Boy about to throw a discus, with throwing weights to be used during the long jump and a pick to prepare the ground for the jump.  The accompanying inscription reads ΚΛΕΟΜΕΛΟΣ ΚΑΛΟΣ (“Kleomelos is handsome/beautiful/fine”).  Interior of an Attic red-figure kylix, name-vase of the Kleomelos Painter; ca. 510-500 BCE.  Now in the Louvre.

If I were in doubt as to the wisdom of one of my actions I should not consult Flaubert or Dostoievsky. The opinion of Balzac or Dickens would carry little weight with me; were Stendhal to rebuke me, it would only convince me I had done right: even in the judgment of Tolstoy I should not put complete confidence. But I should be seriously upset, I should worry for weeks and weeks, if I incurred the disapproval of Jane Austen.
—  David Cecil, from Poets and Story-Tellers (1949). 
An Epic Prayer to Athena

Statius, Thebaid 2.715-742

Note: the speaker is Tydeus of Calydon in Aetolia, now an exile and married to one of the daughters of King Adrastus of Argos.  He has just single-handedly wiped out a band of Theban youths that Eteocles, king of Thebes, had sent to ambush him.  “Pandion’s mountain”: the Athenian Acropolis.  “Fields of Porthaon”: Calydon (Porthaon was Tydeus’ grandfather).  “Secret symbol of reverence”: the Palladium, cult image of Athena/Minerva, which only her priestess was permitted to look upon.  “Diana will offer no objection”: Tydeus’ father Oeneus had neglected to invoke Artemis/Diana when making a sacrifice of first fruits to all the gods; in retaliation, the angry goddess sent an enormous boar to ravage the fields of Calydon.

Fierce goddess, glory and genius of your great father,
You who are mighty in war, you who wear upon your cheeks
A savage helmet of beautiful horror,
You whose Gorgon-head rages ever more as blood spatters on it-
Neither Mars nor Bellona, spear-armed for battle,
Would drive forward more ardent battle-trumpets-
Give your approval to this sacrifice, whether you are coming
To witness my slaughter from Pandion’s mountain,
Or whether you, chorus-lover, are making a detour from Boeotian Itone,
Or whether you come having just washed your combed-back hair
In Libyan Triton, where the swift axle of your unspoiled mares
Bears you swiftly, as you clamor in your two-horse chariot:
Now I dedicate to you men’s broken spoils and shapeless plunder,
But if one day I enter again my ancestral fields of Porthaon
And Mars’ Pleuron lies open to me as I return from exile,
Then I shall dedicate to you golden temples on the heights at the city center,
Where it will be sweet to look down upon Ionian tempests,
Where turbulent Achelous, lifting up the sea with his blond head,
Goes out to sea, leaving the obstructing Echinades in his wake.
Here I will fashion the battles of my ancestors and the dreadful faces
Of great-hearted kings; I will affix in proud domes
Captured arms, both those that I brought back myself,
Obtained with my own blood, and those that you,
Tritonia, will grant on the day that Thebes is captured.
There a hundred Calydonian women, vowed to your virgin altars,
Will weave for you in proper fashion from a chaste tree
Actaean torches and purple head-bands with white partitions;
An elderly priestess will feed an unsleeping fire on the hearth-
Never will she neglect the secret symbol of reverence.
In war and in peace, you will receive in great numbers,
According to custom, the first fruits of our labors;
And Diana will offer no objection.

‘diua ferox, magni decus ingeniumque parentis,
bellipotens, cui torua genis horrore decoro
cassis, et asperso crudescit sanguine Gorgon,
nec magis ardentes Mauors hastataque pugnae
impulerit Bellona tubas, huic adnue sacro,
seu Pandionio nostras inuisere caedes
monte uenis, siue Aonia deuertis Itone
laeta choris, seu tu Libyco Tritone repexas
lota comas qua te biiugo temone frementem
intemeratarum uolucer rapit axis equarum:
nunc tibi fracta uirum spolia informesque dicamus
exuuias. at si patriis Porthaonis aruis
inferar et reduci pateat mihi Martia Pleuron,
aurea tunc mediis urbis tibi templa dicabo
collibus, Ionias qua despectare procellas
dulce sit, et flauo tollens ubi uertice pontum
turbidus obiectas Achelous Echinadas exit.
hic ego maiorum pugnas uultusque tremendos
magnanimum effingam regum, figamque superbis
arma tholis, quaeque ipse meo quaesita reuexi
sanguine, quaeque dabis captis, Tritonia, Thebis.
centum ibi uirgineis uotae Calydonides aris
Actaeas tibi rite faces et ab arbore casta
nectent purpureas niueo discrimine uittas,
peruigilemque focis ignem longaeua sacerdos
nutriet, arcanum numquam spretura pudorem.
tu bellis, tu pace feres de more frequentes
primitias operum, non indignante Diana.’

image

Pallas Athene (detail), Franz Stuck, 1898

An Eagle's Arrival Marks Divine Favor

Anthologia Palatina 9.287 = Apollonides (Julio-Claudian period; perhaps to be identified with Apollonides of Nicaea)

Note: The poem refers to an episode subsequently recounted by Suetonius (Life of Tiberius ch. 14): when the future emperor Tiberius was in de facto exile on Rhodes and out of favor with his stepfather Augustus, an eagle, normally foreign to Rhodes, landed on his roof.  Shortly thereafter, he was recalled to Rome and made Augustus’ heir.  “Children of Cercaphus” = Rhodians (Cercaphus, son of Helius and the nymph Rhodos, was the legendary founder of Rhodes).  “Nero” = Tiberius (full name Ti. Claudius Nero).

I, the holy bird that had never before set foot among the Rhodians-
   I, the eagle, once only a story to the children of Cercaphus-
I came, lofted into the broad air on high-flying wings,
   At the time when Nero possessed the island of the Sun.
I lodged in his house, and grew used to the master’s hand-
   I did not flee from him who was destined to be Zeus.

Ὁ πρὶν ἐγὼ Ῥοδίοισιν ἀνέμβατος ἱερὸς ὄρνις,
  
ὁ πρὶν Κερκαφίδαις αἰετὸς ἱστορίη,
ὑψιπετῆ τότε ταρσὸν ἀνὰ πλατὺν ἠέρ’ ἀερθεὶς
   ἤλυθον, Ἠελίου νῆσον ὅτ’ εἶχε Νέρων·
κείνου δ’ αὐλίσθην ἐνὶ δώμασι χειρὶ συνήθης
  
κράντορος, οὐ φεύγων Ζῆνα τὸν ἐσσόμενον.

image

Sea Eagle’s Nest, Bruno Liljefors, 1907

3

A few examples of Roman glass at the MET.

The garland bowl shown in the first image is, in my opinion, one of the finest example of Roman glass preserved for us today. Dating to the reign of Augustus in the first century, it has by some miracle remained essentially intact, except for a small chip to the rim and some weathering on the exterior. It is made up of four separate slices of translucent glass: blue, yellow, purple, and colourless. As you can see, each segment was then decorated with a small strip of millefiori glass which depict a garland hanging from an opaque white cord. It is extremely rare indeed that large sections of glass from antiquity were made up of different coloured glass. As the MET notes: it is also the only example that combines the technique with millefiori decoration. As such it represents the peak of the glass worker’s skill at producing cast vessels.

The two-handled bottle second shown is early Imperial, dating to the 1st century AD. The jug in the shape of a bunch of grapes is late Imperial, dating to about the 3rd century AD.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections91.1.140217.194.157 & 17.194.253.

How to be a Successful Roman Epic Poet (after Virgil): A Guide for the Perplexed
  • Be sure to begin your epic with a nauseatingly sycophantic address to the reigning Emperor.  (“Humble worm that I am, I would never dream of singing of you, o great Caesar; your virtue is too vast, your deeds too amazing, and have I mentioned how well your new toga brings out the color of your eyes?”)
  • Never, under any circumstances, address a given character by his or her actual name.  Instead, use an obscure genealogical reference that’s guaranteed to send your reader scrambling for the nearest mythology handbook.  (“And so Coronis’ noble grandson drew his sword and challenged the stout-hearted nephew of Inachus to battle, while Theseus’ second cousin’s step-sister’s former gym teacher watched in awe…”)
  • When describing a scene that takes place at night or in the Underworld, pile up as many synonyms for “dark” as humanly possible.  (“Atra nox caeca erat et opaca, plena umbris fuscis et tenebris obscuris, sine ulla luce…”)
  • Constantly change singular nouns into plurals for the sake of the meter, even when the resulting sentence makes no sense whatsoever.  (“The mighty eagle plucked at Prometheus’ livers, and he shook his heads in agony…”)
  • Spice up your narrative with bombastic similes referring to peoples who live beyond the boundaries of the Empire.  The less they have to do with reality, the better.  (“Learning of his brother’s betrayal, Polynices raged with the ferocity of the far-off Hyrcanians, who wear floral-print muu-muus and hunt their prey astride velociraptors, if the tales I hear be true…”)
  • And above all, remember: obscurity is your friend; clarity, your mortal enemy.  If you haven’t left generations of irritated readers and squabbling textual critics in your wake, you haven’t really done your job.
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