New From Herculaneum – A Depiction of the Oschophoria?

Tip o’ the pileus to Francesca Tronchin for alerting us to a post at Blogging Pompeii about a new item installed at the National Museum of Naples’ Herculaneum section. For a full description, visit Blogging Pompeii, which includes this image (which is also available in much larger format there):

The official description suggests this is a Dionysiac scene, although they really aren’t very specific about it. It is much more interesting than the official description suggests, I think. When I first saw this (via my iPod), I wondered whether the two figures on the left were actually males in women’s garb (as does FT), and it is now clear that they are. The figure’s hair is clearly male hair cut close to the head (compare it to the dancing woman to the right), and they sport male cloaks over their female dress (and I’m not sure they are even Greek cloaks; they look rather Roman/Gallic to me). Whatever the case, men dressed as women in a Dionysiac context enables us to be rather more specific with the identification of what this scene depicts … the Oschophoria. Here’s what William Smith’s Dictionary says about this:
Text not available
A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities By William Smith, Charles Anthon

Text not available
A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities By William Smith, Charles Anthon

If you’re not a fan of reading clips from googlebooks, the same info (with appropriate links) is available at Lacus Curtius. But even if you don’t want to go to Lacus Curtius for an explanation of that, you will want to read there the excerpt from Plutarch’s life of Theseus, which adds a bit more explanation to the scene:

Whence it is, they say, that to this day, at the festival of the Oschophoria, it is not the herald that is crowned, but his herald’s staff, and those who are present at the libations cry out: “Eleleu! Iou! Iou!” the first of which cries is the exclamation of eager haste and triumph, the second of consternation and confusion.

So the mysterious thing in the hand of the individual on the left is likely a herald’s staff, although it seems rather short. A nice piece …

ADDENDA (09/21/09): just to clarify, the key elements identifying it as the Oschophoria are the two youths on the left (males in the guise of women) and the two on the right (Dionysus and Ariadne dancing). The Priapus seems Dionysian as well …

Whining about Wine

As I clean up my mail backlog, I find I am risking a serious injury from all the mind boggling claims of the past few days … an excerpt from a piece about the history of wine from the Jefferson Post:

Engel shared with wine aficionados that the ancient Egyptians were the first to reserve wine for only special occasions. Following the Egyptians were the Greeks, who Engel feels, provided more positive innovations for wine than any other culture. It was the Greeks who were the first to preserve wine in airtight clay vessels.

Despite the leaps and bounds made by the ancient Greeks in the evolution of wine, it almost went for naught as the early Romans nearly wiped wine from all of recorded history. Engel described the early founders of Rome as similar to early American Puritans. For the first 600 years of the empire, wine was forbidden for consumption as ancient lore compelled the citizenry to adopt milk as the official drink of choice in the empire. It was not until the advent of wheat and bread production that wine began to rise in popularity with the ancient Romans.

The person doing the lecturing is one Elliot Engel, who is elsewhere billed as a ‘much-sought-after’ lecturer … his background is also given:

Originally from Indianapolis, Ind., Dr. Elliot Engel now resides in Raleigh where he teaches courses at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. Engel earned his M.A. and Ph.D. as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at UCLA. While at UCLA, he won the university’s Outstanding Teacher Award. In addition for his scholarship and teaching, he has received North Carolina’s Adult Education Award, North Carolina State’s Distinguished Outreach Professorship and the Victorian Society Award of Merit.

It appears Dr. Engel’s background is actually English literature. While I can’t be sure that he is making the claims suggested in the aforementioned quote or whether it has been misfiltered by a reporter, it’s clearly silly to think the Romans had nothing to do with wine.

Classical Epistles

I’m never quite sure whether I should bother to mention  when folks bring up Classical matters in letters to the editor — nine times out of ten, there is some glaring factual error — but here’s a trio of mentions which might be of interest. First, a letter to the Times advocating operating in imitation of Tiberius in regards to the financial crisis at Lloyd’s Bank:

Then there was a response (in the same newspaper) suggesting Solon’s seisactheia would be more appropriate:

Finally, we read in the Herald of plans to scrap Classics at Trinity High School (in Renfrew, Scotland) … haven’t heard any more about this, but perhaps a letter writing campaign is in order:

Poseidon’s Back?

A few weeks ago we mentioned a post by Poseidon in the World Weekly News in which he claimed responsibility for what was going on in Australia. It seems that Poseidon has a regular column in that now-web-only publication, so if you want to catch up with the divinity-o-the-deep’s resurgence, here be his three columns (most recent first):

In the accompanying photo, Poseidon is depicted as a ‘merman’, FWIW …