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Asarotos Oikos

"[Sosos] laid at Pergamon what is called the asarotos oikos or 'unswept room,' because on the pavement was represented the debris of a meal, and those things which are normally swept away, as if they had been left there, made of small tessera of many colours."

Pliny, Natural History (XXXVI.lx.184)

What better representation of Apicius' extravagance than this image in the Museo Gregoriano Profano (Vatican Museums). Dating from the time of Hadrian in the second century BC, it is one of several Roman mosaics depicting the remnants of a banquet. Shadowed lobster legs and chicken bones, fruit and nuts (even a mouse gnawing on a walnut shell) are all littered against a plain background of very small tesserae of glass and colored marble laid out in such a way (opus vermiculatum) that the subject is emphasized by means of outline or shadow. It is a beautiful example of trompe l'oeil, and signed in Greek by the artist Heraclitus.

Reference: Hellenistic Art: From Alexander the Great to Augustus (2004) by Lucilla Burn; The illustration is taken from Antike Bildmosaiken (2003) by Bernard Andreae.

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