ROME: During excavations at an ancient villa near the Italian capital, archaeologists have unearthed seven Roman statues depicting one of the myths recounted by Latin poet Ovid.
The works are in excellent condition. “We had known for a while that there were traces in the area of Valerio Messala,” a rich Roman general who was patron to Ovid, said Elena Calandra, superintendent for archaeology in the Lazio region. “We carried out exploratory digs before authorizing the full-scale evacuation, and found Messala’s swimming pool with the seven statues at the bottom.”
It is thought the works may have fallen into the pool during an earthquake around 2,000 years ago.
They depict the myth of Niobe, who bore 14 children and boasted of her fertility to the goddess Leto, who had but two offspring of her own. An enraged Leto sought revenge by having her children, Apollo and Artemis, kill Niobe’s, and the devastated mother fled to the hills where she turned to stone and wept for evermore.
The myth is recounted in Ovid’s masterpiece, “Metamorphoses,” but were Messala’s statues inspired by the Latin poet’s tale or did he base his story on the statues?
But before hypothesizing, Calandra said, the statues must be dated.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 11, 2013, on page 16.