Alfred Gilbert was an exceptional English sculptor who produced a vast amount of work some of which had a mythological theme. I have had the pleasure of seeing three pieces of Gilbert’s mythological work at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The pieces are kept under glass and as such the photographs are not particularly clear.
The sculpture of Icarus represents ambition and desire. Icarus escaped from the labyrinth of the Minotaur using wax wings designed by his father Daedulus. However, he ignored his father’s warning and flew too close to the sun, the wax melted and he plummeted to earth, drowning in the sea. It is possible that Icarus’ impending death is represented by the bird at the base devouring a snake.
Athlete Wrestling a Python
This sculpture represents an athlete battling a python. However, it is possible that there are mythological influences within the piece. Within Greek mythology it is told that Apollo chased the serpent Python from Mount Parnassus to the Oracle at Delphi. Apollo having killed Python at Delphi became the patron of the sanctuary. It would appear that there are distinct similarities between the myth and the representation in this sculpture.
Gilbert represents Perseus preparing for battle. It could be for one of his many mythological fights but I would suggest that he is preparing to travel to fight the Gorgon Medusa. Hermes lent his sandals to Perseus in order that he could travel to the island where Medusa resided and claim her head. It appears in the sculpture that Perseus is checking the sandals having just put them on.
These three pieces are exceptional and if you get the opportunity I would recommend visiting the museum to see them.
After many weeks of typing and editing I submitted my assignment on Early Rome and Italy last Monday and am back to blogging. I thought that for my first post since April I would give a bit of insight into what I have been writing about over the past six plus weeks.
‘Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus’ (Tacitus The Annals 1.1). According to literary tradition Brutus led the revolution against the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, following the rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius. Romans considered this ‘traditional’ account fact and it was accepted, without question, that the republic immediately succeeded the monarchy. The assignment I wrote explored this in detail but, for the purposes of this post, I intend to focus on one piece of archaeological evidence that raises questions about the literary tradition.
The Lapis Satricum inscription, discovered in 1977, reused in the foundations of the Temple of Mater Matuta is dated to 500 BC. The inscription, though damaged, reads, ‘dedicated by the companions of Publius Valerius to Mars’ (Galsterer, 2006). Scholarship is divided between those that suggest the inscription refers to Valerius Publicola (Publicola) one of the first consuls of Rome (Wiseman, 2008:311; Cornell, 1995:140; Versnel, cited in Bremmer, 1982:134; Raaflaub, 2005:8) and those who are non-committal (Holloway, 1994:153; Smith, 1996:198, 236-7; Forsythe, 2005:199). It appears Forsythe (2005:199) infers that the inscription may be from a later date as he notes Livy’s reference to the consul P.Valerius who led a military mission against Satricum in 377 BC. This is unlikely as Smith (1996:235) states that the inscription had been found upside-down.
The Lapis Satricum is significant contemporary evidence that indicates the existence of a group who aligned themselves with Publius Valerius, not a state or city (Forsythe, 2005:199). The group acted as a retinue or companions for a Roman or resident of Satricum (Bremmer, 1982:147; Cornell, 1995:144; Richardson, 2010:35). There are accounts of other individuals who had followers who were allied to them such as Attus Clausus (Livy History of Rome 2.16.3-5), Mastarna (ILS 212 transl. Cornell, 1995:133-4) and the Fabii (Livy History of Rome 2.48.8-2.49.9); amongst others. The groups are comparable to the followers of Homeric heroes as the lifestyle of raiding and making war was similar (Forsythe, 2005:199). Cornell (1995:144) describes them in terms of a private army, moving freely within the Italian peninsula, whose allegiance could change as necessary; citing the Fabii’s private war against Veii with only the support of family, clients and companions as an example. Bremmer (1982:136) and Forsythe (2005:200) question this interpretation suggesting Livy’s description indicates the family and companions waved off those headed to war instead of providing military support. However, Livy’s account may be based on his contemporary experiences of family groups leaving for war. Arguably the actions of the Fabii represent a developmental stage of Roman society where the state was not yet able to enforce authority over the aristocracy (Forsythe, 2005:200; Cornell, 1995:144). Therefore, if the Roman state had not yet evolved to the point of being able to control powerful families it might be proposed that the traditional account of governmental revolution could be questioned. It is suggested by Alfoldi (cited in Forsythe 2005:105) that Rome may have intermittently been ruled by ‘Etruscan adventurers’. Arguably individuals such as Mastarna, King Porsenna of Clusium and, possibly, Publicola might have been such rulers of Rome, either by consent or force. If the period of time was short they may not have been remembered as kings (Cornell, 1995:144-5). The literary tradition, through oral retelling and reinterpretation, would have developed to explain away such anomalies.
The existence of the Lapis Satricum indicates the continuation of state evolution during the sixth century as groups of individuals continued to align themselves to a leader. During this period it might be inferred that though states existed they were not fully formed and powerful families such as the Fabii and Valerii may have continued to operate autonomously. Furthermore, it is possible Rome may have continued to have been conquered and ruled by powerful individuals and their followers. If the individual in the inscription is Publicola it might be suggested that he ruled Rome as king. This period of rule would have been after the traditionally accepted date of the end of the monarchy and so instead of king he would have been accorded the position of consul in the literary accounts.
The Lapis Satricum is one small piece of an exceptionally large puzzle. Other pieces of evidence, such as the consular fasti and the reference by Livy to an office of Praetor Maximus, might be considered alongside the Lapis Satricum to argue that instead of revolution there was a gradual evolution of government. There is a vast amount of scholarly debate on this subject. If you want to investigate this in greater detail the bibliography below will provide a good starting point.
Livy History of Rome, Translated by Roberts, C. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co, 1912. Perseus Digital Library http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026 [Accessed: 3 April 2014]
Tacitus The Annals – Complete Works of Tacitus, Translated by Church, A. and Brodribb, W., S. Bryant (ed) New York: Random House, 1942. Perseus Digital Library http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0078 [Accessed: 1 April 2014]
Bremmer, J. ‘The suodales of Poplios Valesios’, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 47, 1982, pp. 133-147. Available at:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/20183603 [Accessed 20 April 2014]
Cornell, T. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264), London: Routledge, 1995.
Forsythe, G. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
Galsterer, H. ‘Lapis Satricanus’ Brill’s New Pauly. H. Cancik and H. Schneider (eds) Brill Online, 2014. http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-new-pauly/lapis-satricanus-e631310 [Accessed: 5 May 2014]
Holloway, R. The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium, London: Routledge, 1994.
Raaflaub, K. ‘The Conflict of the Orders in Archaic Rome: A Comprehensive and Comparative Approach’, in K. Raaflaub (ed), Social Struggles in Archaic Rome: New Perspectives on the Conflict of the Orders (2nd ed), Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005, pp. 1-46.
Richardson, J. ‘The Oath per Iovem lapidem and the Community in Archaic Rome’, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 153, 2010, pp. 25-42. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/3190306/The_Oath_per_Iovem_lapidem_and_the_Community_in_Archaic_Rome_Rheinisches_Museum_fur_Philologie_153_2010_25-42 [Accessed: 17 March 2014]
Smith, C. Early Rome and Latium, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
Wiseman, T. Unwritten Rome, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2008.
I have been preparing for the Classical Association conference this week and so have not had the opportunity to write anything substantial. I look forward to doing a write up of the conference when I get back. However, during this preparation work I have been thinking about where I want to take my studies once I finish my MA. I have always had a fascination with the mythology of the underworld and during a recent visit to the British Museum I saw these two pieces.
Cinerary urn designed in the form of a thatched hut dating from the 8/7th century BC. Discovered in Monte Albano.
Marble cinerary urn from the 1st/2nd century AD. The inscription reads as a dedication to Bovia Procula. It is thought that this originated in southern Italy.
It is interesting that the funerary urn did not change much in design over the duration of 800-1000 years. Though materials differ, as with the ones pictured, the shape and general design remain quite similar. Burials occurred in other parts of Italy but the only funeral rite in early Villanovian culture was incineration. The remains were placed in a container and buried in a cylindrical well. The most common style of funerary urn was a biconical vase with a bowl like lid. The hut urn pictured above was uncommon; at larger burial sites approximately one out of every hundred were of this style (Bartoloni, 2000:59).
Since taking these photos I have often thought about the pieces and what they represent. This is definitely an area that I would like to investigate in greater depth and maybe where my future studies take me.
Just a note that if you are not attending the conference but are on Twitter you can follow #CA14. There are a number of other people you can follow in addition to me on @da11sop. I would also recommend you follow the Classics Collective through their blog http://www.classicscollective.wordpress.com where they will be posting updates on the conference.
Bartoloni, G. The Origin and Diffusion of Villanovan Culture in The Etruscans, Torelli, M. (Ed), London: Thames and Hudson, 2001, pp. 53-71.
This artefact is a model sailing ship with its crew. It was discovered in Kalokhorio and dates to approximately the 7th/6th century BC. This item was a sanctuary offering and suggests that seafaring was important to the people of Cyprus. Given its location and natural resources Cyprus would have been an important trading island for the Mediterranean. With access to an abundant supply of wood the cities of Cyprus would have had the ability to develop a large scale naval fleet. The control of the seas would not have just been important to Cyprus but other nations as well, such as the Minoans and Phoenicians. Nations that had the power to dominate the seas whether by military might or for commercial purposes are referred to by the term Thalassocracy.
Votive offerings of model ships may have been made for many reasons; in order to praise the gods for a victory during a sea battle, for a safe voyage or by merchants to protect trade routes. However, without any epigraphic evidence it is difficult to establish what the intention of this offering was. The crew do not appear to be warriors as there are no weapons and so this might be the offering from a merchant.
It is interesting to note that ship dedications came in all shapes and sizes, the photo below is the display of ship sanctuary offerings at the Cyprus Museum. Carlson (2009:361) observes that sometimes whole ships were set up in a sanctuary as dedications. Though a much older study, Deane (1922:486) also notes the observations of Couchoud and Svoronos who believe that Antigonus Gonatas built a house in which a ship was dedicated as an offering after a naval victory against Ptolemy in 250 BC. I believe that evidence suggest as this suggests that ship offerings were important to the Greeks. This is likely due to their dependency on the sea for travel, trade and military purposes.
Carlson, D. Seeing the Sea: Ships’ Eyes in Classical Greece, Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 78, No. 3 (2009), pp. 347-365. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25622699 [Accessed: 04 April 2014]
Deane, S. Archaeological Discussions, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1922), pp. 477-515. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/497957 [Accessed: 04 April 2014]
This is the statue of Zeus Keraunios (Thunderer) dating to approximately 500 BC, excavated at Kition. The statue can be identified as Zeus due to three key attributes; the beard, the arm positioned in a throwing motion and the eagle that used to be in the left hand. Unfortunately only the talons of the eagle are preserved and very little of the thunderbolt. In addition to these attributes inscriptions indicate that a Temple of Zeus Keraunios existed at Kition.
The statue can be compared to the early Greek kouroi that were likely influenced by Egyptian sculpture. The Egyptians represented the figure striding forward, with flat feet and fists by their side. The kouroi have a similar stance but the Greeks developed this style further to create a more natural free standing figure. The Zeus has a similar stance and stylised hair but it differs as kouroi were nude. The Zeus is depicted wearing a chiton and aegis with an archaic smile. Early kouroi had expressionless faces and the archaic smile developed later. The archaic smile is intended to present a naturalistic face and create a more realistic representation of the human form. It can be compared to similar mainland Greek sculpture of the time indicating the influence of Greece during the Ionian revolt. I would suggest that there is a strong local influence on the sculptural representation of Zeus is he represented clothed.