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THE EXHIBIT

Gortyn, Temple of the Egyptian Gods. 180 - 190 AD

Hellenistic sculpture of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC in Crete is represented by few known works. In the following Roman period, on the contrary, large numbers of statues were produced. Most of them are copies and reproductions of famous Classical and Hellenistic works, intended to adorn the temples, public buildings and villas of wealthy Romans. The full-length statues and portrait busts of members of the imperial families and local officials of the Roman ruling class are original works. Most of these have been found in Gortyn, the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica. The statues of Isis-Persephone and Sarapis-Hades come from the Temple of the Egyptian Gods in Gortyn. The statue of Isis-Persephone is preserved almost intact. That of Sarapis-Hades is missing the right arm, while a large part of the left arm and sceptre are restored. The goddess is depicted frontally, holding a sistrum in her right hand. In her left she probably held the leashes restraining Cerberus or a situla. Her head is covered by a mantle and crowned with a circular emblem with the solar disc symbol between two horns. Sarapis-Hades is also standing in frontal posture. He is crowned with the modius or grain measure, and holds the sceptre of his divine authority in his left hand. On his right is Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the Underworld. The cult of the Egyptian gods is attested at many sites of the ancient Greek world and became quite popular during the Hellenistic period. Isis, the fertility goddess who regulated the rise and fall of the Nile with her sistrum, ensured abundance and material wealth. Sarapis is thought to be a creation of Ptolemaic Egypt, an amalgam of Osiris, Apis and Pluto. Cerberus confirms the association of the cult of these deities with the Underworld, giving them the chthonic character of the myth of Hades and Persephone. The amalgamation of the attributes of the Egyptian deities Isis and Sarapis with those of the Greek Persephone and Hades is a syncretic phenomenon observed in the Hellenistic period.
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