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Kelsey Museum of Archaeology pres.

FAST Lecture: Women Slaves and the Bacchic Murals in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii

Elaine K. Gazda

FAST lecture FAST lecture
FAST lecture
The extraordinary Bacchic murals in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii have eluded definitive interpretation by modern viewers since their discovery in 1909. Most scholarly attempts to understand their meaning have adopted the perspective of elite viewers and have proposed various layers of potential significance that range from the mythological and prophetic to the cultic and nuptial to the social and theatrical. They also focus on the dominant figures: the so-called “Domina,” “Bride” and/or multiple figures thought to represent the “Initiate.” With few exceptions, such interpretations presume some kind of relation between the imagery and Greek antecedents.

In contrast, this presentation considers meanings that the murals may have held for non-elite viewers—in particular, the female slaves of the household. By focusing on those women who play various supporting roles in the visual drama depicted on the frieze, and by assuming that a number of the cultic activities portrayed would have resonated with the work of daily life performed by female slaves in the villa, this talk proposes that those household slaves identified with the women on the walls through the lens of their own experiences as slaves. Reading the Bacchic murals within this non-elite framework adds a new layer of potential meaning to these famous works of Roman art.

Reception 5:30 pm, Lecture 6:00 pm.

FAST lectures are free and open to the public.

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