Unexpected Meetings #1: Dionysos & Dionysos

In a new series of short blog posts, the curators of Imagining the Divine draw out connections between pairs of objects in the Ashmolean Museum’s exhibition. Jaś Elsner kicks off proceedings with two of the first artefacts on display.

Two Dionysuses side by side. Neither is naked, but neither exactly covers what nowadays we’d choose to hide. One is an amazing statue, lifesize, marble, excavated from the temple platform of the shrine of the god in Roman Cyrene in Libya. He holds a bunch of grapes, and grape-vines drench both his locks and his sandals. The other is a relief on a marble coffin, deep cut with a female worshipper playing the pipes in the chariot with him as he gallops to the right driven by centaurs, with a panther running beneath. He too has grape-vines in his hair and holds his staff, the thyrsus, as he moves towards the portrait of the dead man whose tomb this was. It was probably found in Rome and likely made there.

These two figures of the god have never met before. One was a cult statue, worshipped in a temple; the other a coffin decoration almost certainly buried in the ground or interred in a tomb when its occupant had died. But we’ve put them side by side in the Ashmolean show, in the holy nudist corner by the start. Come and see!


Dionysos statue photo © Trustees of the British Museum.
Sarcophagus, Ashmolean Museum, photo courtesy of Stefanie Lenk.

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