Images of Perseus with a phrygian hat

Reading David Ulansey’s Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, I was struck by the following statement on p.26:

However, in two of the earliest surviving pictures of the constellation Perseus — the Salzburg Plaque and Codex Vossianus Leidensis 79 — Perseus is shown wearing a Phrygian cap, demonstrating that this was a frequent attribute of Perseus the constellation as well as of Perseus the hero.[2]

On p.129 is the note:

2. For the Salzburg plaque, see A. Rehm and E. Weiss, “Zur Salzburger Bronzescheibe mit Sternbildern,” Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts 6 (1903), 39; for Codex Vossianus Leidensis 79, see Georg Thiele, Antike Himmelsbilder (Berlin: Weidmann, 1898), p. 111.

I’m not sure that two examples, one of them a medieval ms., is evidence that this is a “frequent” way to depict Perseus.*  But I am always curious to check such references.

The first volume appears here:

(Isn’t it remarkable how badly Google Books handles series?)  The “Scheibe” is a disc, or platter, rather than a plaque, which leads one to wonder whether Ulansey verified his reference.  Anyway on p.39 there is this a diagram, of a zodiac.  It looks as if we have just a portion of the disc.

It’s not a particularly satisfactory image, I think.  I presume the bottom bit is the reverse of the top.  The article says that the item is of unknown provenance, and came into the Salzburg museum from two unidentified worker.  It probably came from some Roman tombs in the Salzburg area.  The item was published in the same journal, plate 5, in volume 5 (1902), apparently.  This may be found here:

The image is on p.416 of the PDF, although for some reason I cannot export it.  So here are two screen grabs of the top and bottom of the page:

The actual publication is E. Maass, Salzburger Bronzetafel mit Sternbildung, p. 196-7 + Tafel V.  This tells us that the piece came to light in Salzburg, with a thick crust on it, and was sent to the museum in Vienna for cleaning by the conservation staff.  It is the fragment of a large circle, with the edges punched.  The find site was searched for further pieces but without result.

Antike Himmelsbilder can be found here:

It’s an interesting work, which really should have had colour images.  On p.111 we get this image:

Certainly this is an image of Perseus — the Gorgon’s head makes that clear.  The manuscript seems to contain the text of Aratus, and this is accompanied by a series of images of the constellations.  The original is in colour, of course.  The ms. is 9th century, copied from a 5th century exemplar, and various copies of it exist.

 So far, then, so good; we have depictions of Perseus without his winged hat.  I must admit, however, that Ulansey’s interpretation of this — he’s trying to show that Mithras is really Perseus — seems a little thin.

* UPDATE 29/5/15: This is a misunderstanding on my part – see the comment kindly added by David Ulansey to this post, clarifying the context – thank you.


4 thoughts on “Images of Perseus with a phrygian hat

  1. Dear Roger,

    I only just now saw this page of yours (“Images of Perseus with a phrygian hat”). Thanks so much for digging into my footnotes! I think you slightly missed my point though. There are MANY surviving ancient images of the hero Perseus wearing a Phrygian cap: in fact, I included photos– strangely unmentioned by you here– of two typical examples in my book (Figs. 3.2 and 3.8).

    The importance of the Salzburg Plaque and Codex Vossianus Leidensis 79 is that these are depictions not just of the generic hero Perseus, but depictions specifically of Perseus THE CONSTELLATION, of which there are only perhaps half a dozen either surviving from antiquity or faithfully transmitting the ancient iconography (as Thiele shows that Codex Vossianus Leidensis 79 does). The fact that two out of the tiny handful of surviving ancient images of the CONSTELLATION Perseus show him wearing a Phrygian cap is either an extraordinary coincidence, or– much more likely– is strong evidence that THE CONSTELLATION PERSEUS (as distinguished from the generic hero Perseus) was the subject of a specific iconographical tradition in which he was depicted with a Phrygian cap.

    Thanks again for your care in reading and re-reading my book!

    All the best,

    David Ulansey

  2. Dear David,

    Thank you so much for this, and my apologies for the delay in responding, but I have been away. I will add a note to the foot of the article drawing attention to your comment.

    I don’t really know very much at all about Perseus – thank you for clarifying that he is often depicted with a phrygian cap.

    Yes, of course in this context your reference to these items makes more sense!

    I really did like your idea that “Mithras” was the outer name for a cult of Perseus.

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

  3. Dear Dr. Ulansey, I am a Phd candidate and have read your dissertation with interest. I would be honored to get your opinion on the Phrygians in particular and the significance of Perseus wearing the cap. I would like to discuss the etymology of their name.

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