Odysseus Alone

Carnelian ring stone

There are many iconographic representations Odysseus/Ulysses with other characters or indications of setting that link him to a specific narrative: Sirens, Argos, Diomedes and Dolon, the Palladion, etc… However, it seems on gems that if you’re going to have just Odysseus/Ulysses all by himself, there are two main ways he can be represented (three if we count just a bust, but I’m leaving those aside today). One is with a walking stick and legs crossed. A rather upright example is given above (Cf. A glass paste in Munich no. 1375). Most of these cross legged Odysseus’ are more bent over and their staffs tend to be more crooked.

Gem of glass paste imitating sard, engraved with Odysseus as a beggar, with a pointed cap, chiton and crooked staff, standing to the right with his legs crossed.

Another example with an image on-line here, and also here (also cf. Munich 488 and 1374). Often the cross-legged Odysseus is described as ‘in the guise of a beggar’ this seems fairly apt, esp. when the figure is hunched over and the staff is crooked. I’m not sure, however, that the top image is ‘as a beggar’ it may just be Odysseus as traveler… that is if the traveler iconography can actually be distinguished from the beggar iconography.

The other solo Odysseus is with a cup. A LARGE cup.

Gem of glass paste imitating sard, engraved with Odysseus bending forward to the right, holding out a cup; he wears a pileus, short chiton and a sword at his side.

Another online image here (Cf. Munich 1369-1371). I’m under the impression that this might be a wee bit more common on glass pastes that on precious stones, i.e. “faux” gems of lower cost. Whereas the traveller/beggar Odysseus certainly appears on both. Why is he holding out the cup? Is this a begging action? Or might it be related to the comic Odysseus of the stage:

Or the wiley Odysseus who tricks Polyphemus with drink:

Post Script. I note that in the Wyndham Cook Collection no. 160 depicts a solo Odysseus as Archer with a legend resolved in the Catalog as ‘Nicander’.

81 thru 87 out of 410 days: Returning to a State of Grace

I did not coin the phrase, ‘The State of Grace, otherwise known as Brooklyn.’  That honor goes to an old friend who one December 31 I texted her asked what state she was in meaning was she still in the great Midwestern state of our birth and formative years or had she too already returned to NY.   I’ve adopted her reply as my watchword ever since.

Here I am myself.  The self I’ve chosen to be in my adulthood.  Here I know I am no better or worse than each of my neighbors.   Here I am home.

The details of domesticity and nostalgia from my sojourner on the great plains don’t have much of a place here.  The dissertation got read.  There were few to no coins except in the final chapter just to tease me a little.  The viva was won in the first moments by a brilliant opening statement far surpassing the introduction or conclusion of the written piece.  When the snake emerged, most of the committee joined in the defense.

And, yesterday was a good solid writing day with no blogging because I needed that.  I need just the peace of being at work.

79 out of 410 days: Trial by Snake

This is the coin type at the heart of the chapter I need finish by the end of the month. I don’t expect to write too much about it here as I seem to like to keep my free writing and the formal writing separate. Yesterday was mostly looking at possible (and impossible!) epigraphic references to other members of the moneyer’s family, the gens Mamilia. Today I was chasing up the references from an old article that suggested the type is all about the moneyer showing support for the Italians. Not an idea I’m ready to support, but the references he cited were all fascinating. Here’s the best of the lot:

In the bodies of these people there was by nature a certain kind of poison, which was fatal to serpents, and the odour of which overpowered them with torpor: with them it was a custom to expose children immediately after their birth to the fiercest serpents, and in this manner to make proof of the fidelity of their wives, the serpents not being repelled by such children as were the offspring of adultery. This nation, however, was almost entirely extirpated by the slaughter made of them by the Nasamones, who now occupy their territory. This race, however, still survives in a few persons who are descendants of those who either took to flight or else were absent on the occasion of the battle. The Marsi, in Italy, are still in possession of the same power, for which, it is said, they are indebted to their origin from the son of Circe, from whom they acquired it as a natural quality. But the fact is, that all men possess in their bodies a poison which acts upon serpents, and the human saliva, it is said, makes them take to flight, as though they had been touched with boiling water. The same substance, it is said, destroys them the moment it enters their throat, and more particularly so, if it should happen to be the saliva of a man who is fasting

The other references also mention snake taming, but they’re not quite as fun (Pliny NH 25.11, Serv. Aen. 7.750, Sil., Ital. Pun. 8.495-510). I find it hard to believe that Mamilius is claiming kinship with the Marsi as fellow offspring of Circe via the coin, but who doesn’t like a good snake story?! It made me think of the ritual being shown on this coin:

Propertius 8.4 helps us understand the image:

Lanuvium, from of old, is guarded by an ancient serpent: the hour you spend on such a marvellous visit won’t be wasted; where the sacred way drops down through a dark abyss, where the hungry snake’s tribute penetrates (virgin, be wary of all such paths!), when he demands the annual offering of food, and twines, hissing, from the centre of the earth. Girls grow pale, sent down to such rites as these, when their hand is rashly entrusted to the serpent’s mouth. He seizes the tit-bits the virgins offer: the basket itself trembles in their hands. If they’ve remained chaste they return to their parents’ arms, and the farmers shout: ‘It will be a fertile year.’

This seems to be part of cult of Juno Sospita, or at very least it took place in close proximity with her sanctuary and it is her head on the obverse of the coin. Here’s some recent scholarship with references. The cult at Lanuvium is rightly contextualized by the accounts of the powers to charm snakes linked to Circe and her ilk (Medea, Angitia, etc) and the origins of various Italic peoples and associations with specific Italian topography.


The original wire transfer is still lost. I spent a horrible time on the phone with HSBC. Again. We’re investigating other services… I took a break to write this post largely because I need to tamp down my rage to get back to writing properly.

75, 76, 77, and 78 out of 410 days: Transitions

Out of the economic chaos emerged the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Its goal was two-fold: conservation of our natural resources and the salvage of our young men. The CCC is recognized as the single greatest conservation program in America and it served as a catalyst to develop the very tenets of modern conservation. The work of America’s young men dramatically changed the future and today we still enjoy a legacy of natural resource treasures that dot the American landscape.

I worked on Labor Day, but not like the men of the CCC did! I am in awe of the scale and lasting legacy of the New Deal.

Chapter six and accompanying apparatus is done, including an attempt at embedding html indexing codes. 8,667 words, excluding block quotations from primary sources. Just 1,667 words over my goal. SDA is reading for clarity before it goes out to the editor.

An editor of the book review I finished July 15 got in touch at the end of last week. The extra length won me devilish choice. Find a way to cut half of it and keep the original commission or accept a new commission for the same piece from a newer less well known journal with open access. (The editor happens to work on both journals.) In the end I decided to keep the length and will put a link on my academia.edu site in order that it might be read at some point my someone. Book reviews are perhaps the least prestigious type of publication. More like public service than something one engages in for personal career advancement. I found I couldn’t really bring myself to care too much about the relative prestige of journal and rather would have out there the fullness of my opinion.

I have 18 work days between now and when I leave for Turkey to turn the talk I gave in July into something ready for publication. That’s being realistic that I will not be working on it in Minnesota when I visit my mother (I have a whole PHD thesis to read then!), nor am I likely to work on it the day I actually participate in the PHD viva. It also saves three days prior to our flight for packing, cleaning, banking and whatever other odds and ends are needed to close up our NYC life and relocate to Turkey for 10 months.

On balance, I’m satisfied with my progress.

100th Post: Visually Oriented

Yes. This is also 72 out of 410 days, but the 100th post seems to take numerical precedence. What is this obsession with base-10 numbers we have?!

At the beginning of this I set out some reasons why I was blogging. I’ve been asked what I get out of it by friends and colleagues: “what’s the pay off?” I’m a visual oriented person. This particular format of “picture first followed by text and more pictures and links to other tangential or directly related material” feels really natural. It’s an easy way for me to write. I find the image first and then let it flow from there.

It’s just like how I prep classes or write a conference paper or invited talk. Images are organized first with a few words on PPT slides and then i slowly craft a text while building a supplemental handout with chunks of primary sources and references to secondary literature. The three files grow simultaneously. This blog mimics for the book the conference presentation writing process prior to the chapter or article publication. Here is the playful connection of ideas. The fun and endless images, en masse and  in full color. The asides. The working out a way of saying something before it crystallizes on the page in front of me. The enthusiasm over the new-to-me discovery process rather than the certitude of a published thesis. I need a loose conception of audience and performance to motivate and inform my crafting of the words. Words that explain what I’m seeing in the images OR just words that capture the same resonance as the metaphoric image I’ve selected to reflect a loosely formed idea.

When I write conference papers I label the file ‘script’ not ‘draft’. I don’t want to confuse the oral form of the words with that which will be experienced on paper with footnotes and only a few select images.

Why do I write this way? The internet wants to categorize me as a visual spatial learner. This seems to be a Pop Ed buzz phrase. It seems to be happy fuzzy spin on how to teach autistic and dyslexic people and any one else who is a “problem” learner in some way.

Yes, this looks like me:

But, while my dyslexia and other learning disabilities are very very real, how I do “learn” doesn’t really seem to need a label. I also like sequences and statistics and spreadsheets with complex formulas. I’m a numismatist after all! And while I was a late reader (age 7 and not proficient until 9), I certainly have no aversion to reading texts, in either the literal or theoretical fashion.

So is the blog worth it? Absolutely.

postscript. It also, to a lesser extent, harnesses the power of social media distraction or internet procrastination. It means when I stop working the first place I turn to is in fact directly work related. I keeps me constantly on task. Or, demands, if I’n not on task, to explain myself. Thus, it is the outward manifestation of the superego and her big stick.


Full rough draft of chapter six exists as of this morning. Afternoon was spent keying in long hand, editing, checking citations, and rewriting.

68 out of 410 days: Boundary Rituals

I was reading this description of the pomerium.  And all of a sudden I couldn’t help but think about the ritual of beating the bounds still used in many English (and Irish?) parishes today.  Clicking on the picture above will give you a basic history with images. There is a good scholarly reflection on the revival/restoration of the historic practices here.  I like how this modern take accepts that each deployment of the ritual must be meaningful in the contemporary context and thus evolves overtime.

This was because I was hemming and hawing over how to talk about this coin of 81 BC, if at all:

Is it just about generalized ideas of bounty and stability in the aftermath of the Civil Wars?  Or is there some specific reference to Sulla’s extension of the pomerium or the establishment of his colonies throughout Italy?  Should we see the reverse as a peaceful genre scene or the illustration of a religious ritual?  The latter seems more likely given themes on the Roman Republican coin series generally, but on the other hand a more generalized symbolism would be more typical than the documentation of a very specific contemporary event or series of events.

I’m leaning toward a more general symbolism because the figure is clearly in a tunic, not a toga or other ritual garb.  And especially as it seems to be a direct echo of this earlier issue (100BC by Mattingly’s reckoning), with the exception of the addition of the driver:

Ryan 2009 has a good take on this issue, calling it a «aktualitätsbedingte Familienthematik » = “a family type of contemporary significance” linking it both to historical agrarian legislation by the family AND current events.

67 out of 410 days: Poetry and other Evidence

Reading for leisure is complicated when one reads as a primary professional obligation. As early as my undergraduate days I rationed novel reading by imposing strict rules: 1) only on weekends or school breaks, 2) never, ever start a book after 4 pm [to avoid being up all night]. Now, I read fewer novels, and usually old “friends”, sometimes from childhood, who’ve been read many times before. When I read something new, I like a guarantee of plot resolution. Somewhere in grad school I picked up poetry as a means of leisure reading that stands repetition and is low on time commitment. My tastes run highly rhythmic: Fenton, Auden and honest: Sexton, Addonizio.

What I haven’t read enough of is Greek or Latin poetry. Somewhere the ‘historian’ label interfered with my perception of such literature as particularly useful or engaging. A old well-grooved prejudice. One that protects poetry as a modern pleasure thoroughly divorced from my professional concerns. This is ridiculous. Ovid, Martial, Propertius and their friends tell us far more about the landscape of Rome itself and the attitudes and preoccupations of the people who inhabited it than Cicero. Or, if not more, than differently, with nuance and layers of meaning. Rich depths for the historian to plumb. With playful and pleasurable language to boot. Heck, Cicero in the pro Archia even tells us the value of the poetic perspective on history. I even like such literature, as literature.

I think, perhaps, a graduate seminar ‘Latin Poetry for Historians’ would be a fabulous course to develop post sabbatical. Something that honors the genre as an art form, while also exploring the diversity of the evidence it offers, and the complications of deploying such evidence.

66 out of 410 days: Hairy Goats and My Notes


The last time I was in Oxford some 14 months ago, I think, I snapped this image with my camera phone in the Sackler Library.  I was so happy to find an example of the iconography of this coin in a published excavation report of site finds.  [Update 8/24/13:  The image above looks more like a sheep to me than a goat the longer I look at it here on the blog.  It’s the curly horns.  I think rest below are  really goats.] Something I stumbled upon on the new arrivals shelf.  An Italian publication I seem to recall.  What I can’t seem to find is any record at all of what the book was or from what site.


If I knew where it was I could say something about the context of the image, perhaps even a divinity associated with the area of the find.  Alas, what we have here is a failure of the information pack rat system.  What I’m very happy to say is that its a popular motif… you guessed it! … on SEAL rings.

A. Furtwängler, Beschreibung der geschnittenen Steine im Antiquarium, Königliche Museen Berlin (1896) Cat. no. 6811;  no. 7525; BM 1917,0501.513; Gold finger-ring with an engraved sard: Eros riding a goat.; BM 1923,0401.1121; Edinburgh Tassie 2258

Getty 83.AN.437.17

It is also popular on Lamps:

Mould-made pottery lamp decorated on the discus with a Cupid riding a goat. The nozzle has an air-slit, and is mainly missing. The handle is mainly missing. The lamp stands on a base-ring. Covered with a brown slip.

And the also this figurine from Cyprus:

Eros riding a goat

Crawford thinks its likely to be Dionysiac.  Perhaps.  Erotes are floating around with goats on many a Dionysiac sarcophagus, or Seasons sarcophagus.  But this might actually have more to do with the cult of Venus/Aphrodite:

Pausanias tells us that this is Aphrodite Pandemos, All Encompassing Aphrodite, usually translated Common or Vulgar Aphrodite:

Behind the portico built from the spoils of Corcyra is a temple of Aphrodite, the precinct being in the open, not far from the temple. The goddess in the temple they call Heavenly; she is of ivory and gold, the work of Pheidias, and she stands with one foot upon a tortoise. The precinct of the other Aphrodite is surrounded by a wall, and within the precinct has been made a basement, upon which sits a bronze image of Aphrodite upon a bronze he-goat. It is a work of Scopas, and the Aphrodite is named Common. The meaning of the tortoise and of the he-goat I leave to those who care to guess.  

What kind of connotations would “Pandemos” in the mids 80 BC? If that is, in fact, the reference. Certainly populist ones…

Update 8/23/13: Here’s a great study about what Pandemos might mean in a different community.  Those working on Cyprus have connected the Eros on Goat terracottas with the cult of Aphrodite/Astarte.  Muller took a different approach and associated this the ‘sport of Eros’ i.e. the motif of erotes playing with the attributes of other gods and other activities.  Thus he sees the coin as referring to the infancy of Zeus.  This is usually dismissed because the goat is male and Zeus’s goat was a nanny-goat.

65 out of 410 days: Countermarks



It makes me really irritated I couldn’t get MS Word to make the whole table into a picture only a half at a time.

Yesterday I wanted to add something to chapter 6 about the coins of the mid 80s, that irritating in-between-time where the coins are full of strange gods we can’t quite identify. As I looked at them, I realized that I just did’t have a big picture regarding countermarks on coinage in my head.  [That’s not for lack of opportunity.  I’ve supervised a masters thesis die study of a countermarked issue and chaired academic panels with papers on the subject.]  Taking a no-time-like-the-present approach, I did a down and dirty survey of RRC, taking notes as I went.  The picture above is the result of those notes.  There are much better charts and analyses in many publications, but if I didn’t do one myself no matter how crude I’d never get the material stuck in my head properly.   I’m sure there are inaccuracies and missing elements, but I hope it captures the overall trends. Pink are were Crawford thought countermarks were die specific. Blue where they are not. Light pink is for apparent attempts to be die specific with known inaccuracies. Hashed pink is where some sub types are die specific, but others are not.  Dark pink is where countermarks indicate die pairs. Dark blue are for where die pairs are present, but the pairs are represented by multiple dies. Grey is for too little information.  The dates defer to Mattingly and Hollstein’s adjustment of Crawford’s chronology.

The use does not perfectly map onto the use of serrated edges BUT it does follow the same trend.   Early isolated experimentation in Sicily.  A little recurrence in the mid/late 2nd century, and then a much more serious adoption around 104/103 BC.   The difference is that countermarks stay in use almost continuously.  They taper off a bit in the mid 90s, are steady in 80s with a HUGE effort to use them right over the 83-79 period, and then they tale off in the 70s with a revival at the very end of the 60s early 50s.

Serrating each flan is a huge amount of effort and is likely to have drastically slowed production.  Countermarks, especially per die or coordinated applications, also require significant efforts, but are more logistically challenging, rather than man-power challenging.  What the chart above doesn’t capture are trends in types of systems: letters, numbers, symbols, combinations thereof, variations with dots and Greek letters, or double letters, or consonants with vowels.  No one system is dominant.   The hope has been that die studies of countermarked issues can tell us more about the operations of the Roman mint.  Many such studies have producing tantalizing insights and likely hypotheses.   All the different systems mean that countermarks can’t have served a single administrative function.  Like the serrati their popularity and also the experimentation with new systems and revivals of old systems may be about inspiring confidence in the money supply — to be seen to be producing GOOD coin.  45 out of 66 issuers who used them managed some degree of die-countermark coordination.

As a historian I’m most interested in what caused the 104/103 adoption.  The intensity during the time of the Sullan return and dicatorship is not unexpected, if it is about creating confidence in the money supply, but certainly not worth that such systems are applied even to camp coinages presumably made in less than ideal conditions under serious pressure.   Similarly the tail end.  Why the revivals?  Why the complete cessation?  More of a whimper than a bang…

I am also curious about its application to some quinarii.  The quinarii is never serrate.  And it is usually associated with particular applications and especially associated with Cisalpine Gaul…