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An allegory of the soul’s fate after death March 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.

Archaeologist Giorgos Spyropoulos sheds light on remarkable finds at the villa of Herod Atticus in Kynouria, in the Peloponnese

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antinous_5.jpg  Five striking reliefs from the hero shrine of Antinous at the villa of Herod Atticus. Above left, Herod gives instructions to Polydeukion for his journey to the underworld. Beside this relief is a warrior and a scene of a drummer girl and cherubs dancing. Below, an equestrian scene and a sacrifice in an outdoor sanctuary.  

The relief depicting a nude youth at the prow of a boat is one of the most important finds from the villa of Herod Atticus at Eva, Kynouria, in the Peloponnese.

The youth, possibly Polydeukion, is holding a diptych, while the older man, Herod, gives him final instructions for the journey to the underworld. Together with another relief of a warrior, it forms part of a larger composition in the shape of a cylindrical pedestal. Herod himself chose the subject matter, allegorical themes related to the fate of the soul after death.

The relief is one of many unpublished objects from the villa that archaeologist Giorgos Spyropoulos has deciphered. The good news is that his study of the finds, titled “Funeral Suppers, Heroic Reliefs and the Temple of Antinous at the Villa of Herod,” is now complete.

The finds, which are kept in the crowded storerooms of the Archaeological Museum of Astros Kynourias, include reliefs depicting a satyr or hermaphrodite and a nymph, three figures performing a sacrifice at an outdoor sanctuary, the artist and his assistant doing conservation work on a cult statue, and a female drummer and cherubs dancing.

What news does his study contain? “For the first time the ancient sources have been verified. We know from his biographer Philostratus that Herod Atticus had been initiated into the Orphic mysteries, and from Pausanias that he had been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. The finds confirm that,” writes Spyropoulos.

The villa has a long, rich and unusual history. “It was not only an impressive imperial villa. The works inside it reveal the personality of Herod, his close friendship with the Emperor Hadrian, his passion for collecting works of art and how much he mourned the death of his loved ones.”

It was due to mourning that the villa gradually became a mausoleum. There is every indication that Herod Atticus lived for loved ones who had died, and in whose honor he organized dinners and games.

Spyropoulos has done an in-depth exploration of the final phase in the history of the villa. His study includes architectural details. In the third century AD, for example, the villa was converted into a fort to protect the inhabitants from the Herulians.

The temple of Antinous was made into a hero shrine, with reliefs depicting funeral suppers. “A deceased couple are depicted at an endless symposium, of which the bed, the wine bearer, the suppliants and the table with the food are clear evidence. The food, such as eggs and fruit, correspond to the actions of heroes, chthonic deities and the dead in reliefs that show scenes of suppers as well as in memorial reliefs with a clear chthonic character,” writes the archaeologist. The most precise term is “heroes’ supper,” he observes.

For the first time, the works at the villa have been separated into two phases, before and after AD 165.

“The former reflects the visual wealth suited to a villa, while the second phase reflects its owner, who was not just a very rich man of the era, but above all knowledgeable about ancient Greek education and literature,” he said.

Among the metaphysical scenes, the stele of the warriors of Marathon is of interest. “A supreme monument to the heroized dead, from the grave and not from the mound of the Athenians at Marathon,” Spyropoulos notes.

Among the significant works of that era is the portrait of Herod, which confirms Philostratus’ comment “that he disintegrated in the upper world in the last year of his life.”

The original design of the temple-hero shrine of Antinous was in the shape of a basilica in the middle of which the statue of Antinous-Dionysus was erected. After the death of Herod’s wife Aspasia Annia Regilla or of Polydeukion before 170 AD, that design changed and part of the area was made into a hero shrine.

There lie the dead of Herod’s family, destined for immortality as promised by Dionysus and Osiris.

Household items hang on the walls, and there are lamps all round. “Everything indicates the desire of man to retain the fleeting beauty of life in the world of shades,” Spyropoulos said.

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