Dragon and Dolphin (nope) Mosaic From Monasterace

This one is potentially very interesting … most of the coverage comes from ANSA-related outlets in various languages, so here’s the English coverage from Gazzetta del Sud:

Students on an archaeological dig near the southern Italian town of Monasterace have uncovered an important and ancient mosaic, authorities said Tuesday. The large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, was discovered near another major find announced last fall by archaeologist Francesco Cuteri. Cuteri says he is pleased that students from Argentina and Italy made the latest mosaic discovery, which he added is an important find. “The discovery is of extraordinary importance because it is the largest Hellenic mosaic of Magna Grecia (an area of southern Italy),” he said. The mosaic, depicting dragon and dolphins, may date from the Hellenistic period, which ran from about 323 BC to about 146 BC. Work on the excavation began in 1998 and last year had already led to the discovery of a mosaic depicting a dragon, a rosette and six panels with floral motifs. Cuteri said work is far from finished. “We are confident….we can find at least two other panels,” he said, adding the new area has been dubbed ‘the hall of dragons and dolphins’. “We have worked on this excavation for 15 years and now what emerges fills us with joy”.

That said, I don’t understand why all the ANSA coverage includes what isn’t exactly the greatest photo available, i.e.:

via Gazzetta del Sud

Corriere della Calabria includes one that’s a bit more clear:

via Corriere della Calabria

… which raises a question: does the ‘dragon’ interpretation come via the first photo, which has something on top of it which makes it look like there are two creatures? So we’ll track down another photo (actually, the whole set, it seems):

via Mondo Tempo Reale

Seems we ain’t dealing with dolphins or dragons. Those are good old-fashioned Hippocampi/oi, no?

UPDATE (an hour or so later): definitely an argument for the benefits of caffeine … when the caffeine hit, I remembered we mentioned an earlier phase of this back in September: Hellenistic Mosaic From Monasterace … check out the photo there. How are they getting dragons and dolphins from this????

UPDATE II (a couple days later): tip o’ the pileus to the Random Classicist who wrote in to remind me of the beastie known as the Cetus, the foe of Perseus which I had totally forgotten about. Here’s an example of a Cetus image from the Classical Art Research Centre (a mosaic from Tunis) :

… so the thing I was calling a Hippocamp is clearly a Ketos/Cetus. Are they considered dragons? Or is that just something that happened during translation?

UPDATE III (the next day): Tip o’ the pileus to John Dillon, who also sent in some very useful comments:

_Ketos_ seems to be the contemporary term of choice among art historians for sea beasties of this form, though one still encounters _pistrix_ (and, in Italian, its derivative _pistrice_). Joseph Fontenrose (Python_, pp. 288-306) is helpful here, esp. pp. 288-89 and fig. 25 on p. 305; cf. also Barbette Stanley Spaeth, _The Goddess Ceres_, p. 135, and J. M. Blanquez, “Grifos y ketoi en mosaicos de Italia, Hispania, Africa y el Oriente”, in Nicole Blanc and André Buisson, edd., _Imago Antiquitatis_ (Paris, 1999), pp. 119-28; figs. 1-9. In Italian they’re conceived of as a sea serpent and thus as a sort of _drago_ and are popularly called by that latter term (_ketos_ and _pistrix_ both being far too specialized for a general audience). Since English _dragon_ tends to signify a four-legged, terrestrial creature, a better translation of _drago_ in this context would be _sea dragon_.

A few further ancient and medieval _ketoi_:
1) A red-figure vase in the Museo Jatta in Ruvo di Puglia [but how much of this is down to a modern restorer?]

2) The sea wind (at right) on the Ara Pacis Augustae:

3) Jonah and the “whale” in mosaic on the epistle ambo (said to be earlier C12 but I’d check to see what Jill Caskey has to say before repeating this standard dating) in the cathedral of Ravello:

4) Detail of the later C12 mosaic floor of the cathedral of Otranto:

5) At far left, on the probably earlier C13 mosaic frieze on the cathedral of Terracina:


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