Relief with Polyphemos (obverse) and Pan (reverse).
Roman, c. 100
Marble with traces of concrete and colour. 22 cm
Inventory number: H1483
One side of this relief fragment represents the head of a Cyclops. He is shown in three-quarter profile with a half-open mouth and long, unruly hair and beard. The Cyclops were legendary creatures from Greek mythology, and they were characterised by having only a single eye in the middle of their foreheads. The most famous of the Cyclops was Polyphemus, and it is presumably he who is represented on this relief. He appears in Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus comes to his island. Polyphemus was a cannibal and imprisoned Odysseus and his men in order to eat them. Meanwhile, they plied Polyphemus with wine and blinded him with a burning stake when he collapsed as a result becoming intoxicated. After this, they escaped from the cave, hidden beneath the stomachs of a flock of sheep. On the other side of the relief, we see the god of untamed nature, Pan, with a horn, pointed ears and the glands of a goat. The fragment is thought to derive from a decorative panel, known as a pinax. These panels were used as decorations in the gardens or courtyards of Roman villas, where they were often mounted on free-standing columns. The panels were decorated on both sides. The obverse was in high relief and faced the garden, while the reverse in low relief turned towards the colonnades surrounding the gardens.