Musings from the Museum 15
A Universal Goddess?
by Patty Harris
Long, long ago, in a place called normal life, I was asked to try and investigate a museum piece.
I bet, like me, you have walked past this dozens of times without sparing it a second glance as it hangs on the wall to the right of the Maples Gallery door.
A short description: It is labelled as a Bible chain but it has two figures, the larger one at the top, linked to a smaller one and a few links down it terminates in a fan-shape rather like an upside-down peacock tail.
The figures are rather crudely modelled cast in metal, the top figure being female with wings and holding what look like snakes, or dolphins, she has a tall head dress and full gown.
The lower one is much stranger in that she has two faces, a Greco-Roman dress with breasts exposed.
My first thought was to look at as many bible chains as I could, museums collections, church relics and auction sites, not one out of many hundreds looked like this. Not only does ours have pagan half-naked goddesses, it also has none of the fixings required to keep a bible chained, so I abandoned that line of enquiry.
As the peacock is the symbol of Persia, I started there and immediately came upon a goddess called Astarte, not exactly as depicted on our chain, but she did have wings and held two lion cubs. I then went on to Minoan, Zaroastrian, Hittite, Greek, Mesopotamian and as many others of middle Europe and Asia and, amazingly, found versions of her almost everywhere.
The name in its Canaanite form is Astoreth and is mentioned in the Book of Jeramiah, to the Caananites she is the Goddess of War and Sexual Love, a strange combination. She may also a very old Egyptian Goddess, one of the first children of the creation myth. The name appears to stick with her and she is,variously, Goddess of the Harvest, Mother Goddess (that is, like Isis in the Egyptian pantheon, the first mother) Goddess of Nature and others. I was amazed that despite my love of all things ancient I had never heard of her!
I then tried the other figure, there are some two-faced and even three faced deities in the above pantheon, but none are like the chain figure, Janus is the only Greek god with two faces and he is definitely male . I found absolutely nothing that resembled this figure.
So, sadly, I feel I’ve failed in this quest, there is no definite evidence pointing to what this object actually is, my feeling is that it may be some kind of souvenir albeit with some age, possibly from Istanbul, which would have been a good spot for amalgamating all things ancient godlike for tourists, rather like the things you can buy today, only less phallic. (In joke, for those who have visited this City).
If there are any among you who are particularly interested in this era of history and can shed any more light, I would love to hear from you. For my own sanity I must refrain from looking at any more pictures of Goddesses, my brain is addled!
Conclusion. Is it almost definitely not a bible chain, but what would you call it?