12 February 2009

Ariadne's Brother

This is de Chirico's sleeping Ariadne, perhaps not perfectly appropriate, but a sleeping Ariadne is needed.

At some time in the 6th century, Ariadne's brother had a gravestone with an inscription carved for her in Constantinople and brought out to a basilica near a magnificent spring on the road near Argos. It was a magnificent spring for thousands of years, the spring of Kefalarion, and was magnificent until nearly thirty years ago when greed and the spirit of modern Greek progress required that it be pumped dry for irrigation purposes.

This basilica, carefully ignored since it was excavated nearly 40 years ago, was dedicated to the Apostle Paul, located near where Pausanias had seen the worship of Dionysios and Demeter. It must have been a splendid place, large enough--45.5 m long and 23m wide--and elaborate--with walls lined with coloured marble, gold tesserae, frescoes, stained glass, and carved sarcophagi--enough to have been an imperial or consular bequest.

Ariadne's brother was Doulkitios. A Dulcitius, proconsul in the sixth century of either Africa or Achaia, is commemorated in a sixth-century epigram by an unknown poet included in the Cycle of Agathias:
“At the high point of his life, the Powers led Doulkitios forth from excellence and glory as a proconsul to bliss.”
This Doulkitios can be dated, within a rather broad period. The writers included in the Cycle have been dated as writing between 530 and 565, which may then suggest the earliest and the latest reasonable dates for his death, and so for Ariadne’s.

Ariadne's Doulkitios provided--and very likely wrote himself--her metrical epitaph with echos of epic verse. It was the way the intellectuals wrote then. One fragment, in the Greek, seems quoted from Andromache in Book 6 of the Iliad: "You, Hektor--you are my father now, my noble mother, a brother too," while two other words seem taken from "willows whose fruit dies young" at the entrance to the world of the dead in the Odyssey--an image one would expect Christians to avoid, but the area of the basilica was thick with willows. "Sleeping Ariadne" itself makes reference to myths of Dionysios, whose worship had been expelled from Argos and Kefalarion about a hundred and fifty years before.

It is tempting to think of Ariadne as young and, naturally, lovely: no evidence compels us to assert that she was not, but she is more likely to have been a mature woman when she died. She had a strong connection to Argos -- the inscription calls her "of the Argeians." Her bones were buried elsewhere first, then moved to an osteotheke in the apse of the Kefalarion basilica.

I prefer to think, with no further evidence, that the proconsul Doulkitios was Ariadne's Doulkitios, and so proconsul of Achaia. Any proconsul had to know the area: going from Corinth to Sparta, which a proconsul would have to do, he would travel the road past the spring, and would certainly stop to cool off there, maybe visit friends. Remains of Roman villas have been found in the vicinity.

This is, in translation, what remains of Ariadne's epitaph.

† Blessed Paul, holy Apostle . . .
sleeping Ariadne [ - - - - - ]
of the Argeians destroyed . . .

taken by the ill fate
of a most noble family

even so her brother - - - - -]

Doulkitios [ - - - - - ]

those I[ - - - - - - ]

fruit of my[ - - - - - ]
] IAISS [ - - - - - - ]

[ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ]

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the lovely reminder of this wonderful church... And it hasn't been completely forgotten. Those of us who really like Early Christian basilicas have known about it.


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