Il mito dell’eroe classico, la ‘rinascenza’ macedone e la cassetta a rosette di Cava

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Included in the 1930’s catalogue of Byzantine ivory and bone carvings by Goldschmidt and Weitzmann, the rosette casket held at the Badia di Cava invites to reconsider the question of the serial production of rosette caskets associated with the so-called Macedonian renaissance (tenth-eleventh c.). This casket displays technical subtleties and an iconographic programme that lead to think it was rather conceived as a meaningful gift for a lay recipient. The figurative plaques, carved in bone, do not appear as a cento of scenes inspired by Antique imagery, but rather as part of a programme that has its focus in the ivory plaque on the lid showing Zeus Ammon facing Alexander the Great with the ram’s horns, i.e. the attributes of Ammon. These two profiles have been clearly derived by Hellenistic coins, well-spread across the Mediterranean and treasured during the Middle Ages. The importance of Alexander the Great in the fictional genealogy of the Macedonian rulers is a well-known fact. The scene carved in ivory to the left side of Zeus and Alexander displays an ambiguous iconography that has been variously interpreted. No one has ever connected it with the conception of Alexander by Olympia and the Egyptian king-magician Nectanebus, because this moment of the story is represented differently in the few extant illustrated exemplars of the Alexander Romance.
The arrival of this rosette casket in the West, namely in Naples, could probably be related to the diplomatic mission sent by the duke of Naples to the court of Constantine VII and his son Romanos (949-59). At Constantinople the envoy, the learned archipriest Leo, collected a number of manuscripts, among which also the Alexander Romance, that he translated into Latin as the Historia de preliis, from which a number of Latin versions were later derived.


Translated title of the contributionThe myth of classical hero, the Macedonian Renaissance, and the rosette casket in Cava
Original languageItalian
Title of host publicationRiforma della Chiesa, esperienze monastiche e poteri locali.
Subtitle of host publicationLa Badia di Cava e le sue dipendenze nel Mezzogiorno dei secoli XI-XII.
EditorsMaria Galante, Giovanni Vitolo
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameMillennio Medievale 99
PublisherSismel Edizioni del Galluzzo


  • Byzantine literature, Byzantine history, Byzantine ivories, Byzantine Naples, classical reception

ASJC Scopus subject areas