An aegis (pronounced /ˈiːdʒɨs/), from Greek αιγίς, is a large collar or cape worn in ancient times to display the protection provided by a high religious authority or the holder of a protective shield signifying the same, such as a bag-like garment that contained a shield. Sometimes the garment and the shield are merged, with a small version of the shield appearing on the garment. It originally was derived from the protective shield associated with a religious figure when related in myths and images. The wearing of the aegis and its contents show sponsorship, protection, or authority derived from yet a higher source or deity. The name has been extended to many other entities, and the concept of a protective shield is found in other mythologies, while its form varies across sources.
The concept of doing something "under someone's aegis" now means doing something under the protection of a powerful, knowledgeable, or benevolent source. The word aegis is identified with protection by a strong force with its roots in Greek mythology and adopted by the Romans; there are parallels in Norse mythology and in Egyptian mythology as well, where the Greek word aegis is applied by extension.
In Greek mythology
The aegis (Greek: Αιγίς), as stated in the Iliad, is the shield or buckler of Athena or of Zeus, which according to Homer was fashioned by Hephaestus. "...and among them went bright-eyed Athene, holding the precious aegis which is ageless and immortal: a hundred tassels of pure gold hang fluttering from it, tight-woven each of them, and each the worth of a hundred oxen."
Virgil imagines the Cyclopes in Hephaestus' forge, who "busily burnished the aegis Athene wears in her angry moods--a fearsome thing with a surface of gold like scaly snake-skin, and he linked serpents and the Gorgon herself upon the goddess's breast—a severed head rolling its eyes." furnished with golden tassels and bearing the Gorgoneion (Medusa's head) in the central boss. Some of the Attic vase-painters retained an archaic tradition that the tassels had originally been serpents in their representations of the ægis. When the Olympian deities overtook the older deities of Greece and she was born of Metis (inside Zeus who had swallowed the goddess) and "re-born" through the head of Zeus fully clothed, Athena already wore her typical garments.
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