An inscription that should
be read as one word is visible above the women; Synaristosai, (ΣΥΝΑΡΙΣTΩΣΑΣ),
or ‘the breakfasters’. It refers to the title of a play by Menander,
a Greek comedy from the 4th century BCE. Two possible
comparisons for the mosaics are immediately apparent. The first
is a small panel with very fine tesserae, conserved at the National
Museum of Archaeology in Naples. This is from the supposed villa
of Cicero at Pompeii, and is known under the name ‘the magicians’.
The second, later and in a coarser style, belongs to a group found
in the so-called house of Menander on the Greek Island of Lesbos.
The inscriptions on the series of panels of the Lesbos house modified
the original interpretation of the mosaic at Naples. Apart from
the title of the comedy, (which is in the genitive while that at
Zeugma is in the accusative), the Lesbos mosaic provides us with
the name of 3 female characters ΦІΛΑΙΝΙΣ
(Plagnaigon), and ΠΥΕΙΑΣ (Pyeias).
Comparisons – Lesbos
The central scenes of
these three mosaics are very similar. In each, three women are seated
in front of a round table. The bowls recall the theme of dining.
Even the detail of the solium, associated with the character
of the older woman, is present in the house of Menander mosaic.
One difference, however, should be noted; while in the Zeugma panel,
two young servants are present, in the other panels there is only
a child, also probably a servant. Either the mosaic designers were
working from different versions of the comedy or they were limited
by space on these smaller panels. As at the house of Menander and
at Pompeii, the three women are wearing theatrical masks. However,
these masks do not coarsen the form of the face; their features
are hardly exaggerated and the mosaic designer has chosen to use
the same colour range for the mask and tunic of each woman. All
of these elements provide a sense of naturalness and grace that
is not apparent in the distorted expressions of the women in the
panels at the house of Menander and at Pompeii. If the 2 young girls
are not wearing masks it is no doubt because the mutes do not wear
them in Greek comedies.
The comedies of Menander
were quite a popular theme in classical iconography in Turkey where
they inspired the theme of a fresco at Ephesus.