“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: