Mystery Cults in Visual Representation in Graeco-Roman Antiquity


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Mystery Cults in Visual Representation in Graeco-Roman Antiquity aims to fill a gap in the study of mystery cults in Graeco-Roman Antiquity by focusing on images for investigating their ritual praxis. Nicole Belayche and Francesco Massa have gathered experts on visual language in order to illuminate cultic rituals renowned for both their “mysteries” and their images. This book tackles three interrelated questions. Focusing on the cult of Dionysus, it analyses whether, and how, images are used to depict mystery cults. The relationship between historiography and images of mystery cults is considered with a focus on the Mithraic and Isiac cults. Finally, turning to the cults of Dionysus and the Mother of the Gods, this work shows how depictions of specific cultic objects succeed in expressing mystery cults.

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Nicole Belayche is professor emerita at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, PSL (Paris). Her research interests include pagan cults in the Roman Empire and analysis of rituals in the context of interactions, and she has recently co-edited Puissances divines à l’épreuve du comparatisme (2017).

Francesco Massa, Ph.D., is assistant professor at the University of Fribourg. He is specialised in religious interactions in the Roman Empire, and is the author of Tra la vigna e la croce. Dioniso nei discorsi letterari e figurativi cristiani (2014).
"In conclusione, sono molti gli interrogativi e gli stimoli che il volume di Belayche e Massa offre sul linguaggio visuale che ruota intorno ai misteri. Il volume è molto ben curato editorialmente, pochissime le sviste e buono l’apparato iconografico (...). La sfida nel rintracciare testimonianze visuali sui misteri ovviamente prosegue, ma questa raccolta costituisce di certo un utile punto di partenza."
- Margherita Facella, Università di Pisa, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2021.10.29
List of Illustrations
List of Contributors

1 Mystery Cults and Visual Language in Graeco-Roman Antiquity: an Introduction
Nicole Belayche and Francesco Massa

part 1: Do Images Depict Mystery Cults, and If So, How?

2 Sub-Introduction

3 Comment figurer l’ineffable, comment lire les images ?
Cornelia Isler-Kerényi

4 Le phallus qui cache le mystère ? Les images dionysiaques dans les décors romains : à propos d’une fresque de la Domus Transitoria
Stéphanie Wyler

5 Échos de la Télétè dionysiaque dans la mosaïque romaine tardive
Janine Balty

part 2: Historiography and Images of Mystery Cults

6 Sub-Introduction

7 ‘The Seven Grades of Mithraism’, or How to Build a Religion
Philippa Adrych

8 Les mystères isiaques et leurs expressions figurées. Des exégèses modernes aux allusions antiques
Richard Veymiers

part 3: Depicting Objects to Signify Mystery Cults

9 Sub-Introduction

10 The Liknon and the Bundle: Does the Ritual ‘Initiatory’ Object Make the Mystery?
Anne-Françoise Jaccottet

11 The Cista, a Hallmark of Mater Magna’s Mysteries in the Roman World?
Françoise Van Haeperen

Selected Bibliography
All interested in the history, history of religions, history of art, and archaeology of Greek and Roman worlds, and anyone concerned with mystery cults in classical Antiquity and their historiography.
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