Marbles and Pearls: Contemporary Poetry

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It is best sculpted with a chisel. Veined Marble This is the most common. It comes in white or salt-and-pepper, with grey veins. Arabescato Orobico Marble Very similar to veined marble, but with veins that form arabesques.

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Calacatta Marble Very rare and very valuable, its veins are often in shades of yellow. Cipollino Zerbino Onion-Stone Marble Onion-stone marble is marked by green-grey striations that resemble an onion. Years ago our family spent an idyllic summer in beautiful Florence, Italy, the heart of Re Composer Ed Munger, 76, and lyricist Herb Weisburgh, 82, are a local songwriting duo who h I would like to thank Mary Beard, Rolf Schneider, Robin Osborne and Emma Reisz for their help in refining earlier versions of this essay, as well as two anonymous CCJ readers for their constructive comments, and Christopher Kelly for all his editorial patience and support.

All abbreviations follow those listed in the Oxford Classical Dictionary 3rd edn. For an up-to-date summary of Roman marbles, variety, sources and functions, see Pensabene a. But these colourful marbles also elicited a whole range of aesthetic associations that both enriched and competed with their geographical stories.

Both on public monuments and in the private houses and villas of the wealthy, imperial marbles bombarded their viewers with a range of unusual and evocative sensory experiences. These marbles — increasingly familiar sights in the urban landscape — evoked new systems of artistic and aesthetic classification, as well as associations with existing phenomena and categories of colour in the Roman world.

This paper will examine how the elite literary circles of early imperial Rome distinguished and described a wide range of colourful stones and marbles that were imported into Rome from all over the empire, and will explore how these discourses found expression in the deployment of marbles in contemporary architecture.

Marbles and Pearls: Contemporary Poetry

I will first discuss the defining characteristics of marble in the literature of the early Empire, and argue that the category marmor and its adjective marmoreus denoted much more than simply a type of stone. I will then examine the means by which a significant range of 2 As Schneider esp. For example, Plin.

HN Licinius Lucullus cos. I will go on to discuss the importance of the ethnic and geographical associations of "coloured" marbles, as well as how their physical colour affected the uses and descriptions of these stones. I will finish by briefly examining the implications of paint on marble sculpture for recognising and evaluating imperial marbles. This survey will explore the complex categories with which elite Romans interpreted and evaluated one significant component of their urban environment, as well as the intellectual currency of marble and the discrimination of marble in the literature and art of the early Empire.

Introducing marble Marble made its debut in Rome as a product of Greece. It is no accident that the first marble temple in Rome, the temple of Jupiter Stator, built shortly after BC, was constructed out of Greek marble. A dedication of a material fairly new to Rome, and a material torn from the very land Rome had conquered, transformed the temple building itself into a monumental trophaeum.

Marble columns were also imported by Sulla from Athens to rebuild the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which had been destroyed by fire in 83 BC. Probably Pentelic — see Amadori et al. Publicolae 15 on the columns spoiled when they were recut and polished at Rome. Steinby Lexicon 3. This "Luna" marble later known as Carrara was to give the city a physical and ideological facelift under Julius Caesar, Augustus and the Julio-Claudians.

White marble was, however, just one constituent of a much bigger picture. Following the defeat of Egypt in the 30s BC, the Romans "discovered" a whole spectrum of new polychrome marbles. Architectural grandeur was effectively symbolised under Augustus by the importation of a number of great Pharaonic obelisks of Egyptian red and grey granite, weighing up to tonnes each. A dazzling and colourful sequence of public marble monuments, albeit a relatively small handful, quickly emerged. The Forum Augustum, the Basilica Aemilia, the temple of Apollo Palatinus, the temple of Castor and the temple of Concord in the Forum Romanum were among the most outstanding examples of monuments adorned with 5 See for example Plin.

One prevailing trend was to draw attention to the character of the material itself: the territory from which it had been extracted, the political circumstances that had allowed Rome to quarry it, and the effort it took to quarry, fashion and transport it. This paper argues that Roman marbles featured in a range of intersecting and competing discourses — architectural, geological, imperial, moral and aesthetic — and by studying these discourses more closely we can refine our understanding of how marble was used and evaluated in imperial high society.

The opulent baths of Claudius Etruscus in late first-century Rome employed marbles which drew together many different and exotic parts of the world into one small space. These baths caught the eye of a number of contemporary critics. One of these was the court poet Statius, a man quick to indulge in the contemporary aesthetic of marble snobbery Vanish Toil and Care, while I sing of the baths that sparkle with shining rocks Neither Thasos nor wave-lashed Carystos are allowed in here; far off the onyx mourns, and the serpent-stone rejected makes complaint; only stone hewn from the Nomads' blond flaua rocks shines, and also that at which the purple dye purpura of Tyre and Sidon would weep lividly liuens , and only that stone which in the hollow cave of Phrygian Synnas Attis himself bloodied with his gleaming stains lucentes maculae.

Scarce is there space for stone from the Eurotas, where a verdant uiridis streak contrasts with the marble of Synnas with its extended adornment. The doorways are unsurpassed, the ceilings are radiant, the topmost parts with their diverse glass gleam animated with images. Silvae 1. Marbles here are purpureum, flauum and uiride, as well as being Phrygian, Sidonian, Numidian and so on. In addition, marble from the Euboean port of Carystos is literally wave-lashed undosum due to its location as well as its visible resemblance to these waves; furthermore in a particularly playful metaphor , the porphyry that rivals sea-purple dye is 'livid' liuens in colour as well as earning the dye's envy.

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The aesthetics at work here were part of a highly-educated, arch-metropolitan discourse that hinged on the reader's recognition and visualisation of the stones that were being described, as well as a knowledge of the geographical and cultural context of the lands from which they came. Statius' marble colours were each metaphorical categories embedded in a very different physical object — waves undosus , sea-purple dye purpura , blond hair flauus , and greenery uiridis. Chapter 6 discusses Silvae 1.

Statius has a penchant for imaginative descriptions of coloured marbles: see for example Silv. For flauus as a case-in-point, see Bradley b My doctoral dissertation Bradley a explores the 'objective' character of Roman colour discrimination and the ramifications this has for interpreting colour in Roman literature and art.

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Statius' marbles also sparkle gemmantia , gleam nitidis, nitet, nitent , shine lucentibus and glow effulgent ; they manipulate the light like they manipulate the viewer. Martial, cynically describing marble snobbery in the same baths and perhaps in parody of the Silvae , recognises a pecking order of marbles structured predominantly by origin and not by colour Taygeti, Phryx, Libys, onyx, ophitae.

Martial competes with Statius in his celebration of imperial cornucopia: here, one can bathe in the very quarries metalla of Laconia, and indulge in stones extracted by barbarians at the peripheries of the empire. In the end, Martial's elaborate ekphrasis falls on deaf ears. His addressee Oppianus pays no attention to the poet's attempt to lure him to the baths and — as a result — will die unbathed illotus morieris. For Oppianus, the attractions of marble-watching do not wash, and his refusal to participate in this aesthetic discourse is parodied as a rejection of a new type of bathing ritual.

Coloured marbles, then, offered contemporary literati a rich opportunity to demonstrate authority and knowledge, and to participate in erudite debate on the aesthetics of empire and the character of Roman imperial culture. Greek colour perception. The chronology of the two poems is uncertain, although some scholars have argued that Martial is satirising conventional 'bath poetry'; see Newlands n. As we have seen, many types of marble could be employed in the urban architecture of early imperial Rome, and as Statius and Martial show us telling them apart was an important activity for the educated elite.

However, we must first ask what it was that prompted the Romans to describe an object as marmor. Not that it was 'limestone recrystallised by metamorphosis' as the OED puts it : the stock footnote reads 'according to the ancients, marble was any stone which could be highly polished'. But these categories also helped the poet to evoke the most exquisite artefacts of myth, and even to 'sculpt' the natural world in his verse.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Augustus' boast is also related in Cass. Dio On the Augustan use of marble, see Fant Archaeologically speaking, white Luna was by far the most common — see Galinsky On white marble architecture, see Prop. TLL s. See Plin.


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  • The artistic taste of Verres, the palace of Dido, a colossal statue of Nero, the marmorea uilla in which Juvenal pictures Domitian's scheming Praetorian Prefect — in each case, an overt expression of the individual's excessive indulgence in material culture. So culturally significant had marble become that the category was frequently transposed on to surfaces and phenomena that had nothing at least physically to do with marble. A generation before Augustus had made his boast, Lucretius passing his Epicurean eye over the phenomenon of color had used the adjective marmoreus — like Homer — to describe the surface of the sea.

    On tombs, Cic. Her 7. Further on this passage, see Bailey He took the stormy sea as his example — its 'hoary waves' cani fluctus develop a 'shining marble surface' candens marmor ; if atoms were inherently coloured, how could nigrum become candens and album, and how could caerulea semina become alba and turn into a marmoreus color ? Lucretius' creative hexameters did an efficient job of demonstrating the subjective nature of colour perception by exploring a familiar philosophical problem the changing surface of the sea using an established register of poetic metaphor.

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    Lucretius' use of canus normally denoting white or grey hair achieves the same effect. Loeb as 'beneath his glassy floor' and by Bellessort as 'sous sa surface brillante comme le marbre'. Loeb 'in pure water' ; Stat. Silv 4.