Monday, June 20, 2005

Epicureans vs Stoics in Naples

The Sirens of Surrentum
It's our second day in Italy. On our last trip we missed the National Archaeological Museum of Naples so this time I'm determined to make it. After all, it has some of the best artefacts from Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia and Oplontis.

We get a SITA bus, then the Circumvesuviana, then the metro to Cavour. We have got the artecard which allows us free travel and free entry to a few museums and sites, plus discounts. We use it to gain entry and for a discount on the audio guide.

One of the things I want to see are mosaics and/or frescoes of cockfights, which symbolise violence and decadence. The first room we enter, on a kind of mezzanine half way up the sweeping marble stairs, has two superb mosaics of cockfights from the House of the Painted Columns in Pompeii. One (below right) shows two cocks facing off with a table behind them. On the table is a pouch of money for the winner, the palm branch of victory and a caduceus, the symbol of Mercury, god of commerce, thieves and gambling. On the other mosaic (below left) a dwarf hands the palm of victory to the victorious cock. The loser lies dead, beak impaled in the sand!

Two mosaics from the Museum in Naples
In the same room was one of several delightful 'cave canem' mosaics I know about. It was great to meet this delightful dog in person.

The famous Alexander mosaic was there, too, taking up one entire wall, and some wonderful frescoes of ducks and hippos. The famous secret cabinet was open, too, so I saw lots more cocks! Apotropaic of course.

so-called Seneca
There were some magnificent bronzes from the House of the Papyrii, including a bust of a philosopher who might be Seneca (right). One of the themes of book 11, The Sirens of Surrentum, is Epicurean philosophy vs the Stoic philosophy. After the loss of his faith in book 8, The Gladiators from Capua, Jonathan is considering which to follow. It is handy that Pollius Felix was a known Epicurean. I also saw my old friend Vespasian. Two of them in fact. You can recognize his stubborn, bull-necked face anywhere. Titus's head is usually rounder, less cube-like.

There is also a fascinating exhibition on Roman food, though I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know. We run into some Welsh tourists who got a tour from Sorrento which took them to Solfatura, the bubbling volcanic mud, and then onto the Naples museum. If I had it to do over, I would definitely book that tour. The coach is as quick, if not quicker than metro, train and SITA, and a whole lot easier, I imagine.

But the National Archaeology Museum of Naples is superb... so get there any way you can! 

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