New From Herculaneum – A Depiction of the Oschophoria?

Tip o’ the pileus to Francesca Tronchin for alerting us to a post at Blogging Pompeii about a new item installed at the National Museum of Naples’ Herculaneum section. For a full description, visit Blogging Pompeii, which includes this image (which is also available in much larger format there):

The official description suggests this is a Dionysiac scene, although they really aren’t very specific about it. It is much more interesting than the official description suggests, I think. When I first saw this (via my iPod), I wondered whether the two figures on the left were actually males in women’s garb (as does FT), and it is now clear that they are. The figure’s hair is clearly male hair cut close to the head (compare it to the dancing woman to the right), and they sport male cloaks over their female dress (and I’m not sure they are even Greek cloaks; they look rather Roman/Gallic to me). Whatever the case, men dressed as women in a Dionysiac context enables us to be rather more specific with the identification of what this scene depicts … the Oschophoria. Here’s what William Smith’s Dictionary says about this:
Text not available
A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities By William Smith, Charles Anthon

Text not available
A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities By William Smith, Charles Anthon

If you’re not a fan of reading clips from googlebooks, the same info (with appropriate links) is available at Lacus Curtius. But even if you don’t want to go to Lacus Curtius for an explanation of that, you will want to read there the excerpt from Plutarch’s life of Theseus, which adds a bit more explanation to the scene:

Whence it is, they say, that to this day, at the festival of the Oschophoria, it is not the herald that is crowned, but his herald’s staff, and those who are present at the libations cry out: “Eleleu! Iou! Iou!” the first of which cries is the exclamation of eager haste and triumph, the second of consternation and confusion.

So the mysterious thing in the hand of the individual on the left is likely a herald’s staff, although it seems rather short. A nice piece …

ADDENDA (09/21/09): just to clarify, the key elements identifying it as the Oschophoria are the two youths on the left (males in the guise of women) and the two on the right (Dionysus and Ariadne dancing). The Priapus seems Dionysian as well …

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