Sicily, Catane, Litra


Sicily, Catane, Litra (obverse) Sicily, Catane, Litra (reverse)

This litra from the Sicilian city of Catane depicts the bearded head of a Silenus, a creature half man, half beast. Silenoi had stump noses and the ears and tails of either a horse or a goat. They belonged to the entourage of Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy.

The reverse shows the winged thunderbolt of Zeus, for Greek legend had it that Dionysus was the son of Zeus. In the guise of a human, the father of the gods had a love affair with Semele, the Princess of Thebes. As proof of his love, Semele demanded of Zeus that he reveal his true form to her. Zeus showed himself as bolts of lightning, and Semele perished in the ensuing blaze. Since Semele was pregnant at the time of her death, Zeus took the child and sewed it into his thigh. From there, a few months later, he released a fully-grown baby. This was Dionysus, the 'twice-born'. This second birth by Zeus granted Dionysus divinity and immortality.


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