It's dark by teatime and yesterday brought the first toe-crystallisingly cold day. Time for a fantasy about cruising the turquoise waters of the winedark sea, the prow of my ship cleaving the white-topped waves. But what ship's figurehead should I choose? The Phoenicians liked horses’ heads, while the ancient Greeks imagined their prows as big-eyed boars charging through the undergrowth. But British sailors administering the empire round the seven seas named their ships after classical gods and heroes. Their ships' utmost prows featured carved simulacra representing the figure whose spirit was felt to animate the vessel. These were the images of classical figures most familiar to regular seamen and dockers. There is an enchanting collection in Portsmouth Royal Navy Museum.
|HMS Nutty Orestes|
|Cool HMS Apollo|
|Agitated HMS Eurydice|
Poor HMS Eurydice’s figurehead looks rather disturbed—unlucky in her ancient myth, meeting death before her time, her ship did indeed come to a sticky end, foundering in 1878. Yet the gun-boat HMS Minerva survived wisely for decades and was used in Portsmouth harbour for operations even after her retirement at a grand old age.
|Warrior figurehead of HMS Colossus|
|Vase with Hephaestus on ass recovered from wreck of HMS Colossus|