Five reflections on Zelda from the world of ancient art.

One summer in Paris, I spent a lot of free time in the old master painting wings at the Louvre, but eventually grew tired of the throngs of tourists. I relocated to the empty rooms of ancient Greek relics, where I discovered a small terra cotta statue of a Greek Siren, and thought, “I know I’ve seen this before.” My memory conjured Zelda: Twilight Princess, where loveable Ooccoos help you through dungeons. Further exploration of The Legend of Zelda series provided me with more examples of art history and the games converging.


Sirens, in Archaic Greek art, are modeled as a woman/avian hybrid and are comparable to the Ooccoa of Twilight Princess. Sirens are typically associated with luring people to their deaths with beautiful music. Thankfully, unlike Sirens, Ooccoa want Link to live, by warping him to dungeon entrances either for convenience or health restoration. However, as Ooccoa don’t play instruments in Twilight Princess, their full benevolence can’t be proven. Both Ooccoa and Sirens hang around cliffs and rocks, waiting to surprise travelers. It’s not apparent whether Sirens hid in pots waiting for heroes to come rescue them, but my guess is probably not. On a related note, “The Instruments of the Sirens” from Link’s Awakening have nothing to do with Ooccoa, but are also borrowing from the same mythology.


Assyrian Griffins are depicted in ancient Nimrud reliefs placed behind King Asirnassirpal II’s throne room as guardian spirits. They are another example of a bird-human hybrid, but function differently from the Sirens. These muscular birds perform the ritual of watering a sacred tree. Their bodies are gridded to a particular canon to denote the preservation of order. Both the Rito from Wind Waker and the griffins don majestic robes, stoic faces, and large wingspans, yet the only watering the Rito seem keen about are the bomb flowers on Dragon Roost Mountain. Instead, the Rito are diligent postmen, which seems fit for flying beasts.


Ancient Egypt has had its motifs commonly portrayed in pop culture, so it’s no surprise that a desert in Zelda: Ocarina of Time might have some appropriations. The winged sun-disk of Horus is usually represented by two outstretched wings emanating from a central circular disk, signifying the sun. Ocarina of Time‘s Spirit Temple entrance with a winged tri-force borrows this architrave, and implies within the gameplay a sacred space Link is entering and a temple of the gods. Both the temple entrance of Dendur and the Spirit temple doorway are of a post and lintel construction, potentially both created and/or modeled after sandstone bricks and slabs.


The Temple of Vesta, Tivoli is a Roman structure consisting of eighteen Corinthian columns, creating a structure called the ambulacrum. An Ocarina of Time fairy fountain, by contrast, only has six columns, and no Corinthian capitals. But perhaps as a nod to ancient Roman art, and to further signify a “fairy fountain” a cupid bust is installed in the center of the furthest beam facing the entrance, so that it’s the most prominently viewed beam of the fountain as Link enters. The temple of Vesta isn’t underground, and sadly, never contained heart-filling fairies, though both the fairy fountain and the Temple of Vesta are considered spaces of revitalization, as Vesta was the goddess of hearth and home.  


In the Hindu religion, one incarnation of Vishnu is a celestial boar or “Varaha”, often featured lifting planet Earth out of the ocean with his tusks. Varaha isn’t malevolently spearing our planet; this act signifies his role in rescuing the Earth from a foul demon. Varaha’s story appears in carved stone reliefs at the caves of Ellora, where everything was planned and vertically carved. In Zelda: Twilight Princess, an anthropomorphized Gannon takes the form of a twilight boar as one of the final bosses, before transforming into his normal abominable self. Perhaps the only thing in common with Varaha is delicate chains decorating his crown.

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