One Saturday this past summer I had a chance to visit the absolutely amazing archaeological museum in Perugia. Among the wonders of their collection are a large number of Etruscan and Roman cinerary urns. One of the most popular motifs among their decorated cinerary urns is the sacrifice of Iphegenia, about which I hope to post more soon. However, among the multiple examples of the sacrifice of Iphegenia, I encountered one scene I had never seen before on a cinerary urn, or any other medium for that matter: Minos’ encounter with baby Minotaur.
|travertine cinerary urn of a woman — from territory of Perugia — 2nd century BCE|
The scene includes Pasiphaë on the ground, naked with a blanket around her; two standing women, the one on the right holding a baby with what could be a bull’s face; and Minos, on the far right with sword raised, threatening to kill baby Minotaur, Pasiphaë, or maybe both.
The grown Minotaur appears was a popular theme in Greek (particularly Athenian) art, and I know of one example of the baby Minotaur on Pasiphaë’s lap, depicted in a red-figure kylix from Eturia (of Attic manufacture), below.
|Pasiphaë and the Minotaur. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, 340-320 BC. From Vulci. Now at BnF — Paris, Cabinet de Medailles.|
There are also multiple examples of Theseus and the Minotaur. However, the Perugia urn was the first example I had seen of Minos’ encounter with Pasiphaë’s newborn son and the attempt at violence that followed. Why this would be a fitting subject for a cinerary urn at all, I am unsure. Perhaps the kylix from Etruria indicates that the story of baby Minotaur was popular in Northern Italy by the fourth century, in which case the cinerary urn could suggest the continuing popularity of the theme into the second century. However, I would like to find out if there are other representations of the birth scene and Minos’ reaction from northern Italy, or elsewhere. So, if readers know of any additional examples, please send them on!
In response to reader requests, I have added a photo of the Perugia Museum’s label for the cinerary urn featuring Minos attempting to kill the baby Minotaur. Enjoy!