Culture and Cosmos is a peer-reviewed academic journal in the history of astrology and cultural astronomy published by the Sophia Centre Press in partnership with the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture, Faculty of Humanitiies and the Performing Arts, at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David

We are currently seeking submissions for future volumes of Culture and Cosmos.

Volume 18 - 2

The Ancient Mithraeum as a Model Universe Part 2

Roger Beck


The aim of this two-part article is to confirm Porphyry's claim, in his essay On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey, concerning the design and function of the ancient mithraeum: that the Mithraists 'perfect their initiate by inducting him into a mystery of the descent of souls and their exit back out again, calling the place a "cave"'; further, that the mithraeum/cave fulfilled that function by being an 'image of the cosmos', in which 'the things contained, by their proportionate arrangement', served as 'symbols of the elements and climates of the cosmos' [1]. Rather than attempting to recapitulate Part 1 (published in the Proceedings of the Heavenly Discourses Conference, Bristol 2010), I shall resume the argument directly [2]. Part 2 discusses in particular the significance of the solstitial diameter linking Cancer to Capricorn across the mithraeum's central aisle; the images of the torchbearers, Cautes (raised torch = ascent) and Cautopates (lowered torch = descent) and the mid-bench niches on either side of the aisle; the disposition of the images of the planets in the Mithraea of the Seven Spheres and the Seven Gates at Ostia; and finally the intent of the arcades of niches beneath the unusually elevated benches in the mithraeum at Vulci in Etruria.

Roger Beck 'The Ancient Mithraeum as a Model Universe Part 2', Culture and Cosmos, Vol. 18, no. 2, Spring/Summer 2014, pp. 3-18.

[1] Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey 6, ed. and trans. Seminar Classics 609 SUNY Buffalo (Buffalo: Arethusa, 1969).
[2] Roger Beck, 'The Ancient Mithraeum as Model Universe, Part 1', in Heavenly Discourses, ed. Nicholas Campion (Lampeter: Sophia Centre Press, 2016), pp. 21-31 [hereafter MMU Part 1].

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