Oschophoria Panel at the BM’s Pompeii and Herculaneum Show?

A few years ago, we were alerted to the installation at the Naples museum of a panel depicting a “Dionysiac Scene” and I note that this panel gets some coverage in the Guardian in regards to the Pompeii and Herculaneum show at the British Museum … some excerpts:

Shimmering as if still lit by the Mediterranean sun, two spectacular Roman marble panels have been reunited at the British Museum for the first time in almost 2,000 years.

Both come from a seaside mansion in Herculaneum, the town overwhelmed by a torrent of boiling mud from Vesuvius, when the wind changed direction 12 hours after Pompeii had already choked to death. They will be seen in the most eagerly awaited archaeological exhibition in decades, on life and death in the Roman towns when it opens at the museum later this month.

The remains of the owner of the palatial villa may still lie on the ancient shoreline, now half a mile inland. In AD79 the sea was the beautiful view that his sumptuously decorated room looked out on, with its fourth wall open to the sea.


“The last person to see these pieces together like this was the master of the house, in AD79 – it’s an awesome and slightly eerie thought,” said Paul Roberts, curator of the exhibition.


Treasures are being unpacked in Bloomsbury every day. Last week an entire garden arrived, with fountains, statues, singing birds in flowering bushes, all painted on huge panels of plaster. The giant packing crates fitted through the museum doors with inches to spare. It was one of the most beautiful room interiors found in Pompeii, surely the setting for a happy life – except the exhibition will also display the pathetic casts of the bodies of its last owners, man, woman, tiny children, found huddled together under the stairs.

The first of the marble reliefs, an ecstatic and tipsy celebration of the god Bacchus, was found at Herculaneum in a controversial excavation 30 years ago. The excavation was launched to find more of the House of the Papyri, an extraordinary complex the size of a small village, most of which is still buried under the modern town. When it was discovered in the 18th century almost 2,000 papyrus scrolls, a princely library, were recovered along with wonderful sculptures some of which are coming to the exhibition.


Roberts suspects there must have been a third panel, on a wall that was swept into the bay below in the eruption that ended the life of the town and ensured its place in history. “Like so much of the town and its people, the third panel must have been crushed to atoms – we’re so astonishingly lucky in what has been left to us to bear witness to what has been lost.”

… so like I said, we mentioned this four years ago (New From Herculaneum – A Depiction of the Oschophoria?) and I suggested it was more specific than just ‘Dionysiac’, but actually was a depiction of the Oschophoria, based on the cross-dressing males in the scene. That suggestion doesn’t seem to have gone down well, but it did make it into the letters column of Archaeology magazine at the time (much edited, with my grumblings about bloggers not being taken seriously edited out). So … what I’d really like to know, if someone happens to go to this exhibition that we all want to, is whether they have bought into the Oschophoria identification yet …

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