atlas: such statues are rare and the opening at
the south pole suggests a single point of attachment. Antiquity has left many
representations of spheres placed on columns. This was no doubt the case with
this sphere, which in many ways is reminiscent of the gift of the poet Leonidas
of Alexandria to Poppea on her birthday, which he called an ouranion
mimèma, or imitation of the heavens.
The Kugel Globe.
Twins, and the claws of
The Kugel Globe.
Fishes, Triangulum, the Triangle and
Aries, the Ram.
The Vernal Equinox
Point in Aries.
The Kugel Globe. Cetus, the
Whale, in the form of a dolphin.
The Kugel Globe.
Bull, with Orion, the Hunter.
The Kugel Globe. Cassiopeia, the
Queen, and Andromeda, the Princess.
The Kugel Globe. Auriga, the
The Kugel Globe. Perseus, the