Mosaic of the Muses

Nacional Museum of Archaaeology

By National Museum of Archaeology

Mosaic panel depicting muses Roman Villa of Torre de Palma (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

The Roman Villa of Torre de Palma

The remains of this villa cover a large area. The villa was in use from the first century of the millennium. It was composed of several areas with specific functions. In the centre was a large dwelling, richly decorated with some of the finest mosaics ever excavated in Portugal. The villa’s owners, either Roman or Romanised Iberians, may have belonged to the family of the Basilii. Visible today are the owner’s dwelling and agricultural buildings, including the barns, wine cellars, presses and stables. The villa was also furnished with two bathing complexes.
In the later Roman period, a paleochristian basilica was constructed on the site of a Roman temple. This was rebuilt towards the end of the fourth century and again in the seventh century.
The villa continued to be used up to the Middle Ages. Part of the walls of the basilica were reused in the Saint Domingos chapel, built in the thirteenth century, which was still in use up to the eighteenth century.

Mosaic panel depicting muses Mosaic panel depicting muses (4th centuruy AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Mosaic of the Muses


The Mosaic of the Muses was found in the excavations of the Roman villa of Torre de Palma (Monforte), a significant example of a Roman farmhouse from southern Portugal. The mosaic dates back to the late Roman period, the work of an African itinerant mosaicist (possibly from Tunisia). It was discovered in 1947 and removed from the site by a team from Florence following the excavations by Manuel Heleno (the Director of the National Museum of Archaeology).

The mosaic, which was situated in the triclinium (the dining room), consists of eleven panels representing mythological scenes. The originality of the Mosaic of the Muses lies in the association of Bacchus/ Dionysus with the nine Muses. This may derive from the fact that the Muses provide inspiration to three of the main arts related to Bacchus/ Dionysus: theatre, dance, and pantomime.

I The Nine Muses
II Bacchic scene
III Silenus and Satyr
IV Two Maenads
V Two participants in the Thyasos
VI Apollo and Daphne
VII Hercules and Mercurius
VIII Medea Planning to Kill her Children
IX Megara and Hercules
X The Triumph of Bacchus

Mosaic featuring horses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Mosaic of the Horses

In this magnificent mosaic, the horses are identified by their names. The mosaic which depicts horses with affinities to the so-called ‘Lusitanian Horse,’ attests to the breeding of horses in this territory in Roman times.

Mosaic of the Horses

Horses from Lusitania were famous for their speed. Pliny the Elder (23-79), in his Natural History, 8. 166, claims that they appear to have been generated by the wind, an ancient belief found in Homer (Il. 16. 150, 20. 223-5), Virgil (G. 3. 272-5). The Flavian poet Silius Italicus (Pun. 3. 379-81) attributes the fleetness of the Iberian horses of the Vettones to impregnation by the wind.

"This winds impregnates the creatures that derive life from the earth – indeed in Spain even the mares, as wee have stated".

(Pliny, Natural History 16.39.93)

Mosaic panel depicting muses Mosaic panel depicting muses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

The Panel of the Muses

The panel depicts the nine Muses with their attributes. They introduce the myths that decorate the other panels of the mosaic. The Muses have a solemn pose, their hair piled high in a contemporary Roman style to symbolize wisdom and their victory over the Sirens.
The legend on the base of the mosaic reads SCO [pa a]SPRA TESSELLAM LEDERE NOLI VTERI F[elix] (Do not hurt the stones with a hard broom. Be happy.)

The Muses

The Muses are displayed in the following order:
Clio (History)
Euterpe (Music)
Erato (Lyric Poetry)
Thalia (Comedy)
Melpomene (Tragedy)
Urania (Astronomy)
Calliope (Epic)
Polyhymnia (Hymns and Pantomime)
Terpsichore (Lyric Poetry)

What man or hero do you choose, Clio,
to celebrate with lyre or shrill pipe?
What god?

Horace, Odes 1.12.1-3

Horace, The Complete Odes and Epodes, transl. D. West, Oxford/ New York, 1997

Mosaic panel depicting muses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Bacchic Scene

The prominence of decorative vine leaves in the panel indicates a Bacchic scene. The panel shows two characters wearing garlands of flowers. A man appears to caress a woman’s chin.

Mosaic panel depicting muses Sileno and Satyr. Panel III. Mosaic of the Muses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Silenus and Satyr

Bacchus’ tutor, Silenus, apparently drunk, is leaning on a Satyr, a young companion of Bacchus who is usually pictured with the ears, tail, and the cloven hooves of a goat. There is always a Satyr in Bacchus’ procession.

"Bacchants and Satyrs are your followers,
And that old drunkard whose stout staff supports
His tottering steps, who sits so insecure
Upon his sagging ass. Wherever your
Course leads you, young men’s shouts and women’s cries
Echo afar with noise of tambourines
And clashing bronze and long-bored pipes of box".

(Ov. Met. 4.25-30)

Mosaic panel depicting muses Bachic Scene. Mosaic of the Muses. Panel IV (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Bacchae

The panel shows two Maenads, the name given to female participants in the cult of Dionysus /Bacchus. The one on the left is dancing barefoot, which is evident from the swirling movement of her cloak; the one on the right, wearing a garland of flowers, carries a thyrsus and a musical instrument.

“… On, Bacchanal maidens, ye glory of Tmolus the hill gold-welling, thunder-knelling,/ Blend the acclaim of your chant with the timbrels/ Glad-pealing the glad God’s praises outr/ With Phrygian cries and the voice of singing/ When upsoareth the sound of the melody-fountain,/ Of the hallowed ringing of flutes far-flinging/ The notes that chime with the feet that climb/ The pilgrim-path to the mountain!...” (153-163).

Euripides, Bacchanals, Madness of Hercules, Children of Hercules, Phoenician Maidens, Suppliants, transl. A. S. Way, Cambridge (Mass) / London, Harvard University Press/ William Heinemann Ltd, 1988r

Mosaic panel depicting muses Two members of the thiasus of Bacchus. Panel V. Mosaic of the Muses. (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Bacchic Scene

Two characters show the attributes of those who take part in 'Dionysus / Bacchus’ procession (head crowned with flowers, an animal skin on the shoulder, a cloak).

Mosaic panel depicting muses Apolo and Dafne. Painel VI. Mosaico das Musas. (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Apollo and Daphne

This panel depicts Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneus, and Apollo, son of Zeus, sitting on a rock, holding his lyre. Apollo fell in love with Daphne, who rejected him and, in order for her to escape the god, she was transformed into a laurel tree.

‘My bride’, he said, ‘since you can never be,
At least, sweet laurel, you shall be my tree.
My lyre, my locks, my quiver you shall wreath;

Ovid, . Metamorphoses (with an introd. and notes by E. J. Kenney), transl.. A. D. Melville, Oxford/ New York, : Oxford University Press, 1986.

Daphne, Peneus’ child, was the first love
Of great Apollo, a love not lit by chance
Unwitting, but by Cupid’s spiteful wrath.
[…] At once he loves; she flies the name of love;
Delighting in the forest’s secret depths
And trophies of the chase, a nimph to vie
With heaven’s virgin huntress, fair Diana.
[…] Apollo saw her, loved her, wanted her –
Her for his bride, and, wanting, hoped – deceived
By his own oracles […].
But she
Flies swifter than the lightfoot wind nor stops
To hear him calling: ‘Stay, sweet nymph! Oh, stay!
I am no foe to fear.
[…] Alas! That love
No herb can cure, that skills which help afford
To all mankind fail now to help their lord!’
More he had tried to say, but she in fear
Fled on and left him and his words unfinished.
[…] Her strength was gone; the travail of her flight
Vanquished her, and her face was deathly pale.
And then she saw the river, swift Peneus,
And called: ‘Help, father, help! If mystic power
Dwells in your waters, change me and destroy
My hateful beauty that has pleased too well.’
Acarce had she made her prayer when through her limbs
A dragging languor spread, her tender bosom
Was wrapped in thin smooth bark, her slender arms
Were changed to branches and her hair to leaves;
Her feet bout now so swift were anchored fast
In numb stiff roots, her face and head became
The crown of a green tree; all that remained
Of Daphne was her shining loveliness.
And still Apollo loved her; om the trunk
He placed his hands and felt beneath the bark
Her heart still beating, held in his embrace
Her branches, pressed his kisses on the wood;
Yet from his kisses still the wood recoiled.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.450-453, 474-476, 490-491, 502-504, 523-527, 543-563

Mosaic panel depicting muses Mercury and Heracles. Panel VII. Mosaic of the Muses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Dionysus/Bacchus and Hercules

This panel depicts a famous scene: the drinking contest between Bacchus/ Dionysys and Hercules.
In the centre of a circle, a bearded Hercules, drunk and dizzy, tries to reach a rock where he may sit. He wears a garland of flowers similar to that of Apollo and the skin of the lion of Nemea (which he killed as his first labour).
In the background a young man (partially hidden by the figure of Hercules) wears a petasus, an attribute of Mercury, and holds a shepherd’s crook. He is trying to keep Hercules from falling.

Mosaic panel depicting muses Medea conceiving infanticide. Mosaic of the Muses. Panel VIII. Mosaic of the Muses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Medea Planning to Kill her Children

Medea, the most famous sorceress of Antiquity, fell in love with Jason and helped him to capture the Golden Fleece, which was possessed by Medea’s father, Aeetes, king of Colchis. Afterwards, Jason abandoned Medea for Creusa, the daughter of the king of Corynth. Medea then decided to kill her own children.
In this depiction of Medea, she wears the typical clothes of a tragic actor. Her left hand supports her right wrist, and in her right hand there appears to be a knife. A man is visible in the background, holding a whip and a torch. There is a child between them (most probably one of Medea’s sons).

Nay, Jason, heap up for thy sons their last funeral pyre; build them a tomb. Thy wife and father have already the services due the dead, buried by me; this son has met his doom, and this shall suffer like fate before thy eyes. (vv. 997-1001)

Seneca, Tragedies, transl. Frank Justus Miller, Cambridge (Mass.)/ London, Harvard University Press/ William Heinemann Ltd., 1917

Mosaic panel depicting muses "Hercules Furens". Mosaic of the Muses. Panel IX (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Hercules in Fury

Hercules (the Roman name for Herakles) is the son of Zeus and Alcmena and possibly the most famous of Greek heroes. Zeus’ wife Juno, out of jealousy, has maddened the hero, so that he no longer recognizes his children. Hercules is about to kill his children (depicted on their knees). Megara, his wife, is anguished. The motif of Hercules possessed by madness is rare in mosaics.

"And Alcmena was joined in love with Zeus who drives the clouds and bare mighty Heracles".

Hesiod, Theogony 943-944)

Whither shall I flee? Where shall I hide me, or in what land bury me? What Tanaïs, what Nile, what Tigris, raging with Persian torrents, what warlike Rhine, or Tagus, turbid with the golden sands of Spain, can cleanse this hand?

Seneca, Hercules Furens 1321-1326)
Seneca, Tragedies, transl. F. J. Miller, Cambridge (Mass.)/ London, Harvard University Press/ William Heinemann Ltd., 1917

Mosaic panel depicting muses «Triumph of Bacchus» . Mosaic of the Muses. Panel X (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

The Triumph of Dionysus/ Bacchus

Bacchus’/ Dionysus’ voyage to the East is a well known episode of ancient mythology. The god returns to the west with a large court: Silenus, Bacchae, nymphs, satyrs, the god Pan. They carry with them the thyrsi embellished with flowers, stocks of grapes, garlands of ivy, and musical instruments. Bacchus/ Dionysus leads the procession.
The mosaic shows a procession of sixteen characters moving towards the right. A carriage is pulled by tigers and driven by a satyr and Pan. One of the Bacchae carries a thyrsus, the other a flute.

Liber, …
Bacchants and Satyrs are your followers,
And that old drunkard whose stout staff supports
His tottering steps, who sits so insecure
Upon his sagging ass. Wherever your
Course leads you, young men’s shouts and women’s cries
Echo afar with noise of tambourines
And clashing bronze and long-bored pipes of box.

(Ov. Met. 4.25-30)


Ovid. Metamorphoses (with an introd. and notes by E. J. Kenney), transl. A. D. Melville, . Oxford/ New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Mosaic panel depicting muses Theseus and the Minotaur. Mosaic of the Muses. Panel XI (4th century AD) (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Theseus and the Minotaur


The panel depicts Theseus and the Minotaur, a monster composed of a human body and the head of a bull. Behind them is the labyrinth where the monster was imprisoned.
The Minotaur was born of the unnatural love between Pasiphae, king Mino’s wife, and a magnificent bull given to king Minos by the god Poseidon. The Minotaur was killed by Theseus, the son of the king of Athens, with the help of Ariadne, the daughter of king Minos, with whom Theseus fell in love. The theme of the Minotaur is common in mosaics all over the Roman empire.

Minos reached harbour in the isle of Crete
And, disembarking, paid his vows to Jove,
A hundred bulls, and hung the spoils of war
To adorn his palace walls. His dynasty’s
Disgrace had grown; the monstrous hybrid beast
Declared the queen’s obscene adultery.
To rid his precincts oh this shame the king
Planned to confine him shut away within
Blind walls if intricate complexity.

Ovid, Metamorphoses (with an introd. and notes by E. J. Kenney), transl. A. D. Melville, Oxford/ New York, Oxford University Press, 1986

Credits: Story

General coordination:

António Carvalho - Diretor do Museu Nacional de Arqueologia

Conception and texts:

Ana Maria Lóio - Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Letras, Centro de Estudos Clássicos

Filomena Barata - Museu Nacional de Arqueologia

</>Language revision:

Joy Littlewood (independent scholar based at Oxford)


Bibliography:

ALVES, Francine, “O Labirinto no Mosaico Pavimental Romano”, Revista do Instituto de História da Arte 3, 2007, 40-51
(https://run.unl.pt/bitstream/10362/12471/1/ART_3_ALVES.pdf)
ABRAÇOS, Maria de Fátima, “Os mosaicos romanos descontextualizados: alguns exemplos em coleções de Museus Arqueológicos nacionais e estrangeiros”, in G. Filipe, J. Vale, I. Castaño (eds.), Patrimonialização e Sustentabilidade do Património: Reflexão e Prospectiva, Lisboa: Instituto de História Contemporânea, FCSH/UNL, 458-476
ABRAÇOS, Maria de Fátima, Para a História da conservação e restauro do mosaico romano em Portugal, Tese de Doutoramento, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa, policopiado
(http://www.patrimoniocultural.gov.pt/static/data/publicacoes/o_arqueologo_portugues/serie_4/volume_23/historia_conservacao.pdf)
LANCHA, J., “À propos de quatre vues inédites (1947) de la mosaique des Muses de Torre de Palma, retrouvées en 2003 au Musée National d'Archeologie”, O Arqueólogo Português 22, 1983, 353-391
LANCHA, J., “As produções musivas na Lusitânia”, in A. Carvalho, J. M. Álvarez Martínez, C. Fabião (eds.), Lusitânia Romana. Origem de dois povos, Lisboa: INCM, 2016, 330-341
LANCHA, Janine, ANDRÉ, P., Torre de Palma: corpus dos mosaicos romanos de Portugal. Lisboa: Instituto Português de Museus e Missão Luso-Francesa, 2000, 157-213
RIBEIRO, José Cardim (coord.), Religiões da Lusitânia: Loquuntur saxa, Lisboa: IPM, 2002.

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