Day 63: Baia and Sperlonga
November 16, 2007
Zeke Turner IV PhD MEd, Emily Huang, Esq., Chelsea Mehr, M.D.
This morning we departed from the Institute at Stabiae, driving north along the coast for Baia. Two hours later…we finally arrive at the Baia Museum and parked our bus along side two army-green buses that had transported pilots-in-training to see the same exhibit. First we stopped in a room that housed the remnants of a Roman workshop for creating marble copies of Greek bronze statues. Within the vitrines, we saw the chalk molds that the Romans created in order to cast piecemeal reproductions the statues in plaster. With extreme attention to detail, Roman sculptors would copy the plaster pieces into marble, ultimately fitting the marble pieces together to reproduce the original bronze statue. Sometimes this process would involve disassembling the original Greek bronzes and certainly left little room for error. In the exhibit, we saw plaster casts of Harmodius and Aristogiton, the tyrannicides and a finished copy of the Aphrodite Borghese. Professor Stewart seized the opportunity to introduce us what she described as the “fan-blown, wet t-shirt effect.”
From there we proceeded through the rainy courtyard of the museum to another exhibition that showed the remnants of a sacellum, an architectural form for worshipping the imperial cult. This religious space would have held statues, some of which were presented in the museum. We were particularly interested in an equestrian statue of Domitian, which had been transformed into Nerva after Domitian’s damnatio memoriae. We then braved the rain to see a series of statue bases whose inscriptions pertained to the Augustales. From the inscription on the sacellum and the statue bases, we were able to discuss how worship of the imperial cult became a way for members of social groups, traditionally ignored during the Republic, to make a public assertion of status.
Returning into the museum, we passed to the second floor where we found statues from Claudius’ nymphaeum of Herakles and Odysseus (or maybe one of his men). Since these statues were submerged in the ocean for years, we could see damage from marble-eating mollusks.
After grabbing a quick lunch in town, we continued on to Sperlonga. On the way we passed the cave of Sybil. Aindriu read the pertinent passage from the Aeneid over the microphone as a consolation for us not having enough time to stop.
At Sperlonga, we walked down to the shore to marvel at Tiberius’s grotto, where Michael Poppler and Charlie Dunn presented on the sculptures that adorned the cave. These sculptures were displayed at the Sperlonga Museum and depicted Ganymede and the eagle, Scylla and Odysessus’s ship, the Blinding of Polyphemus, Odysessus carrying the Palladium, and Odysseus carrying Achilles off the battlefield. The boys argued that these statues belonged to the Tiberian era, because of their artistic style, their mythological content, and the personal taste of the emperor himself. Tiberius and his guests could marvel at these sculptures from a triclinium floating in the center of a rectangular pool, which was flowed into a circular basin inside the cave. Within the round pool, the Scylla group would have been displayed in the center, while the rest of the sculptures were spread around the periphery of the grotto.
With nightfall we proceeded to Terracina, settled down at our hotel and met for dinner, only to realize that it was our last night on the road together of the trip.