The Iconography of Mystery: The Relationship between Orpheus and Bacchus in Late Roman Britain
AuthorBurns, Kara Kathleen
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractOf the eighty-five known Roman mosaics that depict Orpheus charming the animals, or the theatrum, eight of these mosaics are located in Southwest Britain. The Orpheus mosaics were laid at the end of the third through the fourth centuries A.D. in lavish Roman villas at the sites of Barton Farm, Brading, Littlecote Park, Newton St. Loe, Wellow, Whatley, Withington, and Woodchester. Along with the central image of Orpheus, all eight mosaics contain Bacchic iconography. While the Orpheus mosaics in Roman Britain are the topic of several publications, none have addressed the appearance of Bacchic imagery in conjunction with that of Orpheus. This dissertation investigates the relationship between Orpheus and Bacchus in the Classical world in order to explain the frequent appearance of Bacchic iconography on Orpheus mosaics in southwest Britain. In order to understand how the Roman aristocracy viewed the relationship between Orpheus and Bacchus, this dissertation explores three avenues of study. First, the more then seventy-five figures and objects that are part of the Bacchic iconographic repertoire associated with the Orpheus mosaics are identified and their connection with Bacchus established. Second, the connection between Orpheus and Bacchus in the Greek Classical Period is explored to establish a literary and artistic tradition from which the Roman tradition emerged. Third, an examination of Greek and Latin literature from the third century B.C. to the sixth century A.D. is undertaken to describe how Orpheus was perceived by pagan and Christian Roman elite as the founder of the Bacchic mysteries and the author of the sacred texts used in these mysteries. Furthermore, the evidence presented within this dissertation demonstrates that the Orpheus mosaics in southwest Britain were placed in public areas of wealthy Roman villas to reflect the homeowners' knowledge of both the past and present philosophical and theological beliefs. These mosaics advertise the provincial Roman aristocrat's Classical education while maintaining their association with the city of Rome and the imperial court in Constantinople.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
History & Theory of Art