Relief Showing Ajax and Cassandra (1 Century A.D.)
The male figure is naked except for a short cloak, which, because of his movement, billows out behind him. The girl is depicted at the moment when she clutches the image of Athena; with her left arm she embraces the statue, resisting Ajax’s violent attack, while, with her right arm, she pushes his arm away, sinking her nails into his flesh. One of her knees rests on a step of the altar and, with her other leg, she stands on the man’s foot, determining a symmetrical, but divergent, inclination with regard to her antagonist. Her mantle has slipped off her shoulders and her chiton is open, leaving her breast bare. Her hair is rendered with long locks radiating out behind her. The image represents Athena with a spear (now lost) in her right hand, a diadem and, on her breast, a stylized aegis. The recent cleaning (1997) of the relief had an unexpected result: various parts of the Parian marble of which it is made turned out to be calcined as a result of burning, the effects of which had hitherto been concealed by an artificial patina. As this type of damage is typical of what happens to the stone elements of a building destroyed by fire, this appears to confirm the oft-advanced hypothesis that the relief was an element of architectural decoration. The column sculpted on the left seems to mark the division between the episodes of a continuous frieze depicting the fall of Troy; in any case, it serves to characterize the interior in which the sacrilege takes place. The same conclusion may be reached by observing, engraved between the figures’ heads, the letters SA — that is, the central part of the inscription CASSANDRA, which formed the caption to this act of violence. The violent struggle between the man and the woman clutching the image may be related to the sculptures adorning Tarentine tombs until the 4th century B.c. The presence of the Latin epigraph suggests that this is a neoclassical version, executed in a public building in Rome, based on Tarentine models.