Thursday, 4 November 2021

museo pio-clementino

Through the lens of Michelangelo failing in a competition to restore the iconic sculptural ensemble Laocoรถn and His Sons (previously) affords us another chance to examine the subject matter, a priest of either Poseidon or Apollo, who respectively was either guilty of the transgression or potential crossing the line in exposing the Trojan Horse for what it was or for breaking his vow of celibacy. Pope Julius II commissioned a contest to determine the best design proposal to restore a conspicuously absent arm for the central figure. Both Michelangelo and Raphael—related to the judge, the Vatican’s chief architect—lost to an artist called Jacopo Sansovino’s outstretched arm. During an excavation in 1906, the arm was recovered and positioned in accordance with Michelangelo’s original suggestion.

Saturday, 30 October 2021


the motion picture that pits steel weapons against steel nerves: Joan Crawford in Herman Cohen’s 1967 Berserk! plus a medley of other horror films 

phenaskistiscopic vinyl: animated record albums—see previously  

cop26: designer installs a sinking Monopoly style house on Putney Weir ahead of this crucial climate conference 

ghostly footsteps (with chains): in 1977, BBC’s foley artists (previously) released a best-selling record of spooky sound-effects  

cloaca maxima: Rome’s revered sewer-system—see also  

auchan daily mascarpone cheese: a decade of Russian music videos  

the high-handed enemy: director Denis Villeneuve storybooks the gom jabbar scene 

 kitchen witchery: a tarot deck to divine one’s dinner

Friday, 29 October 2021

ฯ„ฮฟฯฯ„แฟณ ฮฝฮฏฮบฮฑ

Staging a grand, triumphant adventus (from the Greek แผ€ฯ€ฮฌฮฝฯ„ฮทฯƒฮนฯ‚ for escort to celebrate the return of the emperor or other dignitary with parades and decoration), Constantine the Great enters Rome following his

victory at Milvian Bridge (previously), at a strategically important crossing of the Tiber with the supporters of unrecognised emperor Maxentius whose defeat Constantine supposedly attributes to his marching under the sign of the Cross (), on this day in 312. While divine intervention was an accepted cause for winning or loosing in a struggle, contemporary accounts have little no no references to credit Christianity and no overly Christian iconography. Amid the fanfare Constantine over the body of his drowned enemy fished out of the river and beheaded. Despite the veracity of the miracle supposedly witnessed by Constantine and his entire army, the above letter form, Chi Rho—the first two letters of Jesus Christ and the commandment that came to him in a dream, “In this sign you will conquer,” Christianity was later decreed to be the state religion of the empire.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

saint ursula and companions

Though little reliable contemporary details of her hagiography and that of her eleven-thousand handmaidens and the virginal princess went unnamed for centuries, they are venerated on this day (see previously) and are the namesake of both the Ursuline order (the name Latin for little she-bear) and the Virgin Islands, marking the occasion of their mass-martyrdom in 383 at Kรถln on the banks of the Rhine. The Daughter of legendary King Dionotus of Dumnonia (Devon, Cornwall) was betrothed to pagan governor of the province of Armorica, whom after a miraculous storm transported her and her retinue across the sea in just the space of a day resolved that they should all undertake a pan-European pilgrimage, heading first to Ravenna and Rome and persuading the pope to join them. Their encampment was besieged by the Huns at the frontier city with a basilica dedicated to them on the spot of the massacre. Officially stricken from the calendar of saints in 1969 as fantastical, scholarship suggest that the large number of companions may be due to a misreading of the Latin numerals or a single virgin martyr with the name Unidecimilla, the error transmitted through the ages.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

artemius of antioch

Invoked for relief of hernias and maladies afflicting the testicles—for no ostensible reason that we could divine—Roman general Flavius Artemius is feted on this day, venerated as a saint in the Catholic rite and a megalomartyr in the Orthodox church. Though the chronology seems somewhat off, Artrmius supposedly played an influential role in the court of Constantine and fought heroically in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (later placed in charge of missions seeking relics and recovering the bodies of the apostles), only to be later put to death by the emperor’s successor, his cousin Julian (called the apostate) that rejected Constantine’s state sanction for Christianity and returned the empire to pagan pantheism.

Thursday, 9 September 2021


By modern calendars and scholarly concensus the ambush described by contemporary historians as Clades Variana (the disaster of General Publius Quinctilius Varus) and familiar to subsequent generations as the Battle of the Teuotburg Forest occurred on this day in the year nine when an alliance of Germanic peoples routed three Roman legions under the leadership of Arminius, the defeat seen as a pivotal moment in the course of history as Roman ambitions and imperial expansion were checked.

Thoroughly Romanised, after the advances of Drusus I two decades earlier, Arminius’ father, chieftain of the Cherusci, called Segimerus the Conqueror sent his sons to Rome as tribute, hostages where he received a military education and citizenship. Eventually becoming a trusted advisor to Varus and familiar with the terrain, Arminius returned to the frontier and in secret negotiated a pact among tribes that were generally hostile to one another out of collected grievance about how the Romans were treating the native population. No truce was ever reached in part because the winning alliance had captured the legions’ aquilae, the eagle standard, and the Romans, with no other territorial or material gains, spent years in retalitory skirmishes and recovery missions. The monument to the victory, the Hermannsdenkmal, erected some one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four years later, became a symbol for German nationalism and focus of anti-Napoleon sentiment (see also), provocatively facing France.

Monday, 6 September 2021

ฤlea iacta est

Via the ever excellent Everlasting Blรถrt, we are directed to this pair of Roman anthropomorphic dice, silver squatting figurines weighted (equitably presumably) to fall in one of six (tesserae, though usually in games in the Empire tossed in threes) positions.

The above phrase attributed to Julius Caesar by the historian Suetonius when the general brought his provincial army into the capital is like other quotations a likely translation from the Greek borrowing from the humorist Menander, «แผˆฮฝฮตฯฯฮฏฯ†ฮธฯ‰ ฮบฯฮฒฮฟฯ‚», let a die be cast in either form the phrase meaning metaphorically reaching a point of no return from whose juncture the decisions are irreversible.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

second triumvirate

Of course while the lurch towards despotism by the government and the governed did not go unnoticed, Rome never acknowledged that it shifted from being a republic to an imperial power and maintained the trappings of democracy amid tyranny and some aspects of the transformation were gradual and inuring but one pivot point is the Battle of Actium, which took place on this day in 31 BCE, with the fleets of Octavian, ambitious politicians and grand-nephew of Julius Caesar and adopted ‘son,’ and Cleopatra VII Philopator and Mark Anthony fighting in the Ionian sea. First allied (read more), Octavian had a falling out with Mark Antony after he abandoned his wife Octavia Minor, Octavian’s sister, to go to Egypt and foster a long-term liaison with Cleopatra, raising the son of Julius Caesar, Caesarion by the Pharaoh, as his own. Octavian convinced the Senate that the couple were a threat to Rome and were forming a separatist faction that would undermine Roman unity, installing a child king and moving the capital to Alexandria, and with this propaganda campaign and was able to gather his forces. With superior numbers, Octavian was able to claim victory, pursuing Antony and Cleopatra and their defeated ships for nearly a year back to the Egyptian capital where trapped they both dispatched themselves, and consolidated power ubi et orbi, adopting the title Princeps, Number One Citizen, and awarded the title of Revered One—Augustus—by the Senate for saving Rome.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

genesius of arles

Conflated with a contemporary saint of the same name in Rome who was a stand-up comedian and spontaneously converted to Christianity in the middle of a routine satirizing these Jesus-y upstarts (let that be a warning) and with a pooled patronage, Saint Genรจs as he is known in French was a personal secretary of the magistrate of Gaul and is venerated on this day on the occasion of his martyrdom in 303 under the persecutions of Maximian and Diocletian (see previously) for objecting to a legal writ that would sanction further maltreatment of the religious sect. Together with his Roman counterpart, Genesius is patron and protector of notaries, secretaries, stenographers, clowns and comedians.

Monday, 23 August 2021


Held annually to propitiate the deity with bonfires and sacrifice at a time when crops and granaries were most prone to burning, the Roman fastus to Vulcan falls on this day in what was originally Sextilis and was part of a larger cycle of agrarian holidays of the summer and the beginning of the harvest season, a human commission as opposed to placating untamed Nature observed in July. Games were held with the additional rituals of hanging clothes on a line out-of-doors and beginning to work after sundown by candle-light darkness already coming noticeably sooner and harnessing the potentially destructive nature of fire for something productive. The tubilustria ceremonies were also held at this time—the ritual purification of trumpets and similar instruments which were considered sacred to Vulcan.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

wadi musa

Familiar to only a few locals and unknown to the West until its rediscovery on this day in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the capital of the Nabataeans called Raqmu by its denizens is commonly referred to Petra (Al-Batrฤสพ) after its designation as a client state of the Empire after Rome annexed their kingdom as Arabia Petaea.

The settlement in southern Jordan between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqada is only accessible via a narrow gorge and was a major regional trading hub in antiquity, controlling routes from Gaza to Damascus and onto the Persian Gulf. Accustomed to privation and periods of drought and deluge, the Nabatean city includes advanced methods of gathering and storing rainwater and flood control, allowing the population to thrive and supporting numbers approaching twenty-thousand residents at its height. A marvel of engineering and with many cameos in popular culture, in most years, Petra greets over a million international tourists annually.

Thursday, 12 August 2021

fava beans and a nice chianti

Our gratitude again to Nag on the Lake for the update on this incredibly, impeccably preserved ancient thermopolium (see previously) excavated on the site of Pompeii is opening to the public. With only the wealthy cooking at home, most Romans would have patronised such snack bars, with more than eighty found in the rubble of this ill-fated city alone. Much more to explore at the links above, including an amazing gallery of frescos advertising the menu.

Saturday, 7 August 2021


Due to the above titled iconoclasm movement that left many Catholic churches bereft of their religious symbols and saintly relics from Protestant furore that sought to destroy what was regarded as idolatrous figures (see previously) during the Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Vatican ordered suitable replacements be found and promptly installed.

Thousands of skeletal remains were exhumed from the catacombs of Rome, lavishly dressed and decorated, like this day’s celebrant, Donatus of Mรผnstereifel, reportedly a second century Roman soldier and martyr. Quickly rising through the ranks after enlisting, Donatus (sharing his feast day with several other liked-named saints) was part of the famed XXII. Legion—known as Fulminatrix, the thundering ones, and was assigned to the personal security detail of Marcus Aurelius (previously). Engaged in the Marcomannic Wars on the Danube march, the legion was outnumbered and nearly defeated until saved by a sudden storm that frightened off the Goths and Samaritans. Although the emperor wanted to credit his magician with summoning the storm, Donatus insisted it was his Christian prayer circle and gave thanks to God. The emperor had them all killed. Said to have been entombed in the Catacombs of Saint Agnes, Donatus’ remains were re-discovered by Pope Innocent X in 1646 and translated to the town on the Rhein near Bonn, acclaimed patron and protector from lightning strikes and invoked for a good grape harvest. Popular throughout the Rhineland as well as Donauland, Donatus also enjoyed a cultus in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Luxembourg, Slovakia and Austria.

Sunday, 25 July 2021


The Gentle Author of Spitalfield’s Life directs our attention to a new, epic mosaic along the Thames path that illustrates two millennia and more of human history with the estuary’s natural course at the inlet named ‘the Queen’s Harbour’ after Matilda granted around 1104 the establishment of a dock there and the excise of duties on goods delivered. Learn more at the link above, including a treasury of panels from the procession, pictorial chronicle of the ages.

Friday, 23 July 2021


The ancient Roman festival with games (ludi) honouring the god of the seas was held on this day as a propitious act in the middle of the hot summer and drought to coax back the waters and escape the oppressive heat of the city by repairing to the countryside and sheltering under umbrรฆ for a shaded repast. At first not enjoying the universal acclaim of his Greek counterpart Poseidon, Neptune was not broadly regarded as the patron and protector of maritime affairs but rather as a guarantor of personal agricultural success, though was later held in more esteem as Rome developed as a naval power and the holiday came to be marked with the flooding of the Pantheon to return and tame the waters.

Friday, 2 July 2021

poena cullei

Via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump, we learn all about a Roman punishment meant to fit the crime codified by the lex Pompeia, emperor and the aristocracy of course being the worst offenders, that the punishment of the sack was meted out to those found guilty of the murder of a close relative who is one’s elder, a parricide, but not a fratricide, mariticide or uxoricide, involving stuffing the guilty party into a bag sewn shut with a rambunctious menagerie, usually consisting of a dog (for whom the Romans felt little fidelity), snake, monkey and a chicken and tossed into a river. Eventually expanded to include the intent, attempt, Seneca noted that by the time of the reign of the Claudian dynasty one saw “more sacks than crosses,” crucifixion of course being a preferred method of execution. More on capital crime and punishment and our fortunate distancing from it at the links above.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

lectori benevolo

Writing for Public Domain Review, Alex Tadel imparts some insight on classical literary culture through the lens of the brilliantly illustrated rarity Vergilius Vaticanus, a fourth century anthology containing Virgil’s Georgics and The ร†neid—itself one of the oldest sources of the text (see also), though we would still have that material without this deluxe, prestige bound folio crafted and bound at a time when most reading was circulated on papyrus scrolls but be denied the privilege of enjoying this one of a kind commission, acquired by the Vatican Library in 1600 and hence the latter part of the name. Much more on being well-read in Antiquity and the bookish set of the times at the link up top.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

fors fortลซna

Here depicted in the Carmina Burana manuscript, the Roman personification of fortune and luck often includes in her iconography a gubernaculum—that is a ship’s rudder for steering rather blindly for boon or for bane, the name of the goddess and what she represents seems to derive from vortumna—she who revolves throughout the year and whose temple was dedicated on this day, marked by celebrants floated downstream on the Tiber to the Forum Boarium for the event only after secret rituals were expected to row back to the city, bedecked with garland. The goddess has numerous aspects that were celebrated throughout the year and during life-events, including Fortuna Annonaria, luck in harvest, Fortuna Virilis, a lucky match, Fortuna Redux, to return home safely, Fortuna Huiuse Diei, luck of the moment and Fortuna Barbata, good luck in adolescents becoming adults.

Monday, 7 June 2021


glass menagerie: a Murano bestiary on display in Venice  

glow up: beauty tips from Ancient Roman—via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump  

coconuรŸritter: a short about Foley artists and creating soundscapes  

happy little clouds: explore a relaxing gallery of Bob Ross paintings (previously), via Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links   

culaccino: a database of words that do not readily translate succinctly, like this Italian term from the mark left on a table by a cold glass—via Swiss Miss 

electrobat vi: antique electric forerunners side-by-side with modern EVs  

the perils of everybody: a ‘mistake waltz’ that illustrates the pratfalls all ballet recitals are prone to  

where the buffalo roam: restoring the ecosystem of the North American Great Plains by reintroducing charismatic megafauna  

kitchenette: re-examining Liza Lou’s beaded exhibits

Sunday, 25 April 2021

pecunia non olet

Via the always engaging Everlasting Blรถrt, we find ourselves educated in the rather fascinating and sensical history of the Roman taxation scheme on human urine. Left to mellow and oxide, the substance undergoes a chemical transformation into ammonia not only useful for nitrogen-fixing in fertilisers but also as a cleaning-agent and detergent for laundry, oral hygienic and the dyeing of textiles. Levied during the reigns of Nero and Vespasian, the collection garnered the titular phrase that money does not stink, though the onerous and unpopular Vectigal Urinรฆ soon garnered detractors and has the lasting legacy in the public pay-toilets in some Romance-language places—France, Italy and Romania—referring to urinals, pissoirs as vespasiennes. The emperor’s son Titus objected to funding the Empire by such means and presented him with a gold coin, asking does this offend—to which Titus replied in the negative, “Atqui ex lotio est”—Yet it comes from the cesspool.