images drawn from traditional Roman decorative art such as flowers, fruit, birds, grapevines and garlands, as well as certain figures that might be imbued with particular Christian meanings such as the fish or fisher, dove, boat, anchor and shepherd. While many of the latter would be indistinguishable from their pagan counterparts if detached and hung on a museum wall, their placement within a larger artistic programme, along with the addition of inscribed epitaphs, helps to identify them as Christian and as relaying a particular Christian message. The fish in the Catacomb of Callistus, for example, is shown with a basket of bread and a vial of wine, probably indicating the sacrament of the eucharist (see fig. 3, above p. 144).
As noted above, many of these were standard motifs found in Roman religious and secular iconography. For example, the image ofthe shepherd, which references the many uses of the metaphor in Christian and Jewish scripture (e.g. John 10:11: 'I am the Good Shepherd'), may have been adapted from a Roman representation of Hermes carrying a ram. Hermes, the god who carried messages from the gods to humans and served as a guide to souls in the underworld (psychopompos), was appropriately portrayed in funereal settings. His Christian version is often hard to distinguish from the non-Christian, especially when the provenance of the object is unknown, as is often true of small shepherd figurines. Similarly, the figure of Orpheus was adapted to convey the nature of Christ's work. Orpheus, the tamer of wild beasts and the rescuer of the dead (Eurydice), was transformed into Christ the tamer of human passions and saviour from death.14
The representation of Christ the teacher with his students, as in the Catacomb of Domitilla (see fig. 7, above, p. 484), has a well-known parallel in the representation of a philosopher such as Socrates. Other motifs, common to both Christian and pagan burial iconography, include the representation of a funeral banquet (five or seven persons seated at semicircular table), a seated male reading a scroll, and a veiled female praying figure (orant), her hands stretched out and up. Both of these expressed traditional Roman virtues of wisdom and piety, and may have been meant to represent the deceased's habits or character. However, to a Christian patron or viewer, the orant also could represent the Christian soul awaiting resurrection, while the teacher or seated reader could allude to Christian teaching as true philosophy.15
The well-known Via Salaria sarcophagus provides an example of the difficulty in distinguishing between a Christian object and a pagan one in the early
14 Murray Rebirth and afterlife, 37-63.
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