CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WBOY) — The building that would become West Virginia’s current capitol began construction in 1924. The design incorporated many intricate details, from the aesthetic to the symbolic, but some who visit the capitol today may be wondering who the sculpted heads that line the building’s entrances belong to.
Designed by Cass Gilbert, the architect behind the United States Supreme Court, and constructed by the George A. Fuller Company, the West Virginia capitol building would take eight years to complete and cost a total of $9,491,180, which today would be about $209,108,015.
Hanging above the entrances of the wings and the main building are the heads of mythological figures from the Greco-Roman pantheon, made from the same buff Indiana limestone that makes up most of the capitol building’s exterior, according to generalservices.wv.gov. Due to the overlap of the Greek and Roman pantheons, many of the figures represented possess different names, but are essentially the same mythical deities.
The busts were carved by the New York stonemason and artist, John Donnelly, Sr., according to mh3wv.org.
The figures depicted, according to wvlegislature.gov, include (Roman names italicized):
West Entrance to East Wing
SLAYER OF MEDUSA
Son of Zeus and Danae, the Princess of Argos; demi-god; conceived by a gold shower falling upon his mother who was impressed in a tower; married Andromeda after saving her from a sea monster; had seven children with Andromeda; great-grandfather and brother to Heracles.
GOD OF FIRE
The Forethinker; a Titan by birth; sided with Zeus during the overthrow of the Titans; disliked Zeus’ treatment of humanity; stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, which resulted in Zeus chaining him to a rock and sending an eagle to prey upon his continually regenerating liver; was saved by Heracles.
Hera / Juno
GOD OF MARRIAGE, BIRTH, WOMEN, SKY, AND STARS
Wife and sister of Zeus; Mother Ares, Hebe, Eileithyia, and Hephaestus; Queen of Olympus; Known to be jealous and vengeful towards Zeus’ consorts and their children.
East Entrance to West Wing
Heracles / Hercules
DIVINE PROTECTOR OF MANKIND
Son of Zeus and mortal Alcmene, who was the granddaughter of Perseus; demigod; nursed from Hera, gaining greater strength; epitome of bravery and masculinity in the ancient world; faced wrath of Hera for being another of Zeus’ children; force to complete the 12 labors in service to his cousin, the High King; achieved immortality after completing labors.
Zeus / Jupiter
GOD OF SKY AND THUNDER
Most prominent Olympian god; king of gods and men; husband to Metis, then Hera; children with Hera – Hephaestus, Hebe, and Ares; fathered children with many consorts, including Heracles, Athena, Apollo and Artemis, Hermes, Dionysus and Helen of Troy; defeated his father Cronus, king of the Titans to save siblings, along with the cyclopes and hecatoncheires; his weapon, the lightning bolts were created by the cyclopes; bears the shield Aegis.
Tyche / Fortuna
GODDESS OF GOOD FORTUNE, LUCK, AND PROSPERITY
Complicated lineage: Daughter of Aphrodite with either Hermes or Zeus or daughter of Titan Oceanus and Tethys; appears on coin in the Hellenistic period; with a rudder, she guides and conducts the affairs of the world.
West Entrance of the Main Building
Hestia / Vesta
GODDESS OF THE HEARTH AND HOME
Sister to Zeus; firstborn to Cronus and Rhea; Virgin Goddess; fearing turmoil by choosing from the gods wanting to marry her, she swore eternal virginity; rewarded with a central place in Zeus’ house and the first and richest portion of humans’ offerings; remained in the home, alone, tending the eternal celestial fire.
Poseidon / Neptune
GOD OF SEA, STORMS, EARTHQUAKES AND HORSES
Brother to Zeus; trident is the most recognized symbol; violent and ill-tempered Olympian; struck rock with trident to create the very first horse; husband to Amphitrite; fathered 14 children, including Triton, Theseus, Polyphemus, Orion, and Atlas; took many consorts; helped build walls around Troy, then sent a sea-monster to destroy the city when payment wasn’t provided.
Demeter / Ceres
GODDESS OF AGRICULTURE, HARVEST, FERTILITY, AND SACRED LAW
Sister and consort to Zeus and Poseidon; Mother to Persephone, Arion, Despoena, Plutus, Philomelus, Hecate, and others; most known for her grief when daughter Persephone was taken by Hades to the underworld and forced into marriage; her daughter was forced to spend one-third of the year in the underworld and two-thirds of the year with her mother, thus period where Demeter grieves her daughter is winter.
East Entrance to the Main Building
Hermes / Mercury
GOD OF TRADE, WEALTH, FERTILITY, HERDS & FLOCKS, SLEEP, THIEVES, LANGUAGE, AND TRAVEL
Son of Zeus and Maia, the oldest of the seven Pleiades; patron of shepherds; inventor of the lyre; herald and messenger of Mt. Olympus; guided dead to the underworld.
Hephaestus / Vulcan
GOD OF BLACKSMITHS, FIRE, CRAFTSMEN, METALWORK, STONEMASONRY, AND SCULPTURE
Son of either Zeus and Hera or Hera herself; cast off Mt. Olympus by his mother; returned and served to create weapons for the gods; husband to Aphrodite.
Athena / Minerva
GODDESS OF WISDOM AND WAR
Daughter of Zeus, born from Zeus’ head after he swallowed a pregnant Metis; represents the intellectual and civilized side of war, as well as the virtues of justice and skill; virgin goddess; patroness of Athens, carries a shield that like Medusa’s eyes can turn her enemies to stone; helped several gods throughout their quests.
So why display the heads of Greco-Roman myths? While no answer was ever given by the building’s architect, like many government buildings, it was likely due to a mix of aesthetics and symbolism.
During an interview with the Charleston Daily Mail in 1932, Gilbert explained his inspirations for the design of the overall structure.
“The exterior of the buildings is of Indiana Limestone and is classic in style; in fact, it might more correctly be termed Renaissance. The architectural forms are Roman with the single exception of the Doric vestibule on the ground floor of the Main Building on the river side. The porticoes and the colonnades of the exterior are distinctly Roman, the two main porticoes being of the Roman Corinthian order, which was, of course, indirectly derived from the Greek precedent, and the other porticoes or colonnades are of a modified Roman Doric type,” Gilbert said.