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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Aetion of Amphipolis

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Aetion (of Amphipolis)

Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

Aetion (Αετίων) may have been a Greek sculptor and painter working from the mid 4th century to the early 3rd century BC, was perhaps from Amphipolis, Macedonia and a contemporary of Alexander the Great.

No surviving ancient sculpture or painting - even a copy - can be attributed to Aetion, and his existence can only be surmised from references by ancient writers to one or more artists of the same name. It may be that each writer was referring to a different person who may or may not have been connected to one or more of the others.

Greek men were often named after a grandfather or other male relative, and it is known that families of artists and artisans continued in business over several generations (see, for example, Adymos of Veroea and Archermos of Chios). It is at least likely that there was more than one artist named Aetion from the same family.

The case of Aetion is further complicated by the fact that the name appears to differ in various modern publications and translations: ᾿Ηετίων (Hetion or Eetion [6]) and even Έχίων (Echion [see below]). This may be due to the illegible state of ancient papyrii and other manuscripts, errors made by the original authors, ancient copyists or modern scholars.

This a prime example of the confusion surrounding several ancient Greek artists, about whom little or nothing is known apart such references, often vague, ambiguous and even dubious. Many extant artworks, either Greek originals or, more commonly, works of the Roman period presumed to be copies of Greek masterpieces, have been identified with particular artists merely on the strength of brief mentions in ancient literary works.

Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) mentions two sculptors, Aetion and Therimachus, living in the years of the 107th Olympiad, i.e. 352-349 BC (Natural History, Book 34, chapter 19 [1]). He later mentions two painters named Aetion and Therimachus, also during the 107th Olympiad, and adds that "by the former we have some fine pictures: a Father Liber [Dionysus], Tragedy and Comedy, Semiramis from the rank of a slave elevated to the throne, an Old Woman bearing torches, and a New-made Bride, remarkable for the air of modesty with which she is portrayed". (Natural History, Book 35, chapter 36 [2]) He does not indicate whether they were the same artists, but it seems unlikely that they were not.

Cicero (106-43 BC) had earlier mentioned Aetion as a painter in a list which also includes the 4th century BC painters Nicomachus, Protogenes and Apelles. He says that in their works "everything is finished to perfection", in contrast to Zeuxis, Polygnotus, Timanthes and others who only used four colours (Brutus, section 70 [3]).

Lucian of Samosata (circa 125-180 AD) wrote about a picture of the wedding of Alexander the Great and Roxana by "the painter Aetion" which he exhibited at Olympia. He tells that "Proxenides, one of the chief judges there at that time, was delighted with his talent and made Aetion his son-in-law". He goes on to describe the painting, in which Roxana is depicted sitting on the bridal couch with "her eyes cast down in modesty" (Herodotus or Aetion [4 and 5]), which reminds us of Pliny's modest bride.

Even if the Aetion mentioned by Pliny and Lucian are the same painter, and he did paint a picture of the wedding of Alexander and Roxana, which took place in 327 BC, there still remain the questions of whether he did so during Alexander's lifetime, who commissioned the work, and where and when did he paint it?

Some modern sources claim that Lucian (and by extension Pliny) was actually writing about Echion (Έχίων), supposedly a 1st century AD painter also known as Aetion (about whom I have found no further information apart from this claim). This may be merely due to a problem of translation. In one version, translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler [4], Aetion presents his painting at Olympia "in quite recent times". However, the translation by K. Kilburn [5] gives us "... the recent story of Aetion the painter...", which could mean that the the story of the incident has only recently become commonly known, perhaps through the circulation of The Natural History, which was Pliny's last published work.

Lucian prefaces his description of the picture with the words: "The picture is actually in Italy; I have seen it myself". This is no proof that it had been made recently: it is known that an enormous number of Greek artworks were taken to Italy by the Romans, often as war booty, from the 2nd century BC onwards [6] (see, for example, the Granikos Monument).

Both Theocritus (writing around 280-270 BC) and Callimachus (310/305–240 BC), Greek poets who worked at Alexandria, mention an Aetion in epigrams.

Theocritus, in "On a statue of Asklepios" (Epigram 7, in some publications Epigram 8) [7], praises a cedar wood statue of Asklepios, the Greek god of healing, for which his doctor friend Nikias of Miletus has paid a large sum of money to the highly-skilled Aetion.

Among the epigrams which can reliably ascribed to Theocritus, several are about statues and monuments, mostly naming those who dedicated them. However, it may be significant that this is the only epigram in which the artist is named.

The dates of Nikias' life are not known, but he was a pupil of the Epicurean philosopher Metrodoros of Lampaskos (circa 330-277 BC), which makes it within the realms of possibility that he commissioned the statue from the Aetion who may have also painted the marriage of Alexander and Roxana during the king's lifetime (356-323 BC).

Callimachus (Epigram 336 [8]) is more obscure, perhaps because of a corrupted manuscript. He writes in the first person, from the viewpoint of what appears to be a statue of a naked hero with a sword and a snake by "Aetion of Amphipolis". If this is the same Aetion, it is the only mention of him in connection with Amphipolis.
 
 
Aetion Notes, references and links

1. Pliny on Aetion the sculptor

"An almost innumerable multitude of artists have been rendered famous by their statues and figures of smaller size. Before all others is Phidias, the Athenian, who executed the Jupiter [Zeus] at Olympia, in ivory and gold, but who also made figures in brass as well. He flourished in the eighty-third Olympiad, about the year of our City, 300. ... in the hundred and seventh [Olympiad], Aëtion and Therimachus..."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 34, chapter 19.

2. Pliny on Aetion the painter

"In the hundred and seventh Olympiad, flourished Aëtion and Therimachus. By the former we have some fine pictures; a Father Liber, Tragedy and Comedy, Semiramis from the rank of a slave elevated to the throne, an Old Woman bearing torches, and a New-made Bride, remarkable for the air of modesty with which she is portrayed."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 35, chapter 36.

Pliny also wrote that Aetion (in this translation rendered as "Echion") painted with only four colours. This is thought to have been an "imperfect recollection" of the passage in Cicero's Brutus (see below).

"It was with four colours only, that Apelles, Echion [sic], Melanthius, and Nicomachus, those most illustrous painters, executed their immortal works; melinum for the white, Attic sil for the yellow, Pontic sinopis for the red, and atramentum for the black; and yet a single picture of theirs has sold before now for the treasures of whole cities."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 35, chapter 32.

All Pliny quotes from the translation by John Bostock and H. T. Riley. Taylor and Francis, London, 1855. At Perseus Digital Library.

Another online translation of Pliny's Natural History has the entire book on a single web page:

Pliny's Natural History, translated by H. Rackham, W.H.S. Jones and D.E. Eichholz, in 10 volumes. Harvard University Press, MA; William Heinemann, London, 1949-54. At Jon Lange's masseiana.org.

In this translation, the artists who Pliny wrote used "four colours only" (Book 35, chapter 32) are named as "Apelles, Action, Melanthius and Nicomachus". Aetion is named in the other passages (Book 34, chapter 19; Book 35, chapter 36).

3. Cicero on Aetion the painter

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) was a Roman philosopher, lawyer, orator, politician and political theorist. From a wealthy family, he served as consul, and is considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose authors. Brutus (also known as De claris oratibus) is a history of oratory, written about 46 BC in the form of a dialogue.

"But who that has seen the statues of the moderns, will not perceive in a moment, that the figures of Canachus are too stiff and formal, to resemble life? Those of Calamis, though evidently harsh, are somewhat softer. Even the statues of Myron are not sufficiently alive; and yet you would not hesitate to pronounce them beautiful. But those of Polycletes are much finer, and, in my mind, completely finished.

The case is the same in painting; for in the works of Zeuxis, Polygnotus, Timanthes, and several other masters who confined themselves to the use of four colours, we commend the air and the symmetry of their figures; but in Aetion, Nicomachus, Protogenes, and Apelles, everything is finished to perfection *."

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Brutus, a history of famous orators, section 70.
Translated by E. Jones (1776). At attalus.org.

Also: Cicero's Brutus or History of famous orators; also his Orator, or Accomplished speaker. Translated by E. Jones. At Project Gutenberg.

* In Latin: "... at in Aetione Nicomacho Protogene Apelle iam perfecta sunt omnia."

M. Tulli Ciceronis Brutus. At The Latin Library.

4. Lucian on Aetion the painter - the Fowler translation

Lucian of Samosata (Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, Latin, Lucianus Samosatensis; circa 125 - after 180 AD) was a rhetorician and satirist from the Roman province of Syria who wrote rhetorical essays, satirical dialogues and prose fiction in Greek. Around 70 works attributed to him have survived.

Lucian's description of Aetion's painting of the wedding of Alexander and Roxana is part of Herodotus or Aetion (Ἡρόδοτος ή Ἀετίων), a lecture ("introduction") delivered at a festival in a Macedonian city.

"However, I need not have cited ancient rhetoricians, historians, and chroniclers like these; in quite recent times the painter Aetion is said to have brought his picture, Nuptials of Roxana and Alexander, to exhibit at Olympia; and Proxenides, High Steward of the Games on the occasion, was so delighted with his genius that he gave him his daughter."

Herodotus or Aetion, chapter 20, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, Complete with exceptions specified in the preface, Volume 2 (of 4). Translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (following the text of Jacobitz, Teubner, 1901). Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1905. ebooks at the University of Adelaide.

5. Lucian on Aetion the painter - the Kilburn translation

"But why need I mention those old sophists, historians, and chroniclers when there is the recent story of Aetion the painter who showed off his picture of The Marriage of Roxana and Alexander at Olympia? Proxenides, one of the chief judges there at that time, was delighted with his talent and made Aetion his son-in-law.

You may well wonder at the quality of his work that induced a chief judge of the games to give his daughter in marriage to a stranger like Aetion. The picture is actually in Italy; I have seen it myself and can describe it to you.

The scene is a very beautiful chamber, and in it there is a bridal couch with Roxana, a very lovely maiden, sitting upon it, her eyes cast down in modesty, for Alexander is standing there. There are smiling Cupids: one is standing behind her removing the veil from her head and showing Roxana to her husband ; another like a true servant is taking the sandal off her foot, already preparing her for bed; a third Cupid has hold of Alexander's cloak and is pulling him with all his might towards Roxana.

The king himself is holding out a garland to the maiden and their best man and helper, Hephaestion, is there with a blazing torch in his hand, leaning on a very handsome youth - I think he is Hymenaeus [God of marriages] (his name is not inscribed). On the other side of the picture are more Cupids playing among Alexander's armour; two of them are carrying his spear, pretending to be labourers burdened under a beam; two others are dragging a third, their king no doubt, on the shield, holding it by the handgrips; another has gone inside the corslet, which is lying breast-up on the ground - he seems to be lying in ambush to frighten the others when they drag the shield past him.

All this is not needless triviality and a waste of labour. Aetion is calling attention to Alexander's other love - War - , implying that in his love of Roxana he did not forget his armour. A further point about the picture itself is that it had a real matrimonial significance of quite a different sort — it courted Proxenides' daughter for Aetion! So as a by-product of his Alexander s Wedding he came away with a wife himself and the King for best-man. His reward for his marriage of the imagination was a real-life marriage of his own."

Herodotus or Aetion (Ἡρόδοτος ή Ἀετίων), pages 139-151 (the extract on Aetion on pages 144-149), in Lucian with an English translation by K. Kilburn, Volume VI (of eight). William Heinemann, London; Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1959. Parallel texts in Greek and English. At archive.org.

6. Romans looting of Greek art

As the Romans expanded their territory, they conquered Greek cities of the Italian mainland (Magna Graecia) and Sicily. During their military campaigns from the Hellenistic period onwards they also acquired Greek artworks from the Greek mainland, islands, Macedonia, Thrace and Anatolia (Asia minor). The last Attalid king Attalus III (ruled 138-133 BC) bequeathed the enormous territories of the kingdom of Pergamon to the Roman Republic. The populist politician Tiberius Gracchus (162-133 BC) planned to use the inherited wealth of Pergamon to finance his radical land reforms, and even proposed selling off its artworks to raise capital (see History of Pegamon). Roman authors, particularly Pliny the Elder, mention Greek artworks which had been taken to Rome by generals, governors and emperors for private and public collections.

7. Theocritus on Aetion the sculptor

Theocritus (Θεόκριτος, Theokritos, flourished first half of the 3rd century BC) is credited as being the inventor of bucolic poetry. Based on the internal evidence of his poems, he is thought to have been from Syracuse, Sicily, to have lived for a while on the Greek island of Kos, and to have worked at Alexandria, Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphos (309-246 BC). He is best known for his Idylls (Εἰδύλλια, Eidyllia) and Epigrams (Επιγράμματα, Epigrammata).

It has been generally accepted that the epigram "On a statue of Asklepios" (Epigram 7 in some publications, Epigram 8 in others; in the Palatine Anthology, Book VI, 337) was written by Theocritus. The poem of six lines tells of a cedar wood statue of the healing god set up by his friend Nikias (Νικίας, estimated to have been born circa 310 BC), known as Nikias of Miletus (ἰατρῷ Νικίᾳ Μιλησίῳ), a doctor who had been a pupil of the Epicurean philosopher Metrodoros of Lampaskos (Μητρόδωρος Λαμψακηνός, 331/330 - 278/277 BC).

Nikias is mentioned in three other poems of Theocritus, Idylls 11, 13 and 28. Idyll 11, "The Cyclops" (Κύκλωψ, also known as "Polyphemus in love" or "Polyphemus' complaint"), was addressed directly to Nikias as "a doctor" and "very dear to the Nine Muses". The first two lines of Nikias' reply to this poem were quoted by an ancient scholiast: "What you say is true, Theocritus: The god of love has taught poetry to many who were before without a muse..." Nikias is also thought to be the author of eight of surviving epigrams.

Translations of "On a statue of Asklepios" into English since the 18th century (including Francis Fawkes, 1767) have been based on a Greek text in which the name the sculptor appears as ᾿Ηετίωνι (Hetioni or Eetioni). The name Eetion was unknown to many scholars, and at least one translator (Charles Stuart Calverley, 1869) simply ignored it and wrote "the sculptor".

Epigram 8, For a statue of Asclepius

Ηλθε καὶ ἐς Μίλητον ὁ τοῦ Παιήονος υἱός,
ἰητῆρι νόσων ἀνδρὶ συνοισόμενος
Νικίᾳ, ὅς μιν ἐπ᾽ ἦμαρ ἀεὶ θυέεσσιν ἱκνεῖται,
καὶ τόδ᾽ ἀπ᾽ εὐώδους γλύψατ᾽ ἄγαλμα κέδρου,
᾿Ηετίωνι χάριν γλαφυρᾶς χερὸς ἄκρον ὑποστὰς
μισθόν: ὁ δ᾽ εἰς ἔργον πᾶσαν ἀφῆκε τέχνην.

R. J. Cholmeley (Editor), Theocritus, Epigrams, A Pal vi.337. George Bell & Sons, London, 1901. At Perseus Digital Library.

Cholmeley noted: "The epigram refers to a statue of Aesculapius set up by Nicias and carved for him by Eetion, but it obviously was not intended to be engraved on the pedestal."

Epigram VII, On the Statue of Aesculapius

Literal translation by Rev. J. Banks (1820-1883), page 159 **.

The son of Paean came even to Miletus, to dwell along
with a man that heals diseases, Nicias by name: who ever
day by day approaches him with sacrifices, and has had this
statue carved out of fragrant cedar, having promised the
highest price to Eetion, because of his skilful hand; and he
has thrown all his art into the work.

Epigram VIII, On a statue of Aesculapius

Verse translation by J. M. Chapman, page 297 **.

The son of Paean to Miletus came,
And with the best physician Nicias, staid,
Who, daily kindling sacrificial flame,
From fragrant cedar had this statue made.
The highest price was paid Eetion's fame,
Who all his skill upon the work outlaid.

** Both translations from: The idylls of Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, and The war-songs of Tyrtreus. Literally translated into English prose by the Rev. J. Banks, with metrical versions by J.M. Chapman. George Bell and Sons, London, 1888. At archive.org.

"The son of Paean" refers to Paean (there are various Greek spellings, including Παιήων, Paion, healer, helper), the physician of the Olympian gods. Although thought by some to have been a separate god, the name became associated with Apollo and was one of his epiphets. Later, it also became an epithet of Apollo's son Asklepios (Latin, Aesculapius), the god of healing.

In the 1980s the British poet Robert Wells translated the Idylls and Epigrams of Theocritus in clear, thoughtful and elegant verse, with an excellent introduction and notes. The original hardback edition is now out of print, but can still be purchased online, as can the Penguin Classics paperback edition. The translations have recently been republished by Carcanet Press in the Collected Poems and Translations of Robert Wells.

The Idylls of Theocritus, translated by Robert Wells. Hardcover. Carcanet Press, Manchester, England, 1988.

Theocritus, The Idylls, translated by Robert Wells. Paperback. Penguin Classics, 1989.

Robert Wells, Collected Poems and Translations. Paperback, 306 pages. Carcanet Press, Manchester, England, 2009.

8. Callimachus on Aetion the sculptor (?)

Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος, Kallimachos, 310/305–240 BC), from the Greek colony of Cyrene, Libya. A poet, critic and scholar at the Library of Alexandria during the reigns of the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt, Ptolemy II Philadelphos and Ptolemy III Euergetes.

The epigram has not been given a title and is numbered differently in various anthologies (the order of the epigrams is not canonical), but usually referred to by its order in the Greek Anthology: Anthologia Graeca, Book IX, 336 (see below). The Greek text has been described as difficult, obscure and perhaps corrupt, and the translations and interpretations are so varied as to change the sense of the poem completely.

There is no indication of whether the poem was written for a particular occasion or person, or merely Callimachus musing on something he has seen or heard about. It mentions "Aetion of Amphipolis" (Αἰετίωνος ἐπίσταθμος Ἀμφιπολίτεω), and is thought to concern a small sculpture made by him, depicting an unmounted, unnamed hero with a sword and a snake. However, Aetion ("Eetion" in some of the translations below) could just as well be the name of the dead hero, the commissioner of the sculpture (as Nikias commissioned the statue of Asklepios) or the owner of the building at which it then stood.

Statues and reliefs of heroes, as grave markers and hero cult icons, were set up to honour dead male comrades, relatives, worthies and rulers. They became increasingly popular in Thrace and Greece from the late Classical and Hellenistic periods. The deceased hero is usually depicted as a warrior and horseman, and snakes are a usual part of the iconography. See photos and information about hero reliefs on Pergamon gallery 2, page 10.

Translators have conjectured that the sculpted figure is unmounted because he was either killed by a fall from a horse, or because Aetion was of Trojan descent, and hated the idea of a horse because of the wooden horse made by Epeius. The fact that the figure stands in front of a stable (according the first translation below) strikes a tone of irony.

Callimachus, Epigram 24

Ήρως Αἰετίωνος ἐπίσταθμος Ἀμφιπολίτεω
ἵδρυμαι μικρῶι μικρὸς ἐπὶ προθύρωι
λοξὸν ὄφιν καὶ μοῦνον ἔχων ξίφος: ἀνδρὶ ιπειωι
θυμωθεὶς πεζὸν κἀμὲ παρωικίσατο.

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Editor, Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams, Epigram 24 (Palatine Anthology, Book IX, Epigram 336). Weidmann, Berlin 1897. At Perseus Digital Library.

Epigram 336 - Callimachus

"I, the hero who guard the stable of Aetion of Amphipolis, stand here, small myself and in a small porch, carrying nothing but a wriggling snake and a sword. Having lost his temper with .... he did not give me a mount either when he put me up beside him."

William Roger Paton (1857-1921), translator, The Greek anthology Volume III (of five), Book IX, The Declamatory Epigrams, pages 180-183, "336 - Callimachus". William Heinemann, London; G. P. Putnam's sons, New York, 1916. Parallel texts in Greek and English. At archive.org.

Callimachus, Epigram XXV

Literal translation by James Davies (Rev. J. Banks, 1820-1883), page 199. ***

"A hero, I am set before the door of Eetion, of Amphipolis, a little hero at a small vestibule, bearing a snake looking askance and a sword only. But being enraged at a horseman, he has placed me also near himself on-foot."

Callimachus, Epigram XXV

Verse translation by Henry William Tytler, page 424.***

Small is my size, and I must grace
Eetion's porch, a little place;
A hero's likeness I appear,
And round my sword a serpent bear.
But since Eetion views with hate
The prancing steed that caus'd my fate,
Resolv'd that we no more should meet,
He plac'd me here upon my feet.

*** Both translations from: The works of Hesiod, Callimachus, and Theognis. Literal translations by James Davies (Rev. J. Banks, 1820-1883); metrical translations by Sir Charles Abraham Elton (1778-1853), Henry William Tytler (1752-1808), John Hookham Frere (1769-1846). H. G. Bohn, London, 1856. At archive.org.
 
Article © David John 31 October 2016
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