Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Fall of Pompeii reimagined in Paris' Grand Palais through September 27 in Paris

The Grand Palais Museum in Paris pays tribute to the submerged city of Pompeii with an extraordinary digital exhibition. In addition to various found objects, the focus is on a 3D reconstruction through which visitors can become time travelers and immerse themselves in the ancient city. The show runs from July 1 to September 27.


Image: Fountain with theater masks at the House of the Large Fountain in Pompeii courtesy of the exhibit.
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Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Vermand Treasure

The Vermand Treasure was discovered in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by Benoni Lelaurain.  It was recovered from a cemetery near the modern village of Vermand, which is located beside the Celtic oppidum of Viromandui.  In the 3rd century CE, Vermand served as a castra hiberna within the network of provincial Roman border defenses. It was also a thriving glass production center and home to a large number of refugees following the destruction of Augusta Viromanduorum in the late 3rd century by barabarian invaders.

The treasure was found in one of the few military burials in the cemetery.  However, grave robbers had previously plundered the burial, cracked the stone sarcophagus and scattered the contents. Perhaps they had been interrupted in their violation of the grave as six objects including this gilt silver spear shaft mount were left behind.  Others, documented in the excavation report, remained as well but it is thought the excavator's workmen pilfered the hilt of a sword and the majority of objects, held at the the Musée Lécuyer in St.  Quentin "disappeared" by the end of World War I.  These objects included an iron battle-ax head, ten small javelin heads, a lance head of iron inlaid with silver and copper, two small belt buckles with ferrets, an oval silver plaque, fragments of a sword blade and one or two more small bronze objects.

The grave was likely that of an auxiliary soldier.  The six-pointed interlaced star seen on the mount was not at that time a Jewish symbol.  It appears as a decorative motif in both Roman and Germanic art.

The objects were originally thought to be Merovingian artifacts dating from the 4th - 7th centuries but were reevaluated by The Metropolitan Museum of Art's curator of medieval art and reclassified as late Roman dating to the second half of the 4th century CE.

Image: Gilt silver (niello) mount for a spear shaft from the Vermand Treasure 400 CE courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Saturday, June 27, 2020

The use of the antefix on Greek, Etruscan and Roman architecture

Antefixes were mold-made, usually brightly painted, terracotta decorative covers to conceal the edges of joined roof tiles and protect the seams from the elements.  They often took the form of heads, either of humans or mythological creatures. The earliest examples in museum collections date back to the 6th century BCE in both Greece and Etruria.  They were also a frequent feature on Roman architecture as well. 

On temple roofs, maenads and satyrs were often alternated.  The frightening features of the Gorgon, with its petrifying eyes and sharp teeth was also a popular motif to ward off evil.  A Roman example from the Augustan period features the butting heads of two billy goats.  It may have had special significance in imperial Rome since the constellation Capricorn was adopted by the emperor Augustus as his own lucky star sign and appeared on coins and legionary standards.

In 2005, I visited the Villa Giulia in Rome that houses a large Etruscan collection.  In their courtyard is a reproduction of an Etruscan temple with antefixes. I've included my images of it here along with photographs of various antefixes I have photographed at the Getty Villa, the Walters Art Museum and images of those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Replica of an Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia in Rome, Italy

Replica of an Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia in Rome, Italy

Replica of an Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia in Rome, Italy

Etruscan antefix 1st century BCE courtesy of  Jean-Pol Grandmont 

Etruscan Antefix with Head of Silenus 4th century BCE Terracotta  photographed
at the Walters Art Museum

Etruscan antefix in the shape of a dancing Maenad and Satyr 500-475 BCE
photographed at the Getty Villa

Etruscan Terracotta antefix with head of a maenad 4th century BCE On this Etruscan antefix from Cerveteri, the maenad wears an elaborate diadem and very large grape-cluster earrings, a type of jewelry especially popular in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E.

Greek Terracotta gorgoneion antefix 580-570 BCE The frightening features of this Gorgon head, its petrifying eyes and sharp teeth, correspond to its Archaic date and were likely intended to ward off evil. Throughout the following century, the Gorgon tended to lose its more terrifying characteristics, and by the Late Classical period, its features were sweetened.Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Antefix head of a satyr Etruscan 250-175 BCE courtesy of the Getty Villa 

Antefix Roman 1st century BCE - 1st century CE courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This example, showing Venus (Aphrodite, the goddess of love) and her lover Mars (Ares, the god of war), retains a considerable amount of its painted surface.

The palmette-shaped antefix is decorated with the butting heads of two billy goats. Such representations were popular motifs in ancient art but they may have had special significance in imperial Rome since the constellation Capricorn was adopted by the emperor Augustus as his own lucky star sign and appeared on coins and legionary standards.  Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Early Excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii

Last year after attending the "Buried by Vesuvius" exhibit at the Getty Villa and meeting a group from the Herculaneum Society, I joined the organization. This morning in their newsletter, they included this interesting image of Herculaneum's main street, the Decumano in the 1st century CE alongside a modern photograph of the street today:

For years I was under the misconception that Herculaneum was the working port and Pompeii was the resort town but then learned that, in fact, it was just the opposite. Although Herculaneum was discovered first, it was covered by almost 100 feet of volcanic debris so only the "young and nimble" as it was described in an early report I read, were able to descend the deep tunnels to root out the beautiful sculptures and artifacts in demand from the royalty of Europe for their private collections. Pompeii, on the other hand, was only covered by about 11 feet of debris making it much more accessible to excavators in the 18th and 19th centuries than Herculaneum. I've been translating the Pompeianarum Antiquitatum Historia which is the diary of early 19th century excavators working in Pompeii and they complain that flocks of the local sheep wander through the ruins with impunity. After excavators exposed several structures, the tourists started to visit, guided by what were known as cicerones, local tour guides who could even arrange for a wealthier tourist to make their own "discovery."

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Thursday, June 25, 2020

Roman gladiator armor and helmets

Yesterday and today I uploaded a group of my images of gladiator helmets and armor that I photographed at various Pompeii exhibits to Wikimedia Commons and added a gallery of those images to the gladiator Wikipedia page. The images are now freely available for teaching, writing, and research.  Most of the equipment was found at the gladiator barracks in Pompeii although one of the most ornate pieces with a relief depicting scenes from the Trojan war was found in Herculaneum.

Roman gladiator helmet with relief depicting scenes from the Trojan War from Herculaneum
1st century CE

Roman gladiator shin guard depicting Hercules 1st century CE

Roman gladiator helmet with relief depicting scenes from the Trojan War from Herculaneum
1st century CE

Roman gladiator helmet with relief depicting scenes from the Trojan War from Herculaneum
1st century CE

Ornate Roman gladiator shin guards depicting Silenus and swans fighting serpents

Ornate Roman gladiator shin guards depicting Silenus and swans fighting serpents

Ornate Roman gladiator shin guards depicting Silenus and swans fighting serpents

Heart-shaped spear point found in Gladiator barracks in Pompeii 1st century CE

Roman gladiator shin guard depicting venus riding a dolphin-shaped ship 1st century CE

Iron gladiator helmet 1st century CE

Roman gladiator shin guard depicting Athena 1st century CE

Close up of Athena relief on Roman gladiator shin guard

Roman gladiator helmet depicting Priapus and entourage found in gladiator barracks in Pompeii 1st century CE

Roman gladiator helmet found in the gladiator barracks in Pompeii 1st century CE

Spear point found in gladiator barracks in Pompeii 1st century CE

Gladiator shin guard depicting Hercules 1st century CE

Closeup of gladiator shin guard depicting Hercules 1st century CE

Another gladiator shin guard depicting Hercules 1st century CE

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sibyls as female authors of prophecy and myth

The Libyan Sibyl by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (after restoration)
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A friend asked me if I could point him in the right direction to study female writers of mythology in the ancient world.  I suggested he research the origins of the worship of the Great Mother (associated with Cybele) with a possible forerunner in the earliest Neolithic at Çatalhöyük. The Roman state adopted and developed a particular form of her cult after the Sibylline oracle in 205 BCE recommended her conscription as a key religious ally in Rome's second war against Carthage (218 to 201 BCE). Roman mythographers (that often included historians like Livy) reinvented her as a Trojan goddess, and thus an ancestral goddess of the Roman people by way of the Trojan prince Aeneas.

Although Roman religion did not have a basis in scriptures and exegesis, priestly literature was one of the earliest written forms of Latin prose. The books (libri) and commentaries (commentarii) of the College of Pontiffs and of the augurs contained religious procedures, prayers, and rulings and opinions on points of religious law. Although at least some of this archived material was available for consultation by the Roman senate, it was often occultum genus litterarum, an arcane form of literature to which by definition only priests (only males) had access. Prophecies pertaining to world history and to Rome's destiny turn up fortuitously at critical junctures in history, discovered suddenly in the nebulous Sibylline books, which Tarquin the Proud (according to legend) purchased in the late 6th century BCE from the Cumaean Sibyl.

Although there were many sibyls throughout the ancient world, three sibyls were deemed of particular importance in the Greco-Roman world, the Apollonian Sibyl at Cumae, the most famous among the Romans, the Erythraean Sibyl from Turkey, and the oldest Hellenic oracle, the Sibyl of Dodona whose prophecies may have reached back as far as the 2nd millenium BCE, at least according to Herodotus. The Cumaean Sibyl is supposedly the author of the famous Sibylline books.  If you consider prophecy directly related to myth, I would encourage the study of these sybils as ancient female authors. 

There are 14 books and eight fragments of so-called Sibylline Oracles that survive today although these are not the original Sibylline Books of the Romans which were burned on the orders of the Roman general Flavius Stilicho in the 4th century CE.  Although they are deemed an "odd pastiche" of Hellenistic and Roman mythology interspersed with Jewish, Gnostic and early Christian legend they are still considered a valuable source of information about classical mythology.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The value of finding Roman seal stamps in an archaeological site

Yesterday when I was translating the excavations records for the House of Sallust, I read about one of the finds there, a stamp with ring on the back.  The stamp found had a vase inscribed on the bevel portion of the ring and the words A • COSS•LBAN probably the last owner of the house or one of the guests staying at the hospitium (the House of Sallust was converted into a hospitium (a Roman hotel) during the last decades before the eruption of Vesuvius).

This morning while I was searching the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I found just such a stamp from the Villa at Boscoreale. Its ring is inscribed with a winged caduceus, the staff of Mercury, god of commerce.  Its letter inscription, L*HER*FLO, signifies Lucius Herennius Florus, the name of the owner of the villa at Boscoreale from which the Museum's Second Style frescoes come.  Of course, this is a little confusing since the frescoes are labeled as coming from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor.  The stamp was presumably the owner's property and likely served as the official seal of the household used to mark provisions. The museum curator tells us that many such bronze seals have been found in the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, although stamps with intaglio on both ring and plate are less common.

Roman seal stamp from Boscoreale 1st century CE

As for the actual ownership of the Boscoreale villa where the beautiful frescoes in the museum's collections were discovered, a set of bronze tablets was also found there inscribed with Lucius Herennius Florus as well. 

In my research, I've noticed how names given to excavated structures sometimes have little to do with the last actual owners of the property.  One of the first villas excavated in Pompeii was given the name "House of Diomedes" because early excavators found a tomb nearby inscribed with the name "Diomedes."  The suburban villa was discovered along the main road between Pompeii and Herculaneum and it was customary for wealthier Romans to build tombs along main roads leading into cities to publicize the family's wealth.  So, whether the individual buried nearby had anything to do with the excavated villa is questionable.  Finding one of these household seals in situ is far more convincing.
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Saturday, June 20, 2020

The elevation of mind through examination

For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to thee in life. Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book 3.

This quote made me think of Pliny the Elder whose passion to examine things around him seemed boundless, so much so that it eventually cost him his life during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.

Image: One of the Xanten Horse-Phalerae located in the British Museum with the inscription formed from punched dots: PLINIO PRAEF EQ; i.e. Plinio praefecto equitum, "Pliny prefect of cavalry". It may have been issued to every man in Pliny's unit. The figure is the bust of the emperor courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Telemon.
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Friday, June 19, 2020

A short history of Roman tessellated mosaics

Although scholars disagree on the dating of the evolution of tesselated mosaic from earlier pebble mosaics, most agree this occurred during the 3rd century BCE.  Mosaics are thought to have appeared in Pompeii in the late 2nd and early 1st centuries BCE.  More complex three dimensional scenes were introduced during the Pompeian Second Style about 80 - 20 BCE.  Like panel paintings, sometimes mosaics were mounted in frames so they could be moved during renovation or demolition.   Although elaborate mosaics depicted divine characters or mythological scenes, others depicted still life, animals, and scenes from everyday life.

I photographed this mosaic in Pompeii back in 2007. Like other visitors to Pompeii, based on other images of this mosaic I've seen on Flickr, I initially thought this was a mosaic of a wolf.  But as I examined it closer, I think this may actually be a mosaic of a wild boar based on the apparent tail, the stripes above the hind quarters, the bristled hair and what appear to be tusks on the snout.  The right foreleg also appears to terminate a cloven hoof. 
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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Damnatio ad Bestias

Second century CE mosaic of a bull and his victims  condemned to damnatio ad bestias 2nd century CE from Leptis Magna, Libya courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Testus.
The exact purpose of the early damnatio ad bestias is not known and might have been a religious sacrifice rather than a legal punishment, especially in the regions where lions existed naturally and were revered by the population, such as Africa, India and other parts of Asia. For example, Egyptian mythology had a chimeric Underworld demon, Ammit, who devoured the souls of exceptionally sinful humans, as well as other lion-like deities, such as Sekhmet, who, according to legend, almost devoured all of humanity soon after her birth. There are also accounts of feeding lions and crocodiles with humans, both dead and alive, in Ancient Egypt and Libya.

Similar condemnations are described by historians of Alexander's campaigns in Central Asia. A Macedonian named Lysimachus, who spoke before Alexander for a person condemned to death, was himself thrown to a lion, but overcame the beast with his bare hands and became one of Alexander's favorites. In northern Africa, during the Mercenary War, Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca threw prisoners to the beasts, whereas Hannibal forced Romans captured in the Punic Wars to fight each other, and the survivors had to stand against elephants.

The custom of submitting criminals to lions was brought to ancient Rome by two commanders, Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, who defeated the Macedonians in 167 BCE, and his son Scipio Aemilianus, who conquered the African city of Carthage in 146 BCE. It was originally a military punishment, possibly borrowed from the Carthaginians. Rome reserved its earliest use for non-Roman military allies found guilty of defection or desertion. The sentenced were tied to columns or thrown to the animals, practically defenseless. Historians distinguish between this type of exposure without weapons, objicĕre bestiis, and damnatio ad bestias, where the punished are both expected and prepared to fight.

When I first saw this mosaic, I thought it might be a depiction of a sacrificial bull that had broken free from its priest handlers, although the bull's horns were not garlanded, but the presence of the individual in the upper right hand corner with a stick, a kind of official, and the fact that the Wikimedia Commons contributor had assigned the image to a category for mosaics depicting damnatio ad bestias informed me otherwise.  The image was actually scanned from a Russian art book so I had no way to cross check it.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Trajan's posthumous triumph for his Parthian War

There have been multiple theories proprosed for Trajan's war with Parthia that began in 113 Ce with the pretext that Rome disapproved of a puppet king placed on the throne of Armenia by the Parthians.  Some scholars point to the propaganda value of an Eastern conquest that would emulate, in Roman fashion, those of Alexander the Great.  An expansionist policy was supported by a powerful circle of conservative senators from Hispania, first among them being the all-powerful Licinius Sura as well.  I've previously discussed theories about attempts to balance trade relations with India.  Some scholars, though, think Trajan's original aims were purely military and quite modest: to assure a more defensible Eastern frontier for the Roman Empire, crossing Northern Mesopotamia along the course of the Khabur River in order to offer cover to a Roman Armenia.  Whatever the motivation, Trajan succeeded in placing a client king on the Parthian throne and if he had lived to return to Rome, he probably would have celebrated a triumph.

Image: Relief depicting a deified Trajan's posthumous Parthian triumph in 118 CE, from Praeneste at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Palestrina courtesy of Carole Raddato.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The opulence of Roman bathhouses

After finding the marvelous painting of the altar with Actaeon mural at the House of Sallust by Danish artist Josef Theodor Hansen, yesterday, I hoped that, like Luigi Bazzani, Hansen may have painted an entire series of work from Pompeii. So I searched the web to see if I could find any more.  Although I only found a few more, one of them was this spectacular painting of the tepidarium at the Forum Baths in Pompeii.  Hansen specialized in architectural painting and his attention to detail made his paintings almost photographic. I also noticed that it was not on Wikimedia Commons so I uploaded it so others could use it for teaching and research.
Republican bathhouses often had separate bathing facilities for women and men, but by the 1st century CE mixed bathing was common and the practice was frequently referred to in Martial and Juvenal, as well as in Pliny and Quintilian.  But to Roman moralists like Cato the Elder, bathhouses were a symbol of decadence.  He publicly attacked Scipio Africanus for his use of the bathouses.

The Forum bathhouse in Pompeii, like other large Roman bathing facilities, was ornately decorated with marble floors and stuccoed walls and vaulted ceilings depicting scenes of mythology or athletics.  The Romans also constructed baths in their colonies, taking advantage of the natural hot springs occurring in Europe to construct baths at Aix and Vichy in France, Bath and Buxton in England, Aachen and Wiesbaden in Germany, Baden in Austria, and Aquincum in Hungary, among other locations.

Tepidarium at the Forum Baths in Pompeii by Josef Theodor Hansen, 1884, oil on canvas (Wikimedia Commons)

Closeup of sculpture and stuccoed vault of the tepidarium in the Forum Baths of Pompeii courtesy of Flickr user Jenny
 (cc by)

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Monday, June 15, 2020

House of Sallust: An example of a Roman domus converted to a hospitium (grand hotel) in Pompeii

Watercolor of an altar in the House of Sallust with a painting of the myth of Actaeon and Diana, 1886, by Josef Theodor Hansen
Although I'm researching the House of the Surgeon and the House of the Silver Wedding, I came across so much material on the House of Sallust and its Wikipedia page was so marginal, I spent most of the morning adding much more information about it to Wikipedia. 

Late 19th century painter Josef Theodor Hansen produced a beautiful 1886 watercolor of the altar on the back wall of the Gynaeconitis (Courtyard with women's quarters) of the House of Sallust depicting a painting of the goddess Diana bathing and Actaeon, an unfortunate hunter who had seen her bathing and was transformed into a stag with horns, being chased by his own hounds, Europa, Helle, and Phrixus.    This painting gave the house its original name, House of Actaeon.   It later received its modern name from an election notice placed on the facade, recommending Gaius Sallustius for office. 

A marvelous bronze sculpture of Hercules subduing the Hind of Ceryneia was also found in the atrium of the House.  The structure, originally a Samnite atrium-style house thought to have been constructed in the 4th century BCE, was later converted to a hospitium, the Roman equivalent of a grand hotel.

Hopefully, I'll be able to find more information about the artifacts recovered there and add it to the article.  I have added a picture of a marvelous bronze sculpture of Hercules subduing the Hind of Ceryneia that was found in the atrium of the house to the image gallery on the page.


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Saturday, June 13, 2020

Philoctetes and Compassion for Hercules on the Pyre

According to the most common legend of Hercules' death, no one but Hercules' friend Philoctetes,  son of King Poeas of the city of Meliboea in Thessaly, would light his funeral pyre. For his compassion, Philoctetes  received Hercules' bow and arrows.

Later, Philoctetes as one of the many eligible Greeks who competed for the hand of Helen, the Spartan princess, was required to participate in the Trojan War to reclaim Helen for Menelaus when she was stolen away by Paris.  On his way to the Trojan War, Philoctetes was bitten by a snake that Hera sent to molest him as punishment for his service to Hercules. The wound festered and began to smell so his Greek companions stranded Philoctetes on the island of Lemnos. 

When the Greeks reached Troy, Helenus, the prophetic son of King Priam, revealed under torture that one of the conditions for the Greeks to win the war was that they needed the bow and arrows of Hercules as some of the arrows were those dipped in the poison blood of the hydra. So Odysseus led a group back to Lemnos to retrieve Hercules' weapons and discovered Philoctetes was still alive. Odysseus tricked the weaponry away from Philoctetes, but Diomedes refused to take the weapons without the man. A deified Hercules came down from Olympus and told Philoctetes to go with them and he would be healed by the son of Asclepius and win great honor as a hero of the Achaean army. In some versions of the legend, Philoctetes is the archer, using Hercules bow and poisoned arrows, that ultimately killed Paris.

Image: Hercules on the Pyre by Guillaume Coustou the Elder, 1704, The Louvre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen (2006)

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Friday, June 12, 2020

The Roman viewpoint on old age

We ought to consider not only that our life is daily wasting away and a smaller part of it is left, but another thing also must be taken into the account, that if a man should live longer, it is quite uncertain whether the understanding will still continue sufficient for the comprehension of things, and retain the power of contemplation which strives to acquire the knowledge of the divine and the human.  Marcus Aurelius.  Meditations.  Book 3.

Image:  Bronze Male Portrait from the House of the Citharist in Pompeii 1st century CE.  Portraits of aged Romans showed a ruthless adherence to the realistic features of old age, such as wrinkles, folds of loose, flabby skin, sunken cheeks, blemishes and balding heads. Old age was emphasized, even exaggerated. It is notable that the majority of the old men appear solemn, which was indicative of the gravitas of age.  The portraits revealed how these old people wanted to be seen and the depiction of old age is deliberate. These portraits suggest worthiness and dignified behaviour. Facial expression was seen as an expression of character and these portrait busts therefore gave moral judgements. The stern and serious-looking faces, with their exaggerated wrinkles and folds, were suggestive of years of hard work and experience. These old men seem comfortable with their age. Only the old who lived up to societal expectations could expect reverence. These old men looked as if they had done their duty and had rightfully earned their status and respect.

Rome’s competitive society was extremely conscious of glory and public status. Having a role to play in society provided an old man with this status, which in turn would nourish his self-confidence and self-esteem. Public distinction and worthiness had associations with dignity (dignitas), a highly desirable virtue in Roman ideology, commanding reverence and respect. For this reason, some old men were keen to promote a self-image of gravity, sobriety and virtuousness. - This is a brief quote from an excellent article on old age in Rome by Dr. Karen Cokayne of the University of Reading. I found it quite comprehensive with fascinating anecdotes.


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Mars: The Roman God of War

Mars was one of the more important gods of the Roman pantheon. Numerous temples, shrines, and altars were dedicated to him in Rome and throughout the Empire. As the god of war, he had many of the same attributes as the Greek god Ares, but he was also closely associated with the imperial cult, since the emperor's power and popularity depended heavily on the army and its military successes. Mars was therefore often depicted on monuments celebrating imperial victories, notably on triumphal arches, a distinctively Roman type of public building. This fragment presumably comes from one such monument, perhaps even from the now lost Portico of Septimius Severus in Rome. Mars is represented in the canonical guise of an older, bearded man wearing a Corinthian helmet tipped back on his head. - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image: Mars fragment possibly from the Portico of Septimius Severus courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Colossal statue of Mars found in the forum of Nerva photographed at the Capitoline Museum

Colossal statue of Mars found in the forum of Nerva photographed at the Capitoline Museum

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Monday, June 8, 2020

The House of the Prince of Naples in Pompeii now on Wikipedia!

I just completed the new Wikipedia page for the House of the Prince of Naples in Pompeii based on my English translation of Hauser in Pompeji Volume 1: Casa del Principe di Napoli. I have managed to condense the book into an article for those of you who didn't feel like plowing through the entire academic text which I have made available on academia.edu. I even incorporated most of the color images and offer a big shout out to Carole Raddato who provided some of them via Wikimedia Commons. This is the most complex Wikipedia page I have ever published!

Image: Atrium with impluvium of the House of the Prince of Naples in Region VI of Pompeii courtesy of Carol Raddato.

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Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Sacrifice of Publius Decius Mus

Publius Decius Mus recounts his prophetic dream to his troops during the Latin War by Jacob Matthias Schmutzer, 1733-1811, (PD)
Defend the belief that a public assembly ought to be kept pure, the Campus Martius holy, the body of every Roman citizen undefiled, and the right of liberty unassailable.  M. Tullius Cicero.  Speech before Roman Citizens on Behalf of Gaius Rabirius, Defendant, Against the Charge of treason.  Section 11.

According to Livy, during the Latin War, as the army marched near Capua, it was given to the two consuls in mutual dreams that the army whose general pledged himself and his foemen's host to the Dii Manes and Earth, would be victorious. Upon confirmation from the haruspices the two divulged a plan to their senior officers and their army, that they may not lose heart, for they intended that whosoever's wing should falter first, should so pledge his life to the gods of the underworld and the Earth.

Once the battle was engaged, the left wing began to falter and Decius Mus called upon the Pontifex Maximus, M. Valerius, to tell him the means by which to save the army. The pontifex prescribed the required ritual acts and a prayer (for which see devotio). After performing the religious ritual, the fully armored Decius Mus plunged his horse into the enemy with such supernatural vigor and violence that the awe-struck Latins soon refused to engage him, eventually bringing him down with darts. Even then, the Latins avoided his body, leaving a large space around it; and so the left wing of the Romans, once faltering, now swept into this weakness in the enemy lines. Manlius, conducting the right wing, held fast, allowing the Latins to use up their reserves, before crushing the enemy host between the renewed left and Samnite foederati at their flank, leaving only a quarter of the enemy to flee.

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The Metamorphosis of Polyphemus

The Cyclops Polyphemus from the Antonine period 2nd - 3rd century CE photographed at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy.
Depictions of the Cyclops Polyphemus have differed radically, depending on the literary genres in which he has appeared, and have given him an individual existence independent of the Homeric herdsman encountered by Odysseus. In the epic he was a man-eating monster dwelling in an unspecified land.

Some centuries later, a dithyramb by Philoxenus of Cythera, followed by several episodes by the Greek pastoral poets, created of him a comedic and generally unsuccessful lover of the water nymph Galatea. In the course of these he woos his love to the accompaniment of either a cithara or the pan-pipes. Such episodes take place on the island of Sicily, and it was here that the Latin poet Ovid also set the tragic love story of Polyphemus and Galatea recounted in the Metamorphoses.

Still later tradition made him the eventually successful husband of Galatea. According to some accounts, the Celts (Galati in Latin) were descended from their son Galatos, while Appian credited them with three children, Celtus, Illyrius and Galas, from whom descended the Celts, the Illyrians and the Gauls.  That their conjunction was fruitful is also implied in a later Greek epic from the turn of the 5th century CE. In the course of his Dionysiaca, Nonnus gives an account of the wedding of Poseidon and Beroe, at which the Nereid "Galatea twangled a marriage dance and restlessly twirled in capering step, and she sang the marriage verses, for she had learnt well how to sing, being taught by Polyphemos with a shepherd’s syrinx."

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Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Blinding of Polyphemus at the Villa of Tiberius

Yesterday while researching the Pasquino group, I came across a picture of the sculptures depicting the blinding of Polyphemus, the cyclops, that was found in a grotto connected to the Villa of Tiberius.  According to Tacitus and Suetonius, the roof of the grotto collapsed while Tiberius was dining, and Sejanus rushed to save Tiberius, for which Tiberius in gratitude promoted him, launching his rise to power. Tiberius moved to Capri after 26 CE.

Some of the sculptures are now housed in the museum in Sperlonga and include the assault of Scylla on Odysseus' ship, the blinding of Polyphemus, the theft of the Palladium and Odysseus lifting Achilles's corpse. The works have been attributed to Rhodian sculptors Agesander, Athenedoros and Polydoros, and are thought to be the same authors of the group of "Laocoön and His Sons" (as attributed by Pliny the Elder). Yet whether the very same artists are responsible is questionable. Some scholars believe them to be related, but not the same people, apart from Athenedoros (II) who was the last to be credited as an artist on the Laocoon group, but first to be credited with the Scylla series – suggesting that he was the youngest during the creation of the Laocoon group, but eldest artist who worked on the Scylla group. Furthermore, the differentiation in 'classicism' between the two sets of works implies that one preceded the other with separation, and thus not all artists are the same people, but descendants.

Image: A cast of one of the so-called Sperlonga group, the legendary blinding of Polyphemus, at the Sperlonga Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor steveilott.
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