Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bathing and luxury in the Roman world

Bathing was a popular form of relaxation in the Roman world, here's the atrium in the Suburban Baths at Herculaneum. The quote today is taken from Martialis epigrams and describe what could happen in and around the baths.

"When recently a miserable bow-legged slave need to carry Aper's linen to the bath for him, and a one-eyed old woman sat on his paltry toga to guard it, while a herniose bathing man supplied him with his drop of oil, he used to be a severe and unsparing censor of drunkards. "Break your cups, and throw away your Falernian," he would exclaim to any knight who drank anything on leaving the bath. But since three hundred thousand sesterces came to him from his old uncle, he cannot go home from the warm baths sober. Oh what power jewelled cups and a retinue of five long-haired servants have! Aper, as long as he was a poor man, did not suffer from thirst."

Martialis - Epigrams LXX
Bohn Edition 1897

Friday, October 29, 2010


A Griffin, executed in stucco in the apodyterium (changing room) of the Forum Baths at Pompeii.

"This race [Arimaspi] is said to carry on a perpetual warfare with the Griffins, a kind of monster, with wings, as they are commonly represented, for the gold which they dig out of the mines, and which these wild beasts retain and keep watch over with a singular degree of cupidity, while the Arimaspi are equally desirous to get possession of it."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) VIII.2
Translated by John Bostock, H.T. Riley

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pliny and Graffiti

A graffiti on a wall in the Casa della Nave Europa, Pompeii.

"Several villas, attracted by the beauty of this river, stand about on its borders. In short, every surrounding object will afford you entertainment. You may also amuse yourself with numberless inscriptions upon the pillars and walls, by different persons, celebrating the virtues of the fountain, and the divinity that presides over it. Many of them you will admire, while some will make you laugh; hut I must correct myself when I say so; you are too humane, I know, to laugh upon such an occasion. Farewell."

Pliny the younger - Letters VIII 8
Translated by W. Melmoth

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Emperor Claudius, found in Cerveteri. The piece is believed to originate from the emperors reign (41-54 AD).

"He [Claudius] possessed majesty and dignity of appearance, but only when he was standing still or sitting, and especially when he was lying down; for he was tall but not slender, with an attractive face, becoming white hair, and a full neck. But when he walked, his weak knees gave way under him and he had many disagreeable traits both in his lighter moments and when he was engaged in business; his laughter was unseemly and his anger still more disgusting, p63for he would foam at the mouth and trickle at the nose; he stammered besides and his head was very shaky at all times, but especially when he made the least exertion."

Suetonius - Claudius 30
Translated by J.C. Rolfe 1913-1914

Monday, October 25, 2010

Caesar and Pompey

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, more famous as Pompey the Great.

The letter cited here was sent from Marcus Caelius Rufus to Cicero and it discusses the, back then, recent events and the imminent risk of civil war.

"I have often told you in my letters that I see no chance of peace lasting a year; and the nearer the struggle comes, which must come, the clearer does that danger appear. The point, on which the men in power are bound to fight, is this - Cn. Pompeius has made up his mind not to allow C. Caesar to become consul, except on condition of his first handing over his army and provinces: while Caesar is fully persuaded that he cannot be safe if he quits his army."

Cicero - Letters CCLXXIX
Translated by E. S. Shuckburgh 1908-1909

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A boundary marker

This is one of the boundary markers from the Eleusinian way. Inscriptions are to a certain degree different from other classical texts: they are often randomly preserved (compared to texts, which has, or has not, been selected for copying during the millennia) and they talk very directly about something. This one simply states: boundary marker of the way to Eleusis. Ca 520 BC.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Memnon and the Epic Cycle

Memnon, being carried away by Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death). You can also see his mother, the Goddess Eos who is standing over his dead body. The vessel (a Kylix) is from Attica ca. 490-480 BC.

Memnon was one of the last truly great Heros among the Trojans and was hailed as the saviour of Troy by Priam - he would however soon meet his fate at the hand of Achilles. This story is, although it must have been very popular in antiquity, not recorded in the so famous Iliad and Odyssey, but in other minor cycles.

"Still mid the corpses and the blood fought on those glorious sons of Gods, nor ever ceased from wrath of fight. But Eris now inclined the fatal scales of battle, which no more were equal-poised. Beneath the breast-bone then of godlike Memnon plunged Achilles' sword; Clear through his body all the dark-blue blade leapt: suddenly snapped the silver cord of life. Down in a pool of blood he fell, and clashed his massy armour, and earth rang again."

Quintus of Smyrna - Posthomerica (The Fall of Troy) II
Translate by A. S. Way 1913

Friday, October 22, 2010

Romulus and Remus

An altar to Mars and Venus. Rome, ca 120 AD. Her you see the she-wolf nursing the twins, the national eagle of Rome, the Tiber (river god) and the shepherds that are to find Romulus and Remus.

"The tradition is, that when the water, subsiding, had left the floating trough, in which the children had been exposed, on dry ground, a thirsty she-wolf, coming from the neighbouring mountains, directed her course to the cries of the infants, and that she held down her dugs to them with so much gentleness, that the keeper of the king's flock found her licking the boys with her tongue. It is said his name was Faustulus; and that they were carried by him to his homestead to be nursed by his wife Laurentia."

Livius - Ab Urbe Condita I. 4
Translation by D. Spillan 1853

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Antonius Pius

Antonius Pius (138-161 AD) from Rome.

"Antoninus permitted all such [Provincial Roman citizens] to give to the children their heritage, choosing rather to show himself benevolent than to retain a law that swelled his riches. This emperor the Romans called Pius, because he showed himself to be a most religious man."

Pausanias - Description of Greece VIII.43.5
Translated by W.H.S Jones and H.A. Omerod 1918

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hesiodos on when to sail

This pottery fragment originate from a krater (wine mixing vessel) painted by the Dipylon painter and here you see a war ship during a naval battle. The piece is dated to ca 760-650 BC.

This picture is combined with a slightly later quote by Hesiodos, who is believed to have been working around 700 BC. He is most likely talking about merchant vessels here, but the same rules would apply to war ships at this time.

"But if desire for uncomfortable sea-faring seize you when the Pleiades plunge into the misty sea4 [620] to escape Orion's rude strength, then truly gales of all kinds rage. Then keep ships no longer on the sparkling sea, but be sure to till the land as I bid you. Haul up your ship upon the land and pack it closely with stones [625] all round to keep off the power of the winds which blow damply, and draw out the bilge-plug so that the rain of heaven may not rot it."

Hesiodos - Work and Days (between line 615 and 630)
Translated by H.G. Evelyn-White

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Roman Mill

A Roman mill from Pompeii Reg. VI Ins.3.3, House of the Baker or Casa del Forno. Another picture of a bakery (in Ostia) can be found in this post.

The text from today is from a book called Metamorphoses (sometimes The Golden Ass) where we find the hero, which has been turned into an ass, just as he has been sold to a bakery where he is to turn the mill.

"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 - Metamorphoses IX
Translated by Adlington 1566, ed. by M. Guy 1996

Monday, October 18, 2010

The temple of Athena Nike

"On the right of the gateway is a temple of Wingless Victory. From this point the sea is visible, and here it was that, according to legend, Aegeus threw him self down to his death."

Pausanias - Description of Greece 1.22.4
Translated by W.H.S Jones adn H.A. Omerod 1918

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vesuvius Eruption 79 AD

One of the many plaster casts of the victims of the eruption of 79 AD.

The text presented here was written by Plinius the younger as a letter intended for publication and I have picked out the passages that describe what the inhabitants of the area went through. The letter was formally addressed to Tacitus.

"He [Pliny the elder] was now so close to the mountain that the cinders, which grew thicker and hotter the nearer he approached, fell into the ships, together with pumice- stones, and black pieces of burning rock: they were in danger too not only of being aground by the sudden retreat of the sea, but also from the vast fragments which rolled down from the mountain, and obstructed all the shore. Here he stopped to consider whether he should turn back again; to which the pilot advising him, "Fortune," said he, "favours the brave; steer to where Pomponianus [A friend that Pliny the elder was trying to save] is." [...] They went out then, having pillows tied upon their heads with napkins; and this was their whole defence against the storm of stones that fell round them. It was now day everywhere else, but there a deeper darkness prevai1ed than in the thickest night; which howevcr was in some degree alleviated by torches and other lights of various kinds.[...] There my uncle [Pliny the elder], laying himself down upon a sail cloth, which was spread for him, called twice for some cold water, which he drank, when immediately the flames, preceded by a strong whiff of sulphur, dispersed the rest of the party, and obliged him to rise. He raised himself up with the assistance of two of his servants, and instantly fell down dead; suffocated, as I conjecture, by some gross and noxious vapour"

Pliny the Younger- Letters VI 16
Translated by W. Melmoth

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Trojan Horse

Cassandra and the Trojan Horse, as it's being taken in to the city, sealing Troy's doom. From the Casa del Menandro in Pompeii.

The passage below comes from the Odysses - this is how Homer have the Phaeacians bard sing about the fall of Troy;

"For the Trojans themselves had drawn the horse into their fortress, and it stood there while they sat in council round it, and were in three minds as to what they should do. Some were for breaking it up then and there; others would have it dragged to the top of the rock on which the fortress stood, and then thrown down the precipice; while yet others were for letting it remain as an offering and propitiation for the gods. And this was how they settled it in the end, for the city was doomed when it took in that horse, within which were all the bravest of the Argives waiting to bring death and destruction on the Trojans. Anon he sang how the sons of the Achaeans issued from the horse, and sacked the town, breaking out from their ambuscade. He sang how they over ran the city hither and thither and ravaged it, and how Ulysses went raging like Mars along with Menelaus to the house of Deiphobus. It was there that the fight raged most furiously, nevertheless by Minerva's help he was victorious."

Homer - The Odyssey VIII
Translated by S. Butler 1898

Friday, October 15, 2010

Perseus and Medusa

This vessel depicts Medusa (headless on the left) and her two sister gorgons, right after the point where Perseus left with the monsters (i.e. Medusas) head. It is dated to ca. 620-610 BC.

"I [Perseus] thence arrived to where the Gorgon dwelt.

“Along the way, in fields and by the roads,
I saw on all sides men and animals—
like statues—turned to flinty stone at sight
of dread Medusa's visage. Nevertheless
reflected on the brazen shield, I bore
upon my left, I saw her horrid face.

“When she was helpless in the power of sleep
and even her serpent-hair was slumber-bound,
I struck, and took her head sheer from the neck.—
To winged Pegasus the blood gave birth,
his brother also, twins of rapid wing.”"

Ovidius - Metamorphoses IV
Translated by Brookes, M., 1922

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A new theme & Odysseus and the Palladium

Odysseus, from the Antikythera shipwreck, the piece has been, although badly damaged by the water, dated to c. 100 BC. It was perhaps part of a group in which also Diomedes could be found.

Well, the blog has hit 20.000 visitors and it's time for a new theme. I've decided that I'm going back to the one I had around Christmas last year, i.e. combining a quote from a classical author with a picture.

"[...]there is Odysseus, a wheedling rascal, but bold enough indeed, [500] and of all men he has wrought most outrage on this country [i.e. Troy]. For he came by night to Athena's shrine and stole her image and took it to the Argive ships; next he came inside our battlements, clad as a vagrant in a beggar's garb, and loudly did he curse [505] the Argives, sent as a spy to Ilium; and then went out again, when he had slain the sentinels and warders at the gate. He is always to be found lurking in ambush about the altar of Thymbrean Apollo near the city. In him we have a troubling pest to wrestle with."

Euripides - Rhesus line 499-510
Translation by E. P. Coleridge 1891

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Demeter (Ceres)

A statue of Demeter from Eleusis, ca 420 BC.

Demeter is, by some reason, very rarely preserved in the form of a statue and you should thus consider yourself lucky if you run into her - not to mention how few complete statues of her there is.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Statues of Dionysos are both numerous, entertaining to identify and quite tricky, as the god can appear in three different forms (in statues, a fourth exist in coins). Quite a number of attributes should also be listed; the panther (sometimes dragging a wagon, as here), ivy, grapes, vine and so on.

As a herm, where you only see the head and an erected penis (herms are quite common; Hercules herm, a headless herm and a herm from the Athenian Agora.

As an old, manly god, resembling an eastern ruler with long curly hair, a beard and sometimes a diadem. Notice the wines in his hair.
This piece is from the 2nd century AD, Rome.

The infant Dionysos, such as seen in the very famous group Hermes and the Dionysos Child by Praxiteles. More information on this piece can be found here.

As a young god, with slightly female forms. From the 2nd century AD, Rome.

He can also be found with rams or bulls horns on coins.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Persephone (aka Kore; lat. Proserpina)

Persephone/Kore from Eleusis, dated to 440-430 BC.

I've not seen very many sculptures of this goddess, but this relief is certainly famous. You'll see Persephone/Kore on the right in her normal, very serious mood and holding a torch in her hand. Other common attributes are a sceptre or box (cista mystica).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Charadros - a river god

probably a personification of the river Charadros, 2nd century AD from Pythion at Oinoe

I thought that it could be useful to add a river god to the collection, as they are quite common (or at least not uncommon). You'll quite soon notice that they normally lie down as in the example above, also commonly carrying a cornucopia, i.e. Horn of lanty (not seen here). You can compare it to this one from Rome.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tyche (Fortuna)

Tyche, or Fortuna as the Romans identified her, is a very tricky one, as her attributes seems to change depending on where you find here.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Serapis from Gortyn, 180-190 AD.

The nature of Serpais is a very complicated question, I'll have to leave it for now with the note that he was a Hellenistic creation which spread over the Mediterranean from Egypt. His at least very easy to recognize in sculpture, he's looking very much like Zeus/Jupiter, but with a grain basket on his head and Cerberus at his feet.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pan (Inuus and sometimes Faunus)

A very calm version of Pan (2nd century AD, perhaps from Rome), here rendered without his most typical attributes - the give away comes in the Syrinx and the skin. The head and arms were restored (I do not know how heavily) when it was places in the Villa Giulia in Rome c. 1550.

This is a more relaxed view of Pan (100 BC), where he tried to make an advance upon Afrodite, one of his favourite activities. More on this group in this post.

Pan is always a fun character, and not only in myths and legends but also in sculpture. You’ll see him around now and then, he’s both quite common adn easy to recognize with his horns, goat-feet and puck nose. You can also see that he’s either dancing or playing his pipe, the Syrinx.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The muses

Erato, the Muse of Poetry

Clio, the Muse of History

Polyhymnia, muse of Dance

The muses tend to show up in museums now and then, just when you least expect them. They are unfortunately very difficult to recognize as there's a number of them (not even the ancient Greeks and Romans them self could decide upon how many) and their attributes can be very discrete.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nike (Victoria)

Nike, as she was portrayed for a victory monument in Olympia.

Nike from the Stoa of Zeus, Agora of Athens. Dated to ca 400 BC.

Nike (Victoria) is one of my personal favorites among the gods in classical sculpture, no doubt partly due to the absolutely amazing Nike Samothrace that can be found in the Louvre.

This is however far from the only Nike statue that can be found in a modern museum, she’s, although not as common as Athena or Apollo, still a quite normal sight.

The goddess normally portrayed as a young winged female, often just about to touch the ground as she’s landing (presumably on a battle field). You might also recognize a hands gesture that looks like if she was once holding a wreath.