Winged Hippocamp | Apulian red figure vase painting
Hippocampus (mythology)
The hippocampus (Greek: ἱππόκαμπος), often called a sea-horse in English, is a mythological creature shared by Phoenician,Etruscan, and Greek mythology, though its name has a Greek origin. The hippocampus has typically been depicted as having the upper body of a horse with the lower body of a fish.
Coins minted at Tyre around the 4th century BC show the patron god Melqart riding on a winged hippocampus and accompanied by dolphins.Coins of the same period from Byblos show a hippocampus diving under a galley.
A gold sea-horse was discovered in a hoard from the kingdom of Lydia in Asia minor, dating to the 6th century BC.
Greek and Roman
Hippocampus in Roman mosaic in the thermae at Aquae Sulis (Bath)
In the Iliad, Homer describes Poseidon, god of horses, earthquakes, and the sea, drawn by brazen-hoofed horses over the sea’s surface, and Apollonius of Rhodes, describes the horse of Poseidon emerging from the sea and galloping across the Libyan sands. This compares to the specifically “two-hoofed” hippocampi of Gaius Valerius Flaccus in his Argonautica: “Orion when grasping his father’s reins heaves the sea with the snorting of his two-hooved horses.” In Hellenistic and Roman imagery, however, Poseidon (or Roman Neptune) often drives a sea-chariot drawn by hippocampi. Thus hippocampi sport with this god in both ancient depictions and much more modern ones, such as in the waters of the 18th-century Trevi Fountain in Rome surveyed by Neptune from his niche above.
Tritons and winged hippocampi in the Trevi Fountain, Rome
Thus it was natural for a temple at Helike in the coastal plain of Achaea to be dedicated to the Poseidon of Helicon.When an earthquake suddenly submerged the city, the temple’s bronze Poseidon accompanied by hippocampi continued to snag fishermens’ nets. Likewise, the hippocampus was considered an appropriate decoration for mosaics in Roman public baths, as at Aquae Sulis modern day Bath in Britannia.
Poseidon’s horses, which were included in the elaborate sculptural program of gilt-bronze and ivory, added by a Roman client to the temple of Poseidon at Corinth, are likely to have been hippocampi; the Romanised Greek Pausanias described the rich ensemble in the later 2nd century AD.
On the temple, which is not very large, stand bronze Tritons. In the fore-temple are images, two of Poseidon, a third of Amphitrite, and a Sea, which also is of bronze. The offerings inside were dedicated in our time by Herodes Atticus, four horses, gilded except for the hoofs, which are of ivory, and two gold Tritons beside the horses, with the parts below the waist of ivory. On the car stand Amphitrite and Poseidon, and there is the boy Palaemon upright upon a dolphin. These too are made of ivory and gold. On the middle of the base on which the car has been wrought a Sea holding up the young Aphrodite, and on either side are the nymphs called Nereids.
The sea-horse also appears in Pictish stone carvings in Scotland. The symbolism of the carving (also known as “Pictish Beast”) is unknown. Although similar but not identical to Roman sea-horse images, it is unclear whether this depiction originates from images brought over by the Romans, or had a place in earlier Pictish mythology.
Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern
The “sea-horse” in medieval heraldry was a legendary creature that was part horse and part fish, not to be confused with the later heraldic hippocampus, which was a natural seahorse.
Hippocampuses in Dublin, Ireland.
The mythic hippocampus has been used as a heraldic charge, particularly since the Renaissance, most often in the armorial bearings of people and places with maritime associations. However, in a blazon, the terms hippocamp and hippocampus now refer to the real animal called a seahorse, and the terms seahorse and sea-horse refer to the mythological creature. The above-mentioned fish hybrids are seen less frequently.
The sea-horse is also a common image in Renaissance and post-renaissance art, for example, in the Trevi fountain, dating to 1732.
A winged hippocampus has been used as a symbol for Air France since its establishment in 1933 (inherited from its predecessor Air Orient); it appears today on the engine nacelles of Air France aircraft.
Bronze hippocampoi appear in Dublin, Ireland on lampposts next to a statue of Henry Grattan and on Grattan Bridge.

Published by muireann2019

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