14 December 2008

The Book of Durrow

The Book of Durrow is an illuminated manuscript of the Latin translation of the four gospels of the New Testament, most likely written in the 7th century AD at the monastery at Durrow in Ireland founded by St. Columba. It is now in the library of Trinity College Dublin. Although most people probably think of the artistic style as "Celtic", it is more properly known as "insular" or "Hiberno-Saxon" since the art of the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples of the British Isles at this time shared many features and if the origin of a manuscript is unknown, it is difficult to say just from its appearance whether it is a Celtic or Anglo-Saxon production.

Here we have one illustrated description of the Book of Durrow, placing it in a Celtic context, while here another article discusses it as part of a series of pages on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. This entry from a blog on Early Medieval Art discusses the Book of Durrow but would be more useful with illustrations.

Since we are now in Advent, this page from the Book of Durrow has the beginning of Matthew's version of the Christmas story.

One of the Book of Durrow's famous carpet pages:

Each gospel is accompanied by a symbol of the evangelist. Unusually, the Book of Durrow symbolises John with a lion:

The small picture at the top is the beginning of Mark's gospel. For a double page spread with a much larger version and its accompanying carpet page, go here. (all pictures in this post are from wikicommons and are in the public domain)

10 December 2008

Leuconoe's Story

Leuconoe, the sister of Arsippe, tells the next story. Venus and Mars were having an affair, and the Sun told Vulcan, Venus's husband, about it. Vulcan set a trap for the lovers, catching them in bed together with a net and inviting all the gods to come and see them. In revenge for her humiliation Venus caused the Sun to fall in love with Leucothea. This made Clytie, who some say was Leucothea's sister, jealous, and she told their father, who had Leucothea buried alive. The Sun still took no notice of Clytie, who, mad with love for him, sat on the ground watching him pass overhead. She took root and became a heliotrope.(wikicommons picture of heliotrope by Augustin Roche licensed under Creative Commons)

The first part of the story (also told by the bard Demodocus in Homer's Odyssey) was a very popular theme for artists. Our first representation comes from a tapestry in London's Victora and Albert museum, though the accompanying audio commentary is singularly uninformative about the tapestry, concentrating instead on telling the story of Vulcan, Mars and Venus.

The 1555 picture by Tintoretto shown below is now in Munich's Alte Pinakothek. Vulcan has obviously come home unexpectedly and Mars is hiding under the table.

In the 1630 picture below (now in Madrid's Prado), Velazquez has chosen to show Apollo bringing the news of his discovery to Vulcan in his forge.

Most artists, however, have been attracted by the theme of Mars and Venus being caught in Vulcan's net. A 1534 bowl painted by Giorgio Andreoli is in St. Petersburg's Hermitage. A few years later around 1540 Maarten van Heemskerck painted a picture now in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, again showing the lovers caught in the net with all the gods looking on. In the mid 1550s Guglielmo della Porta produced a bronze plaquette showing Vulcan's capture of Venus and Mars (now in Washington's National Gallery of Art). Los Angeles's J. Paul Getty Museum has a 1585 drawing by Golzius of Venus and Mars Surprised by Vulcan, which may have served as an inspiration for this painting by de Clerck now in a private collection in Belgium. Also in the Getty is Wtewael's Mars and Venus Surprised by the Gods, painted from 1610 to 1614.

Lovis Corinth's 1909 picture shown below is in Munich's Neue Pinakothek, but does not appear to be on their website. The picture is called "Homeric Laughter, First Version", but I have not found a second version.

The contemporary artist Nancy Farmer has a picture of Hephaestus's Trap.

The statue of Clytie below by Parodi is now in Genoa's Palazzo Reale, but does not appear to be on its website. The bust of Clytie is by George Watts, and is now in London's Guildhall Art Gallery.

Lastly, here is Evelyn de Morgan's 1886 picture of Clytie. I've been unable to find the present location but it was sold in 1991, so it is probably in a private collection.

(all pictures in public domain except where stated otherwise)

29 November 2008

Sutton Hoo

The Oxford DNB has put up the Sutton Hoo ship burial as one of its biographies for the week (available till Thursday). An archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo in the 1930s found a ship burial with splendid grave goods from the early 7th century. (Steven J. Plunkett's picture of model of ship burial used under GNU Free Documentation Licence.)

Location of Sutton Hoo (the site itself is quite visible if you zoom in):

View Larger Map

The Sutton Hoo Society's website has a (not very) interactive map of the site, a good picture gallery and some archaeological information. The goods found were donated to the British Museum by the owner of the land at the time of the excavation, Mrs Edith May Pretty. The National Trust now owns the site and has information for visitors.

The most likely candidate for who was buried at Sutton Hoo is Rædwald, who was king of East Anglia and bretwald (high king of England) and died some time between 616 and 627. Bede has some passing references to Rædwald ( II.12 and 11.15), but nothing that would have led one to suspect the magnificence of this discovery. However, since Rædwald was a king who accepted Christianity and then changed his mind, and a king of East Anglia at that (Bede's focus is on Augustine's first mission to Kent and then on Northumbria), Bede would not have much to say about him. Rædwald was one of the Wuffing dynasty, and Dr. Sam Newton's site on the Wuffings naturally discusses Sutton Hoo in some detail.

23 November 2008

Falco and the Legions

Having recently witnessed the death of Moguntiacum in Eagle in the Snow, the Roman History Reading Group returns there with Marcus Didius Falco in The Iron Hand of Mars. Falco is sent to Moguntiacum, ostensibly with a gift from the Emperor for Legio XIV Gemina, who are sharing quarters with Legio I Adiutrix, where Helena Justina's brother is serving. Falco's own military service was with Legio II Augusta. This leads to problems.

For more information on Legio II Augusta, see Livius, RBO, UNRV, and Romanarmy.com.

For more information on Legio I Adiutrix, see Livius and RBO.

For more information on Legio XIV Gemina, see Livius and UNRV.

For general information on the Roman Army, two sites well worth exploring are Romanarmy.com and romanarmy.net.

The Youtube clip below shows the trailer for a documentary made about a re-enactment group which has taken the name Legio II Augusta.

22 November 2008

Columba and Iona

Saint Columba (521 - 597) came to Iona from Ireland. It's not entirely clear why. Some accounts say that he was sent into exile after his side lost in a feud, others that he was simply called to be a missionary to the Picts. Be that as it may, he took Iona as a convenient base not too far from the lands of the Scots (who were confusingly enough an Irish people) in the south-west of today's Scotland and those of the Picts in the north-east and founded a monastery there. Although he spent most of the rest of his life in Scotland, Columba did make one trip back to Durrow in Ireland, where he founded another monastery.

The Medieval Sourcebook has Adamnan's Life of St. Columba (for Adamnan, see these posts from Heavenfield), while the Catholic Encyclopedia has an early 20th century version of his life. As part of its series on the history of Scotland, the BBC has pages dedicated to St. Columba and Iona (unfortunately the video clips are not available to all).

The monastery on Iona flourished as a centre of learning until the monastery had to be abandoned in 825 due to repeated Viking raids. Iona Abbey was founded in 1200 but was closed in the Scottish Reformation. In 1938 the non-denominational Iona Community was founded and Iona is still a place of Christian pilgrimage today.

View Larger Map

The tab marked 'A' marks Iona in the above map. The Iona Community Council's site has tourist information and panoramas of the island. The band Iona has pictures from the island of Iona on their website.

The youtube video below is part of a series exploring why people come on pilgrimage to Iona.

18 November 2008

Zeugma Mosaics

Adrian Murdoch of Bread and Circuses draws our attention to the opening of a Mithraic temple at Zeugma (near Doliche in modern Turkey - marked A in the map below).

View Larger Map

The project's website includes these mosaics, but only thumbnail size, alas.

15 November 2008

William Rufus Update

Update on my post about the Norman Kings. The Oxford DNB's biography of William Rufus is available online for one week from today. (public domain image from wikicommons)

14 November 2008

Pyramus and Thisbe

As we move on into Book IV of Ovid's "Metamorphoses", Arsippe, one of the daughters of Minyas, tells Ovid's next story, Pyramus and Thisbe, a pair of lovers in Babylon whose parents forbid their marriage. They only way they can meet is by peering and whispering through a hole in the wall between their houses. They plan to elope. Thisbe arrives first at Ninus's tomb, their rendezvous point, but is scared by a lioness. She runs away, leaving behind her veil, which the lioness plays with. Pyramus sees the lioness's tracks and the torn veil. Convinced that Thisbe has been eaten he stabs himself. Thisbe returns to find his dead body and stabs herself in turn. Their blood spurting up dyes the berries on a nearby mulberry tree red. If all this sounds familiar, there are obvious parallels with the story of Romeo and Juliet, and it is also the "lamentable comedy" performed by the mechanicals in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream". (Sten Porse's picture of mulberry from wikicommons used under creative commons 2.5 licence)

Of the two pictures below, the first, painted in 1520, is by Niklaus Manuel Deutsch and is now in Basel's Kunstmuseum (direct linking to the picture is not possible). The second picture, by Hans Baldung was painted in 1530 and is now in Berlin's Staatliche Museen (click on the link below the picture on the museum's site for descriptive text).

Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery has a painting of Pyramus and Thisbe by Dughet from the late 1650s, slightly later than the 1651 painting by Poussin shown below, which is now in Frankfurt's Städelsches Kunstinstitut (the image on the museum's page only shows the top half of the painting, go to zoom to see the whole thing).

In the last years of the 17th century, Abraham Hondius also painted Pyramus and Thisbe and his version is now in Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.

At the beginning of the 20th century John William Waterhouse painted this picture called Thisbe or The Listener, now in a private collection.

And now, from YouTube is Shakespeare's version, with the characters played by The Beatles:

(all reproductions of paintings come from wikicommons and are in the public domain)

11 November 2008

The Virgin in the Ice

Cadfael's sixth adventure The Virgin in the Ice opens with the fall of Worcester into the hands of a besieging army in 1139. The Chronicle of John of Worcester provides this contemporary account.(photo from geograph by Richard Webb used under Creative Commons 2.0 licence

Much of the action of the story takes place on and around Titterstone Clee. The BBC provides a panorama from the top of Titterstone Clee, though I don't think they had the radar station there in Cadfael's day! The Been There Done That site has some still pictures, while the map below shows the location (the blue marker).

View Larger Map

04 November 2008

The Venerable Bede

The Venerable Bede (672/3 - 735) was given to the monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow by his parents as an oblate when he was seven years old. Apart from short trips he spent the rest of his life in the monastery. In a brief note about himself appended to his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People", Bede said

... I was given, by the care of kinsmen, at seven years of age, to be educated by the most reverend Abbot Benedict, and afterwards by Ceolfrid, and spending all the remaining time of my life a dweller in that monastery, I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture; and amidst the observance of monastic rule, and the daily charge of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, or teaching, or writing. (Sellar's revision of J. A. Giles translation)(public domain picture from wikicommons of leaf from 8th century manuscript of Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People", now in St. Petersburg)

Despite its rather dry title, Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" is probably his best-known and most-read work today. Bede also wrote biblical commentaries, biographies, hagiographies, hymns, and works on the Latin language and the calendar, and when he died he was working on a translation of John's Gospel into Old English. Although since Dionysius Exiguus fixed the date of Jesus's birth (and got it wrong!) and used it in tables for calculating the date of Easter each year, Bede was the first historian to use the year of Jesus's conception and birth as a fixed point for dating historical events. In effect, then, he invented the BC and AD system we use today.

Anglican and Catholic biographies of Bede.

The Medieval English Sourcebook has translations of some of Bede's works:
Ecclesiastical History of the English People, probably translated by L. C. Jane,
The Life of Saint Cuthbert, translated by J. A. Giles,
The Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, also translated by J. A. Giles.

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has another translation of the "Ecclesiastical History of the English People".

The Online Library of Liberty has Bede's complete works in J. A. Giles's edition, some in both Latin and English, others only in Latin.

BBC Radio 4's discussion programme "In Our Time" devoted a programme to Bede (although you can still listen to the programme, many of the links on the research page are broken).

There is a museum in Jarrow about Anglo-Saxon Northumbria called Bede's World. I hesitate to say Michelle of Heavenfield's blog is about Bede, because it covers so much more about the people and places Bede wrote about, but anyway, it is well worth exploring.

James Doyle Penrose exhibited this painting titled "The Venerable Bede Translates John" at London's Royal Academy in 1902 but I have not been able to discover where it is now. For other artists' portrayals of Bede, search for Bede in this list of Anglo-Saxon themed paintings from Cambridge University.(public domain picture from about.com's Medieval and Renaissance History Portrait Gallery)

The Youtube clip below has a church choir singing one of Bede's hymns.

29 October 2008

Herculaneum after 300 years

The BBC kicks off the celebrations for the 300th anniversary of the discovery of Herculaneum in 1709 with a slideshow accompanied by audio commentary. (public domain picture from wikicommons of photograph taken by Matthias Holländer)

27 October 2008

Medieval Lepers

Although the term "leper" is used as a metaphor for the ultimate in social exclusion and it has been argued that defining someone as a leper in medieval times was as much a form of social control and exercise of power as a medical diagnosis, it does appear from skeletons found in cemeteries attached to leprosaria such as the chapel of St. Giles (the patron saint of lepers) frequently visited by Cadfael that in a majority of cases the diagnosis was correct: the inmates were suffering from leprosy. As time went by after the First Crusade, with greater exposure to leprosy and to the more experienced Muslim doctors, the diagnosis does seem to have become more accurate instead of being applied to any skin ailment. (public domain picture from wikicommons)

A general introduction to medieval leper hospitals can be found at Jean Manco's buildinghistory.org, while a description of the excavations at particular leper hospitals in Winchester and High Wycombe can be found online. See Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture for a directory of medieval pictures of lepers and associated objects.

Other online resources include an article arguing against the social control view of medieval leprosy, while for those with Google accounts, Google Books has previews of Carole Rawcliffe's "Leprosy in Medieval England".

23 October 2008

Actaeon Update

One of the paintings we looked at in my post on Actaeon from the 15th to 17th centuries was Titian's "Diana and Actaeon" (left). Judith Weingarten of Zenobia: Empress of the East has brought to my attention The Archaeology Review's rather derogatory comment on the painting stemming from a BBC report that Titian's painting is now on display in London's National Gallery in an attempt to raise £50 million to prevent it being sold off abroad by its owner, the Duke of Sutherland. When this news first broke in August, The Guardian's coverage provoked lively debate.

19 October 2008

Bacchus and Pentheus

Book III of the Metamorphoses concludes with the story of Pentheus, the king of Thebes who resisted the introduction of the worship of Bacchus and was torn to pieces by a group of Bacchic worshippers including his own mother. This is of course the plot of Euripides' "The Bacchae". Within this story is the story told by Acoetes of how Bacchus turned a shipload of sailors who wanted to kidnap him and sell him into slavery into dolphins. (public domain picture of dolphin from wikicommons)

The contemporary artist Paul Reid has a picture of Pentheus (scroll down -- middle picture in the third row). The story of Bacchus is one of those Benjamin Britten used for his Six Metamorphoses after Ovid. The Youtube video below shows a performance by Nicholas Daniel.

18 October 2008


London's Royal Academy will be holding a major exhibition on Byzantium from 25 October 2008 to 22 March 2009. I certainly plan to go during my Christmas trip to the UK. To go with the exhibition BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting a programme on Byzantium tomorrow (19 October) at 20:00 BST (GMT +1), which presumably will be available for listening on the internet for one week. (picture of mosaic taken from the Royal Academy's publicity for the exhibition)

The Byzantium section of Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook is rather more up to date than the same author's Byzantine Studies Page.

17 October 2008

Mediaeval Fairs

Medieval fairs were held annually, usually on a particular saint's day or other special day in the church calendar. For general information on where and when medieval fairs were held, see The Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516, especially the Basic Introduction and, of particular relevance to Cadfael enthusiasts, the entry for Shrewsbury ( the list of abbreviations will be helpful in reading the entry).

Fairs were very profitable to the body running them, and so that new annual fairs did not interfere with local tradespeople's business too much or with other fairs nearby, fairs other than prescriptive fairs (those that had been held from time immemorial) needed permission from the monarch, usually issued in the form of a charter. Examples online in translation are for a fair at Ramsey granted to Ramsey Abbey in 1110 by Henry I (Matilda's father and Stephen's predecessor on the throne) and a fair at Cambridge granted to the citizens of Cambridge in 1201 by King John (Matilda's grandson).

16 October 2008

Tiresias, Narcissus and Echo

Despite his key role in drama, the story of Tiresias has not really proved inspirational to artists. He puts in a rare appearance in this picture from a private collection, which links Tiresias's story to the next story, that of Echo and Narcissus with a prophesy of Narcissus's fate. The stories of Echo and Narcissus were originally two separate stories, which Ovid, as far as we know, was the first to combine. (public domain picture of narcissi by bormaniuss via wikipedia)

Echo was a nymph who covered for Jupiter on one of his amorous forays by distracting Juno with her chatter. As a punishment Juno condemned her to only be able to repeat the last words anyone said. Echo fell in love with the handsome Narcissus, who spurned her, and all the others (male and female) who desired him. One rejected lover cursed him, wishing that he would fall in love with someone unobtainable. When Narcissus saw his reflection in a lake, he fell in love but was unable to reach this bewitching figure. Unable to leave the image of his love, Narcissus died and was changed into the flower that bears his name. Echo also wasted away so that only her voice, still repeating people's last words, is heard in lonely places.

Our first two pictures show Narcissus by himself. The above 1595 picture of Narcissus by Caravaggio is now in Rome's Galleria Borghese. For some reason it is only on the Italian version of the site, and not on the English version. Jacob Pynas painted a Mountain Landscape with Narcissus in 1628, now in London's National Gallery. (public domain picture via wikicommons)

Poussin painted two versions of the story, the earlier (above left) from around 1630 is now in the Louvre, while the later (above right) is in Dresden's Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (use Narziss as the search item in the box marked Volltextsuche in der Motivliste. Why they don't allow direct links I don't know). At about the same time Claude Lorrain painted a Landscape with Narcissus and Echo, now in London's National Gallery. (public domain pictures via wikipedia)

Turner's picture of Narcissus and Echo (now in London's Tate Gallery) was painted in 1805, while a year earlier the American painter Benjamin West painted the above painting (now in a private collection). (public domain picture via Museum Syndicate)

This 1881 picture of Narcissus by Benczúr Gyula is now in Budapest's Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, but does not appear to be on their website. (public domain picture via wikicommons)

Perhaps one of the most popular paintings of Echo and Narcissus, the above picture by John William Waterhouse was painted in 1903 and is now in Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery. A site devoted to Waterhouse has an article on the models who posed for the picture. Almost as popular is Salvador Dali's Metamorphosis of Narcissus, painted in 1937 and now in London's Tate Gallery.(picture courtesy of WebMuseum under Creative Commons 3.0 licence)

Contemporary artists who have treated the theme of Echo and Narcissus are Steve Leblanc and Richard Baxter, and the pavement artist Kurt Wenner (check out Kurt Wenner's other paintings, including this fine Actaeon).

In the performing arts, Guillaume Apollinaire wrote Les Mamelles de Tirésias in 1903, though it was not performed until 1917. Poulenc wrote an opera based on Apollinaire's Les Mamelles de Tirésias during the Second World War and it was first performed in 1947. In 1951 Constant Lambert's ballet about Tiresias was first performed.

Gluck wrote an opera on Echo and Narcissus in 1779. YouTube has an aria. YouTube also has a pas de deux called Echo and Narcissus, though only the dancers are named, not the composer. I'm no expert but I certainly don't think it's the Lambert one. There are the usual kids in bedsheets dramatisations, and this rather nice short film called "An Echo of Narcissus", though Echo doesn't seem to appear.

13 October 2008


Rummaging in one of the DVD shops in Plaza Indonesia, I was happy to see that Diva has been re-issued. I was not so happy when I asked the price. All right, it's an imported DVD but what do they do, give it its own seat on the plane coming over? Definitely something for my trip back home at Christmas.

I saw it twice when it first came out back in 1982 and thought it was wonderfully stylish. I saw it on a rented laser disc back in the early 1990s and it still held up pretty well. As far as I remember, it was the first time I'd really heard an opera singer and it definitely left me wanting more. The Youtube trailer below is the original 1982 one, although something seems to have gone wrong with the subtitling.

07 October 2008


Paulinus Gaius Maximus, the narrator of Wallace Breem's "Eagle in the Snow" is a follower of Mithras, a god popular with Roman soldiers. Although a connection with Mithra, a god in the Persian pantheon, seems obvious at first sight and was the general scholarly consensus at the time Wallace Breem was writing, it now appears that although the name may have been taken from the Persian god, the religion as far as we can re-construct it seems to have been a Roman development with few connections to the Persian religion. (wikicommons public domain picture by Marie-Lan Nguyen, from the Nersae Mithraeum)

An overview of what we know about Mithraism can be found in
an essay by Alison Griffith
. One of the key figures in the modern re-assessment of our knowledge of Mithraism is David Ulansey, who based on Mithraic iconography, ties Mithraism closely to astrological beliefs of the time.

Iconography is important because Mithraism was a mystery religion whose devotees swore not to reveal details to outsiders. Hence our written sources stem from hostile outsiders, some but not all contemporary Christians.

LacusCurtius points us to Ceisiwr Serith's pages on Mithraism, which give another overview of what we know, and just as importantly debunk some of the misinformation about Mithraism floating about, particularly with regard to the relationship between Mithraism and Christianity. Since Ceisiwr Serith is a Wiccan, he cannot be accused of a Christian bias in assessing the evidence.

06 October 2008

William Tyndale

The Church of England commemorates William Tyndale today. He is remembered as one of the first to make a translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English. He translated all of the New Testament and about half of the Old Testament, and his work was completed by Miles Coverdale.

The Tyndale Society's website naturally has a life of Tyndale. The British Library has one of the only two complete copies of the Tyndale New Testament still in existence.

05 October 2008

Chapters I and II

I must admit I find the chronology of the first two chapters of Eagle in the Snow quite confusing. We are told that Maximus was thirteen when his father was sent to Britain by the Caesar Julian. Julian was Caesar from 356 to 360, when he became Augustus. The oldest Maximus could therefore be by the time of the great barbarian incursion of 367 would be 24, which, working backwards, would make him no more than about 16 or 17 when he was serving as equestrian tribune and quite probably younger.

Ammianus Marcellinus' account of Martinus' death is quite different. According to Marcellinus:

Thereupon Martinus, alarmed at this threat, and thinking swift death imminent, drew his sword and attacked that same Paulus. But since the weakness of his hand prevented him from dealing a fatal blow, he plunged the sword which he had already drawn into his own side. (translation by J. C. Rolfe)

Ammianus also gives an account of the barbarians' concerted attack on Britain and how Theodosius was sent to Britain to retrieve the situation. Some present-day historians believe Ammianus exaggerates the situation to make Theodosius, father of the Emperor under whom Ammianus was writing, look good. Others take Ammianus at his word and believe there may have been a single mastermind responsible for coordinating the attacks.

Borcovicum, where Maximus is stationed on Hadrian's Wall, is also known as Vercovicium. The page from roman-britain.org dedicated to Vercovicium also has information about Maximus' cohort, the First Cohort of Tungrians (as is usual with this site, the page is very informative, but also quite hard to read).

04 October 2008

Eagle in the Snow

Eagle in the Snow by Walter Breem is the Roman History and More Reading Group's choice for its next online chat on 15/16 October (depending on your time zone). All are welcome.

The book is set in 406 AD and is narrated by Paulinus Gaius Maximus, a Roman commander stationed on the Rhine frontier. First published in 1970, it has been re-issued recently, and is reviewed here by Archaeology magazine and here by the italophiles site, which also includes a profile of the author.

The character Paulinus Gaius Maximus, with a slight name change and leap of 200-odd years in time (but that's Hollywood for you), was one of the inspirations for the film Gladiator.

03 October 2008

From the Oxford DNB

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has two articles of particular interest at present.

Available for one week from today (3rd October), an article traces imagery of Britannia from a commemoration of the Roman conquest under Claudius down to the present, while the current podcast features the lexicographer James Murray, editor of the OED (opens directly with the page for now, but will still be available at the bottom of the page when replaced). (public domain picture by Darren Prescott, via wiki commons)

02 October 2008


Ovid's next story is about Semele, one of Jupiter's mortal loves. Juno persuaded Semele to ask Jupiter to show himself to her in all his glory, and she got blasted.

Our first look at the story is this 1550s work attributed to Tintoretto and now in London's National Gallery. In the next century, Rubens also produced a Jupiter et Sémélé as part of a series of paintings on mythological themes. It is now in Brussels' Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Jan Voorhout (1647 - 1723) produced the undated picture below, now in the collection of Germany's Universität Göttingen.

In 1744 Handel wrote his opera Semele to a libretto written by Congreve for an earlier opera by John Eccles. The libretto was adapted for Handel by Newburgh Hamilton, who used some of Pope's verse in his adaptation. Those in the right part of the world at the right time might like to know that Handel's Semele is going to be performed at the Pacific Opera Victoria in British Columbia. Their website for this performance has a synopsis and video highlights of other performances of Handel's work. More unusually, here is a performance of an aria from Eccles's version.

Gustave Moreau painted two versions of Jupiter and Semele, shown below. Both are in the Musée Gustave Moreau. The left painting is slightly earlier, produced around 1890, while the one on the rightcomes from 1894 or 1895.

The Scottish artist John Duncan (1866-1945) painted this undated picture of Semele (click on the second picture from the right in the top row) by herself. Jupiter is not present, only Semele in flames.

30 September 2008

Saint Jerome

Today, September 30th, is St. Jerome's day. St. Jerome is the patron saint of translators due to his translation of the Bible into Latin, which became the standard Latin translation known as the Vulgate. (public domain picture by Caravaggio, from wikicommons)

St. Jerome according to the Catholic Encyclopedia and An Anglican view.

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has The Principal Works of Saint Jerome. See also the entry for Jerome on this index page (you'll have to scroll down till you find him).

26 September 2008


I often wonder in the Cadfael series what language the characters are talking. Sometimes Ellis Peters makes it explicit as a plot point that somebody is speaking Welsh or English, but presumably Norman French and Latin are also possibilities. Could Cadfael also speak Byzantine Greek and Arabic from his time in the East?

The Language Hat alerts us to the online existence of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary or AND.

I was also pleased to see this in the introduction:

If you are, or are soon to become, a taxpayer in the UK or any other EU country, you will probably be interested to know how we spend your cash, because it is taxation, channelled our way both through the general Higher Education budget and the specific allocations made to us by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom, that pays for everything we do. When we say that our Dictionary, unlike a number of other similar on-line undertakings, is 'free', we mean that we don't charge users to access it, hence anyone can consult it wherever there is an Internet connection without needing registration, passwords or a library or credit card. But of course nothing is ever truly 'free of charge'. We don't see why taxpayers who have already funded our work should pay once again to read it, but they have indeed already paid to have it created, maintained and distributed, and we are very grateful to them for that. We hope they will also be happy that what they have paid for is also made freely available to users worldwide, if only because that way people all over the globe can see and benefit from what is internationally regarded as an outstanding example of world-class UK-based research.

OED take note.

25 September 2008

Actaeon -- 18th century onwards

Our second look at representations of the story of Diana and Actaeon starts with the 18th century. Thomas Gainsborough's 1786 picture is in the Royal Collection, while the two statue groups from a variety of hands pictured below are in the grounds of the Caserta Reggia palace near Naples and were made in the late 1770s. (photos from wikicommons, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5 licence)

The 19th century brought an 1836 picture by Corot now in New York's Metropolitan Museum, while Delacroix chose Diana and Actaeon to illustrate Summer in this picture below from a series of paintings on the four seasons, dated 1856-1863. The original is now in Brazil's Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). (public domain picture via wikipedia)

However, the story does still inspire contemporary artists such as Calum Colvin and Harvey Dinnerstein. Those in the right part of the world might be interested in a forthcoming exhibition on the theme of
Diana und Actaeon: Der verbotene Blick auf die Nacktheit at Düsseldorf's Museum Kunst Palast.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Edith Wharton published a collection of poems in 1909, the title poem of which was Artemis to Actaeon. The history of the Diane and Actéon Pas de Deux is complex and with all due trepidation (caveat quaerens) I refer to you to Wikipedia for information. The National Library of Australia has a photo of Rudolf Nureyev as Actaeon, while ballet.co has a series of stills from a performance at London's Coliseum theatre by Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo. There are innumerable versions on Youtube, all looking much the same apart from the costumes to this non-balletomane.

24 September 2008


Pilgrimages were an important expression of religious feeling in Cadfael's day. Shrewsbury Abbey wanted the body of St. Winifred in order to attract more pilgrims. For general information on medieval pilgrimages, see Pilgrims and Pilgrimages -- the other pages on this site are also well worth exploring. (image of scallop shell from wikicommons licensed under GNU Free Documentation Licence)

Although we tend to think first of long distance pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Compostela, or Canterbury, local pilgrimages were also important, and this pdf article from Peregrinations explores the theme. The photobank of images at Peregrinations, the website for the International Society for the Study of Pilgrimage Art, is also well worth exploring. Here is a mosaic from Aachen cathedral to whet your appetite (photo by Asa Mittman via Peregrinations used by permission) .

19 September 2008

Actaeon - 15th to 17th centuries

Book III of the Metamorphoses continues with the story of Actaeon. We start our look at representations of this theme with a majolica dish dating from the 1490s and now in Bath's Holbourne Museum of Art, showing the story of Actaeon in the centre and the story of the Centaurs and the Lapiths around the rim. (photograph by HaSee released into the public domain via wikipedia)

The picture to the left is Louis Cranach the Elder's picture of Diana and Actaeon, from the first third of the 16th century. It is now in Connecticut's Wadsworth Athenaeum, but does not appear to be on their website.

The two pictures of Actaeon above are both by Titian, the one on the left, called Diana Surprised by Actaeon, being earlier (1556-1559 -- now in The National Galleries of Scotland) and the one on the right, called The Death of Actaeon, being later (1565-1576 -- now in London's National Gallery). Lonely London Lad's song was inspired by the Diana Surprised by Actaeon, and the two paintings form the video accompaniment to this performance of the aria "Oft she visits this lov'd mountain" from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas".

Moving on to the late 1580s and and early 1590s, the above left picture is by Bassano, (now in the Art Institute of Chicago) while a drawing by Spranger is now in New York's Metropolitan Museum. The above right picture is by Cesari (1603), and is now in Budapest's Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, but does not appear to be on their website.

A decade or so later, Joachim Anthoniesz Wtewael of the Netherlands produced Actaeon Watching Diana and Her Nymphs Bathing, now in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Dresden's Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (ninth picture down -- can't link any more closely) dates Albani's painting of Diana and Actaeon to before 1630. In 1634, Rembrandt combined the stories of Diana and Callisto and Diana and Actaeon in a single picture now in Anholt Castle in North Rhine-Westphalia (a tip of the hat to Judith Weingarten, who brought this to my attention in a comment on my second post about Callisto).

St. Petersburg's The Hermitage has Maratti's Landscape With Diana and Actaeon from the late 1660s, while Liechtenstein Castle takes us up to the 1690s with Franceschini's Diana and Acteon .

Backtracking slightly to 1684, the French composer Charpentier wrote a pastorale called Actéon, an extract from which can be viewed below.