Thursday, January 17, 2013



SEVEN Roman statues depicting one of the myths recounted by celebrated Latin poet Ovid have been unearthed in excellent condition during excavations at an ancient Patrician villa outside Rome.

"We had known for a while that there were suggestions of buried objects in the villa compound of
Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus," a rich Roman general who was patron to Ovid, said Elena Calandra, superintendent for archaeology in the Lazio region.

Messala cherished art and literature ... and longed for the return of the Roman republic ... but managed to survived the turmoil and political purges that ensued with the assassination of Julius Caesar and rise of Emperor Augustus. Messala walked a political tightrope for years and even was honored with a Triumph from Augustus ... before giving up all titles and famously saying, "I am disgusted with power!"

He had a fine house on the Palatine Hill in Rome, but the new find at his suburban villa sheds light on the non-political man who loved the arts.

"We carried out exploratory digs before authorising the full-scale evacuation, and found Messala's bathing pool with the seven statues at the bottom," she said.

Standing at two meters (over six feet), the statues are "in an excellent state of conservation," she added.

It is thought they may have fallen into the pool during an earthquake around 2,000 years ago.

They depict the myth of Niobe, who bore 14 children and boasted of her fertility to the goddess Leto, who had but two offspring of her own.

An enraged Leto sought revenge by having her children, Apollo and Artemis, kill Niobe's offspring, The devastated mother fled to the mountains where she turned to stone and wept for evermore.

The myth is recounted in Ovid's masterpiece, Metamorphoses -- but were Messala's statues inspired by the Latin poet's tale or did he base his story on the statues?

"We know that there were numerous representations of the myth in paintings and sculptures, in ancient Grece as well. Before leaning towards one hypothesis or another, we have to precisely date the statues -- a lengthy job," Calandra said.

Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (64 BC – AD 8) was a Roman general, author and patron of literature and art.

Messalla Corvinus was educated partly at Athens, together with Horace and the younger Cicero. In early life he became attached to republican principles, which he never abandoned, although in later life he avoided offending Caesar Augustus by not mentioning them too openly.

In 43 BC he was proscribed, but managed to escape to the camp of Brutus and Cassius. After the Battle of Philippi (42 BC) he went over to Antony, but subsequently transferred his support to Octavian.

In 31 BC Messalla was appointed consul in place of Antony, and took part in the battle of Actium. He subsequently held commands in the East, and suppressed the revolted Aquitanians ... for this latter feat he celebrated a triumph in 27.

Messalla restored the road between Tusculum and Alba, and many handsome buildings were due to his initiative.

He moved that the title of pater patriae should be bestowed upon Augustus, and yet resigned the appointment of Prefect of the city after six days' tenure of office in 25 BC, because it was opposed to his ideas of constitutionalism. It may have been on this occasion that he uttered the phrase "I am disgusted with power".

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