The astonishing 2nd century mosaic of the Greek Philosophers was discovered in 1965 and 1990 in Autun, France.
A city founded by the First Emperor
Autun (Augustodunum) was founded during the Principate era of the early Roman Empire by Emperor Augustus to give the powerful Gallic people Aedui a Roman capital in replacement of their original political center Bibracte.
The Roman Augustodunum, built at the foot of the oppidum of Bibracte, may have been home to 30,000 to 100,000 people, according to different estimates. The new capital quickly became a university center.
The original mosaic included 5 medallions portraits of Greek philosophers, arranged at the center and four corners of a square.
3 of the 5 medallions have been preserved. They are portraits and quotes of :
- Anacreon : the archaic poet of wine and love, with the Greek text of his fragments 396 and 429.
- Epicurus , with the text of his Maxim capital 5 (reconstructed from the 30 letters remaining on the mosaic).
- Metrodorus , disciple of Epicurus, with the text of the Vatican Sentence 14 of Epicurus.
ΦΈΡ᾽ ὝΔΩΡ, ΦΈΡ᾽ΟἾΝΟΝ, Ὦ ΠΑΙ͂, ΦΈΡΕ <Δ᾽> ἈΝΘΕΜΌΕΝΤΑΣ ἩΜΙ͂Ν ΠΡῸΣ ἜΡΩΤΑ ΠΥΚΤΑΛΊΖΩ.
Bring water, bring wine, boy, bring us flower crowns. Bring, that I do not fight against Eros.
Ὁ ΜῈΝ ΘΈΛΩΝ ΜΆΧΕΣΘΑΙ, / ΠΆΡΕΣΤΙ ΓΆΡ, ΜΑΧΈΣΘΩ. / Ἐ [ΜΟῚ ΔῈ ΔῸΣ] ΠΡΟ [ΠΊΝΕΙΝ
Whoever wants to go and fight / he can, let him go. / But to me, to raise a toast, boy / bring me some honeyed wine.
ΟΥΚ ΕϹΤΙΝ ΗΔΕΩϹ ΖΗΝ ΑΝΕΥ ΤΟΥ ΦΡΟΝΙΜΩϹ ΚΑΙ ΚΑΛΩϹ ΚΑΙ ΔΙΚΑΙΩϹ ΟΥΔΕ ΦΡΟΝΙΜΩϹ ΚΑΙ ΚΑΛΩϹ ΚΑΙ ΔΙΚΑΙΩϹ ΑΝΕΥ ΤΟΥ ΗΔΕΩϹ ΕΠΙΚΟΥΡΟϹ
It is not possible to live with pleasure without living in a careful, good and just way, nor to live in a careful, good and just way without living with pleasure.
ΓΕΓΟΝΑΜΕΝ ΑΠΑΧ ΔΙϹ Δ ΟΥ | Κ ΕϹΤΙ ΓΕΝΕϹΘΑΙ ϹΥ ΔΕ ΟΥ | Κ ΩΝ ΤΗϹ ΑΥΡΙΟΝ ΚΥΡΙ | ΟϹ ΤΟ ΧΑΙΡΟΝ ΑΝΑ | ΒΑΛΛΗ Ο ΔΕ | ΒΙΟϹ Μ | ΕΛ | ΛΗϹ | ΜΩ ΠΑΡΑ | ΠΟΛ | ΛΥΤΑΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΚΑϹ | ΤΟϹ ΗΜΩΝ
We are born only once, it is not possible to be born twice4. You, however, who are not master of your tomorrow, postpone the joy; but life is lost within the time limit and each of us dies busy.
Here is a short video realized – in French – by the Rollin Museum about this mosaic of the Greek Philosophers.
A testimony of Greek Culture in Gaul
These panels show that the Gallic elites of Lugdunaise (and of the other Gallic provinces) also have an excellent knowledge of the Greek authors. Their knowledge of Greek poets and philosophers can be linked to their oratory education, since Tacitus, in the Dialogue of orators, advises orators to use Plato and Xenophon “and even to borrow certain edifying maxims from Epicurus and Metrodorus“.
It’s good to be the King.
At the same time, with its wise epicureanism, the mosaic expresses the happiness of the Gallo Roman elites to be able to live, on their vast domains, a pleasant and cultivated existence.
The Mosaic of the Greek Philosophers as well as other Roman mosaics and artifacts can be seen at the ROLLIN Museum located 3, rue des Bancs, 71400 AUTUN , France.
Where to go
Autun is located in the middle of Burgundy, a area well known for its outstanding wines (one reason the Gauls welcomed the Romans was wine) and gastronomy. I spent one year in the area while during my college years and thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful vineyards of the area. Although winters can be chilly, it is a wonderful region to visit from late April to early October.
You can drive to Autun from Paris or Lyon in a little than 3 hours or take the high speed train, and spend a great day enjoying the mosaics and other collections of the Museum before treating yourself to some wonderful bourguignon dinner…
Bonne visite et bon appetit.