La Villa Romana del Casale Naturaliter
The otium “according to nature” in the mosaic scenes of the Villa Romana del Casale
The Villa between otium and nature contemplation.In ancient Rome the otium was intended as a leisure exercise of public affairs, aimed at the treatment of those activities aimed at pleasure and seeking quiet suburban villas and what they could offer. The poet Martial wrote:
«You ask why I so often go to my small domain at arid Momentum and the humble household at my farm? There is no place in town, Sparsus, where a poor man can either think or rest One cannot live for schoolmasters in the morning, corn grinders at night, and braziers’ hammers all day and night. Here the money-changer indolently rattles piles of Nero’s rough coins on his dirty counter; there a beater of Spanish gold belabours his worn stone with shining mallet. Nor does the fanatic rabble of Bellona cease from its clamour, nor the gabbling sailor with his piece of wreck hung over his shoulder; nor the Jew boy, brought up to begging by his mother, nor the blear-eyed huckster of matches. Who can enumerate the various interruptions to sleep at Rome? As well might you tell how many hands in the city strike the cymbals, when the moon under eclipse is assailed with the sound of the Colchian magic rhomb.2 You, Sparsus, are ignorant of such things, living, as you do, in luxurious ease on your Petilian domain;3 whose mansion, though on a level plane, overlooks the lofty hills which surround it; who enjoy the country in the city4 (rus in urbe), with a Roman 5 vine-dresser, and a vintage not to be surpassed on the Falernian mount. Within your own premises is a retired carriage drive; in your deep recesses sleep and repose are unbroken by the noise of tongues: and no daylight penetrates unless purposely admitted. But I am awakened by the laughter of the passing crowd; and all Rome is at my bed-side. Whenever, overcome with weariness, I long for repose, I repair to my country-house».(Martial, Epigrams XII, 57).
These residences, isolated from the noise of the centers of power, to become a favorite destination for aristocrats and emperors who found refuge in them, to devote himself to meditative practice and sport events. Wide publicity was given to reading or listening to music in the rooms dedicated to stroll and philosophical discussion between the spacious corridors of the peristyle, until the hunting practice in the surrounding woods and body care in the thermal baths.
The Villa Romana del Casale summarizes the characteristics of places used to the practice of otium and its mosaics, revealing the eye of the beholder, face, into a dynamic narrative development, the issues related to it, not to mention edifying examples related to the victory of the virtus on the savage instincts of nature.
The late antiquity residence, with its the countryside structure, considered locus amoenus for excellence, could provide to its owner, his family or welcomed guests in its rooms the opportunity to cultivate the quies, a key condition for intellectual and philosophical reflection. The same work in the fields, called otium negotiosum, it could be considered a good source of inner peace. Some Latin authors bring back the rural villa, as well as the economic center for the presence of large estates, a place of the owner used as otium. In this regard, the speaker Pliny the Younger explains that in a rural villa:
«I can enjoy a profounder peace there, more comfort, and fewer cares: I need never wear a formal toga and there are no neighbours to disturb me; everywhere there is peace and quiet, which adds as much to the healthiness of the place as the clear sky and pure air. There I enjoy the best of health, both mental and physical, for I keep my mind in training with work and my body with hunting.»(Plin. Epist., 5, 6, English translation cited in The Roman World, 44 B.C.-A.D. 180, by Martin Goodman and Jane Sherwood, 2002, p. 186)
The suburban villa also became a prelude and, at the same time, direct setting for a profound knowledge of nature. In Tuscolanae disputationes of Cicero, the otium, through the study of humanae litterae, is celebrated as means to learn about «the infinite nature and the heavens and the earth and the seas» and to carry out activities of philosophical contemplation on the existence of a balance between the human and natural phenomena, made idyllic and animated by the same divine presence.
Info. Download the guide and the mini guide of the Villa Romana del Casale of www.villaromanadelcasale.it.