Wednesday, May 18, 2022

563. Flowers in Daphnis and Chloe and in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

One of the cat images in Daphnis & Chloe (see blog 562) stuck in my mind because I don't quite understand what we are looking at. The action is clearly a reflection of the story, with Daphnis being served in the home of Dryas and his wife by his regained lover Chloe. But the setting: what time are we actually in?

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 57)

The set table, the floral decorations on the floor, the cupboard with tableware on the left-hand side of the room somehow do not seem Greek or second-century Roman to me. Was it a custom in Greece to place bowls and plates like this in a cupboard? Were flowers scattered on the floors during festive meals?

It may well be that Ricketts went to see all these objects in the British Museum or in other museums for the edition of Daphnis & Chloe that he undertook with Shannon; he may also have looked around in his own kitchen. He also examined an extraordinary illustrated book from the Renaissance, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili from 1499. 

He may have ignored the Latin text, but the illustrations have taken root in his mind. Not all of them, of course; many are rather obscurely symbolic and formal, whereas Shannon and Ricketts, for their edition of the story of Daphnis & Chloe, looked more for representations of the narrative and for intimacy. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili shows many more individual objects and scenes that take place outside, while Daphnis & Chloe displays more domestic scenes.

In the image of the festive meal, two lines seem to demarcate a rug. The decorations are not part of the rug on which the cat is sitting and which runs under the table. Some of the decorations - they are flowers, twigs and leaves - are next to the rug (if it is a rug).

I don't know if there is a Greek or Roman example for that, but we can turn to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for inspiration. One of the sparse intimate woodcuts in that book depicts a split-screen scene (like the one of the other cat in last week's blog) with a view into a bedroom. (See here for an online version of the 1499 edition.)

Illustration in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499): page C7v

In the bedroom with bed and chest is a kneeling woman on a decorated carpet (I suspect) and there are the same twigs and flowers as in Ricketts's woodcut. They lie here in (what appears to be) a fixed pattern. In Ricketts's image, they are strewn haphazardly across the floor.

Ricketts reflected on the scattering of flowers during festivities. At the end of the book, he depicts the wedding of Daphnis and Chloe, in which a figure stands among the tables with baskets of flowers, which he scatters lavishly with his upraised arm.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 97)

The flowers fall onto the table and the floor, explaining the earlier image.