Friday, 30 September 2016

The Palatine Ephebos

A popular statue form in ancient Greece was the Ephebe - an adolescent male, always presented nude. The philhellene Romans adopted this fashion - as they invariably did with any Greek artworks - and latinised the name to Ephebos. The Ephebe - usually aged around 17 or 18 - was a boy who had been removed from his family setting (generally the supervision of his mother) and placed in isolation so that he could become a man - and was thus ready to do adult things like join the army.

The Romans made a big deal of the transition from youth to adulthood. The Emperor Nero, for instance, held several day's worth of Games to celebrate the first shaving of his beard. The statue - clearly badly damaged - which you can see in the Palatine Museum, set in what was once a convent in the middle of the Palatine complex, used to adorn a Temple of Apollo which Augustus had built right beside his house. Apollo was his favoured God, and is invariably represented as a handsome young man. On the occasion of his wedding to Livia, Augustus had dressed as Apollo, and he believed that it was Apollo who had favoured him throughout the Civil Wars which led to his rise to power. It dates to between 17 - 14 BC.

This particular museum is often overlooked by the many tourists who wander around the Palatine Hill - from where we get "palace" and "palatial". Its exhibits all derive from the excavations on the hill itself - the location for Romulus' (legendary) hut and the later palaces of the Caesars. When Augustus set up home there, it was an exclusive residential district for the rich and powerful. Augustus' home was quite modest in comparison with its neighbours. However, over time, his successors would quickly take over the entire hill and it became exclusively the domain of the Emperors. In the aftermath of the Great Fire of 64 AD, Nero would attempt to spread his palace to two nearby hills - the Oppian and the Caelian - with his Golden House.

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