Last year, the Forum Antique de Bavay, located in northern France, hosted a small exhibition devoted to the book Mémoires d’Hadrien (Memoirs of Hadrian). The exhibition sheds light on the genesis of Mémoires d’Hadrien and presents archaeological objects and ancient texts. It provides insight into the meticulous work behind Marguerite Yourcenar’s historic novel, compiling postcards and photographs of works and places relating to her subject, studying all the ancient sources with a passionate and serious enthusiasm. On display are books, manuscripts, statuary, portrait busts, and coins, as well as different artefacts from the time of Hadrian and the Antonines. Fifty works are on loan from the Louvre, the British Museum, Hadrian’s Villa, the Museum Ingres in Montauban, the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon and the Musée Saint-Raymond in Toulouse. It is the first exhibition in France about Mémoires d’Hadrien.
This month’s masterpiece from Hadrian’s Villa is a series of heavily restored mosaic panels depicting bucolic scenes with animals. The first panel depicts a rocky landscape with a flock of goats peacefully grazing by a stream. A standing bronze statue dressed in a long tunic is standing on a rock. It holds a bunch of grapes in its right hand and a thyrsus in his left hand. The statue is probably an image of the god Dionysos meant to evoke a sacro-idyllic landscape. Dionysus was also considered to be a god of fertility and there seems to be a human phallus represented on the tablet next to the statue. The phallus was a symbol of his power, the ability to create new life.
Hadrian and his travels have often served as the guiding thread for my own travels. However, my recent trip to Turkey had a different focus, the Hittite civilization, with one of the highlights being a visit to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. After dazzling at the magnificent artifacts on display on the main floor of the museum, I discovered that there was also a section dedicated to the Roman period in Ancyra which featured, to my big surprise, parts of a statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Although mentioned several times in the Biblical texts, the actual existence of the Hittites was largely forgotten until the late 19th century. With the discovery of Hattusa in 1834, the city that was for many years the capital of the Hittite Empire, the Hittites were finally recognized as one of the Great Superpowers of the ancient Middle East in the Late Bronze Age.
I organised a small banquet at home on the occasion of the Saturnalia festival. I absolutely love ancient Roman food and for this banquet I tried a few more ancient recipes. Once again, everything was delicious!
Happy Saturnalia to all! December 17, marks the beginning of the Saturnalia, a festival held in honour of Saturn that lasted for between 3 and 7 days. It was celebrated in Rome for the first time in 497 BC when the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum was dedicated. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days” – Saturnalibus, optimo dierum!. The holiday began with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn. After the rituals, the celebrants shouted ‘Io, Saturnalia’ (Macrobius I.10.18). It was followed by several days of feasting and fun. “It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business. … Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, …
It appears that I will not be the only one celebrating next year: the Archaeological Museum of Seville in southern Spain is planning to host an exhibition in 2017 to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the accession of Hadrian to the imperial throne.