Erotes on Sutton Hall

I. Architect: The statuettes on Sutton Hall were created by the architect Cass Gilbert. He was the campus architect for the University of Texas from 1909-1922 and also built Battle Hall and the Woolworth building. He was heavily inspired by the Mediterranean Renaissance style and built both Battle and Sutton Hall in reflection of it.

II. Date: These statuettes were produced in the period between 1909 and 1922. It is unclear their specific use other than as décor fitting with Gilbert’s desired style. Sutton Hall was originally the Education Building when it was built so they may have been included as whimsical figures who symbolized the curiosity within education, although that is a hypothesis.

III. Location: They are located above the main entrance to Sutton Hall facing Guadalupe Street.

IV. Description: Decorative statuettes carved from cream limestone. On the outer edge of the window is an image of Eros followed by a griffin facing the center of the doorway where an open cockle shell is placed. The other side of the door has symmetrical figures.

I believe these statuettes are meant to symbolize the power of education and desire to learn. In Greek legends, Griffins represent power and strength. Philostratus notes how gold can be found in rocks in the north “which [Griffins] can quarry because of the strength of its beak” (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 3.48). Thus, great physical strength is attributed to these legendary creatures. They are also considered to be guardians of the Hyperborean’s gold against creatures that wish to steal it. Pliny the Elder describes how “many authorities, the most distinguished being Herodotus [Greek historian C5th B.C.] and Aristeas of Proconnesus [Greek poet C7th B.C.], write that these people wage continual war with the [Griffins]…which the creatures guard and the Arimaspi try to take from them, both with remarkable covetousness” (Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories, 7.10). They are also commonly associated with Greek divinities. These creatures are often associated with the gods as helpers or underlings. There are various representation of gods riding Griffins in Greek art, including the existence of a “very famous [painting] . . . by Aregon the ‘Artemis Borne Aloft on a [Griffin]’” in the temple of Artemis Alpheionia (Strabo, Geography, 8.3.12). In addition, around the goddess Nemsis’ “throne flew a bird of vengeance, a [Griffin]” which goes “unbidden before the flying goddess” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 48. 395). Nemesis also “had harnessed racing [Griffins] under her bridle” and they were used to escort her around the world (Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 48. 449). Thus, Griffins are legendary creatures who are ridden by the Greek gods. The Griffins above the doorway appear to relate to the strength of knowledge and the power that it can give. The creature’s relation to the divine also relate to how the acquisition of knowledge can elevate mortals.

The shell and Erotes all relate to the goddess Aphrodite. I believe that they were put on the Education Building to show a desire for learning. This would not necessarily be traditional Eros but Eros in Greek mythos was not necessarily an only erotic concept. The shell relates to Aphrodite in a looser sense as it is not directly mentioned in literature but her association with the sea is. The goddess Aphrodite is said to have been born from the sea foam and the genitals of Ouranos which means that Aphrodite came to be associated with aspects of the sea and ocean (Hesiod, Theogony, 188). The shell comes not from literature but mainly from the visual arts where it is portrayed carrying her after birth and serving as her throne. Below are some pictures that show Aphrodite’s association with shells:

Cockle-shell throne of Aphrodite, Greco-Roman mosaic from Zeugma C1st-2nd A.D., Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology

Hermes, birth of Aphrodite, Himeros and Poseidon, Athenian red-figure pelike C4th B.C., Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

Terracotta statuette of Aphrodite in a shell, 3rd century BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich

All of these artistic representations show how Aphrodite was closely connected with cockerel and scallop shells and why they were considered sacred objects in her cult worship. Due to the shell’s significance to Aphrodite, the shell centered in the middle of the doorway could relate to the different forms of Eros that Aphrodite controls. Aphrodite although she is most closely tied to erotic love she is considered “the most powerful in helping men gain virtue and blessedness (Plato, Symposium, 3).  Furthermore, those that rejoice in her mature love “delight in … the more valiant and intelligent nature” (Plato, Symposium, 1). In this way, I believe the shell is supposed to symbolize a desire for knowledge and education.

The Erotes on either corner of the doorway serve a similar symbolic purpose. Aphrodite was considered to have a son named Eros who traditionally took the form of a nude, small child with wings. Later on, Eros developed into a group of Erotes who all reflected different attributes of love. In their association, “Aphrodite [is] the heavenly mother of Erotes” which explains how Erotes are supposedly representations of different aspects of passion (Pindar, Eulogies Fragment, 122). As a result, Eros the god and son of Aphrodite is usually associated with sexual pleasure but the different forms that Erotes take can differ from this representation, however, not often. In the use of Erotes on the door they could represent the child-like curiosity associated with learning or the power that Erotes themselves held as beings. Eros and the later Erotes, due to their child like appearance are described as acting like young, wild children (Alcman, Fragment 58). I believe their child-like nature in relation to Sutton Hall’s architecture is supposed to represent the child-like nature that comes with learning and educating oneself. In addition, to subscribing to a youthful nature Eros and the Erotes are also tied to a much more mature universal power. They, and Eros, are described as “keeper of the keys of heaven and earth, the air, and spreading seas…for thee all nature’s various realms obey, who rulest alone, with universal sway” (Orphic Hymn to Eros, 58). This writing expresses that they hold power over all things which relates to the primeval deity Eros who was born alongside Gaia and Tartaros (Hesiod, Theogony, 135). Although the child Eros is considered a different being than the primeval Eros they are connected through their spheres of influence. This shows how Eros the god and the concept allows for creation, often through procreation, but not solely. The Erotes on the corners are supposed to embody the passion and curiosity for learning that is fitting for an education building but I believe they also represent the power of creation and how knowledge can assist the act of creation.


Alcman. Fragment 58. Translated by David A. Campbell. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Cockle-shell throne of Aphrodite. 1st-2nd AD. Mosaic. Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology, Gaziantep,

Hesiod. Theogony. Translated by Stephen Trzaskoma, R. Scott Smith, and Stephen Brunet. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1954.

Hermes, birth of Aphrodite, Himeros and Poseidon. 4th BC. red-figure pelike. Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki,

Nonnus. Dionysiaca. Translated by W. H. D. Rouse. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940.

Orphic Hymn 58 to Eros. Translated by Thomas Taylor. 1792.

Philostratus. Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Translated by F. C. Conybeare. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1912.

Pindar. Eulogies Fragment 122. Translated by Sir E.J. Sandys. Portsmouth: William Heinemann, 1937.

Plato. Symposium. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. London: Oxford University Press, 1892.

Pliny the Elder. Natural Histories. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950.

Statuette of Aphrodite in a shell. 3rd century BC. Terracotta. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich,

Strabo. Geography. Translated by Horace Leonard Jones. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932.

Written by Taylor Lindsey


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