Many cultures have made use of symbols to portray ideas through art. Used by many cultures the eagle, represents three specific concepts. The eagle originated as a representation of the gods or things of divine power, which, many cultures would adopt. However, it would, become a symbol of power and victory that many cultures incorporated into their art. Many cultures would use the eagle to represent omen and prophecy.
One common use of the eagle as a symbol is to represent gods or divine figures. Seen in Mesopotamian religion and art, the eagle represents an animal with the ability to carry one to heaven and meet with the gods1. A cylinder seal (Fig.1) shows this by depicting the story of a king, Etana, who rides an eagle to the land of the gods to obtain the Plant of Birth. The Mesopotamians also regarded the eagle of a bird of storms. The Greeks and Romans also use the eagle to represent divine figures. To the Greeks and Romans the eagle represented Zeus or Jupiter while also acting his armor bearer2. The Roman copy of a Greek statue called ZEUS, shows Zeus seated next to an eagle thus showing the bird connection to the king of the gods. (Fig. 2) Also like the Mesopotamians, the Romans believed that eagles could fly to heaven. However, the Romans thought that eagles would carry the souls of the dead emporers3. A scene which is depicted on the arch of Titus (Fig. 3) which, included a carving of Titus riding an eagle representing the travel of Titus’ soul to heaven. In addition, during the Middle Ages in Judeo-Christian art the eagle represents St. John as shown in The Book of Kells. (Fig. 4)
1. Leick, Gwendolyn. A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. London: Routledge, 1991. Print Page 61
2. Cirlot, Juan Eduardo. "E." A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962. 91-93. Print.
3. Karlson, William R., Jr. Syncretism: The Presence of Roman Augury in the Consecration of English Monarchs. Diss. Baylor U, 2007. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Page 115
This is due to the belief that the eagle symbolized the rising of prayers to God or the descending of God’s grace onto humans4.
The eagle also acted as a symbol of power and victory in many cultures. The Romans used the eagle as the symbol of the emperor. This is due to the idea that the eagle embodied the god, Jupiter and that the eagle was the king of the birds due to its superior strength, speed, and hunting abilities5. Many emperors used the appearance of an eagle during their crowning to justify their rule. The Gemma Augustea portrays these ideas by showing the crowning of Emperor Augustus as the supreme ruler of the world by the goddess Roma. (Fig 5) During Augustus’ crowning, he sits above an eagle, which represents the emperor’s strength and power6. The Romans also felt the eagle to be a strong military symbol. This caused the Roman Legions to use eagles to solely represent the army and create small statues and standards of the bird. These standards like the Ornament with...