The Amuletic Design of the Mithraic Bull-Wounding Scene

October 6, 2010 - 17:30 - 19:00
Nador u. 9, Faculty Tower
Event type: 
Event audience: 
Open to the Public
Christopher A. Faraone
Annabella Pál
Department of Medieval Studies
Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies (CEMS)
Center for Religious Studies

The scene of Mithras kneeling on the back of a bull and driving his sword down into the bull’s shoulder (while animals attack from below) has been consistently labeled a tauroctony (“bull-slaying scene") and interpreted as some form of real or mythic sacrifice that was crucial to Mithraic ideas of personal salvation.  I shall argue that Mithras is, in fact, shown in the act of wounding the bull, not killing it, and that the overall design of the image links it with two scenes that have protective power: (i) a popular amulet used against the evil eye, in which an eye is attacked by animals from below and weapons from above; and (ii) images of Nike performing a battle-field sphagia, a protective rite performed by soldiers to protect them in battle.  I close by suggesting that for the mithraic worshippers, many of whom were soldiers, the image could be "read" at one level, at least, as an amulet that would protect them in this world and perhaps the next.