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Work Athena of the "Invention of the Flute Group" type

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Athena of the "invention of the flute group" type

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This female statue is a Roman replica of a figure of Athena that featured with Marsyas the Silenus in a group created by Myron in the mid-fifth century BCE. Depicted for the first time in major sculpture, the subject is linked to a play. According to the legend of the invention of the double flute, Athena, annoyed by the way her cheeks bulged when she played the instrument, threw it to the ground. Intrigued, the music-loving Marsyas came closer to snatch it.

A group by Myron

Previously restored as Flora, this female statue from the Mazarin collection represents the goddess Athena. It belongs to a series of Roman replicas, the best-preserved of which, now in Frankfurt, still has its head, surmounted by a crested helmet. The decoration on a vase from the fifth century BCE, along with some Athenian coins from the reign of Hadrian (117-138 CE), has enabled historians to piece together a group mentioned on the Acropolis in Athens by Pausanias (Periegesis I, 24, 1), which featured Athena beside Marsyas the Silenus. Attributed to the sculptor Myron, after a quotation from Pliny the Elder (the Natural History, XXXIV, 57), the original is thought to have dated from the mid-fifth century BCE.

The myth of the invention of the flute

The group depicts an episode from the myth of the invention of the double flute. Myron was the first to depict this subject - hitherto limited to vases and reliefs - in major sculpture. In accordance with the legend, the goddess, annoyed by the way her cheeks bulged when she played the instrument she had invented, threw the flute to the ground. Intrigued, the music-loving Marsyas danced over to snatch it up. Armed with his discovery, he boasted that he was a better musician than Apollo and dared to challenge the god to a musical competition. Defeated, he was condemned to be flayed alive by a Scythian slave. A group sculpture from the late third century BCE - known from several Roman replicas, including one in the Louvre (Ma 542) showing the agonizing death of Marsyas - depicted the tragic denouement of the story.

Myron's quest

The group of Athena and Marsyas bears remarkable testimony to the sculptor's researches at the dawn of classicism. Active c.460 BCE, Myron, who was also responsible for a celebrated Discobolos known from numerous Roman replicas, used the lessons of the Severe style to serve his own approach to composition. The subject he chose seems to have been inspired by a play, and he gives prominence to the figures' gestures and expressions. The very structure of the group, focused on the challenge represented by the flute, is designed to heighten the tension and drama of the moment. The composition rests on the contrasts between the two protagonists: the line of the bodies, vertical for Athena and oblique for Marsyas; the demure peplos of the young goddess and the animal-like nakedness of the old silenus; and finally, restraint and wisdom on the one hand versus moral and physical excess on the other.

Bibliography

B. & K. Schauenburg, "Torso der Myronischen Athena", Antike Plastik, 12, 1973, p. 51, n 5, pl. 52-3.
B. Sauer, "Die Marsyasgruppe des Myron", Jahrbuch des Kaiserlich Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, 23, 1908, p. 131, n A, fig. 3-4.

Technical description

  • Athena of the "invention of the flute group" type

    Roman, Imperial (First half of 1st century AD?)

  • Pentelic marble

    H. 1.46 m

  • Former Mazarin collection

    Inventaire MR 200 (n° usuel Ma 2208)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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