The house of Dionysus. Late 2nd century CE. Paphos, Archaeological Park


The house of Dionysus. Late 2nd century CE.

Paphos, Archaeological Park.

According to some ancient authors Icarios was king of Athens but according to others he was a gardener — which is what he appears to be on our mosaic. Icarios offered hospitality to Dionysos when the latter was visiting Athens and in return the god taught him how to cultivate the vine and make wine out of its fruit, introducing in this way viticulture to mankind. He warned him, however, to hide his wine well, otherwise disasters would befall himself and his family. Unfortunately, Icarios did not heed the god’s advice and, while returning home with his first vintage, offered some shepherds that happened to be passing by some of his precious liquor. The shepherds became intoxicated and, thinking themselves poisoned, attacked and killed Icarios. This was a sad end indeed for the first man to make wine, and the story, as we shall see, was probably chosen, on purpose, because of its moral message, for decorating this part of the portico.

The scene represented on the mosaic is the moment just before the tragedy. In the centre, Icarios is holding the reins of an ox-driven cart loaded with animal-skins containing wine. Further to the right we see two men designated by an inscription as “the first wine drinkers”. One of them, overcome by wine is on the ground leaning against a wineskin. The other is still managing to hold himself up and drink out of a cup.

On the left-hand side, the god of wine himself, Dionysos, is seated on a stool, holding a bunch of grapes. He appears to be offering it to the nymph Akme who is seated opposite him drinking wine out of a bowl. Both figures are crowned with vine leaves and grapes. Akme is by no means a well known figure in Greek mythology but her identification is made certain by the inscription above her head. The name in Greek means culmination or perfection (usually of age) and one cannot avoid interpreting her presence here as symbolic. If this is the case, she would stand for the state of mind brought about by the proper and moderate use of wine. In fact Icarios seems to be pointing towards her in quite a meaningful manner. The two drunk shepherds on the other side would then symbolize the evils that improper use of wine leads to. This is of course only a hypothesis, but one cannot resist giving this interpretation to a mosaic that had to be crossed before one entered into the dining room.

© 1998 Photo, text: W. A. Daszewski, D. Michaelidis. “Guide to the Paphos Mosaics”. Bank of Cyprus cultural foundation, 1998. P. 40—41.
Keywords: μωσαϊκό mosaic mosaics mosaica mosaici mosaik mosaïque greek greca greco greche griechische griechisches grecque grecquesё mosaico floor icarius gardener vintage