Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology
This is a regional study of the continuous use of the gorgoneion in Greek architecture from the Archaic through the Classical and Hellenistic periods. These later phases have been largely ignored as previous research on the gorgoneion has tended to concentrate on examples from the early periods.
The study is divided into two parts: a comprehensive catalogue (Part II) which compiles all of the architectural gorgoneia known through publications and personal observation; and the main text (Part I) which is a synthesis of the evidence derived from the catalogue. The discussion in Part I is divided into four chapters dealing with the history, distribution and influences affecting the use of the gorgoneion in (1) the Greek Mainland; (2) Crete and the Cyclades; (3) East Greece; (4) Magna Graecia. A fifth chapter examines the occurrence of the gorgoneion in the architecture of non-Greek areas (Phrygia, Iycia and Cyprus in the East, and Etruria, Central and Southern Italy in the West) from the 6th century B.C. to the Roman period in order to understand the Greek use of the motif in its proper context. Conclusions summarize the evidence, suggest some patterns of transmission, and speculate on the origin and significance of the gorgoneion as an apotropaic device in greek architecture vis-a-vis the depictions of the entire gorgon. A supporting appendix, at the end of Part I, attempts to document most of the known uses of the entire figure of Medusa as an architectural motif in Greek and non-Greek contexts.
Although primitive gorgoneia decorating buildings occur on the Greek Mainland as early as the beginning of the 7th century B.C., no consistent or lasting tradition for the use of the motif is established in this region, except in Aetolia in NW Greece, where gorgoneia from an early period decorate first antefixes and metopes of temples of Apollo. Elsewhere on the Mainland, use of the motif is largely derived from outside sources: gorgoneion antefixes from Central Italic sites in the West; the decoration of simas from East Greece; and the 4th century and Hellenistic embellishment of funerary monuments from the Near East.
No strong tradition for the use of the motif can be traced to the Cyclades or Crete, although a symbolic association of the gorgoneion with late Archaic temples of Diktaian Zeus may exist for the latter.
The gorgoneion makes a relatively late appearance in East Greek architecture (ca. mid 6th century B.C.), and is confined primarily to the decoration of antefixes and simas.
The gorgoneion seemsto be most at home in Magna Graecia. It is best attested as an antefix decoration in possible adaptation of the Italic tradition of human head antefixes. The Western Greek use of the motif on revetment plaques may also be influenced by Italic (specifically Campanian) prototypes. The specialized Sicilian use of pedimental gorgoneia, however, has no prototypes in Italic or Mainland Greek architecture.
The non-Greek and Roman usage of the gorgoneion is proportionately greater and more varied than its use in Greek architecture. Although, in some instances, the non-Greek application of the motif parallels its use in contemporary Greek architecture, in others we can see distinct regional differences in interpretation and context. This is most obvious in the Near Eastern and Etruscan funerary association which may have influenced the Greeks in the 4th century and the Hellenistic period.
Belson, Janer Danforth, "The Gorgoneion in Greek Architecture," Ph.D. dissertation, Bryn Mawr College, 1981.