Sarcopage antique orne de bas-relief

Planche LXXVI

houel plate 76

In the 18th century this sarcophagus of white marble was used as a public fountain next to the door of the Opera Theatre, in a place called Piano della Munizione (Floor of Ammunition). Today it is preserved, in poor condition, at the Museo Regionali di Messina. Recent studies have dated it to the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

The image on the sarcophagus shows a vintage scene; at both sides we can see some men trying to keep the grapes overhead, and some others carrying big baskets containing the grapes that the three naked young men will tread[1]. Some women dressed in Messina peasant style are gossiping while collecting water from the fountain.

Rachael Pearce identifies the bearded man in the lower part of the sarcophagus with Dionysus/Bacchus, who is associated with both the grape harvest and with death and dying. Images of Bacchus are common in the classic world; Dionysus/Bacchus is a rural god, related to human instincts, that is to say linked to life, and to its counterpart, death. He is also a symbol of life after death as he rescued his mother from the underworld. This may explain why these scenes were chosen for this sarcophagus; the deceased may have even been an initiate in a Dionysus cult. Pearce also establishes a parallel with a ‘marble sarcophagus with a Bacchic scene’ at the British Museum, which also includes animal imagery.

[1] In Roman times it should not differ much from the document attached  (accessed 26/02/13) (accessed 26/02/13)