Ripped from the Stage?

A. Postumius A. f. Sp. n. Albinus. Denarius serratus 81, AR 4.05 g. Draped bust of Diana r., with bow and quiver over shoulder; above head, bucranium. Rev. Togate figure standing r. over rock, holding aspergillum over bull; between them, lighted altar. Babelon Postumia 7. Sydenham 745. Crawford 372/1. NAC 54 (2010) lot 919.

Peter Wiseman has put much scholarly energy into expounding how stage performances have influences our received narrative histories [for instance this book].  Not everyone believes this, but it is certainly a good starting point to introduce some skepticism into one’s reading of ancient histories.  I’m editing the section of the book on the coin above and have amongst my marginalia a note to find out whether it has been suggested that Plutarch’s narrative (from Juba) is ultimately derived from a stage production (Roman Questions 4):

Why do they, as might be expected, nail up stags’ horns in all the other shrines of Diana, but in the shrine on the Aventine nail up horns of cattle?  Is it because they remember the ancient occurrence?For the tale is told that among the Sabines in the herds of Antro Curiatius was born a heifer excelling all the others in appearance and size. When a certain soothsayer told him that the city of the man who should sacrifice that heifer to Diana on the Aventine was destined to become the mightiest city and to rule all Italy,  the man came to Rome with intent to sacrifice his heifer. But a slave of his secretly told the prophecy to the king Servius, who told Cornelius the priest, and Cornelius gave instructions to Antro to bathe in the Tiber before the sacrifice; for this, said he, was the custom of those whose sacrifice was to be acceptable. Accordingly Antro went away and bathed, but Servius sacrificed the heifer to Diana before Antro could return, and nailed the horns to the shrine. This tale both Juba and Varro have recorded, except that Varro has not noted the name of Antro; and he says that the Sabine was cozened, not by Cornelius the priest, but by the keeper of the temple.

It seems ripe for staging with far more characters and drama than another version.  Also notice how much of the action happens off stage and the drama is the dialogue between characters, except the final sacrifice.  It’s the trope of the cunning slave that really gets me me thinking in the direction of ancient theater.  But all my searches have turned up nothing.  I really wanted to put a footnote in and don’t really want to work up and defend the idea further myself.  So I think its out of the book for now.  Not the coin.  Just the theater angle.

I did come across an intriguing suggestion from C. J. Smith (Roman Clan 2006: 39):

A peculiar story in Plutarch, but taken from Juba and Varro, is suggestive of the kind of myth-making in the late Republic; it is connected with the foundation of the temple of Diana, founded by Servius Tullius, and has a Sabine duped by a Cornelius over the sacrifice of a heifer; evidence from coins may suggest that the same story was told of a Postumius. n.98

n. 98 – Plut. QR 4 = Mor. 264CD; Juba FGrH 275 F12. Cf. Livy 1.45.3 with Ogilvie (1965) 183–4; Val. Max. 7.3.1; Vir. ill. 7.10–14; Zonar. 7.9. There was a prophecy that the outstanding heifer in Antro Curiatius’ herd would, when sacrificed in the temple of Diana on the Aventine, bestow on the city of the one who sacrificed it dominion over Italy, but Cornelius the priest told Curiatius to bathe before sacricifing, and then Servius sacrificed the animal and hung its horns (cornua, hence Cornelius) in the temple. For a coin with a bust of Diana on the obverse and a scene of sacrifice on the reverse, see RRC 372; the moneyer was A. Postumius Albinus, who was related to the annalist. Livy gives the story without the names, and it seems that only Juba had got the story in full, since Varro’s version is slightly different again.

My basic line in the book is there is good evidence for an affinity between the gens Postumia and Diana from multiple moneyers.

Unrelated gossip: I heard it on the Classics grapevine that T.P. Wiseman was the model for Albus Dumbledore as J.K. Rowlings, Professor at Exeter.  Fun thought, even if not true.

I will always associate Harry Potter with Numismatics as on 8 July 1999, the release date of the third book, I was attending the Institute For Classical Studies, University of London, Summer Schools in Numismatics, led by Meadows and Williams with Crawford and Burnett and co making guest appearances.  One of my fellow students was a Glaswegian. I confessed to liking what was at the time a children’s book that had made the nightly news, not world phenomenon.  He in turn bragged that he wording the cafe where Rowlings wrote the first two novels.  Can’t remember his name.  I loved children’s literature before Rowlings and enjoy it even more that her success means publishers give other authors longer word counts and cross market to adults more readily.

Now, If only I had a longer word count for my book!

No More Meaningful Than a Postage Stamp?

One can’t seem to give a paper at a conference about coin designs without someone asking, if they’re really any more meaningful than a modern postage stamp [usually in a really special tone of voice].  Because of this ever present question and the resulting need to justify oneself, an apologetic reference to the metaphor is found in most modern books on ancient coin types (examples here and here and here).

The old trope comes from a 1950s debate between Jones and Sutherland.  Jones in Essays Mattingly 1956 and Sutherland’s rebuttal in the widely read 1959 JRS article.  [The latter some kind soul has put up on the web.]

Here’s the thing that gets me.  Who are coin geeks to disparage stamps?!?!  You’ve got to be kidding me that academics and enthusiasts alike can’t see the problem with this analogy as a negative analogy.  There is good, fascinating work out there about the importance of stamp imagery as a vehicle for studying national identity, social norms, cultural trends over time…  Why aren’t we reading this work?

Here’s a good place to start:

The next time someone brings up postage stamps, I’m going to congratulate them on their great positive analogy showing the power of studying coin imagery.
[And if you’ve said this to me or in my hearing in the last two weeks, don’t worry I’m not actually insulted, I just like a good rant. ;-)]
Bye-the-bye.  Just to prove there is an enthusiast for everything here’s a great website that specializes just in images of coins on stamps!


Infantilization of the Colonial Other

Speaking today at the Warwick Coin Day, “Currencies between Cultures”. Here are two slides cut from the presentation and their accompanying script.


“One of the most common visual metaphors of American and European imperialism is the infantilization of the colonial Other.  We’ve already met it today in Lewis’ speech to the Sioux about the symbolism of the medallions. We’re most familiar with the image from various comic renderings of the ‘White Man’s Burden’. Notice themes of feeding, teaching, and nurturing.  And, in fact, in Kipling’s 1899 poem about America joining the ranks of the imperial powers through the take over of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War the last stanza ends with the characterization of the colonial subjects as half devil and half child.  At first glance, this is not a particularly classical conception of empire, even if a classical personification of liberty does show up occasionally.   …


…However in its more romanticized version we can easily see how Roman models are once more adapted to meet the ideological needs of Colonial Europe. Beyond the obvious visual parallels and basic elements such as hierarchy of scale, also notice parallels in language in the legends. We have Gallia Tutrix in the upper left hand picture and in the middle right Lepidus the Tutor of the king, tutor meaning guardian in Latin.  The middle left image from Augustus’ ara pacis is probably not a personification of Empire but rather of the earth and harmonious bounty she can produce under the Roman peace.  However that peace conceptualized as a gift of empire and the later European adaptations simply take out a conceptual layer by making the female figure the personification of the imperial power in her own right.  And of course we have our now very familiar our palm trees and huts and rays of light.  This idea of motherhood rather than fatherhood as a metaphor for the colonial relationship is of course not restricted to medallic art. This is a postcard making a joke about the popularity of the French 1931 colonial exposition, what has been called by some commentators a human zoo. And This is an Onion article lambasting today’s voluntourism and its propagation of colonialist values from this past January.”