This stunning statue, depicting Queen Arsinoe II, the sister-wife of King Ptolemy II, was discovered in the undersea ruins of Canopus, off the Egyptian Mediterranean coast. Incredibly, it was lying in a statue dump amongst other broken pieces of statuary, destined to be broken down further and repurposed in some other way.
The queen’s portrayal here is more Greek than Egyptian. She strides with her left foot forward—an Egyptian trait—while the rest of the statue is the embodiment of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty and “fortunate sailing”.
The classical treatment of the queen’s draped, flowing gown, clinging sensuously to her body, doesn’t leave much to the imagination. This “wet look” recalls Aphrodite who was born in the sea on the southern coast of Cyprus.
After Arsinoe’s death in 270 B.C., Ptolemy II issued a decree that all temples of Egypt should host a cult statue of the divine Arsinoe. Her divine status also reflected well on him, and Ptolemy II never remarried. This exceptional sculpture was worshipped in a temple in the city of Canopus.
The stunning statue is one of the centrepieces of the British Museum's blockbuster exhibition, "Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds". The exhibition celebrates the discovery of two once-glittering cities that slipped beneath the waves, 1,200 years ago. The exhibition finishes November 27.
Enjoy the full article on "Sunken Cities" in the current issue of Nile Magazine.
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