Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rape of the Sabine Women in Art

The ancient legend of the abduction of the Sabine women by the men of Rome has inspired artists for centuries. Upon finding the city bereft of women, Rome’s founder, Romulus, invited the neighboring peoples to a festival as a pretense to the abduction. Each Roman youth carried off an unmarried woman from the Sabine contingent as his bride. When the Sabines later attacked Rome to reclaim their females, the women ran onto the battlefield and secured peace between their fathers and husbands.

Here we see two dramatic treatments of the subject by Italian artists Andrea Andreani and Giambologna.  Andreani, an Italian engraver, revived the technique of the chiaroscuro print, the use of light and shadow to define three-dimensional objects, at the end of the sixteenth century and created a number of ambitious works including a reproduction of Andrea Mantegna's "Triumph of Caesar".  Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects but the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century.  Andreani's 1585 woodcut, Rape of the Sabines,  reproduces, to scale but with slight adjustments, the plaque that was intended to clarify the subject of Giambologna's celebrated marble group in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence which had been unveiled in Florence in 1583 to public acclaim.

The original woodcut is printed in three sections on six sheets of paper. To make a chiaroscuro woodcut, the key block was inked with the darkest tone and printed first. Subsequent blocks were inked with progressively lighter tones and carefully measured to print in register with the key block. Chiaroscuro woodcuts are usually printed in only one color, brown, gray, green, or sepia being preferred. The process attempted to imitate wash and watercolor drawings and also became popular as an inexpensive method of reproducing paintings. The print in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a rather harsh orange.  Whether this was intended to be brown or sepia I'm not sure.  I thought the color obscures the details, though, so I have converted it to black and white and adjusted the saturation and contrast to showcase the intricacies of Andreani's work. 

The sculpture is the original work of Gaimbologna's "Kidnapping of the Sabine Women" on display in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence that the woodcut is based upon. The full length image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Thermos.  The detailed closeups are my own images taken in Florence in 2005.

Rape of the Sabines chiaroscuro woodcut by Andrea Andreani, 1585

Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

Detail of Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Heraclius: The David of the Eastern Roman Empire?

The year the Roman emperor Heraclius came to power, the empire was threatened on multiple frontiers. Heraclius immediately took charge of the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628. The first battles of the campaign ended in defeat for the Byzantines. The Persian army fought their way to the Bosphorus but Constantinople was protected by impenetrable walls and a strong navy, and Heraclius was able to avoid total defeat. Soon after, he initiated reforms to rebuild and strengthen the military. Heraclius drove the Persians out of Asia Minor and pushed deep into their territory, defeating them decisively in 627 at the Battle of Nineveh. The Persian king Khosrow II was overthrown and executed by his son Kavad II, who soon sued for a peace treaty, agreeing to withdraw from all occupied territory.  The Eastern Roman empire thus regained Jerusalem, Egypt, and other Byzantine territory.  To celebrate his victory Heraclius ordered the production of a set of silver plates. Elaborate dishes used for display at banquets were common in the late Roman and early Byzantine world.  Generally decorated with classical themes, these objects conveyed wealth, social status, and learning. But the set commissioned by Heraclius featured the biblical characters of David and Goliath dressed in the costume of the early Byzantine court, suggesting to the viewer that, like Saul and David, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius was a ruler chosen by God who had defeated a foe as formidable as the legendary Goliath.

Heraclius subsequently lost much of the recovered lands to the Muslim conquests but he still ranks among the great emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire.  His reforms of the government reduced the corruption which had taken hold in Phocas's reign, and he reorganized the military with great success. Ultimately, the reformed Imperial army halted the Muslims in Asia Minor and held on to Carthage for another 60 years, saving a core from which the empire's strength could be rebuilt.

Images: Silver stamps dating to 613–29/30 on the reverse of these masterpieces place their manufacture in Heraclius’ reign. At the top of this magnificent plate, David confronts Goliath, and between them is a personification of the river from which David gathered stones for his sling. The major scene shows the decisive battle. Although David appears to be on the defensive, his men move forward, forcing Goliath’s soldiers into retreat. At the bottom, the victorious David beheads the giant.  The Metropolitan Museum of art has produced a short video about the plate narrated by curator Helen Evans featuring the photography of Bruce J. Schwarz:

I saw this spectacular plate back in 2007 but it was in a corridor that wasn't very well illuminated so my photographs are not as amazing as those of museum photographer Bruce J. Schwarz taken in a well lit studio.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Figurines with articulated limbs: Children's toys or adult apotropaic objects?

Terracotta figurines with articulated limbs are often described as dolls or children’s toys, and are sometimes thought to have been dressed in clothes. While one cannot simply dismiss these assumptions, it must be pointed out that this hypothesis is based on an inaccurate reading of an ancient epigram, which was originally interpreted to say that a girl named Timareta dedicated to the goddess (at a sanctuary) her dolls and their dresses. However, more recently it has been convincingly argued that she in fact dedicated her hair and her own clothing. Another point to be made against the figurines being play things is that they are too fragile to be constantly handled by children. The fact that these “dolls” are often discovered in the graves of adults indicates their possible chthonic connection or apotropaic function. In addition, the movement these figurines were capable of when swinging, as well as the clanking noise they produced, might have made them attractive charms. - The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Terracotta jointed doll thought to represent a ritual dancer Corinthian Greek 5th century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bone figurine with articulated limbs, Greek, Late 4th or 3rd century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ivory doll found in female burial along the Via Cassia near La Giustiniana Roman 2nd century CE photographed at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, Italy

Ivory doll Ivory doll found in female burial Roman 2nd century CE at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, Italy

Ivory jointed doll found in a female's sarcophagus in Tivoli, Italy Roman 2nd century CE photographed at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, Italy

Segmented Roman bone dolls, 275-300 CE photographed at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Roman boxing: More Bloodsport than Gentlemen's Competition

Roman boxing, far different than the boxing developed by the Greeks, was considered more of a gladiatorial show than an athletic contest. While the crowds were smaller than at the amphitheater and circus, boxing was an important part of public entertainment. Unlike Greek boxers, who wore leather thongs around their knuckles for protection and performed for prizes at the prestigious Panhellenic games, Romans used gloves with pieces of metal placed around the knuckles (caestus) to inflict the most damage possible. Moreover, there was no time limit or weight classification. Proclaiming a winner resulted from either a knockout or the conceding of defeat by one of the boxers. - The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image: Bronze hand of a boxer 1st to 2nd century CE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The hand is clad in a caestus (boxing glove), comprising a semicylindrical strip and a projecting spike, tied with cords running from the wrist. Although Roman boxers are represented on statues, mosaics, terracotta plaques and lamps, and bronze figurines, few objects show the actual boxing glove with such clarity of detail as the present piece. The hand is probably not a fragment of a larger composition; it was, perhaps, a votive, dedicated by a boxer on his retirement.

Images: Boxer Resting, a 1st century BCE copy of a 3rd century BCE Greek original. Notice the difference in the wrappings in my closeup of his hands. Photographed at the Palazzo Massimo, Rome, Italy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Symbols of Faithfulness: Dogs in Ancient Art

Domesticated dogs appeared in prehistoric paintings at sites like Bhimbetka in central India that date back more than 100,000 years. During the Bronze Age statues, children's toys, and ceramics depicted dogs. Hunting dogs were most commonly portrayed but pet dogs, valued for their faithfulness and courage were also subjects of ancient art.

Dogs were often seen on Greek and Roman reliefs and ceramics as symbols of fidelity and given as gifts among lovers.  Homer's Odyssey reinforced this concept of a dog's faithfulness by telling the story of Odysseus' dog who was the only one that recognized him when he returned home after years of wanderings, even though he was disguised to conceal his appearance. Sadly, because dogs were revered for their loyalty, they were also sometimes sacrificed in special religious rituals.  During Xanthika, a spring purification of the Macedonian army, a dog was sacrificed.  The Spartans sacrificed a dog to Enyalius, the son of Ares, in one of their military festivals as well. At the Robigalia, a festival in ancient Roman religion held on April 25, a dog was sacrificed to protect grain fields from disease.

The ancient Romans kept three types of dogs: hunting dogs, especially sighthounds, a dog like a whippet that hunts primarily by sight and speed rather than by scent and endurance like a beagle, Molossus dogs like the Neapolitan Mastiff for protection, often depicted in reliefs and mosaics with the words "Cave Canem", and small companion dogs like the Maltese, used as women's lap dogs.  Like the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, Baganda, Alans, Slavs, and Britons, the Romans used large dogs as military sentries and on patrol and sometimes they were taken into battle.  The earliest use of war dogs in a battle recorded in classical sources was by Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians around 600 BCE where the Lydian dogs killed some invaders and routed others.  During Late Antiquity, Attila the Hun used Molossus dogs in his campaigns.

Fresco of Endymion and Selene with a dog from the House of the Dioscuri in Pompeii

Roman funerary monument to a dog with footprint from the Vidy Roman Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Rama

2nd century BCE sculptural group of Roman sight hounds found near Lanuvio, Italy in 1774 now in the Museo Pio-Clementino at the Vatican courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Henry Townsend

Roman Terracotta figurine of a dog 1st century BCE-1st century CE at the British Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor AgTigress

Terracotta askos in the form of a dog 2nd-1st century BCE Greek at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, courtesy of the museum.

Emulate the judgement of men who exercise great forethought

We, however, ought to emulate the judgement of men who exercise great forethought and are no less jealous for the reputation of the state than for their own—men who prefer a moderate competence with justice to great wealth unjustly gained. (condensed) Isocrates.  On the Peace.  Speech 8.  Section 93.

Image: Fragmentary Augustus equestrian statue from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens courtesy of Carole Raddato.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

So-called "bed niches" and the function of rooms in a Pompeian house

Reconstruction of a cubiculum in a Roman villa in Oplontis near Naples, Italy courtesy of the University of Michigan's exhibit, "Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero."  
I've been studying more about the material culture of Pompeian Households and learned that since the excavations in Pompeii of the late 19th century, archaeologists have associated narrow wall recesses with bed installations, calling them bed niches and using their presence to determine a room to be a cubiculum (bedroom).  However, in the study of atrium houses conducted by current archaeologist Penelope Allison, correlating the find assemblages in 84 small closed decorated rooms off the front halls of these houses, less than 15 percent were found to have these types of recesses and only 16 percent of this subset contained identifiable evidence of bedding with only one actual instance of bedding found in conjunction with the so-called "bed niche."  She points out, though, that evidence of bedding may have gone unrecorded in the earliest excavations.  However, ten of thirteen rooms with recesses were excavated in the 20th century and she thinks such evidence would not have gone unrecorded in those structures.  Therefore, she concludes that there is no direct relationship between evidence of bedding and recesses attributed to "bed niches".

"More common  were assemblages consisting variously of the remains of small chests and caskets; a variety of  bronze serving, pouring, and storage vessels; ceramic vessels that were usually small and of fine  quality, but occasionally included large amphorae; and items related to dress, toiletries, needlework, and lighting. These were found, generally  in small quantities, in thirteen to eighteen decorated rooms of this type."  - Allison, Penelope M.. Pompeian Households: An Analysis of Material Culture (Monograph Book 42) (p. 72). Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press. Kindle Edition.

Since things like toiletries and needlework sounded more "bedroom" related, I was a little confused by this conclusion but she went on to clarify it:

Actual evidence of bedding was rare, however,  implying that decorated rooms of this type functioned as a type of “boudoir” rather than as a  sleeping space. - Allison, Penelope M.. Pompeian Households: An Analysis of Material Culture (Monograph Book 42) (p. 72). Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press. Kindle Edition.

In the case of the House of the Prince of Naples, though, she associates the finds there with "industrial" use, a space where craftsmanship was practiced. That actually coincides with my theory that cubiculum (c), immediately to the left of the front entrance, could have served as a physican's treatment room due to the discovery of a surgical instrument, an apotropaic figurine of a herm, and a human skeleton (as well as other surgical instruments and physician-related tools elsewhere in the house.)

However, earlier in the book Allison observes that there are multiple cases where skeletons are found in close proximity to "robber" or access holes as was the case in cubiculum (c), that I thought may have been an unsuccesfully treated patient.  Allison proposes that somehow the holes may have been created by these victims of the eruption and not salvagers or looters. I'm hoping she will explore this proposal more in a later chapter.

I found other things she mentioned quite enlightening as well.  She points out that 19th century archaeologists were not really interested in human remains or evidence of destroyed organic material like the wood of cabinetry or storage chests.  They did make note of metal hinges, though, whenever they found those.  She also said they rarely mention unmarked amphora either.  I noticed that in the find summaries for the House of the Prince of Naples, only amphora with inscriptions were noted. They also virtually ignored pottery or glass  fragments, too. Flinders Petrie must have been appalled!

Ptolemaic Greek funerary traditions in Alexandria, Egypt

During the Ptolemaic period a distinctive type of subterranean tomb for multiple burials proliferated in the cemeteries around the city of Alexandria. Underground chambers cut into the living rock radiated from a central courtyard open to the sky. Most chambers contained a number of loculi, long narrow niches cut into the walls, which served as burial slots. Some loculi were sealed with painted limestone slabs in the form of small shrines. Here, a lively depiction of a man trying to bridle a horse, while a boy stands behind him, commemorates a man from Thessaly in Northern Greece, who must have been one of the many foreigners who congregated in the wealthy, cosmopolitan Ptolemaic capital. - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image: Painted limestone funerary slab with a man controlling a rearing horse 2nd half of 3rd century B.C.E. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Monday, May 25, 2020

Marcus Licinius Crassus: Overcompensation for deprivation

Everyone would rather be courted by his children as a man of means than beg of them as a needy person.  Lysias.  On The Property of Aristophanes.  Speech 19.  Section 37.

Image: Alexander the Great's sack of Thebes by the late Angus McBride. 

This image of Alexander the Great's sack of Thebes reminded me of Marcus Licinius Crassus and his money-making firefighters who he withheld until the landowner agreed to sell his burning property for a pittance.  Crassus' motivations, however, should be viewed in light of his earlier deprivations.  Marcus Licinius Crassus was a member of the gens Licinia, an old, financially modest, but highly respected plebeian family in Rome. He was the second of three sons born to the eminent senator and vir triumphalis Publius Licinius Crassus Dives (consul 97, censor 89 BCE).  His father  supported Sulla during the civil wars between Sulla and Gaius Marius.  The supporters of Gaius Marius hunted down his father and younger brother, who took their own lives, leaving Crassus to flee to Hispania where he struggled to survive from 87-84 BCE.  He eventually was able to recruit 2500 of his father's old clients and join Sulla's army. During Sulla's second civil war,  Crassus essentially rescued Sulla's main force during the decisive battle outside the Colline Gate and was thus instrumental in Sulla's quest to become master of Rome.  Then Crassus began to rebuild his family's lost fortune begining with the acquisition of property during Sulla's proscriptions. By the time Crassus became one of the First Triumvirate, he was the richest man in Rome.

Alexander the Great's Life in Pictures

While I was researching the post about a bit used by Alexander the Great, I came across an interesting collection of engravings by 19th - early 20th century French illustrator André Castaigne. They must have been used to illustrate a book about Alexander the Great published between 1898-1899 but whoever uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons did not provide the title. Excellent collection if you are teaching or writing about Alexander the Great.
Years ago I found some illustrated children's adventure books by G.A. Henty at a flea market and bought them with the intention of scanning the images and uploading them to Wikimedia Commons. I've never gotten around to scanning them so I guess I better get this task on my priority list since I am always on the lookout for artwork depicting the ancient world. One of the titles I purchased was "The Young Carthaginian". I checked Wikimedia Commons and, although there are a number of images from other Henty books, there are not any from that title.

Image: An illustration of Darius' scythed chariots used in a battle with Alexander the Great by French artist André Castaigne, 1898-1899 (PD) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The bit that controlled the mighty Bucephalus

There is evidence of the use of bits to control horses, located in two sites of the Botai culture in ancient Kazakhstan, dated about 3500–3000 BCE.  Nose rings appear on the equids portrayed on the Standard of Ur, circa 2600–2400 BCE. To date, the earliest known artistic evidence of use of some form of bitless bridle comes in illustrations of Synian (Syrian?) horseman, dated approximately 1400 BCE.  Metal bits came into use between 1300 and 1200 BCE, originally made of bronze.   The need for control of horses in warfare drove extensive innovation in bit design, producing a variety of prototypes and styles over the centuries.

This bit is of a distinctive type attested in Northern Greece and used for horses that are ridden rather than driven. Its most noteworthy occurrence is on the mount of Alexander of Macedon in the famous Alexander mosaic from the Casa del Fauno in Pompeii and now in the Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Bronze bit, Greek, 4th-3rd century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Detail of Alexander the Great and Bucephalus from the Battle of Issus Mosaic found in the House of the Faun, Pompeii, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Condemn those who squander their patrimony

Condemn all those persons who have made a habit of squandering both their patrimony and whatever they can get from elsewhere on the most disgraceful pleasures.  Lysias.  On The Property of Aristophanes.  Speech 19.  Section 10.

Image: Young Julio-Claudian on horseback at the British Museum, 1st century CE, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The cult of Dionysus: Wine, uninhibited freedom, and subversion of the powerful

Image: Marble statuette of Dionysus early 3rd century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York courtesy of the museum.
This fully clad figure of Dionysus is in stark contrast to the many depictions of the god in various states of undress during raucous celebratory processions depicted in Roman art.
The god wears Thracian boots, a short chiton, a belted panther skin, and a goatskin worn like a cape, with the forelegs of the goat wrapped around his arms. He can perhaps be identified as Dionysus Melanaigis (of the Black Goatskin), whose cult was introduced into Attica from Boeotia. Pausanias (II.35.1), second century CE author of a guide to Greece, mentions a temple to Dionysus Melanaigis in Methana on the Saronic Gulf and states that a music competition was held there in the god's honor every year and that prizes were awarded for swimming races and boat races. - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Thracian boots represent the belief that Dionysus was born in Thrace, traveled abroad, and arrived in Greece as a foreigner. However, evidence from the Mycenaean period of Greek history show that he is one of Greece's oldest attested gods. The earliest written records of Dionysus worship were found in and around the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, dated to around 1300 BCE. The details of any religion surrounding Dionysus in this period are scant, and most evidence comes in the form only of his name, written as di-wo-nu-su-jo ("Dionysoio") in Linear B, preserved on fragments of clay tablets that indicate a connection to offerings or payments of wine, which was described as being "of Dionysoio". By the seventh century BCE, iconography found on pottery shows that Dionysus was already worshiped as more than just a god associated with wine. He was associated with weddings, death, sacrifice, and sexuality, and his retinue of satyrs and dancers was already established.
The mystery cult of Bacchus was brought to Rome from the Greek culture of southern Italy or by way of Greek-influenced Etruria. It was established around 200 BCE in the Aventine grove of Stimula by a priestess from Campania, near the temple where Liber Pater ("the Free Father") had a State-sanctioned, popular cult. Liber was a native Roman god of wine, fertility, and prophecy, patron of Rome's plebeians (commoners), and one of the members of the Aventine Triad, along with his mother Ceres and sister or consort Libera. A temple to the Triad was erected on the Aventine Hill in 493 BCE, along with the institution of celebrating the festival of Liberalia. Liber protected various aspects of agriculture and fertility, including the vine and the "soft seed" of its grapes, wine and wine vessels, and male fertility and virility. Pliny called Liber "the first to establish the practice of buying and selling. Liber also invented the diadem, the emblem of royalty, and the triumphal procession."
Before the importation of the Greek cults, Liber was already strongly associated with Bacchic symbols and values, including wine and uninhibited freedom, as well as the subversion of the powerful. This association may have stemmed from the Mycenaean god Eleutheros, who shared the lineage and iconography of Dionysus but whose name has the same meaning as Liber.

Image: Marble statuette of Dionysus early 3rd century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York courtesy of the museum.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The consequences of lying

If liars are convicted of lying, they will suffer nothing worse than their actual lot, while if they succeed in deceiving you they will be rid of their present troubles. Yet surely such men as these, whether accusers or witnesses, should win no credit, when they have a great profit to make for themselves by their statements concerning others. Lysias. For Callias. Speech 5. Section 4.

Image: Geta (co-emperor with Caracalla) dying in his mother's arms by Jacques-Augustin-Catherine Pajou (1766-1828) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro.

The First Mirrors

The earliest manufactured mirrors were pieces of polished stone such as obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. Examples of obsidian mirrors found in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) have been dated to around 6000 BCE. Mirrors of polished copper were crafted in Mesopotamia beginning around 4000 BCE, and in ancient Egypt from around 3000 BCE. Polished stone mirrors from Central and South America date from around 2000 BCE onwards. Some of the earliest examples of Bronze Age copper mirrors were produced by the Qijia culture (2200 BCE-1600 BCE)  distributed around the upper Yellow River region of Gansu (centered in Lanzhou) and eastern Qinghai, China.

Glass began to be used for mirrors in the 1st century CE, with the development of soda-lime glass and glass blowing. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder claims that artisans in Sidon (modern-day Lebanon) were producing glass mirrors coated with lead or gold leaf in the back. The metal provided good reflectivity, and the glass provided a smooth surface and protected the metal from scrathes and tarnishing. However, no archeological evidence of glass mirrors dating  before the third century CE have been found.

Socrates urged young people to look at themselves in mirrors so that, if they were beautiful, they would become worthy of their beauty, and if they were ugly, they would know how to hide their disgrace through learning.

Image: Greek bronze box mirror with relief of a woman wearing a silver earring from the last quarter of the 4th century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Friday, May 22, 2020

A lesson from Lysias: Men who have spent their lives committing serious offences acting like they performed a great service

 Men, having spent their lives in committing serious offences and incurring a variety of troubles, make their speeches today with an air of having performed a great service.  Lysias.  For Callias.  Speech 5.  Section 3.

Image:  A colorized version of a 1906 artist's imaginative recreation of one of Caligula's Nemi ships, sadly destroyed in World War II.  The image originally appeared as an antique halftone photographic print in "Scientific American." (PD)

A rather concise list of Caligula's shortcomings:

A nice summary article with pictures of objects recovered from the Nemi ships

Funerary symbolism: Relief of a hunter from Magna Graecia

Made in Taras, South Italy between 290-250 BCE, this Greek relief sculpture was probably once part of a grave monument.  A nude youth, with a horse rearing up behind him, lunges forward to attack an unseen foe.  The presence of the large snarling dog indicates this is a hunting scene and identifies the deceased as a member of the elite.  It also refers to an activity thought to be one of the pleasures of the afterlife.  Photographed at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California.

Funerary relief of a hunter with horse and hunting hound Greek, Taras, South Italy, 290-250 BCE photographed at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California by Mary Harrsch.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Designing persons are dangerous to all not just the miscreant

Designing persons make life no less dangerous for those who have done no wrong than for those who are guilty of many misdeeds. Lysias. For Callias. Speech 5. Section 2.

Image: A modern sculpture (above) of Lucius Cornelius Sulla in his younger years from 3D modeler Piersie of the CG Society courtesy of TurboSquid. I saw this image while browsing images of Sulla and wondered about its origins. Although it lacked the fine detail of most Hellenistic portraits so I assumed it was modern, I was intrigued by the sculptor's ability to produce a likeness that would reflect Sulla's countenance some years younger than the famous Roman-era portrait thought to be him (below) at the Glyptothek in Munich (photo by Wikimedia Commons contributor Bibi Saint-Pol).

Eros and Psyche: Love and the betrayal of trust

Although we often see Eros, Roman Cupid, depicted as a chubby little winged child, he was also prominently portrayed in ancient literature as the adult husband of Psyche.  The longstanding folktale, codified in Apuleius' Latin novel, The Golden Ass, relates a quest for love and trust between Eros and Psyche. Aphrodite was jealous of the beauty of the mortal princess Psyche, as men were leaving her altars barren to worship a mere human woman instead, and so Aphrodite commanded her son Eros, the god of love, to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest creature on earth. But instead, Eros falls in love with Psyche himself and spirits her away to his home. Their fragile peace is ruined by a visit from Psyche's jealous sisters, who cause Psyche to betray the trust of her husband. Wounded, Eros leaves his wife, and Psyche wanders the Earth, looking for her lost love. Eventually, she approaches Aphrodite and asks for her help. Aphrodite imposes a series of difficult tasks on Psyche, which she is able to achieve by means of supernatural assistance. After successfully completing these tasks, Aphrodite relents and Psyche becomes immortal to live alongside her husband Eros. Together they had a daughter, Voluptas or Hedone (meaning physical pleasure, bliss), the basis for our word hedonistic.

Aphrodite, Eros and Pan, 1st century BCE at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor zde.

 Eros (Cupid) and Psyche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Antonio Canova, 1794, courtesy of the museum.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Despot's Course

Those who attempt a despot's course must encounter the disasters which befall despotic power and be afflicted by the very things which they inflict upon others.  Isocrates.  On The Peace.  Speech 8.  Section 91.

Note: Surprisingly, Aristotle promoted the concept of oriental despotism. Aristotle asserted that oriental despotism was not based on force, but on consent. Hence, fear could not be said to be its motivating force, but rather the servile nature of those enslaved, which would feed upon the power of the despot master. Sounds totally appalling to me!

Image:  Battle of Alexander versus Darius by Pietro da Cortona, between 1644 and 1650, at the Capitoline Museums in Rome, Italy courtesy of the Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons.

The kline as platform for the nuptial banquet

Sculpture of a nuptial banquet, Greek, 3rd-2nd century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

"A nuptial banquet takes place on a lavishly decorated and furnished couch (kline). The man reclining at the far right raises a wine jug, while the female, seated at the front edge of the couch, once played a lyre. Two child Erotes join the young couple and all participants are crowned with ivy leaves and wreaths. Exceptional for its three-dimensionality, ornate style and preservation of polychromy, this group visualizes the semantic overlap in Greek thought and art between the bridal and the death kline and the role of lyre music as expression of marital love."  - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The couch, or kline, was a form used in Greece as early as the late seventh century B.C.E.  Three types are distinguished by G.M.A. Richter – those with animal legs, those with “turned” legs, and those with “rectangular” legs,  two of which could be longer than the other, providing support for an armrest or headboard.  Coverings and accessories would have been made of leather, wool, or linen, though silk could also have been used. Stuffing for pillows, cushions, and beds could have been made of wool, feathers, leaves, or hay.

Image: Sculpture of a nuptial banquet, Greek, 3rd-2nd century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Image courtesy of the museum.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Creative art at the birth of democracy!

Terracotta cosmetic vase 4th quarter of the 6th century B.C.E. Archaic Period East Greek at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

On one side of the upper frieze of this exquisite vase, a youth holds two winged horses and two youths drive a chariot. Real and imaginary animals circulate on the other frieze areas between carefully drawn geometric patterns. The ram's-head cover may have served as a handle for a cosmetic applicator.
In this period, there was huge economic development in Greece, and also in its overseas colonies which experienced a growth in commerce and manufacturing. There was a great improvement in the living standards of the population. Some studies estimate that the average size of the Greek household, in the period from 800 BC to 300 BCE, increased five times, which indicates a large increase in the average income of the population.
In the second half of the 6th century BCE, Athens fell under the tyranny of Peisistratos and then of his sons Hippias and Hipparchos. However, in 510 BC, at the instigation of the Athenian aristocrat Cleisthenes, the Spartan king Cleomenes I helped the Athenians overthrow the tyranny. Afterwards, Sparta and Athens promptly turned on each other, at which point Cleomenes I installed Isagoras as a pro-Spartan archon. Eager to prevent Athens from becoming a Spartan puppet, Cleisthenes responded by proposing to his fellow citizens that Athens undergo a revolution: that all citizens share in political power, regardless of status: that Athens become a "democracy". So enthusiastically did the Athenians take to this idea that, having overthrown Isagoras and implemented Cleisthenes's reforms, they were easily able to repel a Spartan-led three-pronged invasion aimed at restoring Isagoras. The advent of the democracy cured many of the ills of Athens and led to a 'golden age' for the Athenians.

Image: Terracotta cosmetic vase 4th quarter of the 6th century B.C.E. Archaic Period East Greek at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Seventh century BCE Armor Fit For The Gods!

These helmets and mitra (belly guards) are among the finest pieces of a large cache of armor found near Afrati in south central Crete. The inscriptions suggest that the armor was captured as booty and offered as a dedication. In repoussé on both sides of one helmet is a pair of winged youths grasping a pair of intertwined snakes. Below them are two panthers with a common head. The helmet is inscribed "Neopolis." In repoussé on both sides of the other helmet is a horse. Incised on each cheekpiece is a lion. Images of strength and calm, these creatures were intended to provide symbolic protection in battle. The helmets are made in symmetrical pieces and tapered at the base to protect the warrior's neck. The inscription states that Synenitos, the son of Euklotas, took this object. The mitrai were suspended from belts to protect the lower abdomen. One, with a depiction of the foreparts of horses, is inscribed "Synenitos, the son of Euklotas, [took] this." The second mitra decorated with two sphinxes in a heraldic representation reflects the influence of Near Eastern prototypes.
All images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art except the frontal view of the helmet which is my own.

7th century BCE helmet recovered from a cache of armor found near Afrati, Crete at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

7th century BCE helmet recovered from a cache of armor found near Afrati, Crete at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

7th century BCE helmet recovered from a cache of armor found near Afrati, Crete photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

7th century BCE mitra recovered from a cache of armor found near Afrati, Crete at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

7th century BCE mitra recovered from a cache of armor found near Afrati, Crete at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York