The original of this statue was found in 1877 by a team of German archaeologists excavating in the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in the Peloponnese (not to be confused with Mt. Olympus in northern Greece). The nearly complete statue (original missing the right forearm, left foot, and parts of the infant's arms) stood in the temple of Hera (Juno) at the site. Greek and Roman temples were often used as 'museums' for displaying works of art. We see the adult god Hermes (Roman Mercury) holding his baby brother, Dionysos (Bacchus). Hermes dangles something, now lost, and baby Dionysos reaches toward it. (Our cast restores a bunch of grapes along with the baby's arm, on the evidence of a Roman wall-painting from Pompeii).
The statue was long thought to be the actual Greek master-piece by the sculptor Praxiteles (4th c. B.C.) mentioned by the traveler Pausanias (ca. A.D. 160) as being in the temple (Guide to Greece 5.17.7). Most scholars now, however, consider it a late Hellenistic or Roman work of the 1st c. B.C. in Praxitilean style. Rasp and chisel marks reveal a partial reworking of the back. Traces of red paint may indicate that Hermes' hair, lips, and sandals were gilded originally. Olympia Archaeological Museum (Greece). Marble. H. 2.10 m. (7 ft. 1 in.); 2.28 if the right arm is restored.
Praxiteles: "Hermes with the Young Dionysus". Marble sculpture (c. 340 BC.). Archaeological Museum, Olympia. The statue represents the god Hermes standing in a relaxed pose, holding the infant Dionysus on his arm, and playing with him.
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Hermes and the Birth of Dionysus
Hermes was popular among the gods because he was playful, innocent, and helpful. Hermes helped his father, Zeus, when Dionysus was born. Dionysus was the son of Semele and Zeus. Semele was the daughter of Cadmus, the brother of Europa, and Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite.
When Zeus and Semele first got to know each other, Zeus was disguised in simple clothes. Zeus'wife, Hera, was angry with both Zeus and Semele. Hera disguised herself as Semele's nurse and made Semele curious about her new boyfriend. The next time Zeus visited, Semele made him promise that the next time he came, he would come to her as he really was. On his next visit, he came as the god Zeus, and Semele was consumed to ashes by his brillance. Zeus took Semele's baby, Dionysus, and nurtured him until he was ready to be born. Once he was born, Zeus gave Dionysus to Hermes to protect the baby from Zeus' wife, who was jealous. Hermes put the baby Dionysus in the care of Io, Semele's sister.
Last modified August 28, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.