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Low Ham Mosaic

The Low Ham Mosaic is an absolute treasure for its attachment to art, architecture, and classical literature.  This is a complete mosaic found while excavating an ancient Roman villa in England.  The mosaic tells the story of the tumultuous love affair between Aeneas and Dido as told in Vergil’s Aeneid. I often introduce pieces of artwork such as this in my advanced reading classes.  Such artwork causes the story to leap from the ancient pages and take on new visual dimensions.  Through the medium of art we are able to cause students to engage with literature through another of the senses – sight.  This also inspires them to use their visual imagination more as they read through the text.  After a few such lessons my class will often pause after a particularly descriptive scence to muse, “if we were artists or movie directors, how would we portray this scene?”  The study of art alongside literature also shows students how these pieces of ancient literature are able to transcend time as they inspire artists from every period.   I will speak on this very topic at the conference for the Association of Classical Christian Schools in June, 2011.  This mosaic is just one of my subjects.  I also look at paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance and the modern era that I use in my Latin literature courses.  Some of these examples you will find throughout this blog site.  (see end of post)

The scenes in this mosaic depict the arrival of Aeneas and his men in Carthage, Aeneas meeting Dido with little Ascanius, the hunt scene in which Ascanius gaudet equo iamque hos cursu, iam praeterit illos [rejoices on his horse and passes by these in the course, and now those], and of course the famous cave scene (here depicted with trees).  The following youtube video tells the remarkable story of this mosaic and offers a little insight into the tragic tale of a love gone horribly wrong.  For the story of Aeneas and Dido, you will have to refer to Vergil’s tale.   But be forewarned, this tragic tale of star-crossed lovers may not be the best read for Valentine’s Day.  Unless, of course, your goal is to warn young people of an ill-made match too hastily undertaken.  That certainly may well have been Vergil’s message to a young emperor, particularly if tempted to take interest in an eastern queen as a lover (as did his uncle).


AP Latin Tip:  This mosaic provides a wonderful review for Aeneid Book IV.  I like to ask students to put captions from Vergil to each of these scenes. This requires them to review the text of Book IV to find the most fitting captions.  Results may vary, but the effect of the work upon the student should be the same.

For more suggestions on integrating art study with Latin please view: Art as a Poetic Interpretation.

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