Brooch with Heracles knot and butterfly pendant, 300-100 B.C. Gold, Almandine, Emerald, Glass. Greece. Museum fÃ¼r Angewandte Kunst, Cologne. (Photo: Martin Kilmas.)
The marriage-knot or knot of Hercules, a strong knot created by two intertwined ropes, originated as a healing charm in ancient Egypt, but is best known for its use in ancient Greece and Rome as a protective amulet, most notably as a wedding symbol, incorporated into the protective girdles worn by brides, which were ceremonially untied by the new groom. This custom is the likely origin of the phrase â€œtying the knot.â€
According to Roman lore, the knot symbolized the legendary fertility of the God Herakles; it probably relates to the legendary Girdle of Artemis captured from the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. In this, the marriage-knot was probably a representation of the virginity of the bride.
The butterfly symbolizes the Greek princess Psyche, whose beauty was such as to provoke the envy and wrath of Aphrodite. The goddess’s revenge was foiled, however, when her son Eros fell in love with Psyche, and after various difficulties, persuaded the gods to make her immortal and thus his equal. Eros then married Psyche and the couple were bonded together eternally in passionate union.
This remarkable object was clearly made as a wedding present for a bride.