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SALAMIS IN THE ISLAND OF CYPRUS.
BY ALEXANDER PALMA DI CESNOLÀ, F.S.A.,
36. Oval. A gryllus or nondescript creature, here consisting of a bald head, perhaps of Silenus, an eagle's head, a goat's head and horns, a cock's head crested, in allusion to the Gnostic deity Jao, an elephant's head, holding a thyrsus or caduceus in the trunk, and some other emblems, all united with the feet of a bird, and made up into an animal form. Half-inch long.
37. Convex oval intaglio. A gryllus in form of a cock. The head is that of a horse, the body incorporates a head of Silenus, and some other component parts not very distinct. Half-inch long, set in a bezel with a flat strip of gold, forming a finger-ring. Cornelian.
I am indebted for the use of this woodcut also to the
kindness of the British Archǽological Association.
By this particular name, gryllus, which appears to derive its origin from a classical word signifying a cricket, is designated that peculiarly fantastic combination which is found engraved upon gems and precious stones, and was employed largely in the seal art of the middle ages. The precise origin of uniting a number of more or less incongruous devices into one figure, as exhibited by these engravings, cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy. Conjecture, however, points to the Gnostic period as the probable era of the rise of this kind of device. Anticlides is said to have painted similar devices upon the vases of Greece about the middle of the fourth century B.C. It may be that each of the separate symbols imparted its attributed virtue to the fortunate possessor of the gem, or protected him from ills not to be otherwise averted. At any rate, the gems of the Gnostics exhibit many such crude combinations as these so-called grylli. Among the most prevailing combinations is generally found the face of a man in profile, with a bald head, and nose of that type which' is generally referred to Silenus; and there is little doubt that the constantly-recurring expression on the face is intended for a portrait of some well-known individual. Why Silenus should have been chosen to fill a place in these fantastic riddles is not difficult to solve. In an impression of an oval gem, in the British Museum, occurs a gryllus composed of a human head surmounted by that of a horse holding a thyrsus or branch in its mouth, while a cornucopiǽ, and an eagle holding a hare in its grip, complete an inharmonious whole, which is so grouped as to make up what at first sight would appear to be a bird. Mr. King, in his work already quoted,1 has engraved several fine- examples of the gryllus. Of the connection of Silenus with the gryllus, that author writes:2—"As for Silenus, his laughter-stirring visage was, from some reason now lost, esteemed a potent amulet. This is proved from its forming an essential part of almost every gryllus1
1 Antique Gems and llings, PL xxxix, LVI, LVII, etc. 2 Ibid., pp. 263, 264.
or astrological talisman, perhaps as passing for the emblem of universal knowledge.1Another gryllus shews the same equine and human combination, united with legs of a rapacious bird, and a ram's head, holding a caduceus and bunch of grapes in its mouth. Many other varieties could be described. That these ancient objects were valued and sought after in the middle ages is manifested without difficulty by the numerous specimens of impressions of seals appended to charters from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. When selected for use as a seal, the gem or precious stone bearing this potent talisman was set in a matrix or bezel with a rim or border of gold or silver, level with the face of the intaglio, and of a width sufficient to carry a legend. These legends, when not merely personal, display great ingenuity and originality. Mr. W. de G. Birch, F.S. A., in an article upon these relics,2 has recorded a considerable number of varieties. The only one which I may mention in in this place is a pointed oval seal of the fifteenth century, in which is set an antique oval gem of the gryllus kind, engraved in intaglio, with a cock crowing and flapping its wings, the bird itself being composed of a horse's head, a ram's head, and the bald head of Silenus with a pointed beard, because it attempts by the legend to explain some at least of the various significations of the devices. The explanation, certainly, is specious, and, if correct, affords a clue to the meaning of other combinations. It is an hexameter verse:—
" ' Scriptum signât equus, mittit vir,
devehit ales.' "
38. Oval cameo. A figure of Ǽsculapius, full-length, to the right, wearing a long dress, leaning upon a staff, round which a serpent is coiled. 5-8ths inch long. Green and blackish red cameo onyx. (See Plate xv, fig. 77.)
1 "Especially prominent in that favourite one an elephant's head, carrying in its trunk a palm, a torch, or a caduceus. The elephant belongs to Bacchus as an Indian conqueror, which may explain its adoption as a vehicle for Dionysiac emblems, and the acoompanying attributes, all plainly bearing reference to those Mysteries."— [Mr. King's note.]s Engl. Cyclop., Arts and Sciences, Suppl.
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