Mosaics provide missing pieces to popular ancient plays

Jan 04, 2011 By Kim Burdett
Four mosiacs depicting Menander manuscripts were found in the ancient city of Antioch. The pictured mosaic represents a scene from 'Philadelphoi,' or 'Sisters Who Love Brothers.'

At the Jan. 6-9 meeting of the American Philological Association, Classics Professor Kathryn Gutzwiller will present her research on recently discovered mosaics depicting lost scenes from four Greek plays popular in Roman antiquity . Her presentation, “New Menander Mosaics and the Papyri,” will introduce previously unknown scenes by Menander, an Athenian comic poet from fourth century BC whose popularity in the Roman empire was only exceeded by Homer.

“Menander, although extremely famous in antiquity, is not so well known in the modern world. I would characterize him as the inventor or most popular writer of the romantic comedy,” Gutzwiller says. “The unfortunate thing about him though is that over the centuries, his manuscripts were completely lost. However, throughout the 20th century, a number of Menander’s plays were recovered from papyri in Egypt.”

Papyri—thick paper-like materials on which texts were written —are just one medium for preserving information about ancient times. Paintings, mosaics, and small-scale replicas also help reconstruct the plots of Menander’s plays .

When Ömer Çelik, a staff archaeologist at the Hatay Archaeological Museum in Antakya, Turkey, discovered four mosaics during an expedition, he asked friend and University of Cincinnati geography graduate student Ezgi Akpinar-Ferrand to help identify their subjects. She immediately contacted the Department of Classics, knowing Gutzwiller’s background in ancient literature.

“The new material gives us significant information,” Gutzwiller says. “Of the four scenes depicted, three of them are from plays that are more or less completely lost. One is from a play that has been substantially recovered, but not the scene represented in the mosaic.”

A mosaic found in modern day Turkey represents Menander's poem 'Perikeiromene' ('Girl Whose Hair is Shorn').

The mosaics, which were found in ancient Antioch and date to the third century AD, represent scenes in “Women at Lunch,” “Girl Whose Hair is Shorn,” “Sisters Who Love Brothers” and “Possessed Girl.”

“The importance of these mosaics is two-fold. One, they help us to reconstruct each of the four plays. Two, they illuminate significantly the tradition of illustrating Menander and reveal variations in the illustrations of the plays.”

Akpinar-Ferrand adds, “The findings are further valuable to gather more information about mosaics done in and around the city of Antioch during the Roman period.”

Gutzwiller will be one of four invited speakers featured at the APA presidential panel. Steven Ellis and Kathleen Lynch, also with UC’s classics department, will present their research at the conjoined meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology as well.

Explore further: Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Modern society made up of all types

Nov 04, 2010

Modern society has an intense interest in classifying people into ‘types’, according to a University of Melbourne Cultural Historian, leading to potentially catastrophic life-changing outcomes for those typed – ...

Study finds sick kids have fewer friends

Dec 07, 2010

A new study reveals that sick teens are more isolated than other kids, but they do not necessarily realize it and often think their friendships are stronger than they actually are.

Fern's hunger-busting properties supported by research

Nov 15, 2010

Professor Roger Lentle, from the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health at the Massey University, led a team that studied how an extract of the mamaku fern influenced stomach activity. Maori traditionally ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Apr 19, 2014

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

Apr 17, 2014

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.