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the last, at any rate, on which he worked; the Tristia were completed in AD 12; he returned thereafter to revise the Fasti which he left unfinished

Ezra Pound’s words; Golding has him 'forlaid with wine and dreint with drowsy sleep'

3: 739-873 in the translation by Arthur Golding

cf. The Chapel of San Girolamo in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. New Evidence for the Discovery of the Domus Aurea Claudia La Malfa, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 63, (2000), pp. 259-270


Civ Clarke tells me that, once you are attuned, you still see Etruscan faces walking the streets of Rome, those long chins and almond eyes and deep smiles.

D.H. Lawrence wrote a potty book about the Etruscans, called Etruscan Places. He was, unsurprisingly, a fan.

‘A nymph called Lotis, flying from foul Priap’s filthy ware,/
Was turnèd into this same tree, reserving still her name.'
IX 418-19, trans. Arthur Golding

Or so says Anthony Colantuono Dies Alcyoniae: The Invention of Bellini’s Feast of the Gods in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 73 No.2 (June 1991) p. 237-256














footnotes, appendices and apparatus to the anatomy

grouped loosely by subject


1. on Antiquity

...by Ovid...

The story is told in the Fasti. The Fasti is Ovid’s last great poem. It provides an aetiology of the Roman calendar (the dies fasti are those days in the calendar when legal action was permissable, and contrast with the dies nefasti, dies comitialis (on which citizen assemblies could meet and vote) and others; using the word fasti, therefore, for calendar is a synecdotal expression of the year conceived as a template of the vita activa.

Ovid spent the last years of his life in exile (actually relegatio - he retained property and civic rights) on the fringe of the Empire, at Tomi on the Black Sea. Little of the warmth of civilisation reached him there. Rome was distant like the sun viewed from Pluto. Universal darkness was but a step away. It is not known what he did to merit exile.




...a dolphin emerged...

This story rhymes strongly with the story of Dionysius, young boy loggy with vine-must, told in the Metamorphoses, in which, having been taken on board ship by a rapacious crew, the god turns them all into dolphins, or at any rate all barring the helmsman, Acoetes, who recognised the divinity in their midst. The story is also told in the second Homeric Hymn to Dionysius.

Arion was credited with having invented the dithyramb, a dionisiac hymn which stood in opposition to the Apollonian paean.




...domus aurea...

The domus aurea was Nero’s villa, built between 65 and 68 AD and frescoed by a certain Famulus, no doubt acclaimed in his day, who according to Pliny only strolled to the villa to work when he felt the light was conducive.

The villa was covered over after Nero’s death, and during the construction of Trajan’s baths many of the rooms were filled with earth in order to provide foundational stability. The extent of the villa – it still has not been fully excavated - is a matter of some dispute, but might be 300 ha.

pinturicchio decorative elementsThe exact date of its Renaissance discovery is uncertain, but fell in all probability during the reign of Sixtus IV. This is suggested among other things by  the frescos in the chapel of San Girolamo in Santa Maria del Popolo, ascribed to Pinturicchio by Vasari, and most probably completed by 1479; in his decorative motifs, at least, Pinturicchio’s head was still clearly singing with the grottesche of the domus aurea.

Among the notable painters who had themselves lowered into the domus aurea were Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi, and later Raphael and Michelangelo.




...monstrous Etruscan effluent...

Effluent or tonic, depending on your viewpoint.

The Etruscans were a lost, or rather submerged, race, who were known to the Renaissance from Roman accounts of their barbarity.

The Romans adjudged them piratical, terrorising the Tyrrhenian Sea; they were tight spotgiven to luxury, indolence and vice, to torture of their captives (whom they would bury alive bound face to face with decomposing corpses), and to mysticism – many Roman religious rites were derived from the Etruscans, and even in the days of the Empire they were still employing Etruscan haruspices to prognosticate with livers. They used a language we can barely decipher, which appears not to have been Indo-European. This would argue either an unfashionable movement of peoples (Herodotus has them coming from Lydia) or a pre-Indo-European remnant, like Basque, a knot of resistance to the steady march of the farmers (in the disputed account of Colin Renfrew in Language and Archaeology 1990).

But whatever else they might have been – and needless to say, we have not seen their own account – the Etruscans were builders of cities. The Etruscan state was not a state but an insouciant federation of twelve great cities. It was their division in the face of Roman drill and focus that led to their gradual downfall and submersion beneath the Classical waves.

Each Etruscan city was balanced by its own city of the dead, a necropolis typically built on an adjoining hill or ridge, the architecture of whose tombs was modelled on the houses of the living: a domestic architecture of the dead.

In the necropolis at Tarquinia there are number of painted tombs depicting the sort of activity, I take it, that Etruscans enjoyed – hunting and fishing, games, banqueting, fucking each other, and music. They don’t seem so monstrous to me, but then I am not bound to the body of a corpse, and invited to meditate on putrefaction.

etruscan monsters




...rummages for her curiosity...

Behind me, Isobel has excavated her curiosity and is now unpacking it from boxes and tissue paper for my inspection.

It is an Etruscan lamp.

etruscan lamp

I learn later, from Clarke, the rumour that Hunter Sidney once stole just such a lamp from an unlocked cabinet in the museum of the Villa Giulia in Rome, where he had chased Mrs Isobel Easter (to Rome, not the Villa Giulia: quite another story which I will not attempt to retell here).

We suppose this to be the lamp in question.




...described in Ovid's Fasti...

Actually described twice: the first time (Jan 9th) where the victim of Priapus’s lust is Lotis (who in the Metamorphoses is transformed into a lotus after fleeing from Priapus) and in the second the object of the god’s ithyphallic devotion is Vesta.

It is likely, given the closeness of Bellini's painting to the description of the feast given in the first of these versions that Equicola had the text in front of him when he composed his mythopoetic directive for the painter. Moreover, it seems that he may have adapted details of the representation (in particular the depiction of Bacchus as a child and the presence of the kingfisher, bottom left-centre) in order the better to place the scene during the halcyon days of mid-winter. In which case I have no doubt we are looking at a talismanic object designed to ward off Saturnine humours (although Colantuono doesn't go on to make this specific, and it might be argued, daft claim).

Priapus was, among other things, god of gardens.

At Lampsacus on the Hellespont donkeys were sacrificed to do the god honour, of a sort.




...satyrs, nymphs...

There is disagreement about the ontological or taxonomical status of the creatures depicted here. The figure to the extreme left might be Pan or a pan (Ovid identifies the presence of pans and satyrs); the figure with the bowl on his head looks mostly human, but there is a caprine quality to the wide-set eyes that suggests he is a satyr. The figure to the right of Silenus with the pine wreath is probably Faunus. Ovid mentions naiads (stream or river nymphs), and the three female figures would appear to be just that.





...according to legend...

The legend holds that a painter, sent by King Abgar of Edessa, had been trying and failing to capture the holy visage, but now brought this divinely stained cloth back to Edessa where it cured the king of leprosy.

In accounting for the sudden appearance of the object in the sixth century, gibbonGibbon notes that ‘The ignorance of the primitive church [of the existence of the Mandylion] is explained by the long imprisonment of the image in a niche of the wall, from whence, after an oblivion of five hundred years, it was released by some prudent bishop, and seasonably presented to the devotion of the times.' Decline and Fall volume V p.89

The object is blurrily distinct from the sudarium of Veronica, whether by heredity or convergence, I cannot say. But both legends are contiguous with the practice of pilgrims, whereby relics were wiped with a cloth (brandea) in the hope or expectation of magical transference. Presence is registered in the image through a matter-of-fact transmission by touch, rather than any more airy metaphysics.




...appear to date from the Neolithic.

It is hard to date petroglyphs, for obvious reasons. This for example, from Cornwall, has been variously assigned to the Neolithic and the eighteenth century, but is most probably from the latter given its state of preservation and its proximity to a set of tin miners' huts of around that date.

tine mine petroglyph

However, it seems clear that other labyrinths really are pretty old. This, for instance, from Galicia, which dates to the Bronze Age:

pretty old

The earliest surviving non-petroglyphic representation of a labyrinth, from what I can make out, is a clay tablet from Pylos, dated to around 1300 BC, roughly pylos tabletcontemporaneous with the Galician glyph.

Pylos, it will be recalled, is where Carl Blegan found the confirmatory fragments of Linear B which helped Michael Ventris to its final decipherment (see Archaeological here for an account of this). The Pylos fragment is indeed inscribed on the recto in linear B.



The temple of Amenemhet III (c.1860 - c.1814 BC), for instance, was known to Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus the Sicilian, Pliny and their ilk as the labyrinth of Egypt. Pliny believed that Daedalus derived the Cretan labyrinth from its patterns.

Earlier burial chambers (for instance, that of King Perabsen (c. 3400) may themselves have been laid out as labyrinths.

Both temples and tombs are now crumbled and apotheosised to memories of patterns. Their work, perhaps, is done, their occupants gone beyond their help.