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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 86. Estimate CHF2000. 
Closing Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2009. 
Sold For CHF425. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

ARKADIA, Stymphalos. Circa 370-350 BC. Obol (Silver, 0.88 g 5), Circa 350s-340s. Head of Herakles in lionskin headdress to right Rev. ΣΤΥΜΦΑΛΙΟΝ Head of water-bird with one crest feather to right. BCD Peloponnesos 1697-1698 var. Very rare. Nicely toned and clearly struck. About extremely fine.

The sixth labor of Herakles was devoted to driving away a vast number of annoying birds who infested the lake near Stymphalos. These birds were reputed to be very dangerous, able to attack, kill and eat human beings. To help Herakles with his task, Athena gave him a pair of bronze krotala, noisemakers like castanets that had been forged by Hephaistos. Herakles then clapped them together, making a huge racket, which frightened and annoyed the birds so much that they flew up into the air, where Herakles shot arrows at them, killing some and convincing the remainder to depart. On this coin we see the head of Herakles paired with the head of a fairly innocuous looking water bird, reliably identified as the Great Crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus. While this bird does eat fish, crayfish, insects and frogs, it is not known to attack humans, though large flocks of them might prove annoying because of their cackling cries: it seems likely that these water birds were used as a symbol of Stymphalos because they lived in the lake and the swamps that surrounded the city. On a famous Attic black figure pot dating to c.545, now London B 163, we see Herakles using a sling to disperse what looks like a flock of geese - the painter of Group E responsible for the decoration of this vase did not, obviously, conceive of them as being monsters.