robert des ruines

Alexander The Great in front of the tomb of Achilles.

This painting in the Louvre Museum is a work of Hubert Robert (1733 -1808) done around 1754.

The subject taken from the Greek rhetorician Claudius Aelianius or Aelian (Varia Historia, XII, 7), writing in the second century CE, and shows the Macedonian king having the tomb of Achilles opened in order to pay a homage to the Greek hero of the Trojan War.

Achilles’ relationship with Patroclus is a key aspect of his myth. Its exact nature has been a subject of dispute in both the classical period and modern times. Thus in 5th-century BCE Athens, the relationship was commonly interpreted as pederastic. Nowadays some see it as a love relationship of an egalitarian homosexual couple. It is the same case as the relationship between Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. The relationship between the Macedonian king and his dearest and closest friend and confidant, lasted their whole lives, and was compared, by others as well as themselves, to that of Achilles and Patroclus. Hephaestion and Alexander grew up in a time and place where homosexual affairs were seen as perfectly normal. Roman and later writers, taking the Athenian pattern as their example, have tended to assume either, that their sexual relationship belonged to their adolescence, after which they left it behind, or that one of them was older, the lover (erastes) and the other was the beloved (eromenos). Claudius Aelianus takes the latter view when he uses just such an expression when describing the visit to Troy: “Alexander laid a garland on Achilles’ tomb and Hephaestion on Patroclus’, indicating that he was Alexander’s eromenos, as Patroclus was of Achilles.” No other circumstance shows better the nature and length of their relationship than Alexander’s overwhelming grief at Hephaestion’s death. The many and varied ways, both spontaneous and planned, by which Alexander poured out his grief are overwhelming. In the context of the nature of their relationship however, one stands out as remarkable. Lucius Flavius Arrianus “Xenophon” (Arrian of Nicomedia, ca. 86 – 160), in his work Ἀλεξάνδρου ἀνάβασις says that Alexander “… flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his Companions.

This painting by Robert (known as Robert des Ruines) is close to Panini, who was his teacher during his long stay of 11 years in Rome, and it is considered to be one of the first productions of the French artist in that city. In the painting by the French vedutista, an architectural fantasy, we see a pyramid similar to that of Caius Cestius in Rome, the ruins of a temple with Ionic columns inspired by the temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a round temple, after the Roman temple of Vesta, or the temple of the Sybile in Tivoli. The statue standing at the left-hand side of the canvas is the so-called Antinous of the Belvedere, or Antinous Admirandus, the famous statue in the Pio-Clementino Museum of the Vatican. This statue, correctly identified as a Hermes in the 19th century, was long taken to be a depiction of the beautiful Bythinian lover of Emperor Hadrian, one of the great “eromenos-erastes” relationship of the antiquity.

Pilsbury Castle, Derbyshire, England

Pilsbury Castle occupies an area of high ground approximately 175 yards by 150 yards overlooking the River Dove, near the village of Pilsbury. The castle was probably originally an Iron Age fortification before being used by the Normans, and indeed the name “Pilsbury Castle” forms from the Celtic “pil”, the Saxon “bury” and the Norman “castle”, all meaning “fortified site”. In early medieval times, the site would have been located along the River Dove routeway, and would also have overlooked a key crossing point.

The Normans built a substantial motte-and-bailey castle on the site, and several theories have been forwards as to when and who did so. One theory is that the castle was built in the years following the Norman conquest of England. The area around Pilsbury was granted to Henry de Ferrers by King William; the area was devastated during the harrying of the North, and the castle may have been built in the aftermath by Henry to establish control. Henry built other castles at Tutbury and Duffield, making Pilsbury part of this set of 11th-century fortifications. An alternative suggestion is that the it was built by Robert de Ferrers or his father, around the period known as The Anarchy for, while the de Ferrers supported Stephen of England, the neighboring Earl of Chester supported Empress Matilda.

The castle itself includes a motte and two bailey enclosures, approximately 131 feet and  147 feet across respectively. It had timber defenses, ditches and additional flanking earthworks. The castle appears to have been abandoned in subsequent years, and it may be that it was destroyed after William de Ferrers’ part in the Revolt of 1173–1174, or it might have become abandoned when the land passed to the Duchy of Lancaster after the sixth Earl was dispossessed. Alternatively, it may simply have become redundant as nearby Hartington grew in importance and the village of Pilsbury became increasingly depopulated. By the twentieth century there was little to see except for a mound on a limestone outcrop and the remains of various earthworks.

See this page for a reconstruction of Pilsbury Castle.

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