”Look, Emperor Aurelius, I know you’re a Stoic, but even you have to admit your plan to invade Cleveland in January was idiotic.”
Episode 71: In which a headless statue in Cleveland throws the gods and mortals for a loop, and a killer of Christians takes all the credit.
MARS, ROMAN GOD OF WAR: They’re these little swings that hang beneath a saddle. You put your feet in them and use them to steer your horse better and brace yourself more in battle. This is why you should keep up to date on military technology.
ROMA: The mortals are still using horses in battle?
MARS: Admittedly, no.
MINERVA: Can we get back to the statue? The government of Turkey has claimed that a statue in a museum in Cleveland was stolen, and now the Cleveland museum is counter-suing to prevent the statue’s seizure.
ROMA: I don’t know where Turkey or this cleaved land is, but neither sound like any of my business.
MARS: I’m also having a hard time caring. Although you know I’m always up for a smiting, regardless of whether I understand the underlying causes.
MINERVA: It’s Cleveland, not a cleaved land. It’s a city in the United States, which is on one of those new continents the mortals found. And I care because this is an example of the legal system at work, rather than invading things like you two maniacs are always suggesting. I thought you’d be interested because Turkey thinks the statue is a portrait of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, which means you could claim it’s Roman.
MARS: “Thinks” it’s Marcus Aurelius? That shouldn’t be difficult to figure out. All of his portraits have hair like a sheep and droopy eyes like a…well, a sheep.
MINERVA: The head is missing.
ROMA: Then why do they think it’s Marcus Aurelius? Is he dressed like a Roman emperor?
MINERVA: No, strictly speaking he’s not even wearing Roman-style clothes. He’s dressed like a Greek philosopher.
ROMA: I’m confused. It’s a headless statue from Turkey wearing a Greek philosopher’s outfit, and they somehow concluded this was a Roman emperor? Because to me, this is all still sounding like not my problem.
MINERVA: I think the Turkish government is arguing that it must be a Roman emperor because it’s such high-quality bronze construction. And the only Roman emperor who was a noted philosopher was Marcus Aurelius.
MARS: (laughing hysterically) Wait, the Marcus Aurelius? The emperor who was at war, slaughtering barbarians or putting down rebellions during his entire reign? The guy who imposed standardized religious practices across his entire empire that resulted in a wave of Christian martyrdoms? The father who brought about the end of Rome’s most peaceful and prosperous period by deciding to put his sociopathic son on the throne, rather than follow the established meritocratic practice? The guy who…
MINERVA: YES. That Marcus Aurelius.
MARS: Oh man, it’s just…he’s one of my favorites, and the idea of him as a philosopher…
ROMA: I’m still confused. The mortals are identifying this statue as a Roman emperor because…they admire its workmanship? Are the highest quality bronze statues always of emperors?
MINERVA: Well, only a handful of ancient bronze statues have survived today. Pretty much any bronze the mortals could get their hands on, they eventually melted down to make something else. Almost all of the ancient bronze statues that you see in modern museums are still around because they had been lost in shipwrecks, buried by volcanoes, that sort of thing. The one exception is that statue of Marcus Aurelius on a horse that tourists are always taking pictures with in Rome. Medieval mortals kept that one because they thought it was Constantine, the emperor who first protected Christians.
MARS: (more hysterical laughing) Wait, the mortals specifically preserved a statue of an emperor who slaughtered Christians, because they mistook it for an emperor who protected Christians? Man, mortals are the best. I’m remembering why I hang out with these guys.
ROMA: It sounds to me like these mortals today decided this statue was of Marcus Aurelius because the only other comparable statue they had was of Marcus Aurelius.
MINERVA: Actually, I think Marcus Aurelius is just having a resurgence in popularity. He was a character in a movie about gladiators. That’s generally all it takes for mortals to love you, no matter how violent you are.
MARS: (rolling on the ground) Oh man, so now they’ve decided this statue of a peaceful Greek philosopher is a Roman emperor because of a movie about killing people for sport?
MINERVA: I don’t think that exact description would hold up in court, which brings us back to why I brought this statue up in the first place…
ROMA: The mortals’ inability to identify emperors is not my problem. If this statue has anything to do with philosophy, I don’t want anything to do with this statue. I am, however, interested in stirrups. Mars, I will help you invade Cleveland and obtain this statue for your sexy statue collection, if in return you will teach me about stirrups.
MARS: Man, you really are a virgin, aren’t you? Nothing in the world is less sexy than Greek philosophy. But I’ll still invade wherever, whenever, so I’m here for this.
MINERVA (putting on helmet, reaching for her spear): I’m not about to let you two idiots start a fight without me. Let’s seize this statue. Maybe we can set it up with the mounted Marcus Aurelius and have a nice little scene where he’s beheading a philosopher.
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To learn more about portraits of Roman emperors, look for CLAS-C 414 Art and Archaeology of the Roman World, coming Spring 2024, no pre-reqs or previous experience required. Or to explore how Rome became a global empire that continues to rock our modern world, enroll in CLAS-C 102 Roman Culture, also coming up Spring 2024, and earn GEC credits while you’re at it! While you’re waiting, make sure to check back for the continued repatriation adventures of Minerva, Mars, and Roma. Can’t get enough of Ancient Greece and Rome? Earn a Classics Minor in just 15 credits!