This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.



Constantine the Rhodian

The Seven Wonders of Constantinople: The Senate House and the Bronze Statue of Athena in the Forum of Constantine

Ed. E. Legrand (Paris, 1896), pp. 8-10, ll. 90-110, 125-162


About the Senate House and its Pillars

 

The third wonder admired by all and famed

is the outstanding beauty of the senate house,

such is the setting and location

and the whole construction expressed in words:

the vault rises up into the air

and a wall bears the rising structure,

the roof fastened above beams

fixed on four pillars

which imitate the dye of Tyrian murex,

and they extend to a great height.(1)

The whole complex of the glorious house

is circular, adjoining the forum.(2)

Of the wall which curves to the north

the finest pillars face south

and the beautiful breezes of the south wind,

which malice burnt at an earlier time,

and fire tore their shape to pieces,

at the time when fire burnt the whole city,

when Leo reigned, the long-ago lord,

this Leo whose wife was Verina,

whose brother was Basilakes the deceiver.(3)

...

Somebody brought forth a bronze door

for the senate house, facing to the north

and the wall that bears right,

which was once at the Artemesion at Ephesus,

and which was darkened with the deception of idols,

having an image of the battle of the giants

with the gods which the Greeks used

blindly to worship with reverence,

[depicting] the thunderbolts of Zeus and the arrogance,

and Poseidon with his remarkable trident,

and Apollo firing a poisoned arrow,

and Herakles wearing the lion pelt

and a quiver filled with arrows

smashing their heads with a club, that is

the giants whose feet were like serpents coiled

beneath and turned in,

throwing aloft fragments of the rocks

and the serpents just like flashing tongues

roaring terribly, fearful to look upon

and flashing fire from their eyes,

such that those observing are afraid and trembling,

fear and shuddering gripping the heart.(4)

With such deceits was the foolish race of Greece

beguiled and offered evil honour

to the abomination of empty impieties,

but the powerful and wise Constantine

brought them to be a trifle for the city,

a plaything for children and an amusement for men.

This beautiful bronze maiden

who stands atop a tall pillar

her hand stretching to the sky

depicts Pallas, the lie of the Lindians,

the first to have occupied the land

of wretched Rhodes, reared impiously.(5)

This is clear from the helmet and the monstrous Gorgoneion,

snakes entwined about the neck,

for it was thus that the madmen of yore

vainly fashioned the idol of Pallas.(6)


(c) Paul Stephenson, July 2010

Notes

(1) The four columns are of porphyry, a purple marble from Egypt that is here compared to the purple dye made from the shells of sea snails (kochlos, murex). A remarkable reconstruction can be seen at Byzantium1200.com.

(2) The senate house is said to be glorious (pangletos), a non-classical term (Kazhdan, History of Byzantine Literature, 158. Also, it is circular, abutting the circular forum of Constantine. The Greek term (kyklou) could be taken by either (genitive), but appears to go better with the building (domos), on which see Wulff, "Sieben Wunder", 319. Once again, a reconstruction at Byzantium1200.com.

(3) Leo I (457-74), whose wife Verina had a brother, Basiliscus, who seized the throne with her help. There was great fires in Constantinople during Leo's reign (notably in 465) and also in Basiliscus' short reign, in 475. The Rhodian's interest in the period may indicate his knowledge of a history by Malchos, now lost, that covered only the period 474-80. The poem here appears to contain an allusion to Psalm 91:13: "Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk (basiliskos): and thou shalt trample under foot the lion (leon) and the dragon", which is taken to foretell Christ's victory over Satan, the deceiver (planos).

(4) The Gigantomachy, which can be seen in the illustrations above. Poseidon's trident is xene, usually "strange" or "foreign", but in Constantine always remarkable (ll. 62, 220, 350, 380, 443, 539). See Kazhdan, History of Byzantine Literature, II, p. 159. Note that Athena, who is not described in the battle, appears in the carving from Aphrodisias (2nd century, BC, now in Istanbul Archaeological Museum: two photos above) wearing the helmet and Gorgoneion around her neck that identify her in the nearby bronze statue. Cf. Kedrenos, ed. Bonn, 565: "Towards the north of the forum is the senate house, which burnt under Leo [I] and [his wife] Verina, on which the door is from the Artemision of Ephesus, a gift of Trajan, the spoils of his battle with the Scythians, where grimly one sees the battle of the giants, and the thunderbolts of Zeus, and Poseidon with his trident, and Apollo's poisoned arrow, and beneath the giants is like serpents attacking, as with their hands they throw aloft lumps."

(5) Constantine the Rhodian was from Lindos, and there Constantine VII dedicated a cross (Greek Anthology, 15:4). The bronze doors featured in a tenth-century saint's life, of St. Andrew the Fool, where a passer-by slaps the saint on the back and demands "What are you looking at, fool?," to which the fool replies, "You fool! I am looking at the visible idols, but you are a spiritual strap-leg and a serpent and of the viper's brood [Matt. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33]. Your soul's axles and heart's spiritual legs are twisted and going to hell. Hell has opened its mouth to devour you, for you are a fornicator and an adulterer and you sacrifice to the Devil every day." See L. Rydén, "The date of the Life of Andreas Salos," DOP 32 (1978), 129-55, at 137; L. Rydén, The life of St. Andrew the Fool, 2 vols. (Uppsala, 1995), II, 140. See also H. Maguire, "Style and ideology in Byzantine imperial art," Gesta 28 (1989), 217-31, at 220; H. Maguire, "The profane aesthetic in Byzantine art and literature," DOP 53 (1999), 189-205, at 191; H. Maguire and E. Dauterman Maguire, Other Icons: Art and power in Byzantine secular culture (Princeton, 2007), 7. Maguire draws attention to the parallels with the illustration from Nikander's Theriaka, illustrated above.

(6) Cf. Kedrenos, ed. Bonn, 565: "There stand in the space of the forum two devotional statues, to the west the Lindian Athena, having the helmet and monstrous Gorgon head with snakes entwined at the neck (for in this way the ancients depicted her idol) and to the East, Amphitrite, with crabs' claws at the temples. This was also brought from Rhodes." The statue was destroyed in 1203 by citizens who feared the upraised hand was beckoning crusaders into the city, according to Niketas Choniates, ed. Van Dieten. See R. Jenkins, "The bronze Athena at Byzantium," JHS (1947), 31-3, who quotes Nicetas' description and believes he identified the statue in a miniature in a an eleventh-century manuscript once at Smyrna/Izmir, published by J. Stryzgowski in 1899, and now lost; R. Jenkins, "Further evidence regarding the bronze Athena at Byzantium," Annual of the British School at Athens 46 (1951), 72-4, adds a tenth-century miniature in a Marcian Library manuscript, MS gr. 472, fol. 33r. Jenkins did not adduce the Rhodian's poem, which is noticed by C. Mango, "Antique statuary and the Byzantine beholder," DOP 17 (1963), 53-75, at 62-3, 68. More recently, see S. Bassett, The urban image of late antique Constantinople (Cambridge, 2004), 188-9.


Paul Stephenson, July 201; January 2012