Victorian Gold Aegis Brooch
"And across her shoulders she throws the betasselled, terrible aegis, all about which Terror hangs like a garland, and Hatred is there, and Battle Strength, and heart-freezing Onslaught and thereon is set the head of the grim gigantic Gorgon, a thing of fear and horror, portent of Zeus of the aegis" - Homer, the Iliad, V (Lattimore translation)
An excellent 19th century neoclassical brooch modelled as the aegis, Athena's shield loaned from Zeus, with the severed head of Medusa at the centre.
After Medusa was slain by Perseus and her head delivered to Athena, she made from it her aegis (shield or armour, depending on which source you read): "a fearsome thing with a surface of gold like scaly snake-skin, and the linked serpents and the Gorgon herself upon the goddess’s breast—a severed head rolling its eyes" - Virgil’s Aeneid (Day-Lewie's translation). Indeed, even now, the phrase "under someone's aegis" means under the protection of a powerful or benevolent source.
The story goes that having slain the Gorgon sister by flashing her own reflection (on Athena's highly-polished shield) back at her, thus turning her to stone, Perseus then delivered Medusa's head to Athena, who basically weaponised the petrifying gaze by installing it on her shield (or breastplate depending on the source you're reading):
"... a fearsome thing with a surface of gold like scaly snake-skin, and the linked serpents and the Gorgon herself upon the goddess’s breast—a severed head rolling its eyes" - Virgil’s Aeneid (Day-Lewie's translation). Indeed, even now, the phrase "under someone's aegis" means under the protection of a powerful or benevolent source.
Most (male) tellings of this story describe Athena as punishing Medusa for being victim of rape but I prefer a different reading, as explored by Glenys Livingstone and Trista Hendren in ‘Re-visioning Medusa’. Perhaps it wasn’t a punishment. Perhaps Athena was taking all the trauma, all the fear, all the anger and rage, and transforming it into fierce protective energy. Medusa becomes the embodiment of female rage in the face of patriarchy and male violence. She serves as a reminder for women not to deny our righteous rage, it can be powerful, protective, even life-saving in a society that expects our meekness.
The brooch is crafted in 9ct gold with beautiful hand-chased detailing and set with six turquoise cabochons with a turquoise enamel halo around the face. English, circa 1890.
Era: Victorian circa 1890
Size: 4.2cm diameter
Marks: Stamped 9ct
Condition: Great antique condition
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