The scene at top right represents the moment at which baby Dionysos, seated in the lap of Hermes, is about to be handed over to Tropheus, his future tutor, and to the nymphs of Mount Nysa. Three of them are preparing his bath, while Nysa herself and a nurse, Anatrophe, sit nearby. Dionysos is naked. A golden fillet and a wreath of green leaves decorate his hair and a silvery-bluish nimbus adorns his head. Hermes is shown seated in a dignified pose resembling an emperor on a throne, clad in an ankle-length purple-red mantle. Winglets at his forehead and feet facilitate his identification which is further corroborated by an inscription giving his name. All the other figures are also identified by names written in Greek characters. The young god is accompanied by three personifications: Theogonia, the birth of gods; Nectar and Ambrosia, the divine foods assuring immortality. The nymphs in long colourful dresses, have green wreaths upon their heads which enhance the dionysiac atmosphere of the scene. Two of them wear either bracelets, armlets or a necklace. Nysa, their senior, has a broad golden diadem in addition to the wreath. Tropheus, the teacher, is dressed in a short tunic and trousers and has the pointed ears of a silenus and a wreath of green leaves with yellowish-red flowers upon his balding head. All the participants except for one nymph look attentively at Dionysos.
At first glance one is inclined to say that the scene is one of many such representations showing Hermes, who upon Zeus’ order, rescues baby Dionysos after the premature death of his mother Semele and delivers him to the nymphs. Such scenes appear in Greek vase painting in the 5th century B.C. and later, on all sorts of monuments of Greek and Roman, as well as Etruscan and Coptic art. However, the unusual personifications accompanying the young god and the respectful way in which the divine child is being held by Hermes, his hands wrapped in drapery, indicate that this picture is not just a usual mythological representation of an episode from Dionysos’ childhood.
© 1998. Photo, text: W. A. Daszewski, D. Michaelidis. “Guide to the Paphos Mosaics”. Bank of Cyprus cultural foundation, 1998. P. 64, 66.