Mosaic of the Muses


One of the most famous Roman mosaics in Portugal, known as Mosaico das Musas – Mosaic of the Muses. It was found in Torre de Palma, one of the biggest Roman villae in portuguese territory, dating from 2nd century A.D. to 4th century A.D.. It was located at the villa’s triclinium, the eating room, on the floor. The usage of the room, which required for it to be constantly cleaned with a broom, justifies the inscription found below the Muses:

«Sco[pa] [a]spra tesselam ledere noli. Vteri f[elix].»

Meaning: «Don’t ruin the floor with a broom too thick. Good luck!»

However, the inscription is too damaged to fully uncover it. Janine Lancha attributes it to the slaves who had to clean the room. She also suggests how the inscription shows pride on behalf of artist and also the owner of the property, for authorizing such statement to be a part of the work. As for the ‘Good luck’ part, it would be directed towards guests, who would share the wine and food – the wealth – of the owner of the villa.

The mosaic measures 2.14 by 1.3 meters and is framed by a braiding motif of 16 centimeters filled with colorful tessels, the materals used for roman mosaics such as this one.

It was disposed in an order that obeyed a certain hierarchy.  At the end of the triclinium would lie the dominus, right next to the honored guest, who would be the central figure of the room.

The Nine Muses are presented in a solemn, classical way.  They wear their hair up, as a sign of wisdom, a symbolism acquired after the 2nd century AD

From left to right, the nine daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Mnemosyne, are presented in the following order:

  • Clio, Muse of History. Pratically shown in full frontality, wearing a tunic with a gray mantel, her left hand hidden under the clothing and her right arm folded in a movement of attention; below her, possibily an unfolded manuscript.
  • Euterpe: Muse of Music, almost full frontality, wearing a green tunic with a yellow slash and a palla falling over her shoulders; in both her hands she holds a flute.
  • Erato: Muse of Lyrical Poetry, in full frontal, wearing a gray tunic with a brown slash and a mantel; holding a lyre in her right arm.
  • Thalia: Muse of Comedy, wearing a green tunic and a yellow mantel on her shoulders and wrapped around her wais; her hand holds a Comedy mask.
  • Melpomene: Muse of Tragedy, wearing a yellow tunic, blue palla loosely over her shoulders, holding a Tragedy mask.
  • Urania: Muse of Astronomy, wearing a brown tunic and her mantel folded over her arm, which holds a pointer, such as those of a compass.
  • Caliope: mMse of Epic Poetry, full frontality, wearing a brow tunic and golden mantel, holding one of its tips with her left arm; her other harm possibily holds a writing tablet.
  • Terpsichore: Muse of Dance, wearing a large golden tubin that facilitates her dancing movements; her left arm and overall posture are slightly curved as in a dance movement, and on her right arm she holds a lyre.

The post above inadvertently omitted Polyhymnia, Muse of Sacred Poetry. I believe she is the figure positioned fourth from the left of the mosaic, since this Muse is often depicted as holding a finger to her lips and resting one elbow on a pillar.

The Muses are important goddesses to us creative types. Writers and other artists in ancient times worshipped them with a daily libation. Shrines to the Muses were located throughout the Hellenic world, but their most famous temples were at Helikon and Parnassos.

The Muses are associated with Apollon, known as “Mousagetes”(“Leader of the Muses”) and with Dionysus, whose titles included “Melpomenos” (“The Singer”), “ENORCHES” (“The Dancer”), and “THYO′NEUS” (“The Inspired”).


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