I have the feeling lately that I’m biding my time a little, waiting form some things to come together on the subtle plane and while that entails plenty of attention, it is of the sort that I find difficult to talk easily about. That leaves a little at loose ends with some of my intellectual work, but it also frees me up to just have a little fun.
I came across a book recently which has been just that: Icon, Cult, and Context: Sacred Spaces and Objects in the Classical World edited by Maura K. Heyn and Ann Irvine Steinsapir. Several of the articles address Dura-Europos and intersect with some of the historical themes that I have been talking about, from the Magna Mater to the grimoiric Baal to Justin’s Book of Baruch.
The first, Lucinda Dirven’s “A New Interpretation of the Mounted Hunters in the Mithraeum of Dura-Europos,” suggests that the novel imagery of mounted hunters in the mithraeum are Persian-styled representations of classic Mithraic figures, Cautes and Cautopates. Representing the solstices and thereby the play of oppositions, their horses are both displayed atop an animal, much like the riders of the Magna Mater icons (a serpent and a lion cub in the mithraeum). The variation places the cult of Mithras in a dialogue with the cult of the Magna Mater, aesthetically if not spiritually and mythically. In the mithraeum, the figure of Mithras replaces that of Magna Mater as the central figure. The Mithraic and Mater-ian look a good bit like structural variation on a theme.
In talking about the riders as Cautes and Cautopates, it seems clear enough that the figures play in the same conceptual world as Cauda and Caput Draconis. Both pairs are joined in their astrological and seasonal play in the rival motions, and in their connections to the solar potency, in Dura-Europos expressed in both the figure of the snake and the lion. Up and down, good and bad, there are some Kabbalistic amplifications to be had, too, especially when you consider the relationship of the horsemen to Venus and Venus’s partnership with Mercury.
The second, Ted Kaizer’s “Revisiting the ‘Temple of Bel’ at Dura-Europos,” engages in a bit of thoughtful reinterpretation. Kaizer takes a clever position in the debate as to the temple’s proper use by observing the interplay between its iconography (aligned with traditional themes strongly tied to Bel) and its Grecian inscriptions assigning it to Zeus. Placing it in context of the interpretatio graeco, he argues that we see in the temple is Bel honored under the name of Zeus. The presence of horses and chariots alongside a figure of serpentine woman who is Bel-Zeus’s nemesis helps to enrich my sense of what is going on in Justin’s Book of Baruch, of the interplay of the multiple mythological frames around a dynamic spiritual manifestation.
I’m still looking forward to Shanna Kennedy-Quigley’s “The Hellenistic Sculptural Program of the Serapieion at Saqqara and the Ptolemaic Crown,” so maybe I’ll talk about that, too, in the future.
I hope you, too, are finding some little pleasures to while away the quiet hours.