“Ovid’s” Niobe Statues Found

Tip o’ the pileus to Martin Conde, who alerted us to a story in la Reppublica relating the discovery of the villa of Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus — Ovid’s patron — and statuary from the Niobe story which is being connected to Ovid. I managed to track down an English summary in Gazzetta del Sud:

Archaeologists say they’ve uncovered an “exceptional” group of sculptures dating to the 1st century BC in a villa in Rome’s suburb of Ciampino. The sculptures, found in an ancient villa owned by Roman general Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, a patron of the poet Ovid, tell the myth of Niobe, the proud daughter of Tantalus who lost all her 14 children after boasting to the mother of Apollo and Artemis, Leto, about her fertility. Niobe, regarded as a classic example of the retribution caused by the sin of pride or hubris, was turned to stone. Excavations at the villa have also revealed a thermal bath area with fragments of artistic mosaics and a swimming pool as long as 20 meters with walls painted blue. Inside the bath area were found seven sculptures dating to the Augustan age, as well as a complete series of fragments that experts say can be reassembled. The group tells the story of Niobe, which figured in Ovid’s epic poem of transformation, the Metamorphoses, published in AD 8. La Repubblica newspaper said Tuesday a team of archaeologists made the valuable discovery last summer. “Statues of Niobe have been found in the past, but in the case of Ciampino, we have a good part of the group,” of statues, said Elena Calandra, superintendent of archaeological heritage. According to their reconstruction of the bath area, experts say the statues were carved on all four sides of the swimming pool, which may have been buried by an earthquake in the 2nd century AD.

It’s worth checking out Martin Conde’s flickr page of the La Reppublica coverage, which includes photos and a somewhat different spin on the story (which seems to be yet another major conservation kerfuffle in Italy): ROMA / LAZIO ARCHEOLOGIA: Roma, ecco le statue che Ovidio cantò nelle Metamorfosi Scoperta la villa di Messalla, LA REPUBBLICA (08/01/2013), pp. 1 & 23. If you need a quick refresher on the story of Niobe, here’s a translation of the relevant section of the Metamorphoses (6.146 ff) …

ADDENDUM (a couple hours later): See also Dorothy King’s post for further coverage and a whack of photos: New Niobids – New Light on a Old Group

Other coverage:

Renaissance Quarterly Review: Passannante. The Lucretian Renaissance: Philology and the Afterlife of Tradition

posted with permission:

Reviewed work(s): Gerard Passannante. The Lucretian Renaissance: Philology and the Afterlife of Tradition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011. 250 pp. $45. ISBN: 978–0–226–64849–1.
Jonathan Goldberg
Emory University
The Lucretian Renaissance is a somewhat elusive book, and this is the source of much of its strength. Eschewing Poggio Bracciolini’s rediscovery of the manuscript of De rerum natura as key to the Lucretian Renaissance “one might expect” since it is “the starting point of so many narratives” (17), Passannante performs his own swerve, beginning much earlier in order to make the stunning point that Lucretius was not lost to the Renaissance: Virgil transmitted him to Petrarch. This is the topic of the long first chapter of the book, “Extra Destinatum,” which moves in sympathy with a Petrarch drawn past his intentions into the orbit of Lucretius. This unexpected path recalls the plague that ends De rerum natura: “we discover in the shadow of Petrarch’s moving pen . . . an idea of contamination that silently undoes the figure of imitative control” (31). Passannante works “in the shadow” (itself a Lucretian trope) toward a silent undoing: tracing out what is elusive, he seeks what cannot be seen, the atomic particles that, for Lucretius, are the basis for everything. Passannante tropes these material substances as textual substance — a trope found over and again in Lucretius — insisting that the atomic order is a matter of elements, the same word in Latin for the letters that make up words. The troping contamination that undoes the trope of control is, by the chapter’s end, itself a figure for imitation. The plague in Lucretius figures the movement from Virgil to Petrarch, a movement “extra destinatum” since its passage is hardly a straightforward narrative, but one, as Passannante tells it, that passes through Macrobius, Gellius, Servius, and on to Poliziano, with whom the chapter ends.

Passannante’s path is philological, as his subtitle indicates: he follows movements from text to text, but not to endorse a story of a self-conscious making of tradition. Rather, contamination becomes the conveyor of tradition. The tradition Passannante has in mind is not Lucretian, however, but humanistic. Here too Passannante disclaims any interest in retelling a familiar story — “the question of atheism or impiety that has haunted Lucretius since antiquity” (9) — and his tale is not one of humanism versus Lucretius but of humanism haunted by Lucretius, a literary incorporation. Figurative contamination emerges finally as “The Pervasive Influence,” to cite the title of the final chapter (on Spenser, Gassendi, and Henry More). The phrase comes from Edwin Greenlaw’s early twentieth-century attempts to assess the influence of Lucretius on Spenser; Passannante faults Greenlaw only for trying too hard to pin down an influence, suggesting instead (but this is argued throughout, no matter the text) that we look “not so much on the surface of the poem as in the play of its simulacra” (163). The Latin term is drawn from Lucretius, who uses it to explain the limits of what we see, and, at the same time, how the visible can lead us to the invisible. Passannante looks to Lucretius for a model of influence, and specifically as a model for how texts come to be. As he tells it, they come from a starting point — call it Homer — difficult to locate, and pass through texts difficult to establish. The editorial dream of restoration to an original is replaced by the swerves. In Passannante’s account, we only find Montaigne after Lucretius’s text passes through the hands of several Renaissance editors (this is the subject of the book’s second chapter); Montaigne gets “Lucretius wrong,” but, if so, “one could say, Montaigne ironically captures something of the poet’s critical spirit” (115). Capturing textual instability is Montaigne’s method, Passannante’s too: like Bacon anatomizing Homer (the focus of chapter three), Passannante weaves his textual film through small-scale recognitions of tenuous Lucretian echoes. The destination of these endeavors is a redefinition in the name of Lucretius, whose name functions as a trope for continuity. If early in the book Lucretius stands for ruin and contamination, by the end Passanante grasps that Lucretian matter, however elusive, is all there is, and is inexhaustible. Material permanence is no guarantee that what continues will look the same.
In his epilogue, which, in its by now familiar method of unexpected swerves, starts with Newton, backtracks to Ralph Cudworth, and ends with Einstein, Passannante pauses for a moment to recall the work of one of his critical models, Thomas Greene, noting Derrida’s pun on the word dérive, which means both drift and derivation. The punning brings the two together in the kind of conservation Derrida himself practiced when he turned mischance into his own chance (mes chances). Passannante, ever alert to ironies and overturnings, brings things together that drive apart: his witty text offers a serio ludi that he calls the Lucretian Renaissance, but which might as easily be hailed as a renovated humanist philology.

An Appeal from Rick LaFleur

In the interests of keeping online Latin teaching alive and well:

If you teach at a college/university, or know of one, that offers Latin classes online, would you please let me know off-list? UGA is, at least for the immediate future, discontinuing its online Latin offerings, and, having been involved in distance education for a great many years, I am exploring ways of continuing my online courses (currently Introductory Latin and Latin Teaching Methods), including possibly interesting another university in hosting them. GRATIAS!

… contact Doctor Illa Flora at lafleur922 AT hotmail.com

Nuntii Latini (YLE)

Latest from our friends at YLE:


Oratio praesidentis Niinistö

Sauli Niinisto, praesidens rei publicae Finniae, Kalendis Ianuariis suam primam incipientis anni orationem nationi habuit. In prima eius parte legatos parlamentares et ministros regiminis ad consilia audacia capienda hortatus est. Nisi id fecissent, quaestiones ad senescendum et aes alienum conflandum pertinentes solvi non posse.

Addidit se de integritate civitatis sollicitum esse: “Studium sui commodi”, inquit, “quin etiam avaritia in incremento est, cum iustitia et aequitas algeant.” Negavit se eos intellegere posse, qui putarent Finniam esse civitatem desidendi, ubi exspectaretur, ut unusquisque in mensa ab aliis ampliter exstructa accumberet. Idem monuit laborem pluris quam ante aestimandum esse. Ad extremum praesidens Niinistö civibus bonum annum novum et benedictionem Dei exoptavit.
(Reijo Pitkäranta)


Alia: Papa capitalismum condemnavit … Quid Angela Merkel dixerit … Duo Finni in Iemenio vi abducti … De adiunctionibus municipalibus … De mortibus in Finnia viariis



Plenty of Neolithic Figures from Koutroulou Magoula

From a University of Southampton press release:

Archaeologists from the University of Southampton studying a Neolithic archaeological site in central Greece have helped unearth over 300 clay figurines, one of the highest density for such finds in south-eastern Europe.

The Southampton team, working in collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Service and the British School at Athens, is studying the site of Koutroulou Magoula near the Greek village of Neo Monastiri, around 160 miles from Athens.

Koutroulou Magoula was occupied during the Middle Neolithic period (c. 5800 – 5300 BC) by a community of a few hundred people who made architecturally sophisticated houses from stone and mud-bricks. The figurines were found all over the site, with some located on wall foundations. It’s believed the purpose of figurines was not only as aesthetic art, but also to convey and reflect ideas about a community’s culture, society and identity.

“Figurines were thought to typically depict the female form, but our find is not only extraordinary in terms of quantity, but also quite diverse – male, female and non-gender specific ones have been found and several depict a hybrid human-bird figure,” says Professor Yannis Hamilakis, Co-Director of the Koutroulou Magoula Archaeology and Archaeological Ethnography project.

He continues, “We still have a lot of work to do studying the figurines, but they should be able to give us an enormous amount of information about how Neolithic people interpreted the human body, their own gender and social identity and experience.”

Excavations at Koutroulou Magoula were started in 2001 by Dr Nina Kyparissi (formerly Greek Archaeological Service) and this latest project began in 2010. The site is roughly four times the area of a football pitch and consists of a mound up to 18 feet high featuring at least three terraces surrounded by ditches. The people who lived in the settlement appear to have rebuilt their homes on the same building footprint generation after generation, and there is also evidence that some of the houses were unusual in their construction.

Professor Hamilakis comments, “This type of home would normally have stone foundations with mud-bricks on top, but our investigations at Koutroulou Magoula have found some preserved with stone walls up to a metre in height, suggesting that the walls may have been built entirely of stone, something not typical of the period.

“The people would have been farmers who kept domestic animals, used flint or obsidian1 tools and had connections with settlements in the nearby area. The construction of parts of the settlement suggests they worked communally, for example, to construct the concentric ditches surrounding their homes.

“There is no evidence of a central authority to date, yet large numbers of people were able to come together and carry out large communal and possibly socially beneficial projects.”

In later centuries, the settlement mount became an important memory place. For example, at the end of the Bronze Age, a ‘tholos’ or beehive-shaped tomb was constructed at the top and in Medieval times (12-13th c. AD) at least one person (a young woman) was buried amongst the Neolithic houses.

In addition to excavation, the project has conducted ethnography amongst the local communities, exploring their customs and culture and their relationship to the site. It has engaged in a series of community and public archaeology events, including the production and staging of site-specific theatrical performances, which turn into communal celebrations with food, drink and dance. In part, this aims to examine the importance of Koutroulou Magoula to contemporary communities and make the site an important feature in the social and cultural life of the area.

The project team will carry out two study seasons in 2013 and 2014.