Croaking and Clapping: A New Look at an Ancient Greek Bronze Figurine (from Sparta)

TitleCroaking and Clapping: A New Look at an Ancient Greek Bronze Figurine (from Sparta)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsPerrot, S
JournalMusic in Art

The Metropolitan Museum of New York acquired from its first director Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832–1904) an astonishing bronze figurine, perhaps unearthed in Kourion (Cyprus): a nude woman stands on a frog and plays a percussion instrument (inv. no. 74.51.5680). The object was probably a handle of a mirror and the craft is typical for ancient Laconia. Scholars have never explained the relationships between all the represented elements. The figurine is obviously related to ancient Spartan music, or at least its soundscape. Indeed, the woman holds a percussion instrument that should be identified as cymbals. We may wonder whether there is a link between the frog and the cymbals in terms of sound. Did ancient Greek perceive the croaking as a percussive sound? In Greek antiquity, frogs seem to be associated with several types of instruments. Since the figurine might come from Cyprus and it depicts a nude woman, it is usually interpreted as Aphrodite. However, if it is a Laconian piece of art, it seems more relevant to recognize here one of the main goddesses of Sparta, Artemis Orthia. She stands on a frog, because her sanctuary was located in the marshlands of Sparta, a place appropriate for batrachians. This place called Limnai had a specific soundscape made of croaking and water noise. Furthermore, there are remains of feline paws on her shoulders: the archaic Artemis is the mistress of wild beasts. In the sanctuary, archaeologists found cymbals and auloi dedicated to the goddess for apotropaic purposes. It may be opportune to compare this with Asian drums decorated with frogs, which were used to ask for rain fertility: maybe the cymbal associated to croaking had the same function in ancient Spartan marshlands. []

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