Sarcophagus of Orestes. Funerary Monuments

Sarcófago de Orestes Pulse para ampliar Sarcófago de Orestes. Sala 21

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The inhumation ritual was imposed at the end of the second century and became exclusive in the 4th century. The powerful Roman families took advantage of the funeral ritual to show off their position, therefore, the wealthier the family, the more opulent and lavish the funeral procession, because exorbitant spending was an outward sign of the intensity of their grief and their status in society. Its wealth also determined the way to make it, from a simple wooden coffin to a marble sarcophagus beautifully decorated with mythological or allegorical scenes, placed in monumental mausoleums.

This sarcophagus, dated to the middle of the second century was imported from Rome by a wealthy noble family who displayed it in the family mausoleum as the final resting place of a loved one. Unlike urns, sarcophagi had large surface areas that were perfect for illustrating stories which reflected the deceased person's values and beliefs. This one narrates the Greek tragedy of the revenge of Orestes, a common theme on Roman sarcophagi. In different scenes we see Orestes, son of Clytemnestra and King Agamemnon, moving towards his tragic end on a journey that begins when he murders his mother and her lover to avenge his father's death. His friend Pylades, his old nurse and a servant witness it all. After taking his revenge, Orestes flees, hounded by the Furies who threaten him with the snake of remorse and illuminate the path of their pursuit with a torch. Succumbing to fatigue and guilt, Orestes seeks refuge at Delphi where, surrounded by the exhausted Furies, he begs for Apollo's protection but is refused. He then flies to Athens, where he is finally acquitted by the vote of the goddess Athena.