Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Blinding of Polyphemus at the Villa of Tiberius

Yesterday while researching the Pasquino group, I came across a picture of the sculptures depicting the blinding of Polyphemus, the cyclops, that was found in a grotto connected to the Villa of Tiberius.  According to Tacitus and Suetonius, the roof of the grotto collapsed while Tiberius was dining, and Sejanus rushed to save Tiberius, for which Tiberius in gratitude promoted him, launching his rise to power. Tiberius moved to Capri after 26 CE.

Some of the sculptures are now housed in the museum in Sperlonga and include the assault of Scylla on Odysseus' ship, the blinding of Polyphemus, the theft of the Palladium and Odysseus lifting Achilles's corpse. The works have been attributed to Rhodian sculptors Agesander, Athenedoros and Polydoros, and are thought to be the same authors of the group of "Laocoön and His Sons" (as attributed by Pliny the Elder). Yet whether the very same artists are responsible is questionable. Some scholars believe them to be related, but not the same people, apart from Athenedoros (II) who was the last to be credited as an artist on the Laocoon group, but first to be credited with the Scylla series – suggesting that he was the youngest during the creation of the Laocoon group, but eldest artist who worked on the Scylla group. Furthermore, the differentiation in 'classicism' between the two sets of works implies that one preceded the other with separation, and thus not all artists are the same people, but descendants.

Image: A cast of one of the so-called Sperlonga group, the legendary blinding of Polyphemus, at the Sperlonga Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor steveilott.
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