Comfort Classics: David Meadows




The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.




Today’s interview is with David Meadows




Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?


The sarcophagus at the Metropolitan Museum depicting the contest between Sirens and Muses.






When did you first come across this sarcophagus?


I honestly can’t recall but it was during one trip down a rabbit hole when I was looking for photos of portrayals of Sirens.




Can you tell me a bit about this story and its context?


The story is mentioned in one of Pausanias’ books (and probably elsewhere) of the Sirens being talked into a singing contest with the Muses. The Muses won, and then plucked the feathers from the poor Sirens to make victory crowns. The sarcophagus in the Met is from the third century or so and depicts the whole progression of the contest.






What is it about this sarcophagus that appeals to you most?


I  love the ‘narrative’ of the sarcophagus. From left to right we see Zeus et al as judges, a few vignettes from the contest in a way that appeals to modern sensibilities — the best is the Siren taking on Euterpe and they look like a pair of metal guitarists competing at some Battle of the Bands. As the scene closes on the right the vanquished Sirens are depicted almost as fallen warriors. Outside of the great visuals, it’s also a great metaphor for social media, with the Sirens distracting you from the serious stuff represented by the Muses. In real life, though, the Sirens sometimes win.






And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?


 I  watch far too many sporting events for my own good.




David Meadows has an MA in Classics (Queen’s) and was ABD (McMaster) when the decision was made to head into elementary-level education instead. Even so, he is actively involved in the ‘internet side’ of the Classical World and has been blogging at rogueclassicism for 17 years — the sarcophagus mentioned above is the current anchor picture for the site. For the past decade he has been curating #Classicstwitter and continues to whinge about how Classicists should be making more use of the Internet and social media than they currently are.



4 thoughts on “Comfort Classics: David Meadows

  1. Thank you – oh my gosh, that is beautiful. As you point out the progression is stunning but I also love the way it seems to flow, my eye is naturally being taken to the fallen Sirens.

    Probably a stupid question but, what is the significance of the ‘head’ and I have no idea what it is but looks like a ball on the ground? Both seem to be deliberately framed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m guessing that the ‘head’, or mask, and ‘ball’, or globe, are attributes of the two muses shown partially in the background(and indeed behind these attributes), the mask attributed to the tragic muse Melpomene and the globe belonging to Urania, this organization of space being the major challenge to busy sarcophagus scenes. Jupiter, Juno(I think),and Minerva look rather pained at having to listen to the contest, though the alpha male at least can sit through it! I like these busy scenes though, there’s lots to see (I also like the busy South Italian vase scenes too).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a further thought to the above (and to appreciate more the sculptor’s organizational skill – as Colin above well noticed, the mask and globe are quite prominent, and I would like to think it is not down to clumsy design!), perhaps these attributes refer in some way to the life and career of the deceased?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love it when it leaves us guessing – it’s like the ‘diver’ tomb fresco from Paestum.

      Looking at it it certainly doesn’t look like a mistake or bad design. I know it is different but there is a mosaic in the Roman Vill at Brading on the Isle of Wight which features a Medusa at its centre BUT the head is not ‘square on’ or ‘diagonal’ as such. I don’t know why – is it a mistake and simply bad design (I think not as it is part of a larger, well constucted design) or is it that guests would not be looking directly at a Gorgon when visiting? And don’t get me started on the reasoning behind the human with a chicken’s head mosaic.


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