John R. Hinnells begins his paper on Cautes and Cautopates by articulating precisely what he is going to do and how he is going to do it. It’s a massive step forward from the random theorising of the Cumont era.
Instead of starting with a mess of factoids and assembling them into a theory, Hinnells is determined to start with cold, hard, facts. He’s not going to waste time on theories about what things might mean — too often presented as facts themselves — but instead intends to catalogue precisely what is actually known.
Just listen to this!
This study is an attempt to apply to the study of Cautes and Cautopates principles of method in the interpretation of Mithraic iconography for which I have argued previously. I wrote: ‘the proper place to begin a study of Mithraism is with the Roman material, then and only then may one begin to consider which, if any, are the appropriate traditions with which to compare one’s data‘ (1975b: 343). Studies of Mithraism have generally proceeded from the basis of external parallels. In the case of the torchbearers, attention has been given to the search for the Iranian origins of their names. That search is ignored in this article in a deliberate attempt to analyse the Mithraic iconography with as few presuppositions as possible. To that end all previous studies of the iconography are left out of consideration. The article has a clearly defined and limited aim — to collect and analyse the Roman Mithraic iconography of the torchbearers. A subsequent article will attempt to interpret that inconography and will consider the various theories which have been advanced. Here the only subject of discussion is the iconography of the monuments.
I have a feeling that those words could usefully appear on the wall of any scholar tasked with analysing a subject based on scanty and confusing sources. Any paper assembled on these principles cannot avoid being of permanent value.
Cumont’s work was excellent in its day. But the analysis of the data was always subjective, and never resolved anything, and never provided a methodology by which anything could be further examined.
By contrast Hinnells shows the way in which scholarship had developed, and had devised methods to ensure objectivity.
Distinguishing between data and deduction, basing oneself conservatively on the data, and ignoring the woolliness of older and less careful scholarship in favour of precise, measurable facts … that is what scholarship means. Any fool can write an essay that is really merely decorated with facts.
-  John R. Hinnells, The iconography of Cautes and Cautopates I: the data, Journal of Mithraic Studies 1 (1976), p.36-67 plus plates. ↩