Felix Gem

c. AD 1-40

Gallery 35, Rome


Focus on the Object

About the Object

The Felix Gem (Figs 1-2), a large cornelian engraved gem, is one of the treasures of the Ashmolean Museum. The engraving shows a pivotal scene in the story of the siege of Troy - the war between the Trojans and the Greeks in the version told by Virgil in the Aeneid.

During the siege of Troy the Greeks discovered that the Trojans were under the divine protection of the goddess Athena. Her idol, held in a temple dedicated to Athena within the walls of Troy, was known as the Palladion. Virgil tells how the Greek warriors Diomedes and Odysseus enter Troy in secret one night to steal the Palladion to increase their chances of winning the war. The Felix Gem shows Diomedes sitting on the altar of the temple, the idol in his hand. Odysseus, identifiable by his pointed hat (pilos), remonstrates with him, while gesturing with his right hand to the feet of a temple guard murdered by Diomedes. The sea-god Poseidon, trident in hand, turns his back in disgust at the heroes’ action, while the walls of Troy rear in the background. Indeed, Aeneas relates in Virgil’s epic how the heroes had committed sacrilege by touching the sacred brow of the statuette with the murdered guard’s blood on their hands. From that moment, the heart of the goddess was set hard against them. Back in Greece, they thought of smuggling themselves into Troy inside the belly of the wooden horse, a stratagem that eventually proved successful.






Odysseus gestures to the feet of the temple guard

Diomedes holds the Palladion with one hand and with the other, his bloody sword