25 October 2010
Arachne appears in a fresco painted by Francesco del Cossa in the Palazzo Schifanoia in the late 1460s. Although the Palazzo doesn’t seem to have a website, you can see the fresco in situ in the following video, where it appears about 25 seconds in.
At some point between 1475 and 1485 Tintoretto painted the above painting of Athene and Arachne, which is now in Florence’s Galleria degli Uffizi, but does not appear to be on their website.
The above fresco of Arachne by Veronese dates from 1520 and is in Venice’s Palazzo Ducale.
Another fresco of Arachne was painted by Herman Posthumus in 1542 and is from the Landshut Stadtresidentz, but does not appear to be on the Stadresidentz’s website.
Ruben’s version of the story of Arachne, painted 1636-7, is now in Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Perhaps the most famous representation of the story of Arachne and Minerva is this painting from 1657 by Velázquez, now in Madrid’s Prado.
The above picture from the Iconos site is a 1695 painting by Giordano and is now in El Escorial, but is not on its website, or indeed anywhere else that I can find. (unless stated otherwise all images in this post are from wikicommons and in the public domain)
24 October 2010
16 October 2010
the Louvre, shows the contest. This painting was probably the source for the design of a maiolica plate made 20 years later and now in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum. (Images of lynx (by ChickenFalls) and magpie (by Lamiot) are taken from wikicommons and used under a creative commons licence.)
13 October 2010
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has an Italian plate dated to 1531 showing Arethusa fleeing from Alphaeus.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. (used by permission of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Pace Audrey Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday, the 1820 poem about Arethusa was by Shelley, not Keats.
(public domain image from wikicommons)
Arthur Bowen Davies’s 1901 painting of Arethusa is now in Youngstown’s Butler Institute of American Art.
Arethusa’s story was one of those chosen by Benjamin Britten for his Oboe “Six Metamorphoses After Ovid”, composed in 1951, and played here by Nicholas Daniel.
05 October 2010
The events in the series take place from AD 70 to 77. Marcus Didius Falco has his 30th birthday during the course of the first book, “The Silver Pigs”. He is a private informer, i.e., a private investigator, specialising in background checks on prospective brides and grooms, finding evidence of adultery, and finding heirs or grounds for challenging wills. “The Silver Pigs” is his first foray into working for the Emperor Vespasian, which he does despite his republican views. During the events described in “The Silver Pigs” he meets his future wife, Helena Justina, the daughter of a senator, Decimus Camillus Verus. Over the course of the series Falco undertakes work for the Emperor as well as private commissions, and some investigations based on his own desire to see justice done. Recurring characters are Falco’s estranged parents, his sisters and their husbands and children, Falco’s mother’s family in the country, Helena Justina’s parents and brothers, and Falco’s best friend, Petronius Longus, who is a captain in the vigiles (the night watch which combined duties fire fighting and combatting minor and some not so minor crimes).
Falco’s activities take him over most of the Empire. Apart from the stories set in Rome itself, Falco also travels to various parts of Italy, to Britain, the frontier in Germany, Spain, North Africa, Egypt, the Eastern frontier, and Greece. He is a Roman citizen, but one of Rome’s urban poor. His clients come from all levels of society and over the course of the series he improves his status entering the middle rank (an eques) and by the end of the last book, becoming rich. The variety of clients means we get to see many different aspects of Roman life.
The books are all narrated by Falco himself in the first person, and his narrative voice is one of the strengths of the series. It shows a wry, ironic sense of humour, not taking Falco himself or life too seriously, and certainly not taking seriously any claims to grandeur or self importance from those who consider themselves socially or intellectually superior. This tone is hugely enjoyable, but the reader can’t help but wonder sometimes whether other characters, particularly Falco’s family and friends, would see events in quite the same way. And this becomes particularly problematic with the recurring character Anacrites, Vespasian’s Chief Spy. Although Falco tells us that Anacrites had set him up on his mission to Petra in “Last Act in Palmyra”, meaning him to be killed, and Anacrites later stalks Falco’s sister Maia in “The Body in the Bath House”, I at least found it impossible to take Anacrites seriously as a villain or a dangerous threat to Falco.
Although the humorous tone is, as I said, enjoyable, some may find it anachronistic. The only time I found the humour really jarred was in the last book, “Nemesis”, when Falco wishes that there were some way of proving or disproving paternity through the blood and hopes that the researchers in Alexandria are working on it.
I recently read the whole series through in sequence over a couple of months, which may not have been the best way to read them. Read like this, I have to say that the way Geminus, the auctioneer employed in “Shadows in Bronze” to auction off Pertinax’s effects, turns out to be Falco’s father who had walked out and abandoned the family when Falco was 7 struck me as clumsy. Once he was in the series, though, he became an important character, along with Falco’s other relations. The stories where we meet new members of Falco’s family are always particularly enjoyable. I also found the on again off again on again nature of Falco’s relationship with Helena Justina very tedious after the first couple of books until they finally settled down together in “Poseidon’s Gold”.
Having said that I would like to stress that Lindsey Davis does a wonderful job over 20 novels in the very demanding genre of historical mysteries, managing to balance enjoyable stories with the exploration of a civilisation superficially similar but actually very different from our own.
19 September 2010
18 September 2010
One reason for our hero travelling to the Eastern edges of the Empire is to track down a missing hydraulis player. The hydraulis or water organ is said to have been invented by Ctesibius in the 3rd century BC. In Ctesibius’s version, water was used to regulate the flow of air through pipes to produce music from a keyboard, but as time went by the use of bellows became as popular as water. Both versions of the instrument died out in the West after the fall of the Western Empire, but survived in the East. In 757, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Copronymus presented Pepin the Short, King of the Franks and father of Charlemagne, with a bellows-operated version which was further developed over time to become the church organ as we know it today.
The article on hydraula from the LacusCurtius edition of the 1875 Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities provides links to the textual evidence about the hydraulis. We do not have to rely purely on textual evidence, however. The hydraulis is shown in mosaics.
a mosaic found in Nennig in 1852.
the page on the Villa Dar Bur Ammera mosaic at livius.org.
pamphlet guide to the Aquincumi Múzeum in Budapest shows a display of excavated pieces and a modern reconstruction.
archaeologychannel.org has a rather old page with a radio interview about the hydraulis and a video interview and demonstration. The page does have other links to information, but unfortunately they are all broken. The video dates back to the early days of streaming (the radio interview thoughtfully explains what streaming is) and is rather small and jerky. You can see a rather better video of the hydraulis in action below:
Musica Romana, a modern group specialising in the recreation and performance of Roman music, include an extract from a piece called Aulos et Hydraulis on their myspace page. (except where noted, illustrations in this post come from wikicommons).
22 July 2010
21 July 2010
Charles Alphonse Dufresnoy’s Death of Socrates was painted in 1650. It is now in Florence, some sites say in the Galleria degli Uffizi, others say in the Galleria Palatina. Neither shows the picture on its website. (Picture from Larousse used by permission)
Jean Francois Pierre Peyron painted two pictures of the Death of Socrates in the 1780s. The above version is in Copenhagen’s Statens Museum for Kunst, while Peyron’s other picture on this theme is in Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum. (public domain picture from wikicommons)
Working at the same time as Peyron, David painted this picture of the Death of Socrates which is now in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. (image from Metropolitan Museum, used by permission)
18 July 2010
And when Socrates saw him, he said: “Well, my good man, you know about these things; what must I do?” “Nothing,” he replied, “except drink the poison and walk about till your legs feel heavy; then lie down, and the poison will take effect of itself.”(Plato Phaedo, translated by Harold North Fowler )
At the same time he held out the cup to Socrates. He took it, and very gently, Echecrates, without trembling or changing color or expression, but looking up at the man with wide open eyes, as was his custom, said: “What do you say about pouring a libation to some deity from this cup? May I, or not?” “Socrates,” said he, “we prepare only as much as we think is enough.” “I understand,” said Socrates; “but I may and must pray to the gods that my departure hence be a fortunate one; so I offer this prayer, and may it be granted.” With these words he raised the cup to his lips and very cheerfully and quietly drained it.
He walked about and, when he said his legs were heavy, lay down on his back, for such was the advice of the attendant. The man who had administered the poison laid his hands on him and after a while examined his feet and legs, then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. He said “No”; then after that, his thighs; and passing upwards in this way he showed us that he was growing cold and rigid. And again he touched him and said that when it reached his heart, he would be gone. The chill had now reached the region about the groin, and uncovering his face, which had been covered, he said—and these were his last words—“Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius. Pay it and do not neglect it.” “That,” said Crito, “shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.” To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved; the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.
Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, who was, as we may say, of all those of his time whom we have known, the best and wisest and most righteous man.
(Although Plato doesn’t actually mention hemlock, just calling it φάρμακον (drug, poison, medicine), we do know from elsewhere that hemlock was used to administer the death penalty in Athens.)
House’s patient, on the other hand, suffered from a seizure, bleeding eyes, vomiting, a rash, heart and kidney problems. It was long drawn out and painful (but not, thanks to modern medicine, fatal), not like Plato's description of Socrates’s gentle death at all.
The difference between Plato’s account and more modern accounts of hemlock poisoning have led to charges that Plato falsified his description to give Socrates a more fitting, philosophical death. It turns out, however, that there are two different, related, plants called hemlock: poison hemlock (conium maculatum) and water hemlock (cicuta virosa), plus a non-poisonous tree called hemlock because the crushed leaves smell similar to poison hemlock. The description of Socrates’s death fits poison hemlock, as discussed in Enid Bloch’s article: Hemlock Poisoning and the Death of Socrates: Did Plato Tell the Truth?
Polite Dissent discusses the medical aspects of this episode of House.
08 July 2010
Amalia T. of Good to Begin Well, Better to End Well, who writes on mythology and history
Mufti G M of Lout de Chevalier, who writes in Indonesian about the oil industry, and has a great soundtrack
Nachtigalle of Playground Canvas, who writes in German
Just Another Sarah
04 July 2010
Our first picture, Psyche Obtaining the Elixir of Beauty from Proserpine is by Charles Joseph Natoire and dates from around 1735. It is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In 1866 Swinburne wrote a poem called The Garden of Proserpine, an extract from which, accompanied by animations, appears in the above video.
In 1874 Dante Gabriel Rosetti painted the above picture of Persephone with a pomegranate, now in London's Tate Gallery.
Lord Frederic Leighton chose an unusual moment form the legend to paint in his 1891 "The Return of Persephone", now in Leeds Art Gallery. (all images in this post are in the public domain and come from wikicommons)
27 June 2010
In the first decade of the century, Hendrik van Balen painted Pluto and Persephone, which is now in the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.
Bernini's 1621-1622 statue of Pluto and Proserpina is now in Rome's Galleria Borghese. (public domain image from Museum Syndicate)
Rembrandt painted the above Rape of Persephone in 1631, which is Berlin's Gemäldegalerie, but does not appear to be on their website.
Pignoni's 1650 above L'Enlèvement de Proserpine is now in Nancy's Musée des Beaux-Arts.
In the early 1680s Giordano painted a series of oil studies or modelli which are now in London's National Gallery. These were preparation for a series of frescoes in Florence's Palazzo Medici Riccardi, one of which, showing the rape of Proserpina, is shown above.
Turning to the theme of Persephone in the underworld, the above detail from a 1622 picture of Hell by François de Nomé. The complete picture is now in Besançon's Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie.(image used under creative commons licence, courtesy of baroque-in-art.org) Paris's Louvre has a painting of Orpheus before Pluto and Persephone by Perrier and dating from 1647-1650. (unless otherwise ascribed, all images in this post are in the public domain and come from wikicommons)
To finish this look at Persephone in the 17th century here is an extract from the overture to Lully's opera Proserpina. YouTube also has extracts from Act III amongst the related videos.
30 April 2010
Our first picture was painted by Niccolò dell'Abbate, probably shortly before his death in 1571. The painting is now in the Louvre. At about the same time Christoph Schwarz was producing a Rape of Proserpine, now in Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum.
Paris Bordone must have painted his Rape of Proserpine some time before this as he died in 1571. The painting is now in Milan's Galleria Salomon (scroll down).
In 1581 Hans von Aachen painted the above Rape of Persephone, which is now in Sibiu's Brukenthal Palace. In 1598 Joseph Heintz the Elder painted a Rape of Prosperine, which is now in Dresden's Gemaldegalerie. Unfortunately, their online presence is in Second Life and so inaccessible to me as I'm not a member.
26 January 2010
This has not been a fruitful episode for later artists, but I have tracked down two pictures.
The first, called "Camillus Rescuing Rome from Brennus", was painted by Sebastiano Ricci in 1716, and is now in the Detroit Institute of Arts. (public domain image from museumsyndicate)
The second (really rather disturbing) picture, called variously "Brennus and His Part of the Spoils" or "The Spoils of the Battle", was painted by Paul Jamin in 1893 and is now in a private collection. (public domain image from wikicommons)
25 January 2010
Purely by coincidence I can announce the translation of a fragments of a play found in the Oxyrhynchus papyri. It appears to be by a hitherto unknown tragedian, Andreas Arachnis.
The Phantom of the Great Dionysia
Lightning-born son of Zeus and Semele,
Great Dionysus, tell us of the king
of your mother's city,the man with the
swollen feet, the son of Laertes and,
O dreadful to say, of Jocasta.
I bring news sad to say.
The father of our Oedipus,
Not the man himself you understand,
But the one who speaks his words,
His father is dead and so
Without pollution he cannot enter
The god's precinct.
The news is sad but worse still,
how can we go on without an
Oedipus? How can we worship the god?
There is a lad in this chorus you see
here now, he has been trained,
he can sing the words.
Is this true?
It is true sir.
It is as the man said.
And who trained you?
I do not know, I cannot tell.
It is a secret of the god.
Well, let me hear you.
This plague that afflicts my city,
I cannot bear it. We must find
what god has been angered.
I will send to Delphi to enquire.
But now, dark night comes.
We will begin again tomorrow.
Phantom (from the machine):
Nikeratos you have done well.
I made it happen. Come, offer sacrifice.
Spirit of Orpheus, hear me.
Let me be the mask you wear.
Sing through me.
Dark-robed Night we sing to you.
Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness wakes and stirs imagination
The power of the music of night
As rosy fingered dawn lights the Maiden's temple
I choose a new actor to play Oedipus.
One with experience of many festivals.
A man or perhaps one of the immortal gods
Gave me this message of doom.
If you do not obey, disaster will fall.
From mountain girt Delphi I come
With word from the far shooting one
Given through his oracle.
Obedience is always wise.
Remember whose is the mask.
Exit Messenger 2
My chosen actor will speak.
Can I who solved the riddle
of the Sphinx rest quiet
Brekekekex koax koax
Brekekekex koax koax
Brekekekex koax koax
Frogs. My whole cast are frogs.
Very well let the boy try.
Wife, given to me by the city
as reward and by your own hand
as wife and more than wife.
Come out of the palace and tell me
of time gone before I came to this place.
O, terrible to relate.
How can I speak and yet
What is it?
I can say no more.
in many forms, but this!
Just as in years gone by
Denaira gave her husband a robe
And Jason's wife from Colchis
Gave his new love a crown of fire
So, O, how can I say it?
Your chorus put on their robes
And were burnt. Flesh charred from bone.
Terrible were their screams. Still I hear them.
A chorus of Scythians enters
Goddess of justice, you who
punish man's overweening pride,
aid us. Come from the land
of the Hyperboreans or wherever
you are feasting now, and help us,
we implore you.
Where is this murderer? How can he be found?
He has a lair, in a cave
under the temple sacred to the Muses nine.
I can take you there.
See where he rises in a chariot
drawn by dragons sent by the Queen of Night.
He takes the body of Nikeratos with him.
The gods have done this.
Nothing turns out as we expected.
The music is ended.
Although a translation into English has been prepared, no scholarly commentary or apparatus criticus has appeared. If anyone would like to contribute notes to such an enterprise, please feel free to add them to the comments.
17 January 2010
The picture shown to accompany the sound recording above is Luca Giordano's painting from the early 1680s Perseus Turning Phineus and His Followers to Stone, now in London's National Gallery.
Towards the end of the first decade of the eighteenth century, Sebastiano Ricci painted Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa, which is now in Los Angeles's Getty Center. Jean-Marc Nattier's 1718 Perseus, Aided by Minerva, Petrifies Phineus and His Companions by Showing Them Medusa's Head is now in Tours's Musée des Beaux Arts.
16 January 2010
15 January 2010
The first book in the series, The Thieves of Ostia, gives the impression of The Famous Five meet Falco, with a rather heavy-handed Christian message at the end. Some readers might find this offputting, but they should definitely persevere. We are taken through a series of historical events: the eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii, the opening of the Colosseum, an epidemic and fire that struck Rome in the early part of Titus's principate, and (in flashback) the sieges of Jerusalem and Masada by the Romans. Amongst the historical figures we meet are Titus and Domitian, Pliny the Elder and his nephew Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Josephus, Quintilian, Queen Berenice, Gaius Valerius Flaccus, and John, the beloved disciple. Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus all have back stories, which are gradually revealed in various story arcs running through the books. A linked long term story arc is the tracking down of a criminal mastermind who kidnaps and enslaves children. The geographical area covered includes Ostia and the bay of Naples in Italy, mainland Greece, the Greek islands, Roman Asia, Egypt, and North Africa.
The main characters' family and other connections mean we get to see many different aspects of Roman life at all levels of society, from beggars and poor provincials to the Imperial family. We find out about science and medicine (Jonathan's father is a doctor and Flavia Gemina is a great fan of the Elder Pliny and his Natural History), gladiatorial and other games, education, literature, and oratory and legal procedure. Cultural riches are brought out in the children's lessons with their tutor, Aristo, but the harsh realities of life are not ignored: long before the first book Flavia's mother had died in childbirth and Jonathan's sister Miriam, who marries Flavia's uncle Gaius, suffers the same fate in The Slave Girl from Jerusalem; Lupus is mute because his tongue was torn out. The books each contain a Final Scroll in which the author discusses historical, literary and social references. The series is particularly interesting in its treatment of two issues, slavery and religion. (picture of page from 14th century codex of Pliny's Natural History from wikicommons is in the public domain)
Slavery is a major problem for modern fiction set in ancient Rome. How do you give a realistic picture of a member of a slave-owning society without forfeiting the reader's sympathy for him or her? Caroline Lawrence manages this very well. How somebody treats their slaves is a powerful indicator of their moral worth. In The Thieves of Ostia, Flavia spends the money she received for her birthday on buying Nubia because she feels sorry for her. Pulchra, a minor character who appears in several books, starts off in The Pirates of Pompeii as a spoiled brat who mistreats her slaves but she matures in later books as she deals with her problems of loneliness and parental neglect and starts to treat her slaves more humanely. Less convincing is the attitude of Jonathan's father, who refuses to own slaves, thus obliging his children to do household chores. This definitely struck me as anachronistic.
A major story arc running throughout the series is the kidnapping and enslavement of children, first by Venalicius, a slave dealer based in Ostia, and then as the leader of a criminal ring, the powerful Magnus. The realities of a slave's life are not glossed over. We are told that good looking children, girls and boys, amongst the enslaved children are separated out from the others -- and older readers will know what their fate would be, even though this is not explicitly stated. Slaves are subject to humiliation, beaten, and forced into work in carpet factories which blinds them. Other slaves are much better treated, such as Flavia's father's two house slaves Caudex and Alma, though it is never suggested that they might be freed. Sisyphus is a slave secretary to Flavia's uncle, the senator Cornix. He wins his freedom from Cornix in a bet, though he continues to work as Cornix's secretary as a freedman.
Religion is another interesting feature of the books. Both the traditional Greco-Roman religion and Christianity are taken seriously. Flavia and her family believe in the traditional Roman religion. They have a nice line in "swearwords": Great Juno's Peacock, Great Jupiter's Eyebrows, etc. Flavia's family perform sacrifices, make vows to the gods, and consider omens. Lupus's mother dedicates herself as a priestess of Apollo. What Nubia's religion back home was, we never find out. One of her major functions in the book is as a foil for explanations of Roman religion and other aspects of life she cannot be expected to know about as a recent immigrant. Jonathan's family are Jews who have been expelled from the synagogue as Christians. Although Jonathan's father quotes Jesus early on as declaring all foods pure, Jonathan still has qualms in a later book about his father's reaction if he goes to a pig butcher's on the Sabbath. (Udimu's photograph of Roman mosaic from Hinton St. Mary via wikicommons licensed under Creatie Commons)
Jonathan has prophetic dreams, and reflects on his religious feelings as his experiences change him in the books. Although in the first book the theme of repentance and forgiveness seems to be added on rather clumsily, it proves to be a common theme running through the books right up until Jonathan finds peace, relieved of his misplaced guilt over the fire in Rome in which 20,000 people lost their lives. In the penultimate book, after meeting John, the beloved disciple, Lupus, Nubia, and Aristo, the children's tutor, become Christians and Flavia tries to believe, but in the end cannot. Nevertheless, they all find meaning and purpose to their lives.
All in all, this is a rich series full of adventure through which the reader will learn a lot about life in Roman times and along the way will also find a lot to reflect on in the similarities and differences in life and thought between Roman times and our own. It is well worth reading the whole series in order to see how the themes and story arcs work themselves out.
06 January 2010
Calleva Atrebatum means something like "the Atrebates' town in the woods" (not that different from Silchester!). The Atrebates were a Celtic tribe living in this area, with links to a tribe of the same name living in Gaul. Although the town itself has disappeared, its walls are still standing. It took me about 2 hours to walk the circuit of 2.8 km, but that was with lots of stops for photographs. The shape is roughly speaking a diamond with the top point at the North.
The sign in the carpark.
Information panel in the carpark.
Pretty frost covered trees between the carpark and the site.
Iron age bank and ditch between the carpark and the site.
Information panel when you get to the walls on the NW side of the site.
View across where the town was inside the walls.
View from the walls down into the ditch.
Overgrown NW wall.
View of the NW wall and outer ditch from inside rampart.
Close-up of the wall, showing construction of material
Information panel at North Gate.
The North Gate as it is now.
Close-up showing height and material
North East wall
Information panel for the amphitheatre
Niches in the amphitheatre, maybe for shrines
St. Mary's church inside where the East Gate probably was
Information panel on the SE wall
The SE wall from outside
Information panel at the South Gate
The South Gate
The BBC has a page about Silchester, written by Michael Fulford of the University of Reading, which maintains a website about Silchester and holds regular digs there which are open to public participation. The Museum of Reading's website has information about objects found at Silchester, including the eagle which inspired Rosemary Sutcliff.