Pompeii reveals new secrets: a 2,000-year-old mythological fresco

In Pompeii, in the House of Leda, a well-preserved fresco was found which depicts a scene from Greek mythology representing two refugees fleeing by sea

Archaeologists in Pompeii have made a remarkable discovery: a 2,000-year-old fresco depicting a scene from Greek mythology. This artistic treasure portrays the story of Phrixus and Helle, twin siblings, and was found in the House of Leda, an ancient residence under archaeological excavation since 2018.

A vibrant glimpse into the past

The fresco, described as being in “excellent state of preservation” by Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, is a vibrant testament to the era’s artistic prowess. The House of Leda, named after another fresco depicting the mythological scene of Leda and the swan, offers a precious insight into the daily life and artistic representations of the time.

The depicted scene from the fresco of Phrixus and Helle is a part of the myth where the siblings are saved from their plotting stepmother by a flying ram with a golden fleece. The story tragically sees Helle fall into the sea and drown, while Phrixus escapes. This moment, with Helle reaching out towards her brother while submerged in water, is captured in the fresco.

Potential for more discoveries

Zuchtriegel highlights the contemporary resonance of the Phrixus and Helle myth in Pompeii, viewing them as refugees fleeing across the sea from the malicious plots of a stepmother:

“They are two refugees at sea, a brother and a sister, forced to flee because their stepmother wants to get rid of them, and she does so with deceit and corruption.”

The fresco is described as a “framed painting, hung on a yellow wall.” The northern section of the house comprises six rooms, while the southern section, where the Phrixus and Helle fresco was discovered, is still under exploration.

Archaeologists continue their excavation efforts in the House of Leda, aiming to fully map the structure. They are also cleaning the discovered frescoes, removing volcanic residues and consolidating surfaces to prevent deterioration now that they have been exposed.

Initial excavations at the House of Leda in the 18th century were only preliminary, and work resumed in 2018. This area is among the most critical in Pompeii, and Zuchtriegel hopes that sites linked to the House of Leda can be opened to the public, offering visitors an additional magical perspective on Pompeii’s historical richness.

Source: Parco archeologico di Pompei

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