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greek mythology

September 11, 2014

The many faces of Helen of Troy

Gavin Hamilton, Venus Presenting Helen to Paris, Museo di Roma. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.;www.artres.com; scalarchives.com, Rights (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Gavin Hamilton, Venus Presenting Helen to Paris, Museo di Roma. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; www.artres.com; scalarchives.com, Rights (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?”

So asks the title character in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus upon seeing the radiant ghost of Helen of Troy. Marlowe was not the only artist to be captivated by Helen and her fabled beauty. Indeed, for millennia, painters, sculptors, poets and playwrights have been inspired by her story.

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April 11, 2014

Here be dragons

Raphael | Saint George and the Dragon | c. 1504 | Musée du Louvre | Image and original data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; artres.com

Raphael | Saint George and the Dragon | c. 1504 | Musée du Louvre | Image and original data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; artres.com

Carlo Crivelli | Saint George | ca. 1472 | Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Carlo Crivelli | Saint George | ca. 1472 | Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Saint George’s Day is celebrated on April 23. I know this because as a child I was obsessed with the world of make-believe. While my sister was collecting books on the natural sciences, I had a whole shelf devoted to children’s versions of Greek mythology, fairy tales, and folklore. The stories I loved best involved magic and monsters. To this day my mother will buy me used books if they have a dragon on the cover. And this is where Saint George comes in.

In the 13th century, Jacobus de Voragine wrote in The Golden Legend that Saint George was a Christian knight who in his travels came across a city called Silene that was being plagued by a dragon that lived in its pond. Silene’s inhabitants were forced to appease the monster by sacrificing their children. The victims were selected through a lottery system, and one day it was the king’s own daughter who drew the last lot.

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