The Villa of Mysteri



“…they heard the crash of falling roofs; an instant more and the mountain-cloud seemed to roll towards them, dark and rapid, like a torrent; at the same time, it cast forth from its bosom a shower of ashes mixed with vast fragments of burning stone! Over the crushing vines- over the desolate streets- over the amphitheatre itself- far and wide- with many a mighty splash in the agitated sea- fell that awful shower…”


Even though destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius August 24, 79AD, The Villa of Mysteries is full of Pompeian artifacts. The famous mural featuring the cult of Dionysus is amongst this 55room villa. Villa of Mysteries was once flourishing with plant life, bronzed statues, and people working and living in and around the villa. The frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries provide us the opportunity to glimpse something important about the rites of passage for these privileged women of Pompeii.
The interior design of the homes or villa’s were not paintings hanging from nails, but they were painted actually onto the wall. The cult of Dionysus is one of these painted murals founded in the Villa of Mysteries, the frieze is 10 ft high and 56 ft long. The term "mysteries" refers to secret initiation rites of the Classical world. The mural exploits the Initiation rites, which; were originally ceremonies to help individuals “grow up”. This ceremony was designed to bring women into the marrying stage of life. Occasionally a priest or priestess guided the initiate through the ritual; and at the end of the ceremony the initiate was welcomed into the group with open arms. Villa of Mysteries seem to be aimed at preparing privileged, protected girls for the psychological transition to life as married women. The frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries provide us the opportunity to glimpse something important about the rites of passage for these privileged women of Pompeii.


(Scene 1)
Their bodies seem to be very relaxed, in an open standing position. With the vibrant scarlet Pompeian background that has lasted over 2000 years, and still has a faint shininess to its color. A red so rich, rich like blood. First figure holds a piece of her cloth very elegantly and seductively to cover a gap in her dress, but to those in the cult she is revealing a something under her garment. Her position is reminiscent of one who is about to execute the steps of a martial art in which the purpose of standing loosely centered is to be able to move easily in response into whatever comes. This figure is the beginning of 10 movements throughout the mural. The figures have movement they precede in a single file line along the walls. She eagerly listens to the story of a drama from a small, naked wild child; he reveals the instructed tales of what happens to Dionysus and those who are impelled to follow him. These boots suggest sacrifice in this Dionysian tradition where kids (goats) were booted at birth in preparation for ritual death. The next figure along the mural looks back at the naked boy, yet has movement towards Dionysus’s throne while she carries objects towards the priestess.
(Scene 2)
Next a Papposilenus plays on his lyre, while another member of the thiasos brings a veiled basket. Another pours pure water as a blessing for those who are about to be initiated into the cult. We know that we are still in a place of instruction because of the scroll tucked into the tunic of the attendant to the right of the high priestess. This scene shows us some of the objects used in the initiation process. Women throughout the mural take on different roles some look like they are watching, though some are partaking in the details of ritual helping the adolescent Roman brides into womanhood. In many rituals, this regression, assisted by music, is requisite to achieving a psychological state necessary for rebirth and regeneration. This leads us to the next scene where the initiate learns how she is to become closer to nature.
(Scene 3)
The realization of nature is among the initiate now, a Pan nursing a kid shows this. While another Pan plays a flute and watches the kid feeding on its immortal breast.