Gods and demi-gods at the table


In the many-sided, multiethnic Roman religious world, quite a few deities and demi-gods were linked to wine and the pleasures of the table.
First and foremost is Dionysus. With vine leaves and clusters of flowers woven into his hair, he is the god of wine par excellence, and as such the patron of drunkenness and wild abandon to one’s instincts. His likeness, often as a herma (a sculpture of a head above a small pillar), often adorned banquet rooms or outdoor dining halls.
A similar ornamental function may have been played by a sitting Orpheus playing the cetra, which perhaps referenced a common custom among aristocrats: that of feasting in gardens together with wild animals tamed by music.
An image of Hercules Bibax, with a two-handled cup in his hand, stands out in the middle of the mosaic of the aristocratic residence at Palazzo Diotallevi. The Romans were very fond of this side of Hercules, which they associated with the idea of a benevolent god and a lover of the joys of the table.
An elegant bronze table set found in a closet of this same residence included a statuette of a Lar, a guardian deity, dancing and raising a dolphin-shaped drinking cup, a symbol of the sea that is one with Rimini.