Author:
Attilio Mastrocinque University of Verona, Italy

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Abstract

Eurydice could not come back to this world because Orpheus looked back at her. Persephone had forbidden this, but Orpheus disobeyed. Is there a logic for such a rule? A relief in the Archaeological Museum in Naples shows Orpheus looking at his wife after having removed a veil from her face, and the face of dead persons was a sensible element in ancient funerary art. We find two forms of hiding their face: by veiling it or by depicting the person but not the face, by leaving it unwrought. Euripides and several Roman sarcophagi depict Alcestis with her head veiled after her return to the house of her husband. On the other hand, some funerary busts from the necropolis of Cyrene show deceased women with their face flat and many sarcophagi of the Roman period are completely sculptured except the face of the buried person. The current explanation based on an untimely death cannot explain the large number of such cases; it would have been absurd to wait for the death of the customer before carving his or her portrait. There was a religious rule forbidding the vision of the face of dead persons, but it is impossible to ascertain what kind of people abided by this law and what religious stream forbade this.

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