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Historical Article

Arkadia, Pheneos - Myth of Arkas

The female head is sometimes described as Persephone, modelled on the Syracusan portraits of Persephone-Arethusa, but the mythological links to Kallisto and Maia in the myth of Arkas suggest the identification as one of those two ladies. Kallisto (the very beautiful one), the daughter of Lykaeon (the wolf), and chaste follower of Artemis, bore Zeus a son, Arkas, the eponymous founder of Arcadia, during one of his typical dalliances with mortals. Kallisto was thereupon turned into a bear, by either an outraged Artemis, a jealous Hera, or a worried Zeus trying to hide her. Afterwards, Hermes rescued Arkas and delivered him to the nymph Maia to be raised (the scene depicted on the reverse). Lykaeon, seeking revenge against the gods for the loss of his daughter, sought out Arkas, murdered him, and served him to Zeus as an offering. In retaliation for offering him human flesh as a sacrifice, Zeus transformed Lykaeon into a wolf and restored Arkas to life. Arkas, upon attaining adulthood, became a great hunter, as befitting the son of a worshipper of Artemis. While hunting one day, Arkas pursued a bear into the sacred sanctuary of Zeus Lykaeos and killed it. It was his mother, Kallisto. For the double blasphemy of violating the sanctuary and slaying his mother, Arkas was put to death by Zeus. But as a grieving mate and father, Zeus caused Kallisto and her son to be translated to the heavens, as the constellations Kallisto and Arktophylax.

ARKADIA, Pheneos. Circa 350 BC. AR Stater (11.75 gm, 6h). Wreathed female head right (Kallisto or Maia?), wearing looped earring with five pendants / ΦΕΝΕΩΝ, Hermes advancing left, head turned right, holding caduceus, the youth Arkas in his left arm. Schultz 3 (V2/R2); Jameson 1265 (same dies); Boston MFA 1265 (same dies); Boston MFA 1264 = Warren 955 (same dies); Traité pl. CCXXV, 7 (same dies).