CJ-Online Review: The Museum of Augustus: The Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, the Portico of Philippus in Rome, and Latin Poetry

The Museum of Augustus: The Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, the Portico of Philippus in Rome, and Latin Poetry. By Peter Heslin. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015. Pp. xiii + 350. Hardcover, $65.00. ISBN 978-1-60606-421-4.
Reviewed by Christina Kraus, Yale University
This fascinating, beautifully produced book is a terrific read putting forward detailed and sophisticated arguments that will certainly provoke productive discussion.  Disclaimer: I am not an art historian or archaeologist-but neither is Heslin.  All the more remarkable, then, that he has produced such an intriguing, archivally rich study, with a methodology combining close reading of architectural and archaeological drawings, ancient artistic representations, and poetry with historiographical research into the excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Pompeii and the area of the Portico of Philippus in Rome. He reveals his method in his preface (xi): “Most of the research for this book was … done online rather than in museums, at sites, and in archives”; he also relies on enlargements-only possible digitally-of scanned drawings, reconstructions, and photographs of his sites and paintings.  He was fortunate in his publisher, who has reproduced quantities of these in fantastic clarity. (Paradoxically, this is a book that is very much a physical pleasure to handle and to read.) Heslin, an expert on the possibilities raised by the digital revolution, is certainly right that his method of research in this project is one of the best ways forward, not only for scholars who cannot travel to see the sites themselves, but also in cases such as this one where the on-site material has been degraded past legibility, or destroyed altogether.

Heslin begins with a detailed analysis of the drawings and reconstructions made by early visitors to Pompeii, after the frescoes in the Temple were uncovered (1817) and before they were irretrievably damaged by exposure; he also makes heavy use of the mid-19th century cork model of the city. He then moves via a study of copies of the more popular paintings in private Pompeian houses to an analysis of the now-lost Portico of Philippus, including a lucid investigation of its development from the Republican Aedes Herculis Musarum. (This was physically incorporated into the later, larger complex erected by Augustus’ stepbrother and uncle, L. Marcius Philippus.) He wants both to decipher the original fresco cycle and to show that the Apolline temple decorations in Pompeii were based on-if not copies of-Theorus’s cycle of frescoes in the Portico. Heslin’s real target is that Roman cycle which-together with the Portico itself and the other art it contained-was “the public justification in the language of Roman architecture of Augustus’s patronage of poetry … his importation of the Museum of Alexandria into a Roman context” (2). Augustus in fact, Heslin argues, separated the Alexandrian Museum complex into two: as a rebuilding of the Aedes, the Portico continued its longstanding tradition as a prestigious meeting place for the guild of poets, while Apollo-a god less congenial to the Romans, who did not build a temple to him in Republican times-received his own home on the Palatine, with the new libraries, trumpeting Augustus as the principal patron of the arts (187).

I have by necessity vastly oversimplified Heslin’s argument, the beauty and challenge of which is in the details, from readings of the Marble Plan to the Tabulae Iliacae to 19th century German engravings. For literary scholars, the payoff will come in his final chapter, “Imaginary Temples,” on the poets who responded to this art. Heslin looks closely at the poems that clearly refer to the Aedes Herculis Musarum: Vergil’s prologue to Georgics 3, Propertius (though the promised discussion of 3.4-5 is missing [300]), Horace’s Odes, and-most intriguingly to me-the decorations on Juno’s temple in Aeneid 1.
I would especially like to believe the thesis that Aeneas is misreading those paintings not (as we have long recognized) because he sees glory for the Trojans where the Carthaginians must be celebrating their slaughter, but because, having only his own, subjective experience of the war to go by, he simply misidentifies the people represented. What Aeneas describes can be mapped onto the cycle of paintings that Heslin reconstructs, but he gets the names wrong: so, e.g., when Aeneas sees the tide of battle being turned by a person he identifies as Achilles (instaret curru cristatus Achilles, 1.468), Heslin suggests that Aeneas recognizes the armor because he has seen Achilles in it, but that because he has not read the Iliad, he does not know that it is in fact Patroclus wearing Achilles’ armor who turns the tide in Book 16. If Heslin is right (and he has many other examples), then the depth of the effect of art on the reader(s) in the Aeneid-and the map of misreadings we can construct around it-is even more remarkable than has previously been understood.
But that’s a big ‘if’. Heslin disregards too much recent scholarship on the Aedes (especially the important work of Alexander Hardie), and he is at times overly reductive. So, for example, in his treatment of pattern books (143), which is a mixture of assertion (“there is no evidence at all” for them-but then why do archaeologists appeal to them?) and oversimplification: assuming that local artists used pattern books “reduces [them] to more or less competent robots, slavishly attempting to imitate artistic forms that they scarcely understood”. Either the books existed or they did not; but (1) if they did, then one could profitably look at studies of 19th-century architectural pattern book use, which demonstrate that robotic copying is far from what was going on; and (2) if they did not, then this is simply a straw man, related to the straw men on whom Heslin depends far too much, of the art historian who looks at all Roman art as copies of Greek “originals,” hand in hand with the literary scholar who ignores material culture.  Both of those creatures are on their way out; Heslin doesn’t need them. Better to direct scholars to works like the new book by Vibeke Goldbeck, Fora Augusta, on the reception of the Forum Augustum in the West, including Pompeii; that book came out too late for Heslin to take account of, but it and similar studies support his strong argument that the Pompeian cycle was part of the imitatio Vrbis, a reinterpretation of a complex and influential building program at Rome.

Posted with permission …

©2017 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.

CJ-Online Reviews Archive

Augustan Stables to be Reburied?

From the Telegraph … skipping a bit:

Now, to mark the two millennia since his death in 14AD, a successful exhibition has been staged in Rome and Paris, while on Rome’s Palatine Hill newly restored rooms at Augustus’ house and elaborate frescoes in a dining area will go on display for the first time.

But at a large excavated site off Via Giulia, in the heart of the city, workers will start covering the remains of Augustus’s marbled stables with waterproof cloths, ready for reburial, left for future generations to rediscover.

Described as “extremely important” by Rome’s archaeological authority when they were first found in 2009 by a firm excavating to build an underground car park, the buildings gave a unique glimpse of how imperial stables were built, adding to shreds of information provided by digs at Roman military camps and mosaics found in North Africa.

Graffiti on the walls boasting of victories in races at the Circus Maximus provided a fascinating insight into the four racing teams that shared the stables and divided the fierce loyalties of Roman race fans.

In 2011, archaeologists celebrated when it was announced the stables would be preserved and open to visits, only for city officials to cancel the plans this year due to budget cuts.

Cataloguing discoveries before burying them is standard practice “when there are no funds to guarantee the work needed to safeguard the finds,” said Federica Galloni, a culture minister official.

Experts believe that once reburied, artefacts and remains do not risk erosion by the elements or the thefts they might endure if left exposed and unprotected, and can be re-excavated when funding permits.

The fate of the stables and Augustus’s mausoleum contrasts with other monuments in the city which have benefited from a new trend for restoration work paid for by Italian fashion companies. Shoe maker Tod’s is sponsoring a clean-up of the Colosseum while Fendi is funding repairs to the Trevi Fountain.

Officials have said the city of Rome did seek a sponsor to help restore Augustus’ mausoleum in time for the 2014 celebrations, but found no takers.

With just two million of a required four million euros available, work will now be finished in 2016.

Meanwhile, yards from the mausoleum, Augustus’s excavated and restored Ara Pacis – or “temple to peace” – is in much better shape and now hosting an exhibition devoted to the emperor. After it was discovered buried beneath a cinema in central Rome, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini decided in 1937 to excavate the temple at all costs in time to celebrate Augustus’ 2000th birthday.

Sparing no expense, experts dug down to retrieve the monument using innovative techniques to freeze the foundations beneath the cinema to ensure the modern building did not collapse.

History unearthed – and reburied

Reinterring ancient sites to protect them from the elements and thieves rather than leaving them exposed is becoming more frequent as funds for archaeology become a luxury in cash strapped economies like Italy and Greece.

An important thermal bath dating to the first century AD reign of the Roman emperor Titus, discovered close to the Colosseum in Rome in the 1990s, has been reburied until money is found for its preservation.

On the outskirts of Rome, experts are campaigning for cash to save from reinterring the stunning tomb of Marcus Nonius Macinus, the Roman general whose 2nd century AD campaigning helped inspire Russell Crowe’s Gladiator.

In Greece, an early Christian basilica, discovered in 2010 during the construction of an underground railway in Thessaloniki was reportedly reburied.

Not sure how I missed this discovery back in 2009. Back in 2008 we read of an impending restoration of the Circus (Circus to be Restored!), and shortly thereafter, about some entrepreneur’s plans to bring chariot racing back to the venue (Chariot Racing in Rome Redux), but then all we heard were tales of a beach soccer tournament therein (Beach Soccer in the Circus Maximus?).

The so-called ‘Gladiator Tomb’ has been its own saga … ecce:

… so apparently the campaign on that score is continuing. Hopefully publicity will bring a sponsor out of the woodwork …


‘New’ Fragment of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti Found

Right now my Twitterfeed is overflowing with excitement over the apparent discovery of a fragment of the Res Gestae in Sardis. Mary Beard actually broke the story at her blog an hour or so ago … here’s an excerpt:

Well a new article by Peter Thonemann in Historia 2012 puts the kibosh on that. Because he has realised that a tiny and otherwise insignificant fragment of Greek text published in 1932 in a volume of the inscriptions of the town of Sardis (Buckler and Robinson, 1932) was actually (as Buckler in an unpublished letter had already suspected) a small fragment of the Res Gestae. And Sardis is not in the province of Galatia, but in the province of Asia.

… you’ll want  to read her whole article for what is being kiboshed and the Galatian reference:

That said, the Historia article is — as always — inaccessible to us poor peons whose coporeal forms do not penetrate the ivory walls of academe, but the standard collection of inscriptions from Sardis is available at the Web Archive … I’ve paged through it and can’t really find anything that looks res-gestae-ish, so perhaps it is in a supplement. Whatever the case, it would be interesting if some computer program could be written which compared the various collections of inscriptions found everywhere in the Greco-Roman world. I bet more fragments of the RG would show up (as well as multiple copies of other documents, I suspect).

William Murray Looks at Naval Warfare in the Ancient Mediterranean

Nice feature in USF News on William Murray’s ongoing research:

Shipping and Greek culture connect University of South Florida Professor William Murray and Aristotle Onassis, a legendary titan in the shipping industry – a connection born of Murray’s lifelong love of sailing and the Onassis legacy.

More than three decades of research about some of the world’s oldest ships made Murray the perfect choice to launch a new book series sponsored by the prestigious Onassis Foundation in cooperation with Oxford University Press. The new Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture features books on topics presented in the Foundation’s highly-respected University Seminar Program, which selected Murray as a professor in 2007.

Others selected for the series include Professors Alain Bresson, University of Chicago; Simon Goldhill, University of Cambridge; Edith Hall, University of London; Mary Lefkowitz, Wellesley College; Henry Maguire, Johns Hopkins University; Claudia Rapp, UCLA; and Tim Whitmarsh from Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Each author is an eminent authority on an aspect of Hellenic or Byzantine history or culture.

In March, Murray introduced the first volume of this new series to a standing-room only audience in the Atrium of the Olympic Cultural Center in Manhattan. His groundbreaking book, The Age of the Titans: The Rise and Fall of the Great Hellenistic Navies, tells the story of the world’s first naval arms race. He explains, using fascinating new insights, how powerful kings built warships that were longer than football fields and crewed by thousands of men.

Murray, The Mary and Gus Stathis Professor of Greek History, in the Department of History at USF, always tries to marry archaeology with history, particularly as concerns the sea and maritime culture. That pursuit has led him to numerous archeological projects in Greece, Israel and Turkey, on land and underwater.

Having immersed himself in examining the artifacts and details of life from ancient Greece and Rome, Murray speaks with great authority. His love of the subject infuses his descriptions of the period with the kind of enthusiasm that makes his students feel he’s reporting from experience.

He’s particularly fascinated by the warships. Though none have survived in their entirety, shipwrecks have provided important pieces of evidence to support descriptions recorded from that era.

“We know that the largest weighed hundreds of tons and were crewed by more than a thousand men,” Murray said. “An important feature was the ship’s bow ram, a large bronze warhead of extraordinary workmanship and technical sophistication.”

He traces the roots of the naval arms race to slightly before 400 BC, when warships were first used to support siege warfare, attacking one another in prow-to-prow collisions. The game changer came in 332 BC.

“When Alexander used his navy to attack the island city of Tyre, it was as if he dropped an atomic bomb,” Murray said. “He used ships fitted with artillery and siege machinery to pound the city walls and break through the harbor defenses in ways that astounded both his friends and enemies. Thereafter, naval warfare was never the same.

“Alexander owed his success to his father Philip II, who had put together an ‘army corps of engineers’ whose R&D efforts jump-started the evolution to enormous vessels armed at the bow with ponderous bronze rams, driven by hundreds of oarsmen seated on multiple levels.”

When asked what drove such military research, Murray said, “policymakers and need. Phillip challenged his engineers to shorten his sieges of coastal cities and they responded by drawing up the plans that his son put into practice at Tyre. Alexander’s use of warships as integral parts of a new naval siege unit was revolutionary.”

Past researchers have focused their efforts on the big ships themselves – theorizing how they were rowed – but Murray wanted to know the answer to another question, namely, “what were big ships built to achieve?”

To get the answer, he combed through ancient texts and became more and more convinced that concrete strategic objectives drove the invention and development of larger than normal galleys. “The answer was so simple,” he said, “I wondered why no one else had come up with it before. The big ships were developed to attack and defend coastal cities – to literally bash through physical barriers strung across harbor mouths – and not to participate in duels with other big ships in set naval battles.”

A chance string of discoveries by others – one in 1913, another in 1980 – followed by a few “eureka” moments of his own started Murray on this line of reasoning.

While a graduate student at the American School of Classical Studies in Greece, he saw the partially excavated, overgrown weed-filled site of an ancient victory monument. It had been built by Augustus to commemorate his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra in the famous Actian War. More than 200,000 troops and 800 ships are said to have taken part in that historic fight for control of the Roman Empire.

“Overlooking the battle zone, on the side of a hill where Augustus had pitched his tent, one can still see the ghostly outlines of warship rams preserved in the stone facade of the monument,” Murray said.

When he first saw the site in 1973, he recognized its importance but was unable to explain how oddly shaped holes in the facade held bronze warheads from the enemy fleet. The key was pulled from the sea seven years later in 1980, when an intact warship ram was found near Haifa, Israel.

“At the time, I was helping to excavate Herod’s harbor at Caesarea,” Murray said, “and someone casually suggested I hop on the bus up to Haifa to see what they’d found.” Murray smiled as he recalled the moment when he first saw what is now known as the Athlit Ram. “Someone threw a switch on the light bulb in my head and I experienced the biggest eureka moment of my professional life.” Thereafter he knew how the rams were mounted in the peculiar holes on Augustus’ victory monument.

Murray was now certain that the wall displayed 37 warheads cut by the victor from the bows of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s biggest ships. “The number surely represented a tithe or 10 percent dedication from the 370 warships that Augustus captured during the war,” Murray explained.

The holes also exhibited a range of sizes, and all held much larger rams than the one from Israel, which weighed half a ton.

“Anthony and Cleopatra clearly revived the big ship phenomenon after a period when big ships were being used less and less, just as the ancient histories tell us,” Murray said. “And their defeat at Actium spelled the end of an era in naval history.”

Faced with the size, weight, and raw power these rams represented, Murray began to question old theories and formulate new answers. The ram from Israel and the enormous warheads from Actium were telling a new story and Murray wanted to piece it together.

He read all he could about ancient warships, known by different names that referred to their relative oar power – the most popular being “threes,” “fours,” and “fives,” the smallest being “ones,” the largest a “forty.” Murray gathered the evidence for their different crew sizes, the armaments they carried, and their characteristics in battle. But he wanted to know more. He began to question a lot of assumptions and presumptions historians had made up to this point.

Hints and clues would come from some of history’s most colorful leading characters: not only Alexander the Great, and his father Phillip II of Macedon, but also the generals who fought for his empire after he died in 323. These included men like Antigonus “One Eye,” Demetrius “The Besieger of Cities,” and a long line of Ptolemies, including Cleopatra VII and her Roman ally Marcus Antonius.

The precise plans of these last two have been the subject of speculation since the period of their infamous love affair and war with Augustus Caesar, then known as Octavian.

Dio Cassius, a Greek historian who lived two centuries after their defeat, wrote that the pair intended to invade Italy and oust Octavian and his men from power. Later historians thought Cassius was speculating. Murray’s conclusions about big ship navies and their uses, however, support Dio’s assertion and challenge long-held assumptions about the pair’s ultimate objectives.

“When I started the book, I did not intend to say anything new about Actium, but when I got to this point of the narrative, the big ships made no sense unless Antony and Cleopatra really planned to invade Italy. Otherwise, we must conclude they were ignorant of three centuries of naval history.”

But this was only part of the story. Murray was not entirely satisfied with historians’ other assumptions about how big ships were used in battle.

“Most everyone agrees that the smaller ships relied on their light weight and superior maneuverability to attack their enemies with ram strikes. But monstrous rams and the big ships they armed must have been used for purposes other than combat in set naval battles.”

It was an ancient handbook that became the lynchpin of his new way of looking at things – the writings of an ancient ‘military consultant’ – Philo of Byzantium. His Compendium of Mechanics provided Murray with the “how-to” book on conducting sieges of coastal cities during the height of the big ship era. It supports Murray’s new assertion that yesterday’s navies used their bow rams not only on other ships but on harbor fortifications – a new idea at the core of Murray’s new book.

Long troubled by the fact that no other scholar came to this conclusion before, he found that Philo’s work was largely unreadable prior to 1920. As a result the document was ignored by 19th and 20th century scholars who formulated the current models of naval power. Thereafter, when a readable text of Philo was published, no one noticed his advice about using big ships to attack cities. This was true until Murray read the text in 1996 and was rewarded with a goldmine of information about the uses of big ships in siege warfare.

According to Murray, much remains to be done. In 2009, for example, he enlisted the help of USF’s Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) who scanned the Actium Victory Monument with 3D laser scanners.

Working from these data, Murray and a team of computer modelers are creating “virtual rams” to fit the complex holes of the monument.

“With the scan data, we can do some ‘reverse’ engineering to recreate not only the rams, but also the timbers of each warship’s bow,” he said.

The ultimate goal? To conduct crash tests on the different sizes of ships they produce.

Murray eventually hopes to simulate battle maneuvers and thus gain a sense of the physical reality involved in ship attacks on one another – and on land fortifications. When he does, he’ll have even more to share with his fellow scholars at the Onassis Foundation and beyond. This month he’s sharing his research and details from his book during a cruise of the Aegean and will join an expedition in Sicily searching for ancient warship rams.

“When you dig into the details, you can end up rewriting history or at least furthering the discussion,” Murray said. “That, and the use of new technologies to visualize and then refine what we could only dream about as recently as 10 years ago … that’s what makes this work so exciting and so satisfying.”