Appendix. The Tabulae Iliacae

In dealing with the possibility that artifacts such as Greek vases reflect and preserve versions of myths that feature in now-lost epics, one must sedulously avoid (as I have in chapter 2) using the word “illustration,” with its host of anachronistic and misleading associations. But there does exist a body of artifacts to which that term could less misleadingly be applied. These are the so-called Tabulae Iliacae, miniature marble reliefs from the early Roman Empire, inscribed in Greek and purporting to convey the contents of various early Greek narrative poems, both preserved and lost. The most useful and recent treatment of them, with a full survey of previous studies, is by Michael Squire: The Iliad in a Nutshell: Visualizing Epic on the Tabulae Iliacae (Oxford 2011); this work was not available to M. L. West when he published The Epic Cycle (Oxford 2013). Note also D. Petrain, Homer in Stone: The Tabulae Iliacae in Their Roman Context (Cambridge 2014), particularly useful for its comparison of the tables’ narratives (pp. 78–88). The brute facts about the pieces, their provenance, size, state of preservation, and the like are clearly and compendiously set out by Squire for the Tabula Capitolina (1A: pp. 387–390), the Tabula Thierry (7Ti: pp. 397–398), the Tabula Veronensis II (9D: pp. 399–400), and the Tabula Froehner I (20Par: pp. 409–410). These are the reliefs that concern us here, since they represent—or once did, for some are fragmentary—scenes from the Aethiopis. For a handy tabular summary of the contents of each, see Petrain, p. 114.
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Figure A1. Capitoline Tablet, Aethiopis section. Rome, Musei Capitolini, Sala delle Colombe, inv. no. 316. Photo courtesy of the Musei Capitolini. Drawing by Louis Schulz, after O. Jahn, Griechische bilderchroniken (Bonn 1873), Tafel I*. For a photograph of the image, see Squire 2011:Pl. I, detail, lower register.
The Tabula Capitolina is the most important (Figure A1), providing as it does the most detail in both depictions and labeling. The piece is even more crucial (and also controversial) for its central area, which notoriously claims to represent the sack of Troy κατὰ Στησίχορον. For the most recent assessment and approbation of this claim see Davies and Finglass, The Poems of Stesichorus on fr. 105. What concerns us here, however, is the higher of the two horizontal friezes below and to the right, where inscriptions running above and content underneath leave no doubt that we have scenes from the Aethiopis, although some of the detail is very indistinct. For a fuller description see Petrain, pp. 198–199. From left to right there are, after an initial panel now illegible because it is fragmentary, the following:
  • Achilles killing Penthesileia, who falls towards him. Tower of Troy in background.
  • Achilles killing Thersites by raising a weapon, in front of a building perhaps representing Penthesileia’s tomb.
  • Achilles killing Memnon, with Antilochus’ corpse slumped behind his killer, and behind that the walls of Troy.
  • Next, the other side of the city, with its gate open, and Ajax raising a protective shield over a seated Achilles, who holds shield in similar position.
  • Then, Odysseus raising his shield to protect Ajax while Achilles is slumped against the body of Ajax, who carries him off.
  • Achilles lying with body in the hollow of his shield, over his head a female figure and then another (labeled as Thetis and Muse) and an altar.
  • Finally, a seated Ajax holding his head in a presumed posture of despair.
The Tabula Thierry is now lost, but its recto, preserved as a heliogravure in 1882 (Figure A2), “seems to have depicted the Aethiopis rather than the Iliad around its central Ilioupersis scene” (Squire, p. 185). Squire observes, “The Aethi-opis scenes are difficult to make out—the inscriptions seem to have named the Amazon Penthesileia, Agamemnon, and Achilles (among others)” (p. 398). For a more detailed account see Petrain, pp. 216–217. The Tabula Veronensis II (Figure A3) shows “the Aethiopis scenes from top to bottom,” these scenes being “also inscribed to their left, including short phrases that identify each scene” (Squire, p. 399). For a more detailed description see Petrain, pp. 220–221. The remaining tabula (Froehner I) is too fragmentary to be deciphered: see Petrain, pp. 224–225.
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Figure A2. Tabula Thierry (lost). Photo, O. Rayet, “Note sur un fragment inédit de table iliaque du Cabinet de M. Thierry,” in Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de France 43: 17–23.
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Figure A3. Tabula Veronensis II. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles, inv. 3319. Drawing after O. Jahn, Griechische Bilderchroniken (Bonn 1873), Tafel III.
One particular drawing of the Tabula Capitolina is problematic in a way that requires fuller consideration. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that, in the case of the Aethiopis and other relevant cyclic epics, Martin West chose to reproduce the drawings of Feodor Ivanovich (and even Squire fails to give adequate warning about this). For although these drawings are much prettier than the accurate alternative, they are nevertheless, for that very reason, sometimes dangerously inaccurate and misleading. This truth can be established by comparing the drawing by Louis Schulz for Otto Jahn here reproduced as Figure A1 with that by Ivanovich reproduced by West. I herewith proceed to supply for the author of the latter drawing some biographical details culled from W. St. Clair, Lord Elgin and the Marbles (London 1967), index s.v. “Calmuck, Theodor, Lord Elgin’s,” especially p. 61, which will suggest some of the reasons for the choice of Ivanovich as draftsman, and conceivably some of the reasons for his inaccuracy, as well as providing some innocent amusement.
The drawing of the Tabula Iliaca by Feodor (or Theodor) Ivanovich (1765–1832) was first published near the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century in J. H. W. Tischbein, Homer nach Antiken gezeichnet VII (Stuttgart 1821) plate 2. Its main and most obvious flaw is its exaggeratedly clear and sharp representation of what on the original, because of its small size and the surface attrition caused by centuries of burial underground, is blurred and indistinct. It has thus exercised a baleful influence over the centuries. Its author was certainly an interesting man. Born a Tartar, he was kidnapped as a child by Cossacks. He later lived at the courts of St. Petersburg and Baden and studied in Rome. He produced drawings (now in the Elgin portfolio in the British Museum) of sculptures on the Acropolis at Athens for Lord Elgin, and was thought by that worthy’s secretary to be perhaps the only man of taste ever produced by his nation. So far, well. But we then read the potentially sinister words (italics mine) that “with astonishing imagination and good judgement, he made lively restorations on paper of how they must have looked.” Consternation sets in with the news that “unfortunately … he was extremely lazy and had an uncommon relish for strong liquor.” Apparently he could only be made to work “by a judicious administration of brandy.” The final nail in the coffin is supplied when we learn [1] that so good a judge as Goethe said of him “that he was a man gifted with a great deal of talent, whose clear drawings nearly always indicate taste and mind. But he had hardly sufficient knowledge and accuracy to let one look for the highest standard of truthfulness of style.” [2]
After all this, it may come as an anticlimax to state the sum of our knowledge gained from these artifacts as being that they confirm the contents of Proclus’ summary; but so it is.


[ back ] 1. See A. H. Smith, “Lord Elgin and His Collection,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 36 (1916): 172. Admittedly, this verdict is reported at second or even third hand.
[ back ] 2. Petrain (p. 4n8) does warn against Ivanovitch’s line drawing (it “cannot be trusted for details or for the placement of inscriptions ”).