Dynastic politics, defeat, decadence and dining: Cleopatra Selene on the so-called ‘Africa’ dish from the Villa Della Pisanella at Boscoreale

Draycott, J. (2012) Dynastic politics, defeat, decadence and dining: Cleopatra Selene on the so-called ‘Africa’ dish from the Villa Della Pisanella at Boscoreale. Papers of the British School at Rome, 80, pp. 45-64. (doi:10.1017/S0068246212000049)

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Abstract

This article examines the so-called ‘Africa’ dish, part of a treasure trove of silver table-ware discovered in a cistern at the Villa della Pisanella, a villa rustica destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79. It proposes a new interpretation of the dish's iconography and argues that the woman in the centre of the emblema is Cleopatra Selene, while the attributes surrounding her reference her parents Cleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius, her brothers Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus, her husband Juba II of Mauretania, and their mythological ancestor the demi-god Heracles. Thus the emblema serves as a meditation on the fates of Antony and Cleopatra VII, descendants of Heracles who chose the path of vice, a choice that resulted in their defeat by Octavian at the Battle of Actium. Octavian's virtue, victory and clemency, combined with his guardianship of their children, ensured the subsequent promotion of their daughter Cleopatra Selene as a key figure in his dynastic and political strategy, through her marriage to Juba II and the couple's appointment as client rulers of Mauretania. Also supposedly descended from Heracles, Juba II and Cleopatra Selene chose to follow in their illustrious ancestor's footsteps along the path of virtue. In common with other pieces from the treasure trove, the ‘Africa’ dish alludes to recent historical events and personages, utilizes death as a means of promoting the enjoyment of life, and incorporates popular elements of Greek mythology, all the while offering banqueters an erudite puzzle to solve during the course of their banquet.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Draycott, Jane
Authors: Draycott, J.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Classics
Journal Name:Papers of the British School at Rome
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:0068-2462
ISSN (Online):2045-239X

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