The Rape of Persephone and the Death of Soteris

Adam Tabeling
Adam Tabeling is a 4th-year graduate student in the Department of Classics, whose research focuses on Greek and Roman iconography, Roman relief sculpture, and politics and propaganda in Roman art. He is currently writing his dissertation on imperial images of Virtus, the Roman goddess of manliness, courage and martial valor, and her militaristic relationship with the Roman emperor.

WIlson-119webThe Rape of Persephone and the Death of Soteris: A Case of Two Fresco Fragments and a Funerary Epitaph from a Roman Columbarium

A funerary epitaph was dedicated by a grieving mother to her young daughter Soteris. The epitaph was discovered in a Roman columbarium, along with two fresco fragments that decorated Soteris’ tomb.  One fragment depicts Dis Pater, the god of the underworld, abducting Persephone, while the other depicts Ceres, who stands in an open field with a pig at her side.  In his version of the Rape of Persephone, Ovid recounts that when Ceres reached the field where Persephone was abducted, pigs muddled Persephone’s footprints and Ceres was unable to trace her path, therefore losing her daughter to Dis.  Thus, the two fresco fragments seem to belong together, comprising a larger Rape of Persephone scene, one, which I argue, is the mythological analogue to Soteris’ epitaph.  Just as Ceres lost her daughter Persephone to Dis, so too did Soteris’ mother lose her daughter to the god of the underworld.