Wednesday, March 15, 2017


THE FAMOUS Centaur Mosaic from the grand dining pavilion of Hadrian's Villa at Tibur has intrigued art historians for decades. The mosaic is on view at the Altes Museum in Berlin, along with stunning sculptures of Hadrian and Antinous. But few people have had the opportunity to view it up close with commentary by eminent art historians — until now!

This new video (below), with a running narration by Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, provides brilliant insights not only into the Roman interpretation of Greek art, but also into the subtle differences in the way that the Romans and the Greeks perceived their place in the cosmos.

One important point which Drs. Zucker and Harris do not make, however, is that Hadrian was called "The Lion Slayer" because the Emperor and Antinous killed a man-eating lion in Egypt in the summer of the year 130 AD — only weeks before the tragic death of Antinous. 

Another detail is that the centaur downed by the tiger is a female, presumably the mate of the centaur holding the boulder. It is unclear whether the downed mate is dead or only stunned and is about to be rescued — just as Hadrian rescued Antinous from the Egyptian lion in real life.

So Hadrian's dinner guests could look at the mosaic and interpret the bearded centaur as being a mythic aspect of the emperor himself — protecting the Empire from the beastly forces of chaos. Hadrian could also be equated with Chiron, with Antinous perhaps his tutor.

In Greek mythology, Chiron was one of the Titans, the greatest of the Centaurs. Chiron was the tutor to a great many gods and demigods, including Prometheus, Theseus, Achilles and Hercules, to name but a few.

Astrologically, Chiron represents a person's healing energies and, indeed, the word for "surgery" in many European languages (chirurgie in French and German, cirugya in Spanish, chirugia in Italian and Portuguese) comes directly from the Ancient Greek words for "Chiron Hands" — a healer with the skilled hands of the Titan Chiron.

Astrologically, the asteroid Chiron currently is in a highly fortuitous aspect to Pluto — an aspect of cosmic healing which will last on and off through September. Hadrian, who was obsessed with astrology himself, could hardly have looked at this mosaic without pondering cosmic implications.

Zucker and Harris, founders of Smarthistory, aptly point out that this mosaic — only a tiny fraction of the dining pavilion's mosaic — must have been a profound source of dinner conversation.

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