Another English Planter, Another Roman Sarcophagus?

I’m beginning to think the Roman-sarcophagus-in-the-garden is becoming the Classical equivalent of the Declaration-of-Independence-from-the-thrift store … From the Daily Mail comes what appears to be another case of gardeners not realizing they were putting their plants in something rather valuable:

A garden trough used as a flower planter for 30 years has been identified as rare 2,000-year-old marble coffin worth over £100,000.

The unsuspecting couple from Northumberland inherited the 6ft 9in long sarcophagus from the previous owners of their house, who left it behind in 1982.

The retired pair only realised its worth when they learned of a similar ornament on sale at an auction house.

Experts were invited to inspect it and discovered the one-tonne trough was a rare ornate Roman sarcophagus – a coffin carved from stone that usually sits above ground – dating back to the First and Second Century AD.

Auctioneers said the couple were ‘shocked’ when they learned how valuable it is.

Made from Carrara marble, the sarcophagus would have been commissioned for the funeral of a wealthy woman and placed in a private mausoleum in Rome.

The sarcophagus is worth more than the couple, who asked not to be identified, paid for the home it was found in.

The previous owners did not even mention the sarcophagus on the house deeds and clearly did not know its value.

It is almost identical to another Roman sarcophagus that is in the Galleria Lapidaria in the Vatican.

The carved marble side features cherubs that represent charm, beauty and creativity in Greek mythology

The front is carved with a central panel of the Three Graces, which represent charm, beauty, and creativity in Greek mythology.

It is not known how it found its way to the rural house near Hadrian’s Wall, but a copper plaque on the back of the sarcophagus states ‘Bought from Rome in 1902.’

Guy Schwinge, of Dukes auction house in Dorchester, Dorset, flew to Newcastle as soon as he saw the pictures of the sarcophagus the couple had emailed.

He found the rare ornament filled with plants and soil and left on the grass.

He said: ‘It is quite exceptional for a something of this importance to turn up unrecognised in a garden.

‘They told me that they acquired it when they bought the house and just thought it was an ornamental plant trough.

‘The people who sold the house didn’t make a big fuss about it and it wasn’t mentioned in the deeds so they couldn’t have know what it was.

‘The property is very close to Hadrian’s Wall and the sarcophagus dates back to Emperor Hadrian but that is purely a coincidence.

‘It has always been in the same spot and the vendors have found it ideal for putting bedding plants in over the last 30 years.

‘I think they were a little shocked when I confirmed what it was and how much it might sell for.

‘After I left they took great care in emptying the soil out of it and a crane was brought in to place it on a lorry and drive down to us.’

Mr Schwinge said although it is impossible to know for sure how the ornament made its way to England, a possible theory is that it was one of seven sarcophagi bought by US railroad magnate Henry Walters from the Palazzo Accoranboni gallery in Rome for $1million.

Mr Schwinge said: ‘It is interesting to speculate whether the sarcophagus we are selling could relate to Henry Walters’ purchase.’

Laurence Keen OBE, an archaeologist and art expert, who examined the sarcophagus, said: ‘It was obviously intended for a high status individual.

‘The combination of the strigilated panels and the figural decoration indicates that it was intended for a wealthy individual.

‘The simply hewn back probably suggests that it came from a private mausoleum, where the tomb was placed against a wall.’

The sarcophagus will be sold at auction in Dorchester on February 14.

… plenty of photos at the Daily Mail site … Mr Schwinge seems to have a nose for this sort of thing; back in September, another case: Roman Sarcophagus in a Dorset Garden. That one was only worth half of what this one is worth, supposedly, even though it seemed to be in better condition.

Sybaris Flooded!

From ANSA comes news of another site which we probably should start being concerned about:

The mayor of Cassano allo Jonio in the southern region of Calabria on Monday appealed to President Giorgio Napolitano for help in tackling the emergency at the local Sybaris archaeological site due to recent flooding.

The ancient remains were overrun by 200,000 cubic metres of water on January 18 after the nearby river Crati burst its banks following heavy rainfall.

Since then the fire and civil protection departments have been working to pump the water out of the site but there is concern over the remaining mud, which could become difficult to remove. Meanwhile numerous individuals and associations have offered to help with clean-up operations and Italy’s academic community has also rallied in support of the site, whose remains testify to the three successive settlements, the Greek colonies of Sybaris and Thurii and the Roman city of Copia, that once stood there. There is concern particularly for the Roman remains (2nd century BC-7th century AD), which lie closest to the surface and are rich in frescoes and mosaics. Here “the force of the water, which covered five hectares in the Parco del Cavallo area, even caused walls to crumble,” site director Silvana Lupino said. The priority now is to quantify the damage, with the cost of restoration possibly running to hundreds of thousands of euros. Lupino said it would “take months” to remove the mud with the help of “specialised teams” in support of the site’s technical staff. The excavations have been temporarily closed to the public although the management hopes they will reopen in time for the summer tourist season.

CJ Online Review: Liapis, Commentary on the Rhesus

posted with permission:

A Commentary on the Rhesus Attributed to Euripides. By Vayos Liapis. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. lxxviii + 364. Hardcover, £90.00/$185.00. ISBN 978-0-19-959168-8.

Reviewed by Simon Perris, Victoria University of Wellington

Commentaries, like readers, come in all sorts. Vayos Liapis’ commentary on Rhesos is of the kind I prefer, for he dedicates it not only to explicating the text, but also to advancing an argument. “In order to establish whether Rhesus can or cannot be Euripidean, and (more importantly) in order to lay the groundwork for a proper appreciation of this idiosyncratic play, nothing less than a full-scale commentary is required” (v). Production meets the usual standards of the press: typographical errors are few enough;[[1]] binding is adequate; the reproduction of Diggle’s OCT text leaves a little to be desired. Liapis translates each lemma into English. End matter includes indices Graecitatis, Nominum et Rerum Potiorum, and Locorum Potiorum.

This is effectively a book about dramaturgy and authorship. Liapis’ introduction, now required reading for anyone working on Rhesos, thus introduces the main interpretative issues (“The Mythical Background,” “Dramaturgy and Stagecraft,” “Character-Portrayal,” “Language and Style; Metre,” “The Authenticity Question,” and “The Text”) and also outlines the argument: the Rhesos attributed to Euripides was composed by a man of the theatre imitating the style of the old master with limited success, probably in the fourth century, possibly for performance in Macedon.

Liapis does force the issue at times. At p. xxix, despite citing Pickard-Cambridge’s caveat on the matter, Liapis maintains that “kothornos-boots” on Apulian red-figure vases are “a tell-tale sign of theatrical influence.” Kenneth Dover (Aristophanes: Frogs (Oxford, 1993) ad 47) and, more recently, Rosie Wyles (Costume in Greek Tragedy (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011) 25) affirm that classical kothornoi—to be distinguished from post-classical cothurni—were not a synecdochic icon for tragedy.

On the one hand, Rhesos supposedly demonstrates its poet’s incompetence. On the other, while arguing for a fourth speaking actor in the Alexandros scene, Liapis claims that “no half-competent playwright” would have risked the failure of a very fast costume change (xliv). On that note, Liapis is very dismissive of the possibility of a fourth actor at Khoephoroi 886–90, calling it a “specious” example (xliv) and thus implying that the case is open-and-shut.

Due to the play’s depiction of Odysseus and Diomedes, we are told, “one is bound to conclude that the playwright is manifestly unsympathetic to the Greeks” (li). The most one can conclude is that the poet’s portrayal is manifestly unsympathetic.

To my mind, a concentration on minor, unnamed characters is anything but paradoxical (liii) in a drama which owes so much to Euripidean style.[[2]]

I resist any assumption that “late” stylistic features are necessarily late-Euripidean, and I am thus wary of the conclusion, “That one and the same play can combine metrical and linguistic features both from early and from late Euripides can mean one thing, and one thing only: Rhesus is the work of a later imitator” (lvii).

Nevertheless, Liapis’s sensible and cogent argument has real explanatory power. I, for one, am persuaded. Moreover, Liapis’s commitment to his argument (if not his author) also supports the other goal of the commentary—to understand Rhesos as a piece of theater. He meticulously unpacks the play, qua verse drama, such that even a reader convinced of Euripidean authorship should still come away from the book enlightened about how Rhesos works or does not work, as the case may be.

I was gratified to discover that Liapis and I came independently to the same conclusion regarding the staging of Rhesos: neither the stage-building nor its door(s) represent anything, and Hektor sleeps not in a Homeric hut (klisiê) but in a bivouac (69–70).[[3]] On a related note, Liapis makes astute observations on Odysseus and Diomedes’ entrance to an empty stage (xxxvii–viii). Further, I approve of Liapis’s forthright approach to the problem of the chorus, and now agree entirely that “The chorus’ identity as soldiers on guard duty proves to be an exceedingly bad idea” (xli).

As his own entries in the bibliography illustrate, Liapis has spent some years now working on Rhesos, and in the commentary proper we reap the fruits of that labor on points of detail as well as wider issues. See, for example, the exemplary treatment of the Rhesos-poet’s (ab)use of the word ἄντυξ (instances of which may be found in the index Graecitatis); the explanation of λῦσον βλεφάρων γοργωπὸν ἕδραν (Rh. 8); or the lucid account of the Hypotheseis to the play. On the other hand, I strongly disagree that “it is doubtful … that [δαίμων] is ever used as a mere synonym for ‘god’” (87). Compare, for example, Bakkhai 22, 417, 498, et cetera.

Rhesos is probably our only extant fourth-century tragedy and, some would say, the weakest extant tragedy. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this book, then, is that Liapis implicitly stakes a claim for the play’s importance without apologizing for its (lack of) quality. This excellent commentary deservedly takes its place as the standard reference work on Rhesos for scholars and graduate students alike.


[[1]] xxii: “n.*”. xliv n. 126: “n.*” (twice). lxvii with n. 226: Liapis repeats (not verbatim) an earlier assertion (p. lvi with n. 175) about the poet’s lax approach to interlinear hiatus. 57: παρέμβολήν [sic]. 62: “or later hypotheseis-collection[s] were falsely attributed.” 70: references to both “Popp” and “H. Popp.” 102: ὅ,τι [sic]. 110: “Fraenkel.;”. passim: the editor of tragic fragments is sometimes “Radt,” sometimes “R.”

[[2]] See now F. Yoon, The Use of Anonymous Characters in Greek Tragedy: The Shaping of Heroes (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

[[3]] S. Perris, “Stagecraft and the Stage Building in Rhesus,” G&Rome 59 (2012) 151–64.