19. Gaza


A coin from Gaza shows the androgynous hunter with a double face. He has sharp pointed ears like an animal and nose and hair like a negro. On the reverse of the second coin he is seen doubled with the lion´s hide of Heracles on top of his head[1]. His rather uncharming appearance does not agree with the picture of the young hunter, Hippolytos, by Procopios of Gaza in his description of public decorations in his city. The Ecphrasis of Procopios starts with a hymn to almighty Eros, and it is a stroke of genius that P.Friedländer has seen the connection with the rose-festival in Gaza: ”It is totally written out of the atmosphere of this spring- and rose-festival” [2]. Out of the blood of Adonis the roses sprouted, and the blood of Aphrodite gives the red colour to the pale flower when she was scratched by its thorns. “And now the rose tells the story about her love”(Ecphrasis 1,10). The pictures sung about are mainly two: Phaedra falling in love with Hippolytos, and the chaste Hippolytos punishing the wet nurse used as messenger by Phaedra when she declares her forbidden love to Hippolytos. The last scene shows Hippolytos as hunter high on his horse with the virgin hunter Daphne at his side surrounded by shepherds. At a safe distance some frightened women are looking at the cruel punishment of the half-naked elderly lady, who is both bitten by dogs and thrashed by a man with a club. K.Kerenyi has pointed to the parallel between Hippolytos´ aversion to the deeds of Aphrodite and Enkidu´s aversion to Ishtar (Apollo,1953).

Hippolytos bears a name that is the sure sign of an ecstatic:”Horse let loose”; and he is the son of an amazon, an androgynous warrior.

Ric.A.Baer says about the anthropology of Philo of Alexandria [3]: “The first man originally existed in a state of unity or oneness and so long as he remained in this state, he was like both the world and God in his singleness (mónôsis, Op.Mund.151f)… Philo here uses the term heîs (“one”) more explicitly to describe the inner integrity and harmony of the prôtos ánthrôpos (=”first man”)…But this original state of oneness or singleness was interrupted by the appearance of woman.”

This understanding of “original sin” is found in many Oriental myths. Actaeon, the hunter, is killed because he saw a naked woman, Attis is hunting and resting together with the great hunter, Agdistis, and is killed because he wants to marry the nymph. Agdistis was very strong and androgynous, but when castrated and thereby turned into a woman, he is weakened. Orion is blinded because of a sexual sin. Theiresias for the same reason, and both are hunters. Kombabos, Bata, Eshmun resist a woman through self-castration. To understand this motif we must understand that the ideal state is the consciousness of the ecstatic. His mind is united and one with untouched nature and resting in itself. Confronted with women this unity is disturbed by desire.

But what is he hunting? He is hunting the divine stag, the king of wild nature, the sudden epiphany of god.

In Gaza, where the god Marnas was identified with Zeus Cretagenes (=”born in Crete”), his temple had the form of a giant flower surrounded with concentric colonnades. Copper coins from Gaza show the Phoenician letter memanother symbol of the mystical centre where up and down and left and right meet and are one.

A cross is also among the motifs described by John of Gaza and is even seen on the forehead of the god Aion, once a year taken up from his underground temple-chamber in Alexandria to celebrate his birth by Kore. It is after the first cock crow in the morning that he is brought up naked, sitting on a litter with the cross on his forehead, covered with gold (Epiphanios.Pan.LI,22). “In this very hour he is said to be born”, obviously together with the sun. His being taken up from the underground, adyton, is a sunrise. And his birth is on the day that was later used for the celebration of Christ’s birth, cf. the child Helios in Gaza carried on the back of Atlas, see the picture below (II, chap 13) where a cross is seen to the right.

The cross is a symbol of the centre of the four corners of the earth. If the dimension upwards is added to the four cardinal points we have the holy symbol of the pyramid and the pentagram. The pentagram was also used about Jerusalem as the world mountain, as the centre of cosmos [4]. When Pherecydes says about the primeval god, Chronos (=”Time”), that he created offspring out of his own semen: fire, wind, and water, and put these elements into “five corners”, then we have to think of a pyramid like the one symbolised by the pyra of Sandan, and definitely representing the world mountain.

In his description of the god Aion John of Gaza has paid special attention to the hand of the god. It is raised towards heaven, and the thumb is laid across the other four fingers because it is much more powerful than the others and “makes the whole unstable nature stand firm (éstêsen)”, I,168-70. In Sumerian script the pentagram is the sign for Ub = “High Heaven”.


[1] A.B.Cook,Zeus II,p.674 fig.610f. Brit.Mus.Cat.Coins Palestine p.181,pl.19,30. Babelon, Monn.


[2] Spätantiker Gemäldezyklus in Gaza,1939,p.25).

3 Philo´s use of the categories Male and Female,1970,p.37

[4] M.Ottosson, "Hexagrammet och Pentagrammet", SEÅ XXXVI, 1971, p.49ff