Notebook, 1993-

[From: Broneer, Oscar. "Topography and Architecture." Vol II. Isthmia, Excavations by the University of Chicago under the Auspices of The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Princeton, New Jersey: American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 1973.]


The Pre-Roman Sanctuary - The Stadia . . . . . The walls would hardly have been decorated with paintings, had the fountain not been accessible to the public. Before the existing plaster of lime was applied, the original Greek stucco would have had to be removed and the underground reservoir would then have been turned into an open air fountain. These tentative conclusions need to be verified by complete excavation of the building . . . .

At the bottom of the walls was a low dado in the color of the stucco, set off from the painted panels by broad bands in a deep maroon color [Pl. B]. These stripes also run vertically in the corners. On the inside, between the maroon bands and the painted panels, runs a white stripe, ca. 0.008 m. wide. The background, in mottled marine green and a somewhat darker bluish green, is a convincing rendering of water in which fish and crustacea are represented swimming. The largest and best preserved panel on the right, northwest wall, shows five marine animals, preserved in whole or in part [Pl. A, top]. In the upper left corner is the end of a tail in red, apparently part of a lobster. Next to it is a fish of medium size, rendered in two shades of red, with splashes of white. Although the shape is not exactly right, the color is perhaps sufficiently characteristic to indicate that this is likely to have been meant as a barbouni [red mullet], a great favorite in the Greek fish market. To the right of it is a slightly larger fish painted in light blue and white with back and gills in red. It looks somewhat like a bakalaos, a variety of cod, different from the common cod of the north Atlantic. Below is a smaller, elongated fish, rendered in light blue and yellow, possibly intended as a chilou, a not very common fish of average size. To the left of it is a small lobster or crayfish, of the family of Palinuridae. The upper part of the panel is lost, and at the preserved upper edge is a graffito, -]CYNKPITEC[ ---, with the beginning and the end missing. Unless the word is misspelled, this seems to be a superlative, [Greek Text] formed from [Greek text] [incomparable], in itself a superlative in sense. It was probably preceded by the name of some athlete and scratched by a spectator with fine disregard for grammar or logic, at an exciting exhibition of athletic skill in the Stadium.

Of the panel on the southwest wall [Pl. B] very little remains, but the colors are particularly bright. At the top is a fish headed for the deep. Its back, fin, and edge of the gills are in maroon, like the color of the border; but the body is rendered in light gray, with vertical splashes of red. This may be intended as a steira, a very choice variety of fish seldom seen in the common fish markets. The thin tail of a fish rendered in grayish bue and white is preserved at the lower edge; this may be part of a safridhi, a common spiny fish of medium size. Not much remains of the painting on the southeast wall [Pl. C], and only in the upper right corner are any figures preserved. The front part of a crayfish can be seen at the upper edge, and a little below it a complete figure, painted like the first described in two shades of red, and probably intended as a barbouni. Below at the right is the upper part of what seems to be a small fish, so nearly obscured as to make identification quite impossible. A large fish, with head pointed downward, is partly preserved at the upper left. It is painted in white with gills outlined in red. This too may be a bakalaos. [p. 63]

The figures of the marine animals are sketchily drawn, and this makes identification very difficult,[1] but the painter seems to have had a sure eye for color. In spite of cursory execution, he has succeeded in conveying a sense of motion and realism. If the parapet in the northeast wall still retains its original height, the painted figures were always above water level and only the figureless lower parts of the panels were submerged. The green and blue on the walls as seen below the surface of the fountain would have lent their own color to the water and created the illusion that the fish were actually swimming in the deep.

The date of the paintings can only be surmised on the basis of the rebuilding of the Stadium in Roman times. During the hundred years between Mummius and Caesar when Corinth was largely unpopulated, the Stadium, like the other buildings at Isthmia, must have fallen into disrepair. We have seen elsewhere that the Sanctuary was not rebuilt till near the middle of the first century after Christ. By this time the Isthmian Games were returned to Corinthian management, the Stadium and the Theater would have headed the list of buildings to be reconstructed. It was probably then that the first rebuilding of the Stadium took place. Among the debris in and near the fountain there are some architectural members of marble, and many small chips from inscribed Ionic architrave and frieze blocks came from the same area. The letters were large, 0.072-9.08 m. high, and all apparently Latin. The only word that can some probability be restored is some form of the word "sacerdos." Monumental inscriptions in Latin at Isthmia as in Corinth, are more common prior to the reign of Hadrian than later.[2] To make the Stadium usable for athletic contests, the builders had to restore the waterworks, and it is probable that the remodeling of the original reservoir into an outdoor fountain dates from this reconstruction. [p. 63]

1. Colored copies of the paintings from the fountain were examined by the Corinth fish-dealer Constantin Thomas, who kindly offered his opinion about the identifications, which can by no means be considered certain. The names given in the text are of course not scientific terms but names commonly used by Greek fishermen.

2. Corinth, I, iii, pp. 18, 19.

[Broneer, Oscar. "Topography and Architecture." Vol II. Isthmia, Excavations by the University of Chicago under the Auspices of The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Princeton, New Jersey: American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 1973.]]



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