Monday, December 13, 2010

The Antikythera Mechanism

I am sure that most of you have already heard of this device – it was found in the first years of the 20th century among many other impressive finds in the so called Antikythera wreck. This mechanism, generally accepted as some sort of astronomical instrument, is very likely to be the by far most advanced piece of technology that has survived since antiquity. For another find from the Antikythera wreck, see here.

I apologize for the bad quality pictures - they store the device in a terribly dark room.

The mechanism itself, these are the three main fragments.

The other side is somewhat better preserved. The device contain no less than 32 gear wheels.

This is a reconstruction made by Prof. Derek de Solla Price.

The other side of the reconstruction.

Fortunately we also have literary evidence for this kind of mechanisms, as Cicero, among others, tells us about them:

”we have learned to survey the stars, not only those that are fixed, but also those which are improperly called wandering; and the man who has acquainted himself with all their revolutions and motions is fairly considered to have a soul resembling the soul of that Being who has created those stars in the heavens: for when Archimedes described in a sphere the motions of the moon, sun, and five planets, he did the very same thing as Plato’s God, in his Tim├Žus, who made the world, causing one revolution to adjust motions differing as much as possible in their slowness and velocity.”

Cicero - The Tusculan disputations I. 25
Translated by C.D. Yonge

”But if that sphere which was lately made by our friend Posidonius, the regular revolutions of which show the course of the sun, moon, and five wandering stars, as it is every day and night performed, were carried into Scythia or Britain, who, in those barbarous countries, would doubt that that sphere had been made so perfect by the exertion of reason?”

Cicero - The Nature of the Gods II. 34
Translated by C.D. Yonge

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Villa Poppaea/Oplontis and a toilet in the Stabian Baths

It has been argued that it should be possible to identify different painters and workshops in Campania, due to the large amount of remaining frescoes. I am, however, sceptic – it kind of strikes me about as ridiculous as when historians and archaeologists try to attribute red and black figure vessels to specific Athenian masters, or even worse, their pupils and co-workers.

I, however, found a very interesting example where I believe that a connection can be made as I noticed that the public latrine at the Stabian baths are decorated in the same very easily recognizable style as the perisyle and grand corridor at Oplontis/Villa Poppaea. I unfortunately cannot provide any pictures of my own from the Stabian baths as they are currently under reconstruction, but you can see how the latrine looks at Pompeii in Pictures. It should probably be noticed that I can not imagine that nobody else have recognized this already, it is simply too obvious to be overseen.

Anyway, the matter makes me terrible curious. What this possible connection could be made up by can of course be discussed – it could be as simple as an imitation, or the work of a specific workshop. It could also be speculated that this was a standard pattern (although I very much doubt that, considering that I’ve only seen it at two different places) or that the person who owned the villa liked the style and ordered it to be painted at other locations as well. The later explanation would, however, suggest that the owner of the villa at Oplontis had something to do with the Stabian baths - and that he, if this was the case, wanted to use the same style in a (presumably) public and important part of his own, very luxurious, villa and in a public latrine.

The Peristyle at Oplontis (Villa Poppaea). Notice the wall paintings.

Detail of the painting I'm interested in at the moment.

The same style can be found in the grand corridor somewhat further into the villa.