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Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia

Edited by Giovanni Casadio and Patricia A. Johnston

Publication Year: 2009

In Vergil’s Aeneid, the poet implies that those who have been initiated into mystery cults enjoy a blessed situation both in life and after death. This collection of essays brings new insight to the study of mystic cults in the ancient world, particularly those that flourished in Magna Graecia (essentially the area of present-day Southern Italy and Sicily). Implementing a variety of methodologies, the contributors to Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia examine an array of features associated with such “mystery religions” that were concerned with individual salvation through initiation and hidden knowledge rather than civic cults directed toward Olympian deities usually associated with Greek religion. Contributors present contemporary theories of ancient religion, field reports from recent archaeological work, and other frameworks for exploring mystic cults in general and individual deities specifically, with observations about cultural interactions throughout. Topics include Dionysos and Orpheus, the Goddess Cults, Isis in Italy, and Roman Mithras, explored by an international array of scholars including Giulia Sfameni Gasparro (“Aspects of the Cult of Demeter in Magna Graecia”) and Alberto Bernabé (“Imago Inferorum Orphica”). The resulting volume illuminates this often misunderstood range of religious phenomena.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xviii

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Chapter 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-30

The definition of “Magna Graecia” has varied from the time the Greeks first settled the coastal regions of Italy—sometimes including the area from Campania to Sicily, at other times excluding significant portions of this territory.1 But this area has always been home to the mystic cults and traditions that preceded and accompanied Christianity, including the Sibyl ...

Part I. Dionysus and Orpheus

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Chapter 2. Dionysus in Campania: Cumae

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pp. 33-45

Gods rise and die—and rise again, despite the contrary opinion of an eminent Chicago professor of history of religions.1 Gods, at least the gods of paganism,2 have a body. They drink, eat, copulate, and with advancing years they waste away, stricken with the infirmities of old age. The place where the most pagan of all the gods of Mediterranean paganism—Dionysus-Bacchus—might have liked to spend his third age,...

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Chapter 3. The Meaning of βάκχος and βακχεύειν in Orphism

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pp. 46-60

The meanings of the denomination βάκχος and the verb βακχεύειν in Orphic context differ from their value in other religious circles. Generally speaking, the adjective βάκχος denominates those who have experienced rituals of purification or ritual ecstasies.1 Βάκχος and the verb βακχεύειν describe states of mystical and cathartic exaltation peculiar to the enthusiastic...

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Chapter 4. New Contributions of Dionysiac Iconography to the History of Religions in Greece and Italy

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pp. 61-72

How did painters—and users—of Greek vases in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE view Dionysus? It was this question to which I intended to respond in a new history of the images of Dionysus and his followers up to the years before 500 BCE.1 This history had to be reconstructed in the most objective and systematic way possible, by searching in the meanwhile to ...

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Chapter 5. Who Are You? Mythic Narrative and Identity in the “Orphic” Gold Tablets

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pp. 73-95

“Who are you?” ask the unnamed guardians, as the deceased begs for the water of Memory. “Where are you from?” From the discovery of the first gold lamellae in the nineteenth century to the most recent discoveries, scholars have asked much the same questions about the tablets themselves: Who are the people who chose to have these enigmatic scraps of gold foil...

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Chapter 6. Imago Inferorum Orphica

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pp. 95-130

One of the features that most differentiates between Olympic religiosity and mystery cults in general (and particularly Orphic religiosity) is the image of the underworld. The religion of the polis is public and collective; its rites, its sacrifices, its processions serve as an element of social cohesion, as a way of integrating the individual in the community. This ...

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Chapter 7. Putting Your Mouth Where Your Money Is: Eumolpus’ Will, Pasta e Fagioli, and the Fate of the Soul in South Italian Thought from Pythagoras to Ennius

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pp. 131-136

You will recall that near the end of the extant portion of Petronius’ Satyricon, the anti-hero Encolpius finds himself shipwrecked at Croton with his associates, Eumolpus the poetaster, their boy-toy Giton, and hired man Corax. Here the tireless grifters launch their final sting, Eumolpus posing as a wealthy magnate, conveniently both childless and moribund, with ...

Part II. Demeter and Isis

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Chapter 8. Aspects of the Cult of Demeter in Magna Graecia: The “Case” of San Nicola di Albanella

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pp. 139-160

Due to the extremely limited number of literary sources, which are often merely scholiastic or hypomnematic documents providing scarce information, our reconstruction of the religious panorama of Magna Graecia, like that of Sicily, remains largely based on archaeological, monumental, and epigraphical evidence. We need not stress the importance of this documentation...

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Chapter 9. Landscape Synchesis: A Demeter Temple in Latium

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pp. 161-189

Besides the Eleusinian mysteries, the late-fall pre-planting rites of the Thesmophoria were the most characteristic of the festivals of Demeter. The thesmophoria themselves, usually translated as “the things laid down,” were offerings flung into a natural crevice or man-made chamber in the rock known as a megaron, left to decay, and then retrieved and plowed ...

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Chapter 10. The Eleusinian Mysteries and Vergil’s “Appearance-of-a-Terrifying-Female-Apparition-in-the-Underworld” Motif in Aeneid 6

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pp. 190-203

More than two and a half centuries ago, in 1745, in the second book of his The Divine Legation of Moses, Bishop William Warburton put forth the hypothesis that Aeneas’ Descent into the Underworld was an allegorical representation of an initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries.1 The bishop considered Aeneas to be a grand legislator (in his capacity as founder of ...

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Chapter 11. Women and Nymphs at the Grotta Caruso

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pp. 204-216

Epizephyrian Locri was arguably the most culturally dazzling city of Magna Graecia in the Classical and Hellenistic periods. It was known throughout the Greek world for innovations and professionalism in music and dance, for its athletes victorious in the pan-Hellenic games, for the precision and order of its government, and for its military prowess. It has ...

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Chapter 12. “Great Royal Spouse Who Protects Her Brother Osiris”: Isis in the Isaeum at Pompeii

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pp. 217-234

Perhaps Apuleius at the end of his Metamorphoses was right, that at Rome in the Isaeum Campense, at least in his time, not Isis but Osiris was the highest god.1 This was not, apparently, true for the Isaeum at Pompeii.2 Here, clearly, Isis is represented as the predominant divinity. The situation is similar to that at Kenchreai, the southern port of Corinth, where Lucius, ...

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Chapter 13. Aegyptiaca from Cumae: New Evidence for Isis Cult in Campania: Site and Materials

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pp. 235-250

In 1992, during the construction of a gas pipeline, the Archaeological Superintendence of Naples and Caserta, under my direction, undertook emergency excavations at Cumae (Campania).1 Architectural remains, dating back to the Roman age, were found on an area of about 480 square meters, lying on the site identified by Paget 2 as pertaining to the Greco-Roman...

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Chapter 14. The Mystery Cults and Vergil’s Georgics

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pp. 251-274

Among the many elements that contribute to the elusive art of the Georgics is its finely tuned balance between labor and religion. When scholarly attention has turned to religion in this poem, however, it has tended to focus on the religion of the state1 rather than on the more intimate, personal religion of individuals, families, and other affiliations—religions represented ...

Part III. Mithras

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Chapter 15. The Amor and Psyche Relief in the Mithraeum of Capua Vetere: An Exceptional Case of Graeco-Roman Syncretism or an Ordinary Instance of Human Cognition?

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pp. 277-289

The “main characteristic feature of Hellenistic religion[s]” such as Mithra-ism has been described as “syncretism,” as has the entire Hellenistic age (Grant 1953: xiii). However, the utility of this category of syncretism, usually understood as some sort of mutual influence upon a religious practice or representation by two (or more) cultures in contact, is contested. ...

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Chapter 16. The Mithraic Body: The Example of the Capua Mithraeum

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pp. 290-313

Within the now considerable corpus of scholarship devoted to the antique body, the Roman cult of Mithras has been prominent mainly by its absence.1 Neglect is not difficult to explain. The obsession with deciphering the “true” meaning of the cult relief, the identification of the cult as an “astral religion,” the fixation upon origins, the silence of the literary ...

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Chapter 17. Why the Shoulder?: A Study of the Placement of the Wound in the Mithraic Tauroctony

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pp. 314-324

The study of Roman Mithraism has consisted, in large part, of a series of interpretations and elucidations applied to a complex and enigmatic corpus of images. The ubiquitous central monument, the tauroctony (Fig. 17.1), in its more detailed examples, offers a bewildering array of images, among them the awkward, backward-glancing pose of Mithras, the suffering...


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pp. 325-358

General Index

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pp. 359-366

Index Locorum

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pp. 367-370

Index of Authors

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pp. 371-372

E-ISBN-13: 9780292799271
E-ISBN-10: 0292799276
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292719026
Print-ISBN-10: 0292719027

Page Count: 390
Illustrations: 53 b&w photos, 38 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009