Implications of the Hades/Persephone Mosaic at Amphipolis

As most rogueclassicism readers know by now, a spectacular mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone by Hades was revealed last week at Amphipolis and is causing quite a stir for a number of reasons, not least of which is that such things have not been depicted in Macedonian tomb before, much less a royal Macedonian tomb (as far as I’ve been able to find out; late clarification: I’m referring to floor mosaics). I’ll post some links to some of the news coverage at the conclusion of this, but my primary purpose here is to flesh out some thoughts (one serious, one nutty) that I expressed on Twitter this past week. First, though, we need to see some photos from the Ministry of Culture of this amazing mosaic:

 

 

Ministry of Culture Photo

Ministry of Culture Photo

ministry of culture photo

ministry of culture photo

ampmo

… and some photos released earlier in the week before they had revealed Persephone:

Ministry of Culture photo

Ministry of Culture photo

l_15181

Ministry of Culture photo

It was the latter photo — as folks who follow me on Twitter already know — which sparked my reaction that I had seen those two before.  The one horse in three-quarter view, the other in profile, both in a ‘flying gallop’. Compare them to the horses in this mosaic (all the following photos are by Carole Raddato, who has made them available at Wikipedia):

Carole Raddato photo via wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via wikipedia

Admittedly, in this mosaic, depicting the abduction of Helen by Theseus, there are four horses to the chariot (the mosaicist at Amphipolis is dealing with a smaller area), but you can probably figure out which two I’m thinking of:

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

… and the theme, of course, is somewhat similar … a woman being snatched away from her family. Here’s the rest of this ‘other’ mosaic:

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato Photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato Photo via Wikipedia

 

So where does this mosaic come from? Pella, of course. In a previous post (Catching Up With Developments at Amphipolis) we noted that the first mosaics revealed at Amphipolis had an affinity with those of the House of Dionysus at Pella. Outside of the horses, folks have probably also noticed the mosaic border of the Abduction of Helen mosaic (the meandering reverse swastika thing with the ‘rosette’) from Pella also surrounds the Abduction of Persephone mosaic from Amphipolis. Both the House of Dionysus and the House of the Abduction of Helen at Pella date to the last quarter of the fourth century B.C., and given their similar styles to the Amphipolis mosaic, it seems like we’re being presented with further reasonable suggestions that the Amphipolis ‘tomb’ dates to the same time period. Again, however, we do await announcements of things like possible inscriptions (rumours are rife; I’m still not sure about the Dinocrates inscription claim from a year ago), soil, potsherds, coins, etc..

So that’s the serious stuff. Now we get into my ADMITTEDLY nutty theory which actually started percolating in my head way back in August when they discovered that ‘hole’ inside one of the tomb chambers early on and there were plenty of folks claiming the ‘tomb’ had obviously been broken into. One of my knee-jerk (emphasis on the ‘jerk’) responses in my noggin was “Why do people always assume ‘breaking in’ to a tomb? Why does no one ever suggest ‘breaking out’?” So as the excavations continued, I continued to look for support for my SERIOUS theory that we were dealing with an empty tomb — probably intended for someone like Alexander (as others, including Dorothy King) have suggested — that was filled in when that occupant was unable to be placed there and the tomb was subsequently filled in because burying anyone there might have political implications. But then we saw the Karyatids and they were in a pair. The nutty side of my brain immediately thought these were depictions of Demeter and Persephone. So I revisited the images of the Karyatids to see if there were any accoutrements that might be associated with Demeter and Persephone:

ministry of culture

ministry of culture

kary7

Ministry of Culture

kary2

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

… I didn’t notice anything ‘wheat’ associated or ‘pomegranate’ associated as one might expect with a depiction of Persephone, but the ‘Karyatid’ did sport the same sort of archaic hairstyle we often see and the polos (crown). Maruizio Nicosia has a nice Kore page at Pinterest if you want to look at some depictions. So I went hmmmmmmm and moved on. Then, of course, the mosaic with the abduction turns up (which prompted a twitter comment, of course), and then I went full blown nutty when the Greek media began posting versions of 3d virtual reality reconstruction of the ‘tomb so far’. A nice representative one is by Nikolaos Alexandrou at Youtube:

What is interesting to note is that at every entrance, near the ceiling, there is a ‘hole’ which traditionally one would attribute to someone breaking in. So what if, instead, this is an architectural feature and people were meant to ‘escape’ from such holes? So here’s the full blown NUTTY THEORY in action: imagine that this structure wasn’t a tomb, but was a cult centre for some Eleusinian-type mystery. The actual ‘entrance’ for initiates was likely somewhere else (perhaps wherever the Lion originally stood) and the cultic activities would involve initiates going from inside the ‘tomb’, past the mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone, past the Karaytids depicting Demeter and Persephone, and past the ‘sphinxes’ as a genuine ‘escape from the tomb’?

Yes, it is NUTTY … I don’t buy it myself. What I DO buy, however, are my prior suggestions that the mosaics have an affinity with Pella and support the late 4th century date promulgated hitherto by the excavatrices and excavators.

Here’s some of the important coverage this week:

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8 thoughts on “Implications of the Hades/Persephone Mosaic at Amphipolis

  1. Thank you for including the clarification! How then do you figure that a floor mosaic functions differently than a fresco? Especially considering that Tomb 1, containing the painting of the Abduction, contained human remains. I’m just trying to understand how the mosaic could in any way be a convincing piece of evidence for some sort of cult site for the Mysteries. I know this blog post is essentially just a thought you’re having, but I’d be interested in you explaining your logical steps in a bit more detail, particularly how this conclusion fits into a contemporary context. You can also just ignore me. =D

    • I’m not sure I’d say it functions differently, but it’s simply ‘different’ from what we normally see in Macedonian tombs. On its own, it really doesn’t say much, but might suggest some sort of Orphic connection … whether funerary or cultic or both. We’ll see how the dig progresses …

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