The “maison de l’Arsenal” or “maison de Virgile” in Sousse, Tunisia (ancient Hadrumetum in the province Byzacena). Discovered in 1896 by French soldiers excavating for an arsenal.
(I) The most famous mosaic from Hadrumetum is the Vergil in the Bardo Museum, now dated 210. The poet is shown with Melpomene and Calliope, muses of tragedy and epic. They dictate to him; the scroll in his hand reads, “Musa, mihi causas memora,” from the first lines of the Aeneid. Calliope reads from the scroll; Melpomene, holding a tragic mask, listens. The poet, looking dark and austere, sits with his feet on a stool; he wears, inappropriately, ankle boots, associated in antiquity with comedy, but Vergil never cracked a joke. He is dressed in a white toga with a narrow stripe. The householder who commissioned this piece paraded his culture most appositely, because of the prominence in the poem of the tragic story of Dido of Carthage.
Paul Lachlan MacKendrick. The North African Stones Speak. 1980. P. 78—79.
(II) K. M. D. Dunbabin, The Mosaics of Roman North Africa (Oxford, 1978), p. 131: in the Maison de l’Arsenal, the place of honour in one room is occupied by a portrait of Vergil enthroned between Melpomene and Clio; open on his knee is a volumen on which arc legible words from the opening lines of the Aeneid, I. 8—9 Musa mihi causas memora quo numine laeso / Quidve..., clearly chosen to emphasize the divine inspiration represented by the Muses standing beside him. Karl Schefold, Die Bildnisse der Antiken Dichter, Redner und Denker (Basel, 1943, repr. and updated Basel, 2000), p. 398 identifies the second Muse more plausibly not as Clio, but as Calliope, who reads the epic and to whom Vergil turns, and on the other side the muse Melpomene with the mask of tragedy, the gesture of her right hand expressing the tragic content of what is read. Vergil’s right hand is lifted as an expression of emotion. This portrait fits quite closely to Donatus’ description of Vergil as being of tall size, dark complexion and with a pleasant physiognomy (Vita 8. 10). But the head is rather oblong, the eyes have a severe expression and the checks are emaciated (so not wholly like in Donatus). Schefold dates the mosaic around 300 AD.
Karla Pollmann, Meredith Jane Gill. Augustine Beyond the Book: Intermediality, Transmediality and Reception. 2012. P. 21, note 29.
© 2003. Photo, text of title: Adeb-Ben Khader A. B., de Balanda É., Echeverría A. U. Image de Pierre. La Tunisie en mosaïque. Ars latina, 2003. Ill. 234.
© 2003. Photo: Ars latina, clichés Salah Jabeur.
© 2003. Text of description (I): Paul Lachlan MacKendrick. The North African Stones Speak
. The University of North Carolina Press, 1980, pp. 78—79.
© 2012. Text of description (II): Karla Pollmann, Meredith Jane Gill. Augustine Beyond the Book: Intermediality, Transmediality and Reception. 2012. P. 21, note 29.