Rarest Cameo of a Child Zeus Fed by Amalthea Cased
 
 
  • Material: Cornelian Shell, 18k gold tested.
  • Size: 3 1/8" by 2 5/8”, cameo itself is 2 3/8” by 1 7/8”.
  • Date and Origin: Circa 1850 Italy. Original fitted case from Harvey & Core Goldsmiths, 126 Regent Street, London .
  • Conditions: A couple of internal natural shell lines visible when cameo is backlit, not visible from the front.


This is a Museum Quality cameo depicting a rarest subject, never seen before now, Amalthea feeding the child Zeus. This cameo is superbly carved and all the details are finely made. You can see a whole scene carved on a shell, there is Amalthea who is feeding the child Zeus who is suckling milk from a horn, the goat looking at them (the goat is told is Amalthea too). The child Zeus sits on Amalthea's knee whose foot is resting on a small wall. There is something, that I have not yet identified, who is hanging from a branch of the tree at the right side, a musical instrument? This cameo is really outstanding and rarest, the whole scene is mounted with a gorgeous and elaborate gold frame. Cameo is in its original fitted box. A real treasure not to be missed.

A bit of History

In Greek mythology, Amalthea or Amaltheia is the most-frequently mentioned foster-mother of Zeus.  The name Amalthea, in Greek "tender goddess", is clearly an epithet, signifying the presence of an earlier nurturing goddess,  whom the Hellenes, whose myths we know, knew to be located in Crete, where Minoans may have called her a version of "Dikte”.  There were different traditions regarding Amalthea.
Amalthea is sometimes represented as the goat who suckled the infant-god in a cave in Cretan Mount Aigaion ("Goat Mountain"), sometimes as a goat-tending nymph of uncertain parentage (the daughter of Oceanus, Helios, Haemonius, or—according to Lactantius—Melisseus), who brought him up on the milk of her goat. The possession of multiple and uncertain mythological parents indicates wide worship of a deity in many cultures having varying local traditions. Other names, like Adrasteia, Ide, the nymph of Mount Ida, or Adamanthea, which appear in mythology handbooks, are simply duplicates of Amalthea.
In the tradition represented by Hesiod's Theogony, Cronus swallowed all of his children immediately after birth. The mother goddess Rhea, Zeus' mother, deceived her brother consort Cronus by giving him a stone wrapped to look like a baby instead of Zeus. Since she instead gave the infant Zeus to Adamanthea to nurse in a cave on a mountain in Crete, it is clear that Adamanthea is a doublet of Amalthea. In many literary references, the Greek tradition relates that in order that Cronus should not hear the wailing of the infant, Amalthea gathered about the cave the Kuretesor the Korybantes to dance, shout, and clash their spears against their shields.

Amalthea and the aegis
Amalthea's skin, or that of her goat, taken by Zeus in honor of her when she died, became the protective Aegis in some traditions.

Amalthea placed among the stars
"Amaltheia was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Capra—the group of stars surrounding Capella on the arm of Auriga the Charioteer." Capra simply means "she-goat" and the star-name Capella is the "little goat", but some modern readers confuse her with the male sea-goat of the Zodiac, Capricorn, who bears no relation to Amalthea, no connection in a Greek or Latin literary source nor any ritual or inscription to join the two. Hyginus describes this catasterism in the Poetic Astronomy, in speaking of Auriga, the Charioteer:
Parmeniscus says that a certain Melisseus was king in Crete, and to his daughters Jove was brought to nurse. Since they did not have milk, they furnished him a she-goat, Amalthea by name, who is said to have reared him. She often bore twin kids, and at the very time that Jove was brought to her to nurse, had borne a pair. And so because of the kindness of the mother, the kids, too were placed among the constellations. Cleostratus of Tenedos is said to have first pointed out these kids among the stars.