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Summary

A mithraeum always has long benches, which were called praesepiae, “places where cattle are fed in a stall” (CIMRM 233). The name is inappropriate for a dining room, which was usually called, instead, triclinium. Mithraeum is the current modern name, whereas the ancients called it spelaeum, antrum, templum. Another important name was Leonteum, which was not a separate cultic place for Leones only, because Porphyry states that the members of a Mithraic community were the Leones and the servants were called Korakes, the Ravens (Porphyr. de abst. 4. 16). The Mithraic menu apparently consisted of meat rather than of vegetables, even though one should take into account the fact that bones are better preserved than vegetables in an archaeological site, and therefore they are often published, whereas vegetal remains had never been investigated by means of chemical analyses. Lions are notoriously carnivorous and the praesepiae had to be filled with meat for the Leones.

The initiation of Leones was supposed to be dry and fiery (Tert. Adv. Marcionem I 13), and we are also told that the Mithraic Leones avoided water for their purifications and washed their hands with honey (Porph. De antro 15–16). Moreover, a lion and a snake are often depicted on Mithraic reliefs as going to drink from a crater. It is possible to get some information from those facts about what Leones were used to drinking during their symposia: they were thirsty but their drink could not be water, but eventually, wine was permitted. Iustin. Apol. I 66 speaks of a cup of water, but only to mention some ritual acts during initiations and not during symposia.

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Four bronze cows by Myron, the Athenian sculptor, stood in front of Apollo’s temple on the Palatine hill, which Octavian dedicated in 28 BCE. They were placed close to the altar and the statue of this god, in the courtyard of the temple, whose portico was decorated with statues of the 50 daughters of Danaus. The meaning of those statues is clarified by a passage from Pausanias, who tells the story of Danaus coming to Argos and claiming kingship for himself, even if in competition with Gelanor. Suddendly a herd of cows appeared in front of the city, led by a bull. A wolf challenged him, fought, won, and became the leader of the herd. This omen pointed at Danaus as the chosen one for kingship, and he had thus a temple to Apollo built as a thanksgiving to the author of the prodigy. This was an evident comparison to the story of Octavian himself, who won the competition for political leadership in Rome thanks to Apollo.

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The Historia Augusta mentions some oracles of Juno Caelestis, the Carthaginian goddess who uttered them shortly before the reigns of Pertinax and Severus. This Juno and her prophecies were imporant to the author of the Historia Augusta mainly because they were concerned with the forthcoming death of Commodus and the coming of Pertinax and Severus.

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The Mysteries of Mithras and Other Mystic Cults in the Roman World

Introduction. An Occasion to Deal with Mithraism Anew

Authors: Patricia A. Johnston, Attilio Mastrocinque, Alfonsina Russo and László Takács
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