Epicurean Rings / Jewelry / Coins / Mementos

  • Eugenios you are clearly in another league in your research abilities - thank you! What is your view on the resemblance and whether that is intended to be Epicurus? I looked at it again and it still seems to me that the figure looks "stockier" than Epicurus is generally portrayed, but I am still on the fence. You?

  • I've been poking into it as well. Early thoughts;


    -He does have a daughter named Frances, but there can be no connection to Frances Wright.


    -I thought this interesting; "Bligh wrote a best-selling book, "The Mutiny On Board the HMS Bounty". In it he portrayed himself as the ideal Commander of a happy ship, only to be betrayed by "hedonists" who wanted to lead a carefree life in Tahiti." If he's using hedonism as a charge, it doesn't bode well for positioning him as an Epicurean.


    -Bligh was known as a strict disciplinarian, and not well loved by the men under his command. Nevertheless he did command occasional loyalty: the history of the ring itself (below) is evidence of that.


    -The ring is carved from Bloodstone, and set in gold by a London jeweller. The ring-box gives the jeweler's name, but does not identify the name of the figure.


    -After Bligh's death, the ring was given by his daughters to a George Sutton, who had traveled at great personal trouble and expense by sea to testify on Bligh's behalf. The ring was a belated token of thanks to an old friend.


    -Bligh's grave features an "eternal flame" sculpture, but not any prominent cross insignia that I can see.


    -Now for the figure itself; the man is bearded, with a subtly aquiline nose and a full head of hair. The style is evidently Greek; either the figure was Greek himself, or perhaps a Roman from the Imperial period with Greek pretensions. If the latter, perhaps Marcus Aurelius or Hadrian, both Hellenophiles who were portrayed with beards.


    If the former, probably Epicurus. Another possibility is that the ring is Epicurus, but the man who wore it had a different view. Maybe he fancied that the figure was Homer; a natural icon for any sailor. Perhaps he thought it was Xeno of Citium. There's a story on reddit about a young man with a large tattoo of Epicurus, which he got on accident thinking it was a Stoic. (Ha!)


    No classical figure has been more prominently associated with cameo rings than Epicurus. For that reason, and the similarity with known rings and statues, I suspect that the ring is Epicurus. The mysteries that remain; why this Englishman, so abused by public life, should have persisted in it against the advise of the man on his finger-ring.


    If we want to know the answer to these questions, we'll need further research into his life and times.

  • Wow and I just got finished praising Eugenios' research, and now this! Very good thoughts all, Joshua.


    Another name that flashed in my mind that MIGHT appeal to someone like Bligh was Hercules, but I am not sure how he is depicted. For some reason something about the appearance to me makes Aurelius seems less likely. Seems like I have heard of Hadrian rings - I wish we had access to an expert on Greek and Roman coins because that would probably help.

  • Eugenios you are clearly in another league in your research abilities - thank you! What is your view on the resemblance and whether that is intended to be Epicurus? I looked at it again and it still seems to me that the figure looks "stockier" than Epicurus is generally portrayed, but I am still on the fence. You?

    You're too kind. I'm just a librarian. I can't help myself :)

    Far be it from me to second guess the museum, but… To me, the beard doesn't seem full enough for Epicurus. Here are some images for comparison I found:

    All this isn't to say that the museum doesn't know for a fact that the ring is Epicurus. They may very well have proof or more provenance that I haven't found. But the Marcus connection would make sense with Bligh's military career, too.

    JJElbert made some very good points in the post above worth exploring.

    Thoughts?

  • 1 - Never seen this one -- the person has significantly longer hair than Epicurus is generally portrayed: https://www.worthpoint.com/wor…curus-epikouros-154876705


    2 - Yes this one of Aurelius does remind me much more of the Bligh ring - http://www.thejewelleryeditor.…00-1500-to-eventually-se/


    3 - I can't shake the idea that this ring looks "stockier" and therefore in my mind more "vigorous" than Epicurus or a philosopher is generally portrayed, which is why I thought of Hercules, but don't know that Hercules was on any rings. Just seems to me given Joshua's notes that Bligh probably was more into military leaders or fighters than Epicurus, but very hard to say.


    4 - As to this sentence "All this isn't to say that the museum doesn't know for a fact that the ring is Epicurus. They may very well have proof or more provenance that I haven't found." -- I see that the card says "thought to be" so that may be more of a hedge than is apparent.

  • Also, it seems to me that Marcus Aurelius is usually portrayed with actual "curls" rather than just wavy hair. This figure we are talking about comes pretty close to that, but I don't think the face and neck structure really looks like Aurelius.

  • I agree Joshua. This guy looks to me more like someone I want on my side in a fight, or don't want to meet in a dark alley. Could still be Epicurus though - If I were an artist I would prefer to depict him in his prime rather than elderly-looking, so that might explain this version.

  • Also, it seems to me that Marcus Aurelius is usually portrayed with actual "curls" rather than just wavy hair. This figure we are talking about comes pretty close to that, but I don't think the face and neck structure really looks like Aurelius.

    Of course, we're also most likely dealing with an 18th-century jeweler's interpretation of an ancient Greek portrait trying to appeal to his customer's expectations filtered through...

    Customer wants portrait ring of X. Jeweller: "Oh yeah, that's totally a portrait of X on that ring."

    You get the idea.

  • I've done a bit of searching on William Bligh today. I haven't been able to establish any links to Epicurus or that of any earlier naval people e.g. Captain Cook, Sir Joseph Banks, Macquarie.

    I was thinking if you'd have gone to the trouble of having a bespoke ring made of Epicurus (back then) you'd have documented his thinking in some of the writings or other aspects of his life.

  • I think that's good critical thinking, Samj. However there are so many variables that it's hard to say how determinative that would be.


    One of the lines in the DeWitt book that has stuck with me the most was the opening (second line):


    "At the very outset the reader should be prepared to think of him at one and the same time as the most revered and the most reviled of all founders of thought in the Graeco-Roman world."


    I think that is still true today and was in Bligh's time too. It is dangerous to associate oneself publicly with the name Epicurus. At best Epicurus is considered an irresponsible partier by most people; at worst - if they know the truth - Epicurus is considered to be strongly anti-religious and to be condemned by any standard moralist or Christian.


    Thus for example with Jefferson - were it not for his private letters, we would not have much way of guessing that he was explicitly a fan of Epicurus.


    So while the presence of documented connections to Epicurus is the best possible evidence, I don't think we can be surprised that many people are going to keep their personal affection for Epicurus private.

  • I spent more time on this yesterday as well.


    Preliminary findings;


    -The ring was made by John Miers of London, "No. 111, Strand, opposite Exeter Change." Miers lived between 1758 and 1821.


    -The setting is Heliotrope, commonly known as Bloodstone. It's been used since ancient times, and has a variety of talismanic beliefs associated.


    -John Miers is a name well known to history; 10 specimens of his work reside at the National Portrait Gallery in London. There are probably hundreds of surviving works in private collections and museums around the world.


    -The Scottish Poet Robert Burns refers to Miers' shop by name in a letter to his wife. A jeweller for respectable people then; and best known for his work in miniatures.


    -Samj and I had similar thoughts...perhaps we shouldn't assume that William Bligh was an Epicurean any more than we should assume that George Suttor was. Perhaps the ring was gifted to him.


    Anyway, I'll have more later.

  • I also looked into the Joseph Banks connection yesterday. Banks kept a journal, and in one entry he records that a dinner guest was given the name of Epicurus on account of his enormous appetite. So that's likely a dead end as well.


    But here's something interesting; Bligh died probably from complications of stomach cancer. Epicurus likewise died painfully of kidney stones and dysentery. And one of the historic associations of Bloodstone is to "strengthen the stomach". Is it possible that in his later years Bligh found a measure of solace in a philosopher who saw pain for an evil?

  • Banks kept a journal, and in one entry he records that a dinner guest was given the name of Epicurus on account of his enormous appetite.

    That's certainly interesting though. So are you saying that this is a record of events in Bligh's ship, or in his presence, in which someone was given the name Epicurus? At least it indicates that he knew who Epicurus was.

  • Could this open up the possibility that, during that time period, a ring depicting Epicurus could be given as a good-natured ironic gift to someone like the person mentioned in the journal? They're not interested in the philosophy but simply using the stereotype of Epicurus to make a joke.

  • A good point, Eugenios; and another just occured to me. Bligh was the governor of a major new British Colony. He must have entertained all kinds of people. Some, no doubt, would have given gifts. Perhaps to curry favor, perhaps as tokens of esteem.


    Or this; perhaps the ring has a more direct association with the the Rum Rebellion trial. A gift from an Epicurean friend gently encouraging him to get out of politics.

  • Unfortunately we'll probably never know; but here are a few lines of inquiry that remain open to us.


    1. We can work to gather evidence of every John Miers ring known to exist.


    2. We can attempt to trace the whole history of the ring from manufacture to museum.


    3. We can compile a record of cameo rings from that period thought to be of Epicurus.


    There is a "Sherlock Holmes" element in all of this that pleases me immensely—the game is afoot!