Pompeii, Archaeological Park, House of the Vettii (VI. 15. 1. p)
(Pompei, Parco Archeologico, Casa dei Vettii (VI. 15. 1. p)).
Dionysus rescues Ariadne on Naxos
Ariadne, asleep on the skin of a panther or tiger and covered with a green cloth, leans her upper body on a white cushion with red and yellow stripes. We see her from behind, as she rests her head on her right upper arm with her left arm crooked over her head. This crooked arm is the ancient gesture of “erotic repose”. Over her we see the figure of Hypnos (Sleep), who holds a golden cup in his left hand while holds a branch in his right hand to sprinkle the sleeping Ariadne. The head is especially expressive, with all of Hypnos’ attention on the branch in his right hand.
After Ariadne helped Theseus escape from the labyrinth, he abandoned her on the island of Naxos. His ship sails off in the upper right. Dionysus and his retinue discover her sleeping; the god falls in love with her and makes her his consort. Dionysus, wearing a long robe and carrying the thyrsus, has Silenus at his side, with two small Satyrs at Silenus’ feet. Behind Ariadne a young Satyr crowned with pine lifts the cloth that covers her and looks back at Dionysus while he raises his left arm in excitement. Between the Satyr and Dionysus are two Maenads. At the right a promontory extends out to the sea, with a circular tower at its end. Theseus’ boat escapes to the left of the tower.
The many devotees of Dionysus saw in this image salvation and perhaps even the hope of life after death. Especially for women devotees Ariadne’s good fortune in attracting the god was a model of the god’s devotion to them.
A god appears on earth and rescues a woman. This woman is loved by a god, admitted to the gods, achieves immortality, and marries a god. This same god (Dionysus) punishes Pentheus in central picture, east wall, of room n. The right-hand picture in room d shows Theseus abandoning Ariadne. A guest of the Vettii with a good visual memory would recognize these connections and could construct an interesting picture interpretation (ekphrasis) from these three Dionysian images.