Thursday, August 14, 2014


Three Mosaics

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (London: John Murray, 1958; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2006), p. 11 (at Sparta):
We followed him down some steps under an improvised roof. With a tilt of his wrist, he emptied a pitcher on a grey blur of dusty floor. The water fell in a great black star, and, as it expanded to the edges, shapes defined themselves, colours came to life and delightful scenes emerged. Orpheus in a Phrygian-cap fingered his lyre in the heart of a spellbound menagerie of rabbits, lions, leopards, stags, serpents and tortoises. Then, as effeminate and as soft as Antinous, Achilles swam to the surface among the women of Scyros. Next door another splash spread further enchantments: Europa—lovely, Canova-like, with champagne-bottle shoulders and a wasp waist, heavy-thighed, callipygous and long-legged—sat side-saddle on the back of a fine bull breasting the foam to Crete.

"How pleased Zeus is to have her on his back," the man observed. "See, he's smiling to himself."
These mosaics are numbers 45 (Achilles) and 46 (Orpheus, Europa) in the catalogue of S.E. Waywell, "Roman Mosaics in Greece," American Journal of Archaeology 83 (1979) 293-321 (at 302, with plate 51, figures 39, 41, and 42), from which I've borrowed the following illustrations (in Leigh Fermor's order, i.e. Orpheus, Achilles, Europa, but in a grey blur, alas, without colors):

I haven't seen Odile Wattel-Decroizant and Ilona Jesnick, "The Mosaics of the House of Mourabas in Sparta: Orpheus and Europa," Journal of the British Archaeological Association 144 (1991) 92–106.

Thanks very much to the kind reader who gave me a copy of Mani, from my Amazon wish list.

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