AUGUST 14th is World Lizard Day and here is one of the most mysterious ... and missing ... statues of Antinous, showing him as Antinous Sauroktonos, the Lizard-Slayer.
The statue once stood in Dresden's Japanische Palais. But it was lost in the firestorms which swept Dresden during Allied bombing in the final days of World War II.
There is a famous statue of by Praxiteles of Apollo Sauroktonos, showing the God of Light with a stone poised over a lizard on a tree stump.
The Praxiteles statue was oft copied by the Romans and also by artists up to the present day.
But this statue depicts Antinous as Apollo.
There is an ambivalence which has always intrigued historians.
Is Antinous/Apollo about to kill the lizard? Or is he consciously sparing the life of the lizard?
Forget Nietzsche and other modern "experts" who philosophize about the "light" and "dark" side of human libidos and psyches.
The answer lies ... as always ... in Greek and Roman Symbological Imagery.
(Image: Versions of Praxiteles' Apollo-Sauroktonos)
In Greek and Roman myths, the lizard symbolizes a sneaky spy who is eavesdropping on us.
It is keeping tabs on our every move … It is a boyish tattle-tale who says, "Nyah, nyah ... I saw what you did and I'm gonna tell on you!"
The lizard is Ascalaphus, who is mentioned variously in Ovid's Metamorphoses and also by Pseudo-Apollodorus and other writers.
There are a couple of versions of the tale of Ascalaphus being metamorphosed into a skulking lizard and/or an owl (the better to spy on you at night).
In one version, Demeter persuades Pluto to permit her daughter Proserpine (Persephone) to return to the land of the living on condition that she imbibe neither food nor drink in the Elysian Fields.
But the mischievous little Hades boy "daimon" (Greek for "spirit") Ascalaphus observers her secretly biting into a pomegranate to eat its seeds and drink its juice.
Ascalaphus goes running off to tell Jupiter what he had seen ... whereupon Proserpine is condemned to remain with Pluto forever.
Proserpine/Persephone curses Ascalaphus by hurling a few drops of pomegranate juice at him which results in red speckles on his skin -- and he is transformed into a slinking newt ("askalaxos") with red-speckled scales for skin.
Or else he becomes a speckled owl ("Bubos askalaphos").
In yet another version, Demeter herself takes vengeance by transforming Ascalaphus into a lizard and crushing him with a huge stone at the bottom of Pluto's realm.
Then, in turn, Hercules comes along and lifts the stone ... freeing Ascalaphus. Thus, Hercules is sometimes called the "Lizard Liberator" for that reason.
But Ascalaphus's new-found freedom was short-lived because Demeter transformed him into a spotted horned owl ... as Ovid writes: "... a loathsome bird, ill omen for mankind, a skulking screech-owl, sorrow's harbinger. That tell-tale tongue of his no doubt deserved the punishment."
Thus, throughout the ages, Ascalaphus has become a synonym for someone who is punished cruelly for telling the truth. Back in the days when cultivated people studied the Classics, the imagery of a boy with a stone poised over a lizard was very clear.
Tennessee Williams used that Classical imagery throughout his play "Night of the Iguana"which uses a Mexican lizard tied to a tree as a metaphor for the lies and mendacity and religious hypocrisy which have restricted unpleasant truths from being set free.
Antonius Subia says:
This story of the tatter-tale daemon boy-lizard is endearing … and I have a fondness for sneaky little spies who reveal the truth...and I admire him for not letting Proserpina get away with fooling the Lord of the Underworld … he made quite sure that she stayed in the underworld like everybody else.
This Ascalaphus is obviously a Gay lizard-boy, not in the least charmed by Prosephone's supposed beauty … when he saw that she had broken the rules, he wasted no time reporting it to Jupiter. Perhaps Demeter/Sabina held a grudge against the little Gay Lizard...but I'm sure Jupiter/Hadrian appreciated the loyalty of the little traitor-informant. Antinous had no secrets to hide … and even if he did … I'm sure that he could count on the loyalty of the little gay lizard … if anything … the lizard kept Antinous informed of what Hadrian was up to behind closed doors … always a dangerous game … but for the sake of truth … this little gay lizard isn't afraid to die!
Why is Apollo so often depicted as the Lizard-Slayer? There's a theory that Apollo Sauroktonos is a spoof of Apollo's first deed as a young boy-god.
Apollo's first achievement was to rid Pytho (Delphi) of the serpent (or dragon) Python.
This monstrous beast protected the sanctuary of Pytho from its lair beside the Castalian Spring.
There it stood guard while the "Sibyl" gave out her prophecies as she inhaled the trance inducing vapors from an open chasm.
Apollo killed Python with his bow and arrows (Homer wrote "he killed the fearsome dragon Python, piercing it with his darts"), and then Apollo took charge of Delphi, turning it into his own special Oracle.
So ... is Antinous about to slay the lizard like Apollo slaying Python?
Or is Antinous actually lifting the stone away from the lizard, like Hercules liberating Ascalaphus in the River of Styx?
Either way, of course, Antinous is engaging very powerful, dark energies.
The Python is the guardian of Divine Secrets ... and Apollo mastered and become lord of Divine Secrets by overpowering Python. And Ascalaphus is the herald of dark secrets and unpleasant truths which must be told ... even at the risk of severe penalty.
Either way, these images have nothing to do with 20st Century sensitivities about animal cruelty.
These are very powerful images of Divine Secrets.
These are very powerful images of Divine Secrets.
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