Sarcophagus Panel



Panel from a sarcophagus showing the birth of Dionysus. The relief reproduces the scene as it is represented in the sarcophagus lid found in1885 in the family chamber tomb north of Rome Via Salaria (now in Walters Museum, Baltimore). The upper lid of this sarcophagus included scenes from the life of Dionysus while the main sarcophagus shows the triumphal march of Dionysus through India. The inspiration for the Roman artist may have been a Hellenistic relief of the 3rd century BC. The scene for 59.148.248 takes places indoors as suggested by the cloth above the heads of the figures. Semele, Dionysys's mother is to her side almost hanging of her bed, her upper torso is naked, her lower body and legs wrapped around her cloth. Her hands hung off the bed and she has her eyes closed. Behind her stand three female figures and to the right hand corner Hermes, shown in smaller scale to the women and holding his kerykeion. According to the myth when Selena was burnt out of the bolt of lighting of Zeus, Hermes took the baby away from the rage of Hera and delivered it to the mountain nymphs. There are three women behind Selena bed, the central one faces to the front and holds the baby affectionately. She may be Io, Selene's sister to which the baby was originally passed on but who was later discovered by Hera and punished. There are also two other women next to the central woman: they turn towards baby, the one to the left looking at the baby and touching it with her right hand, the one to the left positioned almost diagonially to the relief to suggest a sense of movement or urgency, raising her right hand to the central woman and holding her swaying garment with her left hand. She wears a long chiton which is girded around the breasts and is transparent and a mantle swayed around her shoulders. There is a fourth woman to the left and the foreground of the relief, dressed in the same way as the gesturing nymph but turning away from the scene and running to her right. Her diadem and the way she looks at the dead Semele suggest she may be Hera satisfied by her revenge. There are various restorations mainly on the faces of many of the figures, the right end relief corner including the elbow of Hermes and part of his kerykeion and some retouchiing in various areas.