This emblema was significantly displayed in a triclinium and is one of the most striking for the clarity of its allegorical representation. The topic is Hellenistic in origin and presents death as the great leveller who cancels out all differences of wealth and class. It is a theme that has come down to our days, as for example in the famous poem ’A livella by the comic actor A. de Curtis (Totò). In fact the composition is surmounted by a level (libella) with a plumb line, the instrument used by masons to get their constructions straight and level. The weight is death (the skull) below which are a butterfly (the soul) and a wheel (fortune).
On each side, suspended from the arms of the level and kept in perfect balance by death, are the symbols of wealth and power on the left (the sceptre and purple) and poverty on the right (the beggar’s scrip and stick). The theme, like the skeletons on the silverware in the treasure of Boscoreale, was intended to remind diners of the fleeting nature of earthly fortunes.
Keywords: mosaic from Pompeii memento mori House cum workshop I 5 2 triclinium death skull cranium libella plummet plumb plumb-line adjusting tool level purple cloak sceptre staff stick butterfly wheel of fortune wreath garland Inv No 109982