I was researching the Villa of Mysteries at Pompeii when i came across a paper which makes a very good case that the winged Deimos seen illustrated
whipping the initiate is a representation of Agnoia, Ignorance, who suddenly appears after the climactic moment of revelation, and is therefore
attempting to force the initiate back into a state of denial and ignorance.
The Mysteries of Dionysos at Pompeii
This point is supported by the occurrence of a winged female in other depictions of the unveiling of the Dionysiac sacra , in which at the
moment of revelation of the sacra she is turning away or even running away, and making a defensive gesture with her left hand (and it appears that the
crouching woman revealing the sacra may be trying to restrain her). Now we notice that the winged female in our fresco too is making the same
defensive gesture with the left hand towards the sacra. ....Agnoia because Ignorance would be put to flight by the revelation. Both these deities
might be regarded as embodying the initiand's emotion lust before the sacra are revealed to her. In most pictures of the revelation the sacra have
been revealed; our fresco, on the other hand, depicts the moment just before revelation. Ignorance is still in command. The candidature of Agnoia
(Ignorance) has been made even more plausible by further iconographical parallels adduced by Karl Lehmann
On a fourth-century AD mosaic in Algeria a female makes towards the revelation of the Dionysiac sacra a defensive gesture reminiscent of those we
have already seen, and very similar to the gesture made by another female in a second-century AD tomb-painting from Hermoupolis in Egypt (Plate 8
(d)). This latter female appears to be urging Oedipus to kill his father Laios; and the letters above her head identify her as AGNOlA, Ignorance.
Agnoia is the deity who speaks the prologue of Menander's Perikeiromene. Lehmann's identification of her with the winged flagellator of the fresco has
so far as I know been neither accepted nor refuted. But consider how appropriate she is here. Firstly, she is winged: when all is suddenly revealed,
Ignorance is just as suddenly nowhere: she has taken flight. Secondly, being Ignorance, she must reject knowledge of the sacra. Thirdly, she tortures
the initiand. The ignorance of the initiand, just before the final moment of revelation, her fear and trembling, are regarded as an ordeal.
The ten panel sequence as described in the paper begins with the preperation of the initiate through to the ordeal of the revelation and then after
the climactic panel her denial of ignorance, ecstatic embrace of the revealed truths and readjustment back into society;
The panels only concern themselves therefore with the advancement of the initiate, what they don't do is reveal the actual mystery, at the central
position one simply sees a representation of Dionysos and Ariadne his consort.
The question then is what terrible truths have been revealed, to cause this sudden appearance of ignorance and her efforts to suppress what has been
To consider this one requires understanding of the greater context of the cult of Dionysos and Ariadne, which was considered highly dangerous to the
extent that it was suppressed by the Roman State in 186 AD
The evolution of Dionysianism continued in the Roman Empire with the Bacchic Mysteries (as they were known in Italy after their arrival in 200
BC). Dionysus merged with the local fertility god Liber (whose consort, Libera, inspired the Statue of Liberty). The Roman Bacchic cult emphasised
sexuality, inventing terrifying ordeals for its Mystery initiation. It was this aspect which caused the cult to be banned by Roman authorities in 186
BC, for sexual abuse and other criminal activities (including murder). Whether these charges were true is unknown; there may have been individual
cases of corruption but there is no evidence of widespread abuse. Scholarly opinion is that these were trumped-up charges levelled against a cult
perceived as a danger to the state. The Roman Senate sought to ban Dionysian rites throughout the Empire, restricting their gatherings to a handful of
people under special license in Rome. However, this only succeeded in pushing the cult underground.
The cult involved accepting total liberality to the point of madness;
n contrast with the daytime festivities of the Athenian Dionysia were the biennial nocturnal rites of the Tristeria, held on Mount Parnassus in
winter. These celebrated the emergence of Dionysus from the underworld, with orgies (orgia) in the mountains. The first day was presided over by the
Maenads in their state of Mainomenos (madness), during which animals—and perhaps humans—were hunted, torn apart with bare hands and eaten raw.
This was the Sparagmos, once associated with goat sacrifice and marking the harvest (and trampling) of the vine. The second day saw the Bacchic nymphs
in their Thyiadic (or raving) state. Although still orgiastic, this was a more sensual and benign bacchanal (assisted by satyrs). Mythographers claim
that the Maenads (or wild women) resisted the Bacchic urge and were driven mad, while the Thyiades (or ravers) accepted the Dionysian ecstasy and kept
In short, all social conventions, or masks, were shed, and their was a return to a primeval state of being, in which no boundaries between gender,
age, species, were recognised...In Vino Veritas..all seen as One without critical distinctions, liberal relativism.
It's also the case that no boundary is seen between this world and the Underworld, between life and death, and that both should be embraced as
The Cult then stood in direct opposition to principles of Order, Reason, Judgement, which the Underworld figurehead revealed, his self evident
It's interesting to see the re-emergence of the cult in the period leading up to the Neo-Classical Period and afterward;
Interpretations range from the dark and sinister exotic, toward acceptance and delight;
From paintings were Ariadne seems to have misgivings about her partaking in the madness, to her being the enthusiatic cheer leader;
These changes in attitude of course reflect the changes in attitude of the period, increasing affluence of certain classes and decadence;
The question that remains to be asked i guess is did Ignorance have a point...???...she is a Goddess afterall.
edit on 24-4-2013 by Kantzveldt because: (no reason given)