Sunday, June 21, 2020


The Embodiment of Vitality

Marble sarcophagus, 3rd century A.D., from Saint Médard d'Eyran near Bordeaux (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. Ma 1346; click to enlarge):

M.J. Vermaseren, Corpus Cultus Cybelae Attidisque (CCCA), V: Aegyptus, Africa, Hispania, Gallia et Britannia (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), p. 145:
On the front of the sarcophagus the legend of Dionysus and Ariadne is represented. The god is surrounded by Pans, Satyrs, Maenads and Centaurs. In the right corner Ariadne sleeping, meanwhile Dionysus is arriving. In the left corner is a corresponding figure of a reclining woman next to a small altar on which lies the head of a he-goat. The woman has a crown of ivy-leaves in her hair, she wears a girded himation and a mantle. She holds a sceptre in her left hand and rests on a tympanum with her right elbow. The woman is generally described as Cybele. Even if she turns out not to be the Phrygian goddess herself — the mural crown is missing —, the figure nevertheless suggests a firm relation and mutual influence between the Metroac and Dionysian cults. On the left panel of the lid of the sarcophagus, Dionysus himself is represented, riding in a chariot drawn by two lions.
Paul Zanker, Roman Art, tr. Henry Heitmann-Gordon (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), p. 156:
Sarcophagi with images of Dionysus and his followers (thiasos) were especially popular. The retinue of the wine-god, playing musical instruments, dancing, and reveling, is celebrated as the embodiment of vitality, manifesting itself in ecstatic festivity. The figures of the drunken Silenus and Hercules are thus intended to be regarded positively.
See also Robert Étienne, "Les sarcophages romains de Saint-Médard-d'Eyrans", Revue des Études Anciennes 54 (1953) 361-378 (at 365-367).

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