Mary Deminion |
The earliest known representation of Marsyas at Rome did not depict the flayed victim of Apollo’s divine punishment for hubris, but rather a virile satyr bearing a wineskin on one shoulder, his right arm raised in the air. The statue of Marsyas is well documented in the ancient sources and in the material evidence though the statue itself does not survive. Servius twice mentions that Marsyas, as attendant of Liber, father of free cities, is set up in the Forum with his hand raised to bear witness to the freedom of the city (ad Aen. 3.20 and 4.58). Pliny (N.H. 21.9) and Seneca (De Ben. 6.32.1) both record that the statue was garlanded during nocturnal revelry at Rome.
Previous scholarship on the Marsyas statue has emphasized its long history in Republican Rome and its connection with the concept of popular liberty (Fantham, 2005; Torelli, 1982; Coarelli, 1985). Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the statue continued to be featured prominently during the Empire. This paper argues that the statue was not only a symbol of popular Republican liberty but that it held close associations with the evolving jurisdiction of the tribunal and the administration of civil and criminal law during the Empire. The statue’s association with the tribunal is attested by surviving marble balustrades, dated to 120 CE, found on the Forum square and now housed in the Curia. The relief scene on one of the balustrades shows an emperor (headless, and therefore unidentifiable) addressing a crowd from the Rostra in front of the Temple of Divus Julius with the Arch of Augustus in the background. After a gap, the façade of the Basilica Julia appears, in front of which is a figure seated on a tribunal with the statue of Marsyas behind him (Claridge, 1998, figs. 14 and 15). An epigram of Martial (2.64) mentions the statue of Marsyas in the Forum and jokes that in the fever of litigation at Rome, Marsyas himself might become a lawyer, or ‘court-pleader’ (Marsyas causidicus, 2.64.8). A reference in Horace (Sat. 1.6.120) places it in close proximity to the Rostra Caesaris while a reference in Seneca (De Ben. 6.32.1) states that the statue stood close to the Rostra Augusti. Thus, I argue that when the tribunal was moved from rostra to rostra, the statue was moved with it. The available evidence therefore demonstrates not only that the statue of Marsyas was a symbol for the concept of popular freedom, but that it also had a long standing association with law and the administration of justice.