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  • Gavin O'Donoghue

Greek Mythology characters Phrixus and Hella found in Pompei after 2000 years.

Updated: Mar 18

Archaeologists discovered an ancient fresco in Pompeii depicting the mythological characters of Phrixus and Hella from ancient Greek mythology.

The beautiful Fresco, in excellent condition, depicts the myth about a brother and sister who flee their home to escape their evil stepmother. As the story goes, a flying ram with a golden fleece saves Helle and Phrixus from their stepmother, who is plotting to have them killed. While Phrixus escapes, Helle falls off the ram while flying over the sea and drowns. The Fresco portrays this moment: Helle is submerged in the water, reaching up toward her brother.

Hella slips off the animal and drowns in the strait between Europe and Asia, which has since been named the Hellespont. The Fresco depicts this moment - Hella disappears in the waves while Phrixus survives.

The myth of Phrixus and Helle is widespread at Pompeii, but it is topical too," adds Zuchtriegel. "They are two refugees at sea, a brother and sister, forced to flee because their stepmother wants rid of them, and she does so with deception and corruption."

Gabriel Zuchtrigel, director of Pompeii Archaeological Park, says this find is not just a testament to ancient Greek mythology but also a tangible link to Pompeii's everyday life. "A myth characteristic of Ancient Greece and at the same time of Pompeii, where Greek myths were present in all homes," says Zuchtrigel of the Fresco, which has amazing preservation.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii in 79 C.E. and killed some 2,000 residents. The disaster also coated Pompeii in a thick layer of ash, which had been preserved for thousands of years.

Work on the House of Leda resumed in 2018 after preliminary excavations in the 18th century. The house is named after a fresco in one of its rooms, which depicts a scene from the mythological tale of Leda and the Swan.

In a 2018 video, Massimo Osanna, the former director of Pompeii Archaeological Park, said, "This is one of the most critical areas of Pompeii."

The northern section of the House of Leda has six rooms; the southern section, where researchers discovered the Phrixus and Helle fresco, is still being excavated. According to History Blog, archaeologists hope to clarify the structure's entire floor plan. In addition to cleaning the frescoes they find, they are consolidating the surfaces to prevent deterioration now they are exposed.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pompeii is Italy's second busiest tourist destination behind Rome's Colosseum. According to the Guardian, Zuchtriegel hopes sites associated with the House of Leda will eventually be open to the public.

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