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From Roman Sarcophagi Comes The Gospel of Bacchus

by on April 9, 2021

Written by Barry Ferst, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Serving as a “billboard” for the faithful, images sculpted on Roman-era marble coffins offer a visualization of the Gospel of Bacchus, a graphic stone bible especially meaningful to devotees contemplating death’s doorway. Since much about the cult of Bacchus remains a mystery, a beautifully-carved frieze on a sarcophagus can go a long way to prying open some of the cult’s secrets.

By 100 C.E. the Bacchus mythos (known alternatively as Dionysus or Liber) had become standardized, i.e., made socially acceptable (the earlier Greek version could instill terror).  The story begins with a double birth, first from Semele whom Jupiter has inseminated, and then from Jupiter’s thigh where the infant has been hidden from Jupiter’s jealous wife Juno. The babe is brought by Hermes to woodland creatures to be tended by them.

There, the young Bacchus is taught by a centaur and recognized as a god. As a young adult he rides in a chariot pulled by panthers or centaurs. He travels to India, which he and his troupe conquer (known as the Indian Triumph). On return, he is given an emperor’s adventus, the circus-like processional proceeded by dancing maenads. When he totters, wine-intoxicated, he is held upright by one or more of his troupe. He marries Ariadne, and he retrieves his mother Semele from the land of the dead. His friends are satyrs, pans, and centaurs.

Rituals, Temples and Worship in the Ancient World

by on April 7, 2021

Written by Ben Potter, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

The importance of rituals and temples in the ancient world are hard to clearly differentiate from worship. At first glance this might seen a little odd to the modern reader. These days, it seems perfectly normal for a disinterested secularist to wander around the great cathedrals of the world drinking in their beauty and splendor; they might even fully participate in the festive period–from caroling and dancing to donating to Goodwill.
That it’s harder to imagine this disconnect between worship and ritual in the ancient world is, in a way, quite convenient… as it’s also much harder to analyze due to a lack of source material. 
That said, there are some writers who occasionally give us a glimpse into what was in men’s souls. 

On Angels: Myth and Belief East and West, Part 2

by on April 6, 2021

Written by Stefan Sencerz, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

In Wim Wendersmovie, Wings of Desire”, Peter Falk is credited as himself” but really represents a fallen angel, the angel who had rejected his angelic nature, ceased to be but a spirit, and acquired a human body with all that it entails. In the film, angels see” the world in black and white instead of in color like humans, a beautiful poetic device first adopted by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in their romantic fantasy A Matter of Life and Death”.

Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire

To me, my sensations are what make me feel human. The first sip of hot coffee in the morning, a gentle kiss of a breeze on my neck, feeling the taut strings of a stunt kite tugging on my arms. Or falling in love: holding hands, a dance late into night, the smell of her hair, the magical moment right before our lips meet, the soft alabaster of her skin under my touch. This is how we, mortals, perceive and relate to reality.

Is SACRIFICE Inherently Good?

by on April 5, 2021

This last weekend almost one third* of the world’s population celebrated Christ’s offering of himself on the crucifixion, as well as his subsequent resurrection. No doubt a moment of deep reflection on the meaning and purpose of sacrifice.

*Not including orthodox Christians, simply because they celebrate according to the Julian calendar rather than Gregorian calendar… and so they haven’t had Easter yet!

Of course, a great deal of the approximately 3.2 billion Christians commemorate this moveable feast via extensive pagan cultural appropriation… because let’s be honest, even children can see there really isn’t any correlation between being condemned to death on a cross and chocolate bunnies.
The more devout however, of which there are plenty down here in South America, flood to the churches, knees on pews, to contemplate what is considered in their religion the greatest sacrifice in history; the Abrahamic God in heaven giving up his only son.
This being a critical point in the religion’s history and theology isn’t very surprising. After all, the concept of sacrifice, both personally and societally, runs deep within our various collective cultures. Whether it’s the killing of a lamb, a virgin, or maybe just offering some yummy food, ancient folks from around the globe consider ‘doing without’ or ‘giving up’ a preferred form of worship.

Flora, Goddess of Spring, and Her Festival Floralia

by on April 2, 2021

Written by Ed Whalen, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Many ancient civilizations had fertility goddesses that played a crucial role in their religion. Rome was no exception. Perhaps the best-known fertility goddess in ancient Italy was Flora. She was an exceedingly popular goddess and every year a major festival, the Floralia, was held in her honor.

The Goddess Flora

Flora from a fresco in Pompeii

The name Flora ultimately derives from the Indo-European word for flower. It appears that the name Flora was a combination of ancient Latin and Oscan, a tongue native to southern Italy. There is also clear Greek influence in the development of this fertility deity. Some scholars believe that Flora’s true origin is a very ancient Italian fertility goddess.

The Rape of a Goddess: How Greek Women Found Empowerment Through Myth and Ritual

by on April 1, 2021

Written by Mary Naples, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Clad in white robes and carrying torches, the dawn’s amber rays cast a golden glow on the hundreds of pious women as their procession passed through the polis. With their heads raised to the heavens, the sound of their fervent voices singing in praise of Demeter reverberated throughout the city walls. Faithfully, the people came out for them. From masons to magistrates, citizens and slaves alike packed the city streets standing elbow to elbow just to catch a glimpse of the spirited cortege as it made its way to Demeter’s sanctuary for the opening of their fertility festival–the Thesmophoria–the most highly anticipated religious festival of the year.

The Gardens of Adonis, by John Reinhard Weguelin, 1888

For as long as anyone could remember, throughout ancient Greece from the Archaic to the Hellenistic eras (800 BCE-31 BCE), citizen wives came from far and wide to gather in their cities to celebrate their annual feminine fertility festival honoring Demeter, goddess of the harvest and her daughter, Persephone, queen of the underworld. Primarily a fertility cult, in most cities the Thesmophoria ushered in the sowing season and was the largest of a series of fertility cults devoted to human as well as crop fertility.

In order to understand the Thesmophoria’s influence it is useful to examine what set it apart from other fertility festivals. The Thesmophoria was the most widespread and the oldest of all religious festivals in the Greek world, spanning  from Sicily in the west to Anatolia in the east; from Macedonia in the north to North Africa in the south–in total possibly comprising as many as one-hundred cities throughout the Greek world. There is evidence that it was even celebrated during the Ptolemaic period (332 BCE-30 BCE) in ancient Egypt.