The logo of the Melammu Project

The Melammu Project

The Heritage of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East

  The Melammu Project
   General description
   Search string
   Browse by topic
   Search keyword
   Submit entry
   Open search
   Thematic search
   Digital Library
   Submit item
   Ancient texts
   Submit link
  Contact us

  The Newsletter
  To Project Information >


The Stymphalian Birds (1)

Printable view
Topics (move over topic to see place in topic list)

06 Visual arts and architecture

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

No period specified
Iconographic tradition

Many of the Mesopotamian seals, from the third millennium to the first, show a hero fighting a huge bird, sometimes an ostrich, which he may strangle or attack with a sickle. An Assyrian seal of the ninth or eighth century depicts a god fighting a crowd of eagles or vultures. The theme has been compared with Heracles’ expedition against the man-eating Stymphalian Birds, which he either frightened away with a rattle or killed, using his bow, his club, or a sling. Another fierce bird which Heracles shot was the eagle that tormented Prometheus. A distant precedent for this motif is in a scene portrayed on a seal of the Akkadian period. A god aims his bow at an eagle which is flying towards the Sun-god as if with hostile intent. Heracles’ battle against the Stymphalian Birds can also be compared to Ninurta’s conflict with Anzû.


Collon 1987, fig. 350Collon, Dominique. First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. London: British Museum Publications 1987.
West 1997, 462West, Martin L. The East Face of Helicon. West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1997.

Amar Annus

URL for this entry:

Illustrations (click an image to view the full-size version in a new window)

Fig. 1: Modern impression of a Neo-Assyrian lapis lazuli cylinder seal from Nineveh, Iraq, depicting a contest scene between a winged genii and two birds. Museum no.: IM 67880. Late 8th century BCE (aken from Collon 1987, fig. 350).
Fig. 2: Heracles, wearing the skin of the Nemean lion, attacks the Stymphalian birds with a sling. Amphora from Vulci, ca. 550 BCE (British Museum).