One should imagine the shieldstrips have been a part of the
brass fittings of the leather belts on which a shield was
hold. These fittings often were decorated with several
representations, put under each other. Especially in Olympia
quite a few shieldstrips have been found. In all seven
shieldstrips are known representing Zeus giving birth to
Athena. Six of them are found in Olympia. Herefrom and from
the fact the composition of all those representations show
uniformity to a great extent can be concluded the myth enjoyed
some popularity on the Peloponnesos: possibly there has been
an independent tradition there in respect to the iconography.
In this context a scholion of Apollonius of Rhodos is
remarkable. As a comment on IV, 1310 is given:
"When she from her father's..: Stesichoros was the first who said Athena jumped from the head of Zeus fully armed."
The scholiast probably is not right when he says Stesichoros has been the first to say Athena jumped from the head of Zeus fully armed: on the shieldstrips already Athena is seen coming out from the head of Zeus fully armed. And some of these shieldstrips are from a time long before Stesichoros (viz. for instance nr. 1911). So the conclusion can be the panoply is an element of a tradition which is older than the texts which are left.
The composition of the representations is fully adapted to the
quadrangle. Very special is the way in which Athena is
represented: much more tremendous than on comparable
representations on pottery. The uniformity of the
representation is manifest by the fact always the same figures
are represented: Zeus, Athena, Hephaistos and a goddess. This
seems to indicate the artists are inspired by the same
example. Nevertheless how free they felt to make their own
version is clear by the fact that there are four
representations which show the scene going from left to right,
and three representations showing the same in reverse order.
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Birth of the goddess Athena
© A.E.J. Kaal