Friday, July 20, 2012

Prima Porta again

I was a hard-working undergraduate. To my essay for Ron Ridley about the Prima Porta Statue of the Emperor Augustus I appended a select list of Roman coins that bear motifs of hands, and hand gestures. These divide into four sections: 1. coins that are struck with the image of a single, disembodied right hand, usually open, palm facing out (e.g. 280–276 B.C. Anonymous quadrans. OBV: r. hand. RRC, 14.4, pl. D, p. 134); 2. coins with the image of two disembodied clasped hands (e.g. 44 B.C. quinarius [Rome]. OBV: head of Pax, to r. inscr. PAXS; REV: clasped hands, inscr. L AEMILIUS BVCA IIIIVIR. RRC, 480.24, pl. 57.16, p. 491); 3. coins with the image of disembodied hands clasped as before, but clasped around a radically scaled-down legionary standard or caduceus (as in this case, e.g. 48 B.C. denarius. OBV: Head of Pietas, to r. inscr. PIETAS; REV: hands clasped around a caduceus, inscr. ALBINUS BRVTI F. RRC, 450.2, pl. 53, p. 467), and 4. coins with the image of two full-length figures clasping hands (e.g. 41–54 A.D. Denarius (Claudius, Rome). OBV: Laureate head of Claudius, inscr. TR P III; REV: Claudius clasps the hand of a standard-bearing soldier. RIC, Vol. I, pl. 5.89, p. 125). I have absolutely no recollection of trawling through the volumes in search of all those hands, but it clearly had an impact on my subsequent thinking, and partly burrowed its way into The Finger: A Handbook. Now, of course, I see that there are powerful online tools that have superseded the old paper volumes, though not I daresay the awesome scholarship and sitzfleisch that produced those. For a long while I genuinely thought that my undergraduate career happened far too soon—I turned twenty-one only after completing my last fourth-year exams; I still had so many basic things to learn about life—but now I am not so sure. All we had then was a library card, and, if you were lucky, a typewriter. Computer labs opened to humanities students at Melbourne, I seem to recall, in about 1986. Maybe a little earlier. Even then, I had no inkling that such places had any real purpose for me. In this and almost every other respect the undergraduate life we led at Trinity feels today almost as distant as the consulship of Severus and Adventus (A.D. 218).

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