Saturday, 30 August 2008

the apotheosis of Symmachus

When we were in the British Museum earlier this year, I was thrilled to see a plaque (half of a diptych) which is thought to depict the apotheosis of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus.
This splendid leaf is one of the last great commissions of pagan art in Rome before the triumph of Christianity. The scroll at the top bears a monogram probably reading 'SYMMACHORUM', a reference to one of the leading families in Rome. The Symmachi family probably commissioned this ivory panel to commemorate Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (about 340-402), the greatest orator of his day, a prominent pagan and opponent of Christianity.
The plaque depicts his ascension and apotheosis:
On the upper section the famous man is carried into heaven by winged figures who personify the winds; they pass an arc with signs of the zodiac and are watched by Helios, the sun god. At the summit five ancestors welcome his arrival and apotheosis (elevation to divine status).
I think he should be honoured as the patron deity of tolerance and diversity - values which are very important to me.

Another plaque is thought to commemorate the marriage of Symmachus' daughter to a member of the Nicomachi family. Sadly, her half of the diptych is damaged.

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