The Ancient Greek legend of Leda the Aetolian princess being ravished by the Zeus in the form of a swan has inspired many works of art over the ages. Most recently a fresco – a mural painted on fresh plaster - of the famous scene which was uncovered by archaeologists in Pompeii last year was opened to the public this week.
The bedroom wall on which the fresco was painted is believed to be part of a wealthy person’s townhouse in Regio V, a 22-hectare site in the Archaelogical Park of Pompeii near Naples.
In 75AD, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Oplontis were covered by ash and molten lava when the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted. It was only in 1748 that Pompeii was rediscovered.
Over the years, numerous works of art based on the Leda and the Swan theme have been discovered under the ruins. As a result of the “union” with Zeus, Leda, who was Queen of Sparta, bore the twins Castorus and Polydeuces and also Helen and Clytemnestra. Helen’s abduction by the Trojan prince Paris sparked the Trojan war which inspired The Illiad and The Odyssey – the great epic poems that defined the classical world, Greek and Roman.
The room in which the 46 cm by 33cm fresco is found was uncovered during work to strengthen Pompeii after rains and heavy use caused some buildings nearby to collapse. Just a part of the room was excavated to reveal the fresco and there is hope that other valuable discoveries will be made there.
The fresco room was opened to public view this week along with other sections of the site including the restored Central Baths and House of the Golden Cupids.