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Masks and an Aqueduct

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Above you, more than half of the upper floor of this church. It's very sparse by Italian standards (although yes, there is the obligatory fresco). It's also almost windowless, not so much I suspect because of early medieval construction techniques, but because of the often searing heat on Mt. Subasio in the summer, and fair cold in the winter as well.

Let's start with the aqueduct, since it's in plain sight in the photo above:

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Not much of an aqueduct, you say? Well, it's all we have left here, and the six letters you see above are unequivocally enough for us to understand the essence of the inscription.

. . .AM ADDV
. . . AQVAM ADDVXIT . . .
. . . brought water . . .

From the size of the lettering — that object is a felt pen exactly 14 centimeters long — and the care with which it was cut, we can tell this was some kind of official dedicatory inscription. The style suggests early rather than late, say 1c A.D., when Spello, five miles away, was in full expansion and needed water: this is the nearest hill.

I see you shaking your heads, saying this is not so satisfactory — Where was this water supply? — You're just assuming this inscription was found somewhere near here! — I will have to write an orderly page on the aqueduct of Spello one of these days, although for now you can already see some photos of it in my diary. There's at least 400 meters of it left, and it makes a beeline for this part of Subasio. (No, that still doesn't prove anything, but stay tuned anyway.)

Roman sarcophagi are frequently met with as altar tables. If there is any indication that the dead person was Christian, it is in fact extremely apposite, since liturgically every altar is a tomb, and even today the Roman Catholic church still requires Mass to be said on at least a sliver of a relic from a martyr.

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Here the sarcophagus is a good one, a typically elegant example of a type known as a "strigil sarcophagus" from the wavelike motifs, which to classicists look like strigils — those things Greek athletes used to scrape oil off with after a bath. As for being appropriate, however, a closer look at the details belies that:

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Beneath the portrait of the deceased,
a tragic and a comic mask.
A weary angel, resting.

I think we can safely put away the idea that this man was an actor; instead we may view these masks and these putti with their walking sticks as a graphic way of saying "Life is like that: at times tragic, at times funny; fortunately after the weariness of travel, comes the end of the road." Although they influenced Christianity, these are not Christian themes. Our friend is portrayed having reached the ataraxia of a good Stoic, calmly rising above life's vicissitudes.

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Page updated: 27 Jun 03