This marvellous bust is one of the very few documents of an actual black person from Greek and Roman antiquity. Memnon was a pupil and protégé of the well-known Athenian entrepreneur and philosopher Herodes Atticus.
It was found more than a century ago in one of several villas owned by Herodes, and it adds a face to the name of the person recorded by Philostratus in his Lives of the Sophists, an account of the famous philosophers of the second century.
The exact circumstances of Memnon’s entry into this celebrated milieu are unknown, but there is no doubt about the esteem in which he was held. He was given the sobriquet “Memnon” in reference to the Ethiopian ally of the Trojans in Homer’s Iliad. Philostratus and other sources record the extreme grief manifested by Herodes upon the early death of Memnon.