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Themes of Mythology, Allegories and Ancient History in the Art of Painting

1. Introduction

Painters have used many mythological themes as well as themes of history. The aim of the following is to classify the paintings according to those themes and sub-themes. The paintings are classified according to main themes, called macro themes, and then they are further classified within each macro theme to micro themes.

The themes have been discovered by the classification of tens of thousands of paintings presented in the main museum of the world. A list of these paintings, plus their classification in macro themes and micro themes is available in Microsoft Excel © spreadsheet format (see the Internet site www.theartofpainting.be ). In this list, very many examples of paintings are given for each theme. When the reader therefore looks up a theme, it is best at the same time to use the ‘Filter’ feature of Microsoft Excel © on the mist and thus have a filtered view of the examples of paintings for that theme (macro theme and micro theme). Moreover, one of the sheets of the spreadsheet provides a list of all the macro and micro themes used.

Ancient and modern painters knew well Greek and Roman mythology, ancient history and plays and poems. We found no less than 235 themes and numerous more micro themes that have been used by artists.

The explanations of the themes have been taken on some instances from the Wikipedia free encyclopaedia, although with personal notes added to. Permission to reproduce content under the license and technical conditions applicable to Wikipedia has been granted to everyone without request. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Note: this text can also be downloaded from this Internet site as a PDF file. See the PDF-Downloads section.

2. The Themes


Achelous was in Greek mythology the god of the Achelous River, the largest river of Greece, and thus the head of all river gods, every river having its own river spirit. He may have been the son of Gaia and Helios, or Gaia and Oceanus, or most probably of Thetys and Oceanus, the parents of all the river gods of Greece.
Achelous fell in love with Deianira, the daughter of Oeneus king of Calydon, but he was defeated in combat by Hercules, who married Deianira himself. See the themes ‘Deianira’ and ‘Hercules’.
Ovid describes Achelous in his ‘Metamorphoses’. He described the cave of Achelous, which was used in late Renaissance as the example of grottoes in gardens. The banquet served by Achelous in Ovid became a prototype for Italian diners in cool garden grottoes. Therefore, painters sometimes depicted this banquet of Achelous.

Macro theme: Achelous


Achilles was born as the son of Peleus, the King of the Myrmidons, a mortal man, and the immortal sea-nymph Thetis. Thetis made her son immortal by plunging him in the Styx, but she held the baby Achilles by his heel and did not wet him there, so Achilles had a weak point. Later, Achilles was educated by the Centaur Chiron.
Achilles was one of the main heroes of Homer’s Iliad.
When Agamemnon, the King of Sparta, declared a war on the city of Troy, Achilles refused to participate and he hid on the island of Skyros at the court of King Lycomedes, disguised as a woman among Lycomedes’ daughters. Ulysses found Achilles, however.
Achilles finally did participate in the Trojan War, accompanied by the Myrmidons and by his friend Patrocles. After a dispute with Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek expedition, a dispute over a captured Trojan woman, Achilles refused to fight on. This was very detrimental to the Greeks, who could not defeat the Trojans anymore. Achilles’ friend Patrocles put on Achilles’ armour and attacked the Trojans. The Trojan prince Hector killed Achilles. Achilles was very angry over Patrocles’ death, buried his friend and sought revenge. He challenged Hector and killed him. During the Trojan War Achilles also handed over the prize of wisdom to Nestor.

Macro Theme: Achilles

Micro Themes:
Achilles plunged into the Styx
Achilles educated by the Centaur Chiron
Achilles on Skyros, recognised among the Daughters of Lycomedes
Achilles gives the Prize of Wisdom to Nestor
The Wrath of Achilles
The Funeral of Patrocles
The Death of Achilles

Acis and Galatea

Galatea was a sea-nymph, a Nereid. Acis’s father was the son of Faunus and his mother the river-nymph Symaethis, daughter of the spirit of the River Symaethus. Acis fell in love with Galatea, but the Cyclops Polyphemus was jealous and sought revenge. Polyphemus killed Acis with a boulder. Galatea then turned Acis’ blood into the River Acis, which flowed in Sicily near Mount Etna. The tale is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Acis and Galatea are usually painted in a landscape, sometimes accompanied by Polyphemus.

Macro Theme: Acis and Galatea

Micro Theme:
Acis and Galatea
Acis and Galatea with Polyphemus


Adonis was an annually-renewed vegetation god, a god of life, death and rebirth. His cult belonged mainly to women. He was worshipped in mystery religions. Painters hence usually either depicted his life or his death.
Aphrodite urged Myrrha to commit incest with her father, Theias, the King of Smyrna. Myrrha's nurse helped in the conspiration, so Myrrha coupled with her father in the darkness. When Theias discovered the deception by a lamp, he flew into a rage, and wanted to kill his daughter. Myrrha fled and Aphrodite turned her into a myrrh tree. Theias shot an arrow into the tree and as a result Adonis was born from it.
Adonis was a very beautiful young man. He was so beautiful that Aphrodite and Persephone wanted him. The argument by Zeus, with Adonis spending four months with Aphrodite, four months with Persephone and four months of the years to himself.

Macro Theme: Adonis

Micro Themes:
The Birth of Adonis
The Death of Adonis


Aeneas’ father, Anchises, was the cousin of King Priam of Troy. His mother was the goddess Aphrodite (Venus). Aeneas was in Homer’s Iliad the leader of the Dardanians and an ally of Troy. He was a hero of the Trojan War, a friend of Priam’s son Hector.
Virgil wrote is his ‘Aeneid’ that Aeneas escaped from Troy when the Greeks conquered the city, led by his mother Aphrodite, and founded Rome. Aeneas then carried his father Anchises on his shoulders. Aeneas first sailed into a port on the island of the Harpies. The Harpies were sent by the Gods to torment a man called Phineus, a blind man. Whenever Phineus wanted to eat the Harpies stole his food. The Harpies attacked Aeneas and he slew many.
While Aeneas sailed in the Mediterranean, storms blew him to Carthago where the city’s Queen Dido fell in love with him. She asked Aeneas to stay with her in Carthago. But Zeus and Aphrodite sent the messenger Mercury to remind Aeneas of his objectives. Aeneas left Carthago and Dido secretly. Dido then ordered her sister Anna to construct a great fire, to burn the possessions that Aeneas had left behind in his hurry. On the pyre, Dido threw a curse on Aeneas that would forever pit Carthago against Rome. She then committed suicide by stabbing herself with the same sword she gave Aeneas when they first met. Juno, moved by Dido's plight, sent Iris to make Dido's passage to Hades quicker and less painful. When Aeneas later travelled to Hades, he called to her ghost but she refused to speak to him.
When Aeneas arrived after many adventures in Italy, he sought the advice of the Cumaean Sibyl. The Sibyl instructed him to seek a tree with a golden branch, to pluck of that branch and to offer it to Proserpine.
Aeneas later made war against the city of Falerii. Latinus, king of the Latins, welcomed Aeneas and allowed him with his companions to live in Latium. Latinus’ daughter Lavinia had been promised to Turnus, king of the Rutuli, but Latinus received a prophecy that Lavinia would be betrothed to a man from a foreign land. Turnus therefore made war on Aeneas, who received the help of King Tarchon of the Etruscans and Queen Amata of the Latins. Aeneas' forces prevailed. King Turnus was killed and his people were captured. Livy wrote that Latinus died in the war. Aeneas later founded the city of Lavinium, named after his wife.
Aeneas was the father of Ascanius with Creusa, and of Silvius with Lavinia. Ascanius was also known as Iulus (or Julius), hence the founder of the Roman family of the Julii (among which Julius Caesar). Aeneas founded Alba Longa and was the first in a long series of kings. According to the mythology of Virgil in the Aeneid, Romulus and Remus were both descendants of Aeneas through their mother Rhea Silvia, so that Aeneas was the founder of the Roman people.
Aeneas has been a frequent theme in painting. His mother was Venus, so some painters have depicted them together in a scene.

Macro Theme: Aeneas

Micro Themes:
Aeneas fleeting from Troy
Aeneas carrying Anchises
Dido and Aeneas
Dido abandoned
Dido’s Death
Aeneas and Achates on the Libyan Coast
Aeneas and his Companions fighting the Harpies
Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl
Aeneas and Lavinia
Latinus offering his Daughter Lavinia to Aeneas in Matrimony
Aeneas in Hades
Aeneas in the Elysian Fields
Aeneas and Venus


Agamemnon was the King of Mycenae. In Homer’s Iliad he led the Greek armies, the Achaeans, in the Trojan War. Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus of Mycenae and of Queen Aerope. His brother was Menelaus who was married to Helena, the daughter of the King of Sparta Tyndareus. Menelaus had become King of Sparta when the Trojan War started because Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, had abducted Helena. Agamemnon had married Clytemnestra, sister of Helena and equally daughter of Tyndareus, King of Sparta.
During the Trojan War Agamemnon disputed with Achilles over the Trojan slave girl Briseis. As a consequence, Achilles refused to fight on and the Achaeans lost further battles against the Trojans. The Iliad is mainly the story of this dispute.
When Agamemnon returned from Troy, he brought the princess Cassandra as his concubine. Upon his arrival, he entered the palace for a banquet while Cassandra remained in the chariot. It is at this point that Clytemnestra seduced Agamemnon into a vulnerable position, and then entangled him in cloth and murdered him.

Macro Theme: Agamemnon

Micro Themes:
Stories of Agamemnon's Life
The Dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles


There are three figures in Greek mythology called Aglaulus or Agraulus.

The first Aglaulus was the daughter of Actaeus, king of Athens. She married Cecrops and became the mother of Erysichthon, Aglaulus (the second one), Herse, and Pandrosus.
The second Aglaulus was the daughter of Cecrops, who was driven to suicide for ignoring a warning from the goddess Athena.
The third Aglaulus was the daughter of an incestuous relationship between Erectheus and his daughter Procris.

We know of pictures of the first and the third Aglaulus, shown with Procris and Herse, but the theme remained rare in the art of painting. These pictures are of Sebastiano del Piombo in the Villa Farnesina alla Lungara of Rome.

Macro Theme: Aglaulus


Ajax was a mythological Greek hero, the son of Telamon and Periboea and king of Salamis. He played an important role in Homer's Iliad and in the Epic Cycle, a series of epic poems about the Trojan War. To distinguish him from Ajax, son of Oileus, he is called "Telamonian Ajax," "Greater Ajax," or "Ajax the Great".
In Homer's Iliad Ajax is described as of great stature and colossal frame. He was the tallest and strongest of all the Achaeans, second only to his cousin Achilles in skill-at-arms, and Diomedes to whom he lost a sparring competition as well as the 'bulwark of the Achaeans'. He was trained by the centaur Chiron (who had also trained his father, Telamon, and Achilles' father Peleus), at the same time as Achilles. Aside from Achilles, Ajax is the most valuable warrior in Agamemnon's army (along with Diomedes), though he is not as cunning as Nestor, Diomedes, Idomeneus, or Odysseus. He commands his army wielding a huge shield made of seven ox-hides with a layer of bronze. He is not wounded in any of the battles described in the Iliad.

Macro Theme: Ajax


Alcestis was in Greek mythology a princess, known for the love of her husband. Her story was popularised in Euripides's tragedy Alcestis. She was the daughter of Pelias, king of Iolcus, and either Anaxibia or Phylomache.
In the myth of Alcestis, many suitors appeared before King Pelias, her father, when she became of age to marry. Pelias declared she would marry the first man to yoke a lion and a boar to a chariot. The man who would do this, King Admetus, was helped by Apollo, who had been banished from Olympus for 9 years to serve as a shepherd to Admetus. Admetus completed the king's task, and was allowed to marry Alcestis. After the wedding, Admetus forgot to make the required sacrifice to Artemis, and found his bed full of snakes. Apollo again helped the newly wed king, this time by making the Fates drunk, extracting from them a promise that if anyone would want to die instead of Admetus, they would allow it. Since no one volunteered, not even his elderly parents, Alcestis stepped forth. Shortly after, Heracles rescued Alcestis from Hades, as a token of appreciation for the hospitality of Admetus.

Macro Theme: Alcestis

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC) was a King of Macedon, born in Pella, the capital of Macedon. He was the son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, an Epirote princess. He succeeded on his father. Alexander helped his father defeat the Greek states, and after the death of his father he attacked the Achaemenid Persian Empire of King Darius. After twelve years of campaigns in the Orient he died of a fever.
Alexander defeated Darius in several battles, such as the battles at Issus and Arbella or Gaugamela.
In Athens, he visited the philosopher Diogenes who had warned the Athenians against his dictatorship. Diogenes lived in a barrel. When Alexander stood before Diogenes, he asked Diogenes anything he would wish but Diogenes merely asked Alexander to step aside for his shadow blocked the sun and thus his warmth.
Alexander defeated Darius in battles but he treated Darius’ family well after the Persian Emperor committed suicide.
The court painter of Alexander was called Apelles. Apelles painted Campaspe, Alexander’s mistress, and fell in love with her. In honour to Apelles, Alexander gave Campaspe as wife to Apelles.
There are a few paintings of Abdalonymus, a character associated with Alexander the Great. After Alexander the Great had subdued Sidon, he gave permission to Hephaestion to bestow its crown on whom he pleased. Hephaestion offered it to two brothers with whom he lodged, but they declined it, alleging that according to their laws it could only be worn by one of royal blood. They named Abdalonymus however, who, notwithstanding his birth, had fallen into such poverty, that he supported himself by the cultivation of a kitchen garden. Hephaestion directed the brothers to carry the royal crown and robes to Abdalonymus. They obeyed, and found him weeding in his garden. After causing him to wash, they invested him with the ensigns of royalty, and conducted him to Alexander. Alexander was well pleased with the replies to his questions, that he confirmed the nomination of Hephaestion, and gave the new king the palace and private estate of Strato his predecessor, and even augmented his dominions from the neighbouring country.
In the Phrygian capital of Gordium, Alexander undid the unsolvable Gordian Knot, a feat said to await the future king of all Asia. Alexander said it did not matter how the knot was undone, so he hacked it apart with his sword.
Alexander also crossed the Indus, tried to conquer India. He won an epic battle against the local ruler Porus, who ruled a region in the Punjab, in the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC. Alexander was greatly impressed by Porus’ bravery, and made an alliance with him and even appointed him as satrap of his own lands.
Alexander married Roxanne, the daughter of a Bactrian nobleman.

Macro Theme: Alexander the Great

Micro Themes:
Scenes of Alexander’s Life
The Battles of Alexander in Persia
Alexander visiting Diogenes
King Darius
Alexander and Darius’ Family
Alexander and Apelles
The Gordian Knot
The Wedding of Alexander and Roxanne
Alexander and Porus
Alexander’s Sickness and Death


Allegories in painting are a mode of representation that carries another meaning than the representation itself. Allegories appeal to the imagination. They represent in the mind something else than shown. A picture may show a beautiful young girl for instance, but the title of the painting may be ‘Spring’ and the meaning of the artist may have been to give the viewer an impression of the freshness and beauty of spring.
Allegories have been used much to represent visually concepts of the mind such as time, education, justice, the virtues and justice.
Allegories have been used very much in the art of painting, so there are very many micro themes for allegories. In the micro themes we have more or less themes that are related together.
A few words of caution are necessary. It is not because a painting shows a beautiful landscape in spring and is entitled ‘Spring’ that the artist meant to show the notion of the season of spring. In such cases we have simply classified the painting as a picture of a landscape. Similarly, it is not when a painter shows the city of London at dawn and gives it the title of ‘Dawn’ that the picture represents the notion of ‘Morning’; in this case also we should classify the picture simply as a landscape.
Another caution should be mentioned with the famous and multiple Dutch pictures entitled ‘Vanitas’; these pictures do not always represent the concept of ‘Vanity’. They may simply show a fine bouquet of flowers and have a little reference to passing time only. When however they specifically address the concept of warnings that time passes and that time is short and life transient, and that man should not pursue riches only, then we classified the pictures as ‘Vanitas’ allegories. The differences are sometimes subtle. Vanitas picture may as well represent the concept of vanity defined as the conceit of one’s appearance or attainments (vanity) as the futility of human achievements in view of the shortness of a human’s life (vanitas).

Macro Theme: Allegories

Micro Themes:
Allegories (various)
Allegories of the Virtues
Allegories of the Vices
Allegories of Charity
Allegories of Roman Charity
Allegories of Fortitude
Allegories of Humility
Allegories of Temperance
Allegories of Prudence
Allegories of Justice
Allegories of Fidelity
Allegories of Modesty
Allegories of Hope
Allegories of Happiness
Allegories of Endurance
Allegories of Meditation
Allegories of Perseverance
Allegories of Chastity
Allegories of Liberalities
Allegories of Innocence
Allegories of Patience
Allegories of Loyalty
Allegories of Truth
Allegories of Wisdom
Allegories of Goodness
Allegories of Generosity
Allegories of Strength
Allegories of Honour
Allegories of Frailty
Allegories of Glory
Allegories of Curiosity
Allegories of Good and Evil

Allegories of Laziness
Allegories of Vanity
Allegories of Anger
Allegories of Calumny
Allegories of Avarice
Allegories of Human Folly
Allegories of Jealousy
Allegories of Ignorance

Allegories of the Fates
Allegories of Fortune
Allegories of Chance
Allegories of Transience
Allegories of Melancholy

Allegories of Abundance
Allegories of Wealth

Allegories of Love
Allegories of Sacred and Profane Love

Allegories of Faith
Allegories of the Church
Allegories of Religion

Allegories of Fame

Allegories of Water
Allegories of Fire
Allegories of Earth
Allegories of the Air
Allegories of the Four Elements

Allegories of the Four Continents

Allegories of the Four Seasons
Allegories of Spring
Allegories of Summer
Allegories of Autumn
Allegories of Winter
Allegories of Nature

Allegories of the Day
Allegories of Morning
Allegories of Noon
Allegories of Evening
Allegories of Night
Allegories of Sleep
Allegories of the Hours

Allegories of the Bronze Age
Allegories of the Iron Age
Allegories of the Silver Age
Allegories of the Golden Age

Allegories of the Five Senses
Allegories of the Sense of Touch
Allegories of the Sense of Taste
Allegories of the Sense of Hearing
Allegories of the Sense of Smell
Allegories of the Sense of Sight

Allegories of Death
Allegories of Life
Allegories of Sickness

Allegories of important historical Figures
Allegories of Reigns
Allegories of the Venetian Scuolas
Allegories of Venice
Allegories of Countries and their Governments
Allegories of historical Events

Allegories of Time
Allegories of Peace
Allegories of War
Allegories of military Life
Allegories of the Law
Allegories of Victory

Allegories of the Ages of Man
Allegories of Youth

Allegories of Marriage

Allegories of Knowledge
Allegories of Education and Study
Allegories of Science
Allegories of Astronomy
Allegories of Mathematics
Allegories of History
Allegories of Philosophy
Allegories of Eloquence
Allegories of Syllogism
Allegories of Progress

Allegories of the Arts
Allegories of the seven Liberal Arts
Allegories of the Arts of Painting and Drawing
Allegories of the Arts of Painting and Sculpture
Allegories of Music
Allegories of Poetry
Allegories of Architecture
Allegories of the Academies

Allegories of Plowing
Allegories of Fishing
Allegories of Navigation
Allegories of Commerce
Allegories of Spinning

Alpheus and Arethusa

Alpheus was in Greek mythology a river (of which Hercules changed its course) and a river-god.
Alpheus fell in love with Arethusa, one of Artemis's nymphs, after she began to bathe in his waters. However, she fled after she discovered his presence; Arethusa desired nothing more than to hunt and be free in the forest. After running a great distance nude through the forest, she called upon Artemis who hid her in a cloud. Alpheus continued to search for her, a rather rare theme in painting. She began to perspire profusely from fear, and soon transformed into a stream. Artemis then broke the ground allowing Arethusa another attempt to flee. Her stream travelled under the earth to the island of Ortygia, but Alpheus flowed through the sea to reach her and mingle with her waters.

Macro Theme: Alpheus


Amarillis and Mirtillo is a scene from Giovanni Battista Guarini’s 16th century pastoral tragic-comedy ‘Il Pastor Fido’, the faithful shepherd, a literary work that was very popular in Italy. Guarini (1538-1612) was an Italian poet.
The play is set in Arcadia. Silvio, a young hunter (and a descendant of Achilles) who does not care about love, was to marry the fair Amarillis (a descendant of Pan). The play recounts the events of their wedding day. Mirtillo, the faithful shepherd, has fallen in love with Mirtillo. Amarillis played a kissing contest between her maiden friends, the nymphs. She was blindfolded and had to tell who kissed best. Mirtillo disguised as a shepherdess and won the contest, so received the crown from Amarillis’ hands. In fact, another shepherdess, Corisca, wanted to discredit Mirtillo and win him for herself.
The theme, though not a mythological theme, has been taken up by a few painters for scenes of pastoral landscapes.

Macro Theme: Amarillis and Mirtillo


The Amazons were a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology. Herodotus placed them in a region along Scythia in Sarmatia. A Queen of the Amazons was Penthesilea, who participated in the Trojan War.
The Argonauts, led by Jason, arrived on the island of Lemnos and met the Amazons there. The Queen of the Amazons told them that Lemnos was invaded in the past and that all of the men had been killed. Therefore the Amazons invited the Argonauts to take their husbands' places. What the Argonauts did not know was that the men of Lemnos were killed by the Amazons. Luckily, the Argonauts did not stay long and pursued their quest.
The Amazons attacked the Phrygians, who were helped by Priam, then a young man before he became King of Troy. Later, the Amazons took Priam’s side against the Greeks under their queen Penthesilea. Penthesilea was slain by Achilles in the Trojan War.

Macro Theme: Amazons

Micro Themes:
The Battle of the Amazons


Amphitrite was a sea-goddess. She was the wife of Poseidon (Neptune).
She was either the daughter of Nereus and Doris, and hence a Nereid, or of Oceanus and Thetys and hence an Oceanid.
Painters presented her as a sea-goddess, often with Poseidon-Neptune.

Macro Theme: Amphitrite


Anacreon (570 BC - 488 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and hymns. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets. Anacreon was born at Teos, an Ionian city on the coast of Asia Minor. It is likely that Anacreon fled into exile with the mass of his fellow-townsmen who sailed to Thrace when their homeland was attacked. There they founded a colony at Abdera. From Thrace he removed to the court of Polycrates of Samos. He is said to have acted as tutor to Polycrates and he wrote many odes to his patron. On the death of Polycrates, Hipparchus, who was then in power at Athens and inherited the literary tastes of his father Peisistratus, sent a special embassy to fetch the popular poet to Athens in a galley of fifty oars. Here he became acquainted with the poet Simonides, and other members of the brilliant circle which had gathered round Hipparchus. When this circle was broken up by the assassination of Hipparchus, Anacreon seems to have returned to his native town of Teos, where, according to a metrical epitaph ascribed to his friend Simonides, he died and was buried.

Macro Theme: Anacreon

The Andrians

In a book called the ‘Imagines’ of Philostratus the Elder, Philostratus tells of the island Andros on which flows a stream of wine. The inhabitants have become drunk of it and roam the island in a drunken state. Philostratus the Elder, also called Philostratus of Lemnos or Philostratus III, was born ca. 190 BC. There is indeed an island with the name Andros in the Greek Cyclades. The Andrians would be the name of the people of Andros.

Macro Theme: The Andrians


Andromache was in Greek mythology the wife of Hector, son of Priamus the King of Try in Homer’s ‘Iliad’. During the Trojan War, Hector was killed by Achilles, and their son Astyanax was thrown from the walls of Troy.
Neoptolemus took Andromache as a concubine and Hector's brother, Helenus, as a slave. By Neoptolemus, she was the mother of Molossus, and according to Pausanias also of Pielus and Pergamus. When Neoptolemus died, Andromache married Helenus and became Queen of Epirus. Pausanias also implied that Helenus' son, Cestrinus, was by Andromache. Andromache eventually went to live with Pergamus in Pergamum, where she died of old age. In Euripides' play ‘Andromache’, she and her child are nearly assassinated by Hermione, Neoptolemus' wife and daughter of Helen.
Painters have used Andromache to show a woman in captivity.

Macro Theme: Andromache


The ‘Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes’ by Xenophon of Ephesus is a novel written in the mid-2nd century AD. It was a story of which five books are extant, written in Ephesus, proving that Diana cared for her devotees.
In Book 1, in the city of Ephesus, Habrocomes, an attractive young man, and Anthia, a beautiful and chaste young woman, fall in love with each other after briefly meeting at the festival of Artemis. They are afraid to reveal their love, so they suffer the pains of love. Their families, in the hopes of curing them, consult the shrine of Apollo at Colophon. The soothsayer predicts that Habrocomes and Anthia will have adventures involving pirates, tombs, fire, and flood, but their condition will improve. The parents, trying to avoid such evils, arrange that Anthia and Habrocomes will be married to each other and sent to safety in Egypt.
On their way to Egypt, Habrocomes and Anthia pledge that if they ever became separated they would remain faithful. When their ship stops at Rhodes, Phoenician pirates plunder it, set it aflame, and take Habrocomes and Anthia captive. The pirates bring them to Tyre. Their captain, Corymbos, falls in love with Habrocomes, and his fellow pirate Euxinos falls in love with Anthia. And so on, into many adventures.
The story has been the subject of few paintings.

Macro Theme: Anthia


Antigone was the daughter of the accidentally incestuous marriage between King Oedipus of Thebes and his mother Jocasta.
When Oedipus was discovered to have killed his father and married his mother, he was expelled from Thebes. His two sons by Jocasta, Eteocles and Polynices, shared the kingdom after Oedipus. The brothers agreed to divide the kingship between them, switching each year. Eteocles, however, who reigned in the first year, refused to surrender the crown. Polynices then attacked Thebes, helped by King Adrastus of Argos, whose daughter he had married. The siege of Thebes was not successful, but the two brothers fought against each other and both died.
Antigone tried to give a respectable burial for her brother Polynices, even though he was a traitor to Thebes.
In Sophocles' tragedy Antigone, King Creon, who succeeded to the throne of Thebes after Eteocles, decreed that Polynices was not to be buried. Antigone defied the order, but she was caught. Creon decreed that she was to starve to death, this in spite of her betrothal to his son Haemon. Antigone's sister, Ismene, then declared she had aided Antigone and wanted the same fate. Creon imprisoned Antigone in a sepulchre. The gods, through the intercession of the blind prophet Tiresias, disapproved of Creon's decision, which convinced him to rescind his order. Creon buried Polynices and proceeded to release Antigone. Antigone, however, had already hanged herself rather than be buried alive. When Creon arrived at the tomb where she was to be interred, his son Haemon killed himself in his turn. When Creon's wife, Eurydice, was informed of their death, she committed suicide over Haemon.

Macro Theme: Antigone, Eteocles and Polynices


Apollo was in Greek and Roman mythology the god of light and the sun, of truth and prophecy, of archery, medicine and healing. He was also a god of music, poetry, and the arts, and of many more.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto. He had a twin sister in the huntress Artemis (called Diana in Roman mythology). Apollo is often depicted with Diana, the two gods of hunting.
Apollo was a very frequent theme in painting. He is usually shown as a very beautiful young man, often with bow and arrows (as the god of hunting). His companions were the muses (of the arts). He is also sometimes shown with a lyre (god of music).Apollo was also the god of reason and order, in contrast to Dionysus (Bacchus) who was the god of wine and disorder.
Apollo was born on the island of Delos. When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she banned Leto from giving birth on firm land. In her wanderings, Leto found the floating island of Delos, which was no firm land, and she gave birth there. The island was surrounded by swans. Artemis – the Roman Diana - was born first and she assisted in the birth of Apollo. Afterwards, Zeus connected Delos to the bottom of the ocean. This island later became sacred to Apollo.
In his youth, Apollo killed the serpent Python, which lived in Delphi beside the Castalian Spring. This was the spring which emitted the vapours that caused the famous oracle at Delphi to give her prophesies. Apollo killed Python but had to be punished for it, since Python was a child of Gaia.
Marsyas, a satyr dared challenge Apollo to a music contest. Marsyas played the double flute, Apollo the lyre. Marsyas won, so Apollo had Marsyas flayed, deskinned. Marsyas blood turned the River Marsyas red.
Zeus struck down Apollo's son Asclepius with a lightning. Apollo in revenge killed the Cyclops, who had fashioned the bolt for Zeus. Apollo would have been banished to Tartarus forever, but he was instead sentenced to one year of hard labour only due to the intercession of his mother, Leto. During this time he served as shepherd for King Admetus of Pherae in Thessaly. Admetus treated Apollo well, and, in return, Apollo conferred great benefits on Admetus.
Mercury and Apollo were angry with each other at first, for Mercury had stolen cows from Apollo while he was a shepherd. Yet, Mercury had invented the lyre and presented it to Apollo. Apollo and Mercury were friends from that moment on.
Apollo chased a nymph, Daphne, the daughter of Peneus. Apollo laughed at Cupid for toying with a man's weapon, whereupon Cupid wounded him with an arrow with a golden dart; simultaneously, however, Cupid also shot a leaden arrow into Daphne, causing her to be repulsed by Apollo. Daphne, ardently pursued by Apollo but refusing him, and then prayed to Mother Earth, to help her and she was changed into the Laurel tree, sacred to Apollo. The story of Apollo and Daphne has been often painted.
Pan compared his music with that of Apollo, and he challenged Apollo. Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen to umpire. Pan blew on his pipes. Then Apollo played the lyre. Tmolus awarded the victory to Apollo, and all but Midas agreed with the judgment. Midas dissented, and questioned the award. Apollo made the ears of a donkey to grow on Midas.
Apollo is the sun-god. He drove his chariot – the sun – across the heavens.
Apollo, as the sun-god, saw all that happened. He saw the adultery of Vulcan’s wife Aphrodite (Venus) with Ares (Mars). Apollo exposed the adultery for all the gods to see, and brought the news to Vulcan (Hephaestus). Hence, Apollo is therefore sometimes depicted in Vulcan’s forge.

Macro Theme: Apollo

Micro Themes: Apollo
The Birth of Apollo
Apollo and Marsyas
The Judgement of Midas
Apollo deskins Marsyas
Apollo kills the Python
Apollo and Daphne
Apollo and Mercury
The Sun and Apollo’s Chariot
Apollo and Aurora
Apollo and Diana
Apollo and Pan
Apollo and Nymphs
Apollo and the Muses
Apollo and Vulcan
Apollo and Bacchus
Apollo among the Shepherds of Thessaly
Apollo and the Shepherdess Isse
Apollo and the Centaur
Apollo and Ovid


Arcadia is a region of Greece in the Peloponnesus. Arcadia remained a rustic, secluded area, and its inhabitants became proverbial as primitive herdsmen leading simple pastoral unsophisticated yet happy lives, to the point that Arcadia came also to refer to an imaginary idyllic paradise. The word Arcadia developed thus into a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness. The Utopian vision, Arcadia, is associated with bountiful natural splendour, harmony, and it is often inhabited by shepherds. Greek mythology inspired the Roman poet Virgil to write his Eclogues, a series of poems set in Arcadia. As a result of the influence of Virgil in medieval European literature, Arcadia became a symbol of pastoral simplicity.
Arcadia is often connected with the Golden Age. It has been suggested that its inhabitants have merely continued to live as people did in the Golden Age, and all other nations have less pleasant lives because they have allowed themselves to depart from the original simplicity.
Painters have used Arcadia to show splendid landscapes with shepherds and nymphs. Of particular note is ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ (Even here, I - Death - exist) by Nicolas Poussin, which has become famous both in its own right and because of its (possible) connection with the gnostic histories of the Rosicrucians or of the Freemasons.

Macro Theme: Arcadia


Archimedes of Syracuse (ca. 287 BC – ca. 212 BC) was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Few details of his life are known, yet he was one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity.
Archimedes helped King Hieron defend Syracuse against a siege by Roman soldiers. He invented many contraptions to fend off the Roman fleet, such as mirrors that set fire to the sails and machines that lifted boats out of the water and threw them down again with great force. He died during this Siege of Syracuse when he was killed by a Roman soldier despite orders that he should not be harmed.

Macro Theme: Archimedes


Ariadne was in Greek mythology the daughter of King Minos of Crete and his Queen, Pasiphaë, daughter of Helios, the Sun-titan.
Minos attacked Athens after his son was killed there. The Athenians asked for peace. Minos demanded that Athens would sacrifice seven young men and seven maidens every nine years to the Minotaur, who lived in the labyrinth of Knossos. Theseus, a young Athenian volunteered to go to Crete and kill the Minotaur. Ariadne fell in love with him, and helped him by giving him a sword and a ball of red fleece thread, so that he could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth. Theseus killed the Minotaur.
Ariadne ran away with Theseus after he had achieved his goal and the lovers reached the island of Naxos. Theseus abandoned her however on Naxos, while she slept.
The god Dionysus (in Roman mythology: Bacchus) found Ariadne and married her.

Macro Theme: Ariadne

Micro Themes:
Ariadne and Theseus
Ariadne abandoned
Bacchus and Ariadne and their Wedding


Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the goddess of the hunt, the goddess of the forests and the moon. Therefore she was often depicted as a winged goddess or a maiden huntress, with a stag or a leopard, also with hunting dogs, carrying a bow and arrows. Artemis was a goddess of Greek mythology and she was later called Diana in Roman mythology.
There are many more paintings entitled ‘Diana’ than Artemis. Diana was represented as a kind of Venus in her bath, or resting in the woods with her maids, often the nymphs. There are many pictures and Diana and the nymph Callisto (seen the theme ‘Callisto’).
Actaeon was the son of the herdsman Aristaeus and Autonoe in Boeotia. In Greek mythology he was a famous Theban hero, trained by the centaur Cheiron. Artemis was bathing in the woods with her nymphs when Actaeon stumbled across her, thus seeing her naked. Artemis was angry and she forbade him to speak. If he tried to speak, he would be changed instantly into a stag. Actaeon cried out to his hunting party and was immediately changed into a stag. His own hounds then tore him to pieces. This theme was very popular in painting, as well Diana’s bath as the changing of Actaeon into a stag being devoured by his own dogs.
There exist paintings of Diana and Endymion. The true story in this case is of Endymion and the goddess of the moon in Greek mythology, Selene. Since Diana was also the goddess of the moon, the story of Selene was transferred on Diana. See the chapter on Endymion.

Macro Theme: Artemis

Micro Themes:
Diana at the Hunt
Diana resting
Diana and Nymphs
Diana and Actaeon
Diana’s Bath
The Triumph of Diana


There are two figures with the name of Artemisia in ancient Greek history.
Artemisia I of Caria (fl. 480 BC) became the ruler, after the death of her husband, as a client of the Persians – who in the 5th century BC ruled as the overlords of Ionia. This Artemisia is best remembered for her participation in the Battle of Salamis. Alone of her commanders, Artemisia counselled the Persian king Xerxes not to meet the Greeks at sea to do battle. Nevertheless, she participated in the Battle of Salamis in September, 480 BC as a Persian ally commanding five ships. At one point in the battle, with the Greeks on the point of capturing her trireme, Artemisia managed to escape. She turned and bore down on a ship from her own side, a Calyndian vessel, and ramming it amidships sank it with all hands. The Athenian ships then left her alone, presuming she must be fighting on the Greek side. She escaped back to the Persians, where, according to Herodotus, Xerxes declared "My men have turned into women and my women into men!" Artemisia convinced Xerxes to retreat back to Asia Minor after the defeat at Salamis, contrary to the advice of Mardonius, who wanted Xerxes to stay. Xerxes then sent her to Ephesus to take care of his sons.
Artemisia II of Caria was a sister, the wife and the successor of the king Mausolus. She was a daughter of Hecatomnus, and after the death of her husband she reigned for two years, from 352 to 350 BC. She is renowned in history for her extraordinary grief at the death of her husband Mausolus. She is said to have mixed his ashes in her daily drink, and to have gradually pined away during the two years that she survived him. She induced the most eminent Greek rhetoricians to proclaim his praise in their oratory; and to perpetuate his memory she built at Halicarnassus a celebrated majestic monument, listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and whose name subsequently became the generic term for any splendid sepulchral monument (mausoleum). This Artemisia appears in most paintings of the subject of ‘Artemisia’.

Macro Theme: Artemisia

Arthur’s Legend

King Arthur was a legendary King of Britain who may have lived in the post-Roman era, maybe in the 6th century AD.
The figure of King Arthur may have been created by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his ‘History of the Kings of Britain’, written in the 1130’s. The father of Arthur was Uther Pendragon. Due to the magician Merlin, Uther, disguised as his enemy Gorlois by Merlin's magic, fathers Arthur on Gorlois' wife Igerna at Tintagel. When Uther died, the fifteen-year-old Arthur succeeded him as King of Britain. Arthur fought a series of battles, similar which culminated in the Battle of Bath. Arthur later defeated the Picts and the Scots. He also conquered Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and even Gaul. That latter country was still the Roman. Arthur and his knights, including Kay, Bedivere and Gawain, defeated the Roman emperor Lucius Tiberius in Gaul but Arthur heard that his nephew Modred had married his wife Guenhuuara and seized the throne. Arthur then returned to Britain and defeated and killed Modred. Arthur was nevertheless mortally wounded. He handed the crown to his kinsman Constantine and he was brought to the isle of Avalon, from where he was never seen again.
The French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, wrote five romances on Arthur between ca.1170 and ca.1190. In these he introduced the characters and the adulterous relation between the Queen Guinevere and the knight Lancelot. He also wrote a Story of the Holy Grail with Perceval.
There are several other sources for stories of King Arthur, among which ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ written by Sir Thomas Malory around 1485.
Painters have occasionally painted scenes from these books, of Arthur himself, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, Sir Tristram, Merlin Morgan Le Fay, and other figures. We will not define micro themes for this subject because there are too few pictures per micro theme. The subject was particularly popular with the Pre-Raphaelite painters.

Macro Theme: Arthur


Atala was the main character in a novel of François-René de Châteubriand of the same name (Atala or the Love of two Indians in the Desert). François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768 - 1848) was a French writer, politician and diplomat. He is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature.
The old Natchez Indian Chactas tells to the young Frenchman and hunter René his life on the banks of the River Meschacebe, the Mississippi. Chactas, adoptive son of a Christian called, was a prisoner, but Atala, a young Indian of Christian upbringing saved him. They fled in the forest and found after long wandering a missionary, Father Aubry, who united Chactas and Atala in marriage by converting Chactas to. But Atala had promised to her mother, on her mother’s deathbed, to remain a virgin. In order not to succumb to the temptation, and stay loyal to the Virgin and to her mother, Atala took poison although she loved Chactas. Before dying she heard she could nevertheless have married Chactas.
Atala is a rare theme in painting, sometimes used by French artists.

Macro Theme: Atala


See 'Meleager'.


See 'Minerva'.


In Roman mythology Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, renews herself every morning. Aurora flied across the sky and thus announced the arrival of the sun. In Greek mythology she was the goddess Eos.
Painters have sometimes painted her in a chariot, although it was Apollo, the sun-god, who rode across the sky in his sun-chariot. Sometimes also, painters entitled a painting ‘Dawn’ but showed a beautiful girl – the goddess Aurora
Aurora is also linked to the story of Cephalus and Procris – see that theme.

Macro Theme: Aurora

Emperor Augustus

Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD) was a figure of ancient Roman history, born as Gaius Octavius Thurinus. Before 27 BC his name was Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus after his adoption by Julius Caesar.
Augustus was the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He ruled from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.
Octavian-Augustus inherited from Caesar after the latter's assassination in 44 BC. Octavian joined forces with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in a military dictatorship known as the Second Triumvirate. Octavian effectually ruled Rome in that Triumvirate and most of its provinces. The Triumvirate eventually ended: Lepidus was driven into exile, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by the armies of Octavian in 31 BC. Augustus was not a dictator in the true sense of Roman law; a new kind of political leadership was established, called the Roman Empire.
Painters have taken up many scenes of Augustus’ life for pictures. We retain only the macro theme.

Macro Theme: Augustus


Automedon was in Greek mythology the, son of Diores. He was Achilles' charioteer.
In Homer's Iliad, he rides into battle once Patroclus has donned Achilles's armour, commanding Achilles' horses Balius and Xanthos. After Patroclus's death, Automedon is driven to the rear of the battle, where he attempts to console the bereaved horses. Zeus finally intervenes, and Automedon resumes driving the chariot, but can not aid the Achaeans until Alcimidon agrees to be his driver. He repels an attempt on his life by Hector, Aeneas, Chromios, and Aretos, killing Aretos and taking his armour in the process.
Pictures of Automedon are rare.

Macro Theme: Automedon


Bacchus was the Roman name for the Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine and drinking, of agriculture and theatre, and of the frenzy or madness induced by wine.
Bacchus was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman called Semele. Zeus’ wife, Hera, was jealous and so she induced Semele to ask Zeus to reveal himself to her. Zeus did so, but the sight of Zeus is fatal to any mortal. Semele was consumed in Zeus’ fire. Zeus rescued Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh; from there, the young Bacchus was born.
According to one legend, Bacchus was given to nymphs to be raised.
When Dionysus grew up he discovered the culture of the vine and the ways of wine-making. Hera struck him with madness, and he wandered through various parts of the earth. In Phrygia the goddess Cybele cured him and taught him her own rites. Bacchus taught in Asia people how to cultivate the vine and how to make wine. He is sometimes depicted with Ceres, the goddess of the earth and agriculture.
In Rome existed rites known as the Bacchanalia, rites held in secret and in the beginning attended by women only though later also attended by men. The rites included processions. The Bacchanalia were notorious as orgies, at which also crimes and conspiracies were being planned. The Bacchanalia were forbidden by the Roman Senate in 186 BC.

Macro Theme: Bacchus

Micro Themes:
Bacchus (and various)
The infant Bacchus
Bacchus and Ceres
Bacchus and Nymphs
Bacchus and Drinkers
The Procession of Bacchus
The Triumph of Bacchus


Flavius Belisarius (ca. 505-565 AD) was one of the finest generals of the Byzantine Empire, born in Bulgaria of Greek or Thracian ancestry. He worked mainly for the Emperor Justinian I and led many campaigns for him in Asia and Italy. In 562 Belisarius was charged with corruption and imprisoned. He was found guilty but Justinian pardoned him, ordered him released and he was once more in favour of the Byzantine court.
According to a legend of the Middle Ages, Justinian may have ordered Belisarius to be blinded and left him to beg near the Pincian Gate of Rome, before pardoning him. Especially this story appealed to the imagination of painters.

Macro Theme: Belisarius


Bellona was an Roman war goddess. She is believed to have been the Romans' original war deity, predating the identification of Mars with Ares. She accompanied Mars into battle and is taken variously as his sister, wife or daughter.
Bellona's attribute is a sword and she is depicted wearing a helmet and armed with a spear and a torch. It is a rare theme in painting.

Macro Theme: Bellona


Berenice of Cilicia, also known as Julia Berenice (28 AD – ?), was a Jewish client queen of the Roman Empire during the second half of the 1st century. Berenice was a member of the Herodian Dynasty, who ruled the Roman province of Judaea between 39 BC and 92 AD. She was the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I, and sister of King Herod Agrippa II.
The historian Flavius Josephus tells of Berenice. It is for her tumultuous love life that Berenice is primarily known. After a number of failed marriages throughout the 40s, she spent much of the remainder of her life at court of her brother Agrippa II, amidst rumours the two were carrying on an incestuous relationship. During the First Jewish-Roman War, she began a love affair with the future emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus. Her unpopularity among the Romans however compelled Titus to dismiss Berenice upon his accession as emperor in 79. When he died two years later, so did Berenice disappear from the historical record.
Bérénice is a five-act tragedy by the French 17th-century playwright Jean Racine. Bérénice was not played often between the 17th and the 20th centuries. Today it is one of Racine's more popular plays, after Phèdre, Andromaque and Britannicus. The subject was taken from the Roman historian Suetonius, who recounted the story of the Roman emperor Titus and Berenice of Cilicia, the sister of Agrippa II. In the story, Titus' father, Vespasian, has died, so that everyone assumes that Titus will now be free to marry his beloved Bérénice, queen of Palestine. Madly in love with Bérénice, Antiochus plans to flee Rome rather than face her marriage with his friend Titus. However, Titus has been listening to public opinion about the prospects of his marriage with a foreign queen, and the Romans find this match undesirable. Titus chooses his duty to Rome over his love for Bérénice and sends Antiochus to tell Bérénice the news. Knowing that Antiochus is Titus' rival, Bérénice refuses to believe Antiochus. However, Titus confirms that he will not marry her. She and Antiochus leave Rome separately, and Titus remains behind to rule his empire.

Macro Theme: Berenice


Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 1375) was an Italian author and poet, a friend and correspondent of Petrarch, an important Renaissance humanist and the author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular.
Painters have not only shown Boccaccio himself in portraits, but also various scenes from his works, most notably from the Decameron. Since there are few paintings of each theme, we propose only one macro theme.

Macro Theme: Boccaccio

Boreas and Oreithyia

Boreas was the Greek God of the northern wind. He was the son of Eos, Dawn, and Astraeus, who fathered the other winds.
Oreithyia was the daughter of King Erechtheus of Athens and his wife, Praxithea. In Greek mythology, after she had married Boreas, she was the goddess of the cold mountain winds.
Boreas fell in love with Oreithyia. He tried to charm her, but he failed to seduce her and so he decided to take Oreithyia by violence. While Oreithyia was playing by the Ilissos River, Boreas abducted her and brought her to the Rock of Sarpedon near the Erginos River in Thrace. Boreas raped Oreithyia there and married her. For these figures of mythology, painters have almost exclusively painted this story of Boreas and Oreithyia together.

Macro Theme: Boreas and Oreithyia

Lucius Junius Brutus

Lucius Junius Brutus was the founder of the Roman Republic and traditionally one of the first Consuls in 509 BC. He was the primary ancestor of the Junius family in Ancient Rome, including the Marcus Junius Brutus who helped murder Julius Caesar.
Brutus led the revolt that overthrew the last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, after the rape of the Brutus’s kinswoman Lucretia at the hands of Tarquin's son Sextus Tarquinius. The account is from Livy's Ab Urbe Condita and deals with a point in the history of Rome prior to reliable historical records. The story of Brutus' execution of his own sons for failing in their military duties may well have been a later invention. His consulship came to an end during a battle with the Etruscans, who had allied themselves with the Tarquins to restore them to power in Rome.

Macro Theme: Lucius Junius Brutus


Cadmus was in Greek mythology a Phoenician prince, son of Agenor and the brother of Phoenix, Cilix and Europa. Cadmus founded the Greek city of Thebes, and its acropolis was originally named Cadmeia in his honour. Cadmus was credited by the Hellenes of Classical times with the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet. Herodotus who gives this account estimates that Cadmus lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 BC. According to Greek myth, Cadmus' descendants ruled at Thebes on-and-off for several generations, including the time of the Trojan War.
Cadmus came in the course of his wanderings to Delphi, where he consulted the oracle. He was ordered to give up his quest and follow a special cow, with a half moon on her flank, which would meet him, and to build a town on the spot where she should lie down exhausted. The cow was given to Cadmus by Pelagon, King of Phocis, and it guided him to Boeotia, where he founded the city of Thebes. Intending to sacrifice the cow to Athena, Cadmus sent some of his companions to the nearby Castalian Spring, for water. They were slain by the spring's guardian water-dragon, which was in turn destroyed by Cadmus, the duty of a culture hero of the new order. By the instructions of Athena, he sowed the Dragon's teeth in the ground, from which there sprang a race of fierce armed men, called Spartes ("sown"). By throwing a stone among them, Cadmus caused them to fall upon one another until only five survived, who assisted him to build the Cadmeia or citadel of Thebes, and became the founders of the noblest families of that city.
Mainly the scene of Cadmus and the dragon has been used by a few painters.

Macro Theme: Cadmus


Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC), was a Roman military and political leader. He was one of the most important figures who transformed the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. He conquered Gaul and Caesar began a civil war in 49 BC.
Painters have used several events of Caesar’s life in pictures.
In 52 BC, when Caesar had already conquered most of Gaul, a revolt broke out against his rule. The revolt was led by Vercingetorix of the Arverni. Vercingetorix united the Gallic tribes and defeated Caesar in several minor battles. Caesar caught Vercingetorix and his entire army at Alesia, surrounded him with his own Roman army and set up elaborate siege-works. He finally forced Vercingetorix to surrender there.
The civil war ended when Caesar defeated the army of Pompey, who had chosen the side of the republican senators. Caesar won the war and became thus the master of the Roman world. He was proclaimed dictator of Rome after his victory over the republican senators. While he pursued Pompey in Egypt, he met the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra and had a love affair with her. He had a son by her, Caesarion. After his death, Cleopatra showed a bust of Caesar to Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son and heir to Caesar.
Finally, a group of such senators, led by Caesar’s former friend Marcus Junius Brutus, assassinated him in the Senate of Rome by stabbing him with daggers.
In 69 BC Caesar went as a quaestor to Spain. While there he saw a statue of Alexander the Great, and realised that he was now at an age when Alexander had conquered the world, while he, Caesar, had achieved little.

Macro Theme: Caesar

Micro Themes:
Caesar (various)
Caesar at the Statue of Alexander
The Siege of Alesia
The Triumph of Caesar
The Death of Caesar
Cleopatra shows Caesar’s Bust to Octavian


Calamus is the Latin word for Kalamos, an ancient Greek word meaning reed or reed pen. The basis for this meaning is the story of the Greek mythological figure Kalamos, son of Maiandros (god of the Maeander River).
A story in Nonnus's Dionysiaca tells of the love of two youths, Kalamos and Karpos, the son of Zephyrus and Chloris. Karpos drowned in the Meander River while the two were competing in a swimming contest and in his grief, Kalamos allowed himself to also drown. He then transformed into a water reed, whose rustling in the wind was interpreted as a sigh of lamentation.
This is a very rare theme in the art of painting.

Macro Theme: Calamus


There are several Callirhoe figures in Greek Mythology.
One Callirhoe was a woman of Calydon. She scorned Coresus, a priest of Dionysos, who was in love with her. Coresus called on Dionysos to strike all the women of Calydon with a plague that drove them mad. The people of Calydon consulted the Dodonean oracle, which said that Callirhoe or someone else in her place had to be offered to Dionysos. Coresus sacrificed himself in order to save. Callirhoe then, from remorse, cut her throat, putting also an end to her life.
As another personage she was a daughter of Scamander, the river god, son of Oceanus and Tethys. Painters depicted Scamander sometimes with a young girl, presumably his daughter Callirhoe.

Macro Theme: Callirhoe

Micro Themes:
Callirhoe and Coresus
Callirhoe and Scamander


Callisto was a nymph of great beauty.
Callisto was one of the nymphs of Artemis ( Roman: Diana), the goddess of the hunt and Artemis demanded that her nymphs remained virgin maidens. Zeus, however, fell in love with Callisto. To seduce her he approached her disguised as Artemis. Callisto became pregnant. Once, when Callisto was bathing, Artemis-Diana found out about Callisto’s pregnancy. There are several versions of what happened next. In one of the versions, Zeus transformed Callisto into a bear and hid her in the mountains. But Artemis shot the bear with an arrow, so that she perished. Hermes saved her son for Zeus, a boy called Arcas. Zeus transformed Callisto once more, this time in the star constellation of the Ursa Major.
There are many paintings of Diana and Callisto, mainly of Diana discovering Callisto pregnant.

Macro Theme: Callisto

Micro Themes:
Diana and Callisto
Diana discovering Callisto pregnant

Marcus Furius Camillus

Marcus Furius Camillus (ca. 446- 365 BC) was a Roman soldier and statesman of patrician descent. According to Livy and Plutarch, Camillus triumphed four times, was five times dictator, and was honoured with the title of Second Founder of Rome.
After the Roman army was defeated by the Gauls at the Allia brook, Rome was seized by the invaders. The Roman army retreated into the deserted Veii whereas most civilians ended at the Etruscan Caere. Nonetheless, a surrounded Roman garrison continued to resist on the Capitoline Hill. The Gauls dwelt within the city, getting their supplies by destroying all nearby towns for plunder. When the Gauls went for Ardea, the exiled Camillus, organized the local forces for a defence. Camillus found that the Gauls were too distracted, celebrating their latest spoils with much crapulence at their camp. Then, he attacked during a night, defeating the enemy easily with great bloodshed. Camillus was hailed then by all other Roman exiles throughout the region. After he refused a makeshift generalship, a Roman messenger sneaked into the Capitol and, therein, Camillus was officially appointed dictator by the Roman Senators, to confront the Gauls. He defeated them and the rebuilding of the city was later called the second foundation of Rome.

Macro Theme: Marcus Furius Camillus


Cambyses II was the son of Cyrus the Great, King of Babylon and Persia. Cambyses became King after the death of his father in 530 BC. Herodotus wrote he reigned for seven years and a half, i.e. from 530 BC to the summer of 523 BC. Cambyses may in fact have been murdered in Ecbatana by Darius who may have wanted to usurp the empire. One of the remarkable feats of Cambyses was his conquest of Egypt.
It was especially one story, told by Herodotus, which captured the imagination of artists. Sisamnes was a royal judge under the reign of King Cambyses II. Sisamnes accepted a bribe from one of the parties during a lawsuit, and therefore rendered an unjust judgment. King Cambyses learned of the bribe, accused Sisamnes, and had him arrested and punished. He decreed that his dishonest judge be flayed alive. There was more: the skin that was removed from Sisamnes’ body was to be used to cover the judge’s chair on which his successor, had to sit. To replace Judge Sisamnes whom he had killed and flayed, Cambyses appointed Sisamnes’s son, Otanes, as the new judge. Cambyses admonished Otanes to bear in mind the source of the leather of the bench upon which he would sit to hear evidence, deliberate, and deliver his decisions. This scene particularly appealed to the imagination of artists during the Renaissance, such as for instance the Flemish artist Gheeraert David, as an example of justice.

Macro Theme: The Judgement of Cambyses

Candaules and Gyges

Candaules was a king of Lydia in the Near-East from 735 BC to 718 BC.
In a story of the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus, Candaules bragged of his wife's beauty to his bodyguard Gyges. Candaules wanted to prove his claim by showing his wife naked to Gyges. Candaules was insistent, and Gyges had no choice but to obey. Candaules told Gyges to hide behind a door in his bedroom to observe the Queen disrobing before bed. However, the Queen saw Gyges as he left the room. She realised that she had been betrayed and shamed by her own husband. She swore to have her revenge. The next day, the Queen summoned Gyges to her chamber. The Queen told Gyges that one of them, the King Candaules or he, Gyges, would have to die for the outrage done to her. The Queen was relentless in her decision so that Gyges chose to betray the King so that he could live. The Queen prepared for Gyges to kill Candaules by the same manner in which she was shamed. Gyges hid behind the door of the bedroom chamber with a knife, and killed Candaules in his sleep. Gyges married the Queen and became King.
Painters have used this story in a few pictures.

Macro Theme: Candaules and Gyges


In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priamus and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. However, when she did not return his love, Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions.
Telephus, the son of Heracles, loved Cassandra but she scorned him and instead helped him seduce her sister Laodice.
Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy (she warned the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), but she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies. Her family believed she was mad, and kept her locked up. This was driving her truly insane. There are versions of her myth in which where she was locked up, and then she was usually viewed as remaining simply misunderstood.
Coroebus and Othronus came to the aid of Troy out of love for Cassandra. Cassandra was also the first to see the body of her brother Hector being brought back to the city. After the Trojan War, she sought shelter in the temple of Athena, where she was raped by Ajax the Lesser. Cassandra was then taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon of Mycenae. Unbeknownst to Agamemnon, while he was away at war, his wife, Clytemnestra, had begun an affair with Aegisthus. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus then murdered Agamemnon and Cassandra.

Macro Theme: Cassandra

Castor and Pollux

Castor and Pollux were in Greek mythology twin, the sons of Leda and Zeus. They are known together in Greek as the Dioskouroi or Dioscuri, "sons of Zeus", and in Latin as the Gemini ("twins") or Castores. Castor means "beaver" in both Greek and Latin, and poludeukeis means "much sweet wine". In the myth the twins had the same mother but different fathers, which meant that Pollux was immortal and Castor mortal. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the Gemini stars constellation. The pair was regarded as the patrons of sailors.
The theme is very rare in painting.

Macro Theme: Castor and Pollux


Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95 BC–46 BC) was known as Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) to distinguish him from his great-grandfather (Cato the Elder). Cato was a Roman statesman of the republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy. Cato is remembered for his stubbornness and tenacity for the republic principles, which brought him in conflict with Gaius Julius Caesar. He was immune to bribes, had a great moral integrity, and hated the corruption of his times.
In 49 BC, Cato appealed to the Senate to relieve Caesar of his proconsular command and to order Caesar's return to Rome as a civilian, without legal immunity. Caesar was thus faced with a trial, so he crossed into Italy with his legion, implicitly declaring war on the Senate. Pompey took the side of the Senate. The army led by Pompey was defeated by Caesar in the battle of Pharsalus (48 BC). Cato and Metellus Scipio did not admit defeat however, and escaped to Africa to continue resistance from Utica. Therefore, Cato is often referred to as Cato of Utica (Cato Uticensis).
Caesar pursued Cato and Metellus Scipio. In 46 BC Caesar defeated the army led by Metellus Scipio at the Battle of Thapsus. Caesar had Scipio and all his troops slaughtered.
In Utica, Cato had not participated in the battle but did not want to continue living in a Rome led by Caesar. Refusing to grant Caesar the power to pardon him, he committed suicide. According to Plutarch, Cato attempted first to kill himself by stabbing himself with his own sword, but failed to do so due to an injured hand. One of Cato's slaves called for a physician to bandage Cato's wounds. Cato waited until they left him and then tore off the bandages and the stitches and pulled out his own intestines, thereby ending his life.

Macro Theme: Cato

Micro Themes:
The Death of Cato


In Greek mythology, the Centaurs were a race of creatures composed of part human and part horse. Centaurs lived in Magnesia and in Mount Pelion in Thessaly, Mount Pholoe in Arcadia and the Malean peninsular in southern Laconia.
The Centaurs are best known for their wars with the Lapithae. They tried to rapt Hippodamia and the other Lapith women on the day of her marriage to Pirithous, King of the Lapithae, himself the son of Ixion of whom also descended the Centaurs. Theseus, another hero of Greek mythology, sided with the Lapiths, assisting Pirithous. The Centaurs were defeated.
The Lapith tribe of Thessaly, who were the kinsmen of the Centaurs in myth, were described as the inventors of horse-back riding by Greek writers.

Macro Theme: Centaurs

Micro Themes:
Centaurs (various)
The Battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs

Cephalus and Procris

The goddess Aurora - or rather Eos, for the story of one of Greek mythology - is linked to the myth of Cephalus and Procris.
Cephalus was an Aeolian, the son of Deioneus, ruler of Phocis, and Diomede. He was the grandson of Aeolus. Cephalus was married to Procris, a daughter of Erechtheus. The goddess Aurora-Eos kidnapped Cephalus while he was on the hunt. Cephalus and Aurora became lovers, and she bore him a son named Phaëthon.
Later, Cephalus and Procris were reconciled. Cephalus sat by a tree one day. Procris found out where he was and he went out to find him. As Cephalus was singing hymn of love, she thought he was singing to his former lover Aurora. She moved in the bushes. Cephalus heard the bush stirring and he thought the noise came from an animal, so he threw his javelin in the direction of the sound, killing Procris. With her last words Procris asked Cephalus never to marry Aurora. Cephalus went into exile.
Nevertheless, Cephalus never forgave himself for the death of Procris. Finally, he committed suicide by leaping from Cape Leucas into the sea.
Bernardino Luini (1480-1532) painted a series of pictures on the themes of this story.

Macro Theme: Cephalus and Procris

Micro Themes:
Cephalus and Procris
Cephalus and Aurora


In Roman mythology, Ceres, the daughter of Saturn and Ops, wife-sister of Jupiter, mother of Proserpina by Jupiter and sister of Juno, Vesta, Neptune and Pluto, was the goddess of growing plants and of motherly love. The word of ‘cereals’ was derived from her name. In Greek mythology, her equivalent is Demeter.
Ceres is sometimes shown with Abas, but this then refers to a legend of Demeter. Abas was a son of Metaneira. Demeter changed him into a lizard because he had mocked her when she had come while travelling to the house of her mother, and drank eagerly to quench her thirst.
Ceres is often depicted with a sceptre, a basket of flowers and fruit, and a garland made of wheat or barley ears. She was in paintings a symbol for summer and harvest.

Macro Theme: Ceres

Cervantes and Don Quixote

Don Quixote, fully titled ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (‘The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha’) is an early novel written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)
Cervantes created a fictional origin for the story based upon a manuscript by the invented Moorish historian, Cide Hamete Benengeli. Published in two volumes a decade apart, Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age and maybe from the entire Spanish literature.
In the farcical story, Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman in his forties, lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible. Quixano eventually appears to other people to have lost his mind from little sleep and food and because of so much reading. He decides to go out as a knight-errant in search of adventure. He dons an old suit of armour, renames himself "Don Quixote de la Mancha," and names his skinny horse "Rocinante." He designates a neighbouring farm girl, Aldonza Lorenzo, as his ladylove, renaming her Dulcinea del Toboso, while she knows nothing about this. Eventually, he "acquires" his iconic "helmet": a barber's basin. Don Quixote approaches a neighbour, Sancho Panza, and asks him to be his squire, promising him governorship of an island. The rather dull-witted Sancho agrees and both men set off for impossible quests.
Painters have used Don Quixote as theme for paintings.

Macro Theme: Cervantes


Charon was the ferryman of Hades. He was the son of Erebus and Nyx. Charon took the newly dead across the river Acheron or the Styx if they had an obolus to pay for the ride.

Macro Theme: Charon


In Greek mythology, Chronos was the personification of time. Chronos was imagined as an incorporeal god, serpentine in form, with three heads--that of a man, a bull, and a lion.
Chronos is usually portrayed through an old man with a long, gray beard, ravishing youth and beauty.
He is not to be confused with Cronus, a Titan.

Macro Theme: Chronos


Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (ca. 519 BC - 430 BC) was an ancient Roman political figure, serving as consul in 460 BC and Roman dictator in 458 BC and 439 BC. Cincinnatus was regarded by the Romans as one of the heroes of early Rome and as a model of Roman virtue and simplicity. Cincinnatus was a persistent opponent of the plebeians. He was forced to live in humble circumstances, working on his own small farm, until he was called to serve Rome as dictator, an office which he immediately resigned after completing his task.
In 457 BC, the consul Minucius Esquilinus had led an army to fight the Aequians. However, Minucius' army was trapped by the Aequians in the Alban Hills. The senate fell into a panic. As such, they authorized the other consul for the year, Horatius Pulvillus, to nominate a dictator. Horatius nominated Cincinnatus for a dictatorial term of six months. A group of senators was sent to tell Cincinnatus that he had been nominated dictator. They found Cincinnatus while he was ploughing on his farm. They asked him to put on his senatorial toga and hear the mandate of the senate. He called to his wife, telling her to bring out his toga from their cottage. When he put on his toga, the senatorial delegation hailed him as dictator, and told him to come to the city.
Cincinnatus knew that his departure might mean starvation for his family if the crops went unsown in his absence. But he assented to the request anyway. The next morning, Cincinnatus went to the forum, and nominated Lucius Tarquitius Master of the Horse (his chief deputy). Tarquitius was considered to be one of the finest soldiers in Rome. Cincinnatus then went to the popular assembly, and issued an order. He ordered everyone of military age to report to the Campus Martius by the end of the day. Once the army assembled, Cincinnatus took them to fight the Aequi. Cincinnatus led the infantry in person, while Tarquitius led the cavalry. The Aequi were surprised by the double attack, and were cut to pieces. After this, the war ended and Cincinnatus disbanded his army. He then resigned his dictatorship and returned to his farm, a mere sixteen days after he had been nominated dictator.

Macro Theme: Cincinnatus


In Greek mythology, Circe was a magician, a queen and a goddess, living on the island of Aeaea. Circe's father was Helios, the god of the sun and her mother was Perse, an Oceanid.
Circe transformed those who offended her into animals through the use of magical potions. In Homer's Odyssey, she turned the men of Odysseus into pigs. Odysseus, protected by an herb given to him by Hermes, messenger of the gods, forced her to release his men. Circe taught Odysseus how to avoid the lure of the sirens' song, and navigate between the monsters Scylla and Charybdis in the Straits of Messina, Sicily. Odysseus remained with her for a year. He had a son by her, Telegonus.
Telegonus later, sent by Circe, searched for his father, but killed him accidentally in a fight having failed to recognize him. He brought the body back to Aeaea and took Odysseus' widow Penelope and son Telemachus with him. Circe made them immortal and married Telemachus, while Telegonus made Penelope his wife.

Macro Theme: Circe

Cleobis and Biton

In Greek mythology, Cleobis and Biton were two brothers. They were Argives, the sons of Cydippe, a priestess of Hera. Cydippe was travelling from Argos to a festival in honour of Argive Hera. The oxen which were to pull her cart were overdue and her sons, Cleobis and Biton, pulled the cart the entire way (45 stadia, or 8.3 km/5.1 miles).
Cydippe was impressed with their devotion to her and her goddess and she prayed to Hera, asking her to give her children the best gift a god could give to a mortal. Hera ordained that the brothers would die in their sleep, and after the feast the youths lay down in the temple of Hera, slept and never woke. Herodotus, who relates the story, says that the citizens of Argos donated a pair of statues to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi.

Macro Theme: Cleobis and Biton


Cleombrotus II was a Spartan king of the Agiad line, reigning for a very short time from 242 BC to 140 BC. He was married to a daughter of his predecessor, King Leonidas II. Cleombrotus was a member of the partner of the Eurypontid King Agis IV and was chosen as co-king when his father-in-law was banished. Two years later, Leonidas II returned to Sparta and Cleombrotus fled to Egypt.
A few painters have used Cleombrotus for pictures in which he is shown together with his father-in-law King Leonidas II.

Macro Theme: Cleombrotus


Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 BC – 30 BC) was a Greek ruler of Egypt. She shared power with her father Ptolemy XII and later with her brothers and husbands Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. Later, Cleopatra ruled alone. Her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion, ruled in name only, before Augustus had him executed.
After Caesars death, Cleopatra became mistress to Anthony. After Antony and Cleopatra were defeated at Actium by Caesar's legal heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian (who later became the first Roman Emperor, Augustus), Cleopatra committed suicide, allegedly by means of an asp bite.
Painters showed her primarily alone, with Anthony, at a banquet with Anthony, or at her suicide and death by a serpent bite.

Macro Theme: Cleopatra

Micro Themes:
Cleopatra and Anthony
The Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra
Cleopatra’s Death


Cloelia was a figure of Roman mythology.
The most well known account of Cloelia can be found in Livy's ' Early History of Rome. '
Cloelia was one of the young Roman girls given as hostages to Lars Porsenna, king of the Etruscan town of Clusium. Cloelia, however, escaped her captors, swimming across the river Tiber. She also led many of the other Roman girls to safety. Porsenna was at first furious that his hostages had escaped, for he had required hostages to solidify a peace treaty with Rome, but then his anger turned to admiration. He granted her a promise of safety, should she return to his camp, and even swore to return her unharmed to her parents when his troops had left Roman territory. But if she did not return the peace treaty would not be finalized. Cloelia returned and stayed with the camp, selecting other hostages to be returned home and requesting that the male children who were also held hostage be released to their families. Porsenna honoured her bravery when she returned to the camp. Her favourite food was grapes.

Macro Theme: Cloelia

Horatius Cocles

In the legends of ancient Rome recalled by Livy, Horatius Cocles, Latin for "Horatius the one-eyed" was a hero who, on his own, defended the Pons Sublicius, the bridge that led across the Tiber to Rome, against the Etruscans. It is said that there were other men with Horatius at the time, but they either fled in panic at the sight of the enemy or Horatius asked them to leave on his own accord. As he defended the bridge, the Romans destroyed it behind him. When they were done, according to Livy, he swam to safety on the Roman side. Horatius was rewarded with as much land as he could plough around in a single day and a statue of him was erected in the temple of Vulcan.

Macro Theme: Horatius Cocles


Comus is the god of festivity, of revels and nocturnal dalliances in Greek mythology. He represented anarchy and chaos. During his festivals, men and women exchanged clothes.
He was depicted as a young man on the point of unconsciousness from drink. He had a wreath of flowers on his head and carried a torch that was in the process of being dropped. Unlike the purely carnal Pan or purely intoxicated Bacchus, Comus was a god of excess. He was a son of Bacchus and Circe.
Comus is a very rare theme in painting, but there is at least one allegorical picture of his reign painted by Lorenzo Costa.

Macro Theme: Comus


Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (ca. 272- 337 AD), or Constantine I, Constantine the Great, was a Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 AD. He is best known as being the first Christian Roman Emperor. His mother was Helena, often quoted as Saint Helena. In 324, Constantine decided to transfer the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, which was officially done in 330. Byzantium was then called Constantinople.
In 313 Constantine accepted the Edict of Milan, which removed penalties for professing Christianity and by which also confiscated Church property was returned. At that time he became Christian too and he believed that many of his successes were due to the protection of the Christian God.
The ‘Golden Legend’ of Jacobus de Voragine contains the story of the True Cross in which Constantine and his mother Helena play a great role. Constantine would have seen a fiery cross in the sky during his decisive battle against Maxentius and converted on account of his victory. His mother, Saint Helena, sought the buried True Cross in Jerusalem.
Painters have painted pictures of various scenes of his life, but mostly there exists just one picture of each scene. Therefore we do not define micro themes on Constantine.

Macro Theme: Constantine


Gaius Marcius Coriolanus was a Roman general who lived in the 5th century BC. He received his title "Coriolanus" because of his courage shown in the siege by the Roman army of the Volscian city of Corioli. He was then promoted to a general.
After having defeated the Volscians Coriolanus worked against the democratic ambitions of the plebeians. He was charged of misappropriation of public funds, convicted, and banished from Rome. From exile he turned against Rome and made allegiance with the Volscians he had once defeated.
Plutarch tells that Coriolanus entered the home of a wealthy Volscian noble, Tullus Aufidius in disguise. He appealed to Aufidius and both men then persuaded the Volscians to break their truce with Rome and raise an army to invade. When the Volscian troops threatened the city, Roman matrons, including Coriolanus’ wife and mother, were sent to persuade him to call off the attack. This scene has been sued by painters. At the sight of his mother Veturia, of his wife Volumnia and his children throwing themselves at his feet in supplication, Coriolanus relented, withdrew his troops from Rome, and retired to Aufidius's home city of Antium. Coriolanus had proven his disloyalty to Rome and the Volscians. Aufidius raised support to have Coriolanus first put on trial by the Volscians, and then assassinated before the end of the trial.
Several of the events of this story have been used by painters, but not enough paintings exist per theme to justify defining micro themes.

Macro Theme: Coriolanus

Marcus Licinius Crassus

Marcus Licinius Crassus (ca. 115 BC - 53 BC) was a Roman general and politician who commanded Sulla's decisive victory at Colline gate, suppressed the slave revolt led by Spartacus and entered into a secret pact, known as the First Triumvirate, with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Gaius Julius Caesar. He was one of the richest men of his era. Crassus desired recognition for military victories in the shape of a triumph. This desire for a triumph led him into Syria, where he was defeated and killed in the Roman defeat at Carrhae which was fought with the Parthian Spahbod Surena. In 54 BC Marcus Licinius Crassus plundered the Temple of Jerusalem.
There are a few paintings of the destruction of Jerusalem by Crassus.

Macro Theme: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Croesus and Solon

Croesus (595 BC - ca. 547 BC) was the king of Lydia from ca. 560 BC until his defeat by the Persians in about 547 BC. The fall of Croesus made a profound impact on the Hellenes. Croesus was renowned for his wealth and in Greek and Persian cultures his name became a synonym for a wealthy man. Croesus is often credited with the invention of the first formalised currency systems and coinage.
Solon (ca. 638 BC - 558 BC) was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and lyric poet. He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, economic and moral decline in archaic Athens. His reforms failed in the short term yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.
Herodotus presented in his Histories the Lydian accounts of the conversation with Solon, the tragedy of Croesus' son Atys and the fall of Croesus. The episode of Croesus' interview with Solon is a philosophical disquisition on the subject "What man is happy?" It is legendary rather than historical. Croesus, secure in his own wealth and happiness, poses the question and is disappointed by Solon's response: that three have been happier than Croesus, Tellus, who died fighting for his country, and Cleobis and Biton, brothers who died peacefully in their sleep when their mother prayed for their perfect happiness, after they had demonstrated filial piety by drawing her to a festival in an oxcart themselves (see this theme in this text).
Croesus has been presented with Solon and therefore we place also the rare pictures of Solon in this theme.

Macro Theme: Croesus and Solon


Cronus was the leader and the youngest of the first generation of Titans, descendants of Gaia, the earth, and Uranos, the sky. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own son and imprisoned in Tartarus or sent to rule the Elysian Fields.
Cronus was worshipped as a god of harvests because he was connected to the Golden Age, overseeing crops, agriculture, and the progression of time. He was usually depicted with a sickle, which he used to harvest crops and which was also the weapon he used to castrate and depose Uranos.
Cronus should not be confused with the god of time, Chronos. There are only very few paintings of Cronus.
His Roman equivalent was Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and harvests.

Macro Theme: Cronus


In Roman mythology, Cupid is the god of love and beauty. In Greek mythology he is called the god Eros, and another Latin name for him is Amor or Love. In paintings, Cupid is often shown shooting his bow to inspire romantic love. There are many stories about who his parents were; he might be the son of Mercury and Venus or of Mars (Ares) and Venus (Aphrodite).
Cupid's cult was closely associated with that of his presumed mother, Venus, and he is therefore often painted together with Venus. The central theme in that case of usually Venus however, so we classified these pictures under a micro theme for Venus. See the theme of Venus for more pictures on this subject.
Cupid is sometimes also depicted with the famous Greek poet Anacreon (550 BC-464 BC), who wrote many romantic love poems.
Cupid fell in love with Psyche. See Psyche for depictions of this story.

Macro Theme: Cupid

Micro Themes:
Cupid (various)
The Birth of Cupid
Sleeping Cupid
Offerings to Cupid, Cupid and young Girls
Cupid as Conquering Love
Cupid playing musical Instruments
Cupid and Venus
Cupid and Anacreon
Cupid with Bow and sharpening Arrows

Marcus Curtius

In Titus Livius’ works is told a story whereby in 362 BC a chasm opened up in the middle of the Roman Forum. The people began to try to fill it, putting in several kinds of votive offerings, but the abyss remained. So they asked the Auguri what they should do: they answered that the chasm would be closed only putting inside it "the most precious thing of all". The Romans tried to guess what that could be, and tried many different offerings, but the chasm still did not close. Then a young Roman eques named Marcus Curtius had an inspiration: the most precious thing of Rome had to be the courage and strength of Roman soldiers, the real power of Rome. So he wore all his weapons, and riding his horse threw himself as a sacrifice into the hole, which was immediately filled. The heroic act was honoured by the Roman people who gave to the place the same nomen of the young and brave horseman. This subject has been taken by a few painters as a theme of pictures.

Macro Theme: Marcus Curtius


Cybele was in Greek mythology the goddess of the fertile Earth, a goddess of caverns and mountains, walls and fortresses, nature, wild animals (especially lions and bees).
She was often represented waking up from the sleep of winter or together with the seasons.

Macro Theme: Cybele


A Cyclops was in Greek mythology a giant. The Cyclops belonged to a primordial race of giants, with a single eye in the middle of his forehead. They were the sons of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) and brothers of the Hecatonchires, and had a foul disposition. They were strong, stubborn and had strong emotions that flared suddenly.
Uranus, fearing their strength, locked them in Tartarus. Cronus freed the Cyclopes after he had overthrown Uranus. Cronus placed them back in Tartarus, however, where they remained, guarded by the female dragon Campe, until they were freed by Zeus. They fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus to use as weapons, and helped him to overthrow Cronus and the other Titans.
The word "Cyclops" sometimes refers to a son of Poseidon and Thoosa named Polyphemus who was also a Cyclops. See the theme ‘Polyphemus’.

Macro Theme: Cyclopes


Cyparissus was a male lover of Apollo. He was a descendant of Heracles.
Apollo gave Cyparissus a tame deer as a companion but Cyparissus accidentally killed it with a javelin as it lay asleep in the undergrowth. Cyparissus asked Apollo to let his tears fall forever. Apollo granted the request by turning him into the tree named after him, which was said to be a sad tree because the sap forms droplets like tears on the trunk.
It is a rare theme in painting, often accompanied by Apollo.

Macro Theme: Cyparissus

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great (ca. 590 BC-530 BC) was a Persian Emperor. He was the founder of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid dynasty. Cyrus made war against the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He did not venture into Egypt, because died in battle fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya. He was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who conquered Egypt.
Mainly three stories of Cyrus’ life, as told by Herodotus in the ‘Histories’, have been used by painters as subjects of pictures.
There is a passage in the ‘Histories’ on the childhood of Cyrus, of the times in which he lived in the house of Mitradates as the supposed son of this herdsman of Astyages. Cyrus as a child played a game with other boys and was chosen as the king of a game that the children played. One of the players, the son of a distinguished Mede called Artembares refused to do what King Cyrus commanded, and Cyrus ordered his arrest. Cyrus beat the boy with a whip. The boy ran home and complained, saying it was Astyages’ herdsman who had beaten him. Artembares was very angry and showed the raw shoulders of his son to Asryages. Astyages called in Cyrus and asked him what had happened. Cyrus told that in the game the son of Artembares had refused to obey the king, so he had punished him. Astyages thereby recognised in Cyrus the child of King Cambyses and his wife, Mandane. He told Artembares he would deal with the matter.
Herodotus also told that Cyrus the Great was raised by the Shepherdess Spako, the word ‘Spako’ meaning ‘dog’ in the Median language.
Another story of Herodotus tells about his death. Cyrus wanted to conquer the lands of the Massagetae, a tribe from the southern deserts of Kharesm and Kizilhoum in the southernmost portion of the steppe regions of modern-day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Cyrus first sent an offer of marriage to their Queen Tomyris, a proposal she rejected. He then attacked the Massagetae by building bridges and war boats along his side of the river Araxes which separated the armies. Tomyris challenged him to meet her army in honourable warfare and invited him to a place a day's march from the river. He accepted her offer, but he learned that the Massagetae were unfamiliar with wine and its intoxicating effects. He departed from his camp but left much wine with his least capable troops at the site. Tomyris's general and son, Spargapises, and his troops killed the small group of warriors that Cyrus had left there on purpose. They drank the wine and thereby were much weakened when they were overtaken by a surprise attack of Cyrus. The Massagetay were slaughtered or captured, and Spargapises committed. Queen Tomyris swore vengeance. She led her army into battle. Cyrus was killed and his forces were massacred. Tomyris ordered the body of Cyrus brought to her, decapitated him and dipped his head in bag of blood, made from human skin, in revenge for the death of her son.

Macro Theme: Cyrus the Great


Damocles is a figure of a single anecdote concerning the Sword of Damocles, which was a late addition to classical Greek mythology.
Damocles was a courtier at the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse, a fourth century BC tyrant of Syracuse. He exclaimed that Dionysius was truly fortunate since he was a king and a powerful figure. Dionysius offered to switch places with him for a day, so he could taste first hand that fortune. A banquet was held, where Damocles very much enjoyed being waited upon like a king. Only at the end of the meal did he look up and notice a sharpened sword hanging by a single horsehair directly above his head. Immediately, he lost all taste for the fine foods and asked leave of the tyrant, saying he no longer wanted to be so fortunate. Dionysius had successfully conveyed a sense of the constant fear in which a great man lives.
Damocles is a very rare theme in painting.

Macro Theme: Damocles


Danae was in Greek mythology a daughter of King Acrisius of Argos and Eurydice. She was the mother of Perseus by Zeus.
Acrisius had no male heirs. He consulted an oracle to ask whether he would ever have male children. The oracle only told him to go to the end of the Earth, where he would be killed by his daughter's child. Danae was childless so her father imprisoned her in a bronze tower or cave. But Zeus came to her in the form of golden rain, and impregnated her. Soon after, their child Perseus was born. Acrisius did not want to kill his daughter and grandchild, so he cast the two into the sea in a wooden chest. The sea was calmed by Poseidon at the request of Zeus and Danae and Perseus survived. They washed ashore on the island of Seriphos, where they were taken in by Dictys, the brother of King Polydectes, who raised the boy to manhood.
Various scenes of this myth have been painted. Danae was often painted as an alternative to Venus.

Macro Theme: Danae


The Danaids were the 50 daughters of King Danaus I who married the sons of King Aegyptus I, and murdered their husbands (except one) on their wedding night.
Danaus was the son of king Belus and Queen Anchinoe of Egypt. His brother was Aegyptus. The brothers were on bad terms. To make peace Aegyptus proposed that his fifty sons would marry Danaus's fifty daughters, the Danaids. The girls refused, and fled with Danaus to Argos, where Danaus became king. The fifty sons followed them there, and Danaus decided to let the marriages happen. He gave knives to his daughters however, so that on their wedding night all but one of the Danaids murdered Aegyptus’s sons. The disobedient, eldest daughter Hypermnestra was imprisoned by her father, but freed somewhat later. Artemis killed the Danaids for their crime and they were sent to the underworld, punished to forever fill jars with holes in them.

Macro Theme: Danaids


There are quite a few paintings with scenes from the books of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). Although this poet and scenes from his books are not in the strict sense from mythology or ancient history, we propose to grant them a macro theme in this category.
Many of the paintings are of the story of Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Guido I da Polenta, Lord of Ravenna, was at war with the Malatesta family. When a peace was negotiated, Guido wanted to marry his daughter Francesca to Giovanni Malatesta, son of Malatesta da Verucchio, lord of Rimini. Giovanni was brave but lame and deformed. Guido knew Francesca would refuse Giovanni, so the wedding was performed by proxy through Giovanni's handsome brother, Paolo. Francesca fell in love with Paolo and was unaware of the deception until the morning after the wedding day. Francesca and Paolo fell in love by reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, and became lovers. Subsequently they were surprised and murdered by Giovanni.
A few other paintings present Dante and Beatrice, his love in the same Divine Comedy. Dante is also sometimes depicted with the Roman poet Virgil.

Macro Theme: Dante

Micro Themes:
Dante (various)
Paolo and Francesca da Rimini
Dante and Virgil

Daphnis and Chloe

There are two names in Greek mythology.
The first Daphnis was in Greek mythology a son of Hermes and a Sicilian nymph. A shepherd and flutist, he was the inventor of pastoral poetry. A naiad fell in love with him, but he was not faithful to her. In revenge, she either blinded him or turned him to stone. Pan also fell in love with him and taught him to play the pan pipes.
The second Daphnis is a figure of work of literature. Daphnis and Chloe is the only known work of the 2nd century AD Greek novelist and romancer Longus. In the story, Daphnis and Chloe, two children found by shepherds, grow up together, nourishing a mutual love which neither suspects. The development of their passion forms the chief interest. Chloe is carried off by a pirate, and ultimately regains her family. Rivals trouble Daphnis' peace of mind; but the two lovers are recognized by their parents, and return to a happy married life in the country. It is mainly this last theme that ahs been used a few times by painters.

Macro Theme: Daphnis and Chloe


Deianira was in Greek mythology the daughter of king Oeneus of Calydon and Althaea; her real father may however have been Dionysos. She was the sister of Meleager.
Painters have practically only painted scenes from her story with the Centaur Nessus. Deianira was very beautiful, and both Heracles and the river god Achelous desired to marry her. Heracles and Achelous fought a battle for Deianira, during which Achelous transformed himself into a snake and then a bull. Heracles managed to break off one of the bull's horn, and so won the battle. Heracles and Deianira lived in Calydon thereafter, but when Heracles killed a local boy by mistake, they were forced to leave. When they reached the Euenos River they met the Centaur Nessus. When Nessus saw Deianira he tried to rape her after he had ferried her across the river, but Heracles killed Nessus with an arrow. The tip of Heracles’ arrow had been dipped in the blood of the Hydra. The dying Centaur gave Deianira a mixture of olive oil and of the semen that he had dropped on the ground, and also of his blood. The ointment would ensure that Heracles would never again be unfaithful. Still later, Heracles travelled and fell in love with the beautiful Iole, which he took as his bride too. Deianira then dipped Heracles’ shirt in Nessus’ mixture. When Heracles put on his shirt, it stuck to his skin and caused him great pain. When he tried to take off the cloth it tore off pieces of his skin. The Centaur had lied to Deianira because the mixture of his blood was toxic. Heracles threw himself from pain on the funeral pyre he had prepared for himself near Mount Oeta. Deianira hung herself when she had realised what she had done.

Macro Theme: Deianira


See ‘Ceres’.


Demophon was in Greek mythology a king of Athens, son of Theseus and a half brother of Acamas. He fought in the Trojan War and was one of those to be in the Trojan Horse.
In Euripides' play, Heracleidae, Demophon granted the children of Heracles, who were fleeing from Eurystheus, refuge in Athens. As Eurystheus prepared to attack, an oracle told Demophon that he would win if and only if a noble virgin was sacrificed to Persephone. Macaria volunteered for the sacrifice and a spring was named the Macarian spring in her honour.
Demophon married Phyllis, daughter of Lycurgus, King of Thrace, while he stopped in Thrace on his journey home from the Trojan war. He left her behind, however, when he went back to Athens; she then killed herself when he failed to return for her.

Macro Theme: Demophon

Manius Curius Dentatus

Manius Curius Dentatus (who died in. 270 BC), hero of ancient Rome, was notable for ending the Samnite War. According to Pliny he was born with teeth, thus the name ‘Dentatus’. Manius Dentatus defeated the Samnites and Sabines in the year 290 BC. He may also have stopped an advance of the Celts after the Battle of Arretium. As consul in 275 BC, he fought Pyrrhus in the Battle of Beneventum which remained inconclusive, but he nevertheless forced Pyrrhus out of Italy. He defeated the Lucani in the following year as a Consul for the third time.
Manius Curius Dentatus was supposed to have been incorruptible and frugal. In a story that may be legend, the Samnites sent ambassadors with expensive gifts in an attempt to influence him in their favour. Manius Dentatus was sitting by the hearth roasting turnips. He refused the gifts, saying that he preferred ruling the possessors of gold over possessing it himself. This theme has taken up by a few painters, but they usually called him Marcus instead of his real name, Manius.

Macro Theme: Manius Curius Dentatus


See ‘Artemis’.


There are two men named Diomedes in Greek mythology.
The first Diomedes was a Greek hero in Greek mythology. He was the son of to Tydeus and Deipyle and later became King of Argos, succeeding his grandfather, Adrastus. In Homer's Iliad, this Diomedes is regarded with Ajax as the second-best warrior of the Achaeans. He, his paternal uncle Heracles and his companion Odysseus are the favoured heroes of Athena. In Virgil's Aeneid he is one of the warriors who entered the Trojan Horse before the sack of Troy.
Two of the stories of this Diomedes of the battle of Troy have been used by painters for subject of pictures. The Greeks learnt from Helenus that Troy would not fall as long as the Palladium, a statue of Athena, remained within Troy's walls. The task of stealing this sacred statue was given to Odysseus and Diomedes. Odysseus went by night to Troy, while Diomedes was left waiting, disguised as a beggar and entered the city. He was recognized by Helen, who told him where the Palladium was. Diomedes then climbed the wall of Troy and entered the city too. Together, the two friends killed the guards and priests of Athena’s temple and stole the. Diomedes is generally regarded as the person who removed the Palladium and carried it away to the Achaeans. Diomedes took the Palladium with him when he left Troy.
In another story of the Iliad, Diomedes prayed Athena for the slaughter of the Trojan hero Pandarus. She answered by offering him special vision to distinguish gods from men and asked him to wound Aphrodite if she ever came to battle. She also warned him not to wound any other god. Later, in a skirmish, Pandarus and Aeneas fought together for Troy. Pandarus threw his spear first, bragging he had killed the son of Tydeus. The latter responded by saying that at least, one of them would be slain, and killed Pandarus. Aeneas was left to fight Diomedes. Diomedes, who was unarmed, picked up a huge stone and crushed his enemy’s hip. Aeneas fainted and was rescued by his mother. Diomedes then ran after Aphrodite and wounded her arm. Dropping her son, the goddess fled towards Olympus. Apollo now came to the rescue of the Trojan hero. Diomedes attacked Aeneas twice, despite Athena’s warning, before Apollo told him not to match himself against immortals. Respecting Apollo, Diomedes then withdrew from that battle.
The second Diomedes was Diomedes, king of Thrace, a giant, and son of Ares and Cyrene. He lived on the shores of the Black Sea and ruled the warlike tribe of Bistones. He is known for his four man-eating horses, which Heracles stole in order to complete the eighth of his Twelve Labours. Heracles was helped in this feat by Abderus and other youths. Heracles overpowered the grooms and drove the Mares of Diomedes to the sea and left them in the care of Abderus. While Heracles was away, the horses devoured Abderus. In revenge, Heracles fed Diomedes's still living flesh to his own mares. Heracles founded the city of Abdera near the boy's tomb.

Macro Theme: Diomedes

Scenes of Ancient Egypt

Painters have made pictures of the life in ancient Egypt. Such pictures include views of the Sphinx, of Egyptian people, and of Egyptian life in general. We bring al such pictures in one macro theme.

Macro Theme: Scenes of Ancient Egypt


Endymion was in Greek mythology a handsome Aeolian shepherd or hunter. He also might have been a king who ruled Olympia in Elis. He may have been a son of Zeus.
According to the poet Apollonius of Rhodes, Selene, the Titan goddess of the moon, fell in love with the mortal Endymion because he was so beautiful. She asked Endymion's father Zeus to grant him eternal youth so he would never leave her. Selene loved so much how Endymion looked when he was asleep in a cave on Mount Latmos, near Miletus, in Caria, that she asked entreated Zeus that he might remain that way. Zeus put Endymion in an eternal sleep. Every night, Selene visited him where he slept.
In Roman mythology, the goddess of the Moon was Diana. The myth of Selene and Endymion was therefore transferred on Diana, but it is the same myth. So, there are quite some paintings of Diana and Endymion as well as of Selene and Endymion.
Another favourite theme of painters was the sleeping Endymion.

Macro Theme: Endymion

Micro Themes:
Sleeping Endymion
Selene and Endymion
Diana and Endymion


Epaminondas (ca. 418 BC - 362 BC) was a Theban general and statesman of the 4th century BC. He transformed the ancient Greek city-state of Thebes, leading it out of Spartan subjugation into a preeminent position in Greek politics. In the process he broke Spartan military power with his victory at Leuctra and liberated the Messenian helots, a group of Peloponnesian Greeks who had been enslaved under Spartan rule for 200 years. Epaminondas reshaped the political map of Greece, fragmented old alliances, created new ones, and supervised the construction of entire cities. He was militarily influential as well, inventing and implementing several major battlefield tactics.
Epaminondas is a rare theme in painting.

Macro Theme: Epaminondas


Eudamidas I (330 - ca. 300) was a Spartan king of the Eurypontid line.
He married the wealthy Archidamia, and she had two children, Archidamus IV and Agesistrata of him. There is evidence that Eudamidas I owned the half of his wife wealth in land. During his reign Sparta made peace.
In painting, the theme is known for a painting and sketches by Nicolas Poussin.

Macro Theme: Eudamidas


Europa was in Greek mythology a Phoenician woman of high birth, maybe the daughter of a nymph and Zeus. It was also a by-name for the lunar Astarte, from whom the name of the continent Europe has ultimately been taken. The name of Europe as a geographical term came already in use by Ancient Greek geographers.
Europa came to Crete, where the sacred bull was adored. Zeus was in love with. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father's herds. While Europa and her attendants were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and got onto his back. The bull breathed from his mouth a saffron crocus. Zeus carried her to Crete on his back, where she became the first queen of the island. According to Herodotus however, Europa was abducted by Minoans who wanted to revenge the rapt of Io, a princess from Argos. Many paintings therefore show Europa being abducted by the bull Zeus in a rapt or rape.

Macro Theme: Europa


Fauns were place-spirits (genii) of untamed woodland in Roman mythology. Romans saw the fauns equivalent to the Greek satyrs, drunken followers of Bacchus. However, fauns and satyrs were originally different creatures. Both have horns and both resemble goats below the waist, humans above; but satyrs had human feet, and fauns goat-like hooves. The Romans also had a god named Faunus and goddess Bona Dea (a female faun), who, like the fauns, were goat-people. Fauns were used by painters to depict landscapes, with a mythological character.

Macro Theme: Fauns


Flora was in Roman mythology the goddess of flowers and of spring. Her equivalent in Greek mythology was Chloris, but painters rarely used that name in the title of their paintings.
Flora has often been depicted together with the god of the western wind, Zephyrus (in Roman mythology: Flavonius). He brought light in spring and was thus associated with Flora, the goddess of spring. In Greek mythology, Zephyrus abducted Flora and gave her the domain of flowers. He loved Chloris (Flora) and fathered Carpus (fruit) with her.
Painters have used the figure of Flora often in paintings, also much in an allegorical way to represent the season of spring.

Macro Theme: Flora

Micro Themes:
Flora (various)
Flora and Zephyrus

The Franciade

‘La Franciade’ is an epic poem by the French poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), published in 1572.
In the poem, the author tells of the ancient legend of the origins of the Franks, and their descendance from Troy in the adventures of Astyanax, son of Hector and Andromache, re-baptised by the name of Francus.
In the tale, twenty years after the destruction of Troy, Francus builds a fleet on demand of the gods and sails off to found a new empire. Neptune and Juno hinder him however, and his ship lands on the shores of the Provence region of Gaul. Cybele, goddess of Phrygia and protector of the race of Troy fins Sleep and asks him to induce dreams in Dicée, the King of the Provence, to support Francus. Francus kills the giant that kept imprisoned Orée, son of Dicée. King Dicée had two daughters, Climène and Hyante. These two fall in love with Francus. They become rivals. Francus does not want of Climène, who throws herself in despair in the sea. Francus meets Hyante near a temple erected in honour of Hecate, of whom Hyante is a priestess. At the end, Hyante, who is a sorceress, will reveal to Francus the identity of his parents. Francus becomes the King of the Franks.
French painters have used a few scenes of this tale for paintings, in which Cybele, Hyante, Climène and Francus are shown.

Macro Theme: Franciade


Ganymede or Ganymedes was in Greek mythology a hero who originated from the Troad. He was a Trojan prince, son of King Tros of Dardania, and of Callirrhoe. Ganymede was the most beautiful youth among the mortals, so Zeus abducted him to serve as cupbearer to the gods. He was the beloved of Zeus. Ganymede was on Mount Ida in Phrygia tending a flock of sheep among his friends and tutors. Zeus saw him and fell in love with him, either sending an eagle or turning himself to an eagle to transport Ganymede to Mount Olympus.

Macro Theme: Ganymede


Germanicus Julius Caesar (16 BC-19 AD) was of the Julio-Claudian family of the Roman Empire. At birth he was named either Nero Claudius Drusus after his father or Tiberius Claudius Nero after his uncle, and received the agnomen Germanicus, by which he is principally known, in 9 BC, when it was awarded to his father in honour of his victories in Germania. He was the father of the Roman emperor Caligula, brother of the emperor Claudius, and grandfather of the emperor Nero. Germanicus fought several battles in Germany and painters have used several scenes of this episode of his life for pictures.
Thusnelda (ca. 10 BC - 17 AD) was the daughter of the Cheruscan prince Segestes. Arminius, who later led a coalition of Germanic tribes to victory over Publius Quinctilius Varus and his legions in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D., eloped with her and married her instead. In 15 A.D. Thusnelda became the prisoner of Germanicus. During her captivity, Thusnelda gave birth to Arminius' only child, Thumelicus. In 17 A.D., Thusnelda and her son were displayed as prized trophies in Germanicus' triumphant parade in Rome, with her father, who was a Roman client, watching from the stands.
Germanicus also fought in Cappadocia and Commagene. Later, he found out that the governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, had cancelled the provincial arrangements that he had made. Germanicus ordered Piso's recall to Rome, but he died suddenly in Antioch of a poison delivered in his drink by Piso on orders from Emperor Tiberius. The implication of the Emperor was never proven however, and Piso committed suicide while under trial, because he feared the people of Rome knew of the conspiracy. Emperor Tiberius' jealousy and his fear of his cousin Germanicus’s popularity and increasing power was the true motive.

Macro Theme: Germanicus

Glaucus and Scylla

Glaucus was in Greek mythology a sea-god. According to Ovid, Glaucus began life as a mortal fisherman living in the Boeotian city of Anthedon. He discovered by accident a magical herb which could bring the fish he caught back to life, and decided to try eating it. The herb made him immortal, but also caused him to grow fins instead of arms and a fish's tail instead of legs (though some versions say he simply became a merman), forcing him to dwell forever in the sea.
Glaucus fell in love with the nymph Scylla, but she was appalled by his fish-like features and fled onto land when he tried to approach her. He asked the witch Circe for a potion to make Scylla fall in love with him, but Circe fell in love with him. She tried to win his heart with her most passionate words, telling him to scorn Scylla and stay with her. But Glaucus replied that trees would grow on the ocean floor and seaweed would grow on the highest mountain before he would stop loving Scylla. In her anger, Circe poisoned the pool where Scylla bathed, transforming her into a terrible monster with twelve feet and six heads.
A few painters have taken up this theme, always showing Glaucus together with Scylla.

Macro Theme: Glaucus and Scylla

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832) was a German writer. Goethe's works span the fields of poetry, drama, literature, theology, humanism, and science. Goethe's well-known literary works include Faust, his numerous poems, the novels Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and The Sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe was one of the key figures of German literature and the movement of Weimar Classicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; this movement coincides with Enlightenment, Sentimentality and Romanticism. He was also the author of a major scientific text on the Theory of Colours and he influenced Darwin with his focus on plant morphology. He also served at length as the Privy Councillor of the Duchy of Weimar.
Painters have used scenes from his novels, mainly his Faust and from his poems.

Macro Theme: Goethe

The Gracchi and their Mother Cornelia

Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi were brothers and tribunes of Rome in the 2nd century BC. Tiberius Gracchus tried to pass a land reform legislation that would redistribute the vast patrician lands among the plebeians. At the election day for that law, the opponents of the reform caused a fight in the assembly during which Tiberius was killed. Ten years later, Gaius Gracchus also became a tribune and proposed reforms, fixing prices for grains and granting citizenship for Latins outside Rome. Gaius was killed in his turn by the opponents to his reforms.
Cornelia Gracchus was the mother of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. She was the daughter of the Roman warrior Publius Scipio Africanus who defeated Hannibal in the second Punic War and who destroyed Carthago. After the death of her husband, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, the Egyptian king Ptolemy VIII proposed marriage but she refused him, thus embodying the Roman ideal of the wife of a hero who refused to remarry. She raised her sons and had great influence on how they behaved in Roman public office. When friends of her made remarks on her frugal dress and her lack of jewels, she pointed to her little sons and called them ‘my jewels’. She desired later not to be called the daughter of Scipio Africanus but the mother of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.
Especially the theme of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, has been taken up by painters but there are also a few paintings of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.

Macro Theme: The Gracchi

Micro Themes:
The Gracchi

The Three Graces

The three Graces (in Greek mythology the ‘Charites’) were goddesses of charm, of beauty, of mirth and good life and of fertility. They were daughters of Zeus and Eurynome.

Aglaea: goddess of beauty.
Euphrosine: goddess of mirth, of pleasure.
Thalia: goddess of good life.

The Graces were usually shown in paintings as three beautiful and naked young women standing in a circle, holding each other’s hands or shoulders.

Macro Theme: The Three Graces


Granida and Daifilo are characters from a play called ‘Granida’, written in 1605 by the Dutch poet Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft (1581-1647). The play is noted for the delicacy of its poetry and for the simplicity of its moral: that individuals and nations can be at peace only when rulers and subjects alike shun ambition and seek only to serve. Daifilo is a shepherd and Granida a Persian princess.
Many Dutch painters depicted scenes from the pastoral play, which was very popular in the Netherlands.

Macro Theme: Granida and Daifilo

Figures of Ancient Greece

Painters have taken as subject many figures of Ancient Greece. Defining for each such subject a separate theme would make a long list. Therefore we have brought these pictures under one macro theme of ‘Figures of Ancient Greece’.
The criterion used was that if we had found in our sample of about fifty thousand pictures only one picture of such a figure, or had found several pictures by one and the same painter only on this subject, then we would bring that or those pictures under this macro theme.
The paintings under this theme include pictures of sculptors, statesmen, and many others.

Macro Theme: Figures of Ancient Greece

Scenes of Life in Ancient Greece

Painters have been inspired by the times of ancient Greece. They have often depicted how life was in Greece, amidst the temples and the ancient cities. The paintings showed such varied scenes as Greek ladies walking in parks, the works of the sculptors and builders, and so on. The Greeks lived in other cities than their founding city-states, such as of Ionia and Sicly; when those pictures however depict the same style of life, the same theme can be used. We have gathered such pictures in one macro theme.

Macro Theme: Scenes of Life in Ancient Greece


Hades was a son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Hades was also the name of the underworld in Greek mythology, over which Hades ruled. Hades and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon defeated the Titans and ruled from then on the underworld, the sky, and the sea, respectively. Hades was also called Pluto in Roman mythology,
In Roman mythology the entrance to the underworld was at the Avernus, a crater near Cumae. In Greek mythology, the deceased entered the underworld by crossing the Acheron, ferried across by Charon, who charged an obolus, a small coin for passage, placed under the tongue of the deceased. The poor and the people without friends remained for a hundred years on the shore. The other side of the river was guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog defeated by Heracles. Passing beyond Cerberus, the ghosts of the deceased entered the land of the dead to be judged.
There were many rivers in Hades. These rivers had names and symbolic meanings: the five rivers of Hades are Acheron (the river of sorrow), Cocytus (lamentation), Phlegethon (fire), Lethe (forgetfulness), and Styx (hate). The Styx formed the boundary between the upper and lower worlds.
The first region of Hades comprises the Fields of Asphodel, where the shades of heroes wandered among lesser spirits, who twittered around them like bats. Beyond lay Erebus. There were two pools, that of Lethe, where the common souls flocked to erase all memory, and the pool of Mnemosyne (or memory), where the initiates of the Mysteries drank instead. In the forecourt of the palace of Hades and Persephone sat the three judges of the Underworld: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus. There, where three roads met, souls were judged. They returned to the Fields of Asphodel if they were neither virtuous nor evil, sent by the road to Tartarus if they were impious or evil, or sent to Elysium (Islands of the Blessed) with the heroes.

Macro Theme: Hades


Hannibal (247 BC - ca. 183 BC) was a Carthaginian general and politician, who was also one of the finest commanders in history. His most famous achievement was at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, when he marched an army, which included war elephants, from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy.
During his invasion of Italy, he defeated the Romans in a series of battles, including those at Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae. He maintained an army in Italy for more than ten years and never lost a major battle. However, he could not force the Romans to accept his terms for peace. A Roman counter-invasion of Africa forced him to return to Carthage, where he was defeated in the Battle of Zama.
Afterwards, as a political leader, his reforms were unpopular with the upper class, forcing him to go into exile. He lived then at the Seleucid court, where he acted as military advisor to Antiochus III in his war against Rome. After Antiochus III was defeated, Hannibal fled again, at first to Armenia, where he worked as a planner for the new capital. His flight ended in the court of Bithynia where he may won a naval victory but afterwards betrayed to the Romans.
Painters have used several events of Hannibal’s life, mainly of his war against Rome in Italy, as subjects of paintings.

Macro Theme: Hannibal


Hecate was in Greek mythology a goddess of witchcraft, of crossroads, of wilderness and of childbirth. She is sometimes represented with three heads or in triple form.
Hecate is a rare theme in painting.

Macro Theme: Hecate


Helena, also called Helena of Troy, was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. She was sister to Castor, Polydeuces and Clytemnestra. She was seduced and abducted by Paris, Prince of Troy, brought about the Trojan War. When the Trojan War was over, Helen returned to live with Menelaus. The Rapt of Helen is a frequent theme in paintings.

Macro Theme: Helena

Micro Themes:
Helena (various)
The Rapt of Helena


Heliogabalus (ca. 203-222) or Elagabalus or Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, was a Roman Emperor of the Severan dynasty who reigned from 218 to 222. Born Varius Avitus Bassianus, he was a Syrian by birth, the son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus. In his early youth he served as a priest of the god El-Gabal at his hometown, Emesa.
In 217, the emperor Caracalla was murdered and replaced by his Praetorian prefect, Marcus Opellius Macrinus. Caracalla's maternal aunt, Julia Maesa, successfully instigated a revolt among the Third Legion to have her eldest grandson, Heliogabalus, declared as emperor in his place. Macrinus was defeated on June 8, 218, at the Battle of Antioch, upon which Heliogabalus, barely fourteen years old, ascended to the imperial power. During his rule, Elagabalus showed a disregard for Roman religious traditions and sexual taboos. He was married five times and is reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace. Elagabalus replaced Jupiter, head of the Roman pantheon, with a new god, Deus Sol Invictus, and forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating this deity, which he personally led. Amidst growing opposition, Heliogabalus, only 18 years old, was assassinated and replaced by his cousin Severus Alexander on March 11, 222, in a plot formed by his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and members of the Praetorian Guard. Heliogabalus developed a reputation among his contemporaries for eccentricity and decadence.
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema made a remarkable picture of his reign.

Macro Theme: Heliogabalus


See 'Hercules'.


Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek hero Heracles, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmena. When Hera found out about Zeus's illegitimate son, she placed two snakes in his bed to kill him. Hera was unsuccessful, as Hercules, being born with great strength strangled the snakes when he found them. Hercules’s first wife was Megara and his second wife was Deianeira. The Twelve Labours of Hercules are a series of mythical episode of works that Hercules had to accomplish as a penance for killing his wife Megara and his three children in a fit of madness. The Oracle of Delphi told him that he would have to perform a series of ten tasks King Eurystheus, the man who had taken Hercules' birthright and the man he hated the most.
When Hercules was about to be born, Zeus declared that a descendant of Perseus, then also about to be born, would be king of Mycenae. But Hera, out of jealousy, persuaded Ilithyia, goddess of childbirth, to retard Alcmena's delivery, and contrived that Eurystheus, also a descendant of Perseus, should be born a seven-month child. Thus, Hercules lost the throne of Mycenae.
When Hercules was eight months old, Hera, desiring him death, sent two serpents to his bed. But he strangled the beasts with his hands.
When he was eighteen years old, Hercules slew the Lion of Cithaeron, which harried the king of Amphitryon and Thespius.
Omphale was a daughter of the river Iardanus and queen of the kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor. She was the wife of Tmolus, the oak-clad mountain king of Lydia. After Tmolus was killed by a bull, she continued to reign on her own. Hercules had to be a slave to Omphale for the period of a year, the compensation to be paid to Eurytus, who refused it. Hercules was forced to do women's work and even wear women's clothing and hold a basket of wool while Omphale and her maidens did their spinning. Omphale even wore Hercules’s skin of the Nemean Lion and carried his olive-wood club around. After some time, Omphale freed Hercules and took him as her husband.
The first of Hercules's twelve labours was to slay the Nemean lion and bring back its skin. Hercules travelled to Cleonae. There, he found a poor farm boy who would sacrifice anything to get wealth. If Hercules slayed the Nemean lion and returned alive within 30 days of leaving, they would sacrifice a lion to Zeus. If Hercules did not return within 30 days, the boy would sacrifice himself to Zeus. Hercules made arrows to slay the lion, not knowing that it was immortal. When he found the lion, he started throwing arrows at the lion, but the lion wouldn't die. Hercules then forced the lion to return to his cave. The cave had two entrances, one of which Hercules blocked; he then entered the other. He stalked the lion till he trapped him in a corner, and choked him to death.
Another labour concerned the Hydra. The Lernaean Hydra was a serpent-like water animal that possessed numerous heads and poisonous breath. The Hydra was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, offspring of the earth goddess, Gaia. It was said to be the sibling of the Nemean Lion, the Chimaera and Cerberus. Upon reaching the place where the Hydra lived, Hercules covered his mouth and nose with a cloth to protect himself from the poisonous fumes and fired flaming arrows into its lair, the spring of Amymone, to draw it out. He then confronted it, wielding a sickle. But after having cut off each of its heads he found that two grew back. Realising that he could not defeat the Hydra in this way, Hercules called on his nephew Iolaus for help. His nephew then came upon the idea of using a burning firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after decapitation. Hercules cut off each head and Iolaus burned the open stump leaving the Hydra dead. Its one immortal head Hercules placed under a great rock on the sacred way between Lerna and Elaius, and dipped his arrows in the Hydra's poisonous blood which he later used to kill the Centaur Nessus.
One of the Twelve Labours of Hercules was to steal the Mares of Diomedes. Hercules brought youths to help him. They took the mares and were chased by Diomedes and his men. Hercules stayed awake so that he didn't have his throat cut by Diomedes in the night, and cut the chains binding the horses. Having scared the horses onto the high ground of a peninsula, Hercules quickly dug a trench through the peninsula, filling it with water, thus making it an island. When Diomedes arrived, Hercules killed him with an axe and fed the body to the horses. Eating made the horses calmer and Hercules bound their mouths, and thus took them to King Eurystheus, who dedicated the horses to Hera.
Yet another labour of Hercules was to get rid of the dung of the cattle of King Augeas of Elis in a single day. Hercules went to Augeas, and without revealing the command of Eurystheus, said that he would get away with the dung in one day, if Augeas would give him the tenth part of the cattle. Augeas was incredulous, but promised to do so. Having taken Augeas' son Phyleus to witness, Heracles made a breach in the foundations of the cattle-yard, and diverting the courses of the River Alpheus, he turned them into the yard. However, when Augeas learned that the task had been accomplished at the command of Eurystheus, he refused to pay the reward. Arbitrators were then called, and since Phyleus bore witness against his father, Augeas ordered both his son and Hercules to leave Elis.
In another labour, Hercules confronted Hippolyta. Hippolyta was an Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the god of war. Hercules had to retrieve the girdle for Admeta, the daughter of king Eurystheus. When Hercules came to the Amazons they received him warmly and Hippolyta came to his ship to greet him. Upon hearing his request, she agreed to let him take the girdle. Hera, however, was not pleased. So came down to the Amazons disguised as one of their own and cried that Hercules meant to abduct the queen. The Amazons charged toward the ship to save Hippolyta. Fearing that Hippolyta had betrayed him, Hercules killed her, ripped the girdle from her body, and set sail, narrowly escaping the Amazon warriors.
Cacus was a fire-breathing monster and the son of Vulcan. He lived in a cave in the Palatine Hill in Italy, the future site of Rome. To the horror of nearby inhabitants, Cacus lived on human flesh and would nail the heads of victims to the doors of his cave. Hercules stopped to pasture the cattle he had stolen from Geryon near Cacus' place. While Hercules slept, the monster took slyly stole four bulls and four cows.. When Heracles awoke the remaining herd made plaintive noises towards the cave, and a cow inside the cave answered. Hercules stormed towards the cave. Cacus blocked the entrance with a boulder, forcing Hercules to tear at the top of the mountain to reach him. Cacus attacked Heracles by spewing fire and smoke, while Hercules responded with tree branches and rocks the size of millstones. Hercules leapt into the cave, grabbed Cacus and strangled the monster.
Telamon, son of the king Aeacus, of Aegina, and of Endeis, and brother of Peleus, accompanied Jason as one his Argonauts, and was present at the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. He was the father of the Greek hero Ajax in the Iliad. He and Peleus were friends of Hercules. Before the Trojan War, Poseidon sent a sea monster to attack Troy. Hercules (along with Telamon and Oicles) agreed to kill the monster if the King of Troy, Tros, would give him the horses he received from Zeus as compensation for Zeus' kidnapping Ganymede, Tros' son. Tros agreed; Hercules succeeded and Telamon married Hesione, Tros' daughter, giving birth to Teucer by her.
Antaeus in Greek mythology was a giant of Libya, the son of Poseidon and Gaia, and his wife was Tinjis. He was extremely strong as long as he remained in contact with the ground, but once lifted into the air he became as weak as water. He would challenge all passers-by to wrestling matches and kill them. Hercules, finding that he could not beat Antaeus by throwing him to the ground, discovered the secret of his power (touching the ground) and held Antaeus aloft and crushed him in a mighty hug.
Achelous was a suitor for Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus king of Calydon, but was defeated by Hercules, who wed her himself. Achelous changed into a bull to fight Hercules. Hercules tore off one of his horns and forced the god to surrender. Achelous had to trade the goat horn of Amalthea to get it back. Hercules gave it to the Naiads, who transformed it into the cornucopia. See also the themes ‘Deianira’ and ‘Achelous’.

Macro Theme: Hercules

Micro Themes:
Hercules (various)
Hercules as Child kills the Serpents
Hercules and Omphale
Hercules changes the Course of the River Alpheus
Hercules at the Crossroad
Hercules and the Hydra
Hercules fighting Achelous
Hercules and the Nemean Lion
Hercules and the Giant Antaeus
The Labours of Hercules
The Apotheosis of Hercules
Hercules and the Horses of Diomedes
Hercules and Hesione
Hercules and Hippolyta
Hercules and Cacus


Hermaphroditus was in Greek mythology the son of Aphrodite and Hermes. He was a very handsome boy, and was transformed into an androgynous being by union with the nymph Salmacis.
When he was fifteen years old, Hermaphroditus was bored so he decided to travel to the cities of Lycia and Caria. In the woods of Caria, near Halicarnassus, he encountered Salmacis the Naiad in her pool. She fell in love the boy, and tried to seduce him, but was rejected. When Hermaphroditus thought she was gone, he undressed and entered the water of the pool. Salmacis, however, sprang out from behind a tree and jumped into the pool also. She wrapped herself around Hermaphroditus, kissing him and touching his breast. He struggled against her, but she called out to the gods that they should never part. Her wish was granted, and their bodies blended into one being.

Macro Theme: Hermaphroditus


Hermes was the god of travellers and shepherds in Greek mythology. He was one of the Twelve Olympians and the messenger of the gods. He was the son of Zeus and Maia and he was born on Mount Cyllene.
His Roman counterpart was Mercury. Mercury was also considered by the Romans a god of abundance and commercial success. He also led newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. Mercury had about the same aspects.
Hermes was often depicted with winged shoes talaria and a winged petasos, and carrying the caduceus (a herald's staff with two entwined snakes that was Apollo's gift to Hermes). He was often accompanied by a cockerel, herald of the new day, a ram or goat, symbolizing fertility, and a tortoise, referring to Mercury's mythical invention of the lyre from a tortoise shell.
Zeus fell in love with the Argive princess Io and changed her into a cow to protect her from Hera. Hera suspected his deception and asked for the cow as a present. Zeus was unable to refuse. Hera ordered the guard Argus to guard the cow. Hermes, at the request of Zeus, lulled Argus to sleep and rescued Io but Hera sent a fly to sting her as she wandered the earth in the form of a cow. Later, Zeus changed Io back to human form. There are quite many paintings of Mercury with Argus.
Other pictures are of Hermes-Mercury with Battus. Battus was a shepherd from Pylos; Battus witnessed Hermes stealing Apollo's cattle. Though he promised his silence, he told many others. Hermes turned him to stone.
Hermes-Mercury is sometimes depicted handing over an apple to Paris. Eris, the goddess of strife had not been invited on a banquet at Olympos. So, in revenge, she threw the golden Apple of Discord inscribed with "For the most beautiful", into the party, provoking a squabble among the most beautiful goddesses - Hera, Athena and Aphrodite - over for whom it had been meant. Escorted by Hermes, the three goddesses approached Paris as he herded his cattle on Mount Garagarus. Hermes handed Paris the apple and announced the contest. The goddesses bribed Paris to choose among them. Hera offered ownership of all of Europe and Asia; Athena offered skill in battle, wisdom and the abilities of the greatest warriors; and Aphrodite offered Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman on Earth. Paris chose Aphrodite, and Helen.
In the ‘Metamorphoses’, Ovid tells the legend of Herse, daughter of Cecrops. Mercury fell in love with her after having seen her in a procession to the honour of Pallas. He asked Aglauros, Herse’s sister, to speak in his favour to Hersea. But Aglauros asked for gold for her services, so Pallas Athena was angry and turned her into stone.
Mercury is sometimes depicted with the nymph Calypso. The Greek hero Odysseus was imprisoned on her island, Ogygia, for seven years. She desired to make him her immortal husband. Athena asked Zeus to spare Odysseus of his torment on the island, as he wanted to go to his homeland. Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, to tell Calypso to release Odysseus.
A story of Aesop’s fables tells of an honest woodman who had lost his axe. The man was rewarded by Mercury with a golden one when he denied that his own had been of precious metal. A dishonest woodman thereupon claimed that he had lost a golden axe; Mercury recovered it and showed it was merely of iron.

Macro Theme: Hermes-Mercury

Micro Themes:
Hermes and Calypso
Mercury and the Woodman
Mercury and Argus
Mercury and Battus
Mercury and Paris
Mercury and Herse

Hero and Leander

Hero and Leander is a Greek myth. It tells of Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont, and Leander, a young man from Abydos on the other side of the narrow strait. Leander fell in love with Hero and swam every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way. Hero allowed Leander to make love to her. This lasted through the summer. But in a winter night, a storm set up while Leander was swimming. The breeze blew out Hero's light. Leander lost his way, and was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well.

Macro Theme: Hero and Leander


Hippodameia was a name derived from hippos (horse) and damazo (to tame). Hippodameia was the bride of King Pirithous of the Lapiths. Because of her name she was called the ‘Tamer of Horses’. At their wedding, Hippodameia, the other female guests, and the young boys were almost abducted by the Centaurs. Pirithous and his friend, Theseus, led the Lapiths to victory over the Centaurs.

Macro Theme: Hippodameia


In Greek mythology, Hippolytus was a son of Theseus and either Antiope or Hippolyte. He was identified with the Roman forest god Virbius.
The most common legend for Hippolytus states that he was killed after rejecting the advances of Phaedra, the second wife of Theseus and Hippolytus' stepmother. The angry Phaedra told Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her. Theseus believed her and, using one of the three wishes he had received from Poseidon, cursed Hippolytus. Hippolytus' horses were frightened by a sea monster and dragged their rider to his death. The death of Hippolytus is a rare theme in painting.

Macro Theme: Hippolytus


See 'Meleager'.


Homer was an ancient Greek poet, believed to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. The exact dates of his life are unknown and may have been somewhere between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.
Homer was allegedly blind and many paintings refer to that fact. The blindness probably comes from a false etymology of the name Homer.
An ancient biography of Homer, claimed to be written by the Greek historian Herodotus and therefore called the Pseudo-Herodotus, contains many stories of Homer’s life. In this biography Homer became blind and was guided by the goat-herder Glaucus. Several paintings show Homer guided by a young shepherd and others also show him with shepherds.
Most of the paintings on the theme of Homer are bust portraits of the poet, which are of course imaginary portraits, but there are a large number of pictures around Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres’ ‘Apotheosis of Homer’.

Macro Theme: Homer

The Horatii and Curiatii

The Horatii were three brothers of Rome, the Curiatii three brothers of Alba Longa. There was a war between Rome and Alba Longa during the reign of Tullus Hostilius, in approximately 672 BC to 642 BC. Rome and Alba Longa agreed that the settlement of the war would depend on the outcome of a battle between the Horatii and the Curiatii brothers.
In the battle, the three Curiatii got wounded and two of the Horatii were killed. The last of the Horatii turned to flee. The Curiatii chased him, but because they were wounded, they were separated from one another, and the last Horatius could slay the Curiatii one by one.
When the victorious Horatius returned with the spoils of victory, his sister Camilla cried out in grief because she realized the Curiatius brother she loved and had been engaged was dead. The Horatius brother killed his sister, saying, "So should die any Roman woman who mourns the enemy." For the murder, he was condemned to death but he was saved when he appealed to the people.
The battle between the Horatii and the Curiatii was a popular theme among painters, especially with Jacques-Louis David’s classical masterpiece of the ‘Oath of the Horatii’. There are also many pictures of the death of Camilla, slain by her brother.

Macro Theme: The Horatii and the Curiatii


In Greek mythology, Hyacinth or Hyacinthus was a divine hero. He may have been the son of Clio and Pierus, King of Macedonia, or of king Oebalus of Sparta, or of king Amyclas, also a Spartan. One of the main feasts of ancient Sparta, the Hyacinthia, was dedicated to Hyacinth.
In a legend, Hyacinth was a beautiful youth loved by the god Apollo. Hyacinth and Apollo threw the discus, until Apollo, to impress him, threw it with all his might. Hyacinth ran to catch it, to impress Apollo, and was struck by the discus as it fell to the ground and he died. Painters have taken up especially this theme in a few paintings.
In another tale, the jealous Zephyrus blew Apollo's discus off course, so as to kill Hyacinth. When he died, Apollo didn't allow Hades to claim Hyacinth. Apollo made a flower, the hyacinth, from his spilled blood.
Hyacinth is sometimes depicted together with the nymph Climena.

Macro Theme: Hyacinth


Hygieia was a daughter of Asclepius in Greek mythology. She was the goddess of health and sanitation and also of the moon. She was associated with the prevention of sickness and the continuation of good health. Her name is the source of the word "hygiene".
There are few pictures which show Hygieia.

Macro Theme: Hygieia


Hylas was the son of King Theiodamas of the Dryopians.
Ovid however wrote that Hylas' father was Heracles and his mother the nymph Melite.
In other sources, his mother was the wife of Theiodamus, whose adulterous affair with Heracles caused the war between him and her husband. Hylas thus would have gained his beauty from his mother, a goddess, and his military prowess from his father. After Heracles killed Theiodamus in battle, he took the man’s son Hylas as arms bearer, taught him the ways of a warrior, and in time the two fell in love.
In another myth, Heracles took Hylas with him on the Argo, making him one of the Argonauts. Hylas was kidnapped by the nymph of the spring of Pegae (Dryope), who fell in love with him in Mysia and he vanished without a trace. The Argonauts never found Hylas because he had fallen in love with the nymphs and remained with them to share their love. This last theme has been most used by painters.

Macro Theme: Hylas


In Greek mythology, Hypnos was the personification of sleep. His Roman equivalent was known as Somnus. His twin was Thanatos ("death"); their mother was the goddess Nyx ("night"). His palace was a dark cave where the sun never shines. At the entrance were a number of poppies and other hypnogogic plants. Hypnos's three sons or brothers represented things that occur in dreams (the Oneiroi). Morpheus, Phobetor and Phantasos appear in the dreams of kings. According to one story, Hypnos lived in a cave underneath a Greek island; through this cave flowed Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.
Endymion, sentenced by Zeus to eternal sleep, received the power to sleep with his eyes open from Hypnos in order to constantly watch his beloved Selene. But according to the poet Licymnius of Chios, Hypnos, in awe of Endymion's beauty, caused him to sleep with his eyes open, so he could fully admire his face.
In art, Hypnos was portrayed as a naked youthful man, sometimes with a beard, and wings attached to his head. He is sometimes shown as a man asleep on a bed of feathers with black curtains about him. Morpheus is his chief minister and prevents noises from waking him.

Macro Theme: Hypnos


Icarus was a figure of Greek mythology.
Icarus' father, Daedalus, a talented craftsman, tried to escape from his exile in Crete, where he and his son had been imprisoned by King Minos, the king for whom he had built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur. Daedalus fashioned a pair of wax wings for himself and his son. Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun. Overcome by the sublime feeling of flying, Icarus flew high, too high for he came too close to the sun, which melted his wings. Icarus fell in the sea.
Icarus’ falling in the sea after his flight had been a popular theme in ancient painting.

Macro Theme: Icarus


Io was in Greek mythology a priestess of Hera in Argos. She who was seduced by Zeus, who changed her into a heifer - a young cow - to escape detection. Her mistress Hera sent the Argus Panoptes to guard her, but Hermes was sent to distract the guardian and slay him. The heifer Io roamed the world, ever stung by a maddening fly sent by Hera. She wandered to Egypt, thus placing her descendant Belus in Egypt. Belus’ sons Cadmus and Danaus would return to mainland Greece.

Macro Theme: Io


Iphigeneia was a daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra in Greek mythology.
Artemis punished Agamemnon after he had killed a sacred deer and boasted he was the greatest hunter. On the way to Troy, Agamemnon's ships were suddenly motionless as Artemis stopped the wind in Aulis. The soothsayer Calchas revealed an oracle that appeased Artemis, so that the fleet could continue to sail to Troy. The only way to appease Artemis was to sacrifice Iphigeneia to her, which Agamemnon did. In some stories Artemis saved Iphigeneia from the sacrifice by her father. Most paintings on this theme are of Iphigeneia’s sacrifice.

Macro Theme: Iphigeneia


Jason was in Greek mythology the leader of the Argonauts who sailed to seek the Golden Fleece in Colchis. He was the son of Aeson, the king of Iolcus.
In Thessaly, Aeson had been the rightful king. He was overthrown by his half-brother, Pelias. Jason was saved by his mother, Aeson’s wife. Later, Jason reappeared at Iolcus. He announced himself as the rightful king of Thessaly. Pelias however said, "To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece." Jason accepted the challenge.
Jason assembled a great group of heroes, known as the Argonauts named after their ship, the Argo. The group of heroes included the Boreads (sons of Boreas, the North Wind) who could fly, Heracles, Philoctetes, Peleus, Telamon, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, Atalanta, and Euphemus.
Many adventures happened on their way to Colchis, taken up as subject by several painters.

Macro Theme: Jason and the Argonauts

Jerusalem delivered

Jerusalem Delivered or ‘La Gerusalemme liberata’ is an epic poem by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso, first published in 1581, which is a fictional story of the First Crusade in which the Christians knights captured Jerusalem. Painters have used many scenes from the poem as themes for their pictures.
Sophronia, a Christian maiden of Jerusalem, accuses herself of a crime in order to avert a general massacre of the Christians by the Muslim king. In an attempt to save her, her lover Olindo accuses himself in his turn, and each lover pleads with the authorities in order to save the other.
Clorinda, a young woman, joins the Muslims, but the Christian knight Tancred falls in love with her. During a battle in which she sets the Christian siege tower on fire, she is mistakenly killed by her lover, but she converts to Christianity before dying. Another young woman of the region, the Princess Erminia of Antioch, also falls in love with Tancred and betrays her people to help him, but she grows jealous when she learns that Tancred loves Clorinda. She returns to the Muslims, then steals Clorinda's armour and joins a group of shepherds.
The witch Armida enters the Christian camp asking for their aid; her seductions divide the knights against each other and a group leaves with her, only to be transformed into animals by her magic. Armida tries to kill the greatest Christian knight Rinaldo but she falls in love with him instead and takes him to a magical island where he becomes infatuated with her caresses and grows idle. Two Christian knights seek out the hidden fortress, brave the dangers that guard it and, by giving Rinaldo a mirror of diamond, force him to see himself in his effeminate state and to return to the war, leaving Armida heartbroken. Armida grieves at this loss and desires death, but being a sorceress, she cannot die.

Macro Theme: Jerusalem delivered

Micro themes:
Jerusalem delivered (various)
Tancred and Erminia
Tancred and Clorinda
Rinaldo and Armida
Sophronia and Olindo


One particular story about Hera has been attributed to Juno and several paintings were made on this theme.
Zeus fell in love with Io. He changed Io in a heifer, a young cow, to escape Hera’s vigilance. Hera used a Titan Argus, called Panoptes, who had one hundred eyes, some of which could be awake while other slept, to watch over Zeus so that he couldn't deceive Hera with Io. Zeus had Hermes put a sleep spell on all of Argus' eyes. Hermes then killed Argus. To reward the Argus for good service, Hera put his eyes in the tail feathers of the peacock, her favourite bird.
There are various other themes for Juno, depicting her with other gods or referring with her to Rome.

Macro Theme: Juno

Micro Themes:
Juno and Argus
Juno (various)


Jupiter was the upper god in Roman mythology. He was the patron god of Rome. His equivalent in Greek mythology was Zeus. Jupiter was married to his sister, Juno – in Greek mythology Zeus was married to his sister Hera. Zeus, the son of Cronos, was the king of the gods and the ruler of Mount Olympos.
There are many legends and stories about Jupiter and many of those have taken up by painters.
In a story of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ Jupiter fell in love with Antiope, the daughter of the river-god Asopos. For that, Jupiter had to disguise as a Satyr. From that union came two children, called Amphion and Zethos. Antiope feared the wrath of her father and fled to Sicyon. Antiope’s father committed suicide but asked his son, Antiope’s brother, Lycos, to punish her. Lycos mad war to Sicyon, caught his sister and brought her to Thebes to be imprisoned. She was treated badly by Lycos’ wife Dirce, who was jealous of her beauty. She escaped to her sons, who killed Lycos and Dirce to revenge their mother. Dionysos did not leave the murders without vengeance and caused Antiope to become mad.
In another story from Ovid's 'Metamorphosis' Jupiter is associated with Semele. Semele was a mortal woman loved by the god Jupiter. Hoping to gain immortality, she begged him to come to her in his godly form, but Jupiter’s thunder and lightning destroyed her.
There exist various versions of Zeus’ infancy, which have been taken over under the name of Jupiter. Jupiter may have been nurtured as a child by the nymphs Adrastei or Adamanteia or Cynosura, or by the goat Amalthea. Or he was raised by Melissa on goat’s milk. Several painters took the infancy of Jupiter as a subject.
Jupiter also fell in love with Callisto (see the theme ‘Callisto’), so a few painters depicted Jupiter and Callisto.
Zeus fell in love with Io (see the theme ‘Io’).
Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory, the daughter of the god Uranus (heaven) and the goddess Gaia (earth). Jupiter fell in love with god and from their union came the Muses.
There may be some confusion between Thetys and Thetis and Jupiter’s involvement with them. Thetis was the granddaughter of Thetys. Thetys was a sea goddess, sister and wife of Oceanus. She is almost never associated with Jupiter. Thetis was a sea-nymph and one of the fifty Nereids. Zeus and Poseidon had been rivals for the hand of Thetis until Prometheus, the fire-bringer, warned Zeus of a prophecy that Thetis would bear a son greater than his father. For this reason, the two gods withdrew their pursuit, and had her wed Peleus. In the ‘Argonautica’ is another version of Jupiter’s involvement with Thetis. There, Hera alludes to Thetis's chaste resistance to the advances of Zeus, that Thetis had been so loyal to Hera's marriage bond that she coolly rejected him. Some painters, notably Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, showed Jupiter and this Thetis.

Macro Theme: Jupiter

Micro Themes:
Jupiter (various)
The Infancy of Jupiter
Jupiter and Antiope
Jupiter and Semele
Jupiter and Callisto
Jupiter and Mnemosyne
Jupiter and Thetis


Laocoön was in Greek mythology the son of Acoetes, a Trojan priest of Poseidon (or Apollo), whose rules he had defied, either by marrying and having sons, or by having committed an impiety by making love with his wife in the presence of a cult image in a sanctuary. His role in Virgil’s narrative of the Trojan War, the Aeneid, was of warning the Trojans in vain against accepting the Trojan Horse from the Greeks. Subsequently, he and his sons were killed by two serpents sent to Troy across the sea from the island of Tenedos, where the Greeks had temporarily camped. It is this death by serpents of Laocoön that is usually represented in art.

Macro Theme: Laocoön


Laomedon was in Greek mythology a Trojan king, son of Ilus, brother of Ganymedes and father of Priam.
Laomedon's son, Ganymedes, was kidnapped by Zeus, who had fallen in love with the beautiful boy. Laomedon grieved for his son. Zeus sent Hermes with two horses so swift they could run over water to soothe Laomedon. Hermes also assured Laomedon that Ganymedes was immortal and would be the cupbearer for the gods, a position of much distinction. However,
In another story, which has been used by some painters, Poseidon and Apollo, having offended Zeus, were sent to serve King Laomedon. He had them build huge walls around the city and promised to reward them well, a promise he then refused to fulfil. In vengeance, before the Trojan War, Poseidon sent a sea monster to attack Troy.
Laomedon planned on sacrificing his daughter Hesione to Poseidon in the hope of appeasing him. Heracles rescued her at the last minute and killed the monster. Laomedon had promised them the magic horses as a reward for their deeds, but when he broke his word, Heracles and his allies took vengeance by putting Troy to siege, killing Laomedon and all his sons save Podarces, who saved his life by giving Heracles a golden veil Hesione had made (and therefore he was later called Priam, from priamai 'to buy').

Macro Theme: Laomedon


Latona was in Roman and in Greek mythology a daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. Her name was Latona in Roman mythology but Leto in Greek mythology. She had two children with Zeus (Jupiter), called Apollo and Artemis (Diana).
In Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses’, Leto wandered on the earth after giving birth to Apollo and Artemis, condemned to wander by Zeus’ wife Hera who was jealous. Latona tried to drink water from a pond in Lycia. The peasants Of Lycia however refused to allow her to drink: they stirred the mud at the bottom of the pond. Leto turned them into frogs for their inhospitality. This scene has been used as a subject by some painters and the name Latona is used then because the tale is a Roman one (from Ovid).

Macro Theme: Latona


Leda was in Greek mythology the daughter of the Aetolian king Thestius, and wife of the king Tyndareus, of Sparta. She was the mother of Helen of Troy, of Clytemnestra, and Castor and Pollux.
Painters have almost exclusively painted a theme of Leda and the swan. The swan was Zeus. Zeus loved Leda and changed himself in a swan. The swan was pursued by an eagle and sought protection in Leda’s arms. Then Zeus raped her in the disguise of a swan. The same night she lay with her husband, Tyndareus. She gave birth to two eggs from which hatched her sons and daughters. Helen and Polydeuces were Zeus’ children and hence immortal; Castor and Pollux were the mortal children of Tyndareus.

Macro Theme: Leda

Micro Themes:
Leda (various)
Leda and the Swan


See ‘Latona’.


Leucippus was a figure of Greek mythology. He was the son of Gorgophone and Perieres, the father of Phoebe and Hilaeira, and also of Arsinoe, mother of Asclepius, by his wife Philodice, daughter of Inachus.
Castor and Polydeuces abducted and married Phoebe and Hilaeira, the daughters of Leucippus. In return, Idas and Lynceus, nephews of Leucippus (or rival suitors), killed Castor. Polydeuces was granted immortality by Zeus, and further persuaded Zeus to share his gift with Castor.
The theme that is sometimes used in painting is the abduction of Leucippus’ daughters.

Macro Theme: Leucippus


In Roman mythology, Lucretia was the virtuous wife of Collatinus. She was raped by the son of the King of Rome, whereupon a revolt ended the kingship and founded the Republic of Rome.
Lucretia was raped by Tarquinius. Sextus Tarquinius was the son of the last legendary king of Rome, L. Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud). Tarquinius spied on women with his men and he found only Lucretia a wife of virtue. Tarquinius returned and wanted to sleep with Lucretia, but she refused. When he threatened to kill her and to put a dead slave in her bed with her, giving the impression that she had been unchaste, she finally gave in to Tarquinius. Thereafter, Lucretia told her father and her husband everything, and then killed herself. Her husband's friend, Lucius Junius Brutus, revolted against Tarquinius and he brought to an end the kingship of Tarquin the Proud, thus ending kingship in Rome and founding the Roman Republic, Brutus became the first consul together with Collatinus. Tarquinius fled to Gabii, where he made himself king, but he was eventually killed in revenge for his actions.
There are quite many paintings of this story, especially of the death of Lucretia.

Macro Theme: Lucretia

Micro Themes:
Lucretia (various)
Lucretia and Tarquinius
The Death of Lucretia


Lycaon was the son of Pelasgus and Meliboea, father of Oenotrus and the mythical first king of Arcadia. He was the father of Callisto and he raised her son Arcas. He, and his fifty impious sons, entertained Zeus and set before him a dish of human flesh; the god pushed away the dish in disgust and either killed the king and his sons by lightning or turned them into wolves. Some say that Lycaon slew and dished up his own son Nyctimus or Arcas, Zeus' son. Zeus turned him into a wolf. This gave rise to the story that a man was turned into a wolf at each annual sacrifice to Zeus Lycaeus, but recovered his human form if he abstained from human flesh for ten years.
There are a few paintings of Lycaon’s supper.

Macro Theme: Lycaon


Marathon is known for the famous battle that took place there during the Greco-Persian Wars. The battle took place in 490 BC. King Darius I of Persia's had attacked Greece to incorporate it into the Persian Empire. The Greek historian Herodotus rode about this battle in his Histories. The place of Marathon has been taken as a subject of landscape painters.

Macro Theme: Marathon


Gaius Marius (157 BC-86 BC) was a Roman general and politician. He became seven times consul. He was governor of Spain, won many battles in Numidia and against the Germanic tribes. The Battle of Vercellae in 101 BC was his most important victory over the Germanic invasion force near the settlement of Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul.
Painters have taken several scenes of his life as subject of pictures.

Macro Theme: Marius


Mars was the Roman god of war. He was the son of Juno and Jupiter, the husband of Bellona, and the lover of Venus. He was also the tutelary god of the city of Rome.
Painters have depicted Mars in several paintings as the Roman warrior-god..

Macro Theme: Mars


Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa (1639 - 1709) was a Ukrainian Cossack Hetman of the Hetmanate in Left-bank Ukraine, in 1687–1708. Mazepa was born circa 1639 near Bila Tserkva, then a part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, into a noble family.
Mazepa was educated first in the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, then at a Jesuit college in Warsaw and abroad. From 1659 he served at the court of the Polish king, John II Casimir. In 1669–1673, Mazepa served under Hetman Petro Doroshenko, and in 1674–1681, under Hetman Ivan Samoylovych. A young educated Mazepa quickly rose through the Cossack ranks and in 1682–1686, he served as a General-Yesaul. In In 1687, Ivan Mazepa accused Samoylovych of conspiring to secede from Russia, secured his ouster and was elected the Hetman of the Left-bank Ukraine, with the support of Vasily Galitzine's Russian government. Gradually, Mazepa accumulated great wealth, becoming one of Europe's largest land owners. Many Cossacks, however, grew increasingly frustrated with the repressive and authoritarian rule of the Hetmanate nobility (starshyna). Several uprisings against his rule, started in the Zaporizhian Sich, failed.
Later, Mazepa refused to commit any significant force to defend Ukraine against the Polish King Stanislaus Leszczynski, an ally of Charles XII of Sweden, who threatened to attack the Cossack Hetmanate in 1708. As the Swedish and Polish armies advanced towards Ukraine, Mazepa allied himself with them on October 28, 1708. However, only 3,000 Cossacks followed their Hetman, with rest remaining loyal to the Tsar. Mazepa's call to arms was further weakened by the Orthodox Clergy's allegiance for the Tsar. Learning of Mazepa's treason, the Russian army sacked and razed the Cossack Hetmanate capital of Baturyn, killing the defending garrison and all of its population. The Russian army was ordered to tie up the dead Cossacks to crosses, and float them down the Dnieper River all the way to the Black Sea. This was done for the purpose of intimidating the Mazepa loyalists who lived downstream along the Dnieper. Those Cossacks who did not side with Mazepa elected a new hetman, Ivan Skoropadsky, on November 11, 1708. The fear of other reprisals and suspicion of Mazepa's newfound Swedish ally prevented most of Ukraine's population from siding with him. Surprisingly, the only significant support which he gathered came from the Zaporizhian Sich, which, though at odds with the Hetman in the past, considered him and the nobility he represented a lesser evil compared with the Tsar. The Sich Cossacks paid dearly for their support of Mazepa, as Peter I ordered the Sich to be razed in 1709 and a decree was issued to execute any active Zaporizhian Cossack. in June of 1709 the Battle of Poltava took place. It was won by Russia, putting an end to Mazepa's hopes of transferring Ukraine into the control of Sweden, which in a treaty had promised independence to Ukraine. Mazepa fled with Charles XII to the Turkish fortress of Bendery, where Mazepa soon died.
Lord Byron made a poem with the title of ‘Mazepa’ and Piotr Tchaikovsky wrote an opera with the same name. There exist a few rare paintings on scenes of his life.

Macro Theme: Mazepa


Medea is a Greek mythological figure from the Argonauts’ search for the Golden Fleece (see ‘Jason’).
When Jason arrived in Colchis to claim the Golden Fleece, King Aeetes of Colchis promised to give it to him on condition that Jason performed three special tasks. The goddess Hera had persuaded Aphrodite to convince her son Eros to make Aeetes's daughter, Medea, fall in love with Jason. Afterwards, Medea aided Jason in his tasks so that he could accomplish them.
Later, Jason escaped Colchis with the Golden Fleece, sailing away with Medea. Medea’s father chased the Argonauts. Medea and Jason fled by killing her brother Apsyrtus and throwing pieces of his body into the sea, which Aeetes had to stop for and gather.
There were many stories on Medea from the Argonauts’ trip and on Jason, which have been taken up as subjects by painters.
Medea prophesised to Euphemus, the Argo's helmsman, that one day he would rule Libya.
When the Argo arrived at the island of Crete, they saw it was guarded by the bronze man, Talos. Talos hurled huge stones at the ship, keeping it from Crete. Talos had one blood vessel which went from his neck to his ankle, bound shut by only one bronze nail. Medea cast a spell on Talos to calm him; then she removed the bronze nail and Talos bled to death.
Medea later claimed to Pelias' daughters that she could make their father younger by chopping him up into pieces and boiling the pieces in a cauldron of water and magical herbs. She demonstrated this with a sheep, which leapt out of the cauldron as a lamb. Pelias’ girls sliced their father and put the pieces in the cauldron. Medea did not add the magical herbs, and Pelias was dead.
In Corinth, Jason wanted to marry Creusa, a daughter of the King of Corinth. When Medea heard about the engagement, he said she should thank Aphrodite who made Medea fall in love with him. Infuriated with Jason for breaking his, Medea took her revenge by presenting to Creusa a cursed dress that stuck to her body and burned her to death as soon as she put it on. Creusa's father, Creon, burned to death with his daughter as he tried to save her. Then Medea killed the two boys that she bore to Jason. When Jason came to know of this, Medea had left. Medea fled to Athens in a chariot drawn by dragons.
Because he broke his vow to love Medea forever, Jason lost favour with Hera, Zeus’ wife, and died unhappy and alone. Jason slept under the stern of the rotting Argo when it fell on him, killing him instantly. His son however became king of Thessaly.

Macro Theme: Medea


In Greek mythology, Meleager was the son of Althaea and Oeneus.
When Meleager was born, the Fates predicted he would only live until a brand, burning in the family hearth, was consumed by fire. Meleager’s mother, Althaea, therefore doused and hid the brand. Later, Meleager married Cleopatra, daughter of Idas.
Meleager’s father, Oeneus, sent him to gather heroes to hunt the Calydonian Boar that had been stalking the area. Meleager chose among many others Atalanta, a fierce huntress, whom he had falling in love with. On the hunt, Hylaeus and Rhaecus, two centaurs, tried to rape Atalanta but Meleager killed them. Atalanta wounded the Calydonian boar and Meleager killed it. He awarded her the hide since she had drawn the first drop of blood. Toxeus and Plexippus, Althaea's brothers, were angry that the prize had been granted to a woman. Meleager killed them and he also killed Iphicles and Eurypylus, who had insulted Atalanta. Because Meleager had killed her two brothers, Althaea placed the brand back upon the fire, thus killing Meleager.
Painters have also sometimes depicted Atalanta with Hippomenes. Hippomenes was Atalanta’s husband.
When a man watched her run in a forest, Atalanta became angry and told the men "I will race anyone who wants to marry me! Whoever is so swift that he can outrun me will receive the prize of my hand in marriage! But whomever I beat - will die." Atalanta raced and outran all but Hippomenes, who defeated her by cunning. Hippomenes knew that he could not win a fair race with Atalanta, so he prayed to Aphrodite for help. She wanted to punish Atalanta for refusing to love. Aphrodite gave him three golden apples and told him to drop them one at a time to distract Atalanta. After each of the first two apples, Atalanta was able to recover the lead, but when she stopped for the third, Hippomenes won the race and hence Atalanta's hand. Atalanta and Hippomenes were turned into lions by Zeus as punishment for having sex in one of his temples because the Greeks believed that lions could not mate with other lions.

Macro Theme: Meleager and Atalanta


See the theme ‘Hermes’.


Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom. In Greek mythology, her counter-part is Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war and patron-goddess of the city of Athens.
Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis. Athena sprang into being fully formed and fully armed from the head of her father, after Zeus had swallowed the pregnant Metis. The smith god Hephaistos assisted with his axe at this birth, cleaving Zeus’ head, from which sprang Athena.
Athena remained a virgin and was therefore called ‘Parthenos’, from which the name of Athens’ Parthenon temple.
Minerva has been associated with wisdom; hence painters used her name on several rather allegorical paintings of wisdom.

Macro Theme: Minerva

Mucius Scaevola

Gaius Mucius Scaevola was a young man of Rome who lived at a time from which the Roman legends date, before the history of Rome was being written. He belongs more to the mythology of Rome than to history.
Gaius Mucius lived when the King of the Etruscans, Lars Porsenna, attacked the city. Gaius Mucius penetrated the Etruscan camp and tried to kill Porsenna. He murdered the wrong man however, and was caught by the Etruscans. He told Porsenna that several hundreds of other young Romans were ready to attempt to murder the King. Porsenna ordered Gaius Mucius to be burned but the Roman hero thrust his hand immediately in a burning flame and withstood the pain without a scream. Lars Porsenna was much impressed by this feat and freed Gaius Mucius before he halted the siege of Rome. Because Gaius Mucius now had a maimed right hand, he was called the ‘left-handed’ or ‘Scaevola’.
This scene of Gaius Mucius Scaevola before Porsenna has been painted by several artists.

Macro Theme: Mucius Scaevola

Morpheus and Iris

Morpheus was in Greek mythology the god of dreams. He had the ability to take any human's form and appear in dreams. He was the son or brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep. Nyx (the goddess of night) is his mother/grandmother. The servants of Hypnos - the Oneiroi - were rulers of visions, and they include Phobetor and Phantasos. Morpheus is spoken of in the Metamorphoses of Ovid.
In Greek mythology, Iris was the personification of the rainbow and messenger of the gods. As the sun united Earth and heaven, Iris linked the gods to humanity. She travelled with the speed of wind from one end of the world to the other, and into the depths of the sea and the underworld.
Morpheus and Iris are often depicted together.

Macro Theme: Morpheus and Iris

The Muses

The Muses in Greek mythology were nine water-nymphs who embodied the arts. They were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.

Calliope was the head muse and muse of epic poetry.
Clio was the muse of history.
Erato was the muse of love poetry and of marriage songs.
Euterpe was the muse of music.
Melpomene was the muse of tragedy.
Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred song and of rhetoric.
Terpsichore was the muse of chorals and of choral dance.
Thalia was the muse of comedy and bucolic poetry.
Urania was the muse of astronomy.

The Muses were often represented by painters.

Macro Theme: The Muses

Micro Themes:
The Muses (various)


Narcissus was in Greek mythology hero of the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia. He was renowned for his beauty. Narcissus had a twin sister. They dressed similarly and hunted together. Narcissus fell in love with her. When she died, Narcissus longed after her. He pretended that the reflection he saw in the water was his sister.
Painters often depicted Narcissus looking at his mirror-image in a pond or as a beautiful youth. Since narcissus looks at himself, he is sometimes shown together with Echo.

Macro Theme: Narcissus


Nemesis, in Greek mythology, was the spirit of divine vengeance against those who succumbed to hubris or against criminals. Nemesis was revengeful fate, a remorseless goddess. The term is now used to indicate one’s worst enemy.
Nemesis has only very rarely been represented by painters.

Macro Theme: Nemesis.


Neptune was the god of water and the sea in Roman mythology. He was the brother of Jupiter and Pluto. His equivalent in Greek mythology was Poseidon, a son of Cronus and Rea. Poseidon was also the god of horses (and therefore sometimes represented with horses by painters), and the earth-shaker, the god of earthquakes. Poseidon received a trident during the war of the Titans and the gods, in which he fought with his brother Zeus and Hades. He had a throne on Olympos.
Amphitrite was a sea-goddess and the consort of Poseidon. She was a Nereid, a daughter of Nereus and Doris. Painters often therefore depicted Neptune with Amphitrite. Amphitrite is represented either enthroned beside Poseidon or driving with him in a chariot drawn by sea-horses or other strange creatures of the seas, and attended by Tritons and Nereids. Triton was her son by Poseidon.
Coronis, sometimes shown together with Neptune, was the daughter of King Coronaeus of Phocis. She fled from Poseidon and was changed into a crow by Athena.

Macro Theme: Neptune

Micro Themes:
Neptune (various)
Neptune and Amphitrite
Neptune and Coronis


Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37 - 68), born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, was the fifth and final Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Nero was adopted by his great uncle Claudius to become heir to the throne. As Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, he succeeded to the throne on 13 October, 54, following Claudius' death. Nero ruled from 54 to 68, focusing much of his attention on diplomacy, trade, and increasing the cultural capital of the empire. He ordered the building of theatres and promoted athletic games. Nero's rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He is known for a number of executions, including those of his mother and adoptive brother, as the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned", and as an early persecutor of Christians.

Macro Theme: Nero

The Nibelungen

The Nibelungenlied, The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem in Middle High German. It tells the story of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, his murder, and of his wife Kriemhild's revenge. The Nibelungen is based on pre-Christian Germanic heroic motifs (the "Nibelungensaga"), which include oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries. The poem in its various written forms was lost by the end of the 16th century, but manuscripts from as early as the 13th century were re-discovered during the 18th century. There are thirty-five known manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied and its variant versions. Prevailing scholarly theories strongly suggest that the written Nibelungenlied is the work of an anonymous poet from the area of the Danube between Passau and Vienna, dating from about 1180 to 1210, possibly at the court of Wolfger von Erla, the bishop of Passau (in office 1191–1204). The epic is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the story of Siegfried and Kriemhild, the wooing of Brünhild and the death of Siegfried at the hands of Hagen, and Hagen's hiding of the Nibelung treasure in the Rhine. The second part deals with Kriemhild's marriage to Etzel, her plans for revenge, the journey of the Nibelungs to the court of Etzel, and their last stand in Etzel's hall.
Mostly German and Austrian painters, such as Peter von Cornelius and Hans Makart, have used several scenes from the Nibelungen in pictures.

Macro Theme: Nibelungen


Niobe was a figure of Greek mythology. She was the daughter of King Tantalus of the city of Sipylus, a town in western Anatolia. Niobe married Amphion of Thebes and had seven daughters and seven sons by him.
Niobe boasted to Leto because the goddess only had two children, Apollo and Artemis, whereas Niobe had fourteen children. Therefore, Apollo killed Niobe's sons while they practiced athletics and Artemis killed Niobe's daughters. Apollo and Artemis used poisoned arrows to kill Niobe’s children. It is this scene that has frequently been represented by painters.

Macro Theme: Niobe and Niobe’s Children

Scenes from various Novels and Poems

Painters have used scenes from various novels and poems. When very few pictures exist of these themes, we brought them in this macro theme of ‘Novels and Poems’. Examples are scenes from poems of Byron, of novels of Voltaire, of John Spencer, etc.

Macro Theme: Scenes from various Novels and Poems

Numa Pompilius

Numa Pompilius was the second legendary king of Rome. He was a Sabine and succeeded on Romulus.
According to legend, the nymph Egeria taught him to be a wise legislator. He also instituted the cult of the Vestal Virgins. The paintings on his subject usually depict him hence with the nymph Egeria or with the Vestal Virgins.

Macro Theme: Numa Pompilius


In Greek mythology, nymphs were female spirits of nature. They were often companions of Greek gods and goddesses. There are several kinds of Nymphs, and the nymphs were very many. The most important ones, used by painters were:

Dryads: tree nymphs, mostly of oak trees but also of other trees..
Naiads: fresh water nymphs. They were nymphs of fountains, wells, springs, streams, and brooks.
Oreads: nymphs of mountains, valleys and ravines. They were associated mostly with Artemis, the goddess of hunt.
Oceanids: water and ocean nymphs, the daughters of Oceanos and Thetys called Doris, Klymene, Metis (mother of Athena), Pleione (mother of the Pleiades nymphs) and Styx.
Nereids: nymphs of the Mediterranean Sea, daughters of Nereus. They were fifty nymphs, among which the most important were Thetis (mother of Achilles), Amphitrite (wife of Poseidon-Neptune), Galatea and Thoosa (mother of Polyphemus).
Pleiades: seven nymphs, companions of Artemis called Maia, Elektra, Taygete, Alkyone, Kelaino, Asterope and Merope. They were the seven daughters of Atlas and the nymph Pleione, all born in Arcadia.
Hesperides: nymphs who tend a garden in a far western corner of the world, Hera’s orchard. The Hesperides were three originally: Aegle, Arethusa, Erytheia, Hesperia. Later, Lipara, Asterope and Chrysothemis were added.
Clythia: this nymph was in love with Apollo, who ignored her. She fell into despair and wept day and night, following the sun with her eyes (Apollo in his chariot). Her members discoloured and turned into a stem entering in the ground: she was transformed into a Sunflower and continued to turn to the sun.

In Torquato Tasso’s ‘Aminta’ he proposed the story of a nymph, Sylvia. Sylvia is in this poem a chaste nymph of Diana. Sylvia iss forced by Eros to fall in love with a shepherd, Aminta, whom she had just shot in anger with an arrow. After various adventures, including Sylvia's abduction by a pirate, Orion, the lovers' union was blessed by Diana.
Other companions of the gods Pan and Dionysus were male. Satyrs and Fauns were often represented together with the nymphs. Since nymphs were spirits of nature, they were also sometimes shown with shepherds or in landscapes.
Also in German, English and Scandinavian mythology nymph-like creatures play a role: Ondines, the Loreley and other Sirens, so-called ‘Waldfräuleins’, elves, fairies, etc. We bring these also in this theme of ‘Nymphs’.

Macro Theme: Nymphs

Micro Theme:
Nymphs (various)
Nymphs and Satyrs or Fauns
Nymphs and Shepherds and/or in Landscapes
Nymphs and Loves or Cherubs
The Hesperides
The Naiads
The Oceanids
The Nereids
The Pleiades
The Nymph Sylvia


An odalisque was a virgin slave woman in an Ottoman seraglio. She was an assistant to the concubines and wives of the Sultan. She might rise in status to become one of them. Most odalisques were part of the harem, that is, the household, of the Sultan.
Odalisques do not really belong either to mythology or to ancient history. Nevertheless, odalisques have been used by painters as a subject for pictures comparable to such other themes as proposed in this text. Odalisques were especially painted in the 19th century by French and Italian artists, most notable among these Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, as a kind of alternative to pictures of Venus. Odalisques were then painted as beautiful nude oriental women, in rather erotic scenes. We classify pictures of ‘Odalisques’ under the code of ‘mythology’ – though that is not really exact.

Macro Theme: Odalisque


Odysseus was a mythological Greek king of Ithaca. He was the main hero of Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey and he also features in Homer's Iliad. His Latin name is Ulysses. He participated in the Trojan War but saw most of his adventures while returning home.
The nymph Calypso held Odysseus captive as her lover for seven years.
He sailed to the island of the enchantress Circe. Circe invited Odysseus’ men to a feast, and turned them all into swine after they ate food laced with her magical potions. Odysseus stayed with her for a year, but then left with his crew. Odysseys was imprisoned on the island of the nymph Calypso, and he stayed with her also for seven years
Nausicaa was also a figure from the Odyssey. Nausicaa said to her friend that she would like her husband to be like Odysseus, and her father – King Alcinous - told Odysseus he would let him marry her. Yet, nothing really happens between Odysseus and Nausicaa.
There are many paintings that show Odysseus, but each with another female figure of the Odyssey. We have preferred to use only one macro-theme rather than so many different micro-themes.

Macro Theme: Odysseus.


Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father Laius and marry his mother Jocasta, and thus brought disaster on his city and family.
Laius gave Oedipus to a herdsman, asking him to kill the boy so that the prophecy would not be fulfilled. The herdsman however hid Oedipus. When he was a youth, Oedipus travelled to Thebes. He met a chariot at a crossroads, which, unknown to him, was driven by Laius, his true father. A dispute arose over right of way, and Oedipus killed Laius.
Continuing his journey to Thebes, Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, who stopped any traveller and asked him a riddle that none had yet been able to solve. If the traveller failed, he was eaten by the Sphinx. The riddle was “What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?" The answer was “Man." Oedipus solved the riddle, and the Sphinx threw herself to her death. This scene has often been painted.
In gratitude, the Thebans appointed Oedipus as their king. Oedipus was given the widow of the King of Thebes, Jocasta (who was also his mother), as his wife.
When Oedipus found out who his father and mother were, he blinded himself and wandered on the earth. His two sons Eteocles and Polynices arranged to share the kingdom, each to take an alternating one-year reign. Eteocles however, refused to give up his kingship after the end of his year. Polynices then brought in an army. A battle ensued in which the brothers killed each other.

Macro Theme: Oedipus

Micro Themes:
Oedipus (various)
Oedipus and the Sphinx


Mount Olympus is the highest mountain of Greece, situated on the border between Macedonia and Thessaly, near the Gulf of Salonika. In Greek mythology, Mount Olympus was the home of the Twelve Olympians, the principal gods. The twelve principal gods were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Demeter, and Hestia. Other gods and heroes were allowed to stay on a less than permanent basis.
Painters have used Mount Olympus to show the Greek gods. A scene often painted was the feast or banquet of the gods.

Macro Theme: Olympus.


Orestes was in Greek mythology the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon.
When Agamemnon returned from the Trojan War with a Trojan Princess, as his concubine, he was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, in revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigeneia/ Iphigeneia had been offered to the gods to obtain favourable winds for the Greek fleet. Eight years later, Orestes returned from Athens and with his sister Electra avenged his father's death by slaying his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus.
There are various paintings of Orestes. Some of them depict Hermione.
Hermione was the daughter of Menelaus and Helen. Helen ran away to Troy however, and her father fought with the Greeks against the city. Hermione was being raised by her aunt, Clytemnestra. Before the Trojan War, Hermione was betrothed by Menelaus to Orestes, her cousin. Later, Hermione and Orestes were married and had a son, Tisamenus.

Macro Theme: Orestes

Micro Themes:
Orestes (various)

Oriental Scenes

Painters have made pictures of various oriental scenes. The scenes were of ancient oriental figures, events or landscapes. The scenes may for instance be of ancient Assyria, of Babylon, of the Thracian tyrant Miltiades, and so on. We do not include in this scenes of Egypt.

Macro Theme: Oriental Themes


Orion was in Greek mythology a giant hunter. Zeus placed him among the stars as the constellation of Orion.
There were several legends about Orion. He visited Chios where he met Merope and was blinded by her father, Oenopion. He recovered his sight at Lemnos. Some painters thus showed the blind Orion. He hunted with Artemis but may have been killed by her or by a giant scorpion, which became Scorpio. He was placed subsequently in the heavens.

Macro Theme: Orion

Orlando Furioso

Orlando Furioso ("Orlando Mad") was an Italian romantic epic by Ludovico Ariosto. It was written between 1516 and 1532, the date at which it was published in its complete form.
The story is the war between Charlemagne and the Saracens, but also fantastic, totally imaginary scenes were brought in the plot. The most important plots in the long poem are the love of Charlemagne’s baron Orlando for Angelica and the love of the female, Christian warrior Bradamante for the pagan Ruggiero. Ruggiero and Bradamante were supposed to be the ancestors of the house of Este of Ferrara, Ariosto's patrons.
Charlemagne fights the Saracen King Agramante, who has invaded Europe from Africa to avenge the death of his father Traiano. Agramante and his allies, Marsilio, the King of Spain, and the warrior Rodomonte, besiege Charlemagne at Paris. Orlando, Charlemagne's most famous baron, forgot his duty to protect the emperor by his love for the pagan princess Angelica. Angelica escapes from the castle of the Bavarian Duke Namo and Orlando sets off in pursuit. The two live many adventures until Angelica saves a wounded Saracen knight, Medoro. Angelica falls in love with Medoro and elopes with him to Cathay. When Orlando learns the truth he goes mad with despair (hence the title of the poem) and he rides through Europe and Africa destroying everything in his path. The English knight Astolfo journeys to Ethiopia on the hippogriff, a mythical monster, to find a cure for Orlando's madness. He flies up to the moon where everything lost on earth is to be found, including Orlando's wits. Astolfo brings them back and he makes Orlando sniff them, thus restoring Orlando to sanity. The siege of Paris is lifted and Orlando kills King Agramante.
Meanwhile, the female Christian warrior Bradamante and the Saracen Ruggiero too live many adventures. Ruggiero is taken captive by the sorceress Alcina and has to be freed from her magic island. He also has to avoid the enchantments of his foster father the wizard Atlante, who does not want him to fight. Finally, Ruggiero converts to Christianity and marries Bradamante.
Rodomonte appears at the wedding feast of Ruggiero. He accuses him of being a traitor to the Saracen cause. ‘Orlando Furioso’ ends with Ruggiero slaying Rodomonte.

Macro Theme: Orlando Furioso

Micro Themes:
Orlando Furioso
Angelica and Medoro
Ruggiero frees Angelica
Angelica and the Hermit discovered by Pirates
Stories of Ruggiero


Orpheus was a figure from Greek mythology. He was born in Thrace. He was a son of the Thracian river god Oiagros and of the Muse Calliope.
Painters have mostly used a legend of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. Eurydice fled from Aristaeus, the son of Apollo. She ran into a nest of snakes which bit her on her heel. Eurydice died. Orpheus was very sad. He played such sad songs that all the gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus travelled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone. They agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. In his anxiety Orpheus forgot that both needed to be in the upper world, and he turned to look at her, so Eurydice vanished for the second time, now forever.
Orpheus sang so beautiful that even the animals listened to his songs. This theme also has been taken up by painters, usually as an occasion to paint fine landscapes.
Orpheus was killed by the Thracian Maenads, frantic worshippers of Dionysos and Bacchus.

Macro Theme: Orpheus

Micro Theme:
Orpheus (various)
Orpheus and Eurydice
Orpheus in the Underworld
Orpheus charming the Animals


Ossian was a legendary warrior bard who appeared as the narrator in the Celtic legends of Fionn mac Cumhail. These tales were known as the Ossianic cycle and made up one of the four great cycles of Celtic mythology and legend. They were supposed to have taken place during the 3rd century AD.
In 1760, James Macpherson, a Scots poet of the 18th century claimed to have found poetry written by Ossian. He published translations of it during the next few years. It was extremely well received at the time, however it became clear after a few years that the poems were forgeries, although forgeries of some artistic merit. The most famous of these poems was Fingal written in 1762.
The historical person in the legend had the name Oisin, a great bard and member of the Fianna. Oisin fell in love with Niamh, the Queen of Tir na n-Og and returned with her to Tir na n-Og, but became homesick after what he though was three years. Niamh let him borrow Embarr, her horse who could run above ground, and made him promise not to touch Irish soil. The three years he spent in Tir na n-Og turned out to be 300 Irish years and Oisin fell off Embarr, instantly becoming an old man. Meanwhile, Niamh had given birth to his daughter, Plor na mBan. Niamh returned to Ireland to search for him, but he had died.
There are few paintings of this theme, most notably however Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ picture of ‘Ossian’s Dream’.

Macro Theme: Ossian


Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC-17 AD) was a Roman poet, usually called Ovid in English, who wrote poems on many topics such as love and mythology. He was one of the three most important poets of Latin literature. His most famous work was the ‘Metamorphoses’, an epic poem on Greek mythology.
Painters have used many themes from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, and some painters also depicted the poet himself.

Macro Theme: Ovid


Pan was the Greek god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. He had the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, like a faun or a satyr. He is recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens. Pan is also associated with fertility and the season of spring.
One of the most popular legends of Pan was with the nymph Syrinx. This legend was the subject of many pictures. Syrinx was a lovely water-nymph of Arcadia. As she was returning from the hunt one day, Pan met her. To escape from his importunities, the nymph ran away. He pursued her from Mount Lycaeum until she came to her sisters who immediately changed her into a reed. When the air blew through the reeds, it produced a plaintive melody. Pan took some of the reeds, because he could not identify which reed Syrinx had become. He cut seven pieces of reeds, joined them side by side in gradually decreasing lengths, and formed the musical instrument bearing the name of his beloved Syrinx. Henceforth Pan was always seen with these Pan-flutes.

Macro Theme: Pan

Micro Themes:
Pan (various)
Pan and Syrinx


Pandora was in Greek mythology the first woman. Each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to form her out of Earth as part of the punishment of mankind for Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire, and all the gods joined in offering gifts. Pandora opened a jar, later called Pandora's box, releasing all the evils of mankind such as greed, vanity, slander, envy, and pining, leaving Hope inside once she had closed it again.
Pandora has been a rather frequent theme for painters, usually just showing the goddess.

Macro Theme: Pandora

The Parcae

The Parcae were the Roman equivalent of the Greek Moirae. The Moirae, in Greek mythology, were the personifications of destiny. Parcae mean euphemistically the "sparing ones", or Fata. The Greek word moira means a part or portion, and by extension one's portion in life or destiny. The Parcae controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal from birth to death (and beyond). Even the gods feared the Moirae. Zeus also was subject to their power, as the Pythian priestess at Delphi once admitted; though no classic writing clarifies as to what exact extent the lives of immortals were impacted by the whims of the Fates themselves.
The three Moirae were:
- Clotho: she spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle. Her Roman equivalent was Nona, (the 'Ninth'), who was originally a goddess called upon in the ninth month of pregnancy.
- Lachesis: she measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod. Her Roman equivalent was Decima (the 'Tenth').
- Atropos: she was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner and timing of each person's death. When she cut the thread with "her abhorred shears", someone on Earth died. Her Roman equivalent was Morta ('Death').

The Parcae or Moira are a rare theme in painting.

Macro Theme: The Parcae or Moirae


Paris was the son of Priam, king of Troy. He abducted Helen, queen of Sparta, thus causing the Trojan War. In that war he fatally wounded Achilles in the heel with an arrow, as foretold by Achilles' mother, Thetis.
Painters have mostly used the theme of the ‘Judgement of Paris’ for paintings. In celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Zeus hosted a banquet on Mount Olympus. Every god and half-god had been invited, except Eris, the goddess of strife. For revenge, Eris threw the golden Apple of Discord inscribed with the word "Kallisti" - "For the most beautiful one" - into the party, provoking a quarrel among the attendant goddesses over for whom it had been meant. The goddesses thought to be the most beautiful were Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. So these asked Zeus to choose one of them. Zeus did not want to take part on the decision, fearing the anger of the two that would not be chosen. He appointed Paris to select the most beautiful. Escorted by Hermes, the three goddesses approached Paris as he herded his cattle on Mount Garagarus. They attempted to bribe him. Hera offered ownership of all of Europe and Asia; Athena offered skill in battle, wisdom and the abilities of the greatest warriors; and Aphrodite offered the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth, Helen of Sparta. Aphrodite then let her robe fall, exposing her nudity. Paris chose Aphrodite - and Helen. Paris had to raid Menelaus' house to steal Helen from him, causing ultimately the Trojan War.
Paris was killed in the Trojan War by Philoctetes. After Paris's death, his brother Deiphobus married Helen. Deiphobus was killed later by Menelaus and Helen went back to live with her former husband, Menelaus.

Macro Theme: Paris

Micro Themes:
Paris (various)
The Judgement of Paris


Mount Parnassus is a mountain of barren limestone in central Greece that rises above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth. In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus was named after Parnassos, the son of the nymph Kleodora and the man Kleopompus. The mountain was sacred to Apollo, the Corycian nymphs, and the home of the Muses. Parnassus became known as the home of poetry, music, and learning because the muses lived there.

Macro Theme: Parnassus

Il Pastor Fido

‘Il Pastor Fido’ or the ‘Faithful Shepherd’ is a pastoral tragicomedy by the Italian poet Battista Guarini (1538–1612). It was written in the 1580s while Guarini served as court poet for Duke Alfonso d'Este II in Ferrara, and published in 1590. It is also an opera by Georg Friedrich Haendel on the same poem. The poem became popular in the 17th century.
‘The Faithful Shepherd’ is set in the pastoral land of Arcadia, the idyllic home of shepherds and. Arcadia is threatened by a curse of the goddess Diana, which requires either the marriage of two descendants of noble blood or the sacrifice of a chaste nymph in order to spare the people from misfortune. Thus it is arranged that Silvio, a young hunter (and a descendant of Achilles) who could care less about love, will marry the fair Amarilli (a descendant of Pan). The play recounts the tangled events of their wedding day. Silvio is pursued by the simple Dorinda, whom he later mistakes for a wolf and shoots with an arrow. Mirtillo is pursued by the cunning and deceitful Corisca, whose trap to win over the shepherd nearly gets both Mirtillo and Amarilli killed. Painters have made various pictures with these personages.

Macro Theme: Il Pastor Fido


Pliny told the story of Pausias, a painter of Sicyon. The lady Glycera sent flower wraths to her lover Pausias, which he dutifully painted on the canvas. The Sicyonians were known for their art in arranging flowers on pretty-coloured garlands. Pausias became very well known as a painter of flowers.

Macro Theme: Pausias


Pegasus was in Greek mythology a winged horse that was the son of Poseidon, in his role as horse-god, and the Gorgon Medusa.
Pegasus aided the hero Bellerophon in his fight against both the Chimera and the Amazons. Polyeidos told Bellerophon to sleep in the temple of Athena, where the goddess visited him in the night and presented him with a golden bridle. The next morning, still clutching the bridle, he found Pegasus drinking at the Pierian Spring. When the steed saw the bridle, he approached Bellerophon and allowed him to ride. Bellerophon slew the Chimaera on Pegasus' back, and then tried to ride the winged horse to the top of Mount Olympus to see the gods. However, Zeus sent down a gadfly to sting Pegasus, causing Bellerophon to fall all the way back to Earth the Plain of Aleion ("Wandering"), where he lived out his life in misery as a blinded cripple as punishment for trying to act as a god.
Pegasus was mortal. Because of his faithful service Zeus honoured him with a constellation of stars.

Macro Theme: Pegasus

Peleus and Thetis

Thetis was a sea-nymph and one of the fifty Nereids.
There may be some confusion between Thetys and Thetis. Thetis was the granddaughter of Thetys. Thetys was a sea goddess, sister and wife of Oceanus. She is almost never associated with Jupiter, whereas Thetis was.
Zeus and Poseidon had been rivals for the hand of Thetis until Prometheus, the fire-bringer, warned Zeus of a prophecy that Thetis would bear a son greater than his father. For this reason, the two gods withdrew their pursuit, and had her wed Peleus. In the ‘Argonautica’ is another version of Jupiter’s involvement with Thetis. There, Hera alludes to Thetis's chaste resistance to the advances of Zeus, that Thetis had been so loyal to Hera's marriage bond that she coolly rejected him.
Painters, mainly 17th century Dutch artists, have used the theme of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis rather often, but that is also the only theme of Peleus.

Macro Theme: Peleus


Pentheus was in Greek mythology the son of Echion and of Agave, daughter of Cadmus king of Thebes. Cadmus relented his kingship because of high age to Pentheus. But Pentheus banned the worship of Dionysus, the son of his aunt Semele, and didn't allow the women of Cadmeia to join in his rites. Dionysus caused Pentheus' mother and his aunts, Ino and Agave, to rush to Mount Cithaeron in a bacchic frenzy. Because of this, Pentheus imprisoned Dionysus, but his chains fell off and the jail doors opened for him. Dionysus then lured Pentheus out to spy on the bacchic rites. The daughters of Cadmus saw him in a tree and thought him to be a wild animal. Pentheus was pulled down and torn limb from limb. Pentheus thus came to a dire end. The daughters of Cadmus were therefore exiled from Thebes.

Macro Theme: Pentheus


See the theme ‘Proserpina’.


Perseus was in Greek mythology the founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty there. He was the first of the heroes of Greek mythology whose exploits in defeating various archaic monsters provided the founding myths in the cult of the Twelve Olympians.
Perseus was the hero who killed Medusa and claimed Andromeda, having rescued her from a sea monster. These are vey frequent themes in the art of painting.
Perseus was the son of Danaë, the only daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos. Disappointed by his lack of luck of not having a son, Acrisius consulted the oracle at Delphi, who warned him that he would one day be killed by the son of his daughter. Danaë was childless and to keep her so, he shut her up in a bronze chamber underground. Zeus came to her in the form of a shower of gold, and impregnated her. Her son Perseus was born of this union. Acrisius threw the two into the sea in a wooden chest. Mother and child washed ashore on the island of Seriphos, where they were taken in by the fisherman Dictys, who raised the boy to manhood. The brother of Dictys was Polydectes, the king of the island.
After some time, Polydectes fell in love with Danaë and desired to remove Perseus from the island. He thereby hatched a plot to send him away in disgrace. Polydectes announced a banquet wherein each guest would be expected to bring him a horse, so that he might woo Hippodamia, "tamer of horses". Perseus had no horse but promised instead to bring him some other gift. Polydectes immediately demanded the head of Medusa, one of the Gorgons, whose very expression turns people to stone. The Medusa was horse like in ancient representations. Medusa may in fact have been a mortal woman who had an affair with the god Poseidon. One day Athena caught the two of them in her temple and as punishment turned the poor woman into a hideous monster. The gods Hermes, Athena and Hades helped Perseus. Hermes gave him an adamantine curved sword, while Athena gave him a highly-polished bronze shield, and Hades gave a helmet of invisibility. The Daughters of Phorcys told Perseus to go to the island of the golden apples to the west. He went there and asked the Hesperidae where the Graeae were. They told him and made him promise to come back and dance with them. He went to the Graeae, sisters of the gorgons, three perpetually old women with one eye and tooth among them. Perseus snatched the eye at the moment they were blindly passing it from one to another so they could not see him and he would not return it until they had given him directions. Perseus entered the cave of Medusa. In the cave he came upon the sleeping Gorgons. By viewing Medusa's reflection in his polished shield, he could safely approach and cut off her head; from her neck sprang Pegasus and Chrysaor. The other two Gorgons pursued him, but under his helmet of invisibility he escaped. Much later, Perseus returned his magical loans and gave Medusa's head as a votive gift to Athena, who set it on Zeus' shield (which she carried), as the Gorgoneion.
In Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ is told yet another story that has been taken up as a subject by painters. At the wedding of Perseus and Andromeda, Phineas and his followers burst in to attack Perseus. Perseus unveiled the severed head of the gorgon, Medusa, and turned them to stone.
On the way back to Seriphos, Perseus stopped in the Phoenician kingdom Ethiopia, ruled by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia, having boasted herself equal in beauty to the sea Nereids, drew down the vengeance of Poseidon, who sent an inundation on the land and a sea-monster, Ceto, which destroyed man and beast. The oracle of Ammon announced that no relief would be found until the king exposed his daughter Andromeda to the monster, and so she was fastened to a rock on the shore. Perseus slew the monster and, setting her free, claimed her in marriage. Perseus married Andromeda in spite of Phineus, to whom she had before been promised. At the wedding a quarrel took place between the rivals, and Phineus was turned to stone by the sight of the Gorgon's head. Andromeda followed Perseus to Tiryns in Argos, and became the ancestress of the family of the Perseidae through her son with Perseus, Perses. After her death she was placed by Athena amongst the constellations in the northern sky, near Perseus and Cassiopeia.

Macro Theme: Perseus

Micro Themes:
Perseus (various)
Perseus and Andromeda
Perseus and Medusa
Perseus and Phineas


Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) was an Italian scholar, a poet, and one of the earliest Renaissance humanists. He is known in English as Petrarch. He was born in Arezzo but spent many years in France, at Avignon and Carpentras, where his family moved to serve the Popes. He studied at Montpellier and Bologna. He is best known for his poetry in Italian even though he also wrote much in Latin. Painters have used him and some of the stories of his poems for scenes in paintings.
After giving up his vocation as a priest, the sight of a woman called "Laura" in the church of Sainte-Claire d'Avignon awoke in him a great passion, which he expressed in passionate love poems.

Macro Theme: Petrarch


Phaethon was in Greek mythology the son of Helios.
Ovid tells in the ‘Metamorphoses’ that Phaeton bragged to his friends that his father was the sun-god. One of his friends, a son of Zeus, refused to believe him and said he was lying. So Phaeton went to his father Helios, who swore by the river Styx to give Phaeton anything he should ask for in order to prove his divine paternity. Phaeton wanted to drive his chariot, the sun, for a day. When the day came, Phaeton panicked and lost control of the horses that drew the chariot. First it flew too high, so that the earth grew cold. Then it flew too close, so that d the vegetation of earth dried and burned. Zeus was forced to intervene by striking the runaway chariot with a lightning bolt to stop it, and Phaëthon plunged into the river Eridanos. His sisters, the Heliades, grieved so much that they were turned into poplar trees that weep golden amber.
In other stories the Sun god was Apollo and Phaeton drove Apollo’s chariot, the sun. The Fall of Phaeton and Phaeton driving the sun-chariot were popular themes in painting.

Macro Theme: Phaeton

Philemon and Baucis

Baucis and Philemon are two figures of a tale in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. They were an old married couple who lived in the region of Tyana, in Phrygia. They were the only ones in their town to welcome disguised gods Zeus and Hermes (in Roman mythology, Jupiter and Mercury), thus embodying the hospitality.
Zeus and Hermes came disguised as ordinary peasants. They asked to the townspeople for a place to sleep that night. They were rejected by all before they came to Baucis and Philemon. Though the couple were poor, they gave hospitality to the two poor peasants. After serving the two guests food and wine, Baucis noticed that although she had refilled her guest's bowls many times, the wine pitcher was still full. Realizing that her guests were in fact gods, she and her husband implored the gods for indulgence. Philemon thought of killing the goose that guarded their house and making it into a meal for the guests. But when Philemon went to catch the goose, it ran onto Zeus's lap for safety. Zeus said that they did not need to kill the goose and that they should leave the town. Zeus said that he was going to destroy the town and all the people who had turned him away. He said Baucis and Philemon should climb the mountain with him and not turn back until they reached the top. After climbing the mountain, Baucis and Philemon looked back and saw that the town had been destroyed by a flood. Zeus had turned Baucis and Philemon's cottage into a temple. The couple was also granted a wish; they chose to stay together forever and to be guardians of the temple. They also requested that when it came time for one of them to die, the other would die as well. Upon their death, they were changed into an intertwining pair of trees, one oak and one linden, standing in the deserted boggy terrain. Painters took up this theme rather frequently.

Macro Theme: Philemon and Baucis


Philoctetes was in Greek mythology the son of King Poeas of Meliboea in Thessaly.
He was a Greek hero, famed as an archer, and was a participant in the Trojan War. He was the subject of at least two plays by Sophocles, one of which is named after him, and one each by both Aeschylus and Euripides. However, only one Sophoclean play survives, the others are lost. He is also mentioned in Homer's Iliad: Homer describes his exile on the island of Lemnos, his wound by snake-bite, and his eventual recall by the Greeks.

Macro Theme: Philoctetes

Philomela, Procne and Tereus

In Greek mythology, Philomela and Procne were daughters of Pandion I (King of Athens), and Zeuxippe.
Procne's husband, king Tereus of Thrace (son of Ares), agreed to travel to Athens and escort Philomela to Thrace for a visit. Tereus lusted for Philomela on the voyage. Arriving in Thrace, he forced her to a cabin in the woods and raped her. Philomela then wove a tapestry (or a robe) that told her story and had it sent to Procne. In revenge, Procne killed her son by Tereus, Itys (or Itylos), and served him to Tereus, who unknowingly ate him. When he discovered what had been done, Tereus tried to kill the sisters; they fled and he pursued but, in the end, all three were changed by the Olympic Gods into birds. Tereus became a hoopoe; Procne became the nightingale whose song is a song of mourning for the loss of her son; Philomela became the swallow. Because she has no tongue she could only twitter instead of singing.
Few painters have shown the legend of Philomela and Procne.

Macro Theme: Philomela and Procne


There were many philosophers, writers, doctors, rhetoricians and mathematicians in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, as well as in later periods. We classify these together, with micro-themes per philosopher, etc. We do not take in this list philosophers of the Renaissance and later, such as Erasmus and Lucio Crasso. Painters have shown many portraits of these men.

Thus portrayed were:
Milo of Croton
Archimedes (see the separate theme ‘Archimedes’)

Macro Theme: Philosophers

Micro Themes:
Philosophers (various)
Milo of Croton


Phocion (ca. 402 BC – ca. 318 BC) was an Athenian statesman and a Strategos. He believed that an extreme frugality was the condition for virtue and lived in accord with this. People thought that Phocion was the most honest member of the Athenian Assembly. Phocion's tendency to strong opposition relegated him to a solitary stand against the entire political class. Phocion was elected Strategos numerous times, with a 45 tenure record. Thus, during most of his 84 years of life, Phocion occupied the most important Athenian offices. In the late 320s BC, when Macedon gained complete control of Athens (with Antipater), Phocion Athens and its citizens. He refused to comply with dishonest requests of the enemy. However, his stance placed Phocion against both most free Athenians and Polyperchon, the next ruler of Macedonia, who arranged his execution in Athens.
Phocion and ten of his friends were sentenced to death. They were conducted to prison. The people harassed them, throughout the way. Phocion was spat on his face. By their request, all the friends of Phocion drank the poison firstly. As the executioner was left without poison hemlock, he refused preparing more unless he may receive 12 drachmas (the price for the weight of the plant). Phocion called a friend, commenting: "For a man, it is hard to die in Athens without paying for it." The friend paid the sum to the executioner. Phocion drank his poison and, then, he died. The Macedonians decided that the corpse wouldn't be buried, in Attica. A hired man brought it behind the Megarian frontier. There, the cadaver was burnt. Phocion's wife piled an earth mound up, simulating a tomb, and she took the bones and the heart of Phocion. At their house, she buried these. Soon afterward, they were properly reburied, at public charge, and a brazen statue was built.
Mostly scenes of the death and burial of Phocion have been shown by painters.

Macro Theme: Phocion


Phryne was a famous hetaera or courtesan of Ancient Greece (4th century BC) who adjusted her prices for customers depending upon how she felt about them emotionally. As accounts portray her, she always had her price, and if the customer met it, she would uphold her end of the bargain. Her real name was Mnesarete for commemorating virtue, but owing to her yellowish complexion she was called Phryne (toad), a name also given to other courtesans. She was born at Thespiae in Boeotia, but seems to have lived at Athens.
Painters have used her figure as an alternative to Venus.

Macro Theme: Phryne

The Pierides

The Pierides are the nine daughters of Pieros, King of Macedonia, and Evippa.
In the Metamorphoses of Ovid, the Pierides were excellent singers who challenged the Muses in musical contests on Mount Helicon, for which Apollo was the judge. The Muses were nude and pure; the Pierides were dressed in robes and played vile instruments appreciated by the Satyrs. The Muses won and the Pierides were transformed in various birds, such as magpies. Their name is sometimes used to designate the Muses themselves The Muses themselves are also called Pierides because their most ancient seat of worship was in Pieria.

Macro Theme: The Pierides h3> Poliphilo and Queen Eleuterylida The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Poliphilo's struggle for love in a dream, is an Italian book published in 1499. It is one of the most mysterious books ever written. The anonymous author of this rare book, with its unique typeface and woodcut illustrations, is said to be Francesco Colonna, a wayward Dominican monk from Venice or a Roman noble. The book, which combines scholarly writing and erotic fiction, is also attributed to Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian architect, painter, musician and humanist. The Hypnerotomachia includes many languages such as Italian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Chaldean, hieroglyphics and made-up words. The book tells of Poliphilo's quest for the love of Polia.
The book begins with Poliphilo, who has spent a restless night because Polia shunned him. Poliphilo is transported into a wild forest, where he gets lost, encounters dragons, wolves and maidens and a large variety of architecture, escapes, and falls asleep once more. He then awakens in a second dream, dreamed within the first. In the dream, he is taken by some nymphs to meet their queen Eleuterylida, and there he is asked to declare his love for Polia. Two nymphs show him three gates. He chooses the third, and there he discovers Polia. They are taken by other nymphs to a temple to be engaged. Along the way they come across five triumphal processions celebrating the union of the lovers. Then they are taken to the island of Cythera by barge, with Cupid as the boatswain; there they see another triumphal procession celebrating their union. Then, Polia describes the dreams from her own point of view. Polia rejects Poliphilo at first, but Cupid appears to her in a vision and compels her to return and kiss Poliphilo, who has fallen into a deathlike swoon at her feet, back to life. Venus blesses their love, and the lovers are united at last. As Poliphilo is about to take Polia into his arms, Polia vanishes into thin air and Poliphilo wakes up.

Macro Theme: Poliphilo and Queen Eleuterylida


Polyphemus was in Greek mythology one of the Cyclops. He was a one-eyed giant.
Polyphemus appeared most famously in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus landed on the Island of the Cyclopes during his journey home from the Trojan War. With twelve men he entered a large cave, the home of the Cyclops Polyphemus. When Polyphemus returned home with his flocks and found Odysseus and his men, he blocked the cave entrance with a great stone. He also crushed and ate several of the men. The clever Odysseus thought of an escape plan. He gave the Cyclops very strong wine to drink. Once the Cyclops fell asleep from the wine, Odysseus and his men sharpened the giant's huge club to a point and hardened its tip. The men drove it into Polyphemus' only eye, blinding him. In the morning, Odysseus and his men tied themselves to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the blind Cyclops let the sheep out to graze, he felt their backs but did not feel the men beneath. Polyphemus did not realise that the men were no longer in his cave until the sheep and the men were safely out.
Odysseus and his men thus sailed away, boasting that nobody could hurt Polyphemus but Odysseus. Polyphemus then prayed to his father, Poseidon for revenge. Poseidon still bore Odysseus a grudge for not giving him a sacrifice when Poseidon prevented them from being discovered inside of the Trojan Horse. Poseidon cursed Odysseus, sending storms and contrary winds to thwart his homeward journey.
In a story of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, the Cyclops was also a jealous suitor of the sea nymph, Galatea. He killed his rival Acis with a rock. See the theme ‘Acis and Galatea’.

Macro Theme: Polyphemus


Polyxena was in Greek mythology a beautiful Trojan princess. She was the youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy and his queen, Hecuba.
During the Trojan War, Polyxena and Troilus were ambushed when they fetched water from a fountain. Troilus was killed by Achilles. Achilles soon fell in love with Polyxena. Achilles, still mourning and sulking over Patrocles' death, found Polyxena's words a comfort. She asked him to go to the temple of Apollo to meet her after her devotions. Achilles seemed to trust Polyxena for he told her of his only vulnerability: his vulnerable heel. In the temple of Apollo, Polyxena's brothers Paris and Deiphobus shot Achilles in the heel with a poisoned arrow, from which he died.
Polyxena may have committed suicide after Achilles' death out of guilt. In another legend, Achilles' ghost came back to the Greeks, demanding that the wind needed to set sail back to Hellas was to be appeased by the sacrifice of Polyxena. She was to be killed at the foot of Achilles' grave. Polyxena died bravely when the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus, slit her throat. She arranged her clothes so carefully around her that she was fully covered when she died.

Macro Theme: Polyxena


Pompeii is a ruined and buried Roman city near Naples in the Italian Campania.
Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed, and, during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in two days on 24 August of 79 AD. Painters have used the site of Pompeii for ancient landscape pictures.

Macro Theme: Pompeii


See the theme ‘Neptune’.


Prometheus was in Greek mythology a Titan known for his intelligence. He stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. He was then punished for his crime by Zeus.
Zeus punished Prometheus. Prometheus had to remain chained to a rock in the Caucasus, where his liver was eaten daily by an eagle. Since he was immortal however, Prometheus was regenerated at night. Much later, Heracles would kill the vulture with an arrow, and he freed Prometheus from his chains.

Macro Theme: Prometheus


Prometheus was in Greek mythology a Titan known for his intelligence. He stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. He was then punished for his crime by Zeus.
Zeus punished Prometheus. Prometheus had to remain chained to a rock in the Caucasus, where his liver was eaten daily by an eagle. Since he was immortal however, Prometheus was regenerated at night. Much later, Heracles would kill the vulture with an arrow, and he freed Prometheus from his chains.

Macro Theme: Prometheus


Proserpina was in Roman mythology a goddess whose story was the basis of a myth of springtime. Her equivalent in Greek mythology was the goddess Persephone. She was the daughter of Ceres and Jupiter.
Pluto came out from the volcano Etna with four black horses. He abducted Proserpina in order to marry her and live with her in Hades, the underworld, of which he was the ruler. She became therefore Queen of the underworld.
Her mother Ceres, the goddess of cereals and of the Earth, looked for her daughter in all corners of the Earth. Ceres angrily stopped the growth of fruits and vegetables, bestowing a malediction on Sicily. Ceres refused to go back to Mount Olympus and she started walking on the Earth, making a desert at every step. Jupiter then sent Mercury to order Pluto to free Proserpina. Pluto obeyed, but he made her eat six pomegranate seeds, because those who have eaten the food of the dead could not return to the world of the living. Thus, Proserpina would have to live six months of the year with him, and stay the rest with her mother. This story was meant to illustrate the changing of the seasons. Ceres welcomes her daughter back in the spring the earth blossoms, and when Proserpina must be returned to her husband it withers.

Macro Theme: Proserpina

Micro Themes:
Proserpina (various)
The Rapt of Proserpina


Psyche was in Greek mythology mortal woman. She was the wife of Eros (the Roman Cupid).
Psyche was so beautiful and graceful that people compared her beauty to Aphrodite. Therefore, Psyche made Aphrodite jealous. To get rid of Psyche, Aphrodite asked her son Eros to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man on Earth.
Eros shot golden arrows which made people fall in love. He accidentally pricked himself with one of his arrows and fell in love with Psyche himself. He could not bear to do harm to her, so they got married and had a daughter name Hedone (called Voluptas in Roman mythology). Hedone was seen as the personification of lust.
Aphrodite said she would allow the marriage if Psyche could fulfil a challenge. Psyche was supposed to live with her husband without knowing who he was or what he looked like. Psyche's sisters Orotia and Thessela tricked Psyche into believing that her husband might be a monster, so she lighted a candle and looks at his face and finds out it is Eros. Eros left Psyche. Aphrodite then told Psyche that she could get her husband back if she completed four tasks. Psyche passed these tests with the help of Zeus and ants and she Eros were re-united.

Macro Theme: Psyche

Micro Themes:
Psyche (various)
Psyche and Cupid
Psyche at Mount Olympus
Psyche’s Bath


Pygmalion is a legendary figure of Cyprus. In Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses’, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. Pygmalion was not interested in women, but his statue was so realistic that he fell in love with it. He prayed to Venus-Aphrodite for help in his love. She took pity on him and brought the statue to life, creating the human Galatea. They married and had a son, Paphos, and a daughter, Metharme.
The theme of Pygmalion and Galatea was quite frequent in the art of painting.

Macro Theme: Pygmalion

Pyramus and Thisbe

The love story between Pyramus and Thisbe comes from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. The story is not really part of traditional Greek or Roman mythology.
Pyramus and Thisbe lived in Babylon in the reign of Semiramis. They fell in love but their parents forbade a marriage. They arranged to elope. Thisbe fled first to the agreed meeting place, at a tree near a tomb at the border of the town. A lion came to her there, and she lost her veil. The lion had just slaughtered an animal and spattered the veil with blood. When Pyramus, arrived, he saw the bloodied veil and the tracks of the lion. He supposed Thisbe had been killed, so he plunged his sword in his heart. A while later, Thisbe dare coming out of her hiding place and saw Pyramus. She equally killed herself with the sword. She asked to be buried with her lover and the tree to henceforth bring forth red berries like the blood that was spilled. Their parents and the gods did as she had wanted and the gods made that the tree brought henceforth purple berries.

Macro Theme: Pyramus and Thisbe

Regulus: Marcus Atilius Regulus

Marcus Atilius Regulus, who died in ca. 250 BC, was a general and consul in the ninth year of the First Punic War (256 BC) between Rome and Carthage. He was one of the commanders in the Roman naval expedition that defeated the Carthaginian fleet at Cape Ecnomus. He landed an army on Carthaginian territory. The invaders were so successful that the other consul, Lucius Manlius Vulso Longus, was recalled to Rome, leaving Regulus alone to finish the war. After a severe defeat at Adys near Carthage, the Carthaginians asked for peace, but the terms proposed by Regulus were so harsh that they resolved to continue the war. The Carthaginians replaced their general Hamilcar with a new leader and in 255 BC, Regulus was defeated at the Battle of Tunis. He was taken prisoner by the Spartan mercenary general Xanthippus along with 500 of his men.
Regulus remained in captivity until 250 BC, when after the defeat of the Carthaginians at the Battle of Panormus he was sent to Rome on parole to negotiate a peace or an exchange of prisoners. On his arrival, he instead strongly urged the Roman Senate to refuse both proposals and continue fighting. He then honoured his parole by returning to Carthage where he was executed by being placed in a spiked barrel, which was then let roll down a hill.
This story made of Regulus one of the best known examples of honour and patriotism to later Romans. It has also made him a subject of a few painters.

Macro Theme: Regulus

Figures of Ancient Rome

Painters have taken as subject almost any figure of Ancient Rome. Defining for each such subject a separate theme would make a long list. Therefore we have brought these pictures under one macro theme of ‘Figures of Ancient Rome’.
The criterion used was that if we had found in our sample of about fifty thousand pictures only one picture of such a figure, or had found several pictures by one and the same painter only on this subject, then we would bring that or those pictures under this macro theme.
The paintings under this theme include pictures of unnamed Roman emperors, of Vespasian and Marcus Aurelius, of Trajan, Tiberius, of Tullus Hostilius, of Manlius Torquatus, Marcus Sextus and Sixtus Quintus, of Plutarch and Venatius Fortunatus, Catilina and Cicero, of Messalina and Metellus, and many others.

Macro Theme: Figures of Ancient Rome

Scenes of Life in Ancient Rome

Painters have always been inspired by the times of ancient Rome. They have often depicted how life was in Rome, amidst the ancient temples and the imperial palaces. Especially in the nineteenth century such pictures were popular and no painter but Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a Dutch painter working in England could better represent scenes of ancient Rome in all detail. The paintings showed such varied scenes as Roman aristocratic ladies walking about their villa gardens, the baths of Rome, gladiators in the coliseum, the horse races, the interiors of the houses, the senators in the Forum Romanum, and so on. The Romans lived in other cities than Rome itself; when those pictures however depict the same style of life, the same theme can be used. We have gathered such pictures in one macro theme.

Macro Theme: Scenes of Life in Ancient Rome

Romulus and Remus

Romulus (ca. 771 BC-ca. 717 BC) and Remus (ca. 771 BC-ca. 753 BC) were the mythological founders of Rome. They were twins, the sons of the priestess Rhea Silvia and of the god of war, Mars. Romulus also was the first King of Rome.
The family of the twins were descendants from fugitives from Troy. Amulius was the uncle of Romulus and Remus and King of Alba Longa. He had usurped the throne from his brother, Numitor, father of Rhea Silvia. In a prophecy Amulius heard that one day Rhea Silvia’s children would dethrone him. He killed Rhea Silvia and ordered a servant to kill the boys. He brought the twins to the Palatine Hill, where they were brought up by a wolf.
A shepherd, Faustulus, found the boys and raised them as his own children.
Later, the twins marched with an army upon Alba Longa and took the city. Amulius was put to death and the city handed over to the grandfather of the boys, Numitor.
Romulus killed Remus in a dispute about who could rule the new city. Romulus had stood on one hill and Remus another, and a circle of birds flew over Romulus, signifying that he should be king. Romulus saw twelve vultures, whereas Remus only six. Romulus dug a trench where his city's boundary had to be. Remus mocked the work, and obstructed Romulus. He even leapt across the trench, an omen of bad luck, since this implied that the city fortifications would be easily breached. In response, Romulus killed his brother Remus.
After founding Rome, Romulus created the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate. He also added new citizens to Rome by abducting the women of the Sabine tribes, which resulted in the forging of the Sabines and Romans into one people. Romulus later added large amounts of territory and people to the dominion of Rome.
The themes painters have used of Romulus and Remus were first scenes from their nursing by the wolf, how they were found by the shepherd Faustulus, and also scenes of the founding of Rome.

Macro Theme: Romulus

Micro Themes:
Romulus and Remus (various)
The Infancy of Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus found by Faustulus
Romulus sets up a Triumph
The Founding of Rome

The Sabine Women

Shortly after the foundation of Rome by Romulus, his followers sought wives in order to found families. The Romans negotiated with the Sabines, a neighbouring tribe. The Sabines refused to allow their women to marry the Romans, upon which the Romans planned to abduct the Sabine women. Romulus invited the Sabine families to a festival of Neptune. At the meeting he gave a signal, at which the Romans grabbed the Sabine women and fought off the Sabine men.
The women eventually married Roman men, but the Sabines went to war with the Romans. The women, who now had children by their Roman husbands, intervened in a battle to reconcile the warring parties. The conflict ended with the Sabines mixing with the Romans to one tribe.
This theme has been frequently taken up by painters, either to show the abduction or ‘rape’ of the Sabine women, or to depict the scene in which the Sabine women throw themselves between the fighting Roman and Sabine warriors.

Macro Theme: The Sabine Women


Sappho (ca. 630/612BC-ca. 570 BC) was an Ancient Greek female, lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. Sappho’s poems may have spoken of the love between her female companions, hence the word ‘Lesbians’. She remains the most famous female poet of ancient Greece, though very little of her poems survive. Sappho is sometimes shown with a contemporary male poet, Alcaeus.

Macro Theme: Sappho


See the theme ‘Cronus’.


Satyrs were in Greek mythology the male companions of Pan and Dionysus. Satyresses, sometimes also shown in paintings, were a late invention of poets. The Satyrs lived in the woods and mountains. The leader of the satyrs was called Silenus, a minor deity associated with fertility. Satyrs are roguish but faint-hearted people, subversive and dangerous, yet shy and cowardly. They were lovers of wine and women, and they were inclined to every physical pleasure. They roamed to the music of pipes (auloi), cymbals, castanets, and bagpipes, and they loved to dance with the nymphs
A story of Aesop’s Fables was about a Satyr and a peasant. In the story, a peasant and a Satyr once drank. One cold day of winter, the Man put his fingers to his mouth and blew on them. The Satyr was puzzled but the man told him that he did it to warm his hands because they were so cold. Later on in the day they sat down to eat, and the soup was hot. The peasant blew on the soup. Now, the man said that he did it to cool the broth. The Satyr then said he could longer consider the peasant a friend, because he was a man who with the same breath blew hot and cold.
The theme of the Satyr and the peasant was particularly popular with Dutch and Flemish painters of the 17th century. Jacob Jordaens painted several versions of the scene.

Macro Theme: Satyrs

Micro Themes:
Satyrs (various)
The Satyr and the Peasant


Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Elder (236BC-183 BC) was a general in the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthago. He was also a statesman of the Roman Republic. He was best known for defeating Hannibal at the Battle of Zama, a feat that earned him the agnomen Africanus.
The Roman aristocrats wanted Scipio to raze that city of Carthago to the ground after his victory. However, Scipio dictated extremely moderate terms in contrast to an immoderate Roman Senate. With Scipio's consent, Hannibal was allowed to become the civic leader of Carthage. This clemency or moderation has become known as the ‘Continence of Scipio’, a frequent theme of paintings.

Macro Theme: Scipio

Micro Themes:
Scipio (various)
The Continence of Scipio

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist and poet popular throughout Europe during his time. Sir Walter Scott’s novels and poetry are still read, and many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of The Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.
Painters have used several scenes of his books, most notably of Ivanhoe, of his figure of Rebecca, as subjects of pictures.

Macro Theme: Sir Walter Scott


Semiramis was a legendary Assyrian queen.
The name of Semiramis came to be applied to various monuments in Western Asia, the origin of which was forgotten or unknown. She was named therefore also as queen of Babylon. She might then be impersonalised with a true queen of Babylon, Shammuramat the Babylonian wife of Shamshi-Adad V but ruled as regent after the death of her husband from about 811BC to 108 BC.
Painters have made paintings of Semiramis and the city of Babylon, but that remains a rare theme in painting.

Macro Theme: Semiramis

Servius Tullius

Servius Tullius was the sixth legendary king of ancient Rome, and the second king of the Etruscan dynasty. The dates of his reign are 578-535 BC.
Described in one account as originally a slave, he is said to have married a daughter of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, and succeeded him after the latter's assassination in 535 BC. He was the first king to come to power without the consultation of the plebeians, having gained the throne by the contrivance of Tanaquil, his mother-in-law. In this account (found in Livy) Tullius was anointed as a young child to become king, after a ring of fire was seen around his head. He was then raised as a prince. His reign of forty-four years was brought to a close by a conspiracy in 535 BC headed by his son-in-law Tarquinius Superbus and his own daughter Tullia. Livy wrote that his daughter was driving the chariot that ran over his dying body to add insult to injury.

Macro Theme: Servius Tullius

Shakespeare’s Plays

Shakespeare’s plays are neither mythological themes nor really themes of ancient history. Nevertheless, as themes for instance of Ariosto’s or Tasso’s books, we consider themes from Shakespeare’s plays to belong in the same series as are considered in this essay. Many painters have used scenes from Shakespeare’s plays as subjects for paintings.
Scenes from ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were popular, especially then by the English Pre-Raphaelite artists, but also scenes of many other plays. Not only English painters took up these themes; also French artists (Eugène Delacroix), German (Joseph Anton Koch), Czech (Karel Purkyne) and others painted scenes from Shakespeare’s plays.
We prefer to use only one macro-theme for all of those subjects.

Macro Theme: Shakespeare


The word sibyl probably comes from the Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess. Originally there were nine Sibyls, but a tenth - the Tiburtine Sibyl – was added in Roman times. The Sibyls may have spoken in Oracles.

The original ten Sibyls were:
The Persian Sibyl
The Libyan Sibyl
The Hebrew Sibyl
The Delphic Sibyl
The Cimmerian Sibyl
The Erythraean Sibyl
The Samian Sibyl
The Cumaean Sibyl
The Hellespontine Sibyl
The Phrygian Sibyl
The Tiburtine Sibyl

Later, other names of Sibyls were added during medieval times.
The Sibyls were thought of as the female counterparts of the Hebrew prophets, especially after during the Renaissance images appeared of the Tiburtine Sibyl predicting the coming of Christ to Emperor Constantine.
The Sibyls were a frequent theme of painters but some of the Sibyls were almost not painted. That was the case for the Hebrew Sibyl and the Phrygian Sibyl.

Macro Theme: The Sibyls

Micro Themes:
The Sibyls (various) The Tiburtine Sibyl
The Cumaean Sibyl
The Delphic Sibyl
The Samian Sibyl
The Persian Sibyl
The Erythraean Sibyl
The Libyan Sibyl
The Egyptian Sibyl
The European Sibyl
The Hellespontine Sibyl


The Silenoi were followers of Dionysus. They were drunks, and were usually bald and fat with thick lips and squat noses, and had the legs of a human. Later, the only reference was to one individual named Silenus, the teacher and faithful companion of the wine-god Dionysus. A notorious consumer of wine, he was usually drunk and had to be supported by satyrs or carried by a donkey. Silenus was described as the oldest, wisest and most drunken of the followers of Dionysus.
Painters have called ‘Silenus’ pictures of old, drunken men, often accompanied by satyrs and fauns.

Macro Theme: Silenus

Micro Themes:
Silenus (various)
The drunken Silenus


Sisyphus was in Greek mythology a king punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and to repeat this throughout eternity. Today, Sisyphean is used as an adjective meaning that an activity is unending and repetitive. It is also used to refer to tasks that are pointless and unrewarding. Sisyphus was son of the king Aeolus of Thessaly and Enarete, and the founder and first king of Ephyra (Corinth). He was the father of Glaucus by the nymph Merope, and the grandfather of Bellerophon.
He took pleasure in killing travellers and merchants because this allowed him to maintain his dominant position as King of Corinth. He seduced his niece, took his brother's throne and betrayed the secrets of Zeus. Zeus then ordered Hades to chain Sisyphus in Tartarus. Sisyphus slyly asked Thanatos to try the chains to show how they worked. When Thanatos did so, Sisyphus secured them and threatened Hades. This caused an uproar, and no human could die until Ares (who was annoyed that his battles had lost their fun because his opponents would not die) intervened, freeing Thanatos and sending Sisyphus to Tartarus. Before Sisyphus died, he told his wife that when he was dead she was not to offer the usual sacrifice. In the underworld he complained that his wife was neglecting him and persuaded Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, to allow him to go back to the upper world and ask his wife to perform her duty. When Sisyphus got back to Corinth, he refused to return but was later anyhow carried back to the underworld by Hermes. As a punishment from the gods for this trickery, Sisyphus was compelled to roll a huge rock up a steep hill, but before he could reach the top of the hill, the rock would always roll back down again, forcing him to begin again. The maddening nature of the punishment was reserved for Sisyphus due to his belief that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus.

Macro Theme: Sisyphus


Sophonisba was a Carthaginian noblewoman who lived during the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthago. She was, and the daughter of Hasdrubal Gisco Gisgonis.
Sophonisba was very beautiful and had therefore been betrothed to Massinissa, the leader of the Massylian (or eastern) Numidians. But in 206 BC Massinissa allied himself to Rome. Hasdrubal of Carthago, having lost the alliance with Massinissa, found a new ally in Syphax, King of the Masaeisylian (or western Numidians). Hasdrubal used his daughter to conclude the diplomatic alliances with Syphax.
Masinissa made war to Syphax and defeated him in 203 BC. Masinissa fell in love with Sophonisba and married her. Scipio Africanus refused to agree to this arrangement, insisting on the immediate surrender of the princess so that she could be taken to Rome and appear in the triumphal parade. Masinissa feared the Romans more than he loved Sophonisba. Thus, he went to Sophonisba and swore his love to her. He told her however that he could not free her from captivity or shield her from Roman wrath, their degradations and humiliations of her. So he asked her to die like a true Carthaginian princess. She then drank a cup of poison that he offered her. This story of the death of Sophonisba has been a rather frequent theme in painting.

Macro Theme: Sophonisba


Sparta is a city in the Peloponnesus, Greece. The city has a very ancient history and scenes of life at Sparta, or of figures of Spartan history, have been a subject of paintings. We gather these all under one macro theme.

Macro Theme: Sparta


Stratonice of Syria was the daughter of king Demetrius Poliorcetes and Phila, the daughter of Antipater.
In 300 BC, at which time she could not have been more than seventeen years of age, Seleucus, king of Syria, asked to marry her. She was conducted by her father Demetrius to Rhosus, on the Pierian coast (in Macedonia). Notwithstanding the disparity of their ages, she appears to have lived in harmony with the old king for some years, and had already borne him one child, a daughter called Phila, when it was discovered that her stepson Antiochus was deeply in love with her. Seleucus, in order to save the life of his son, which was endangered by the violence of his passion, in 294 BC gave up Stratonice in marriage to the young prince, whom he at the same time constituted king of the eastern provinces. The union of Stratonice and Antiochus seems to have been a prosperous one. She bore five children to Antiochus: Seleucus, Laodice, Antiochus II Theos, who was to succeed his father as king (Seleucus having been executed for rebellion); Apama, married to Magas, king of Cyrene; and Stratonice of Macedonia.
Painters have depicted the theme of Antiochus and Stratonice as a fine love story. Most notable among these are the pictures by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Bonifacio de Pitati called Bonifacio Veronese.

Macro Theme: Antiochus and Stratonice


Tantalus was in Greek mythology a son of Zeus and the nymph Plouto.
Tantalus was called to Zeus' table in Olympus. He misbehaved, stole ambrosia, brought it back to his people, and revealed the secrets of the gods. Zeus was angry and therefore, Tantalus offered up his son, Pelops, as a sacrifice to the gods. He cut Pelops up, boiled him, and served him up as food for the gods. The gods refused to touch the offering, but Demeter, distraught by the loss of her daughter, Persephone, ate part of the boy's shoulder. Fate, ordered by Zeus, brought Pelops to life again, rebuilding his shoulder with one wrought of ivory made by Hephaestus and presented by Demeter.
Zeus then punished Tantalus. He was to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever Tantalus reached for the fruit, the branches raised the fruit from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any. Over his head hung a threatening stone, like that of Sisyphus.
There are few paintings of this theme, and then as an equivalent to the punishment of Sisyphus.

Macro Theme: Tantalus


Telemachus was a figure in Greek mythology, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and a character in Homer's Odyssey.
Telemachus was born shortly before Odysseus was called to fight in the Trojan War. Odysseus tried to renege on his oath to defend Helen. He sowed salt into his fields in feigned madness. Palamedes, who was sent to summon Odysseus, tested his veracity by placing the infant Telemachus before the plough. Odysseus duly stopped it, proving his sanity and obliging himself to fight.
After his father had been gone almost twenty years, young Telemachus was accompanied by the goddess Athena in the male disguise of Mentor on a journey in search of his father. They travelled to Pylos and to Sparta, whose rulers, Nestor and Menelaus, while friendly did not know what had become of Odysseus. Telemachus became the friend of Nestor's son Peisistratus, who accompanied him on the search for his father. They found out only that Odysseus was being held captive by the nymph Calypso. When Telemachus returned to Ithaca, Athena prompted him to visit the swineherd Eumaeus instead of returning home. At Eumaeus’ cottage, Telemachus discovered that the beggar staying with Eumaeus was his father, recently returned from Calypso's island. He helped his father to plan and carry out the killing of Penelope's suitors and the servants who conspired with them.

Macro Theme: Telemachus


In Greek mythology, Tereus was a son of Ares and husband of Procne. Procne and Tereus had a son, Itys.
Tereus desired his wife's sister, Philomela. He forced himself upon her, then cut her tongue out and held her captive so she could never tell anyone. He told his wife that her sister had died. Philomela wove letters in a tapestry depicting Tereus's crime and sent it secretly to Procne. In revenge, Procne killed her child Itys and served his flesh in a meal to his father Tereus. When Tereus learned what she had done, he tried to kill the sisters but all three were changed by the Olympian Gods into birds: Tereus became a hoopoe; Procne became the nightingale whose song is a song of mourning for the loss of her son; Philomela became the swallow. Because she has no tongue she can only twitter instead of singing.

Macro Theme: Tereus

Theagenes and Chariclea

Theagenes and Chariclea are figures of the Aethiopica (the Ethiopian story), an ancient Greek romance or novel of the third century AD. It was written by Heliodorus of Emesa.
Chariclea, the daughter of King Hydaspes and Queen Persinna of Ethiopia, was born white because her mother looked upon a marble statue while she was pregnant. Fearing an accusation of adultery, Persinna gave her baby into the care of Sisimithras, a gymnosophist, who carried her to Egypt and gave her in charge of Charicles, a Pythian priest. She was then taken to Delphi, and made a priestess of Artemis. Theagenes, a noble Thessalian, came to Delphi and the two fell in love with each other. He carried off Chariclea with the help of Calasiris, an Egyptian, employed by Persinna to seek for her daughter. The couple faced many perils from pirates and bandits, but they ultimately meet at Meroe at the very moment when Chariclea is about to be sacrificed to the gods by her own father. Her birth is made known, and the lovers are happily married.

Macro Theme: Theagenes and Chariclea

The Thebaid

The Thebaid is an epic poem written by Publius Papinius Statius at the end of the first century AD.
Publius Papinius Statius (ca. 45-96) was a Roman poet of the Silver Age of Latin literature, born in Naples, Italy. Besides his poetry, he is best known for his appearance as a major character in the Purgatory section of Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy. The Thebaid was popular in Statius's lifetime and Roman schoolboys were already memorizing passages from the epic before it was finished. Statius was personally favoured by Emperor Domitian. The poem remained a popular piece of Latin literature for many centuries proving that it possessed not only genuine literary merit, but that it also possessed lasting appeal. It was a rare theme of Renaissance painting.
Statius wrote the Thebaid over the course of a dozen years during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Written in hexameters, the standard metre of Greco-Roman epics, it deals with the same subject as an early Greek epic of several thousand lines which survives only in brief fragments (also known as the Thebais), and which was attributed by some classical Greek authors to Homer. Statius’ Thebaid, like the earlier work, is about the assault of the seven leaders and allies of Argos against the city of Thebes which received its most notable treatment in the plays of Aeschylus, of which ‘The Seven against Thebes’ survives to this day. The epic focuses much of its attention on fraternal strife, most notably the fraternal strife between Eteocles and Polyneices who were the sons of Oedipus. The brothers could not cordially rule Thebes together so they decided to split the years of their rule and be kings in alternating years. Eteocles rules Thebes but his year as king is coming to a close. Polyneices, meanwhile, has just wed one of the daughters of Adrastus, the king of Argos (making him a prince as well as a king), and he is eager to become the ruler of two kingdoms at once. Statius then weaves the theme of fraternal strife into the Thebaid.

Macro Theme: The Thebaid


Theseus was a legendary king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon. Because of his double fatherhood, Theseus had mortal and divine characteristics.
Theseus was raised in the land of his mother. Aegeus, the King of Athens, buried his sandals and sword under a huge rock and told Aegeus that when their son grew up, he should move the rock, if he were hero enough, and take the tokens for himself as evidence of his royal parentage. When Theseus grew up and became a brave young man, he moved the rock and recovered his father's arms. His mother then told him the truth about his father's identity and that he must take the weapons back to the king and claim his birthright. This story was a frequent theme for painters.
When Theseus arrived at Athens, he did not reveal his true identity immediately. Aegeus gave him hospitality but was suspicious of the young stranger's intentions. Aegeus's wife Medea recognized Theseus immediately and worried that Theseus would be chosen as heir to Aegeus' kingdom instead of her own son Medus. She tried to arrange to have Theseus killed by asking him to capture the Marathonian Bull, an emblem of Cretan power. Theseus captures the bull, returned victorious to Athens, and sacrificed the Bull. Medea then tried to poison him. But in the last moment, Aegeus recognized the sandals, shield, and sword, and knocked the poisoned wine cup from Theseus's hand. Thus father and son were reunited, and Medea was exiled. This also was a fine theme for painters.
In another legend, King Aegeus surrendered the whole town to the mercy of Minos, the King of Crete. At the end of every Great Year (seven years), the seven most courageous youths and the seven most beautiful maidens of Athens were to be sent as tribute to Crete, never to be seen again. They were slaughtered by a monster, the Minotaur, who lived in the Labyrinth built by Daedalus. Theseus volunteered to slay the monster. He took the place of one of the youths and set off with a black sail, promising to his father, Aegeus, that if successful he would return with a white sail. On his arrival in Crete, King Minos' daughter Ariadne fell in love with Theseus. She gave Theseus a ball of string so he could find his way out. Ariadne escorted Theseus to the Labyrinth, and Theseus promised that if he returned from the Labyrinth he would take Ariadne with him. As soon as Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the ball of string to the door post and brandished his sword which he had hid from the guards inside his tunic. Theseus followed Daedalus' instructions given to Ariadne to reach the hearth of the Labyrinth. He found the sleeping Minotaur. In the ensuing fight Theseus beat the Minotaur with his fists until death. Theseus used the string to escape the Labyrinth and managed to escape with all of the young Athenians and Ariadne. On the return journey Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos. Ariadne then cursed him to forget to change the black sail to white. In Theseus' grief, he forgot to change the sails, and seeing the black sail, Aegeus committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea (hence named the Aegean). Theseus and the other Athenian youths returned safely. Theseus became King of Athens.
Nicolas Poussin made several pictures of the scene in which Theseus finds the sword of his father.

Macro Theme: Theseus

Micro Themes:
Theseus (various)
Theseus recognised by his Father
Theseus finds the Weapons of his Father
Theseus and the Minotaur

Timoleon and Timophanes

Timoleon (ca. 411–337 BC) was a Greek statesman and general. He was the son of Timodemus of Corinth.
As the champion of Greece against Carthage he was closely connected with the history of Sicily, especially Syracuse. When his brother Timophanes, whose life he had saved in battle, took possession of the acropolis of Corinth and made himself master of the city, Timoleon, after an ineffectual protest, tacitly acquiesced while the friends who accompanied him put Timophanes to death.
The curses of his mother and the indignation of some drove him into retirement for twenty years. In 344 envoys came from Syracuse to Corinth, to appeal to the mother-city for intercession and help in the feuds within the city and against Carthage. Corinth could not refuse help. Timoleon was chosen to undertake the mission. He had a small troop of Greek mercenaries. He landed at Tauromenium , where he met with a friendly reception. At this time Hicetas, tyrant of Leontini, was master of Syracuse, with the exception of the island of Ortygia, which was occupied by Dionysius, still nominally tyrant. Hicetas was defeated at Adranum, an inland town, and driven back to Syracuse. In 343 Dionysius surrendered Ortygia on condition of being granted a safe conduct to Corinth. Hicetas received help from Carthage but soon the Carthaginians abandoned Hicetas, who was besieged in Leontini, and compelled to surrender. Timoleon was thus master of Syracuse. He made many reforms to the town. Hicetas again induced Carthage to send (340–339) a great army. Timoleon won a great and decisive victory on the Crimissus. This victory gave the Greeks of Sicily many years of peace and safety from Carthage. Carthage made, however, one more effort and despatched some mercenaries to prolong the conflict between Timoleon and the tyrants. But it ended (338) in the defeat of Hicetas, who was taken prisoner and put to death; by a treaty the dominion of Carthage in Sicily was confined to the west of the Halycus (Platani).
Timoleon then retired into private life without assuming any title or office, though he remained practically supreme, not only at Syracuse, but throughout the island. Sicily seems to have been during Timoleon's lifetime tranquil and contented. He became blind some time before his death, but persisted in attending the assembly and giving his opinion, which was usually accepted as a unanimous vote.

Macro Theme: Timoleon

The Titans

The Titans were in Greek mythology a race of powerful deities that ruled during the legendary Golden Age. Their role as Elder Gods was overthrown by a race of younger gods, the Olympians, led by Zeus. The Titans were twelve. Zeus was one of the sons of the Titan called Cronus. In a mighty war the also twelve Olympians, led by Zeus, and helped by the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires, defeated the Titans. This war of the titans was called the Titanomachy.
The twelve Titans were: Oceanus and Tethys, Hyperion and Theia, Coeus and Phoebe, Cronus and Rhea, Mnemosyne, Themis, Crius and Iapetus.
Painters have taken the Titanomachy as one of their themes.

Macro Theme: Titans


Tityos was a giant in Greek mythology.
He was the son of Elara and his father was Zeus. Tityos attempted to rape Leto at the behest of Hera and was slain by Apollo and Artemis. As punishment, he was stretched out in Hades and tortured by two vultures who fed on his liver. This punishment is extremely similar to that of the Titan Prometheus.
Very rare pictures, among which a drawing of Michelangelo Buonarroti, show him thus with vultures picking at his nude body.

Macro Theme: Tityos


Triton was in Greek mythology a god and messenger of the deep. He was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and Amphitrite, goddess of the sea. He is usually represented as a merman, having the upper body of a human and the tail of a fish. Like his father, he carried a trident. However, Triton's special attribute was a twisted conch shell, on which he blew like a trumpet to calm or raise the waves. Triton was the father of Pallas and foster parent to the goddess Athena. Pallas was killed by Athena during a fight between the two goddesses.

Macro Theme: Triton


We place under this theme all pictures of the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem, and of the ancient city of Troy that have not been brought under other themes. Most of these pictures are of the sack and the fire of the city, but the most diverse scenes have been taken up by painters such as pictures of the women of Troy or scenes of the acts of the Trojan King Priam.

Macro Theme: Troy


Turnus was the King of the Rutuli, and the chief antagonist of Aeneas. Most of Turnus’ myth is told in Virgil’s Aeneid.
efore Aeneas' arrival in Italy, Turnus was the primary potential suitor of Lavinia, daughter of Latinus, King of the Latin people. Upon Aeneas' arrival, however, Lavinia was promised to Aeneas. Juno, determined to prolong the suffering of the Trojans, prompted Turnus to make war on Aeneas. King Latinus was greatly displeased with Turnus, but stepped down and allowed the war to start. Turnus proved himself to be hot-headed but brave. Finally, Turnus and Aeneas fought a duel, won by Aeneas and Aeneas ended Turnus’ life.

Macro Theme: Turnus


See the theme ‘Odysseus’.


A unicorn (from Latin unus 'one' and cornu 'horn') is a mythological creature.
Though the modern popular image of the unicorn is sometimes that of a horse differing only in the horn on its forehead, the traditional unicorn also has a billy-goat beard, a lion's tail, and cloven hooves. These distinguish it from a horse. Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of the unicorn, which they located in India, a distant and fabulous realm for them.
Medieval knowledge of the fabulous beast stemmed from biblical and ancient sources, and the creature was variously represented as a kind of wild ass, goat, or horse. The pagan interpretation of the Unicorn focuses on the medieval lore of beguiled lovers, whereas some Catholic writings interpret the unicorn and its death as the Passion of Christ. The unicorn has long been identified as a symbol of Christ by Catholic writers, allowing the traditionally pagan symbolism of the unicorn to become acceptable within religious doctrine. The original myths refer to a beast with one horn that can only be tamed by a virgin maiden; subsequently, some Catholic scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ's relationship with the Virgin Mary.

Macro Theme: Unicorns


Venus was a Roman goddess principally associated with love, beauty and fertility. She was the equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Painters most often used the name Venus instead of the name Aphrodite.
Venus was the consort of Vulcan. She was considered the ancestor of the Roman people by way of its founder, Aeneas, and played a key role in many Roman religious festivals and myths.
Aphrodite was born of the sea foam near Paphos, Cyprus after Cronus cut off Ouranos' genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. Hesiod's Theogony described that the genitals were carried over the sea a long time, and white foam arose from the immortal flesh; with it a girl grew to become Aphrodite. This fully grown up myth of Venus, Venus Anadyomene or Venus Rising from the Sea, was one of the many popular representations of Aphrodite. Aphrodite's chief centre of worship remained at Paphos, on the south-western coast of Cyprus.
Due to her immense beauty Zeus was frightened that she would be the cause of violence between the other gods. He married her off to Hephaestus (the Roman god Vulcan), the dour god of smithing. Her unhappiness with her marriage caused Aphrodite to seek out companionship from others, most frequently Ares in Roman mythology Mars), and also Adonis. I one of the tales, Venus and Mars were surprised as lovers by Vulcan.
Aphrodite was jealous of the beauty of a mortal woman named Psyche. She asked Eros to use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. Eros agreed, but then fell in love with Psyche on his own, by accidentally pricking himself with a golden arrow.
Aphrodite was Adonis' lover and a surrogate mother to him. Aphrodite warned Adonis to not attack an animal that showed no fear. Adonis however quickly forgot her warning. Later, Adonis came before an enormous wild boar. The boar might have been the god Ares, one of Aphrodite's lovers made jealous through her constant doting on Adonis. Adonis disregarded Aphrodite's warning and pursued the giant boar. In the attack of the boar, Adonis was castrated by the boar, and dies from a loss of blood. Aphrodite rushes back to his side, but she was too late to save him and could only mourn over his body, a frequent theme in painting. Wherever Adonis' blood falls, Aphrodite caused anemones to grow in his memory.
Astarte was the Phoenician equivalent of Venus-Aphrodite.
Venus forms the most frequent theme of the mythological themes in the art of painting because the artists used Venus to depict a beautiful nude woman. Several micro-themes can be discerned.

Macro Theme: Venus

Micro Themes:
Venus (various)
The Birth of Venus
Venus in Landscapes
The Toilet of Venus, Venus in her Bath
Venus at the Mirror
Venus asleep
Venus Frigida
Venus and Cupid
Venus and Adonis
Venus and the Graces
Venus and Psyche
Venus and Mercury
Venus and a Satyr
Venus and Music
Venus in Vulcan’s Forge
Venus and Aeneas, Aeneas’ Weapons
Venus and Mars
Venus and Mars surprised by Vulcan
The Triumph of Venus
The Worshipping of Venus


Verginia, or Virginia, was the subject of a story of Ancient Rome, related in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita, designed to show the evil character of the decemvir Appius Claudius.
The people of Rome were already angry with the decemviri for not calling the proper elections, taking bribes, and other abuses. Claudius began to lust after Verginia, a beautiful 15 year old plebeian girl and the daughter of Lucius Verginius, a respected centurion. Verginia was betrothed to Lucius Icilius, a former tribune of the plebs, and when she rejected Claudius, Claudius had one of his clients, Marcus Claudius, claim that she was actually his slave. Marcus Claudius then abducted her. The crowd in the Forum objected to this, and they forced Marcus Claudius to bring the case before the decemvirs, led by Appius Claudius himself. Verginius was recalled from the field to defend his daughter, and Icilius, after threats of violence, succeeded in having Verginia returned to her house while the court waited for her father to appear.
When Verginius arrived two days later he gathered his supporters in the Forum. Claudius, however, would not let him speak, and declared that Verginia was indeed Marcus Claudius' slave. Appius Claudius had brought an armed escort with him and accused the citizens of sedition. The supporters of Verginius left the Forum rather than cause any violence, and Verginius begged to question his daughter himself. Claudius agreed to this, but Verginius grabbed a knife and stabbed Verginia, the only way he felt he could uphold her freedom. Verginius and Icilius were arrested, and their supporters returned to attack the lictors and destroy their fasces. This led to the overthrow of the decemviri and the re-establishment of the Roman Republic.
Painters have used this story for a few pictures. It is a rather rare theme.

Macro Theme: Verginia

Vertumnus and Pomona

Vertumnus was in Roman mythology the god of seasons, change and plant growth, as well as gardens and fruit trees.
He could change his form at will. With this power, according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, he tricked Pomona into talking to him by disguising himself as an old woman and gaining entry to her orchard, then using a narrative warning of the dangers of rejecting a suitor (the embedded tale of Iphis and Anaxarete) to seduce her.
The subject ‘Vertumnus and Pomona’ appealed to European painters of the sixteenth through the eighteenth century for its opportunity to contrast a young fresh female beauty with an aged crone, providing a wholly disguised erotic subtheme. A few painters depicted the figure of Pomona alone, without Vertumnus, as an alternative to Venus.

Macro Theme: Vertumnus

Vestal Virgins

The Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome were the virgin holy female priests of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Their primary task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta. The Vestal duty brought great honour and afforded greater privileges to women who served in that role.
They were the only female priests within the Roman religious system. Plutarch attributes the founding of the Temple of Vesta to Numa Pompilius, who appointed at first two priestesses to which were added another two with Servius raising the total to six. The Chief Vestal (Virgo Vestalis Maxima) oversaw the efforts of the Vestals, and was present in the Collegium Pontificum, the College of Pontiffs, a college of the main priests of Rome.
The Vestal Virgins were committed to the priesthood at a young age. They were sworn to celibacy for a period of 30 years. These 30 years were divided into three periods of a decade each: ten as students, ten in service, and ten as teachers. Afterwards, they could marry if they chose to do so. The high priest (Pontifex Maximus) chose by lot from a group of young girl candidates between their sixth and tenth year. To obtain entry into the order they were required to be free of physical and mental defects, have two living parents and to be a daughter of a free born resident in Italy. They left the house of their father, were inducted by the Pontifex Maximus, and their hair was shorn.
Allowing the sacred fire of Vesta to die out, suggesting that the goddess had withdrawn her protection from the city, was a serious offense and was punishable by scourging. The chastity of the Vestal Virgins was considered to have a direct bearing on the health of the Roman state. When they became Vestal Virgins they left behind the authority of their fathers and became daughters of the state. Any sexual relationship with a citizen was therefore considered to be incest and an act of treason. The punishment for violating the oath of celibacy was to be buried alive in the Campus Sceleratus or "Evil Fields" (an underground chamber near the Colline gate) with a few days of food and water. Sestilia was one of the Vestal Virgins who were thus punished.
Claudia Quinta has been named a Vestal. In fact, she was a Roman matron of legendary fame during the time of the Second Punic War when Scipio Africanus and Publius Sempronius were consuls. She was a woman that had a reputation of doing things in excess beyond what most Roman women did at the time. She was always beautifully dressed, had an extensive wardrobe and her makeup was excessive. Around the year 205 BC the statue of the Cult of Cybele was moved from Pessinus to Rome. Scipio Nassica was given the order to take all the married women of Rome to go and receive the statue when it arrived in port at Ostia Harbour. But the statue ran onto a sandbar at the mouth of the Tiber River and would not proceed any further. They tied ropes to the stuck vessel and all the young men of the area were put into service, to pull, to no avail. They then called on Claudia to come up with a solution to their. Claudia prayed in front of them and then with confidence she ordered that the ropes be tied to her sash and the men to step aside. Claudia then pulled until the vessel started floating again. She towed it into port. She instantly became a hero and had vindicated herself.
The Vestal Tuccia was accused of fornication. She prayed to the gods and asked that by her hands, using as a sieve, she could bring water from the Tiber to the Temple of the Vestals. She indeed carried water from the Tiber in a sieve to the Temple and thus proved her chastity.
Lucius Postumius Albinus was a Roman consul of the 3td century BC. He offered his carriage to the Vestals.

Macro Theme: Vestals

Micro Theme:
Vestals (various)
The Vestal Tuccia
Claudia Quinta
The Vestal Sestilia


Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC - 19 BC) was a classical Roman poet, known also by the Anglicised form of his name as Virgil. His three major works are the Bucolics (or Eclogues), the Georgics and the Aeneid, although several minor poems are also attributed to him. The son of a farmer, he came to be regarded as one of Rome's greatest poets, and the Aeneid Rome's national epic.
Painters have used Virgil for several scenes, some also of his poem the Aeneid, for which theme then Ascanius and Sylvia are depicted. Since there are few pictures of each theme, we prefer to hold them all under one macro theme and not to define further micro themes.
One rather frequent theme is the ‘Tu Marcellus eris’ of the Aeneid. Aeneas sees in the underworld the souls of the famous men that still have to be born. One of these souls is the soul of Marcellus, but Aeneas also learns that Marcellus will die soon.
Another theme from the Aeneid is Nisus and Euryalus, Trojan youths, who were known for the close bond they shared. Aeneas was leading the Trojans against the Rutulians. Nisus and Euryalus dared to come to a planning meeting of the Trojan leaders. They asked to attack the Rutulian camp alone. They killed many Rutulians and fled with loot, among which a shining helmet. But Volcens, the Rutulian leader, saw the Trojans and called the other Rutulians. The brightness of the helmet led them to Euryalus. Volcens killed Euryalus and later Nisus killed Volcens; then the other Rutulians overcame Nisus. Nisus fell dead on top of Euryalus body.

Macro Theme: Virgil


Vulcan was a god of fire in Roman mythology. The Romans identified Vulcan with the Greek smith-god Hephaestus. He was the god of beneficial and hindering fire, including the fire of volcanoes. He came to be considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron, jewellery and armour for various gods and heroes, including the thunderbolts of Jupiter. He was the son of Jupiter and Juno, and husband of Maia and Venus. His smithy was believed to be situated underneath Mount Etna in Sicily.
Vulcan was a small and ugly baby with a red, bawling face. Juno, his mother, was so horrified that she hurled the tiny baby off the top of Mount Olympus. Vulcan fell down for a day and a night, landing in the sea. Unfortunately, one of his legs broke as he hit the water, and never developed properly. From the surface, Vulcan sunk to the depths where the sea-nymph, Thetis, found him and took him to her underwater grotto, and raised him as her own son. Later, Thetis left her underwater grotto to attend a dinner party on Mount Olympus wearing a beautiful necklace of silver and sapphires. Juno admired the necklace and asked as to where she could get one. The necklace had been made by her son, Vulcan. Juno was furious and demanded that Vulcan return home, a demand that he refused. However he did send Juno a beautifully constructed chair made of silver and gold, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Juno was delighted with this gift but, as soon as she sat in it her weight triggered hidden springs and metal bands sprung forth to hold her fast. The more she shrieked and struggled the more firmly the mechanical throne gripped her; the chair was a cleverly designed trap. For three days Juno sat fuming, still trapped in Vulcan's chair, she couldn't sleep, she couldn't stretch, she couldn't eat. It was Jupiter who finally saved the day; he promised that if Vulcan released Juno he would give him a wife, Venus the goddess of love and beauty. Vulcan agreed and married Venus.
Painters have often depicted Vulcan together with Venus, or together in Vulcan’s forge. There are also pictures of Vulcan surprising Mars with Venus (see the theme ‘Venus’ for these).

Macro Theme: Vulcan


Zenobia (240-after 274) was a Syrian queen who lived in the 3rd century. She was a queen of the Palmyrene Empire and the second wife of King Septimius Odaenathus. She was beautiful and intelligent. Upon his death she became the ruler of the empire. In 269, she conquered Egypt, expelling the Roman prefect, Tenagino Probus, whom she beheaded when he led an attempt to recapture the territory. She then proclaimed herself queen of Egypt. She ruled Egypt until 274, when she was defeated and taken as a hostage to Rome by Emperor Aurelian. Zenobia appeared in golden chains in Aurelian’s military triumph parade. Impressed by Zenobia, Aurelian freed her and granted her an elegant villa in Tibur (Tivoli, near Rome). She became a prominent philosopher, socialite and Roman matron.
There exist several paintings of Zenobia found by shepherds on the river Araxus, and of Zenobia with Emperor Aurelian.

Macro Theme: Zenobia


Zephyrus or Zephyr was the Greek god of the west wind. The gentlest of the winds, Zephyrus was known as the fructifying wind, the messenger of spring. It was thought that Zephyrus lived in a cave in Thrace.
Zephyrus was reported as having several wives in different stories. He was said to be the husband of his sister Iris, the goddess of the rainbow. He abducted another of his sisters, the goddess Chloris, and gave her the domain of flowers. With Chloris, he fathered Carpus ("fruit"). He is said to have vied for Chloris's love with his brother Boreas, eventually winning her devotion. Additionally, with yet another sister and lover, the harpy Podarge, Zephyrus was said to be the father of Balius and Xanthus, Achilles' horses.
One of the myths in which Zephyrus features most prominently is that of Hyacinth. Hyacinth was a very handsome and athletic Spartan prince. Zephyrus fell in love with him and courted him but so did Apollo. The two competed for the boy's love, but Hyacinth chose Apollo, driving Zephyrus mad with jealousy. Later, catching Apollo and Hyacinth throwing a discus, Zephyrus blew a gust of wind at them, striking the boy in the head with the falling discus. When Hyacinth died, Apollo created the hyacinth flower from his blood.
Painters have shown Zephyrus with Hyacinth, but also with Flora, the goddess of spring.

Macro Theme: Zephyr


See the theme ‘Jupiter’


Zeuxis of Heraclea was a famous Greek painter who worked in the 5th century BC. He was born around 464 BC and he was the pupil of Apollodorus. Zeuxis’ most notable painting was a picture of Helen of Troy, for which he called on many young girls to sit as model. This has been used as a theme for painters.

Macro Theme: Zeuxis

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2009
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Copyright: René Dewil - All rights reserved. The electronic form of this document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source as 'René Dewil - The Art of Painting - Copyright'. No permission is granted for commercial use and if you would like to reproduce this work for commercial purposes in all or in part, in any form, as in selling it as a book or published compilation, then you must ask for my permission formally and separately.