Pompeii Archaeologists Discover Fresco Painting of Roman Myth Leda and the Swan

Archaeologists have discovered a painting of an ancient Roman myth after excavating a home in the volcano-struck ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The fresco painting unearthed on Friday depicts the ancient Roman myth of Leda, the wife of King Tyndareus. Leda was seduced by the god Jupiter, who had transformed himself into a swan, and she was said to have given birth to the twins Castor and Pollux as a result of her respective encounters with Tyndareus and Jupiter.

Around 10,000 to 20,000 people were believed to have lived in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in Campania, Italy, to the southeast of Naples, when it was engulfed by Mount Vesuvius when the volcano erupted in 79 A.D. Massimo Osanna, the archaeological park director of Pompeii, told Italian news agency ANSA, according to the Associated Press, that the image of Leda being impregnated by the swan was a common motif in homes in the city before it was destroyed by the volcanic ash and debris of Vesuvius.

This piece is special however, Osanna argued, as Leda looks out of the painting at its viewer. Usually, Leda is shown standing and not engaged in intercourse, as she appears to be in this latest discovery, according to the Pompeii website.

"Leda watches the spectator with a sensuality that's absolutely pronounced," he said.

An unnamed archaeologist told the U.K.'s The Times newspaper that the painting was likely inspired by a statue of Leda created by the Greek sculptor Timotheus in fourth century B.C. "It's about the tenth image of Leda found at Pompeii, although usually she is on her feet. This one is more explicit," the expert said.

The discovery was made as part of work to repair Pompeii from general wear and tear, including damage wrought by the weather. It was found in a bedroom near the entrance corridor of a home in the devastated city. Archaeologists unearthed a depiction of Priapus the god of fertility, in a similar spot at the nearby House of the Vettii.

Past work uncovered frescoes of Leda and the swan at Villa Ariana in the seaside resort of Stabiae, which was also decimated by the eruption. Both of these frescoes are now housed in the National Archeological Museum of Naples.

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Frescoes in the Roman Villa of the Mysteries, which was restored and reopened to the public in the archaeological site of Pompeii, in Italy, on March 20, 2015. In their ongoing work in Pompeii, archaeologists have found a fresco of depicting the ancient Roman mythical characters Leda and the swan. MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/Getty Images

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The eruption of Vesuvius shot volcanic gas, rock and ash up to 21 miles into the air, and enveloped nearby towns and cities. The resulting cover of ash preserved sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum.​ Pompeii offered archaeologists unique insight into the lives of ancient Romans when the site was rediscovered in 1599. Excavation on the ancient city was begun in 1748. In 1997, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata were named UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Earlier this year, archaeologists investigating Herculaneum revealed the ash vaporized the blood of residents and caused their skulls to explode. The research was published in the journal Plos One.

This article has been updated to include an archaeologist's quote to The Times.

Pompeii Archaeologists Discover Fresco Painting of Roman Myth Leda and the Swan | Tech & Science
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