Symbols of life & death.
1st c BCE-1st c CE Roman Roman Republican Mosaics
ROMAN REPUBLICAN Anonymous
(c. 510 BCE - 27 BCE)
c. 100 BCE -70 CE
1st c BCE-1st c CE
Pompeii. Campania. Italy.
Naples. Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
This mosaic from Pompeii illustrates the Orphic belief in "the wheel of birth which returns ever upon itself in hopeless repetition." The small butterfly above is the symbol of the soul which escapes from this wheel momentarily through death, symbolized by the skull. The rituals of the cult were aiding the initiates to achieve the purity that would enable them to escape permanently from the cycle of rebirth. There were sacred formulae which enabled the soul to descend into Hades and avoid the dangers lurking there, as Orpheus had done before them when he descended into Hades to rescue his beloved Eurydice.
The idea of working toward the purification of the self in order to escape the cycle of reincarnation sounds very much like Buddhism, and it seems quite likely that the Buddhism missionaries who made their way across the Silk Route to Rome found some converts. We know that the Indian emperor Asoka had sent some, and here we apparently have direct evidence of their success. The Buddhist wheel here supports the butterfly wings of Psyche, the western symbol of the soul. The skull is a universal symbol for death.
The symbol above the skull, a plumb bob which was a tool long used by masons which later became a symbol for the secret society of the Masons. Such an image found in the ruins of Pompeii raises many questions about the workings of the mystery cults among the ancient Romans.
ROMAN REPUBLIC | Symbols of life & death. | c. 100 BCE -70 CE | Roman | Roman Republican
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