When Ulysses arrived at Terracina

Legend has it that Ulysses, the traveling king of Ithaca, the smartest man in the ancient world, landed with his companions on the island of Eea, where he met the charming sorceress Circe.

But if in addition to Torre Paola, the beach of San Felice Circeo (province of Latina, about 100 km from Rome) from which you can see the hilltop of the Promontory of the Circeo, where the story places the house of the terrible sorceress, Ulysses had also passed to Terracina?

The promontory of Circeo (Credits: parcocirceo.it)

I’m not under the effect of one of the Circe potions, I assure you! I just saw a wonderful Roman painting and, like many others, I saw a similarity with something that comes from our city!

I refer to the so-called Odyssey of the Esquiline, a rich cycle of frescoes that adorned a domus discovered by chance in Via Graziosa (now Via Cavour), in Rome, in 1848. The sumptuous residence, built on one of the foothills of the Esquiline facing the Viminale, stood in a district chosen by the Roman elite since the Republican era (509 BC – 27 BC).

The frescoes, perhaps dating from the middle of the first century BC, adorned the walls of the portico (ambulatio) of the house, reproducing the story of the entire adventure poem of Homer. An extraordinary sequence of landscape paintings, populated by mythical monsters and characters, accompanied the walks of the landlord, his family and his guests, suddenly catapulted, thanks to the perspective breakthroughs, into a magical and imaginative dimension.

Map of Rome. In evidence the Esquiline Hill (credits: romanoimpero.com)

It is estimated that there are between 35 and 150 painted scenes, of which, unfortunately, only 8 survive, 7 of which are preserved in the Aldobrandine Wedding Hall of the Vatican Museums.

The scene that interests us is at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Looking at it, the affinity between the mountain of painting and the massif of Pisco Montano, the cliff of Terracina overlooking the sea that Trajan (Emperor of Rome between 98 and 117 AD) had cut (by hand, you can still see the signs of the chisels on the wall!) for the realization of a coastal variant of the ancient Via Appia.

Scene of the Esquiline Odyssey. The painted mountain is very similar to the Pisco Montano di Terracina. The fresco is kept in the Museum of Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (credits: romanoimpero.com)

The Pisco Montano of Terracina (credits: latinacorriere.it)

An ancient inscription that recalls the height progressively reached by the ancient Romans during the cutting of the Pisco Montano (Credits: icicero.com)


Doesn’t it seem to you too? Whether Ulysses arrived in Terracina or not, what is certain is that our wonderful city fascinated travelers and painters as early as the first century BC!

The painter of the Odyssey of the Esquiline, to bring the Pisco Montano back into its landscapes, must certainly have seen it and been very impressed! Now you too, like me, can look at that severe mountain with different eyes … the eyes of the enchantment, the eyes of Ulysses!


Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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