Skeletons On The Table -- By: Gordon Franz
BSpade 23:3 (Summer 2010) p. 75
Skeletons On The Table
The term “skeletons in the closet” conjures up secrets from our past that we do not want other people to know about. But here is an unusual twist from the ancient Greco-Roman world: skeletons on the table! Recently we visited the Getty Villa in Malibu, CA. Gordon was working on a self-guided tour of the biblically-related objects in the Villa for the students in the Talbot School of Theology’s Bible Lands program, and Ernie was photographing the objects on display for the courses he instructs on Greek and Roman archaeology at Burbank High School. In the Coin Room (212), we observed a small bronze skeleton. When Ernie saw this object he said with excitement, “Cool, my high school kids would love this!” Gordon stared at it with a quizzed look on his face and said, “What was this used for?” Well, inquiring minds wanted to know, so we began our search—not in closets, but on library bookshelves!
A portrait of Epicurus, the founder of the Epicurian philosophy, that is on display in the Metropolitan Museum Art, New York.
The Skeleton At The Getty
The small bronze skeleton was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1978 and published in their museum journal (Frel 1980: 171– 72; accession number: 78.AB.307). The Romans called these skeletons a larva convivalis, which means “banquet ghost.” The Latin term convivalis bases its roots on the term vivo, which literally means “to be alive” or “to be lively.” The term itself suggests not only the contradictions between life and death, but also the Greco-Roman view of the futility of life in the face of impending death.
A miniature skeleton in the Getty Villa collection. This bronze of skeleton would have been thrown on a banqueting table to remind the revelers of the brevity of life.
BSpade 23:3 (Summer 2010) p. 76
The skeleton in the Getty collection is made of bronze and is preserved to a height of 2-5/8 in (6.6 cm). It has its skull, collarbone, ribs, spine and pelvic bones and left femur bone. The arms, right leg, and the lower portion of the left leg are missing. The metal “joints and sockets” can still be seen where the limbs were attached to each other in order to give the skeleton flexibility, so when shaken it gives the impression of jumping or dancing. This skeleton reminded people “of the brevity of human life and the necessity of profiti...
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