Thisfascinating piece of art is a sarcophagus tub, it’s made of marble and datesback to the first half of the 2nd century AD. A sarcophagus (meaning “flesh-eater” in Greek)is a coffin for inhumation burials, this terrifying phrase tells us that they havebelieved that this type of stone had an ability to dissolve flesh. Until the 2nd century AD, theRomans followed the Greek and Etruscan practice of cremating their dead. Theashes were placed in a funerary or cinerary urn. The urns were frequentlysculptured and had a stylized representation of the deceased on the lid.
This practice was to continue until the end ofthe 1st century AD. For the wealthier families, the urn might beplaced on an altar and a sculptured tombstone might be commissioned; these actswere to memorialize the dead. From the 2nd century burialsbecame more popular and by the 3rd century AD, it was the standardpractice. The poor were buried in cemeteries outside the town or city limits toavoid pollution within the town or city; the wealthy were also buried in thesame cemeteries but often in elaborate tombs or sarcophagi within them. Obviously,something as luxurious and well-crafted as this, and the Fact that it’s made ofmarble tells us that it was not for the poor, it was for people from a much highersocial status. The characteristics of the upper-class sarcophagusthat they were usually of marble or, less frequently, of limestone and werefrequently elaborately carved with scenes from Greek mythology reflecting thetaste of upper-class Romans for Greek culture. Other decorative themes illustrated aspects ofthe deceased’s personal and professional life and included battle and huntingscenes or biographical events from the life of the deceased.
A considerablenumber were decorated with garlands of flowers, foliage or fruits. This sarcophagus tub depicts the myth ofPhaedra-Hippolyte, Phaedra, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of Minos, wifeof Theseus and the mother of Demophon of Athens and Acamas. Though married to Theseus, Phaedra fell inlove with Hippolytus, her stepson, -the reason behind why she fell in love withhim in the first place has many versions but one of them is that Hippolytus hadmocked Aphrodite by telling her to be a virginal devotee of Artemis, so Aphroditemade Phaedra fall in love with him as a punishment- but he rejected her andwhen her passion for him became known, she hanged herself, leaving a letter inwhich she charged her stepson of having assaulted her. His innocence neverbecame known to his father until after his death. We can see that this tub is only carved fromthe front that’s because at that time most sarcophagi were placed against awall in these tombs, therefore, they were usually only decorated on the frontand the two short sides.How their marbleclothes are so well made that almost feel like draped materials. But what isfascinating about the whole thing is that we don’t actually see a crime, it’s amarried woman who desired her stepson, that’s “adultery”, but what we see isthe difference of an effect this has on a female and a male.
We see Hippolytos and Phaedra seated back toback at the shrine of Artemis. In the center of the frieze, a little servantwith a hammer fixes the antlers of a stag to a small shrine. The left part of the frieze is occupied by theseated Phaedra and two standing female figures. Phaedra’s posture, with loweredhead and raised right hand, reveal the state of her soul, her left hand issupported by the female figure next to her, showing how the loving female is consumedby her passionThe imageleaves no doubt that Phaedra’s desperate state is caused by Aphrodite On the contrary, we can see Hippolytos, thenaked hunter, and his proud and relaxed posture.