Toward an Understanding of Ancient Conceptions of “Head” -- By: Catherine Clark Kroeger

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 20:3 (Summer 2006)
Article: Toward an Understanding of Ancient Conceptions of “Head”
Author: Catherine Clark Kroeger

Toward an Understanding of Ancient Conceptions of “Head”1

Catherine Clark Kroeger

CATHERINE CLARK KROEGER is Ranked Adjunct Associate Professor of Classical and Ministry Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and founder of Christians for Biblical Equality. She is co-editor of the InterVarsity Women’s Bible Commentary, A Study Bible for Women, Healing the Hurting, and Women, Abuse, and the Bible, as well as co-author of I Suffer Not a Woman, No Place for Abuse, and Refuge from Abuse. She is president of Peace and Safety in the Christian Home, a network of Christians seeking to address any aspect of domestic abuse. She conducts overseas study tours emphasizing the ministry of early Christian women, and, on a recent trip, discovered the fresco that is the subject of this article.

For nearly two thousand years, an elegant country villa lay buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79. Located some three miles from Pompeii, the Villa Oplontis escaped the attention of archaeologists until the beginning of excavations in the last part of the twentieth century.

Now the splendid country residence emerges in a remarkable state of preservation, the colors of its frescoes still fresh and vibrant. The property belonged to the estate of someone in the family of the Emperor Nero’s second wife, Poppea, perhaps to the lady herself. Poppea appears to have been vehemently hostile to nascent Christianity and may have been the instigator of Nero’s decision to launch a persecution against those whom he declared responsible for the burning of Rome.

Though Nero’s family made bad spiritual choices, the artistic taste is impeccable with which the Villa Oplontis is decorated. It contains remarkable examples of Roman fresco art, the painting upon wet plaster of art motifs and scenes. Depicted are mythological figures, peacocks and other birds, garden scenes, decorative garlands, representations of walls, houses, mountains, and much more. In all, there are more than sixty rooms, many lavishly decorated.

In one chamber, the wall paintings exhibit a series of fountains placed in garden settings. While the others are somewhat conventional, one shows a seated sphinx with a fountain emerging from his head. The conception may appear bizarre to our modern ways of thinking, but, in antiquity, painting and sculpture occupied a position of great importance. There are many literary descriptions of ancient works of art and how they should be understood.2 Plato (429-347 b.c.) condemned painting that conveyed no understanding of a deeper reality. ...

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