Gesture at Dura-Europos; A New Interpretation of the So-called 'scène énigmatique'

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Maura K. Heyn, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: An enigmatic mythological scene is painted on the east wall of the pronaos of the temple of Bel in Dura-Europos.1 The mural is not well known, and Mikhaïl Rostovtzeff suggested in 1938 that its interpretation was impossible, since it represented a single episode without context.2 However, this paper argues that greater attention to the hand gestures depicted in the painting can shed light on its meaning. It has long been recognized that the hand gestures depicted in ancient art can have special significance. In addition to the symbolic representation of the gesturer’s identity or frame of mind, gestures can also communicate action in a static scene, or draw attention to important details that might otherwise go unnoticed.3 In the scene from the pronaos of the temple of Bel, the hand gestures not only provide clues to the identity of those depicted, they also animate the narration. Comparative evidence from other mural decoration in Dura-Europos, as well as sculpture and mosaics from other sites in the region, strengthen the possibility that the scene depicts the discovery of Ariadne on the island of Naxos by Dionysus.

Additional Information

T. Kaizer, ed., Religion, Society and Culture at Dura-Europos, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Yale Classical Studies), 89-98
Language: English
Date: 2016
mural, Dura-Europos, anthropology, mythological interpretation

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