unswept and unwelcome

Trompe l'oeil debris was a popular Roman and Hellenistic mosaic theme for dining rooms floors.
Discarded fish and fruit: fragment of
an asaraton, or unswept floor mosaic from Aquileia.
detail of a 5th century floor mosaic of a Roman triclinium (dining room) which itself features
an unswept floor mosaic
the entire banquet scene shows the asaraton floor design — or does it?
Mosaic on display at Chateau de Boudry
asaroton signed by Heraklitos, from Vigna Lupi, Rome, 2nd century, in the Vatican Museum
photo by magistrahf
detail of Heraklitos mosaic above, Vatican Museum
mouse and walnut— look at the shadows!
chicken foot on the floor!

"Have" (a variant of "Ave" meaning “Hail”) is a charming mosaic greeting at the entrance to
the House of the Faun, Pompeii
Much more common, it seems, was the Cave Canem/Beware of the Dog entry hall mosaic
A popular sort of "unwelcome mat".
This well-known example is from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii.
(or asarotos oikos, "unswept room") is a great term I discovered regarding ancient Roman and Hellenistic mosaic work. The word is Greek but it was a common Roman genre in which the floor of the triclinium, or dining room, would be decorated with food scraps seemingly cast onto the ground from the very dining tables at which guests would be seated. The realistically modelled debris included fish bones, snails, shrimp heads, fruit rinds, nutshells, and the occasional vermin.

The fascinating room scene
at top is believed to be from a 5th century dining room floor. It shows an actual dinner in progress with an asaroton floor design in the room—OR does it show a dinner with a very messy bunch of people who have actually thrown their food on the floor? Its quite a "meta" take on the style.

The first explanation of the asaroton comes from Pliny (c.77-79 AD) describing a notable work in Pergamon, probably from the 2nd century BC:

The most famous in that genre was Sosos who laid at Pergamon what is called the asarotos oikos or unswept room, because on the pavement were represented the d├ębris of a meal, and those things which are normally swept away, as if they had been left there, made of small tesserae of many colours. - Pliny, Natural History
So from the 2nd century BC they were still doing the unswept thing in the 5th century AD. Obviously interior design trends cycled more slowly then.

Just about everyone is familiar with the cave canem dog mosaic shown above, from Pompeii. I hadnt realized how commonplace these snarling decorative canines were. I also hadnt realized that the dogs one was to cave are thought to be the Molossus, an ancient breed now extinct. The dogs were eponymously named for the Molossians, a tribal people from Northwestern Greece and what is now lower Albania. Molossian shepherds of Epirus in the mountains of northwestern Greece were renowned for vicious hounds which were used to guard their flocks and for hunting. The Molossus is considered to be the ancestor of today's Mastiff-type dogs and ostensibly contributed to the development of powerful modern breeds such as the St. Bernard, Great Pyrenees, Rottweiler, Great Dane, Newfoundland, and Bernese Mountain Dog... I have to say I'm a little dubious because these mosaic doggies seem rather too sleek and jackal-like to be "vicious guard hounds."

The Ancients had quite a sense of humor—who knows maybe these are the equivalent of pink garden flamingos. //

See next mosaic post on memento mori at (or under) the table.


Gabriella said...

This is fascinatingly bizarre! Wondering what a modern-day floor would look like...

angvou said...

Funny and odd, right? how this got to be such a regular design schtick for centuries though is fascinating too.

male said...

wow - the un-swept things

The great Poe (E. A.) is said to have ,

said that the soul of a room is in the carpet . . .

such a soulful post Angela.


mal E (Bh - downunder

angvou said...

Mal--good Poe reference.
I always thought his essay (Philosophy of Furniture-- what a great title!) was fascinating in its high-pitched extremity. Thanks for the nice comment!!
Happy days--> down under.


Mosaicos la pasera said...

Interesting set of mosaic images and post. I recall reading about the unswept floors in an article that explained the remnants of food on the floor represented and offering to the ancestors within the household.

angvou said...

Mosaicos-- thanks for that tip! I was trying to find a more plausible explanation for this unswept look-- mostly I've seen the rather unconvincing "display of riches" reasoning.
I know there was a slave/servant whose specific task was to sweep the droppings but cant find reference to it now.

There was something I read about the GREEKS who didnt sweep crumbs because they were for the fallen (heroes/warriors). Have yet to find something that rings true.

male said...

ah -Av eye keep coming back to this post - utterly delightful, go terrorazzo! what more do you have in store?
mal E (+Bh) - downunder


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