Podcast 2: Cannibals, Crustaceans, and Classics

We hope you enjoyed our second podcast! We started with mosaics, detoured via nineteenth-century cannibalism, and ended up with a dog-headed saint, and a mythical race of headless men.

First, Rachael’s favourite mosaic, which illustrates an episode in Homer’s Odyssey. The Sirens lure men onto the rocks with their song; to avoid this fate, Odysseus orders the crew of his ship to stop up their ears with wax, while he is tied to the mast, so that he alone can hear the song without danger. The mosaic, from the collection of the Bardo Museum in Tunis, shows Odysseus with his hands bound, while alluring sirens beckoning on his right. The mosaic is usually cropped, and shows only Odysseus with the sirens, like this:


Mosaic of Ulysses and the Sirens, second century AD, Bardo Museum, Tunis

But a wider view reveals that Odysseus was subjected to a second temptation Homer left out: a freshly caught lobster being brandished in a fishing boat on his left. He appears torn: siren song, or lobster thermidor? Here is the full mosaic:

Ulysses mosaic.jpg

Ulysses and the Sirens, Bardo Museum, Tunis, image courtesy of the Bardo Museum

You can have a closer look at the mosaic and see more of the wonderfully well preserved Roman mosaics of the Bardo. Bonus sirens: a poem from Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, a version of the Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus’s wife, Penelope.

Rachael also mentioned the  Shellal Mosaic, a sixth-century Byzantine floor now held in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Here is a section with a hungry looking lion:


Detail from the Shellal Mosaic, Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, CC-BY-NC 3.0

You can see more images of the Shellal Mosaic and read the story of how it came to Australia here.

If you enjoyed Rachael’s story about convict cannibalism (no judgment here) you can read more about it. If you like your convict cannibalism in fictional form, you might enjoy Marcus Clarke’s novel For the Term of His Natural Life. You can read the Queen’s Bench decision on emergency cannibalism in R v Dudley and Stephens here.

Here is dog-headed Saint Christopher:


From the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens

Here is Alexander the Great in his submarine:


Alexander the Great in a glass diving bell, in an illustration from the Roman d’Alexandre (between 1338 and 1344, from the workshop of Jehan de Grise). Bodleian Library MS264, fr.50r.

You can see the full Roman d’Alexandre on the Bodleian Library website here.

And, finally, meet the Blemmyae:


Alexander the Great encounters the Blemmyae, headless men. From the Royal MS in the British Library, MS 20 B xx [f.80r].

No comment.




Further Reading:

Arthur D. Trendall, The Shellal Mosaic and other classical antiquities in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1942.



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