- Museum number
The front of a sarcophagus: Apollo, Athena and the nine Muses.
(In the following description of the scene, asterisks indicate restored figures.)
Despite the extensive restoration, the composition of the original relief is clear, and the Muses may be individually identified. The figures stand in three groups against a parapetasma, with loops in the cloth indicating the divisions between the groups (the loop at the right-hand end of the relief is missing). The central group consists of (left to right) Terpsichore*, Apollo*, and Athena. Terpsichore and Apollo hold lyres supported on pillars. Athena watches them, listening as Apollo gestures towards Terpsichore with his right hand, as if to present her to the goddess. The griffin at the foot of Apollo's pillar also turns to watch and listen.
This group is flanked by two groups of four Muses. At the far left is Polyhymnia, leaning on a pillar holding a scroll in her left hand. Next come Euterpe*, Thalia*, and Melpomene*. At the feet of Thalia and Melpomene are a bundle of scrolls tied together and a bull's head. To the right of Athena is Calliope, with another bundle of scrolls set on a high pillar beside her. Below them is a tragic mask set on a low draped table, which must be associated with the contents of the scrolls, as it is not an attribute of the Muses flanking it. Next comes Erato, playing a lyre supported by a strap. Urania points to a globe held in her left hand, while Clio writes on a tablet.
- Production date
- AD 200 - 220
Thickness: 11.20 - 14.60 centimetres (original - with restorations)
Height: 70.80 centimetres
Length: 227 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Walker, Susan, 1990, Catalogue of Roman Sarcophagi in the British Museum:
Smith, III, 317-8 no. 2306; Wegner, ASR, V.3, 24 no. 43; C. Panella, Stud.Misc. 12 (1966-7), 19-20, 25-6, 30-2; K. Fittschen, Gnomon 44 (1972), 502; L. Paduano Faedo, ANRW II. 12.2 (1981), 138 n. 211; Koch-Sichtermann, 199, 264.
This relief may be associated with a large group of sarcophagi made in Rome which show the nine Muses, often with Apollo and Athena, in a continuous frieze. The inclusion of the two gods is particularly characteristic of examples of the later second and early third century AD.(1) No two sarcophagi repeat the same disposition of figures, but the division into three groups, as here, is relatively common.(2) The figures are most probably derived from late Hellenistic prototypes.(3) Here the same type has been repeated for Urania and Clio, who stand beside each other at the right-hand end of the relief.(4)
In general Wegner's chronology of sarcophagi decorated with Muses has not found wide acceptance. He dates this relief to the early second quarter of the third century; Fittschen, in a systematic reconsideration of the dates of all the sarcophagi catalogued by Wegner, dates it to AD 200-20.(5)
1. Faedo, op. cit. (above), 81.
2. Compare Wegner, op. cit. (above), 9-10 no. 2, 20-1 no. 37, 83 4 no. 219.
3. Panella loc. cit. (above); Faedo, 140 ff.
4. Faedo, Tab. III C.
5. Fittschen loc. cit. (above).
- Not on display
- Restored from the upper edge to just above ankle level from the second figure on the left, to the sixth (Apollo), where the edge of the restored part curves upwards to include the god's lyre, set on a pillar to the right, and the head of the seventh figure (Athena). The left hand of the eighth figure is broken, as is part of the lyre held by the ninth, and the right forearm of the eleventh. The right end of the relief is missing. The head of Athena's owl is lost, with much of her spear and the joint of the adjacent griffin's wing to its body. In the restored part of the relief, the left hands of the second and third figures are lost, as are the tops of the lyres held by the fifth and sixth figures.
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Other BM number: 1860.6-26.1 (Old registration number. Re-registered 1973 in error.)