Pompeii

The Goddess Isis #2

The Isis-Osiris Myth myth became very important during the Greco-Roman period with sanctuaries at Delos and Pompeii. It was believed that the Nile River flooded every year because of the tears of sorrow which Isis wept for Osiris. Osiris’s death and rebirth were relived each year through rituals. The worship of Isis eventually spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, continuing until the suppression of paganism in the Christian era. The cult of Isis became very prominent in late antiquity, when it began to absorb the cults of many other goddesses with strong cult centres. Like other Egyptian deities, the cult of Isis spread outside Egypt, and became the focus of a centralised cult in the Hellenistic period. This is when the cult of Osiris became widespread as well. Temples to Isis began to be built outside of Egypt. In many locations, devotees of Isis considered the local goddess to be Isis, but under a different name.

To the Greeks she was known as Demeter – to the Romans as Ceres – though she played other goddess roles in all ancient civilisations, such as Venus (Aphrodite), Diana (Athena) and etc. Other Mediterranean goddesses, such as Demeter, Astarte, and Aphrodite, were also identified with her. Throughout the Greco-Roman world, the cult of Isis became one of the most significant of the mystery religions, and many classical writers refer to her temples, cults, and rites.  Due to her attributes as a protector and mother, as well as a lusty aspect gained when she absorbed some aspects of Hathor, she became the patron goddess of sailors, who spread her worship with the trading ships circulating the Mediterranean Sea.

During the formative centuries of Christianity, the religion of Isis drew converts from every corner of the Roman Empire. In Italy itself, Egyptian religion was an important force. At Pompeii, archaeological evidence reveals that the cult of Isis was prominent. In Rome, temples were built and obelisks erected in her honour. In Greece, traditional centres of worship in Delos, Delphi, Eleusis and Athens were taken over by followers of Isis, and this occurred in northern Greece as well. Harbors of Isis were to be found in the Arabian Sea and the Black Sea. Inscriptions show followers in Gaul, Spain, Pannonia, Germany, Arabia, Asia Minor, Portugal and many shrines even in Britain. By the Greco-Roman era, many of the priests were considered healers, said to have other special powers, including dream interpretation and the ability to control the weather, which they did by braiding or not combing their hair. The latter was believed because the Egyptians considered knots to have magical powers. The Temple of Isis is a Roman temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. This small and almost intact temple was among one of the first discoveries during the excavation of Pompeii in 1764. Its role as a Hellenized Egyptian temple in a Roman colony was fully confirmed with an inscription detailed by Francisco la Vega on July 20, 1765. Original paintings and sculptures can be seen at the Museo Archeologico in Naples; the site itself remains on the Via del Tempio di Iside. In the aftermath of the temple’s discovery many well-known artists and illustrators swarmed to the site. The preserved Pompeian temple is actually the second structure; the original building built under Augustan was damaged in an earlier earthquake of 62 CE. 

Seventeen years later with the massive volcanic eruption, the Iseum alone was the sole temple to be completely re-built – ahead even of the Capitolium. Although the Iseum was wedged into a small and narrow space, it received significant foot traffic from theater-goers at the Large Theater, businessmen in the Triangular Forum, and others along the Stabian Gate.Principal devotees of this temple are assumed to be women, freedmen, and slaves. Initiates of the Isis mystery cult worshipped a compassionate goddess who promised eventual salvation and a perpetual relationship throughout life and after death. The temple itself was reconstructed in honor of a 6 year-old boy by his freedman father, Numerius, to allow the child to enter elite society. Many scenes from the temple are re-created in the dining rooms of Pompeians, however, indicating that many individuals visited this temple for political, economic, or social reasons. Isis was a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was worshipped as the ideal mother, wife, the matron of nature and magic. She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, the downtrodden, who also listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats and rulers. Isis worship was concerned about the acquisition of knowledge since knowledge could only be attained from the gifts of the gods. Priests of Isis typically shaved their heads and wore linen garments rather than wool. Isis worship did not include a Messianic worldview but it did provide a relationship with the divine that was not ruptured with death. In common with other deities, Isis did not demand exclusive worship but in practice her devotees applied, from a modern perspective, an henotheistic outlook. The cult of Isis is thought to arrived in Pompeii around 100 BCE. Following the destruction of the first temple in the earthquake of 62 CE the son of Numerous paid for its complete reconstruction. The setting and adornments provided an attractive backdrop for the liturgical rites. These services occurred daily with a solemn morning opening and a nightly closing filled with singing. Isis was viewed a protector within the Roman Empire, a belief that was emphasized to the populace. The destruction of Pompeii however was not blamed upon Isis, but was seen as collateral damage in either an argument between Gods or the Gods were displeased by the Roman Empire. Instead, Isis was seen as a strong Goddess who saved the survivors of Pompeii, and furthermore a protector of the surroundings, and Italy as a whole.

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