Portrait busts of the Greek doctor Claudius Agathemerus and his wife Myrtale feature on this impressive tombstone from Rome. Beneath the couple is an inscription in Greek which tells the viewer that the doctor was a ‘swift healer of disease’ and that the pair are now together with the blessed deceased in Elysium. Many doctors in ancient Rome were of Greek origin, and Greek was seen as the language of the highly educated in Roman society.
The monument can be dated to the years around AD 90–110 from the hairstyles of the couple, which reflect current fashions worn both by private citizens and the imperial household at the time. The details of Myrtale’s portrait suggest that she was an older lady when she died. Her placement on the tombstone, positioned slightly in front of her husband, may reveal that she commissioned and paid for the monument after his death.
The tombstone formed part of the so-called Arundel Collection, owned by Thomas Howard, the 2nd Earl of Arundel in the early 1600s, and was displayed in his house on the Strand in London. Decades later the collection had fallen into a state of disrepair and Howard’s grandson was persuaded to give the surviving Arundel inscriptions as a gift to the University of Oxford in 1667. Once they arrived in Oxford the inscriptions were mounted on walls surrounding the newly built Sheldonian Theatre. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that they were moved into the Bodleian Library and eventually the Ashmolean.
83 x 89 x 23.5 cm
Arundel Collection, Gift of Henry Howard, 1667