photo 34 of 80
San Clemente: Roman Sarcophagus Detail

Roman Sarcophagus Detail

A sign next to this 2nd-century sarcophagus explains: "This pagan sarcophagus was discovered in 1937 in the vaulting of the 1st-century room underneath. It seems that it was used in later times for Christian burial, although the bas-relief seems rather inappropriate, depicting scenes from the famous legend of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Phaedra, the young wife of Theseus, King of Athens, fell in love with her stepson Hippolytus, a chaste young man whose only passion was hunting. When Hippolytus coldly rejects his stepmother (left) Phaedra hangs herself in despair, but leaves a letter intended to incriminate Hippolytus. Her husband Theseus returns home from a journey to find his wife dead, and dejected at his son's duplicity (second group) asks the god Poseidon to punish Hippolytus. Poseiden (first figure on right panel) then has Hippolytus' horse frightened by a monster (right) that appears suddenly by a seashore. Hippolytus is killed by a fall from the horse. Only then does Theseus learn of his wife's deception and his son's innocence. The cavity in the vaulting from which the sarcophagus was extracted may be seen in the raised portion of the floor at the end of the aisle."

Credit: David Joyal