Commodus’ Supernova?

The Telegraph has an item which opens thusly:

The Chinese were baffled by what they described as a “guest star”, which appeared in the night sky in 185AD and lingered for 8 months.

Similarly, the Guardian piece on the same subject opens:

A puzzle that has baffled astronomers for centuries has been solved – almost 2,000 years after the first supernova was documented by the ancient Chinese.

I’m not sure why the press is missing out on this one, but this same supernova of 185 A.D. appears to have been mentioned by a couple of sources closer to our hearts in relation to the time of Commodus. As Paul and Lesley Murdin mention in their Supernovae, Herodian and the Historia Augusta both seem to be referring to this event. First, the HA from the life of Commodus (16 via Lacus Curtius’ translation):

Before the war of the deserters the heavens were ablaze.

As Bill Thayer mentions in a note, the ‘war of the deserters’ happened in early 186. Herodian mentions a similar sort of omen about the same time (i.14 via Terullian.org):

Stars remained visible during the day; other stars, extending to an enormous length, seemed to be hanging in the middle of the sky.

… nothing in Dio, alas. Whatever the case, I’m often struck how celestial events recorded by Chinese astronomers seem to show up as portents in our various ancient historians. I’m sure someone has already done a thesis on this …

Protecting the Riace Bronzes from Earthquakes

This one’s been lurking in my mailbox for a few months, but the recent seismic activity in Turkey reminded me of it. Hopefully all museums are taking the possibility of earthquakes into account when they’re constructing displays …. the following is all in Italian, but it’s not difficult to figure out what’s going on if you’re Italianless:

In a Nutshell

One of the more frequent things my spiders drag back to me are references to Pliny the Elder as a source for some strange fact in some newspaper article. Most of the time, they don’t come with a reference, of course, and a lot of times it seems like the press is just dropping the name of Pliny to give their article that air of authenticity, so usually I’m immediately skeptical. One such item was related to the phrase “In a nutshell”, which was mentioned in a couple of reviews of a book called The Etymologicon:

According to the book (via the Sun):

In a nutshell: Another one from ancient times. Roman writer Pliny claimed to have seen a copy of the poem The Iliad that was so small it could fit in a walnut shell.

… I’d never heard of this before (but I suspect many of my readers have), but after some poking, ecce, there it is (NH 7.21 via Lacus Curtius):

Oculorum acies vel maxime fidem excedentia invenit exempla. in nuce inclusam Iliadem Homeri carmen in membrana scriptum tradit Cicero.

Even more interesting, is that someone in the 19th century no less, actually proved it could be done:

The Iliad in a nutshell. Pliny tells us that Cicero asserts that the whole Iliad was written on a piece of parchment which might be put into a nutshell. Lalanne describes, in his Curiosités Bibliographiques, an edition of Rochefoucault’s Maxims, published by Didot in 1829, on pages one inch square, each page containing 26 lines, and each line 44 letters. Charles Toppan, of New York, engraved on a plate one-eighth of an inch square 12,000 letters. The Iliad contains 501,930 letters, and would therefore occupy 42 such plates engraved on both sides. Huet has proved by experiment that a parchment 27 by 21 centimètres would contain the entire Iliad, and such a parchment would go into a common-sized nut; but Mr. Toppan’s engraving would get the whole Iliad into half that size. George P. Marsh says, in his Lectures, he has seen the entire Arabic Koran in a parchment roll four inches wide and half an inch in diameter.

… then again, if Austin Powers could fit in a nutshell, the Iliad would be easy:

Birthplace of Augustus Found?

Another one which we hope will make it to the English presses, but this is one I just can’t sit on any longer. Tip o’ the pileus to Martin Conde for alerting us to Clementina Panella et al’s find of what is believed to be the house where Augustus was born. The identification is based on the find of a house which belonged to Octavius (i.e. Augustus’ father) near the curia veteres (within the Palatine pomerium), where, we are told, Augustus was born (see the entry from Platner at Lacus Curtius). Here’s the coverage from la Repubblica:

Lungo le pendici nord orientali del Palatino, quasi ad affacciarsi sulla via Sacra, a ridosso dell’Arco di Tito, gli archeologi hanno riportato alla luce la casa natale di Augusto, la dimora del padre Ottavio dove nel 63 a. C. nacque il futuro primo imperatore di Roma. Si è conclusa l’undicesima campagna di scavo archeologico dell’università La Sapienza diretta dalla professoressa Clementina Panella e le ipotesi solo avanzate attraverso le indagini di tre anni fa, sembrano oggi trovare la conferma: “Quest’anno abbiamo trovato almeno otto vani di questa splendida domus di età repubblicana che si affaccia sulla valle del Foro romano racconta Panella È la prima dimora aristocratica di qualità, testimoniata da un mosaico eccezionale, con tessere bianche e nere abbinate ad un tappeto policromo disegnato a triangoli”.

Il dettaglio cruciale è la vicinanza ad un’area sacra. “È la prima residenza che troviamo sul Palatino dopo un santuario, che abbiamo identificato con le cosiddette Curiae Veteres, luogo sacro che la tradizione ricollega a Romolo, quale punto che delimitava il terzo vertice del leggendario pomerio disegnato da Romolo nella fondazione della città”.

Le fonti antiche offrono la conferma: “Sappiamo che Augusto nacque in Curis Veteribus, ossia nelle Curie vecchie avverte Panella e la scoperta della casa natale di Augusto sembra giustificata dal fatto che questa è la prima domus che s’incontra dopo il santuario delle Curiae salendo verso il Palatino”. Qui Augusto avrebbe vissuto i primi tre anni della sua vita, per poi cambiare domicilio: “Le fonti dicono che tre anni dopo la nascita, la famiglia si trasferisce alle Carine, la zona dell’antica Velia ai confini dell’Esquilino dice Panella Poi a diciotto anni Augusto compra una casa alle Scalae anularie nei pressi del Foro romano, quindi a trentasei anni acquisterà la famosa e meglio conosciuta residenza sul Palatino”.

Ma la Casa natale di Augusto è solo un tassello svelato nella storia archeologica di questo sito che sarà illustrato venerdì prossimo alla stampa con un sopralluogo cui parteciperà anche il rettore Luigi Frati. Sulla domus di Augusto, infatti, si innesta l’impianto di un horreum (magazzino) d’età adrianea, che è andato bruciato nel 193 d. C. e ricostruito per essere trasformato nel IV secolo in un’area di piacere: “L’edificio si arricchisce incredibilmente di fontane, portici, ninfei, sale con tavola da banchetto racconta Panella La tradizione topografica lo associava alle Terme di Elagabalo, ma ora possiamo identificarlo nella sede di un alto funzionario dell’imperatore Massenzio”.

Dall’Arco di Tito alla valle del Colosseo, con uno scarto di svariati secoli, le pendici del Palatino restituiscono anche un insediamento abitativo dell’età del Ferro: “Si tratta di capanne della fine del IX secolo inizio VIII secolo a. C., una propaggine dell’abitato che precede la fondazione di Roma avvenuta nel 753 a. C. racconta Panella Si tratta di una scoperta eccezionale perché non si avevano notizie di insediamenti capannicoli verso la valle del Colosseo”. A riemergere perfettamente i fori dei pali con tracce di legno e pareti di fango e argilla. Gli scavi hanno documentato anche le fasi storiche del Santuario delle Curiae Veteres, distrutto dall’incendio del 64 d. C. (tanto da lasciare tracce di bruciato sul pavimento), di cui sono state riconosciuti nuovi ambienti datati all’età GiulioClaudia. E in questo angolo di Palatino si legge anche la fine dell’antica città, tra tombe del VI secolo, una calcara di X e un pozzo medievale del XII secolo.

Repubblica also has a slideshow of the dig site with some of the mosaics and a bit of a fresco … see Martin Conde’s flickr photostream for ongoing coverage from the Italian press.

Sarcophagus of the Moment

Speaking of the Met (see next post), one of the things my spiders regularly drag back from the interwebs is a sarcophagus photo of some sort, usually from the Met, but sometimes from the Walters. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with these (since they are usually quite interesting) and so I’ll see if a ‘Sarcophagus of the Moment’ feature is sustainable. Here’s the first entry (from the Met):

This is the one that got me thinking about having such a feature since it is so darned interesting. There is absolutely no concept of scale here … the focus is, supposedly, Theseus and Ariadne, but what really catches your eye are the giant erotes hauling whatever it is that frames the comparatively tiny scenes from the myth. Even more interesting is the upper register with the chariot-driving erotes … one pulled by dogs, one by lions, one by bulls, and one by boars (all, ostensibly, the same scale!).

… there’s a larger view at the Met’s page, of course, and a couple of photos of the ‘ends’ … not sure what’s on the other side, if anything.