Author Archives: Phil Harland

Oenomaus of Gadara on Detection of Deceivers and on Divination

In connection with a course I am teaching, I have prepared an accessible version of Oenomaus’ critique of deceptive oracles and placed it on archive.org: Oenomaus of Gadara, Detection of Deceivers, or Charlatans Exposed (Γοήτων φώρα).  This work was cited in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica = Preparation for the Gospel 5.18-36 and 6.7 (translation with modifications from Gifford, Eusebii Pamphili Evangelicae Praeparationis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903)).

Oenomaus (Oinomaos) of Gadara in Palestine was a Cynic philosopher (probably in the second century CE, during the reign of Hadrian) who wrote a work against deceptive divination practices and procedures at oracles, including those at Delphi and Claros (Klaros). The work is only preserved in extracts by the church historian, Eusebius (early fourth century CE). For clarity, I present Eusebius’ own comments in italics and those attributed to Oenomaus of Gadara in regular font. Oracles cited by Oenomaus are indented. I have modernized Gifford’s English translation.

The work is especially helpful in providing context for Lucian of Samosata’s critique of the oracle of Glykon set up by Alexander of Abonouteichos, a writing also known as Alexander the False Prophet (link).  Lucian aligns himself with Epicurean philosophers who likewise sought to expose the supposed deceptions of this oracle in northern Asia Minor (in Paphlagonia).

Greco-Roman deities: Artemis of Ephesus 3

Two of the statues I recently viewed in Italy really convinced me (as they have others such as Fleischer and LiDonnici) that the protuberances were usually understood not as breasts but as part of the costume which decorated the statue of Artemis Ephesia.

This is a statue you can now see in the Capitoline museum in Rome.  This statue has many of the same characteristics that we found in the other statues in my series here (arrangement of arms and legs, decoration of Artemis’ outfit with animals) with one very important exception: the use of two different colours of stone in the carving of the statue.  The artist that carved this statue, those who commissioned it, and likely many who viewed it considered the protrusions on Artemis’ front not as breasts (which would need to be black here to match the skin of her feet and arms) but as part of the clothing decoration.  Clearly these are not breasts.  As Fleischer and others note, it is likely that the artist was representing an earlier statue of Artemis Ephesia (perhaps a statue of dark wood) which was literally dressed in special garments on particular occasions (dressing and feeding statues was somewhat common in certain cultural circles in antiquity).  The artist chose to distinguish the earlier statue itself from the clothing and paraphernalia that decorated that statue by using two different colours of stone, and the bumps on her front are part of the costume here.

That this understanding of the protrusions was not just an anomaly is confirmed by another artist’s rendition found in Neapolis, which is now preserved in the national museum in Naples (inventory no. 6278):

So although church fathers such as Jerome and Minucius Felix later tended to generalize about the “multi-breasted” Artemis (Minucius Felix, Octavius 22.5; Jerome, Commentary on the Epistle to Ephesus proem), this characterization in late antiquity arose less from common perceptions among worshippers of this goddess and more from Christian propaganda aimed at presenting “paganism” as ridiculous or bizarre.  What exactly these objects are is at this point generally unanswerable, but what is clear is that they are part of Artemis Ephesia’s outfit, not her body.

Greco-Roman deities: Artemis of Ephesus 2

As you’ll see by comparing the photo here with my previous post on this Artemis, there are certain elements that repeat themselves in the images of Artemis Ephesia from about the mid-second century BCE on into the Roman era.  She is pictured standing upright with legs together, with upper arms tight against the body, and with her lower arms outstretched.  The statues have elaborate costumes decorated with animals, and there are those mysterious protuberances that have led to characterizations of this deity as the many-breasted goddess.  As in the previous statue I posted, these elements are also evident in the statue above that is now housed in the Vatican museum in Rome.  Here you find a crowned Artemis with garments decorated with lions on the upper arms and deer-like creatures lining the front.  Mythological and other figures appear on her sides and on her upper chest.

Although far from conclusive, there are hints here that the artist of this piece (and those who viewed this Artemis) may not have thought of the protuberances as breasts, since they are considerably low (and another statue of Artemis Ephesia which is now in the Antikenmuseum in Basel, Switzerland has even more clearly low-hanging protuberances that miss the chest area altogether).  The next statue photos will provide more conclusive suggestions regarding this issue.  Stay tuned.

My discussions of the statues are informed by the important work of Robert Fleischer, Artemis von Ephesos und verwandte Kultstatuen aus Anatolien und Syrien (EPRO 35; Leiden: Brill, 1973) and by Lynn R. LiDonnici, “The Images of Artemis Ephesia and Greco-Roman Worship: A Reconsideration,” Harvard Theological Review 85 (1992), 389-415.

Greco-Roman deities: Artemis of Ephesus 1

Here is perhaps the best known statue of Artemis Ephesia (or Artemis of Ephesus) as preserved in the Selçuk Archeological Museum (room C, inv. 718) near the ancient site of Ephesus:

After my recent trip to the Naples archeological museum, I now have a number of depictions of Artemis Ephesia and other gods and goddesses in photo form.  So I will be making a series of posts on Greco-Roman deities. There were many different local understandings and depictions of a particular god: in other words, there were many Dionysoses, Zeuses, and Artemises.  Often one Zeus would be distinguished from another Zeus by an epithet: for example, there was a Zeus Soter (“Saviour Zeus”), a Zeus Brontos (“Thunderer Zeus”), and a Zeus Polieus (City-protecting Zeus). One local understanding of Zeus could be distinguished from another through art, in the depiction of the specific form of the god in statues.

Artemis of Ephesus is just one local way in which this goddess was understood.  This Artemis Ephesia is consistently depicted as associated with nature and the wild, as the animals integrated within her garb and the deer at her side indicate.  And she is also always depicted with the strange protuberances which you will see in each of the photos I post.

There is some debate as to what these are.  Are they multiple breasts?  This may indicate notions of fertility and Artemis’ oversight over birth and life.  Are they part of Artemis’ outfit here (perhaps a garment made using bull-testicles, as some scholars suggest)?  Was this similar to an outfit worn by Artemis Ephesia’s main priestess and representative?  Did interpretations of these objects vary even among ancient observers and sculptors?  Actually, some of the photos I will show subsequently help to answer this mystery about the multiple breast-like objects.

More statues of this mysterious goddess to come!

Pompeii 2: Rivalries among associations and a riot at Pompeii

As I discuss at some length in my new book on Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians, members of associations could feel a real sense of belonging in the group, and at times this sense of identity could express itself in rivalries with other groups.  Christians and Judeans were not the only ones involved in rivalries or tensions with other groups within society.   In fact, alongside areas of cooperation, competition was an inherent aspect of life within cities in the Roman empire, and associations sometimes took part in this.

Among the more interesting examples of rivalries between different associations (or collegia) is a riot that took place in Pompeii in the first century (59 CE).   This is one of those rare cases when we have more than one source regarding a violent incident involving associations, one of them being a painting from Pompeii.

One of the sources is the historian Tacitus, who relates an incident in which the tensions between different associations from two different cities (Nuceria and Pompeii) escalated into a mini-battle in the amphitheater at Pompeii.  Here is Tacitus’ description:

About this time there was a serious fight between the inhabitants of two Roman settlements, Nuceria and Pompeii. It arose out of a trifling incident at a gladiatorial show . . . During an exchange of taunts — characteristic of these disorderly country towns — abuse led to stone-throwing, and then swords were drawn. The people of Pompeii, where the show was held, came off best.  Many wounded and mutilated Nucerians were taken to the capital.  Many bereavements, too, were suffered by parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate the affair.  The senate passed it to the consuls.  When they reported back, the senate debarred Pompeii from holding any similar gathering for ten years.  Illegal associations in the town were dissolved; and the sponsor of the show and his fellow-instigators of the disorders were exiled (Annals 14.17; trans. by Michael Grant, The Annals of Imperial Rome [London: Penguin Books, 1973], 321-22).

Tacitus’ account shows us that rival associations from the two different cities played an instrumental role in the conflict.  So both civic and group identity played an important role here.  Such rivalries would not always lead to violent conflict, however.

The second piece of evidence is a painting that can now be seen in the National Museum of Naples.  In the painting is pictured people fighting in and around the amphitheater. Why exactly someone would have this painting commissioned is not completely clear.  Were they proud of the incident since their fellow Pompeiians had gained the upper hand in the rivalry?  Did they know some members of the associations involved?  Or is the painting reaffirming the action of the authorities in quelling and preventing such civic disturbances?  Was it made to celebrate the re-opening of the amphitheater after the imperial prohibition was lifted?

Riot at Pompeii

From the Casa della Rissa nell’Anfiteatro, or house of Actius Anicetus (inventory no. 112222).  Inscriptions depicted on the walls of the palaestra (to the right of the amphitheatre) proclaim: “Good fortune to D. Lucretius” (in Latin) and “Good fortune to Satrius Valens, Augustus Nero” (in Greek).  Photo by Phil.  Full Italian description in Bragantini and Sampaolo, La Pittura Pompeiana, p.512-13.

Paintings of Pompeii 1: Villa of the Mysteries of Dionysos (Villa Item)

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum a few weeks back in connection with the Society of Biblical Literature conference in Rome (where I presented a paper from my upcoming book).  The populations of both of these ancient towns were wiped out by the volcanic eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, and no subsequent building was done over the ruins.  So these are among the best preserved ancient cities to see.  One major result of the trip is that I now have about 1000 new photos relating to artifacts from the Roman era.  Among these are many photos of mosaics and paintings or frescoes from Pompeii (and some from Herculaneum).  So I’ll have a series of posts on some of these paintings (also drawing on some information found in Irene Bragantini and Valeria Sampaolo, La pittura pompeiana Naples: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, 2009).

The majority of paintings from Pompeii are now removed from Pompeii and preserved in the National Archeological Museum of Naples (Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli).  However, some are still in their original find-spots (in situ).  One of the most incredible wall-paintings from antiquity can still be found within a rather large home on the outskirts of the original town of Pompeii.

Mysteries of Dionysos

This home is known as Villa Item or Villa of the Mysteries, due to the paintings that decorated one of its banqueting halls.  This banqueting hall may also have been used in connection with initiations in the mysteries of Dionysos (Bacchus).  I have discussed the mysteries and Dionysos’ mysteries specifically on one of my websites, so I would suggest you read that first.  Right now I’d like to supplement my earlier discussion of the mysteries by supplying photos of the paintings which seem to depict stages in the initiation process and related mythological scenes.

The paintings seem to depict both the devotees of Dionysos in various stages of participation in initiation rites and mythological scenes which intersect with the progress of initiation itself.  The exact interpretation of these paintings is, of course, debated, but I will give a basic description with some consultation of M.P. Nilsson (The Dionysiac Mysteries of the Hellenistics and Roman Age [Lund: Gleerup, 1957], 66-78) and Walter Burkert (Ancient Mystery Cults [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987], 95-96).

*****

Scene 1 Villa of the Mysteries

Scene 1 – Preparations (north wall, on your left as you enter):

A naked child reads from a papyrus scroll as two women of the house listen and a third woman carries a dish towards the next scene.

*****

Scene 2 – Preparations and segue to mythical or revelation scenes (north wall, on your left as you enter):

A seated woman (with back facing us) uncovers a tray with her left hand while receiving liquid into a dish with her right hand, perhaps cleaning her hands (Burkert) or making an offering to the god (Nilsson).  To her right is a mythical scene depicting a silenos playing the lyre, a boy playing a flute, and a girl suckling a goat.  Further to the right, a partially clothed woman runs in fear (perhaps running from the flogging scene on the opposite side).

*****

Scene 3 – Mythical scene with Silenos, Dionysos, and threatening winged female figure (east wall, straight ahead as you enter):

This may be a depiction of the revelation of the god Dionysos to the initiate.  A drunken and scantily clad god Dionysos, accompanied by Ariadne, is seated in the centre as a Silenos shows something (or offers a drink) to a boy (satyr?) while another boy holds up a theatrical mask.  To the right, a partially clothed woman lifts a veil to reveal the contents of a basket, likely the phallic symbol associated with initiation into the mysteries of DIonysos.  A threatening mythical figure appears on the far right (see next photo).

*****

Scene 4 – Flagellation and dancing woman (east and south walls):

A winged, mythical figure winds up to flog a woman (initiate-to-be?) with a rod or wand (thyrsos).  The woman lays her head in the lap of another woman for protection from the threatening figure.  To the right, a woman (same initiate who was previously flogged?) dances naked while playing finger-cymbals over her head and another woman holds a reed or wand (thyrsos), a symbol of the god Dionysos.

*****

Scene 5 – Seated woman being adorned by cupids

An ancient Sugar Ray Leonard, a deceased Cynic philosopher, and a colleague of Marcion at Sinope

I’ve been making my way through The Inscriptions of Sinope, the latest in the series on Greek inscriptions of Asia Minor (bibliography below).  Sinope was a Greek city on the northern coast of Turkey.  Its location on the Black Sea made it important for sea trade, and the sailor and “heretic” Marcion was from this city.  A few of the inscriptions stood out to me and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is a very successful boxer of the first or second century who may well match or beat Sugar Ray:

M(arcus) Iutius Marcianus Rufus, outstanding boxer of Sinope, who won victories in the sacred triumphal competitions: at Rome in the Capitoline, 3 times in succession — at Neapolis, twice — at the Actian (games), twice, the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at the Nemean (games), twice – at the Isthmian (games), twice – at the Pythian (games) – at the Olympic (games) – at the Panathenaic (games), the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at Antiocheia (in Syria), 3 times, the first and only ever of the youth and men’s classes in one day, in the men’s class – in the Pythian games at Antiocheia – at Nicomedia, 3 times, the first and only ever in the under-age, youth and men’s classes – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Smyrna, Pergamum, and Ephesus – at the Aspis at Argos, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Sardis, twice, at Philadelphia, twice, at Traelles, twice, at Hierapolis, twice, at Laodiceia, twice, at Thyateira, twice, at Mytilene, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Pontus games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Galatia games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Macedonia games – at the (Provincial) Community of Bithynia games at Nicaea, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Cappadocia games – and at other competitions in the half-talent class, 110 times.  (In all) 150 victories.  By decision of the Senate (ISinope 105; trans. by French with adaptations, see below).

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I guess.

The second is the grave of a Cynic philosopher of the second or third century.  This is the first grave of such a philosopher I have encountered, but there may well be others:

This then is (the) stone of a man whom, moreover, — an expounder of wisdom — this city has produced,  [ – – ] of [ – – ] Perseus.  Why does he have the name “wing”?  Tell us! Because a raised wing too drew (him) through the air of Greece.  This Perseus (was) [inclined] too towards Cynic thought, since he carried a wallet (and) a scimitar (small sword) in the place of a staff . . .  (ISinope 171; trans. French, with adaptations).

The third involves the grave-stone of a shipper from Sinope (first-third century CE), the hometown of another more renowned shipper, named Marcion:

Hail, O passer-by!  (I), Callinicus, having sailed (over) many waves, sailed (on) the last voyage of Lethe, (I) whom the sea in the deeps did not extinguish, but the earth destroyed by a heavy sickness; having lived two and thirty years, eager to come to (the) fate of (my) younger brother Calligonus, long dead, having lived nobly for fourteen years; thus are the plans of (the) fates arranged.  Iulius Callinicus, ship-master (naukleros), lies here (ISinope 169).

This inscription also points to another reality of life in the ancient world, namely, the short life expectancy:  Callinicus lived to the age of only 32 and his brother had died when he was only 14.

I plan to do more posts on interesting inscriptions I encounter.

David H. French, ed.,  The Inscriptions of Sinope (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, vol 64; Bonn: Rudolf Habelt, 2004).