Pausanias' description of the Chest of Kypselos and other items at Olympia

[5.17.5] There is also a chest made of cedar, with figures on it, some of ivory, some of gold, others carved out of the cedar-wood itself. It was in this chest that Cypselus, the tyrant of Corinth, was hidden by his mother when the Bacchidae were anxious to discover him after his birth. In gratitude for the saving of Cypselus, his descendants, Cypselids as they are called, dedicated the chest at Olympia. The Corinthians of that age called chests kypselai, and from this word, they say, the child received his name of Cypselus. [5.17.6] On most of the figures on the chest there are inscriptions, written in the ancient characters. In some cases the letters read straight on, but in others the form of the writing is what the Greeks call boustrophedon.1 It is like this: at the end of the line the second line turns back, as runners do when running the double race. Moreover the inscriptions on the chest are written in winding characters difficult to decipher. Beginning our survey at the bottom we see in the first space of the chest the following scenes. [5.17.7] Oenomaus is chasing Pelops, who is holding Hippodameia. Each of them has two horses, but those of Pelops have wings. Next is wrought the house of Amphiaraus, and baby Amphilochus is being carried by some old woman or other. In front of the house stands Eriphyle with the necklace, and by her are her daughters Eurydice and Demonassa, and the boy Alcmaeon naked. [5.17.8] Asius in his poem makes out Alcmena also to be a daughter of Amphiaraus and Eriphyle. Baton is driving the chariot of Amphiaraus, holding the reins in one hand and a spear in the other. Amphiaraus already has one foot on the chariot and his sword drawn; he is turned towards Eriphyle in such a transport of anger that he can scarcely refrain from striking her. [5.17.9] After the house of Amphiaraus come the games at the funeral of Pelias, with the spectators looking at the competitors. Heracles is seated on a throne, and behind him is a woman. There is no inscription saying who the woman is, but she is playing on a Phrygian, not a Greek, flute. Driving chariots drawn by pairs of horses are Pisus, son of Perieres, and Asterion, son of Cometas (Asterion is said to have been one of the Argonauts), Polydeuces, Admetus and Euphemus. The poets declare thatthe last was a son of Poseidon and a companion of Jason on his voyage to Colchis. He it is who is winning the chariot-race. [5.17.10] Those who have boldly ventured to box are Admetus and Mopsus, the son of Ampyx. Between them stands a man playing the flute, as in our day they are accustomed to play the flute when the competitors in the pentathlum are jumping. The wrestling-bout between Jason and Peleus is an even one. Eurybotas is shown throwing the quoit; he must be some famous quoit-thrower. Those engaged in a running-race are Melanion, Neotheus and Phalareus; the fourth runner is Argeius, and the fifth is Iphiclus. Iphiclus is the winner, and Acastus is holding out the crown to him. He is probably the father of the Protesilaus who joined in the war against Troy. [5.17.11] Tripods too are set here, prizes of course for the winners; and there are the daughters of Pelias, though the only one with her name inscribed is Alcestis. Iolaus, who voluntarily helped Heracles in his labours, is shown as a victor in the chariot-race. At this point the funeral games of Pelias come to an end, and Heracles, with Athena standing beside him, is shooting at the hydra, the beast in the river Amymone. Heracles can be easily recognized by his exploit and his attitude, so his name is not inscribed by him. There is also Phineus the Thracian, and the sons of Boreas are chasing the harpies away from him. [5.18.1] Now I come to the second space on the chest, and in going round it I had better begin from the left. There is a figure of a woman holding on her right arm a white child asleep, and on her left she has a black child like one who is asleep. Each has his feet turned different ways. The inscriptions declare, as one could infer without inscriptions, that the figures are Death and Sleep, with Night the nurse of both. [5.18.2] A beautiful woman is punishing an ugly one, choking her with one hand and with the other striking her with a staff. It is Justice who thus treats Injustice. Two other women are pounding in mortars with pestles; they are supposed to be wise in medicine-lore, though there is no inscription to them. Who the man is who is followed by a woman is made plain by the hexameter verses, which run thus:--

 

Idas brings back, not against her will,

Fair-ankled Marpessa, daughter of Evenus, whom Apollo carried off. [5.18.3] A man wearing a tunic is holding in his right hand a cup, and in his left a necklace; Alcmena is taking hold of them. This scene represents the Greek story how Zeus in the likeness of Amphitryon had intercourse with Alcmena. Menelaus, wearing a breastplate and carrying a sword, is advancing to kill Helen, so it is plain that Troy has been captured. Medeia is seated upon a throne, while Jason stands on her right and Aphrodite on her left. On them is an inscription:--

 

Jason weds Medeia, as Aphrodite bids.

 

[5.18.4] There are also figures of Muses singing, with Apollo leading the song; these too have an inscription:--

 

This is Leto's son, prince Apollo, far-shooting; Around him are the Muses, a graceful choir, whom he is leading.

 

Atlas too is supporting, just as the story has it, heaven and earth upon his shoulders; he is also carrying the apples of the Hesperides. A man holding a sword is coming towards Atlas. This everybody can see is Heracles, though he is not mentioned specially in the inscription, which reads:--

 

Here is Atlas holding heaven, but he will let go the apples. [5.18.5] There is also Ares clad in armour and leading Aphrodite. The inscription by him is "Enyalius." There is also a figure of Thetis as a maid; Peleus is taking hold of her, and from the hand of Thetis a snake is darting at Peleus. The sisters of Medusa, with wings, are chasing Perseus, who is flying. Only Perseus has his name inscribed on him.

 

[5.18.6] On the third space of the chest are military scenes. The greater number of the figures are on foot, though there are some knights in two-horse chariots. About the soldiers one may infer that they are advancing to battle, but that they will recognize and greet each other. Two different accounts of them are given by the guides. Some have said that they are the Aetolians with Oxylus and the ancient Eleans, and that they are meeting in remembrance of their original descent and as a sign of their mutual good will. Others declare that the soldiers are meeting in battle, and that they are Pylians and Arcadians about to fight by the city Pheia and the river Iardanus. [5.18.7] But it cannot for a moment be admitted that the ancestor of Cypselus, a Corinthian, having the chest made as a possession for himself, of his own accord passed over all Corinthian story, and had carved on the chest foreign events which were not famous. The following interpretation suggested itself to me. Cypselus and his ancestors came originally from Gonussa above Sicyon, and one of their ancestors was Melas, the son of Antasus. [5.18.8] But, as I have already related in my account of Corinth,1 Aletes refused to admit as settlers Melas and the host with him, being nervous about an oracle which had been given him from Delphi; but at last Melas, using every art of winning favours, and returning with entreaties every time he was driven away, persuaded Aletes however reluctantly to receive them. One might infer that this army is represented by the figures wrought upon the chest.

[5.19.1] In the fourth space on the chest as you go round from the left is Boreas, who has carried off Oreithyia; instead of feet he has serpents' tails. Then comes the combat between Heracles and Geryones, who is represented as three men joined to one another. There is Theseus holding a lyre, and by his side is Ariadne gripping a crown. Achilles and Memnon are fighting; their mothers stand by their side. [5.19.2] There is also Melanion by whom is Atalanta holding a young deer. Ajax is fighting a duel with Hector, according to the challenge,1 and between the pair stands Strife in the form of a most repulsive woman. Another figure of Strife is in the sanctuary of Ephesian Artemis; Calliphon of Samos included it in his picture of the battle at the ships of the Greeks. On the chest are also the Dioscuri, one of them a beardless youth, and between them is Helen. [5.19.3] Aethra, the daughter of Pittheus, lies thrown to the ground under the feet at Helen. She is clothed in black, and the inscription upon the group is an hexameter line with the addition of a single word:

 

The sons of Tyndareus are carrying of Helen, and are dragging Aethra From Athens.1 [5.19.4] Such is the way this line is constructed. Iphidamas, the son of Antenor, is lying, and Coon is fighting for him against Agamemnon. On the shield of Agamemnon is Fear, whose head is a lion's. The inscription above the corpse of Iphidamas runs:

 

Iphidamas, and this is Coon fighting for him.

 

The inscription on the shield of Agamemnon runs: [5.19.5]

 

This is the Fear of mortals: he who holds him is Agamemnon.

 

There is also Hermes bringing to Alexander the son of Priam the goddesses of whose beauty he is to judge, the inscription on them being:

 

Here is Hermes, who is showing to Alexander, that he may arbitrate Concerning their beauty, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

 

On what account Artemis has wings on her shoulders I do not know; in her right hand she grips a leopard, in her left a lion. Ajax too is represented dragging Cassandra from the image of Athena, and by him is also an inscription:

Ajax of Locri is dragging Cassandra from Athena. [5.19.6] Polyneices, the son of Oedipus, has fallen on his knee, and Eteocles, the other son of Oedipus, is rushing on him. Behind Polyneices stands a woman with teeth as cruel as those of a beast, and her fingernails are bent like talons. An inscription by her calls her Doom, implying that Polyneices has been carried off by fate, and that Eteocles fully deserved his end. Dionysus is lying down in a cave, a bearded figure holding a golden cup, and clad in a tunic reaching to the feet. Around him are vines, apple-trees and pomegranate-trees.

[5.19.7] The highest space--the spaces are five in number--shows no inscription, so that we can only conjecture what the reliefs mean. Well, there is a grotto and in it a woman sleeping with a man upon a couch. I was of opinion that they were Odysseus and Circe, basing my view upon the number of the handmaidens in front of the grotto and upon what they are doing. For the women are four, and they are engaged on the tasks which Homer mentions in his poetry.1 There is a Centaur with only two of his legs those of a horse; his forelegs are human. [5.19.8] Next come two-horse chariots with women standing in them. The horses have golden wings, and a man is giving armour to one of the women. I conjecture that this scene refers to the death of Patroclus; the women in the chariots, I take it, are Nereids, and Thetis is receiving the armour from Hephaestus. And moreover, he who is giving the armour is not strong upon his feet, and a slave follows him behind, holding a pair of fire-tongs. [5.19.9] An account also is given of the Centaur, that he is Chiron, freed by this time from human affairs and held worthy to share the home of the gods, who has come to assuage the grief of Achilles. Two maidens in a mule-cart, one holding the reins and the other wearing a veil upon her head, are thought to be Nausicaa, the daughter of Alcinous, and her handmaiden, driving to the washing-pits. The man shooting at Centaurs, some of which he has killed, is plainly Heracles, and the exploit is one of his.

[5.19.10] As to the maker of the chest, I found it impossible to form any conjecture. ...

[5.20.1] There are here other offerings also: a couch of no great size and for the most part adorned with ivory; the quoit of Iphitus; a table on which are set out the crowns for the victors. The couch is said to have been a toy of Hippodameia. The quoit of Iphitus has inscribed upon it the truce which the Eleans proclaim at the Olympic festivals; the inscription is not written in a straight line, but the letters run in a circle round the quoit. [5.20.2] The table is made of ivory and gold, and is the work of Colotes..... There are figures of Hera, Zeus, the Mother of the gods, Hermes, and Apollo with Artemis. Behind is the disposition of the games. [5.20.3] On one side are Asclepius and Health, one of his daughters; Ares too and Contest by his side; on the other are Pluto, Dionysus, Persephone and nymphs, one of them carrying a ball. As to the key (Pluto holds a key) they say that what is called Hades has been locked up by Pluto, and that nobody will return back again therefrom.

[5.20.4] I must not omit the story told by Aristarchus, the guide to the sights at Olympia. He said that in his day the roof of the Heraeum had fallen into decay. When the Eleans were repairing it, the corpse of a foot-soldier with wounds was discovered between the roof supporting the tiles and the ornamented ceiling. This soldier took part in the battle in the Altis between the Eleans and the Lacedaemonians.1 [5.20.5] The Eleans in fact climbed to defend themselves on to all high places alike, including the sanctuaries of the gods. At any rate this soldier seemed to us to have crept under here after growing faint with his wounds, and so died. Lying in a completely sheltered spot the corpse would suffer harm neither from the heat of summer nor from the frost of winter. Aristarchus said further that they carried the corpse outside the Altis and buried him in the earth along with his armour.

[5.20.6] What the Eleans call the pillar of Oenomaus is in the direction of the sanctuary of Zeus as you go from the great altar. On the left are four pillars with a roof on them, the whole constructed to protect a wooden pillar which has decayed through age, being for the most part held together by bands. This pillar, so runs the tale, stood in the house of Oenomaus. Struck by lightning the rest of the house was destroyed by the fire; of all the building only this pillar was left. [5.20.7] A bronze tablet in front of it has the following elegiac inscription:--

Stranger, I am a remnant of a famous house, I, who once was a pillar in the house of Oenomaus; Now by Cronus' son I lie with these bands upon me, A precious thing, and the baleful flame of fire consumed me not.

In my time another incident took place, which I will relate. [5.20.8] A Roman senator won an Olympic victory. Wishing to leave behind, as a memorial of his victory, a bronze statue with an inscription, he proceeded to dig, so as to make a foundation. When his excavation came very close to the pillar of Oenomaus, the diggers found there fragments of armour, bridles and curbs.

[5.20.9] These I saw myself as they were being dug out. A temple of no great size in the Doric style they have called down to the present day Metroum,1 keeping its ancient name. No image lies in it of the Mother of the gods, but there stand in it statues of Roman emperors. The Metroum is within the Altis, and so is a round building called the Philippeum. On the roof of the Philippeum is a bronze poppy which binds the beams together. [5.20.10] This building is on the left of the exit over against the Town Hall. It is made of burnt brick and is surrounded by columns. It was built by Philip after the fall of Greece at Chaeroneia. Here are set statues of Philip and Alexander, and with them is Amyntas, Philip's father. These works too are by Leochares, and are of ivory and gold, as are the statues of Olympias and Eurydice.


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