A Private Spectacle in Antioch: An Investigation of an Initiation Scene

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2004-05-04

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The House of the Mysteries of Isis, contains a controversial mosaic pavement identified as Mors Voluntaria. It shows a female and a male figure with Hermes on their right, standing in front of a door. The subject has been identified as an initiation scene into the cult of a motherly goddess either Isis or Demeter--, but the lack of scenes depicting mysteries and the singularity of the iconography have also led to the suggestion of a theatrical representation. This paper aims to explain the choice of iconography from the standpoint of the ancient viewer. After a brief historical survey, each object and each figure and its gesture are investigated separately and compared with elements in contemporary works of art. These comparisons suggest a scene of the initiation into the cult of a deity with an hidden identity, which provides a secret spectacle for the pavement's patron.

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