Villa urbana, Vicolo Della Bissa (today's courtyard at 12 Sergijevaca Street), Pula - floor mosaic decoration with Punishment of Dirce motif

Iconographic description

A rectangular mosaic divided into two unequal halves with 40 decorated segments and edged with a meander border motif made of 56 alternating square and 56 swastika segments. The smaller, southern half is made of a hexagonal mesh (honeycomb) bordered with a double braiding motif, while the bigger, northern half is made of nine rectangular and square segments, also bordered in double braiding. The southern half is divided by 31 variously decorated segments of which 8 are triangles, 6 are trapezia and 17 are hexagons (i.e.: whole segments, because the rest are the borders of the hexagonal mesh). The trapezoids on the northern and southern borders of the mesh display animal motifs (fish, dolphins and birds), while the polygonal segments are decorated with different six-leaf rosettes. The central polygonal segment is decorated with a multi-leaf rosette. The northern half of the mosaic is divided into a mesh of alternating square and rectangular segments with a larger central square segment. Four smaller corner squares are decorated with stylized vines. The northern and southern rectangles are decorated with a geometrical motif in the form of a stylized swastika, while the eastern and western rectangles are decorated each with one rhombus embellished with stylized floral motifs. The central square segment displays a figurative composition with two naked male figures holding, between them, a bull by the horns. Below that group is a half-naked female figure in a semi-reclining position with attributes on the ground. Above the whole group there is a vine branch (GOBIĆ-BRAVAR Đ., MILOTIĆ BULIĆ L., 2013., Mozaik “Kažnjavanja Dirke” u Puli, konzervatorsko-restauratorski osvrt, Histria archeologica 43, 47-66.; MATIJAŠIĆ R., BURŠIĆ-MATIJAŠIĆ K. 1996., Antička Pula, 163-173; MEDER J. 2003., Podni mozaici u Hrvatskoj od 1.-6. stoljeća, 55-56).

Iconological description

The two, unequal mosaic halves are decorated with various motifs. The smaller, southern half of the mosaic is mainly decorated with rosettes in whole polygonal segments, while the trapezoidal segments contain animal figures: birds, fish and dolphins, which, in light of the Early Christian period, might indicate hidden Christian symbolism (a dolphin in combination with an anchor often represents the Christian soul or Church; the fish, in Greek "Ichthys", was a common acrostic for the name of Christ; and birds usually symbolize the soul) (BADURINA, A. (ed.) 1990. Leksikon ikonografije, liturgike i simbolike zapadnog kršćanstva, Zagreb, 462, 495, 509). The larger, northern mosaic half is a mesh of squares and rectangles. Four smaller corner squares are decorated with a stylized vine tendril. The eastern and western rectangles are equal size and contain a combination of geometrical figures - a rhombus with smaller polygonal segments bordered with a double braid, while the central segment contains a rosette, and the empty space around the rhombus a stylized vine tendril. The northern and southern rectangles contain a geometrically shaped rhombus-like figure with elements of a stylized meander, a combination of squares and swastikas, and the whole composition brings to mind a labyrinth (there is a possible connection to the mythological motif of Theseus and the Minotaur). The southern rectangle contains a vine decoration, which is not visible in the northern rectangle. The central and principal segment, by which the whole mosaic got its name, contains the motif that goes by the name of the “Punishment of Dirce". It is a Greek mythological motif from the Dirce punishment cycle, and the scene depicts the moment when the twins Amphion and Zethus, sons of Antiope, punish Dirce by tying her to the horns of a bull. Previously Dirce had been cruel to their mother Antiope, and when they found out they punished her with this act of revenge. Except for the Dirce figure, her attributes the thyrsus and the cymbal are also visible. From the additional attributes in the picture, like the vine branch above the group of figures, and given the time of its creation, the motif could also be connected to hidden Early Christian symbolism. The same motif only appears in a few other places, mostly notably in the sculpture known as "Toro Farnese", located in Napoli, which dates from the beginning of the 3rd century and, is modelled on the example of a group of Greek figures from the 2nd century BC which has not been preserved, while a nice example of this motif, in a fresco painting from Pompeii, is located in the House of Vettii in Pompeii and dates from the 1st century. A floor mosaic with the same motif exists in Écija and dates from the end of the 2nd century and the beginning of the 3rd century (ISTRAPEDIA, [19.9. 2014.], MEDER J. 2004, Tri Dirke, Histria archeologica 35/2004, 41-74).