At one point in my archaeological mystery/romance, The Five-Day-Dig, Chaz speculates that the building he and Winnie are excavating is an ancient purgatorium, like the one (shown below) that visitors to Pompeii can see on the grounds of the Temple of Isis. A purgatorium isn’t as scary as it first may sound. The name has the same root as the word purge, and this type of building was used for ritual cleansing with water from the Nile — sort of a pre-Christian baptism.

Though Isis is an Egyptian goddess, her worship spread to ancient Greece after Alexander conquered Egypt in the fourth century BCE. From there, the goddess reached the Roman Empire. At the time of Vesuvius’ big eruption in the year 79, she was a popular deity, and her temple in Pompeii is the best-preserved one in town. An inscription records that it had been rebuilt after an earthquake about a decade before the eruption.

What made Isis so popular in the Greco-Roman world? Well, she is often pictured with baby Horus — a mother-and-child image that many people are instinctively drawn to. Her mythology as the reassembler of her murdered husband’s body parts also paints her as a devoted wife and connects her to the idea of resurrection and eternal life. She was also a patron deity of sailors, an important occupation in the ancient economy.

The original paintings and sculpture from her temple in Pompeii are now a half-hour away by train in Naples at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Wouldn’t you know that Hubby and I missed them while we were there? But that gives us a reason to go back. 🙂

Tweet this