In October of 2015, my husband and I found ourselves wandering through The British Museum with no agenda but to immerse ourselves in as much antiquity as we could stomach before succumbing to museum exhaustion. As we walked through the Greek and Roman exhibits, this cheerful image caught my attention:
Before I read the placard, I assumed it was a bust of a scantily clad silver-haired lady proudly showing off the egg her little hen had produced. I immediately snapped the above picture and sent it to my mother with a jocular note about it probably being one of her ancestors. Just take a look at this:
See? It's really not too far off...
I immediately concocted this idealized narrative of a cheerful ancient woman with a great fondness for chickens, immortalized forever in the ceramic bust before me, acting as a bridge between poultry enthusiasts of the current world and a world long lost to history. I felt this connection like a warm fluffy hen nesting in my heart. Aww...
Upon review of the placard, I quickly realized this was not a kindly Greek granny but rather Dionysos, legendary good-times god and wine-addled mischief advocate. The bird he holds is a cockerel and combined with the egg represent common attributes of Dionysos that symbolize fertility and virility.
I couldn't help but feel some magic looking at this piece. The bird and egg may be merely attributes, but the tender way in which the protome-god is holding them suggests that he may care for them for their own intrinsic virtues. Perhaps this particular Dionysos is a chicken person. The thing about chicken people is this: we are truly nuts for our chickens. We talk to them, we pet and cuddle them, and we anthropomorphize every little thing they do. The hen-yard is a never ending epic play full of comedy and drama and we are a grateful and insatiable audience. Do you know what else Dionysos is a patron god of? It's theatre. See what I just did there?
Given all of these associated symbols and attributes, I decided to rebrand this artifact in promotion of homesteading, and particularly chicken keeping. I usurped the basic iconic posture of the god and gave him a crown of chickens for added drama and to emphasize his new role as patron god of the chicken-yard. Fertility and virility are carried forth through the background imagery of rain clouds and wheat in addition to the ready symbolism of the chickens. Finally, I scrawled a godly endorsement of chickens across Dionysos's chest to really drive home the message and pull the work together. Presenting Dionysos, Lord of the Chicken People:
To learn more about the original work check out the information provided here by The British Museum.
If you like my print and would like to decorate your house with it, you can buy it in several sizes either framed or unframed here.