30 July 2008


I let myself get dehydrated at the weekend and this is the result (although it's actually my ankle). (public domain picture of James Gillray's "The Gout" via wikipedia)

27 July 2008

Mercury and Battus

The story goes that Mercury stole Apollo's cattle, but was seen by an old man called Battus. Mercury bribed the old man to keep quiet with the present of a heifer. Battus said the stones would give Mercury away sooner than he would, but Mercury didn't trust him and approached him again in disguise. On being offered a bribe of two head of cattle, Battus gave the game away, and for his treachery was turned into a stone by Mercury. You can read Ovid's version of the story in Tony Kline's translation or in Derik Badman's strip cartoon version.

Artists who have painted Mercury and Battus include Jacob Pynas (1618), Francisque Millet (no date given for the picture but the artist's dates are 1642-1649) in a picture now in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Claude Lorrain (the only online version of the painting I could find was on this auction site -- picture undated, artist's dates 1600 - 1680). An even more obscure artist was Jan Claudius de Cock (1667 - 1735), the only copy of whose Mercury and Battus (no date or location of the painting given) was on this Dutch site with bilingual Dutch and English text (scroll down).

25 July 2008

Coronis x 2

Ovid's next story (with a series of digressions) is the story of the birth of Aesculapius, the god of medicine. His mother, Coronis, was pregnant by Apollo, but had another lover. She was seen together with him by a raven, who told Apollo. Apollo then killed Coronis, but regretting what he'd done, at least managed to save the child by taking it from Coronis's womb and giving it to the centaur Chiron to bring up. (picture of crow from wikicommons used under GNU Free Documentation Licence)

Confusingly enough, but possibly to the original audience's amusement, the raven meets a crow on the way to Apollo. The crow, whose name we are not told in the Metamorphoses, was also called Coronis, and was a princess who had been turned into a crow by Minerva when she was trying to escape from the god Neptune who was chasing her. See Tony Kline's translation of Ovid's version of the story and Derik Badman's strip cartoon version.

Giulio Carpioni painted a picture of Neptune pursuing Coronis in the late 1660s, now in Florence's Uffizi Gallery, but not on their site. The contemporary artist David Lloyd has painted two versions of Neptune and Coronis (scroll down to see them).

Domenichino and his assistants painted Apollo Slaying Coronis (1616-1618), now in London's National Gallery. Another scene with Apollo and Coronis by Adam Elsheimer can be seen in this photo from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (note: if you have a slow connection, don't be surprised if you see another painting first). I haven't been able to track down the original painting, some sources say it is in London's National Gallery, others in Liverpool's Walker Gallery, but neither gallery's site has it.

23 July 2008

Things Change

I was looking for material on Coronis, when I found MadInkBeard's strip cartoon serial inspired by the Metamorphoses. I haven't had a chance to look through all of it, but it's looking good so far.

22 July 2008

Songs Sacred and Profane

I've been meaning to look this up for some time and finally got round to it this morning. A couple of weeks ago, we sang "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross" in church (this Youtube video has the lyrics in subtitles plus a very informative description of the history of the words and music -- click where it says 'more info').

For some reason, this hymn always reminds me of I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls. I'd heard of this song long before Enya recorded it, but I think her version was the first time I'd actually heard it performed. I'd always thought of it as a music-hall song, but it turns out it comes from an 1844 opera composed by Michael Balfe with the libretto by an early Victorian impresario called Alfred Burn. The Youtube version I've chosen is illustrated by paintings from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Alma-Tadema (one of my favourite artists), plus some other paintings I don't think I've seen before.

Looking at the lyrics side by side and listening to the music of one immediately after the other, I can't think why these two pieces are linked in my mind, but they definitely are.

19 July 2008


The APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) picture for 18 July shows Jupiter over the ruins of Ephesus. The pictures on this site are always wonderful, though sometimes the explanations are not so clear for the lay person.

Other highly recommended pictures from the past month are those for:
  • 13 July (the night sky over Death Valley)
  • 5 July (fireworks, lightning, and a comet, all seen together from a beach in Perth, Western Australia)
  • 20 June (moonrise over Cape Sounion -- my personal favourite, I made it my wallpaper).

17 July 2008

Callisto -- Paintings

(Picture by Torsten Bronger via wikipedia, used under GNU Free Documentation License)

As I said in a previous post, Jupiter's attempt to seduce Callisto and the discovery of her pregnancy by Diana have proved the main focus in the story for artists. Earlier artists (in the 16th century) seem to have been more attracted to Diana's discovery of Callisto's pregnancy, while later artists (in the 18th century) seem to have been more attracted to Jupiter's attempt to seduce Callisto. The 17th century presents more of a mixture of these themes.

Dosso Dossi painted the incident in 1528. The painting is now in Rome's Galleria Borghese but does not seem to be on their website.

Below are two versions of the subject by Titian: the top one is from the late 1550s and is now in Edinburgh's National Gallery of Scotland while the bottom one is from 1566 and is now in Vienna's Kunsthistorische Museum.

Paul Bril painted a landscape with Diana and Callisto, probably in the 1620s, while in the late 1630s Hendrick Bloemart painted this version of the scene (right).

Left is a 17th century engraving by Gérard de Lairesse while below left is an engraving based on a picture from the 1740s by Jacopo Amigoni. Although many art poster and reproduction sites on the internet offer colour pictures, none of the ones I've looked at give any information as to where the original might be.

In the 17th century, Rubens had painted both Callisto in two scenes. His 1613 picture Jupiter and Callisto is now in the Staatliche Museen Kassel (but not on their website as far as I can see), and Diana and Callisto in 1640 (now in the Prado, probably on their site, but they seem to actively discourage linking).

Jacob de Wit's 1727 painting now in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum also shows Jupiter and Callisto.

François Boucher seems to have been particularly fond of the theme of Jupiter and Callisto. This 1744 example (below, top) is now in Moscow's Pushkin Museum (not in their online collection). New York's Metropolitan Museum has another painting dated 1763, while the Wallace Collection in London has a 1769 version. As a side note, some sites showing Boucher's Diana Leaving Her Bath (1742) (below, bottom) say that Diana's companion in the painting is Callisto, I don't know on what evidence. The Louvre's page on this picture says nothing about who she might be.

Richard Wilson painted a Landscape with Diana and Callisto (now in Liverpool's Lady Lever Gallery) in 1757. The reproduction on the gallery's website is rather small, but the text is very informative.

Slightly later than Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard produced a painting on this subject in 1778.
(Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations are public domain images from wikimedia commons.)

16 July 2008

Irena Sendler

I must admit I had never heard of Irena Sendler until she was mentioned in this week's editorial on Anglicans Online. She deserves to be much better known.

14 July 2008

Callisto -- Introduction

To summarise the story of Callisto: Callisto was a companion of the virgin huntress, Diana. Jupiter saw her, and disguising himself as Diana, approached her. When he attempted to seduce her, she refused, and he raped her. She got pregnant but managed to conceal her pregnancy from Diana until the goddess decided to go swimming with her companions. Diana sent her away, and after Callisto had the baby, the jealous Juno turned her into a bear. Fifteen years later the child, a son called Arcas, was hunting when he came across a bear. Not realising it was his mother, he was about to stab the bear with her javelin when Jupiter prevented this matricide by turning them both into constellations, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Still jealous, Juno asked her foster parents Oceanus and Tethys to refuse Callisto and Arcas permission to go down into the sea, and so the constellations always remain above the horizon. (photo of bear by Malene Thyssen used under GNU Free Documentation Licence)

Ovid's telling of the story in A. S. Kline's translation.

Artists seem to have focussed on two particular moments in the story of Callisto: Jupiter's attempted seduction in the form of Diana and the exposure of Callisto's pregnancy, and I'll be showing you some of those in future posts. But for now, here is Nicolaes Berchem's 1656 painting, Jupiter Notices Callisto (now in a private collection). (public domain image from Museum Syndicate)

The story inspired a 1651 opera "La Calisto" by Francesco Cavalli. The DVD shown is reviewed by Opera Today. YouTube has extracts, of course, and the one I've chosen shows Callisto's transformation into a bear.

Those in the right location might be interested to know that The Royal Opera House in London and The Portland Opera in Oregon will be performing this opera in their 2008/2009 seasons.

12 July 2008

The British Film Archive

The Toynbee Convector draws our attention to a YouTube video of London in 1903. It turns out that it's part of the British Film Institute's collection which they've put on YouTube. Well worth exploring. I particularly enjoyed this one recording trains and the railways from the harsh winter of 1963 (this is me trying out video embedding):

11 July 2008

The Story So Far

Recently the Roman History Books and More online reading group read Ovid's Metamorphoses. Many of the stories Ovid tells were familiar from the children's books of stories from mythology I'd read as a child, and I thought it would be interesting to see some of the ways they'd been used since ancient times. So, I started a series of blog posts on the stories and how they've been represented in the arts, particularly painting, sculpture and music. I'm not an art historian or musicologist, I can't discourse learnedly on what I've turned up, but I'm having fun tracking down some of these works and I'd like to show you what I've found.

To start with, here are links to my earlier posts on Roman History Books and More. You'll notice that the earliest ones are much less detailed than the later ones. I was still finding my way and deciding what I wanted to do and how I wanted to present it.

Pyrrha and Deucalion
Apollo and Python
Apollo and Daphne
Io and Argus
Pan and Syrinx
Phaethon and the Heliades.

Entering Blogosphere in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0

After some years of contributing articles and posts to other people's sites I've decided it's time to set up on my own. I haven't had any rows with anybody or anything like that. It's just that I've reached internet adulthood and I need a place I can call my own. A big thank you goes to Irene Hahn at Roman History Books and More and N. S. Gill at About Ancient/Classical History, who provided shelter for some of my earlier efforts written under the pen name Bingley Austen.

At school I was often accused of having a (depending on who was talking) magpie, butterfly, or grasshopper mind. A tangent is the natural route for my mind to travel. There is always going to be someone out there with a much more profound knowledge of any subject than I can hope to attain to. But, I do like rummaging about on Google, and that's what you're mainly going to get here -- the results of some of the rummages inspired by my reading.