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Basilica di San Clemente, Nero’s Domus Aurea and the Mithraic Mysteries

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San Clemente, named after Pope Clement I, 3rd successor of St Peter, is located in via San Giovanni in Laterano, called 'Stradone S. Giovanni' by today's Romans (see 2 pictures below.) Click for credits and to zoom in.

Mostly Otium (little Negotium)

As I said in the previous post (1) we are having some rest although (2) we are obliged to take care of our company a bit plus (3) I’m having fun musing upon ancient texts I try to read in the original.

Moreover (4) my walk paths about Rome will also follow a tentative list of archaeological places I want to visit much more attentively than I ever did before.

As a Celtic unspoilt-heart poet once wrote:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

[Btw, 1, 3, 4 are called otium in Latin (leisure, sort of), while 2 is called negotium (business, sort of.) The on-line magazine Otium from Uchicago may be worth glancing through]

 

Caelian hill with San Clemente on the right, the Coliseum on the left, via di San Giovanni with 'Gay Street' at its left end right on top of Gladiators' Ludus Magnus. Above, the Domus Aurea villa area on the beginning Esquiline slope where I take my walks (Google Maps)

A Jewish Freedman: Pope Clement I

Now, as an appetizer I have just been to a place nearby, the Basilica di San Clemente as I told Paul Costopoulos.

One of the greatest places in Rome for archaeology history and religion, this basilica was named after Pope St Clement, the third successor of St Peter.

According to recent research Clemens was a Jewish freedman who belonged to the household of the martyr Titus Flavius Clemens, great-nephew of the Roman Emperor Vespasian.

[It is known freedmen or liberti – also called libertini, nothing to do with libertinestook the family name or their own master’s name though we’ll see Roman naming conventions another day]

 

San Clemente on the Stradone or Via San Giovanni in Laterano. This is where we buy bread and eat the true Neapolitan Pizza. Direction is towards the bigger Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. Photo by MoR, public domain.

The Pilgrimage Road where Gay Street is now

 

Today’s basilica was built during the High Middle Ages (12th cent. AD) and despite some baroque maquillage it is still romanesque in its main structure. It is located on the ‘via di San Giovanni in Laterano’ pilgrimage road that led (and still leads) to San Giovanni in Laterano, the Roman Popes’ former residence until they moved to St. Peter at the Vatican.

The last 325-yard area of this road just in front of the Colosseum is today called Gay street. I think gays & lesbians feel protected right in the heart of pagan Rome, with (see the Google map above) the Oppian hill and Nero’s Domus to the right, the Coliseum in front, and just under their feet the Ludus Magnus, the greatest school of gladiators of the Empire (see a model of it.)

Popes or Pontiffs – can’t stop digressing – come from the Pontifices, singular Pontifex, a member of ancient Rome’s highest-ranking state priests’ Collegium (college), whose chief was the pontifex maximus.  Well, the Pope’s title is Pontifex Maximus too, therefore implying not only the actual Bishop of Rome but the survival (possibly) of such ancient magistratus. Majestic Julius Caesar was a Pontifex Maximus as well. I like the idea so much allow me.

Four Strata of History

High time now to tell the story of San Clemente, a tale made of 4 strata.

1) In the first century AD the area was occupied by insulaeapartment buildings for the indigent plebs – some plebeians were tho rich and belonged to the upper class -and for the Equites, middle class of knights (equestrians.)

Nero's Domus Aurea octagonal building (see below)

These houses were burnt in the famous Nero’s fire of Rome in 64 AD. Nero was only too happy to embody the area into his Domus Aurea (infos here too,) a marvellous portico villa with rooms sumptuously decorated and of various geometrical shapes, whose gardens covered parts of the Palatine, Esquiline and Caelian hills (so it possibly included the location of my house too: possibly the whole Google map above was Domus Aurea.)

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, equestrian and historian, called it a rus in urbe or ‘countryside in the city’ for its imaginative (and eccentric) man-made landscapes such as a luxurious (luxuriosus) pond where the future Colosseum will be built.

Axonometric Drawing of the DA, built by Severus and Celer in 64 AD, Rome. The central octagon with dome.

 

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

2) After Nero’s damnatio memoriae the gutted buildings were again utilized as foundation for further houses (1rst-2nd cent. AD,) at a level roughly corresponding to the Coliseum’s floor.

3) The third level – 4rth century, see image below – displays 2 buildings, communicating via a a narrow passage: one (on the right in the picture) is an apartment in whose courtyard we admire a Mithraeum (see the other picture under the first one); the other (on the left) is a magnificent rectangular area built on large tufa blocks supporting brick walls clad with light yellow travertine,  the house possibly of Titus Flavius Clemens, even larger than the nave of the actual Basilica.

4) The fourth level is the 12th cent. AD basilica which later had the baroque maquillage. We mentioned the pilgrimage road. Those were the times of the crusades and of the conflict with the Muslims, much more advanced than Europeans.

3rd levelFourth Century Church and Mithraeum (from E. Junient, Titolo di San Clemente)

The Mithraeum of San Clemente. See triclinii for ritual meal and the altar

Mithra, Šamaš, Μίθρας.
The Indo-European Bullshit

First of all let’s get rid of the Indo-European bullshit.

Mithra was the main god of polytheistic Iranians who were mainly Indo-Europeans, true, but the god stemmed from a complex process which includes at least 2 fusions (syncretisms.)

A. One started in Babylon, Mesopotamia [Μεσοποταμία, ie (land) ‘between the rivers’, today’s Iraq,] which was and is Semitic. Out there the Babylonian sun god Šamaš was the common Akkadian name of the sun god in both Babylonia and Assyria.

[the everlasting relationship between Persia and Mesopotamia, ie Iran and Iraq, continues today with both exchanges and wars we all know …]

B. Such process reached a second larger syncretism in Asia Minor [Μικρά Ασία or Aνατολή: today’s Turkey] when the Persian empire collapsed under the conquest by Alexander the Great – Μέγας Ἀλέξανδρος – in 330 BC. From that moment Mithraism became hellenized and especially romanized in terms of Platonic philosophy (the Greeks had suffered too much because of the Persian wars to fully embrace Mithraism.)

Mithra – see picture below – who slays the cosmic bull to generate life: from its blood sprang grain and grape, from its sperm the animals etc. With Hellenism he became the Platonic rational creator (demiurge) of the universe as we can read in Plato’s Timaeus – something to peruse to better grasp.

We’ll see all this in the next post. I’ll try to find inspiring passages, we need inspiration to understand.

Mithra about to slay the cosmic bull and to create the universe ... (click for credits and to enlarge)

Any Survivals of the Sun God?

While walking back home, while seeing roads in this city, statues, churches, inscriptions I’m starting to decipher a little bit better, I am asking myself:

Has this god of light & sun [θεός του φωτός και του Ήλιου] left traces or is he totally disappeared?

Well, you’ll be amazed by the list of survivals concerning the Western and Eastern mind I’ve prepared for you.

Just wait to delve a bit into the fascinating mythology, cosmology and worship of Mithraism!

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