Mithras and Phanes

CIMRM 860. Mithras and the egg.

See also Mithras and other gods.

In Orphism, the deity Phanes1 emerged from the world egg at the beginning of time, bringing the universe into existence. There is evidence that this Orphic speculation influenced the cult of Mithras sometimes.2

There is some literary evidence connecting Mithras and Phanes, or interchanging them. A list of the eight elements of creation appears in both Zenobius and Theon of Smyrna; most of the elements are the same, but in Zenobius the seventh element is 'Mithras', in Theon it is 'Phanes'.3

That the two could be identified is shown by a Greek inscription from Rome, CIMRM 475, which gives a dedication by a "pater" and priest to Zeus-Helios-Mithras-Phanes.4,5

CIMRM 860, a relief from Vercovium / Borcovecium (Housesteads) on Hadrian's Wall shows a deity holding a dagger and a flame and emerging from the cosmic egg, which is represented both as such and by the shape of the zodiacal ring.6 The item was found in the Mithraic cave at Housesteads, between two altars inscribed to Mithras, and in front of the main cult relief.7

CIMRM 985, a similar relief, was found inside a Mithraeum at Trier in 1928, between two altars, one to Mithras and one to Sol, and again there may have been the main cult relief behind it. It depicts the cosmic birth of Mithras from the rock inside a zodiac. Mithras is holding the globe of the world, and reaching out to touch the zodiac.8

CIMRM 985. Mithras and the zodiac.

These have similarities to a relief in the Galleria Estense in Modena, originally from Mutina or Rome, which shows Phanes rather than Mithras in much the same context.9 This shows Phanes coming from an egg with flames shooting out around him, surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac, in an image very similar to that at Newcastle.10.

CIMRM 695. Phanes and the egg.

Ulansey has commented on the various similarities between Mithras, Phanes, Aion and the lion-headed god, including that the Modena relief, originally Orphic, came into the hands of an initiate of Mithras, according to an inscription scratched on it.11

1Details about this being, with ancient sources, may be found at the Theoi site here.
2Clauss, M., The Roman cult of Mithras, p. 70.
3M. Clauss, p.70 n.84. Zenobius Proverbia 5.78 (in Corpus paroemiographorum Graecorum vol. 1, p.151). Theon of Smyrna gives the same list but substitutes Phanes. See Albert de Jong, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin literature, p.309 on this; and more info on the Zenobius passage here and the Theon passage here.
4Von Gall, p.523, gives this as CIMRM 475.
5Ulansey, David, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, pp.120-1. Excerpts here. "The identification between Mithras and Phanes indicated by CIMRM 860 is also explicitly attested by an inscription found in Rome dedicated to 'Zeus-Helios-Mithras-Phanes' and another inscription dedicated to 'Helios-Mithras-Phanes'."
6Clauss, M. The Roman cult of Mithras, p. 70, photo p.71. CIMRM 860 is now at the Museum of Antiquities, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU.
7John Bell, "A catalogue of the Roman altars and inscribed and sculptured stones in the collection of the society of antiquaries, Newcastle-upon-Tyne", in The Gentleman's Magazine, vol. 166 (1839), p.183 f., p.184: "52. - A sculptured bust of Mithras between the two hemispheres, surrounded by the twelve signs of the Zodiac; it was also found in the Mithraic Cave at Housesteads, between nos. 51. and 53. -- Presented by the same". (i.e. by George Gibson, esq. Other entries indicate that all the material was found in 1822)
8Vivienne J. Walters, The cult of Mithras in the Roman provinces of Gaul, p.108-110, item 39 with bibliography, "A stone relief from Trier (Augusta Treverorum), now in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier, Inventory no. S.T.9981. See plate XVIII. Google books preview here. "At Housesteads, which has produced perhaps the closest parallel for the Trier relief, there was a cult relief behind the egg birth and flanking altars." On p.25 the author suggests that the same may have been true here at Trier.
9Hubertus von Gall, The Lion-Headed and the Human-Headed God in the Mithraic Mysteries in: Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin(ed.), Études Mithriaques, p.511-526, p.522. Google Books preview here. CIMRM 695-6, fig. 197. Von Gall states that some scholars believe that the Housesteads relief is in fact a Phanes sculpture which has been reused by the Mithras cult.
10Vermaseren, M., The miraculous birth of Mithras, p.287 n.10. The relief is in the Estense Museum in Modena, Italy. See also F. Cumont, Mithra et l'Orphisme, RHR CIX, 1934, 63 ff; M. P. Nilsson, "The Syncretistic Relief at Modena", Symb. Osi. XXIV, 1945, 1 ff.
11Ulansey, David, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, p.120.

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