The Hammat Tiberias Synagogue is an ancient synagogue on the outskirts of Tiberias, Israel, located near the hot springs just south of the city. The synagogue dates to 286 and 337 CE, when Tiberias was the seat of the Sanhedrin. Two synagogue sites have been excavated at Hammat Tiberias. The first, uncovered in 1921 by Nachum Slouschz, working under the sponsorship of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society, was a watershed event in the history of Israeli archaeology as the first archaeological dig conducted under Jewish auspices. A limestone menorah uncovered there is now on display at the Israel Museum. The mosaic floor is made up of three panels featuring the zodiac and Helios the sun god. Women symbolizing the four seasons appear in each corner.
The second synagogue site, excavated by Moshe Dothan, is noted for its elaborate mosaic floor. The synagogue, dated to the last half of the fourth century C.E., was named after an inscription that reads, in Greek, “Severus the pupil of the most illustrious patriarchs,” an apparent reference to the leaders of the Jewish community.
In the center of one large mosaic is the Sun god, Helios, sitting in his chariot holding the celestial sphere and a whip. Nine of the 12 signs of the zodiac survived intact. Another panel shows a Torah ark flanked by two the seven-branched menorahs and other Jewish ritual objects.
In Greek mythology, Peitho is the goddess who personifies persuasion and seduction. Her Roman name is Suadela. Pausanias reports that after the unification of Athens, Theseus set up a cult of Aphrodite Pandemos and Peitho on the south slope of Acropolis at Athens. Peitho, in her role as an attendant or companion of Aphrodite, was intimately connected to the goddess of love and beauty. Ancient artists and poets explored this connection in their works. The connection is even deeper in the context of Ancient Greek marriage because a suitor had to negotiate with the father of a young woman for her hand in marriage and offer a bridal price in return for her. The most desirable women drew many prospective suitors, and persuasive skill often determined their success.
Aphrodite and Peitho were sometimes conflated to a certain extent, with the name Peitho appearing in conjunction with, or as an epithet of, Aphrodite’s name. This helps to demonstrate how the relationship between persuasion and love (or desire) was important in Greek culture. Peitho’s ancestry is somewhat unclear. According to Hesiod in the Theogony, Peitho was the daughter of the Titans Tethys and Oceanus, which would make her an Oceanid and therefore sister of such notable goddesses as Dione, Doris, Metis, and Calypso. However, Hesiod’s classification of Peitho as an Oceanid is contradicted by other sources. She is most commonly considered a daughter of Aphrodite. Peitho was the wife of Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
The Apartments of the Elements, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy
The Apartment of the Elements consists of five rooms that were the private quarters of Cosimo I. The walls contain allegorical frescoes depicting Fire, Water, Earth and (on the ceiling) Saturn.
This is the suite of rooms that were used by Cosimo I de’ Medici and his wife Eleanor of Toledo while they lived at Palazzo Vecchio. They are ornately decorated in grand Renaissance style. Giorgio Vasari took over the decoration of these rooms upon the death of Battista del Tasso. This was his first commission for the Medici, beginning a long and very profitable relationship.
ceiling mural (ca. 1597) by Caravaggio
Caravaggio, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto (Italian Giove, Nettuno e Plutone, ca. 1597), a ceiling mural intended for viewing from below, hence the unusual perspective.
Caravaggio created the work for a room adjacent to the alchemical distillery of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, his most important patron.
The three gods hover around a translucent globe that represents the world: Jupiter with his eagle, Neptune holding a bident, and Pluto accompanied by a bluish-gray horse and a Cerberus who resembles a three-headed border collie more than a hellhound. In addition to personifying the classical elements air, water, and earth, the three figures represent “an allegory of the applied science of alchemy”.
The painting was done for Caravaggio’s patron Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte and painted on the ceiling of the cardinal’s garden villa at porta Pinciana, where the cardinal dabbled in alchemy. Caravaggio has painted an allegory of the alchemical triad of Paracelsus: Jupiter stands for sulphur and air, Neptune for mercury and water, and Pluto for salt and earth. Each figure is identified by his beast: Jupiter by the eagle, Neptune by the hippocamp, and Pluto by the three-headed dog Cerberus. Jupiter is reaching out to move the celestial sphere in which the Sun revolves around the Earth. Galileo was a friend of Del Monte but had yet to make his mark on cosmology.
French School, (15th century)
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France / Archives Charmet / The Bridgeman Art Library
Les quatre elements dans la terre autour les douze signes du zodiaque; ‘Livre des proprietes des choses’; translated by J.Corbichon into French; Bartholomeus Anglicus (1203-72) was an early 13th century scholastic scholar of Paris, a member of the Franciscan order. He was the author of the compendium De proprietatibus rerum, dated at 1240, an early forerunner of the encyclopedia. Bartholomew the Englishman; Bartholomaeus.