Things I will not say…

I thought I might write about this stunning series which shows Hercules and each of the nine muses on the reverse.  I started by reading Rutledge’s Ancient Rome as a Museum but didn’t find much.  I ran some bibliographical searches and re-read amongst other things the classic Richardson article which raises more questions than it answers.  Farney connects the observe to a family connection to the Games of Apollo, but is silent on the reverse.  I then went and checked my own notes and saw that I was going to talk about it in relation to Fulvius Nobilior’s (cos. 189) temple to Heracles and Muses and the statues of the later he brought back from his conquests of the Greek East.  The theory being that the coins show those statues and the impression they made.  That’s really speculative.  We really know nothing about this coin series.  Perhaps it had better go in the introduction during a discussion of re-dating and the use of hoards.  Crawford has it as 66 BC but based on the huge Mesagne hoard Hersh and Walker redated it to 56 BC.  I used it as an opportunity to play around with searching the database I mentioned yesterday.  Mapping findspots.  Seeing the date spread of hoards.  Seeing whether types in the series are found together (they are, no surprise).  The re-dating by hoard evidence and the name pun might in the end be the best most honest history one can write from these beauties.  Though, of course, Farney’s point will get a shout out when I talk about references to ludi (games) on coins.

1 thought on “Things I will not say…”

  1. The Muses coinage are a perfect example of our tendency, in numismatics, to lose or overlook excellent past research. Some of the best analysis of this series was Borghesi’s Ouevres Numismatique in the early 19th century. He examines every details of this coinage, from the form of lettering such as the strange form of the letter V, to the dilemma of which model represents Erato. Borghesi comes to the definitive conclusion that the symbol of Erato was the flower behind the head; the muse herself carries a lyre which is distinctly different from the lyre of Terpsichore, having a squarish sound box rather than the oval soundbox of Terpsichore, in fact it is a different musical instrument. Admiral Smyth in his insightful, racy and amusing book detailing the Northumberland collection, separately arrives at the same rather obvious conclusion: flower, plus lyre type, represents Erato irrespective (!) of the position of her arm – an evidently trivial aspect. Yet somehow, we’ve lost that information, Babelon vol.11 p.364 states without comment that stance matters more than attributes, his number 12 he assigns to Erato, and number 17 to Terpsichore despite having the same attributes, merely because the stance on 17 is identical to the differently-attributed Babelon 18 with a different lyre and a tortoise behind the head. Grueber, Sydenham and Crawford copy Babelon’s attribution without comment, and the wise and surely correct views of Borghesi and Smyth are thus lost forever. What other nuggets of numismatic wisdom have we lost to such sloppiness?

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