The Tax of Curiosity
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 27/09/2023Back to Blog
It was brought here from a village in the province of Kythrea, a newborn calf with two heads, four eyes, and four ears. This monster was displayed for all to see, and, of course, the exhibitor was paid the tax of curiosity in advance.
As we have learned, excavations conducted by the English Archaeological Society in Salamis are progressing well. Many Greek and Roman inscriptions have been found up to now. Also, an unfortunate, headless marble statue was found, representing the God of the Underworld, Pluto, holding the three-headed Cerberus on the right and a scepter on the left.
Newspaper “Voice of Cyprus” – February 15, 1890
Two small announcements from that era open a window into the way of life of our ancestors in the late 19th century.
The first announcement refers to a calf born with two heads, which the owner exhibited publicly, receiving a fee for “curiosity.” An expression I find quite fitting and would certainly apply in some cases in our own time. Today, such an act might be considered animal cruelty because people’s values are different. However, at that time, such sensitivities did not exist. Daily needs took precedence, and entertainment of any kind was almost nonexistent. Thus, an animal with such an abnormality was a spectacle and was even exhibited for payment.
The second announcement relates to excavations at the archaeological site of Salamis. According to the Great Cypriot Encyclopedia, from the early Middle Ages until the late 19th century, ancient Salamis was a site of uncontrolled tomb-robbing. Between 1866 and 1879, with the permission of the Ottoman government of the island, the Censola brothers, one of whom was the United States Consul in Cyprus, were allowed to carry out excavations. They were amateur archaeologists who conducted the work in an irresponsible manner. They discovered numerous undisturbed, carved, and some built tombs, from which they collected vast quantities of pottery vessels, gold and silver jewelry, and various other objects that are now exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
During the period of British rule, the Antiquities Law was enacted, and tomb-robbing as well as amateur excavations were banned. Thus, the first official excavations took place between 1880 and 1882 by the German scholar Max Ohnefalsch Richter, followed by further excavations between 1882 and 1883 by the South Kensington Museum, today’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Excavations also continued between 1890 and 1891 by the Cyprus Exploration Fund. The above announcement in the newspaper must refer to these excavations.
As we close this window into the society of Cyprus in 1890, I wish you a pleasant day!