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What was the colour of Athena's Aegis?*

  • Susan Deacy (a1) and Alexandra Villing (a2)

The aegis is Athena's most intimate and widely-discussed attribute, yet one of its vital aspects has so far been largely neglected: its colour. We shall argue that the nature and the role of the aegis and of its bearer are reflected not only in its shape and decoration, but also in its colour and luminosity. As with Athena's glaukos eyes, the key to chromatic characterization and meaning lies in brightness rather than hue. Most often in literature and art, Athena's aegis is characterized by a yellow or gold reminiscent of the gleam of the sun or of metal, which expresses a general divine gleaming brightness but also Athena's specific charis, namely the beauty, vitality and sparkling (or cunning) attractiveness that she can bestow on mortals under her protection. The dark or even black aegis (kyanaigis or melanaigis), by contrast, expresses the dark, wrathful and furious side of the goddess. Brightly shimmering or darkly obscuring, the aegis refers to Athena's protective, yet also potentially destructive, power. Its variable characterization in terms of ‘colour language’ constituted one tool among the many that were available to the Greeks for the construction of her divine personality.

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M. Bradley (2009) ‘The importance of colour on ancient marble sculpture’, Art History 32/3

R.L. Fowler (1988) ‘ΑΙΓ - in early Greek language and myth’, Phoenix 42, 95113

J.E. Harrison (1900) ‘Aegis – ΑΓΡΗΝΟΝ’, BCH 24, 254–63

E. Pottier (1908) ‘La chouette d'Athéné’, BCH, 32, 529–48

H. Stulz (1990) Die Farbe Purpur im frühen Griechentum: beobachtet in der Literatur und in der bildenden Kunst (Suttgart)

N. Yalouris (1980) ‘Astral representations in the Archaic and Classical periods and their connection to literary sources’, AJA 84, 312–18

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The Journal of Hellenic Studies
  • ISSN: 0075-4269
  • EISSN: 2041-4099
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-hellenic-studies
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