Over the weekend I was thinking about the ancient information that has reached us about the cult of Mithras. There is a considerable quantity of not-very-useful literary testimonies, but the majority of the material is inscriptional or in the form of reliefs and statuary.
All this was sparked by thinking about a depiction of the so-called “water miracle”. This shows Mithras firing a bow, at what is presumably a rock, which then gushes what is presumably water. The “presumably” comes because we have no literary testimony to this part of the myth, so we don’t quite know what we are looking at. Yet it sometimes appears in the 10 panels of mythical events, appearing on either side of the tauroctony — the central depiction of Mithras killing the bull which appears in every Mithraeum — in the more elaborate examples of that sculpture. So plainly it was of some importance.
This led me to wonder how one might find out what is, or is not, being depicted. For all these pictorial bits of information, the best way to learn what they are is to compare examples. So what we need for the “water miracle” is a collection of all the examples of the depiction, with locality and date etc.
I considered starting a collection of these. One could start with Vermaseren’s Corpus of materials, and start trying to get photographs etc, which could be put online.
But then it occurred to me that, although this is a good idea, it is one before its time. The British Museum has started to put its collection online, and limited photographs are already appearing. Undoubtedly other institutions will do the same. Meta-sites will spring up, making it possible to search more and more collections. Minor collections will do likewise. And at that point it will be possible to do this research relatively simply.
So I shall refrain, tempting tho it is. For those of us whose eyes are larger than our stomachs, it will always be possible to dream impossible dreams!
In other news, I have had a demand from some UK government body for five copies of my book, to be delivered for deposit in the five copyright libraries. Pity that wasn’t an order for five copies!