Cautes and Cautopates

CIMRM 254. Cautes and Cautopates.

Cautes and Cautopates are the torch-bearers, or dadophoroi. They are depicted attending Mithras in the monuments. Cautes holds his torch raised up, and Cautopates holds his torch downward. Their names are recorded in no literary text, but may be found on monuments, include CIMRM 1127 and CIMRM 2120-2121/CIMRM 2122-2123.

Both are depicted as smaller than Mithras, presumably to indicate their subordinate role, and both wear Persian style garments, notably a Phrygian cap, to emphasize the supposed oriental origins of the cult1.

Cautes holds a burning torch pointed up, whereas Cautopates holds a burning torch pointed down.2 Cautopates is usually depicted on the left, but not always.

The two torch-bearers are often interpreted as symbols of light, one for the rising, the other for the setting sun.3 Cautopates could also represent death, while Cautes might represent new life.4

On some monuments they have next to them a bull's head or a scorpion.5

An alternate interpretation advanced by David Ulansey is that Cautes represents the spring equinox and Cautopates the autumn equinox. Thus, represented on the left and right of the Tauroctony, they become a realistic cadre of the celestial equator and the constellations included between the two equinoxes during the Age of Taurus.6

1See main article for a fuller discussion. See also: Cumont, Franz, "Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism", 1911.
2Manfred Claus, The Roman cult of Mithras, tr. Richard Gordon. Edinburgh University Press (2000) p.95: "No satisfactory etymology of the names Cautes and Cautopates has yet been offered, but it is certain which name applied to which: Cautes holds his torch up, Cautopates down. That it was possible to represent them sometimes simply by their phrygian caps shows that the Mithraists took their presence for granted (p. 49; fig. 9)."
3Manfred Clauss, The Roman cult of Mithras, tr. R. Gordon, Edinburgh University Press (2000) p.95-6.
4Manfred Clauss, The Roman cult of Mithras, p.97.
5Roger Beck, Cautes and Cautopates: Some Astronomical Considerations, in: Journal of Mithraic Studies 2, no. 1 (1977),3.: "We have a fair number of monuments in which the torchbearers carry, or have located next to them, the subsidiary attributes of a bull's head or scorpion. The bull's head is usually associated with Cautes and the scorpion with Cautopates. Contrasted in this way, the creatures undoubtedly symbolized the opposing zodiacal signs of Taurus and Scorpius." Quoted by Ulansey, "Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries", p.64.
6Ulansey, D., Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, 1989, p.64: "Now, as we have seen, the tauroctony appears to represent the astronomical situation which obtained when the equinoxes were in Taurus and Scorpius. Thus, the fact that the torchbearers are connected with Taurus and Scorpius suggests a very simple answer to the question of what the torchbearers signify: they symbolize the equinoxes. Cautes, with his torch pointing up, represents the spring equinox, when the sun rises above the equator and the force of life begins to increase. Thus, he is associated with the constellation Taurus, which was the location of the spring equinox at the time indicated by the astronomical symbolism of the tauroctony. Cautopates, with his torch pointing down, represents the autumn equinox, when the sun sinks below the equator and the force of life begins to decline. Thus, he is associated with the constellation Scorpius, which was the location of the autumn equinox at the time indicated by the tauroctony.

Additional support for this solution is provided by CIMRM 335 (see Figure 5.8). Here we see two trees in the background behind the bull. The tree on the right has Cautes' raised torch and bull's head next to it, and the tree on the left has Cautopates' lowered torch and scorpion. The interesting thing here is that these two trees seem to represent the seasons of spring and autumn. For, as Beck says, "the tree against which the bull's head and the raised torch are set is shown in leaf (spring) while the tree behind the scorpion and the lowered torch is shown in fruit (autumn)." In the symbolism of this monument, therefore, Cautes is linked to the season of spring and Cautopates to the season of autumn. Clearly, this provides strong support for our suggestion that Cautes represents the spring equinox and Cautopates the autumn equinox."

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