Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


Counterlight had a recent post that gave me pause. One of the earliest depictions of crucifixion is not a sculpture, not a fresco, not a work of religious art, but a piece of schoolboy graffiti. From Counter's post:

It dates anywhere from the 1st to 3rd centuries. It was discovered in 1857 on the Palatine hill in Rome in the remains of a boarding school for imperial page boys built by the Emperor Caligula. It reads in crude misspelled Latin, "Alexamenos worships his god," and shows a figure on the left looking at a crucified figure with a donkey's head seen from behind. It could well be that Alexamenos was a Christian and this other anonymous boy was mocking him for his beliefs. It could be that Alexamenos may not have been Christian at all, and that showing him praying to a crucified donkey headed god was just another way of insulting him. Alexamenos worships something so low as a crucified donkey man, associating him with foreigners, slaves, criminals, and work animals; the timeless stuff of adolescent insults. I think this bit of vandalism sometimes gets over-interpreted (some scholars go so far as to try to identify it with certain mystery or gnostic sects). What I think it usefully reveals for our purposes is the powerful sense of shame attached to crucifixion in ancient times.

Now, for me, one of the most important windows (and the one that makes me smile) to ancient culture is through "the things that folks weren't necessarily proud to leave behind." When my former associate and his wife returned from Pompeii on their European vacation, I was absolutely captivated by their tour of some great "graffiti sites" that were uncovered in the city. Some examples are here. (WARNING--NC-17 rating for a lot of this stuff!)

But what these things have made me realize is that graffiti may be one of the most powerful forms of human expression going. We still insult people over the same things we insulted them over thousands of years ago--religion, sexual behavior, bodily functions, looks.

I have thought about all the news flap in both religious and non-religious circles about folks like Richard Dawkins. How is a single thing he's said, any different than the ancient person who taunted poor Alexamenos with his "crucified donkey god?" Not much, really. So what's the big deal? How is all the stuff we see on Faux News about the "defense of marriage," or "family values" any different than the graffiti on the walls of Pompeii? Again, not much.

This old world keeps a-changin', but the graffiti pretty much remains the same.

4 comments:

That is great - and I loved the link to the Pompeii graffiti too!

Yeah, about the only thing different in Pompeii graffiti compared to the usual U.S. bathroom wall is that it seems "public defecation" was more of a problem in the ancient world than here in the U.S.

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They had downright obscene, even sexual crucifixion graffiti in Pompeii, too.

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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