A Study of a Dionysiac Sarcophagus

A Study of a Dionysiac Sarcophagus

Length: 1343 words (3.8 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
A Study of a Dionysiac Sarcophagus

In the Los Angeles County Art Museum

A man dies. He winds his way down into the underworld to reach the banks of the river Acheron where he meets the ferryman Charon. He takes a coin from his mouth to pay the toll across. On the opposite bank he is greeted by a Maenad or perhaps Bacchus himself who offers him a kylix of wine. Drinking deep, the man is transformed and resurrected from death to a higher plane. Instead of living a miserable dream in the underworld he receives redemption from his god Dionysos, the Savior. In Roman imperial times there was a great resurgence of the "Mystery" cults of Greece fueled by the hope of a life after death. In funerary monuments there can be seen the tenets of the religion as well as how it views the afterlife. Within the Los Angeles County Art Museum stands such a vessel created to facilitate this journey to eternal bliss.

A gift from William Randolph Hearst, the piece is a sarcophagus from the Severan period of the Roman empire near the end of the second century detailing a procession of Dionysos, the god of wine, and his followers. Such a procession could be from Dionysos's messianic journeys or from his triumphal return from spreading the wine cult. Originally in the mausoleum of a wealthy family in Rome, the sarcophagus was in later times used as a planter for a flower bed(Matz, 3). This "misuse" of the piece explains the deterioration of the marble which necessitated extensive restoration in the 17th century(4). It is tub shaped with dimensions of 2.1 meters long and 1 meter wide, standing 0.6 meters from the ground. The shape is similar to tubs used for trampling grapes which had spouts ornamented with lions' heads to vent the wine(3). Being shaped like a wine vat makes the sarcopagi a transformative force in its own right by symbolically turning the person interned within into wine ! bringing him closer to the god. Unlike other sarcophagi of the period the back of this piece has not been left unhewn, but instead a strigal pattern of repeating "S" shapes has been carved, suggesting that the piece may have stood in the center of the mausoleum.

Unlike other more famous and elaborate Dionysiac sarcophagi, such as the Seasons sarcophagi and the Triumph of Dionysos in Baltimore which portray specific pivotal events in the mythos of Dionysos, this piece gives us instead a somewhat generic slice of Bacchic life(Matz, 5).

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"A Study of a Dionysiac Sarcophagus." 123HelpMe.com. 21 Feb 2020
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=36280>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay about The Roman Sarcophagus ( Coffin ) From The Risd Museum

- Roman Sarcophagus The Romans were a very proud group of people but always made sure to keep their pride under control, even in death. The Roman Sarcophagus (coffin) from the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island is the coffin of an unknown individual. It is from the Second Century CE, and is made of marble. It may not be known exactly who created this but it contains scenes from the Trojan War which is assumed to have taken place sometime around the 12th century. When RISD initially received this coffin it had been reassembled after it had been found in Rome in as many as one hundred pieces, and so some of the aspects of this piece are not original but have been restored as close as poss...   [tags: Trojan War, Achilles, Hector, Iliad]

Research Papers
1546 words (4.4 pages)

Formal Analysis: Roman Sarcophagus Essay

- Formal Analysis: Roman Sarcophagus There have been countless duels between two opposing sides in the history Roman artistry. This sculpture relief signifies the classic battle of good versus evil. Time and time again, benevolent heroes find themselves in a struggle to combat worthy yet malicious adversaries. The Roman sarcophagus, a two by five feet marble coffin, is certainly no exception. It represents another division to this timeless good-evil epic, its visual characteristics, emphasis on contrasts, and its extensive array of details give it an identity that is uniquely its own....   [tags: Essays Papers]

Research Papers
945 words (2.7 pages)

Roman Sarcophagus : Mythological Scenes Since The 2nd And 3rd Century Ad

- Roman sarcophagus depicted mythological scenes since the 2nd and 3rd century AD, and over time we can see a gradual change in the way these myths were depicted. Beginning as a set of stories, they transformed into an expressive medium through which the myth could explicitly commemorate the live of the deceased and a way so Roman cultural requirements could be presented and explored. Specifically, myths that depict heroes on sarcophagi usually stress the virtue of the hero and the grief felt at their death....   [tags: Afterlife, Life, Death, AfterLife]

Research Papers
1375 words (3.9 pages)

Depiction of Etruscan and Roman Women in History Essays

- The Etruscan society allegedly migrated from Tuscany or Lydia. (Klien, 166) Much of what scholars know regarding Etruscan society is based on funerary artwork. The Etruscans did not keep any written records of their activity. What we know about Etruscan lifestyle is based on their artwork left behind. Early on Etruscan society had a lot of contact with the Greeks that reflect in much of the Etruscan works of art. The distinction in Etruscan art and Greek art is clearly seen through the Etruscan representation of couples in art....   [tags: sarcophagus, artwork, etruscan society]

Research Papers
1572 words (4.5 pages)

The Study of Archaeology Essay

- ... Archaeology continues to help researchers understand not only where and when people lived in various parts of the world, but also the logistics involving their time on earth including when and how they lived. For example, if weather patterns change this leads to the scarcity of plants or wildlife essential for larger species which may in turn lead to the migration or death of humans and other animals. We are actually seeing this domino effect now in our current environment as global warming escalates....   [tags: evidence, study, time, behavior, society]

Research Papers
1055 words (3 pages)

Essay on Influence on College, Study Abroad Programs

- Introduction This nonexperimental study is examining the influence on college, study abroad programs and the influence on “environmental citizenship,” (Tarrant & Lyons, 2012, p. 201) in undergraduate college students. The literature review provided adequate background and previous studies to support the purpose of this study. The literature review does lead to the clearly stated research purpose of “exploring the effect of previous study abroad experience, gender, and destination on pre- and post-levels of environmental citizenship, before and after participation in a short-term…travel program to Australia or New Zealand” (Tarrant & Lyons, p....   [tags: nonexperimental study]

Research Papers
841 words (2.4 pages)

Essay on Case Study: Effective Managerial Leadership

- Case Study: Effective Managerial Leadership The successful implementation of a public policy to solve a social problem will greatly depend on the abilities of a public administrator. Furthermore, numerous case studies can show examples of how a successful public agency administrator can achieve goals through dedication and commitment. The following discussion will present a thorough analysis of main political, social, and economic forces that affected Dr. Gayle in establishing legislation to fight the AIDS epidemic as is presented in the case study Managing Across Boundaries: A Case Study of Dr....   [tags: Case Study]

Research Papers
1201 words (3.4 pages)

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Case Study Essay

- Case Study: A thirty six year old male has developed severe muscle weakness throughout the body. The condition began fifteen months ago with a left foot drop and within a year, he described difficulty with speech and swallowing, muscle twitching and cramping, and muscular atrophy throughout the upper and lower limbs. Within the last two months, his breathing has become more difficult, and there has been a noticeable difference in his voice. Prior to the fifteen months, he presented little to no symptoms....   [tags: Case Study]

Research Papers
1519 words (4.3 pages)

Essay about Market Study in Public Procurement

- When the word ‘procurement’ is mentioned, it is often in the context of the actual procurement process wherein two parties are doing an exchange. In this exchange, a party trades a contract or payment for actual product, service or work of another party. This context shows the two main players are actively participating – the business providing the service or product and the entity that needs it Before the actual exchange occurs, there are some steps that have been taken by both parties. Prior to the actual procurement process, an entity that does procurement or receiving from available businesses will conduct a market study for its own protection and benefit....   [tags: research, study, government]

Research Papers
921 words (2.6 pages)

Highly Effective Study Method Essay

- The objective of this essay is to attempt to construct an ideal study method based on accepted theory and empirical evidence on how it improves memory. The layout of this essay will first state a suggested study habit known and thereafter stipulate the theory from which it was drawn from, providing empirical evidence that supports the theory. The study methods that will be discussed are depth of processing and elaboration, encoding specificity and state dependent learning, practice and consolidation, mnemonics and retrieval failures....   [tags: Best Study Method]

Research Papers
2427 words (6.9 pages)

Related Searches

The style and portrayal of the figures, of course, predate the Roman empire; sarcophagi of this type were mass produced in shops based on patterns and drawings from Greek artisans(Alexander, 46). Dionysos himself is in the center holding his scepter, the thyrsos, in his left hand and pouring wine with his right while riding a panther, a sacred animal closely associated with the god(Matz, 4). Flanking him are two lion heads that represent Dionysos's attempts to escape death at the hands of the titans by transforming into a lion, among other animals, which then lead to his death and subsequent rebirth(Graves, 103-104).

To the right of Dionysos is Silenus, his tutor from his childhood, holding a vessel most likely filled with wine. The presence of Silenus reinforces the cult's belief in eternal youth. Next to Silenus is a Maenad, or female raver, playing a flute above Pan the goat god of the forest. Below Pan and the right lion head are two cherubs, one wearing a mask of Silenus while the other rears back in fright(Matz, 4).

On the left of Dionysos are two satyrs and another smaller image of Pan holding a cup of wine. Further left is another Maenad, this one playing a tambourine, who is being followed by a satyr. Below the left lion head there is another cherub, or putto, and a young satyr. Rounding out the left side on the end is still another maenad followed by a satyr. On the right end there is a satyr, playing the cymbals, following a half nude maenad. Completing the piece, in the background behind the main figures there are two kids(an animal Dionysos often transformed into), another pan and a small panther.

Through looking at the piece we can get some idea of what a gathering of the cult is like for the followers. The practice of the cult was entirely informal when compared to worship in the temples of the sanctioned gods. Unlike worship of the gods of the state-sponsored religion, Bacchic festivals took place outdoors far away from the crowded cities in the forests which harkens back to ancient times before man built temples. When they arrived in the forest, Dionysos gave them herbs, berries, and wild goats to eat and plenty to drink(Hamilton, 57). Wine of course was ever present at these gatherings to honor the wine god. Wine was a sacramental representation of the god himself; drinking wine freed the initiate from the restraints of earthly matters to come together with the god through ecstasy which literally translated from the original Greek means ‘outside the body'(Mcann, 128). This individualistic nature of communion continually practiced gave the faithful a feeling ! of closeness with the god.

The mask of Silenus on one of the putti is a nod to the importance theater played in the cult. The greatest poets of Greece wrote plays honoring Dionysos which were considered sacred to the cult. Both comedies and tragedies were performed, reflecting the dual nature of the god and of wine itself(Hamilton, 61). Wine can inspire man to lofty endeavors and merry frolicking, but, it can also turn him into a savage beast.

Like the Egyptian god Osiris, Dionysos suffered a violent death by dismemberment. Cult members would honor the god by frenzied dismemberment of bulls and sometimes unfortunate men rent with hands and teeth which were then devoured, symbolically taking Dionysos within themselves. This gruesome ritual, accompanied by loud music and the crashing of cymbals, was intended to propel the reveler even further into a state of ecstasy to achieve a liberation from the body. These rites of sacrament and communion stem from the myths surrounding Dionysos symbolizing his birth, life, death, and rebirth of the god through the eternal renewal of life in the natural world which give the faithful a promise of an eternal existence.

Of great significance to the scholar is the window that sarcophagi and other funerary monuments give into the lives as well as the afterlives of the practitioners of the cult. In the case of the Bacchic cult it is especially important in that before the Romans became more open to the emerging prevalence of the cults of the second century little is known of their funerary practices due to the cloak of secrecy surrounding the mystery cult. In fact, the cultists were persecuted by the Roman state religion prior to the acceptance of the rediscovered cults by the aristocratic class as evidenced by increasing number of such sarcophagi(Lehman, 24,26) In using such sarcophagi containing the portrayal of their faith and creeds, the followers of the cult were assuring themselves divine protection and a faith-ordained afterlife.

Bibliography and Works Cited

1. Alexander, Christine. "A Roman Sarcophagus from Badminton House." The Metropolitan Museum Bulletin, vol.14 (October 1955), pp. 39-47.

2. Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Penguin Books, Maryland, (1955)

3. Greenhalgh, Michael. "Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey." rubens.anu.edu.au/turkey/book/toc1.html (WWW), chap. 8 (1996)

4. Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods And Heroes. New American Library, New York, 1969

5. Lehmann-Hartleben, Karl. Dionysiac Sarcophagi In Baltimore. Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1942

6. Matz, Friedrich. "Rediscovered Dionysiac Sarcophagus." The Los Angeles Museum of Art Bulletin, vol.8, number 3 (1956), pp.3-5.

7. McCann, Anna. "Two Fragments of Sarcophagi in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Illustrating the Indian Triumph of Dionysus." The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery,
vol. 36(1977), pp.123-36

8.Thompson, Homer. "Dionysus among the Nymphs in Athens and Rome." The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 36(1977), pp. 73-84
Return to 123HelpMe.com