Friday, October 17, 2008

SOLOMON, SOCRATES AND ARISTOTLE. Sounds like a scene from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, or maybe Doctor Who, but it's actually a picture from Pompeii, which is treated by Theodore Feder in BAR. Abstract:
When the city of Pompeii was covered by volcanic ash on an August night in 79 A.D., it was a tragedy of tremendous scale for its inhabitants. For modern scholars, however, the devastating destruction that occurred literally overnight in the Roman town and its neighboring cities preserved a treasure trove of information about first-century Roman life. Scholar Theodore Feder examines a fresco, excavated from a villa called the "House of the Physician," that depicts the Judgment of Solomon. The subject is a popular one in Christian art: Two women, both claiming to be the mother of the same child, bring their case to King Solomon. The king orders that the infant be cut in half, and the true mother is revealed when she relinquishes her claim on the child in order to save its life. Feder posits that the presence of two archetypal figures in the fresco represent the famous Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle. The presence of the two ancient philosophers, he argues, reveals the great respect that Greek philosophy could have accorded to Hebrew wisdom in the ancient world.
Also, there's this poignant epigraphic tidbit from the article, which is news to me:
... A two-word inscription, Sodoma Gomora, also survives from a house front in Pompeii and may have been written by a Jew or, less likely, by an early Christian, either before the eruption of Vesuvius or by a digger soon afterwards. It is perhaps more affecting to imagine its having been hastily written in the midst of the eruption by someone who analogized the town’s impending fate with that of the two doomed Biblical cities.
UPDATE (14 November 2011): Dorothy Lobel King is skeptical about the characters in that fresco.