Monday, November 30, 2009

Grammar and the danger of sewers

An (nowadays) open sewer in Herculaneum that illustrate the danger of holes in the pavement. The authorities has placed not only bars over it, but also a fence around it. The event below can be dated to between 158 and 138 BC.

"In my opinion then, the first to introduce the study of grammar into our city was Crates of Mallos, a contemporary of Aristarchus. He was sent to the senate by king Attalus between the second and third Punic wars, at about the time when Ennius died; and having fallen into the opening of a sewer in the Palatine quarter and broken his leg, he held numerous and frequent conferences during the whole time both of his embassy and of his convalescence, at which he constantly gave instruction, and thus set an example for our countrymen to imitate."

Suetonius - De Grammaticis II
Translated by J. C. Rolfe

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Res gestae and gladiatorial games

A show helmet from the Campanian region.

"I gave a gladiatorial game three times in my own name and five times in the name of my sons or grandsons; in these games fought about 10.000 men."

Res gestae XXII.1
Translated by Patrik Klingborg

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Spols from the Jewis war

Relief from the arch of Titus at the forum Romanum. Notice the Menorah.

"But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, (9) they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also [i.e. most likely the menorah], that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of; for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews; and the last of all the spoils, was carried the Law of the Jews. After these spoils passed by a great many men, carrying the images of Victory, whose structure was entirely either of ivory or of gold. After which Vespasian marched in the first place, and Titus followed him; Domitian also rode along with them, and made a glorious appearance, and rode on a horse that was worthy of admiration."

Josephus - Bellum Judaicum (the Jewish war) VII.5.6.
Translated by William Whiston

Friday, November 27, 2009

Death of Horace

Today we celebrate Q. Horatius Flaccus 2017st death day (27th November 8 Bc) - and I want to acknowledge this by posting the famous Carpe diem poem. Ave atque vale!

There is no way that I can match the beauty of Horatius poem, but I'm sure that the eternal city, Urbs, was as stunning to him then as it is to me now.

"Ask not ('tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb'd away.
Seize the present; trust tomorrow e'en as little as you may."

Q. Horatius Flaccus - Odes I.11
Translated by J Conington

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Most Greek gods (as Athena) can only exists in singular, one exception being Hermes (Ἑρμῆς). So why Hermes? The answer is rather easy, the ancient Greeks had a special type of boarder markers called Herms (plural) - and thus a use for the god in plural.

A herm is recognized by the fact that it's a head on a short plain pillar with a (commonly erected) penis in the middle. Compare to this one.

"I have already stated that the Athenians are far more devoted to religion than other men. They were the first to surname Athena Ergane (Worker); they were the first to set up limbless Hermae, and the temple of their goddess is shared by the Spirit of Good men."

Pausanias - Description of Greece I.24.3
Translated by Jones, W. H. S.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The hard life of an Ass

Compare to the second shot here.

"there [at a bakers house] I saw a great company of horses that went in the mill day and night grinding of corne, but lest I should be discouraged at the first, my master entertained me well, for the first day I did nothing but fare daintily, howbeit such mine ease and felicity did not long endure, for the next day following I was tyed to the mill betimes in the morning with my face covered, to the end in turning and winding so often one way, I should not become giddy, but keepe a certaine course, but although when I was a man I had seen many such horsemills and knew well enough how they should be turned, yet feigning my selfe ignorant of such kind of toile, I stood still and would not goe, whereby I thought I should be taken from the mill as an Asse unapt, and put to some other light thing, or else to be driven into the fields to pasture, but my subtility did me small good, for by and by when the mill stood still, the servants came about me, crying and beating me forward, in such sort that I could not stay to advise my selfe, whereby all the company laughed to see so suddaine a change."

Apuleius - the goalden ass (Asinus aureus) IX
Translated by Adlington 1566

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where to find dragons and their size

This is a monster (dragon?) from a marble statue called the discus bearer. The statue was originally produced in bronze by Polykleitos (460-450 bc) and we can be quite sure that the dragon was added when the statue were copied - it is a part of the support that is required in the marble version.

"Æthiopia produces dragons [lat. draconi], not so large as those of India, but still, twenty cubits in length.1[sic] The only thing that surprises me is, how Juba came to believe that they have crests"

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) VIII.13
Translated by John Bostock, H.T. Riley

Monday, November 23, 2009

What kind of music dolphins enjoy

This may turn into a full scale Pliny the Elder's Natural history quoting mania - I can't help it.

This dolphin (I do hope that it is a dolphin, I am by no means an expert on the subject) is to be found in Ostia. You can compare it to this ugly fellow. More on ostia is found at day 45, 46, 55, 56 and 74.

"The dolphin is an animal not only friendly to man, but a lover of music as well; he is charmed by melodious concerts,1 [p. 2372][sic] and more especially by the notes of the water-organ.2[sic] He does not dread man, as though a stranger to him, but comes to meet ships, leaps and bounds to and fro, vies with them in swiftness, and passes them even when in full sail."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) IX.8
Translated by John Bostock, H.T. Riley

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The intelligence of goats

"Mutianus relates an instance of the intelligence of this animal, of which he himself was an eye-witness. Two goats, coming from opposite directions, met on a very narrow bridge, which would not admit of either of them turning round, and in consequence of its great length, they could not safely go backwards, there being no sure footing on account of its narrowness, while at the same time an impetuous torrent was rapidly rushing beneath; accordingly, one of the animals lay down flat, while the other walked over it."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) VIII.76
Translated by John Bostock, H.T. Riley

Saturday, November 21, 2009


"Dogs are the only animals that are sure to know their masters; and if they suddenly meet him as a stranger, they will instantly recognize him. They are the only animals that will answer to their names, and recognize the voices of the family. They recollect a road along which they have passed, however long it may be. Next to man, there is no living creature whose memory is so retentive. By sitting down on the ground, we may arrest their most impetuous attack, even when prompted by the most violent rage."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) VIII.61
Translated by John Bostock, H.T. Riley

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Funerary Club & a Columbarium

We sometimes forget that ancient society was rather tough. One testimony to the harsh climate of the time is that a lot of people formed funerary clubs. The concept was simple: pay a monthly fee and you'll get a proper burial.

Quite a number of people could join such a club (collegia) and one way to ensure that they all could be buried was to construct a columbarium (literally pigeon house).

A columbarium in Ostia (B8, seen from the south). Notice the small niches, each one designed for a ash urn.

[M(arco) Antonio Hiber]o P(ublio) Mummio Sisenna co(n)s(ulibus) Kal(endis) Ian(uariis) collegium salutare Dianae / et Antinoi constitutum [...]

The first of January, during the consulate of Marcus Biberos Hiberus and Publius Mummius Sisenna [133 A.D] was Dianas and Antonius funeral club founded[...]

ILS 7212 (inscription from Lanuvio/Lanuvium)
Translated by Patrik Klingborg

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cato the Elder and a proper sacrifice

There are several ancient authors writing on the subject of agriculture. One of the more famous is Cato the Elder who's work De Agricultura seems to have been intended as a guide to his sons on how to take care of the family farm. Here's a short passage on sacrificing:

The so called "Laurentian Sow" from the first or second century ad.

"Before harvest the sacrifice of the porca praecidanea94 [sic. I.e. "old sow"]should be offered in this manner: Offer a sow as porca praecidanea [i.e. "old sow"] to Ceres before harvesting spelt, wheat, barley, beans, and rape seed; and address a prayer, with incense and wine, to Janus, Jupiter, and Juno, before offering the sow."

Cato the Elder - De Agricultura (On agriculture) 134
Translated by W. D. Hooper and H. B. Ash

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pliny the Younger and Pompeii

One very famous ancient text is the letter from Pliny the Younger to the great historian Tacitus concerning Vesuvius eruption 79 Ad. This is a short passage from that letter:

"On the 24th of August, about one in the afternoon, my mother desired him [Pliny the elder, an admiral and the author of a large encyclopaedia] to observe a cloud which appeared of a very unusual size and shape. He had just taken a turn in the sun93 [sic] and, after bathing himself in cold water, and making a light luncheon, gone back to his books: he immediately arose and went out upon a rising ground from whence he might get a better sight of this very uncommon appearance. A cloud, from which mountain was uncertain, at this distance (but it was found afterwards to come from Mount Vesuvius), was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a pine tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches; occasioned, I imagine, either by a sudden gust of air that impelled it, the force of which decreased as it advanced upwards, or the cloud itself being pressed back again by its own weight, expanded in the manner I have mentioned; it appeared sometimes bright and sometimes dark and spotted, according as it was either more or less impregnated with earth and cinders."

Pliny the Younger, Epistulae (letters) VI.16.
Translated by William Melmoth

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pericles funeral oration and a public burial

Pericles funeral oration in 431/430 bc over Athens dead soldiers is not only one of the best speeches every given but also a very unique one. Instead of honoring the dead soldiers by praising their deeds and courage Pericles do so by talking bout the greatness of Athens. Here's one of the more famous parts.

An Athenian grave relief over a soldier - possibly part of a state monument. Ca 330 Bc.

"Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are
rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration
favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a
democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in
their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public
life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being
allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if
a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of
his condition."

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War II.6
Translated by Richard Crawley

A new theme

I believe that it's time for a new theme and I've decided that it's time to let the ancient talk for the self for a while. I will therefor, once every day, post a picture and a suitable quote from and ancient source. First out is Caesar who is talking about the two honorable classes in Gallic society. The first one, the druids, is finished and he here describe the equites, the knights.

"The other order is that of the knights. These, when there is occasion and any war occurs (which before Caesar's arrival was for the most part wont to happen every year, as either they on their part were inflecting injuries or repelling those which others inflected on them), are all engaged in war. And those of them most distinguished by birth and resources, have the greatest number of vassals and dependents about them. They acknowledge this sort of influence and power only."

Caesar - De bello Gallico (about the Gallic war) VI.15.1-2.
Translated by W. A. McDevitte. & W. S. Bohn.

The four Pompeian styles

To begin with, I regret that I could not post a summary of the four Pompeian styles yesterday as promised - internet was down in the building. On the other hand, now you’ll get that post today instead. If you want to read a primary source on paintings, you’ll find that Pliny the Elder wrote in length on the subject in his Natural History.

So to the point.

More roman paintings than what anyone could imagine existed showed up when the Campanian remains were rediscovered during the 18th century – more or less every wall in the city had some sort of painted decoration. This massive amount of paintings enabled a German scholar, August Mau, to create a system where the paintings could be categorized and dated, as he noticed some fundamental differences. This system is now somewhat questioned but it is still useful as a frame of reference.

The first style

The first style is dated to the 2nd century Bc and it’s recognized by the simple look. The intention was to imitate marble blocks by using painted plaster that was polished. This first style wasn’t very common in Campania in 79 ad but we find it in some of the older (obviously conservative) upper class houses.

The fauces (entrance) of Casa del Fauno (Pompeii). Notice the square painted blocks under the small columns.

The east side of Via di Mercurio in Pompeii. It was probably the owners of Casa dei Dioscuri that paid for this outer wall - there's unfortunately no color traces left but it's a fair guess that this wall once looked like shining marble.

The second style

The second style is found from the early 1st century Bc and onwards. Here we find distinct three dimensional motifs - there are however still something left of the 1st style as the imitated marble blocks sometimes are kept as frames and visual support.

Here we see how the characteristic three dimensional feature in the second style may look.

Notice how the painting here is surrounded by red blocks. This is however probably a rather late second style painting as it has elements that remind us of the third style.

We also have a wonderful example of this style from the House of Augustus at the Palatine.

The third style
This is probably the second easiest style to recognize and it dates from the Augustan era, i.e. 30 Bc and onwards. The third style is in a way a development that came from the second. We still see same architectural details as in the second style but they are now tiny and used to frame small central motifs.

A wall from Herculaneum painted in the third style.

Detail of the architectural elements.

A central motifs. These are normally, as here, small dream landscapes or small animals such as swans and griffins.

The fourth style.

It is rather easy to take the fourth style for the third and the other way around. The style is to a certain degree a combination of the second and third. The paintings we find in this category normally dates from 50 Ad and onwards.

Here we see a fine example of the 4th style. It is easiest recognized by the still tiny architectural elements in combination with this almost insane way to depict buildings and figures.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A painted Garden

There are many stunningly beautiful paintings to be found in the Campania, but it's important to remember that neither Pompeii nor Herculaneum were Rome.

There must have been magnificent pieces in the city and when I want to see one such example I always return to the same painting, one from Livia's villa at Prima Porta.

This is one part of a much larger painting (late 1st century Bc). You find other scenes that have been posted earlier here and here. You may also want to compare it to this painting from the villa at Oplontis (which may have belonged to Poppaea, Nero's wife. The evidence is not very convincing though)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Roman painting out of context

All of the paintings previously posted are still to be found either in situ (i.e. where they were found) or at the local museums. Some other paintings have unfortunately been removed without a note on where they were found - and there's no way to find out now.

This is one such painting, found somewhere in Campania. It's made in the 2nd style between 50 and 30 bc (more on the styles in a few days) and we see a theatrical mask to the right and the attributes of Heracles - we can speculate and wonder if this is meant to depict a play about Hero.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A full wall in the third style

This is how a 3rd style painting might look when you find a wall that is more or less completely preserved. Compare it to these earlier examples from Oplontis, the House of the Garden of Hercules and one from an unknown find spot in Campania.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Ancient Idyll

This painting is from the small fountain garden at the House of the small fountain (Reg VI Ins 8.23) and it's an typical example of 1st century Roman large scale painting depicting an idyllic setting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Myth of Narcissus

This painting comes from the same house as the on posted yesterday (House of Loreius Tiburtinus / House of D. Octavius Quartio), but here’s another myth depicted. Notice the boy and more importantly his reflection in the water beneath him!

Here we see Narcissus who is looking at his own reflection in a pool of water. There are several versions of this myth, one tell us that the gods made him stay at the pond until his death as a punishment for rejecting everyones love to him. The Roman author Ovid write that he killed himself when he realized that he would never be loved in return by his image.

Read the full story about Narcissus here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pyramus and Thisbe - an Ancient Verison of Romeo and Juliet

Notice the lion, Mulberry tree (with the red color beneath it) the dying man and woman stabbing herself. Together they tell us a tragic story from the ancient world. The painting is to be found in the so called House of Loreius Tiburtinus / House of D. Octavius Quartio. Other pictures from the same house may be found here and here.

Mythological motives are, as may be excepted, common. This painting depicts the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, a true Romeo and Juliet story. I will write a short summary, but you can read the full version as Ovid wrote it here.

Pyramus and Thisbe were living in two neighboring houses in Babylonia. I happened to be that they were madly in love and wished to be married, but family rivalry made that impossible and they could only speak to each other through a crack in the wall between the houses. One day they decided to go out and see each other, they were to meet up under the Mulberry tree at the tomb of Ninus. Thisbe was the first to arrive and she found a lion there, all bloody. Terrified, she ran away but dropped her veil. The lion took a bite of it and then left. Now Pyramus figured, when he arrived, that Thisbe had been killed. To sad to go on, he struck himself with his sword.

However, Thisbe returned to see her lover, she could not stay away from him, but found him dying under the Mulberry tree. She then cried out that she would also kill herself and now only wished two things; that the white mulberries would become forever red, as a reminder of the their death, and that she would be buried together with her love. She plunged the sword into herself and the mulberries were stained with her blood.

The gods granted her the first of the two wishes, her parents the second.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Roman Couple

Another picture that show us how a roman couple might look, or might have wanted to look.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another splendid 3rd style painting

I have noticed lately that Casa dei Dioscuri seems to have some of the best paintings in Pompeii. Here is one in the third style (I will use one day next weekend to explain all these different styles).

Until then, notice how this painting depicts a building - it's not random geometrical shapes! We have two columns in the front that are supporting a wooden roof. In the background we see a fountain and a peacock. The setting kinda reminds me of this picture that I posted a while ago.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An young man from Casa dei Dioscuri

This is one of the many fabulous paintings in the Casa dei Dioscuri - here we see a young man with a shield (or discus?(. Notice how the wind press the clothing to his body and create something of a halo behind him. This style can be seen in many pieces from the early empire.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A garden niche

There are several small niches at the Villa at Oplontis that seems to be intended as mini gardens. They are painted in this beautiful manner and full of life nowadays.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An erotic scene

I hope that nobody find this picture to be too explicit but I believe that it represent an important part of the Roman decoration scheme. Nudity and sex, even pictures and statues depicting the owner him/herself was common and you will encounter it over and over again in ancient art.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A slightly less common style

This is an interesting example of another, more uncommon, pattern. Yet we find the same details as in other paintings; flying cupids, women, birds, medallions and plants.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A 3rd style masterpiece

here is another example on how the 3rd style may look. Notice the architectural framing, central motif and plants.