Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


25.12.07
  Mithras' Helpers

As I said before, the problem with the Mithras mysteries is that they were just that, mysteries, known only to the initiated. We can deduce a few things from the iconography, but due to lack of written sources, much remains in the shadows of their subterranean temples.

Mithras is often depicted with two smaller figures called Cautes and Cautopates. Cautes is holding a torch aloft, while Cautopates holds his pointed down. The significance of these gestures is discussed. Sunrise and sunset, some say, or light and darkness, or justice and obedience - the latter makes less sense to me because I can't figure out what the position of the torches should have to do with things like obedience. Though justice and obedience were among the virtues Mithras disciples swore to uphold.


To the left: Cautes.

Found in Stockstadt near Mainz (the Roman Moguntiacum, one of the major Rhine border fortresses) today displayed in the Saalburg museum. The upper part of the statue has been reconstructed according to other images of him.



To the right: Cautopates.

Besides the down-pointing torch, he holds something that looks like a lightning in his left hand. I have no idea what that signifies, but there seems to be more behind Cautes and Cautopates than symbols of light and darkness if other attributes are found with them.



Like most other Roman forts in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Saalburg must have had a mithraeum, but it's not where it has been reconstructed on the remains of some Roman walls, We know today that the structure has been misinterpreted, probably because the people involved with the Saalburg excavations and reconstruction wished to have a mithraeum in the 19th century. The real one hasn't been found yet, but judging from other places like Brocolita, it might well be somewhat further from the fort than first thought - somewhere in the woods, hidden even to aerial photography.
 
Comments:
Ah, there they are! Good images, Gabriele, thanks very much.

God, those Mithraists were a secretive lot. All very well for them, I'm sure, but for writers like us, it's a bit of a nightmare trying to sift through the symbolism to make up initiation rites. (glares at her Mithraist characters)

By the way, hope you had a merry Christmas, Gabriele, and have a happy New Year, too!
 
Glad you like them.

Lol, don't tell me about those Mithraist characters. *glares at a bunch of hers* They're worse than the Batavians who never tell me their backstories.

Thank you, I had a nice Christmas. Got books and an opera DVD, so life is good.
 
gabriele - I've seen the brocolita at Hadrian's wall a couple of times. Interesting to read more background details.

All the best for the New Year,
 
I think that posts about Mithras are quite apropos for the season!
Weren't the mithraeums usually underground? It's possible it simply hasn't been uncovered, or like you said, misinterpretated.
 
Thank you, Julie. A good New Year to you as well.

Sam,
yes, the mitrhaea were underground and what's left is probably hiding even better than the remains of say, the headquarter building or the baths. Though the baths in Hedemünden are so far eluding the archaeologists, albeit I'm sure there must be baths down at the river. Somewhere. :)
Yes, Mithras as Sol Invictus in the Roman pantheon does fit the time of the year. I don't mind cold and snow, but I could do with a few more hours of daylight - though having lived in Sweden should have prepared me better for the dark times; sunrise at 10 am and sunset at 2 pm is no fun. ;)
 
How interesting! I wonder if Cautes and Cautopates were once important figures in their own right (could they once have been the dominant figures of a separate religion?), and perhaps became relegated to Mithras' helpers over time. Does Cautopates always have the lightning rod or thunderbolt (or whatever it is), or is that a local feature of this particular shrine? It's curious that he has the extra object as well as the torch, while Cautes apparently only has the torch.
Best wishes for the New Year!
 
Good question, Carla. A quick search in my books and yahoo images shows a variety of Mithras depictions. Some have the tauroctony without the helpers, and while those that have Cautes and Cautopates usually show them both with their respective torches only, there are two cases where it seems Cautopates holds something beside the torch (the Osterburken one and the Louvre altar which doesn't have them in the tauroctony, but in the second scene showing Mithras celebrating with the Sun God where Cautes offers a drinking horn and Cautopates holds something that looks like either a lightning or a snake). Cautes is usually to the left, but he can also be to the right.

It's such a mess, but overall it's either torches only or Cautopates (to the right) holding something else, not Cautes.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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