Chapter 3. Rome and the Reinvention of Paradise

In 1848, earthworks on Rome’s Esquiline Hill fortuitously brought to light part of an elegant private house in what was once a fashionable neighborhood in the ancient city’s expansive greenbelt. The walls of a cryptoporticus, a long vaulted room in the villa’s substructure, yielded a most remarkable work of art, an unprecedented example of landscape painting (Figure 9). Dated to the final two decades of the Republic both on the basis of “style” and the appearance of the masonry wall that it adorned, this painting was deemed “the oldest realistic representation of landscape in existence.” [1] Those fortunate enough to have seen the fresco in its original context would have been presented with a singularly lovely, sensually gratifying composition. The cryptoporticus’ interior had been painted to suggest a room enclosed by a double colonnade rendered so as to project illusionistically into the viewer’s space. Above a three-quarter height wall beyond the colonnade appeared a rich panoramic vista: bristling crags, shadowy caves, expansive shorelines, wide bays, billowing clouds, windblown trees, minimal architectural features, and a staffage of small figures drenched in morning light. The preponderance of light green and aquamarine hues in this distant landscape would have evoked the expectation of refreshment from a cool sea breeze as one stood to behold—or glanced at in passing—the vista beyond. The viewer’s sense of well-being would have been further enhanced by the complementary combination of refuge, the security of an enclosed space, and prospect, the ability to survey one’s physical surroundings, afforded by the structure of the composition. [2]
Figure 9. Landscape as nostalgic dream. The Odyssey Frieze: Section 3, Odysseus and the Laestrygonians. Late 1st century BCE. Originally in a Roman house on the Esquiline Hill, now in the Musei Vaticani.Photo, © Art Resource.
What has traditionally been regarded as the most remarkable aspect of the Esquiline fresco is the composition’s success at conveying the impression of a naturalistic landscape to be enjoyed for its own sake. The landscape itself, rather than its minute population, initially captivates the viewer, making the fresco without precedent in Classical art, Greek or Roman. More than a little surprising to the uninitiated, those figures whom one would expect to inhabit this landscape, such as herdsmen pasturing their flocks and fishermen by the sea, are accompanied by Odysseus and his comrades, who reappear several times in what is, in fact, a continuous narration of the hero’s encounters with the Laestrygonians, Circe, and the denizens of the underworld. This is the sole surviving exemplar of the “Odyssean wanderings through varied landscapes,” Ulixis errationes per topia, that Vitruvius recommended as subject matter suitable for painted decoration on walls of ambulationes ‘spaces of passage’. [3] These Esquiline landscapes, betraying what appears to be at most an incidental interest in Odysseus, his crew, and their harrowing adventures, emblematize the radical differences between Homer’s utopian vision, so fully embraced by Classical Athens, and the social dream of first-century BCE Roman Italy. The latter was an essentially nostalgic, pastoral dream of returning to a simpler life in the country, which, from an urban perspective, was fons et origo ‘fount and origin’ of human social organization as well as the repository and historical locus of morality and religiosity. Memory, with its tendency to fabricate and retain images of an idealized past, has a “built-in utopian function” and is consequently the ideal vehicle for constructing visions of an ideal future. [4] Nostalgia, a word itself suggestively replete with Odyssean resonances, is inextricably linked to memory, and it is therefore forward and backward looking at once.
Returning to the Odyssey Frieze specifically, it has been observed that (illusionistically) witnessing Odysseus’ life-threatening struggles from a safely removed vantage point inside one’s comfortable domus illustrates Lucretius’ metaphorical comment: “It is a sweet thing for one on land to behold the monumental toil of another when, on the vast sea, winds stir up the waters” (Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis, / e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem, De Rerum Natura 2.1–2). [5] The ideological affinity of the Epicurean poet’s dictum and the frieze does not, however, reside in a physical distancing. In other words, removal from hardship, whether achieved physically or metaphysically, does not guarantee a sense of equanimity. On this point Lucretius is unambiguous. One derives pleasure not from witnessing the sufferings of others (non quia vexari quemquamst iucunda voluptas, De Rerum Natura 2.3), but from coming to the realization that most, if not all, of what causes toil, hardship, and suffering in human life is avoidable. The Epicurean ideal of ataraxy, freedom from all that torments the human psyche, can be achieved by acquiring a knowledge of Nature’s workings and by accepting the fact that humanity is an integral part of the natural world, not an entity that is other, removed, and privileged by proximity to divinity. Ataraxy is achieved by embracing humanity’s place in Nature; to deny this simple truth is to live in constant fear:
55      nam veluti pueri trepidant atque omnia caecis
          in tenebris metuunt, sic nos in luce timemus
          interdum, nilo quae sunt metuenda magis quam
          quae pueri in tenebris pavitant finguntque futura.
          hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
60      non radii solis neque lucida tela diei
          discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.

55      For just as children quake and fear all things
          in the viewless darkness, thus in the light of day do we fear
          things which are to be feared no more than
          what children shudder at in the darkness and imagine will come to pass.
          Therefore, this terror of the mind and this darkness it is necessary
60      not for the rays of the sun nor light of day
          to dispel but the aspect and law of Nature.
De Rerum Natura 2.55–61
The pictorial rhetoric of the Odyssey Frieze conveys a sentiment similar to Lucretius’. It is no longer the case, as it was in Classical Athens, that Nature constitutes the frame for human action. Now Nature herself has shifted to center stage. Nature is ergon, and humanity, as well as human constructs, parergon. Therefore, the wanderings of Odysseus are no longer presented in Homer’s anthropocentric, polis-oriented terms. The landscapes through which he travels overshadow the Esquiline Odysseus, who is not preoccupied first and foremost with probing the minds and social systems of others. Further, these landscapes, fraught with dangers as they are, have been transformed into landscapes of desire. [6] The transformation has taken place on two fronts, one visually forceful, the other somewhat more subtle. First, the Odyssean topia ‘landscapes’, illusionistically inscribed by architectural members, have been appropriated by the domus whose walls they embellish. The pictorial frame of screen walls and pillars would have integrated these landscapes into the fabric of the house and thereby contributed to the deliberate blurring of the “inside” and the out-of-doors that came to characterize Roman domestic architecture. In the Roman world, living in and with Nature became a thing much desired. Inscription, the application of a frame, dissolved the tension between conflicting emotions of fear and longing that wild Nature engenders.
The second means by which Odysseus and the viewer both could aspire to inhabit the landscapes of the wanderings resides in the scenery’s population. It has been observed that the creator of the Odyssey Frieze remained remarkably close to Homer with respect to episodic details. For instance, the Laestrygonian scenes represent the daughter of Antiphates, pitcher in hand, as well as the spring from which she has drawn water. In a landscape of sheer cliffs and projecting headlands, the lofty citadel of the cannibals’ king appears, and the wide harbor is filled with Odysseus’ ships assailed by giants hurling monstrous rocks from perches on the encircling cliffs or spearing Greeks like fish (Odyssey 10.105–124). The most curious aspect of the painter’s rendering of the Homeric tale, aside from the disproportionate attention to landscape, is the “intrusion” of singularly disengaged, unruffled, pastoral figures in what is an extraordinarily violent scene. [7] More curious still is the fact that these figures have generally elicited little more than passing comment. A passage from Varro’s De Re Rustica (On Agriculture), a work contemporary with the frieze, provides invaluable insights into late Republican, urbane intellectuals’ romanticized attitudes towards “pastoral” figures:
necesse est humanae vitae a summa memoria gradatim descendisse ad hanc aetatem, ut scribit Dicaearchus, et summum gradum fuisse naturalem, cum viverent homines ex his rebus, quae inviolata ultro ferret terra, ex hac vita in secundam descendisse pastoriciam, e feris atque agrestibus ut arboribus ac virgultis [ac] decarpendo glandem, arbu[s]tum, mora, poma colligerent ad usum, sic ex animalibus cum propter eandem utilitatem, quae possent, silvestria dependerent ac concluderent et mansuescerent. in quis primum non sine causa putant oves assumptas et propter utilitatem et propter

laciditatem. maxime enim hae natura quietae et aptissimae ad vitam hominum. ad cibum enim lacte et caseum adhibitum, ad corpus vestitum et pelles adtulerunt. tertio denique gradu a vita pastorali ad agri culturam descenderunt, in qua ex duobus gradibus superioribus retinuerunt multa, et quo descenderant, ibi processerunt longe, dum ad nos perveniret.

It is necessarily the case that from the remotest memory of human life they progressively devolved down to the present time, as Dicaearchus writes, and that the earliest stage was regulated by natural principles, a time when humanity gained their sustenance from those things which the Earth, left unharmed, brought forth on her own accord, and that, from this way of life, they descended into the second, the pastoral, such that by picking them from wild and uncultivated trees and shrubs, they gathered the acorn, arbut berry, mulberries, and apples for their use, and, similarly, when, for the same advantage, they caught, confined, and tamed those wild animals that they could. Not without reason is it the case that people believe that among these, sheep were first acquired, both because of their usefulness and because of their tameness; for by nature, these are placid and best suited to the lifestyle of humankind, since milk and cheese were adopted for food, and they yielded clothing and fleeces for the body. Finally, in a third step they descended from the pastoral life to the cultivation of fields, and in this stage they retained many aspects of the two earlier stages, and whence they had descended, they then carried on for a long time until coming to our time.
De Re Rustica 2.1.3–5 [8]
Varro presents an idealized vision of the past and of humanity’s place in the world. In the remote past, humanity, we are told, lived quite effortlessly off an Earth producing her bounty readily of her own accord. From this felicitous state, humanity descended into a second age, a pastoral age, in which people gathered fruit, berries, and acorns, and commenced the domestication of animals. In this pastoral age, the proximity of human and animal was at its greatest. Humans foraged like animals and, through domestication, incorporated animals into their households. In a third, less beatific age, humanity began to till the soil, but even this toilsome age was far removed from, and by implication better than, the present. The Varronian interlocutor goes on to state that “according to the ancients, the most illustrious men were all herdsmen, as both Greek and Latin and the poets of old make clear” (de antiquis inlustrissimus quisque pastor erat, ut ostendit et graeca et latina lingua et veteres poetae ..., De Re Rustica 2.1.6). This vision unhistorically mythologizes in a way particular to sophisticated urban cultures. [9]
The city, locus of a perspective sufficiently distanced from Nature to incite the wish to reinvent her, is the origin of the pastoral impulse. The figure of the herdsman is ideally suited to the ideological restoration of humanity within the fabric of the natural environment because he transcends historical boundaries. The herdsman’s life “is found everywhere and at all periods. It is a basic form of human existence.” [10] Embodying all humanity, the pastor ‘herdsman’ represents the beginnings of human civilization and its future, its salvation, at once. In the persona of the herdsman, as in the act of inscription, the tension between the fear of and the desire for wild Nature dissolves. Aside from hunting, “pastoralism is the only life in nature without arduous labor. In contrast to agriculture, with its year-round drudgery, dependence on the weather, and danger from plant diseases and floods, tending livestock is comparatively leisurely.” [11] Accordingly, the herdsman’s life appears idyllic, relying as it does on an ostensibly easy symbiosis with Nature. His existence serves as a reminder of the “essential biological kinship” between human and beast as well as a reminder that what once was wild could all too easily become wild again in the absence of human intervention. [12] In the case of the Odyssey Frieze, the shepherds, goatherds, cowherds, and fishermen may be viewed as providing a model for Odysseus and his Roman audience—a model for living within the topia of his wanderings rather than striving to forge physical barriers to keep the natural world at bay. The herdsmen, by virtue of what they symbolize, have nothing to fear in the lands of Circe or the Laestrygonians, neither wild Nature herself nor the savage disposition of these lands’ inhabitants. Pure and innocent at heart, they also have nothing to fear in death. The desire to reconnect with Nature is a Roman utopian dream, and the herdsman will be a key player in the effort to bring this dream to fruition.
Interestingly, and tellingly, it is in Athens that the source of the pastoral impulse in the Western literary tradition can be found. This source cannot, of course, be found in the flowering of the grand Athenian democratic venture but rather at the commencement of its enduring afterglow, “in the period when disillusion with society became a marked feature of literature: at the end of the fifth and the beginning of the fourth centuries—and in the works of the man who most clearly expressed that disillusion: Plato.” [13] Most vividly in the Phaedrus, Plato expresses the deleterious effects of too extreme a separation of city from Nature, where an innate beauty and truth reside that are critical links in the acquisition of fundamental human knowledge, knowledge of the self. The opening of the dialogue is all too familiar, but unique in that Plato’s Socrates deliberately leaves the city in pursuit of philosophical discourse only in this passage. [14]
Socrates happens upon Phaedrus in the middle of a hot summer day as the latter is heading outside the city wall for a walk (πρὸς περίπατον ἔξ́ω τείχους, Phaedrus 227a3). When asked where he is headed, Phaedrus remarks that it is healthier to stroll on country roads than within the colonnades and that he needs to stretch his legs after having sat, since sunrise, riveted by the rhetoric of Lysias. Professing to be a person sick with passion for hearing speeches, especially those that are asteioi ‘refined/urbane’ (ἀστεῖοι, Phaedrus 227d1) and dēmōpheleis ‘for the common good’ (δημωφελεῖς, Phaedrus 227d2), Socrates follows Phaedrus along the Ilissos River to a most pleasant spot in the shade of a tall plane tree. Socrates, overcome by the beauty of the spot, is moved to an impassioned encomium:
Νὴ τὴν Ἥραν, καλή γε ἡ καταγωγή. ἥ τε γὰρ πλάτανος αὕτη μάλ᾽ ἀμφιλαφής τε καὶ ὑψηλή, τοῦ τε ἄγνου τὸ ὕψος καὶ τὸ σύσκιον πάγκαλον, καὶ ὡς ἀκμὴν ἔχει τῆς ἄνθης, ὡς ἂν εὐωδέστατον παρέχοι τὸν τόπον· ἥ τε αὖ πηγὴ χαριεστάτη ὑπὸ τῆς πλατάνου ῥεῖ μάλα ψυχροῦ ὕδατος, ὥστε γε τῷ ποδὶ τεκμήρασθαι. Νυμφῶν τέ τινων καὶ Ἀχελῴου ἱερὸν ἀπὸ τῶν κορῶν τε καὶ ἀγαλμάτων ἔοικεν εἶναι. εἰ δ᾽ αὖ βούλει, τὸ εὔ́πνουν τοῦ τόπου ὡς ἀγαπητὸν καὶ σφόδρα ἡδύ· θερινόν τε καὶ λιγυρὸν ὑπηχεῖ τῷ τῶν τεττίγων χορῷ. πάντων δὲ κομψότατον τὸ τῆς πόας, ὅτι ἐν ἠρέμα προσάντει ἱκανὴ πέφυκε κατακλινέντι τὴν κεφαλὴν παγκάλως ἔχειν.
By Hera, the resting place is lovely indeed. For this plane tree is both really wide-spreading and tall, and the chaste tree’s height and thick shade are very nice—and look how it is in the prime of its bloom, so as to make the place very fragrant. And, in turn, a stream of very cold water, to judge by my foot, flows most pleasantly beneath the plane. From the statues and gifts, the place would seem to be consecrated to some nymphs and Acheloos. And, what’s more, if you will, how delightful and exceedingly pleasant is the breeziness of the place. It resounds summery and shrill with the singing of cicadas. And what is most pleasant is the grass, namely how it grows on the gentle slope perfect for reclining one’s head to rest.
Phaedrus 230b2–c5
The beauty of the place affects, indeed enthralls, all the senses. Lovely, kalē, to behold as a whole, this place resonates with the song of the cicadas and is permeated by the sweet smell of a chaste tree in full blossom. Its stream is refreshingly cool to the touch, and the grass just thick enough to rest comfortably on. This is also a place palpably inhabited by rural deities, nymphs and Acheloos, offerings to whom Socrates espies. With the combination of shade, stream, floral perfume, and meadow, Socrates has described a classic locus amoenus, the “pleasant place” that will enjoy a particularly rich life in the Roman literary tradition, playing a significant part in shaping the Roman vision of paradise. [15] Though Phaedrus is astonished at the fervor of Socrates’ reaction to the spot and declares him atopōtatos ‘really out of place’ (ἀτοπώτατος, Phaedrus 230c6), being a person who never ventures beyond the boundary of the city walls (ἐκ τοῦ ἄστεος οὔτ᾽ εἰς τὴν ὑπερορίαν ἀποδημεῖς, οὔτ᾽ ἔξω τείχους ἔμοιγε δοκεῖς τὸ παράπαν ἐξιέναι. Phaedrus 230d1–2), only Socrates really has any idea “where” he is and what the true value is of the place in which he finds himself. He realizes that if the rural spaces and the trees are unwilling to proffer their wisdom, it is because the pupil is not sufficiently attuned, being instead roused to a counterfeit “enthusiasm” by the teachings of men in the city (Phaedrus 230d3–5). Socrates, equipped with a heightened sense of awareness, moves within the dialogue “from an embodiment of sobriety,” through possession by divine madness in the form of Bacchic frenzy issuing from the Muses, “to an embodiment of philosophy.” [16] The stages of his metamorphosis are all prefigured in the landscape: the locus amoenus is marked by the presence of a chaste tree (vitex agnus castus), which is sacred to Hera and representative of sobriety, while the plane tree is associated with Dionysus, quintessential Nature deity and regular consort of the nymphs. [17]
The polish of Lysias’ speech, when read to him by Phaedrus, does not suffice to elevate Socrates to the realm of highest truth. In order to reach this he must at least temporarily transcend the polis, where opinion, rather than truth, resides, and with Nature functioning as a “medium,” pass from an impassioned madness to wisdom. The essential link between Nature and philosophy could not be clearer. However, the magical spot along the Ilissos where Phaedrus and Socrates dangle their feet in the refreshing waters and recline in the shadow of a lofty tree is not “wild” Nature. This spot has been inscribed, demarcated and separated from the general landscape, by virtue of being designated sacred, complete with votive statuettes, to the nymphs and the local river god. Phaedrus and Socrates further inscribe this locale by specifically choosing it as a resting place, thereby privileging it. Their seemingly casual intervention in the landscape is in fact a deliberate act of place-making, a creation of “milieu.” [18] What they have done is create a garden, and the garden, it has been said, “is the ultimate pastoral creation, the organization by man of nature into art.” [19]
Socrates’ shift of philosophizing from the Agora to the garden is prefigured and paralleled by the transformation of the great Athenian gymnasia from facilities dedicated primarily to the fortification of the body—and this, in the main, for the purposes of military training—to places where philosophical schools would grow and thrive. [20] The Academy, like the Lyceum and the Cynosarges, was itself a garden, a mediated, inscribed landscape, and all three were originally sites of cults of considerable antiquity. [21] Like the Lyceum and Cynosarges, the Academy was situated in something of a natural greenbelt sustained by river water. [22] A large wood or grove sacred to the hero Akademos/Hekademos lying to the west of the city in the Outer Kerameikos near Kolonos Hippios, the Academy received a circuit wall in the sixth century BCE at the bidding of Hipparchos, son of the tyrant Peisistratos. [23] Plutarch reports that the next great step towards embellishing the Academy was made by Kimon, as a result of whose initiative this formerly waterless and dry area became “a kind of suburban park” equipped with fine tracks for racing and shady walks. [24] It is little wonder that in the fifth century this pleasant place, teeming with Athenian youths, would attract sophists who, it may be assumed, contributed significantly to its increasingly intellectual climate. Socrates himself was no stranger to the Academy, and this gymnasium park would become the site of Plato’s school early in the fourth century. [25] According to information provided by Diogenes Laertius, Plato’s school operated both in the gymnasium, where he dedicated a temenos sacred to the Muses, and in his private house and garden, which were located in the vicinity of Kolonos Hippios. [26] In other words, Plato’s pupils assembled in a garden, either in the gymnasium or in the master’s own garden.
In late fifth- and early fourth-century Athens, the life of the mind became ever more closely associated with life in the garden; the extra-mural garden, both the gymnasium park and the private garden, could be seen as a locus for spiritual reconstitution. Plato’s pupils may well have tended his garden plot, but the extant evidence suggests that Plato, and presumably his students, withdrew to his garden for didactic and reflective purposes. Gardens now could feed the body and/or the soul. Apparently Epicurus felt the pastoral urge even more strongly than Plato and Aristotle, both of whom had withdrawn from the hubbub of the city to the amenities of gymnasium gardens. In Epicurus’ view, even the suburban gymnasia were too bustling and crowded for serious philosophical reflection, and in what was by all accounts an unprecedented and undeniably demonstrative move, he created a spiritual oasis for himself and his “disciples” within the dense urban fabric of Athens. The Elder Pliny tells of this in a lively condemnation of pleasure-garden estates within the city of Rome:
iam quidem hortorum nomine in ipsa urbe delicias agros villasque possident. primus hoc instituit Athenis Epicurus oti magister. usque ad eum moris non fuerat in oppidis habitari rura.
Now, indeed, under the name of “gardens” people possess the luxuries of farms and great estates within the city itself. It was Epicurus, the master of undisturbed leisure, who first instituted this practice in Athens; until his time it had not been customary for the countryside to be inhabited inside towns.
Natural History 19.19.50–51 [27]
Pliny’s pronouncement has not been free of controversy. [28] Primarily on the basis of Epicurus’ will, as “preserved” by Diogenes Laertius, and the opening of Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, it has been argued that Pliny overstates his case. As the will makes separate mention of Epicurus’ house in the deme of Melite and the Garden, it has been assumed that the house and garden were not only separate properties but that the garden, which housed Epicurus’ school, was in an entirely different deme and was, furthermore, located beyond the Dipylon gate outside, not inside, the city wall. Cicero appears to substantitate this theory. After listening to a lecture by Antiochus, the current head of the Academy, at the inner city gymnasium known as the Ptolemaion, Cicero and a group of his friends decide to take an afternoon stroll in the Academy. The friends pass through the Dipylon Gate and, once arrived at their destination, they comment on the “personal” associations of various landmarks. In this context, Cicero’s companion Pomponius remarks that they just passed (modo praeteribamus, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum 5.1.3) the Garden of Epicurus. If modo is to be taken literally as ‘just now’, Epicurus’ garden, it is argued, would lie not in Melite but on the very fringes of the Academy. Neither bit of evidence, however, need be fatal to the veracity of Pliny’s assertion. For instance, Cicero’s stroll to the Academy vividly sets the stage for a philosophical discussion but certainly does not purport to be a cartographically infallible text. What’s more, modo may be used to mean ‘only recently’ as well as ‘just now’, and in the course of what was in all likelihood a fifteen or twenty minute walk from Piso’s house to the Academy, something seen at any point along the way would qualify as something seen “only recently.” As for Epicurus’ so-called will, if it does actually treat the house in Melite and the Garden as separable pieces of property, the location of the house in Melite may simply distinguish this house from others owned by Epicurus and his school. [29] Ultimately, whether the Garden was in Melite, “a large and populous deme, including industrial districts as well as the houses of a number of wealthy and notable citizens,” or in Kerameis, either just within or just outside of the Dipylon Gate, Pliny’s observation remains equally true; Kerameis, which straddled the city wall, was as “urban” as the inner city demes of Melite, Kydathenaion, Koile, Kollytos, and Skambonidai. [30]
The fourth-century “withdrawal” of philosophy into the garden, both extra- and intra-mural, vividly signifies the gradual deconstruction of the city wall as the physical and ideological safeguard of the Athenian polis, a process accelerated, and precipitated, by the encroachments of Philip, Alexander, and, ultimately, Rome. [31] In the eyes of Lucretius, the extreme anthropocentrism of fifth-century Athens, the hubristic privileging of humanity over Nature, had all too easily turned into the most nefarious egocentrism, and Pericles’ great city had revealed itself not to be an approximation of utopia but a violent, covetous dystopia. The political upheavals that commenced with the Peloponnesian War and continued into the second century BCE stimulated the desire, variously manifested, to break down the artificial barriers between humanity and Nature. At least for some, in an increasingly impersonal, difficult, cosmopolitan world, it would become a comfort to embrace Nature. Emblematic of the spirit of this new age, the Bacchante, fashioned by the illustrious fourth-century architect and sculptor Skopas of Paros but known to us only through literary description and an Imperial Age copy, is radically different from the staid, self-possessed figures that appear on the Parthenon (Figure 10). Having given herself over entirely to wild Nature, the Bacchante embodies sheer abandon. With head thrown back and lips parted to utter the Bacchic cry, she virtually envelops the spectator in the whirlwind of her frenzied dance. In her image,
… stone, while retaining its natural form, seems to escape the natural law that governs stones. What appeared was in actuality an image, but art had transformed the imitation into reality … The hair was stirred by the wind and was separated to show the quality of each strand … not only that, but it also showed the hands in action—for she did not brandish the thyrsos, but she bore a sacrificial victim and seemed to shout the Bacchic cry, a more piercing symbol of her madness.
Kallistratos Eikones 2 [32]
Dance, especially the Bacchic dance, is irresistibly “catching.” [33] Mimicking entrancing, rhythmic motions observed in the animal kingdom, dance is perhaps the purest, oldest means by which to “cross the boundary between human and animal” and, in a blatantly nostalgic act, recover the “essential biological kinship” that human and animal possess. [34] It is little wonder that devotion to Dionysus in the post-Classical Greek world remained undiminished, spreading instead both in “territory” and intensity. Following in the footsteps of his devotee Alexander, the god returned from Greece to the Near East, where he was readily associated with a host of foreign deities. In the Hellenistic world, his worship experienced a renaissance in the guise of a true mystery religion, complete with initiation and purifying salvation, and from the Hellenistic East, Dionysus would “burst upon Rome” itself, as that city searched for deliverance from seemingly endless socio-political turbulence. [35] In Roman Italy Dionysus would come to rest, among other places, in the arms of his bride Ariadne in Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries.
Figure 10. Wild abandon. Dancing Bacchante. Roman marble copy of a mid-4th century BCE original by Skopas. Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Albertinum, inv. no. 133. Photo, © Art Resource.
While the pastoral impulse stirred some in Alexander’s new oikoumenē, the new “Hellenized” world, to turn to Dionysus, others joined Epicurus whose cult, in turn, “followed” in the footsteps of Dionysus. Owing to the extraordinary missionary zeal of his disciples, Epicurus’ doctrines infiltrated and flourished in Asia Minor, Syria, Judaea, Egypt, Italy, and thence, Roman Africa and Gaul. Such was the appeal of shedding irrational, unnecessarily stressful worries and fears in the face of a readily perceptible, fundamental, “physical” association of all animate and inanimate entities in the Cosmos that Epicureanism became “the first world philosophy,” accepted by Greek and barbarian alike. [36] Aesthetic pastoralism in Alexander’s new world can be detected in a very large spectrum of the pursuits of humanity, including poetry and art, which manifest a pointed increase in attention to landscape or physical setting. As far as poetry is concerned, landscape features most prominently in Alexandrian works, specifically in the verses of Callimachus, Apollonius, and Theocritus. [37] For example, the bucolic locus amoenus of Theocritus’ seventh Idyll has been rendered in a fullness of enchanting detail that beckons the reader with the persuasiveness of a siren song:
          ... αὐτὰρ ἐγών τε καὶ Εὔκριτος ἐς Φρασιδάμω
          στραφθέντες χὠ καλὸς Ἀμύντιχος ἔν τε βαθείαις
          ἁδείας σχοίνοιο χαμευνίσιν ἐκλίνθημες
          ἔν τε νεοτμάτοισι γεγαθότες οἰναρέοισι.
135     πολλαὶ δ᾽ ἄμμιν ὕπερθε κατὰ κρατὸς δονέοντο
          αἴγειροι πτελέαι τε· τὸ δ᾽ ἐγγύθεν ἱερὸν ὕδωρ
          Νυμφᾶν ἐξ ἄντροιο κατειβόμενον κελάρυζε.
          τοὶ δὲ ποτὶ σκιαραῖς ὀροδαμνίσιν αἰθαλίωνες
          τέττιγες λαλαγεῦντες ἔχον πόνον· ἁ δ᾽ ὀλολυγών
140     τηλόθεν ἐν πυκιναῖσι βάτων τρύζεσκεν ἀκάνθαις·
          ἄειδον κόρυδοι καὶ ἀκανθίδες, ἔστενε τρυγών,
          πωτῶντο ξουθαὶ περὶ πίδακας ἀμφὶ μέλισσαι.
          παντ᾽ ὦσδεν θέρεος μάλα πίονος, ὦσδε δ᾽ ὀπώρας.
          ὄχναι μὲν πὰρ ποσσί, παρὰ πλευραῖσι δὲ μᾶλα
145     δαψιλέως ἁμῖν ἐκυλίνδετο, τοὶ δ᾽ ἐκέχυντο
          ὄρπακες βραβίλοισι καταβρίθοντες ἔραζε·
          τετράενες δὲ πίθων ἀπελύετο κρατὸς ἄλειφαρ.

          … but both I and Eukritos to Phrasydamos’
          did we turn, and also handsome Amyntas, and on deep
          beds of sweet rushes did we recline
          and on freshly cut vine leaves, rejoicing.
135     And overhead rustled a multitude
          of poplars and elms. And nearby the sacred water
          splashed as it flowed down out from a cave of the Nymphs.
          And on the shady sprays, smoky brown
          cicadas kept busy chirruping. And the tree frog
140     from a distance was croaking in the dense thorns of the brambles.
          Larks and finches were singing, and the turtledove was cooing,
          and about the spring humming bees were flying all around.
          Everything smelled of corn harvest most abundant, smelled of the fruit crop.
          Pears by our feet, and by our sides apples
145     were rolling in great abundance. And hanging down
          all the way to the ground were branches weighed down with peaches.
          And the four-year-old seal was loosened from the mouths of the wine jars.
Idyll 7.131–147 [38]
At a time when cities were growing in size and number, a degree of nostalgia and yearning for escape to the unspoiled countryside must have contributed to the amplified poetic awareness of the natural world, but it would be an oversimplification to state that it was the only, or even the primary, factor. [39] The Hellenistic poets’ “pastoralist” leanings are commingled with a host of distinctly urbane and academic concerns. Alexandrian poetry in particular strives for novelty and polish as well as smallness of scale paired with mythological, ethnographic, geographical, and all other forms of “scientific” erudition. It also evidences a new interest in realism, exoticism, and individualism, both in the emotional life of the individual and in his or her “place” in an increasingly impersonal world. A closer look at the Theocritean locus amoenus and the context from which it has been drawn quickly reveals the astonishing compositional complexity and polish of a poem that, at first glance, appears disarmingly simple, accessible, and familiar. Grounded, on the one hand, in “a solid, well-known reality based on the rural economy of Greece and southern Italy,” the seventh Idyll is surprisingly far-ranging, moving from the small, local Burina spring on Cos to the divine, poetically inspirational Castalian waters of Parnassus, and from wintry Thrace to sweltering Ethiopia. [40] Emotionally, the poem is just as far-reaching, celebrating life and death, love and loss, humanity and divinity, as well as Nature and art. This seemingly “homely,” spontaneous singing match between herdsmen in the fields is rendered so realistically that the audience, in a sense, becomes an “eye-witness.” However, this proximity is counteracted by a numenistic mysticism and allusive “subversion” that marks the poem as an epos ‘epic poem’ totally unlike any other. [41] Marked textually by Homeric cadences and epithets, the match between Simichidas and the goatherd Lycidas has roots in the meeting between Eumaios and the goatherd Melanthios in the Odyssey. But the Homeric encounter, hallowed in its antiquity, will affect the fate and order of a society, while the bucolic singing contest points the way to individual happiness. In the end, the Idyll’s manifold thematic tensions, which have by no means been dealt with exhaustively here, dissolve in Nature and in song. In the Theocritean world, Nature is the source of creativity, and through her, humanity may discover “the secrets of their own strengths and weaknesses.” [42]
A different sort of landscape altogether may be found in Apollonius’ Argonautica (Voyage of the Argo), touched on briefly here to present a somewhat fuller picture of the representational “scope” of landscape in the hands of Hellenistic poets:
          ἠῶθεν δ ,̓ ἀνέμοιο διὰ κνέφας εὐνηθέντος,
          ἀσπασίως ἄκρης Ἀχερουσίδος ὅρμον ἵκοντο.
          ἡ μέν τε κρημνοῖσιν ἀνίσχεται ἠλιβάτοισιν,
730     εἰς ἅλα δερκομένη Βιθυνίδα· τῇ δ᾽ ὑπὸ πέτραι
          λισσάδες ἐρρίζωνται ἁλίβροχοι, ἀμφὶ δὲ τῇσιν
          κῦμα κυλινδόμενον μεγάλα βρέμει· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθεν
          ἀμφιλαφεῖς πλατάνιστοι ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτῃ πεφύασιν.
          ἐκ δ᾽ αὐτῆς εἴσω κατακέκλιται ἤπειρόνδε
735     κοίλη ὕπαιθα νάπη, ἵνα τε σπέος ἔστ᾽ Ἀίδαο
          ὕλῃ καὶ πέτρῃσιν ἐπηρεφές, ἔνθεν ἀυτμή
          πηγυλίς, ὀκρυόεντος ἀναπνείουσα μυχοῖο,
          συνεχὲς ἀργινόεσσαν ἀεὶ περιτέτροφε πάχνην,
          οὐδὲ μεσημβριόωντος ἰαίνεται ἠελίοιο.
740     σιγὴ δ᾽ οὔποτε τήνδε κατὰ βλοσυρὴν ἔχει ἄκρην,
          ἀλλ ̓ ἄμυδις πόντοιό θ᾽ ὑπὸ στένει ἠχήεντος,
          φύλλων τε πνοιῇσι τινασσομένων μυχίῃσιν.
          ἔνθα δὲ καὶ προχοαὶ ποταμοῦ Ἀχέροντος ἔασιν,
          ὅς τε διὲξ ἄκρης ἀνερεύγεται εἰς ἅλα βάλλων
745     ἠοίην, κοίλη δὲ φάραγξ κατάγει μιν ἄνωθεν·
          τὸν μὲν ἐν ὀψιγόνοισι Σοωναύτην ὀνόμηναν
          Νισαῖοι Μεγαρῆες, ὅτε νάσσεσθαι ἔμελλον
          γῆν Μαριανδυνῶν· δὴ γάρ σφεας ἐξεσάωσεν
          αὐτῇσιν νήεσσι, κακῇ χρίμψαντας ἀέλλῃ.
750     τῇ ῥ᾽ οἵγ᾽ αὐτίκα νῆα διὲξ Ἀξερουσίδος ἄκρης
          εἰσωποί, ἀνέμοιο νέον λήγοντος, ἔκελσαν.

          And at dawn, the wind having been lulled in the darkness,
          they arrived full of joy at the inner harbor of the Acherusian headland.
          It, for its part, soars with steep crags
730     facing the Bithynian sea, and below it rocks,
          smooth ones, stand fixed, washed by the sea. And around them
          the wave roars loudly as it rolls along, but above
          wide-spreading planes grow upon the topmost point.
          And from it farther inland slopes down
735     a hollow glen beneath, where there is a cave of Hades
          by woods and rocks over-arched, whence a breath
          icy cold, wafting up from its chill recess
          continuously, ever makes congeal a ring of bright-shining rime,
          nor does it melt in the midday sun.
740     And silence never holds that grim headland,
          but rather it murmurs constantly from the roaring sea
          and the leaves rustled by the vapors from the cavern’s depths.
          And here too come outpourings of the river Acheron,
          which from the headland belches forth, casting into the sea
745     in the east, and a cleft ravine brings it down from above.
          And in time afterwards, Sailors’ Savior was it called
          by the Nisaean Megarians when they were setting out to settle
          the land of the Mariandyni. For indeed it saved them
          ships and all when they had met a baleful tempest.
750     By this way, straight through the Acherusian headland, their ship did these men
          put to shore when the wind had only just fallen.
Argonautica 2.727–751
Thick with plane trees though it may be, the Acherusian headland is anything but a locus amoenus. Rather, the deafening roar of the wind-swept sea, the shuddering leaves, and the icy breath issuing forth from the cavern of Hades renders this a locus horrificus. The vivid description “create[s] a sense of disquiet and anxiety” in the reader, who, with a shiver, will recall just how close the Argonauts came to meeting their end amidst the Clashing Rocks, at the same time being reminded that the mission as a whole is terribly dangerous, sure to claim many lives. [43] Indeed, even at this stage, the tragic death of Idmon is imminent, this very headland the site of his future burial. Here the landscape creates a mood, assists the plot, and draws the reader in. Again, the reader becomes an eyewitness, experiencing “first hand” the terrors that beset the brave Argonauts. Landscape is clearly still the frame for human action, human actors in this drama being the poet’s focus. Instructively, the Acherusian passage closes with an obscure geographic detail: the outfall of the Acheron, the poet writes, was named Soōnautēs, Savior of Sailors, by grateful Nisaean Megarians. This grim and awesome wilderness will one day be tamed, its thundering waves drowned out by the urban din produced by the grand city of Heraclea ad Pontum. [44]
As in Hellenistic poetry, the pastoral impulse in Hellenistic art is heavily overlaid with the theoretical, intellectualized concerns of the age; humanity, not Nature, is ultimately ergon. Among the primary preoccupations of Hellenistic artists striving for realism was the establishment of a discourse between spectator and subject. [45] In other words, artists tried to find ways to draw the spectator into the subject’s psychological and physical universe. This could be achieved not only by selecting emotive subjects but also by enhancing the level of the subject’s animation and expressing the space that the figure inhabited. Some of the earliest exemplars of this pictorial attention to landscape are the Alexander Mosaic, or rather the painting upon which it is presumably based, and the famous hunt frieze from the façade of Philip’s Tomb at Vergina, both conventionally dated to the second half of the fourth century BCE. The muted palette of the compositions, Alexander’s stance, and the inclusion of what appears to be the “same” twisted, weather-beaten tree in both led the Vergina tomb’s excavator to assign these works to the same artist, the famed Philoxenos of Eretria, or, at the very least, to “a common atelier.” [46] Although these landscapes are vastly more expressive of place than any earlier extant Greek artifact, the pictorial space that contains the subjects is “still shallow and dominated by human inhabitants.” [47] This is true also of later works exemplifying the inclusion of landscape features in Hellenistic art: the Telephos Frieze from Pergamon; two reliefs in the Munich Glyptotek, one depicting a scene of sacrifice, the other a “rustic” driving a cow to market; a relief in the British Museum representing Dionysus with his entourage visiting a poet at repose in a courtyard; and the mold-made, terracotta “Homeric Bowls.” [48] Returning briefly to the Alexander Mosaic and its limited landscape, what little indication of natural setting exists, a bit of desert sand and a gnarled tree, is nevertheless a terribly important signifier (Figure 11). Specifically, the tree’s posture, the disposition of its trunk and limbs, has been observed to mimic that of the fleeing Darius and his charioteer, indicating to the alert viewer that the image is to be read as “a visual rhyme”; the decapitated tree is an Iliadic metaphor for the imminent “death and dismemberment” of the Persian king’s empire. [49] This tree does not, however, sympathize with Darius any more than the drooping palm on Exekias’ amphora ‘storage jar’ weeps at the imminent death of Ajax. In neither instance is there a hint of pathetic fallacy. In the mosaic, Alexander, descendant of great Achilles, with Medusa, the emblem of Athena and, by extension, of Classical Athens, on his breast, plays out the essence of the Homeric social dream, which, in the form of the Iliad, he carried with him on his travels. In a campaign of Herculean proportions, he would vanquish both vast expanses of wild Nature and the barbarian, to the Greeks the “effeminate other,” an anthropomorphized reflection of what was most threatening in Nature herself. Even after the dimming of Athens’ Golden Age, its ideology proved remarkably resilient: it was one of Alexander’s goals to spread Athenian culture, not abandon it in exchange for retreat into communion with the wild.
Figure 11. “Arboreal rhyme.” Mosaic: Alexander and Darius in battle. From the House of the Faun, Pompeii, ca. 100 BCE, probably after a Greek painting of the 4th century BCE. Naples, Museo Nazionale Archeologico, inv. no. 10020. Photo, © Art Resource.
A different, much more extensive treatment of pictorial space may be found in the first-century BCE Nilotic mosaic from Praeneste, which, like the Alexander Mosaic, has been presumed to be a copy, or rather an “adaptation,” of a post-Classical painting. [50] The Nilotic mosaic appears to exemplify the sort of landscape or, more literally, “place-painting” that Demetrios the Alexandrian topographos ‘place-painter’ practiced. [51] The character of the mosaic is distinctly cartographic, ethnographic, and zoographic, with equal weight given to the works of Nature and those of humanity. While neither the landscape nor its human inhabitants dominate from a strictly pictorial standpoint, the ubiquity of humanity conveys to the viewer that even the wildest realms have not escaped human encroachment. Even in the case of this mosaic, where the scale of the human actor has been much reduced, Nature remains the parergonal frame.
Figure 12a. Nature as “other.” House at Olynthos: reconstruction drawing, view into courtyard of house. Drawing after W. Jo Brunner in Wolfram Hoepfner and Ernst-Ludwig Schwander, Haus und Stadt im klassischen Griechenland (Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1994), 98, fig. 76.
Figure 12b. Nature as ergon. Peristyle garden, House of the Golden Cupids, Pompeii. Photo, © Art Resource.
The Hellenistic world was sufficiently urban, academically sophisticated, and removed from the “pure” rural existence to foster a tendency to idealize and romanticize Nature. Still, Nature was generally kept at an arm’s length. The Romans, however, did more than open their cities’ walls to Nature. They embraced her and held her fast. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than in that most intimate of spaces, the dwelling house. Quite unlike its Classical and Hellenistic Greek counterparts, the Roman house strove to bring its occupants into contact with Nature. While the Greek house functioned as a barrier against the penetration of the natural world, the Roman house was built with an eye towards domesticating it. Interior courtyards were characteristic of both Greek and Roman houses, yet these open spaces were radically different (Figure 12a and b). A visitor to a Greek house would first enter this courtyard and then proceed into one of the rooms clustered around it. A welcome source of air and light, the courtyard would have appeared particularly dramatic if the surrounding structure had an upper story, but the experience of entry could never have roused the sense of awe, mystery, and pleasure that stepping into a Roman house evoked. Indeed, nearly two thousand years after their destruction by Vesuvius, the spatial experience offered by the houses of Pompeii so affected the twentieth-century Modernist icon, French architect and painter Charles Edouard Jeneret—better known as Le Corbusier—that they became models of particularly effective design in his Towards a New Architecture. For Le Corbusier, both a social idealist and architectural utopian, the Pompeiian house was comparable to a soap bubble “perfect and harmonious”; its “exterior … the result of an interior.” [52] Among the houses he singled out was the relatively modest Casa del Noce, which, in spite of its compactness, enthralled his senses with its harmonious rhythms of light and volume and which unambiguously conveyed its intention, the ideological basis of the interior space’s constitution. As he stepped through the house door, he was transported to a world of space and light offering escape from what lay beyond its walls:
Casa del Noce, at Pompeii. Again the little vestibule which frees your mind from the street. And then you are in the Atrium; four columns in the middle (four cylinders) shoot up towards the shade of the roof, giving a feeling of force and a witness of potent methods; but at the far end is the brilliance of the garden seen through the peristyle which spreads out this light with a large gesture, distributes it and accentuates it, stretching widely from left to right, making a great space. Between the two is the Tablinum, contracting this vision like the lens of a camera. On the right and on the left two patches of shade—little ones. Out of the clatter of the swarming street, which is for every man and full of picturesque incident, you have entered the house of a Roman.
Towards a New Architecture 169
Employing Pompeii and Herculaneum as a basis for generalization, the integration of a garden was an essential ingredient in the success of the Roman house at becoming an urban oasis and providing a locus for respite and reflection. The fact that gardens are to be found almost everywhere in town signifies just how important the garden was to the Pompeiian psyche. Buildings of every size and variety contained them, shops, inns, bath buildings, schools, theaters, and temples included. [53] In fact, it has been remarked that, judging from the excavated area, gardens and cultivated spaces amounted to roughly seventeen percent of the town’s land, nearly the same amount of land as devoted to roads and public squares. [54] In the Pompeiian house, the primacy of the garden asserted itself from the very moment of entry. It became a visual vector that guided the visitor’s gaze from the entry through the atrium ‘entry-court’ and beyond the tablinum ‘library/office’ along an axis established by a special feature in the garden such as a fountain or statuette. Moving from the public to the more private spaces in the house, the visitor would still be guided by the garden, beckoned by the sound of water splashing in a fountain and ultimately treated to a sensual feast. Where space allowed for a covered walk, one could stroll around the garden observing the hanging ornaments, aptly called oscilla, gently swaying in the breeze as well as a host of wildlife: birds, bees, butterflies, and fish in a basin watched ever so attentively by a cat. Here one might also glimpse a pair of lively pups playing hide-and-seek amid an assortment of statuary: Dionysus and his band of satyrs, Venus at the bath, Mars the erstwhile god of agriculture, herms topped with brightly painted pinakes ‘tablets’, and, lending a bit of philosophical perspective, the godlike Epicurus. [55] The visitor would be enveloped by the sweet scents of lavender, rose, citrus, and thyme in their season, and by a changing spectrum of color supplied by a variety of blossoms, such as marigold, poppy, oleander, cornflower, lily, and periwinkle. At the garden’s far end one might recline to dine, converse, and read under the shade of a vine-clad pergola. Even if the weather should turn, the garden would not deny the visitor its various delights, for triclinia ‘dining rooms’ were oriented so as to provide an interesting, even “theatrical,” garden view in which painted landscapes playfully mirrored and extended planted compositions or revealed lions hunting in a fictively appended game park. Here Nature is ergon, and the domus, both its architectural members and its inhabitants, Nature’s parergonal frame.
The ubiquity of gardens inscribed within extant urban dwellings of Roman Italy is the clear manifestation of a social ideal, a utopian impulse both forward and backward looking. This ideal, succinctly articulated by Martial, is rus in urbe, bringing the country landscape into the city. [56] Judging from the comments of Vitruvius and the ground plans of the oldest Pompeiian houses, the “traditional” Italic domus, which encompassed within its walls a hortus ‘kitchen garden’ to the rear of the living spaces, evidences an Italic predisposition towards living in close proximity with Nature. Significantly, it was a predisposition that manifested itself prior to the arrival of a ready supply of aqueduct-borne water. [57] Still, the old hortus is a far cry from a pleasure garden thoroughly integrated into the livng experience (Figure 13). In other words, the traditional Italic house is not representative of a fully developed rus in urbe ideal. Rather, this notion of domestic landscape integration stems most immediately from a revolutionary lifestyle development, the cultural phenomenon of the Roman villa that emerged in the first half of the second century BCE but experienced a veritable explosion in the following century. Enriched by foreign conquests as well as by “domestic” opportunities for personal gain, such as failed agricultural reforms, civil war, and proscriptions, wealthy Romans built themselves luxurious country estates that transformed the Italian landscape both physically and spiritually. [58]
Figure 13. The domestication of Nature. Development of the Roman house. Plans after Linda Farrar, Ancient Roman Gardens (Surrey: Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1998), 16.
Favorite sites for these villae were locations on the Tyrrhenian coast from southern Etruria to Campania and the hills in the vicinity of Rome, all places notable for their mild summer climate and splendid views. Here men of means erected villae maximae ac politissimae, estates that were extremely large and highly sophisticated, outfitted with Greek or Greek-inspired masterpieces of sculpture, mosaic, and painting. [59] Architectural refinements of the villae included exotica such as bedroom antechambers, exercise grounds, changing rooms for bath complexes, covered walkways, aviaries, column-encircled halls, and chambers for storing fruit (procoetona, palaestram, apodyterion, peristylon, ornithona, peripteron, oporthecen, Varro De Re Rustica 2.prolog 2). [60] Axial symmetry and the visual prominence of the tablinum beyond the atrium, distinguishing traits of traditional domestic architecture, yielded increasingly to the optical dominance of inscribed Nature; peristyle gardens, as well as “exterior” landscapes that were framed and, accordingly, appropriated through a variety of architectural devices, became the intended foci of both public and private spaces, bedrooms, dining rooms, and reception areas alike. [61] On a villa’s grounds one might find towers and terraces with walkways built for maximizing views, as well as a variety of water features such as fishponds, fountains, and miniatures of Euripus or Nile flanked by diaetae, rooms for dining or relaxing, all set in lushly planted gardens and surrounded by orchards, vineyards, and even hunting paradeisoi, enclosed “pleasure parks” modeled on those of the Persian kings, filled with wild boars, gazelles, antelopes, and deer. [62] All of these features and more are attested by the numerous literary descriptions of Roman villas and by physical remains, notably the Villa San Marco and the Villa Arianna at Stabiae, the so-called Villa of Poppaea at Oplontis, the rustic Villa of Publius Fannius Sinistor at Boscoreale, the Villa of Agrippa Postumus at Boscotrecase, and the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum.
Overall, the impression persists that the Roman villa afforded its owner and guests luxurious living experientially enhanced by the proximity of the natural environment, yet this impression, however profound or affecting, is but the faintest reflection of the ideological complexity underlying the Roman villa phenomenon. In a culture where the dwelling house had both public and private functions, appearances were everything, and it was of the utmost importance to the elite that their houses unambiguously convey their dignitas and existimatio, their inherent preeminence and societally determined status. [63] It is little wonder, then, that when material wealth abounded as a result of Rome’s expanding territorial dominion, the Roman elite built themselves estates that were “at once a supreme symbol of the individual’s power, resources and ability to control the environment and its population, and a place where that power was actively generated through the harnessing of slave and other dependent labour to profitable production.” [64] Thus, as befitted the militaristic propensities of their owners, the construction of villae was described in the language of dominion. For example, as the poet Statius reports, the villa of Pollius Felix at Surrentum epitomized the victory of ars ‘art’, the Roman equivalent of tekhnē, over Nature:
30      inde per obliquas erepit porticus arces,
          urbis opus, longoque domat saxa aspera dorso.
          qua prius obscuro permixti pulvere soles
          et feritas inamoena viae, nunc ire voluptas;
          qualis, si subeas Ephyres Baccheidos altum
35      culmen, ab Inoo fert semita tecta Lyaeo.
42      … vix ordine longo
          suffecere oculi, vix, dum per singula ducor,
          suffecere gradus. quae rerum turba! locine
45      ingenium an domini mirer prius? haec domus ortus
          aspicit et Phoebi tenerum iubar, illa cadentem
          detinet exactamque negat dimittere lucem,
          cum iam fessa dies et in aequora montis opaci
          umbra cadit vitreoque natant praetoria ponto.
50      haec pelagi clamore fremunt, haec tecta sonoros
          ignorant fluctus terraeque silentia malunt.
          his favit natura locis, hic victa colenti
          cessit et ignotos docilis mansuevit in usus.
          mons erat hic ubi plana vides, et lustra fuerunt,
55      quae nunc tecta subis; ubi nunc nemora ardua cernis,
          hic nec terra fuit: domuit possessor, et illum
          formantem rupes expugnantemque secuta
          gaudet humus. nunc cerne iugum discentia saxa
          intrantesque domos iussumque recedere montem.
60      iam Methymnaei vatis manus et chelys una
          Thebais et Getici cedat tibi gloria plectri;
          et tu saxa moves, et te nemora alta sequuntur.

30      From there a colonnade has crawled along the summits,
          a veritable city construction, and with its long roof-line, dominates the jagged rocks.
          Where earlier was sunshine mixed with blinding dust
          and the unlovely wilderness of the path, now it is a delight to walk.
          It is just as if you should climb Bacchic Ephyre’s lofty
35      peak, a covered footway leads from Lyaean Ino.
42       … For the long array scarcely
          have my eyes sufficed as I am led from one thing to another,
          scarce my steps. What a mass of stuff! Is it the site’s
45      or the master’s genius that I should marvel at first? To the east does this part of the house
          face and to Phoebus’ early rays; his setting does that part
          hold prisoner and refuses to release his spent light
          when the day is already tired, and over the ocean does the dark mountain’s
          shadow fall, and the palace floats on the glassy deep.
50      These chambers groan with the clash of the sea, these others of the sounding waves
          are ignorant and prefer instead the silence of the land.
          Upon these Nature has bestowed her favors; here, vanquished
          has she yielded and, docile, has become tamed to unwonted tasks.
          A mountain was here where you see flat ground; beasts’ lairs were
55      what you now find as buildings. Where now you see tall forests,
          here there was no land; the owner has won dominion, and in him
          as he sculpts the crags and overpowers them, obediently
          does the earth rejoice. Now behold the rocks learning to endure the yoke,
          and the buildings forging their way in and the mountain ordered to retreat.
60      Now let the hands of Methymna’s bard and the one and only lyre
          from Thebes and the fame of the Thracian plectrum yield to you;
          you too move stones, you too do lofty forests follow.
Silvae 2.2.30–62 [65]
The villa has overpowered Nature and has demanded acquiescence in its dominion, while Nature, utterly vanquished, has retreated from her position, ultimately assuming the yoke of her new master. Pollius, the villa’s owner, is a second Orpheus readily bending Nature to his sway.
By subjugating the wilderness of Italy, the Roman elite could effectively become masters of their own “small” kingdoms, thus rivaling the Hellenistic dynasts whom they, increasingly exposed to the splendors of the Hellenistic East, were presumably motivated to emulate. [66] Although the degree of influence upon the Roman villa of Hellenistic palaces and estates remains a matter of contention, it is clear that certain aspects of the villae have Hellenistic precedents. [67] Literary and archaeological evidence has revealed that Hellenistic palaces, like Roman villae, had statue-filled gardens in peristyle courts, pavilions, pools, nymphaea ‘grottoes’, hunting paradeisoi, and promenades in park-like grounds, thus manifesting a combination of Greek with Near Eastern and Egyptian influences that, in their pleasurable, “exotic” luxury, approximated the estates’ owners to divinity. [68] A favorite comparison for the Roman villa and its grounds is the Ptolemaic basileia ‘palace’ in Alexandria. This royal property, which reportedly covered a quarter of the total area of the city, contained not only a palace complex nestled amidst spacious parks but also a theater, a palaestra, a gymnasium, botanical and zoological gardens, a number of temples and sanctuaries, and the famous Museion. [69] Doubtless, the Hellenistic East provided models for palatial estates in architecturally articulated, landscaped settings. Additionally, the vast agricultural, or “productive,” holdings of Hellenistic potentates and nobles should be viewed as parallels to the Roman villa’s orchards, vineyards, fisheries, oyster beds, aviaries, rabbit farms, and other manifestations of pastio villatica ‘farmstead pasturage’. [70] The Roman country estates acted as “centres for the management of the unique resources of the uncultivated environment.” [71]
Villae, then, were vehicles by which to display one’s power and regal wealth, but they were also places in which to showcase one’s taste in art, erudition, and general cultural sophistication. Hellenistic palaces presumably inspired villa owners to outfit their estates with gymnasia, temples, and the like, but Romans certainly also viewed the inclusion of such elements as appropriations of Greek public architecture in form and function, albeit “privatized.” [72] In particular, the Roman villa assumed the role of the Greek gymnasium, complete with its statuary and gardens, thus becoming the locus for philosophical discussion as well as for other scholarly or artistic pursuits. So cultured was villa life that the Younger Pliny asserted, “one would think [the owner] were living in Athens, not in a villa” (Athenis vivere hominem, non in villa putes. Epistles 7.25.4). In any event, the Roman villae’s strong Greek affiliations exposed their owners to censure by traditional moralists—ironically including those who themselves enjoyed such luxuries—as philograeci ‘lovers of things Greek’ corrupted by that Graia licentia ‘Greek dissoluteness’ to which Roman gravitas was so utterly opposed.
Quite ingeniously, however, the Roman villa contained within its fabric the means by which to counter charges of excessive Hellenizing luxury, presenting itself as a repository of the hallowed mos maiorum, morally superior ancestral tradition. [73] As Varro remarks, life in the country is not only older than life in the city, it is inherently better, for the country has divine, and the city human origins. [74] Specifically, city life resulted from the application of human artes, technical and artistic skills. He goes on to say that “all the arts are said to have been discovered in Greece” (artes omnes dicantur in Graecia … repertae, De Re Rustica 3.1.4). From a Varronian perspective, traditional Roman rusticity was superior to the technological urbanity of the Greeks. What is so remarkable about the Roman villa is that it presented itself as, and was, a unique blend of the “rustic” and the urban; it was a locus of agricultural activity containing a polished, urbane residence. As Cato’s treatise on agriculture discloses, the villa was conceived as having a pars rustica ‘rustic part’ and a pars urbana ‘urbane part’: “The pars rustica parades the ‘practicalities’ and productivity that the ‘true’ villa is about. The pars urbana is a supplement, not obstructing the rustic practicalities but adding ‘something more delicate,’ urbanity in a rustic setting.” [75] In the Italian countryside, these large estates were referred to as villae urbanae ‘urban villas’, and within the city of Rome, they were called horti ‘gardens’. [76] The villa perfectly blended the Greek and the Roman, the rustic and the urbane, Nature and art. [77] It was an ideal signifier representing an ideal reflected even in its nomenclature.
The multi-faceted opportunities for display offered by the villa phenomenon cannot, however, account for its magnitude, either for the fact that so many villae were crowded along the Bay of Naples, “that famed crater of luxurious delights,” or for the fact that even modest homeowners in the town of Pompeii felt compelled to emulate Roman villa culture. In this emulation they went so far as to enlarge areas dedicated to the garden at the expense of the atrium complex that once functioned as domestic core, to furnish gardens with aqueduct-supplied water in preference to latrines, to refurbish peristyle gardens before living quarters after the earthquake of 62 CE, and to decorate their walls with illusionistically painted prospects and floriferous, artfully designed naturescapes. [78] Could the reason for the villa’s popularity simply have been demonstrative fashionability?
The answer to this questions lies in the essential difference between the Roman villa and the Hellenistic palace, which, not coincidentally, is also a fundamental point of divergence between the Pompeiian house and the Greek house, Classical and Hellenistic. That difference, simply put, is the obsessive integration of Nature in the domestic environment on the part of the Romans. It is the difference between “domination” and “domestication,” which share a linguistic heritage yet describe dissimilar conditions. “Domination” conveys a sense of violent repression or restraint and mastery, while “domestication,” predicated on domination, results in the integration of the “subject” in the domus, household, of the agent. In the Greek world, humanity remains ergon and Nature parergonal frame. In the Roman world, where Nature is framed by the domus—by the application of ars—the situation is ultimately reversed. The domestication of Nature is most readily apparent in the creation of interior garden spaces that were experientially accessible and visually assertive from almost every quarter of the dwelling. The tremendous value of plant life, and the degree to which it was privileged in the Roman house, may be gathered from archaeological sources as well as from any number of literary “anecdotes.” These last include accounts of Caesar planting a house’s atrium with a plane tree subsequently allowed to grow so large that its branches extended over the entire structure and of Vopiscius building his villa around an existing tree that “rose up through the roof and beams to the clear air above.” [79] Vopiscius approached the tree occupying the site of his future house very differently from Odysseus, valuing the preservation of the tree’s awesome natural force rather than its transformation through the application of “art” into a domestic furnishing, one of the utilitarian objects setting the stage for the human drama.
The domestication of Nature is palpable not only in horticultural tendencies, but also in other aspects of Roman domestic life, for example the keeping of animals. The Romans kept familiar pets, namely dogs, cats, birds, and exotic fish, in addition to creatures such as eels and deer which, together with birds and fish, doubled as part of the villa’s industry of market production. [80] The keeping of pets reminds humanity of the communality of life on the planet, crucially aiding in our subconscious, biologically driven “quest for instinctive origins.” [81] If animals in the wild are “mediators between us and plants, the rocks and suns around us, the rest of the universe,” then forming an intimate relationship with an animal brought into the home is the first step in recognizing and profiting, intellectually and emotionally, from such mediation. [82] Domestic animals, so much a part of human civilization, “are vestiges and fragments of deep human respect for animals, whose abundance dazzled us in their many renditions of life, helping us to know ourselves by showing all that we had not become.” [83] Such realizations provide entirely new interpretive possibilities for allusions, both literary and artistic, to the Orpheus myth in association with the Roman villa and house. Pollius Felix being compared to Orpheus; the latter appearing on Pompeiian garden walls; and a slave, swarmed by stags, boars, and other creatures of the wild, playing the part of that charmed musician to entertain guests in Q. Hortensius’ paradeisos, all certainly suggest both imperious and Hellenizing affiliations, mythological and mystic. [84] The figure of Orpheus, however, also embodies an inversion of that stage in remotest antiquity when humanity was willing to learn from the animal kingdom, emulating both their songs and movements. Armed with a tool learned from animals, Orpheus is able to lure them back into proximity, and accordingly primeval unity, with the human.
Finally, the extremity of the Roman desire to embrace the natural world may also be felt in the utter obsession with the creation of framed views of wild Nature, whereby the visually inscribed landscape in itself became a garden. Few extant descriptions of a villa lack some reference to the view or views, while furnishings are generally overlooked. [85] Such was the view’s importance that bitter enmities ensued between neighbors over blocked or ruined prospects. [86] For instance, Seneca reports that one man’s refusal to remove an offending plane tree prompted his enraged neighbor to retaliate by burning both the offending party’s tree and house, and Clodius purportedly threatened Q. Seius, who had refused to sell Clodius his house on the Palatine, with the obstruction of the latter’s view. [87] What appears to have fascinated the Romans was not so much a sweeping panorama—though this was certainly highly valued—as a carefully orchestrated, architecturally framed view that not only conveyed a sense of order and variety but also suggested the framed landscape’s close integration into the experience of dwelling. [88] Classic examples are provided by the Younger Pliny, who extols a certain room in his Laurentine villa with windows offering views of the sea at his feet, of villas at his back, and forests at his head (a pedibus mare, a tergo villae, a capite silvae; tot facies locorum totidem fenestris et distinguit et miscet. ‘At one’s feet the sea, at one’s back country estates, at one’s head forests; as many views of different places as it separates and blends in its windows.’ Epistles 2.17.21). Pliny also points to a dining room that extends to the water’s edge, looking out not onto a single vast expanse of ocean but, by means of some artful fenestration, onto three separate seas (quasi tria maria prospectat. ‘… looks out at three seas, so to speak.’ Epistles 2.17.5). In the Roman villa, framed views of the “exterior” landscape thus complemented carefully orchestrated views of interior garden spaces.
The villa owners’ taste for prospects was not, however, limited to “real” architecturally framed views of garden spaces but, in a most interesting development, came to include illusionistically painted faux vistas as well. The earliest identifiable style of painted decoration on Roman walls, the so-called First (Pompeiian) or Masonry Style, is characterized by the emulation of ashlar block work in paint and modeled stucco, complete with decorative veneers and ornate moldings. [89] Based on a structural reality, this style of painting served not only to embellish but also to solidify the wall visually; it was a form of literal illusion. Around 80 BCE the Masonry Style was overshadowed by another, the Second or Architectural Style, in which surfaces literally impenetrable were illusionistically pierced. Armed with painterly devices such as shading, highlighting, and linear perspective, all producing realistic effects, painters in the new style demanded that viewers suspend belief, creating the sensation of being drawn “out” into a landscape variously framed by architectural members. At first, all that might be revealed was a glimpse of sky beyond a screen wall, but later, these illusionistically painted surfaces exhibited elaborate, wall-to-wall vistas of tholoi ‘circular buildings’, grand colonnades, and grottoes. Among the most stunning of the extant examples of Second Style painting is the east wall of Oecus 15, a dining or reception room, in the Villa of Poppaea at Oplontis, which depicts a shrub and tree-filled sacred garden dominated by a gleaming bronze tripod (Figure 14). The garden, whose ornate iron gate stands alluringly ajar, is enclosed by a two-tiered peristyle colonnade and is framed by a row of columns “projecting” into the viewer’s space. It has been argued that garden vistas such as this, which account for a significant number of the exemplars of the Architectural Style, resulted from the Roman elite’s desire to appropriate aspects of Hellenistic Greek architecture and decor, either public or palatial, for the purposes of self-display, the augmentation of one’s public and private persona. [90] Others have argued that the architectural forms depicted are Roman and not Hellenistic Greek, representative of the elite’s fascination with building, specifically with constructing monuments to their exquisite taste and vast resources in every available medium. [91] All of this is doubtless true to some degree, but the fact remains that the characteristic scheme within the Second Style is the prospect, not infrequently a garden prospect, framed by architectural members. [92] Through such painted prospects, Nature inscribed made its presence rather dramatically felt even on the villa’s interior walls, on the walls of bedrooms, reception rooms, and dining rooms alike.
Figure 14. Refuge of the sacred garden. Fresco: Second Style prospect. Oplontis, Villa of Poppaea, Oecus 15, ca. 50 BCE. Author’s photo.
The domestication of Nature in the Roman villa, both the extra-urban villa urbana and the (intra-) urban horti, went far beyond simply providing the means for display of wealth and power; it created a “natural” milieu conducive to physical and mental recuperation from the stresses of urban politics and the difficulties of urban life, such as oppressive summer heat, crowds thronging the streets, and unsanitary conditions. In the Roman world, villa gardens, complete with the deep shade of spreading planes, provided settings for philosophical reflection, duplicating the locus amoenus of Plato’s Phaedrus. [93] By mingling the amenities of the natural world with the benefits of urbanism, the Roman villa became the true successor of Epicurus’ Garden. As an urbanized “country” retreat conducive to reflection on the urban condition and the place of humanity in the universe, the villa became synonymous with otium, leisure and “withdrawal,” though business and politics also had their place within villa grounds. [94] Why the villa and the ideology behind it caught on amongst the members of the elite is not difficult to understand. What could be more ideal than the ultra-soft primitivism, a lifestyle of elegance and leisure rooted in a hallowed agricultural past, that villa life embodied?
Roman villa culture and its distinctive blend of rus and urbs was not, however, exclusively pursued by the elite: the villa phenomenon had a profound effect on the (re)configuration and decoration of houses owned by persons of lesser means in towns such as Herculaneum and Pompeii. The explanation for the transformation of villa culture from an elite to a much more widespread “social” phenomenon has everything to do with the sense of security and contentment that the garden, Nature inscribed, has to offer. It is far from coincidental that Epicureanism became extraordinarily popular in Italy at the very moment the garden asserted itself as a ubiquitous presence in Roman domestic architecture. The garden, both the Epicurean Garden and the domesticated landscape, provided a welcome refuge at a time of grievous social and political crisis that ironically issued from the Republic’s most notable military triumphs, the destruction of Carthage and Corinth in the middle of the second century BCE. Military triumph brought with it not only prestige and power for the State but also a ready supply of slave labor “employed” at the expense of native Romans and Italians, the replacement of peasant husbandry by capitalist farming, and the emergence of an increasingly wealthy equestrian class that resented more and more the monopoly of political prerogative by the Senatorial order. The gap between rich and poor grew ever wider, and Italian allies clamored for the benefits of Roman citizenship. The new Roman Republic had outgrown its constitution. The conflicts that arose resulted in civil war, the final phase of which played out in the struggle between the republican party, backed by Caesar’s heir Octavian, and Mark Antony, Caesar’s erstwhile ally and consular colleague. The fall of Antony brought with it the fall of the Republic. [95] In this protracted period of crisis lay the seeds of refuge in the garden as a utopian ideal. Thus it was that the wish of a few became the dream of many.
Rus in urbe, manifested specifically in the domestication of Nature, remained a utopian ideal in the Roman world, but necessarily evolved to suit changes in the realm of politics. Not surprisingly, this ideal underwent its most dramatic adjustment in the course of Rome’s own most dramatic reconfiguration, that from Republic to Empire at the hands of Augustus. In the wake of the Battle of Actium, which had purportedly put an end to decades of civil strife, the mood in Rome, particularly among the most wealthy and powerful, was not one of unadultered optimism, for “they saw the civil war and all the other calamities as a consequence of complete moral collapse,” itself resulting from a by now deep-seated moral degeneration from which Rome could not hope to recover in the mere blink of an eye. [96] In this climate, Octavian had to tread carefully as he, as an “individual,” maneuvered to keep control of the republican constitution he had sworn to save. Accordingly, he instituted a program to restore the Republic and to remedy the causes for its decay, “a program to heal Roman society” focusing on the “renewal of religion and custom, virtus, and the honor of the Roman people.” [97] As part of this initiative, the “August” Octavian proposed legislation that would promote the solidity of the family by imposing penalties for extra-marital relations and rewarding procreation in wedlock. The old Roman virtue of pietas ‘piety/dutifulness’, which entailed devotion not only to family but also to the state and the gods, appropriately became a catchword for the revitalization of the old order.
The villa phenomenon, which combined politically motivated, Hellenizing ostentation with the opportunity for retreat into a life in tune with Nature akin to that of Rome’s rural ancestry, provided the Augustan regime with some very interesting challenges and opportunities. In the new atmosphere of traditionally framed moral regeneration, neither personal ambition nor “Epicurean” apolitical withdrawal could be deemed appropriate. It is little wonder then that, as Suetonius reports, Augustus preferred to adorn his villas with seemingly “artless,” natural wonders such as terraces and groves as well as with antique “curiosities,” such as enormous animal bones and weapons used by the heroes, rather than with costly statues and paintings. [98] The First Citizen of the New Republic needed to appear unpretentious and unassuming, though he owned villas at Capreae, Surrentum, Pausilypon, Baiae, and Nola and certainly participated fully in the villa phenomenon. Therefore, his house on the Palatine, albeit prominently placed adjacent to the Hut of Romulus and contiguous to the Temple of Apollo, was relatively modest, particularly in comparison with the scope of the later imperial palaces. Further, Augustus was not only wary of appropriating land occupied by private houses for such schemes as his forum, but he also recognized the benefit of providing the city’s population with public parks. So, for instance, a considerable space around his mausoleum was transformed into “a far-flung public garden, with varied trees and splendid walks.” [99] The Augustan approach to the Roman villa’s amenities was accordingly one of calculated restraint, and, in a savvy political move, the experience of rus in urbe was actively made accessible to the entire population of Rome.
Most interesting of all, however, was the shift in prevalent decorative schemes for walls and the emergence of a new style of fresco painting, the Third, that eclipsed the dramatic prospects so fashionable in the last decades of the Republic. Vitruvius, for one, was horrified by the new style, which replaced realistically depicted architectural elements with structurally impossible, nonsensical, pseudo-architectural monstrosities:
sed haec, quae ex veris rebus exempla sumebantur, nunc iniquis moribus inprobantur. nam pinguntur tectoriis monstra potius quam ex rebus finitis imagines certae: pro columnis enim struuntur calami striati, pro fastigiis appagineculi cum crispis foliis et volutis, item candelabra aedicularum sustinentia figuras, supra fastigia eorum surgentes ex radicibus cum volutis teneri plures habentes in se sine ratione sedentia sigilla, non minus coliculi dimidiata habentes sigilla alia humanis, alia bestiarum capitibus.
But these, which were created in imitation of Reality, are now rejected due to our perversion of tastes and ways. For walls are painted with monstrosities rather than truthful representations of definite things: thus in place of columns, fluted reeds appear as structural elements, and in place of pediments decorative attachments adorned with curled and twisting foliage, and also candelabra supporting images of shrines, and atop their roofs clusters of thin stalks and volutes shooting up from their roots [and] in which, quite in defiance of logic, are nestled tiny figures, and frequently too, split tendrils harboring figures, some with human and others with animal heads.
De Architectura 7.5.3 [100]
In schemes of the new style, large-scale prospects were eliminated, reasserting the wall as an impenetrable surface. The viewer was thereby denied what might be construed as a “quasi-Epicurean,” fictive opportunity for retreat into a garden framed by the architectural accoutrements of demonstrative luxury. [101] In place of a beckoning prospect, the viewer was presented instead with a scheme replicating a pinacothece, a gallery displaying framed panel paintings on its walls. One could conceivably argue that the Second Style’s large windows into the world beyond were merely minimized, but there is no mistaking the “panels” at the center of a Third Style wall with a window onto an “accessible” landscape, even if it is a landscape that dominates the picture field. [102] There is a clearly perceptible distance between the viewer and the new landscapes; they are alluring but ultimately impenetrable.
Figure 15a. Pastoral distancing. Fresco: sacro-idyllic landscape. From Boscotrecase, red cubiculum. Naples, Museo Nazionale Archeologico, inv. no. 147501. Author’s photo.
Figure 15b. Pastoral distancing: detail. Boscotrecase fresco. Photo, courtesy of the Museo Nazionale Archeologico.
Among the best-known Augustan landscape “panels” are those that once adorned the red bedroom, cubiculum 16, in the Villa of Agrippa Postumus at Boscotrecase, a villa that yielded what have been judged “the finest achievements of the early Third Style” (Figure 15a and b). [103] All three landscape panels found in this bedroom share a common theme: they represent a specific form of garden, the sacred grove. These sacred gardens, tantalizingly suspended “in” an unnervingly depthless field of white, consist of one or more trees as well as the shrines and votive statuary erected around them. Somewhat removed from the centrally located groves are clusters of buildings that have variously been interpreted as “modern” and ancient, urban and rustic, secular and sacred, Greek and Roman. Unlike the typical Second Style prospect, these gardens are populated by an array of small figures, male and female, adult and child, goatherds and shepherds, some bearing offerings, others resting in the shade and tranquility of their particular locus amoenus. Such figures had appeared on Second Style walls, but generally less prominently, in monochromatic friezes or pinakes, illusionistically rendered tiny panel paintings perched on the architectural members framing a grand prospect. [104] They had also appeared, arrestingly so, amidst Odysseus and his men in the Odyssey Frieze, which is, in fact, a Second Style prospect. There, the pastoral figures, in and through whom past and present intersect, invited the viewer to join Odysseus in shaping a new world in an Italian landscape. At Boscotrecase, however, the viewer, distanced by the ambiguous spatiality of the landscape, is forced into the role of spectator. In other words, retreat into the sacred garden is not an option. Yet the spectator is invited to reflect on the contemporary resonance of the sacro-idyllic pastoral scenes, on the Augustan effort to revive not only the sacred places but also the religious sensibilities of a bygone era. [105] In these figures, the spectator could find models for pietas, a moral life grounded in ancestral tradition.
Pastoral figures play a similar part in the landscapes from another Boscotrecase bedroom, cubiculum 19. These landscapes are mythological rather than sacro-idyllic, and their chief means of distancing the viewer is the combination of fathomless background, vivid blue-green in this instance, with “fantastic” subject matter rendered in a continuous narrative, each landscape comprising multiple episodes of the myth portrayed. [106] The specific myths depicted are the rescue of Andromeda at the hands of Perseus and the wooing of Galatea by the Cyclops Polyphemos, both myths rendered in settings that contain elements shared with the sacro-idyllic scenes. Most striking are the parallels existing between the Polyphemos panel and the sacro-idyllic landscape from the red bedroom’s north wall: a rocky “island” dominated by a votive column and accessed by a curving bridge, a statuette-topped altar, and a flock of milling goats. In place of the red room’s herdsman, however, the mythological panel substitutes a pipe-playing Polyphemos, as dedicated and competent a herdsman as any. Because he is presented in Theocritean guise, engaged in a distinctly anti-Odyssean activity, the Cyclops, like the staffage of the sacred groves, has become a figure at once emotionally accessible and elusive. If the pastoral life and the pipe of Pan can tame and humanize even the bestial Polyphemos, then the viewer who embraces traditional, “rustic” values and acknowledges his or her place in the the animate world will likewise tame the beast within. [107]
The Augustan age saw not only the conception of sacro-idyllic and mythological landscape panels but also the birth of the garden painting proper. [108] The earliest and perhaps most stunning example of such garden painting stems from the villa built for the emperor’s wife in the village of Rubra, now known as the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta (Figure 16). [109] The garden painting adorned the walls of a rectangular chamber that may have been used for dining. As it covered the room’s walls from floor to ceiling, the painting effectively dissolved the walls, transforming the space into “a kind of open-sided pavilion set in a paradise forest.” [110] Though preternaturally lush and dense, this landscape is no primeval forest; rather, a subtle, carefully calculated sense of balance and order, achieved by rhythmic planting and the application of borders, tempers its apparent wild abundance. As in the Boscotrecase landscapes, a compositional mechanism asserts itself, frustrating the viewers’ inevitable longing to lose themselves in this landscape. As a result, this too is an “Augustan-didactic” landscape, not a landscape of quasi-Epicurean withdrawal. In the Prima Porta garden, the viewer’s “barrier” is not so much its low wall, which is a common feature of the Roman garden, as the fact that this garden, realistically rendered though it may be, is unreal, a transparently idealized fiction, both in medium and iconographic content. A garden of such diversity could never, except in the artificial conditions of a greenhouse, transgress the laws of seasonality, thereby “forcing” its manifold plantings to bloom and bear fruit at precisely the same time. Such, however, is the miracle of this garden, a garden veritably pregnant with Augustan arboreal and horticultural mythology. [111] The plant whose presence is most intensely felt in the garden painting is the laurel, the tree sacred to Apollo, god of healing, prophecy, and order, and, significantly, the god who stood at Augustus’ side to secure his victory at Actium, to assure vengeance for Caesar’s murder, and to issue in a new age of peace and prosperity. As on the Ara Pacis, where the swan constitutes a reference to Apollo, burgeoning plant life signifies the return of a new Saturnian Golden Age to Italian soil, an age of primordial fertility, order, and peace. To some degree, every subsequent garden painting, whether in grand villa or modest house, preserved these associations, and it is therefore little wonder that this genre of fresco painting became the most enduring of all.
Hope is fundamental to, veritably embedded in, the concept of the garden. Were there no hope that plants would ultimately thrive and grow, the planting of seeds and laborious tending of seedlings would be futile and thoroughly unappealing. In their time of crisis, it was the garden to which Romans turned, and rus in urbe became a social dream. Gardens, Nature inscribed, infiltrated every aspect of Roman life by penetrating virtually every part of the dwelling; illusionistically painted gardens were even permitted to blend with the substance of the very walls that contained them. As in Classical Athens, the physical constitution of the dwelling house mirrored that of the city, and in keeping with the inscription of Nature on the domestic front, Rome itself became a garden city. [112] Together with public parks, no fewer than sixty horti, garden villas, are known to have formed part of the urban fabric, and the extent to which inscribed Nature penetrated the city is nowhere more apparent than in the famous horti of Maecenas straddling the Servian Wall. [113] In the Roman world, security and contentment were sought and found in the garden embraced both by city wall and private dwelling. Drawing on traditions preserved by the Italic house as well as on outside influences such as Epicurus’ Garden and Hellenistic estates, modeled themselves on the paradeisoi of Persian kings and nobles, Rome created its own utopian garden mythology and thereby reinvented paradise. The walled garden was a place where past and present might collaborate to forge a brighter future. As Joseph Rykwert observes, “Paradise is a promise as well as a memory.” [114]
Figure 16. Paradisiacal forest. Garden fresco from the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta, late 1st century BCE. Now in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome, inv. no. 126 373. Photo, © Art Resource.


[ back ] 1. For the quote, see Von Blanckenhagen 1963:100 who dates the painting to 50–40 BCE, while Beyen 1960:260–350 presents a slightly larger window, 50–30 BCE. Andreae 1988:282–283 and 2000:242–257 argues for a date close to 30 BCE on the basis of close parallels to room D in the House of Livia on the Palatine.
[ back ] 2. On the importance of refuge and prospect to the evolution of Roman domestic architecture, see Giesecke 2001.
[ back ] 3. De Architecura Libri Decem (Ten Books on Architecture) 7.5.2. Vitruvius’ comment would lead one to believe that such compositions were not without parallel, if not relatively common, in late Republican and Augustan Rome.
[ back ] 4. As observed by Erlich 2004.
[ back ] 5. Andreae 1988:283 associates this Lucretian passage with the frieze.
[ back ] 6. For a different perspective on the role of the Frieze’s landscape, see Leach 1988:47.
[ back ] 7. It must be noted here that Homer does mention herdsmen (specifically how profitable life there would be for those requiring no sleep) in the physical description of the land of the Laestrygonians (Odyssey 10.82–86), though he does not anywhere indicate that such men witness the assault on Odysseus. In Homer, these pastoral figures are very much in the background.
[ back ] 8. The Latin text is from Goetz’s 1929 Teubner edition. The translation does not include Goetz’s bracketed insertions.
[ back ] 9. See the valuable discussion of Barrell and Bull 1975:1–9 and also Hunt 1991.
[ back ] 10. Curtius 1953:187.
[ back ] 11. Shepard 1967:74.
[ back ] 12. See Shepard 1996:161 for the quote.
[ back ] 13. Parry 1957:15.
[ back ] 14. Griswold 1986:16.
[ back ] 15. For a survey of the locus amoenus topos, see Hass 1998.
[ back ] 16. Dorter 1971:281.
[ back ] 17. See Dorter 1971:279–288 for a discussion of landscape imagery in the dialogue.
[ back ] 18. On defining the garden and the concepts of place-making and milieu, see Hunt 2000 (especially 2–29).
[ back ] 19. Barrell and Bull 1975:225.
[ back ] 20. A particularly engaging account of the growth of the philosophical schools is provided by Wycherley 1961 and 1962.
[ back ] 21. On the “exploitation” of the countryside for rural sanctuaries and gymnasia, see Osborne 1987:168–169.
[ back ] 22. The Academy lay off the Kephisos River, the Lyceum off the Eridanos, and the Cynosarges off the Ilissos.
[ back ] 23. For the archaeology of the Academy, see Travlos 1971:42–43.
[ back ] 24. The quote stems from Wycherley 1962:3. For Kimon’s transformation of the Academy, see Plutarch Kimon 13.7.
[ back ] 25. On the presence of Socrates in the Academy, see, for instance, Plato’s Lysis 203a.
[ back ] 26. See Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers 3.5 and 3.25 as well as 4.1.1 and 4.3.19.
[ back ] 27. The text is from Jan’s 1878 Teubner edition.
[ back ] 28. See, for instance, Clarke 1973 and Wycherley 1959.
[ back ] 29. Epicurus’ will, incidentally, is suspiciously similar to that of Theophrastus; see Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers 10.17 and 5.2.51–57 respectively.
[ back ] 30. For the quote, see Wycherley 1959:74, and for the character of the urban and sub-urban demes, see Whitehead 1986:26.
[ back ] 31. On walls as one of the definitive elements of the polis, and the waning over time of their importance, see Camp 2000.
[ back ] 32. This translation of the Eikones (Images) is derived from Pollitt 1990:97.
[ back ] 33. Shepard 1996:158.
[ back ] 34. The quotes have been taken from Shepard 1996:159 and 161 respectively, which is the general source for the comments on dance.
[ back ] 35. See Turcan 1996:291–327 for Dionysus in the Hellenistic East and Rome. The quote is from page 293.
[ back ] 36. De Witt 1954:8.
[ back ] 37. Williams 1991:317.
[ back ] 38. Gow 1950:166–167 reads “sloes” in place of “peaches” at line 146.
[ back ] 39. As cautioned by Hutchinson 1988:3.
[ back ] 40. Segal 1981:213.
[ back ] 41. On Theocritus and “epic inversion” or “subversion” as a vital component of the bucolic epos, see Halperin 1983:passim. For the inversion/subversion of Homeric epic in particular, see especially pages 217–248.
[ back ] 42. Segal 1981:226.
[ back ] 43. Williams 1991:149.
[ back ] 44. See also Williams 1991:148.
[ back ] 45. Zanker 2004:83 treats both Hellenistic art and literature. See also Webster 1964:56–177.
[ back ] 46. Andronikos 1992:118. Cohen 1997:54 is skeptical of this conclusion but still thinks it within the realm of possibility. On the Alexander Mosaic and its relation to what is known of the painterly technique of Philoxenos, see also Bruno 1977:75 and Stewart 1993:123–157 where stylistic, historical, and iconographic observations are synthesized.
[ back ] 47. Pollitt 1986:192.
[ back ] 48. These examples are all evaluated by Pollitt 1986:185–209 and by Zanker 2004, who adds works such as the Farnese Bull with its rising mound of rocky sculptural base to the discussion.
[ back ] 49. Stewart 1993:139–140.
[ back ] 50. Cohen 1997:61 argues that the Praeneste mosaic is likely an exemplar of adaptation, and the Alexander Mosaic, by contrast, of stricter copying.
[ back ] 51. On Demetrios, as well as the Nile mosaic and its relation to the Hellenistic tradition of “choro-graphy” (or topographia), map illustration, see Ling 1977 (especially 7 and 14).
[ back ] 52. Le Corbusier 1970:167.
[ back ] 53. For a detailed discussion of Pompeiian gardens accompanied by an extensive catalog, see Jashemski 1979 and 1993.
[ back ] 54. Conan 1986:349.
[ back ] 55. The Roman garden is vividly brought to life in Farrar 1998.
[ back ] 56. Epigrams 12.57.21.
[ back ] 57. On Pompeiian domestic gardens and their plantings both before and after the construction of the Augustan aqueduct, see Jashemski 1979:16, 32–34, 51–54.
[ back ] 58. On the evolution of the Roman villa, see D’Arms 1970; McKay 1975; Mielsch 1987; Schneider 1995; Wallace-Hadrill 1994, 1998a, 1998b; and Zanker 1979, 1998.
[ back ] 59. For the Latin phrase, altered slightly from the original (singular), see Varro De Re Rustica 1.13.7. On the villa as a locus for collecting art, see Bartman 1991, Bergmann 1995, Dillon 2000, and Neudecker 1998.
[ back ] 60. The Latin quotation is from Goetz’s 1929 Teubner edition.
[ back ] 61. On trends in visual axiality, see the important works of Bek 1985 and Jung 1984.
[ back ] 62. While it has become common practice in works on Roman villae to refer to paradeisoi as hunting or game parks, the Persian paradeisos could nevertheless take a number of forms ranging from orchard and plantation for ornamental trees, or even (in early sources) an enclosure to store produce, to a garden articulated by elaborate water features and pavilions. In other words, as Bremmer 1999 points out, the semantics of “paradeisos,” a Median loanword introduced into Greek and signifying a walled enclosure, is complex due to the range of the term’s application over time. So, for instance, the paradeisos is a fragrant Persian garden carefully planted with trees in Xenophon’s Oeconomicus (Discourse on Estate Management) 2.20–25 and a Persian hunting park in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (Education of Cyrus) 1.3.14 and 8.1.34–38. Meanwhile, one imagines the Babylonian paradeisos in which a fever-ridden Alexander sought relief to have been filled with shade trees and cooling waters (Arrian Anabasis [Expedition from Sea to Coast] 7.25.3), and Lucian (True History 2.23) uses “paradeisos” to describe Plato’s Academy.
[ back ] 63. On status and the Roman house, see Hales 2003, Howe 2004, Saller 1984, and Wiseman 1987.
[ back ] 64. Wallace-Hadrill 1998a:43.
[ back ] 65. Deviating from Courtney’s Oxford edition, I have substituted M’s intrantes for Rothstein’s intrantem at Silvae (Grove of Poems) 2.2.59.
[ back ] 66. Similarly, Purcell 1987.
[ back ] 67. For instance, Caroll-Spillecke 1992b:166–175 and Schneider 1995:41 downplay Hellenistic influences while Lauter-Bufe 1975 and Nielsen 1999 (especially 164–171) present Hellenistic estates and palaces as essential influences. Lauter 1998 enumerates known parallels but points out that viewed in toto, the Roman villa phenomenon is without Graeco-Macedonian precedent.
[ back ] 68. On the amalgamation of Greek, Egyptian, and Persian influences in Roman villas and gardens, see Carroll 2003 (especially 54). On Persian gardens specifically, see Bremmer 1999, Kawami 1992, and Moynihan 1979, and for the ornate water features and pavilions of the palatial gardens at Pasargadae, see Stronach 1994. On Egyptian gardens, see Hugonot 1992.
[ back ] 69. On the Alexandrian basileia and the structures it may have contained, see Nielsen 1999:130–138 and Hoepfner and Schwander 1994:235–255.
[ back ] 70. See Purcell 1995 and Mielsch 1987:32–35.
[ back ] 71. Purcell 1995:158.
[ back ] 72. For example, Dickmann 1997:123, Carroll-Spillecke 1989:49–65 and 1992b:63–65, Schneider 1995:39, and D’Arms 1970:15.
[ back ] 73. See Wallace-Hadrill 1998a on the multi-faceted cultural symbolism of the Roman villa.
[ back ] 74. Cum duae vitae traditae sint hominum, rustica et urbana, quidni, Pinni, dubium non est quin hae non solum loco discretae sint, sed etiam tempore diversam originem habeant. antiquior enim multo rustica, quod fuit tempus, cum rura colerent homines neque urbem haberent … quod divina natura dedit agros, ars humana aedificavit urbes, cum artes omnes dicantur in Graecia intra mille annorum repertae, agri numquam non fuerint in terris qui coli possint. neque solum antiquior cultura agri, sed etiam melior, De Re Rustica 3.1.1–4. Text from Goetz’s Teubner edition 1929:113–114.
[ back ] 75. Wallace-Hadrill 1998a:51.
[ back ] 76. On the use of horti as designating an urban estate complete with garden, I follow the Elder Pliny’s application of the term (iam quidem hortorum nomine in ipsa urbe delicias agros villasque possident. Primus hoc instituit Athenis Epicurus oti magister. Usque ad eum moris non fuerat in oppidis habitari rura . Natural History 19.50–51.). By “urban” I refer to the area both within the Servian Wall and in the “urban” suburbium. Purcell 2001 cautions that horti are more properly “peri-urban” than “urban” estates, appearing first on the perimeter of Rome, on the urban periphery, but he does acknowledge their appropriation of the old city wall. This appropriation would, in any event, make them an urban phenomenon.
[ back ] 77. On the blending of nature and art to achieve an ideal, see Bergmann 2002.
[ back ] 78. For the persuasive argument that the villa provided the inspiration for architectural and decorative developments in Pompeiian houses, see Zanker 1979 and 1998. Zanker 1998:136–137 does, however, believe that what is described here as the domestication of Nature in Roman houses is a direct result of Hellenistic influences, albeit taken in the Roman world to an extreme, the motivation for which extreme is not addressed. The colorful description of the Bay of Naples as crater ille delicatus ‘that famous crater of luxurious delights’ stems from Cicero’s Epistulae Ad Atticum (Letters to Atticus) 2.8.2.
[ back ] 79. The quotation is from Statius’ Silvae 1.3.60, and both anecdotes are collected in Bergmann 2002:93n25.
[ back ] 80. On the place of animals in Roman life, see Toynbee 1973, particularly page 16 regarding animals kept as pets.
[ back ] 81. Shepard 1996:161.
[ back ] 82. Shepard 1996:152.
[ back ] 83. Shepard 1996:151.
[ back ] 84. Pollius Felix is compared to Orpheus in Statius’ Silvae 2.2.60–62 cited above. Orpheus and a host of exotic animals are depicted in a fresco on the west wall of the garden in the House of Orpheus at Pompeii (VI. 14, 20). The slave’s impersonation of Orpheus is recorded by Varro De Re Rustica 3.13.3. With the word “mystic,” I am alluding to Orphism.
[ back ] 85. As noted by Schneider 1995:84.
[ back ] 86. Bergmann 1991:60–66 and 1992:34–42.
[ back ] 87. These examples are collected in Schneider (1995:85), the first from Seneca Controversiae (Disputations) 5.5, the second from Cicero De Domo Sua (Regarding His Own House) 115.
[ back ] 88. On the preference of framed prospects, see Bergmann 1991 (especially 64).
[ back ] 89. The division of the distinct phases of Roman/Pompeiian fresco painting into four styles (named First, Second, Third, and Fourth Style, respectively) is based on the pioneering work of Mau 1882, and I am adhering to the traditional scheme within this argument. The most accessible and comprehensive recent work on Roman painting remains that of Ling 1991, and Leach’s provocative reassessment (2004) of the Pompeiian styles and their “conventional” chronological limits, should not be overlooked. Laidlaw 1985 is still the standard work on the First Style specifically. Clarke 1991:31–77 summarizes recent debates regarding dating shifts of the four styles. Remarks in these pages on the utopics of Roman fresco painting, particularly garden painting, reiterate but also expand upon and re-direct my previous discussion in Giesecke 2001.
[ back ] 90. On Second Style prospects as a vehicle for self-display, see Ehrhardt 1991, and, for a lengthy discussion of the scholarship on this issue as well as the question of Hellenistic influences, architectural, compositional, and “technical,” see Tybout 1989.
[ back ] 91. See Kuttner 1998.
[ back ] 92. My view of what constitutes a garden, namely any inscribed landscape (inscribed by the erection of “barriers” or simply by human “use”), is more liberal than most. Herein I essentially follow Hunt 2000 (especially 1–30). As regards the presentation of Second Style prospects as garden paintings, see also Kuttner 1999.
[ back ] 93. Cicero De Oratore (On the Orator) 1.7.28.
[ back ] 94. For detailed discussions of the manifold resonances of the Roman villa, see D’Arms 1970 and 1998, Frazer 1992, Littlewood 1984, and Purcell 1996.
[ back ] 95. For lengthier accounts (summarized here) of conditions leading to the collapse of the Republic, see Meier 1990 and Syme 1939.
[ back ] 96. Zanker 1998:101.
[ back ] 97. Zanker 1998:101.
[ back ] 98. Augustus 72.3.
[ back ] 99. Beard 1998:25.
[ back ] 100. The text is from Krohn’s Teubner edition (1912:159–160) with the exception of the following: pro fastigiis appagineculi following calami, placed by Krohn after volutes; plures in place of flores; and dimidiati in place of dimidiata. These deviations from Krohn’s edition are more in keeping with the manuscript tradition.
[ back ] 101. The phrase “quasi-Epicurean” is employed by Wallace-Hadrill 1998b and has been adapted to this argument. See also Beyen 1938:13ff, Borbein 1975, and Wesenberg 1985 on Epicurean associations of the Second Style prospect.
[ back ] 102. See also von Blanckenhagen 1962:31.
[ back ] 103. Ling 1991:55.
[ back ] 104. Von Blanckenhagen 1962:23–30 provides a catalog of Second Style predecessors to the Boscotrecase landscapes. To this should be added the landscapes from the Villa of Poppaea at Oplontis, for which see Clarke 2000. On the sacred grove in Roman painting, see Bergmann 1992, which deeply influenced my thinking.
[ back ] 105. See Silberberg-Peirce 1980 on the “politics” of the sacro-idyllic images.
[ back ] 106. On mythological landscapes generally, see Dawson 1965.
[ back ] 107. On the didactic potential and programmatic content of Roman painting, see Bergmann 1999, Thompson 1960/1961, and Wirth 1983. On decorative programs in the Roman house generally, see Clarke 1991.
[ back ] 108. For a survey of garden painting, see Michel 1980.
[ back ] 109. A complete treatment of this garden painting is Gabriel 1955, which served as a basis for descriptive material here.
[ back ] 110. Ling 1991:150.
[ back ] 111. On Augustus’ “arboreal mythology” and the Prima Porta garden fresco, see Kellum 1994.
[ back ] 112. The quintessential survey of Roman gardens, public and private, remains that of Grimal 1969.
[ back ] 113. See Andreae 1996, Boatwright 1998, and Haüber 1998.
[ back ] 114. Rykwert 1981:192. For a history of “paradise” generally in a literary context, see Giamatti 1966.