Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
November 27, 2023

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

Special thank-you to a specialist in ancient philosophy and history who alerted me to the recent excavation of an amazing floor mosaic which has lain buried under the ash and debris from the eruption of Vesuvius which engulfed the city of Pompeii and all of its remaining inhabitants in AD 79, and which has only recently again seen the light of day during an ongoing archaeological project in the Regio V section of the ruins.

On a late autumn night (long thought to have been August 24, but based on recent discoveries and analysis now believed to have been in either late October or November) in the year we today call AD 79 (or, if you prefer, 79 CE), the volcano known to the Romans as Vesuvius Mons erupted violently, sending a deadly and basically inescapable pyroclastic flow of superheated ash and toxic gas billowing down the mountainside over the seaside town of Pompeii, killing everyone who had not left the city during the preceding earthquakes and tremors which had provided ominous warning that the volcano was preparing to explode.

The ash flowed around and over buildings, people, and animals, preserving them even as it entombed them for centuries, eventually burying them in hardened volcanic material over 80 feet deep. For conveying the human impact on the men and women and children who were overcome by the eruption on that night, as well as providing an outstanding examination of the city of Pompeii in ancient times and after it began to be excavated in earnest beginning in the 1700s, I recommend Professor Mary Beard’s Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found (2008).

Recently, new archaeological excavations have been underway in the section of the city which is designated “Regio V.” The buried city of Pompeii was divided into Regiones (“regions” or “wards”) during the 1800s by archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli (1823 – 1896), who began to study the ruins of Pompeii in 1848. As Professor Beard explains in her book:

In the absence of ancient addresses, modern gazetteers to the city use a late nineteenth-century system for referring to individual buildings. The same archaeologist who perfected the technique of casting the corpses, Giuseppe Fiorelli (one-time revolutionary politician, and the most influential director of the Pompeian excavations ever), divided Pompeii into nine separate areas or regions; he then numbered each block of houses within these areas, and went on to give every doorway onto the street its own individual number. So, in other words, according to this now standard archaeological shorthand, ‘VI. xv. 1’ would mean the first doorway of the fifteenth block of region six, which lies at the northwest of the city. 20 – 21.

Below is a map showing the Regiones and Insulae (“islands” or “blocks”) of Pompeii, from a book by Eustace Neville-Rolfe (1845 – 1908), entitled Pompeii Popular and Practical: An easy book on a difficult subject (1893):

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

As the reader can see from the above map, in 1893 when Eustace Neville-Rolfe’s book was published, much of Regio V was still buried under the layers of ancient ash as well as the earth that had covered over it during the intervening nineteen centuries since the eruption. However, blocks (or Insulae) in the regiones which had been excavated up to that year are numbered according to Fiorelli’s system.

Each of these blocks within the regiones contain dozens of individual buildings, as can be perceived by looking closely at the gorgeous 1911 map below:

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

As can be seen in that map as well, large portions of the city remained under layers of ash and later soil deposits in 1911, including most of the northern parts of the city in the region designated by Giuseppe Fiorelli as Regio V. However, as you can see in the map, some of the edges of the buildings lining the avenue leading across the town from the Porta di Nola (the “Nola Gate”) were excavated prior to 1911. This important cross-town artery has been dubbed the “Via di Nola” in modern times, although as Professor Beard explains in her book linked above, we do not know the original name of the street, or whether the ancients even had “street names” in the way we think of them today (20).

Below is a map of Pompeii showing in different colors the periods in which various areas of Pompeii have been excavated thus far, prior to the new excavations in Regio V: V. xv. 1).

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

As you can see from this map, significant portions of the south-eastern side of the city were excavated in the years following the publication of the 1911 map shown just above it (the areas in orange), as well as some additional forays deeper into the blocks indicated in green than were shown in the 1911 map. Nevertheless, large sections of Regio V, where excavations are ongoing today, are still uncolored in the above map.

Here is a link to an excellent modern map from the Visiting Pompeii website, showing the Regiones and outlines of buildings that have been excavated thus far, and also labeling the streets with their modern names.

The recent push to excavate more deeply into Regio V as part of the Great Pompeii Project (to prevent damage including water damage to unexcavated archaeological treasures) is turning up amazing new discoveries. Here is a short article from March of 2018 with some photographs showing excavated portions of Pompeii next to portions of Regio V which are still covered with undisturbed ash and soil, entitled “New Pompeii District to be Uncovered.”

This previous post discusses one such new discovery, an amazing fresco containing an erotic depiction of the scene of the mythical episode of Leda and the Swan, in which the artist has Leda “breaking the fourth wall” by staring provocatively at the viewer no matter where in the room the viewer is located. That post also contains a video I made entitled “The Divine Spark descends to the Mortal Realm,” discussing some of the celestial aspects of the myth of Zeus and Leda, and of other myths involving Zeus and his amorous affairs with mortal women, as well as possible esoteric messages conveyed by these erotic myths.

The cubiculum (probably a bedroom) containing the newly-discovered painting of Leda and the Swan was unearthed in Regio V during the 2018 excavations as part of the Great Pompeii Project. It was found in a villa located in a block along the Via del Vesuvio, near the well-known House of the Vettii (the House of the Vettii, in fact, is the house indicated by the example address given by Professor Beard in the quotation above: V. xv. 1). The avenue known today as Via del Vesuvio runs to the gate known as the Vesuvius Gate, along the northern wall of the city: you can find it in the multi-colored map above along the north wall, where two streets descend in an inverted “V” from a point at the gate (the Vesuvius Gate can easily be seen along the north wall because it is the point that has the larger “green-colored” section north of the wall, representing excavation that was performed between 1879 and 1923).

The Via del Vesuvio is the “right-hand” street extending down from the point of this inverted V, traversing all the way across the city from north to south (or northwest to southeast) and exiting at the Porta di Stabia (the “Stabian Gate”). It changes names from the Via del Vesuvio to the Via Stabiana when it crosses the Via di Nola.

In addition to the striking recently-unearthed depiction of Leda and the Swan, an even more-recently uncovered mosaic from a Regio V villa was revealed to the public in January of this year. This is a mosaic found in the so-called “House of Jupiter” or “Casa di Giove” (“House of Jove”), a villa along the Via di Nola which had been partially excavated in the late 19th century but which has rooms further back which are only now being unearthed. Here is an article from the Daily Mail dated August 2018 describing the ongoing excavations in the Casa di Giove (an article published a few months prior to the unearthing of the floor mosaic shown at the top of this post and discussed below).

The Casa di Giove is designated V. ii. 15 and it is linked to the building designated V. ii. 16 under the system of Giuseppe Fiorelli. You can see the actual floor plan of these buildings if you look closely enough on the close-up map contained in this article from the Visiting Pompeii website. I have taken the close-up map from that article and circled (in dark blue) the label indicating “block” or “insula” V. 2, and placed a blue arrow pointing to the buildings designated V. ii. 15 and V. ii. 16 (you can see the tiny “door numbers” indicated along the edge of the block facing the street labeled “Via di Nola,” if you look very closely):

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

The striking mosaic recently revealed in the Casa di Giove is shown at the top of this post. It depicts a  winged anthropomorphic male figure shown from the waist up, emerging from a large scorpion. Below the scorpion is a massive coiled cobra, rearing up like an Egyptian uraeus.

Above the winged figure is another winged figure, angelic in form (with feathered wings, unlike the somewhat “moth-shaped” wings of the first figure who is rising up out of the scorpion). This angelic figure has an upward-stretching arm pointing skyward (in a hand-gesture or mudra which is seen in other sacred artwork, such as the mudras discussed here, or those depicted in the Last Supper by da Vinci, for example). This same angelic figure also has a downward-reaching hand holding a torch, and this torch is extended downwards towards the head of the first figure (the one rising out of the scorpion). The torch is setting the head of the first figure aflame.

Above this angelic winged figure with a torch, we see a third winged figure holding a crown which appears to be made of laurel branches (a “laurel crown”). This top figure with the laurel crown is extending both arms downwards, offering the laurel crown to one of the two figures below.

The twitter account of the Pompeii-based website Planet Pompeii tweeted about this remarkable mosaic on 26 January of this year (link to tweet).

In that tweet, they called the mosaic “enigmatic” and then offered their interpretation, saying: “it would be the transformation of the gigantic Orion constellation after its fight against the scorpion.”

This interpretation is worthwhile, and is at least pointing in the right direction, by perceiving that this ancient mosaic, buried beneath the debris of the eruption for 1, 940 years, is in fact based upon celestial figures found in the heavens above. While I commend their attempt to interpret the scene celestially, I disagree that the ancient mosaic depicts “the gigantic Orion constellation.”

Just because the scene contains a large scorpion (which the author or authors of the tweet correctly suggest may be related to the constellation Scorpio) does not mean that the figure rising up from the scorpion is necessarily Orion. In fact, I would argue that the winged figure rising up from the Scorpion is associated with a different constellation, one situated immediately above the constellation Scorpio in the heavens: the constellation Ophiuchus.

The reason we can be quite confident that the winged man emerging from the scorpion and rising towards the heavens (where he is anointed with fire by the downward-facing torch of the angelic figure above, while another angelic figure descends with a laurel crown) is associated with Ophiuchus is the fact that the figures above him can almost certainly be associated with the constellation Hercules, located directly above Ophiuchus in the sky. The presence of a crown in the artwork, connected to the angelic winged figures, is yet another confirmatory clue, because this crown can almost certainly be identified with the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, which is located immediately in front of the constellation Hercules and indeed is envisioned as being “grasped” by the figures associated with the constellation Hercules in a great many myths from around the world.

Below is a star-chart showing the relevant constellations in the night sky, juxtaposed with an image of the newly-uncovered artwork from the long-buried mosaic in the Casa di Giove:

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

Working our way upwards in the mosaic, beginning with the giant scorpion, we can be fairly confident that the scorpion corresponds to the figure of Scorpio, in the heavens. I have drawn an arrow from the constellation Scorpio as we see it in the sky to the giant scorpion depicted in the ancient mosaic.

Immediately above the scorpion in the mosaic we see the human figure, rising up with arms upraised, with moth-like wings on either side. This figure, I am convinced, can be identified with the position of the constellation Ophiuchus in the night sky. The constellation Ophiuchus is an extremely important constellation, one which plays a central role in many of the Star Myths of the world. Ophiuchus figures in ancient myth include Dionysus, Odin, Christ, and many others. Note that all of these Ophiuchus figures are mystical figures, associated with ecstasy or transfiguration — just as we see the figure in this enigmatic ancient mosaic from the floor of the House of Jove in Pompeii undergoing some sort of transfiguration.

The moth-winged figure undergoing some sort of transfiguration apparently has his head set aflame by a downward-reaching winged figure immediately above him. I would suggest that this winged figure with the torch can be clearly identified as being associated with the constellation Hercules. The constellation Hercules is located directly above Ophiuchus in the heavens. What’s more, the constellation has a leg which appears to be stepping on one side of the triangular “head” of the constellation Ophiuchus. In the ancient mosaic from the floor of the Casa di Giove in Pompeii, this “forward leg” is instead envisioned as a “downward-pointing torch,” but the outline and body position still match the outline of the constellation Hercules.

(The reader may note that the artwork on the mosaic appears to be “mirror-image” to the constellations in the night sky — this is not unusual for artwork based on celestial scenes; for example, note that the tail of the scorpion in the mosaic points to the right as we face it, but the tail of Scorpio in the heavens points towards the left, or east, as we face the star-chart above: this is why the two angelic figures above the moth-winged transfigured man are also facing to the left with their feet extending to the right, even though Hercules in the heavens faces to the right or west with his feet extending to the left or east).

The reader may wonder about the massive weapon which the constellation Hercules in the heavens appears to be brandishing (this feature in the outline of the constellation shows up as a weapon wielded by mythical figures associated with this constellation in many of the world’s ancient Star Myths, such as the club wielded by the hero Heracles in Greek myth, or the mighty mace wielded by the hero Bhima in the Mahabharata of ancient India). There is evidence that this portion of the outline of the constellation, often envisioned as a weapon, was alternately envisioned as forming the “wings” of an angelic-looking figure instead. For example, below is artwork from ancient Greece, showing the famous scene in which Achilles drags the body of Hector after defeating him in battle, as described in the Iliad:

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Note that immediately behind the figure of Achilles in the chariot we see a winged figure whose leg position indicates beyond any doubt that this figure (usually interpreted as representative of the spirit of the deceased Patroclus) is associated in this particular piece of artwork with the constellation Hercules in the night sky. I discuss this scene in more depth in my 2016 book Star Myths of the World, and how to interpret them, Volume Two (Myths of Ancient Greece). The other figures in the artwork are shown in that volume to be associated with other nearby constellations, thus confirming that the winged figure is indeed associated with Hercules (for example, Achilles in the chariot can be shown to be associated with the figure of Bootes in the heavens, who is located directly in front of Hercules and thus matches this ancient artwork on the vase quite precisely).

Additional confirmation that winged figures such as those found in the Pompeiian mosaic and the Greek vase above can be identified as being associated with the constellation Hercules can be found in depictions of the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary down through the centuries. In these artistic depictions, the Angel Gabriel is almost invariably depicted in a posture characterized by a “deep knee-bend” and a “downward reaching arm,” corresponding to the outline of the constellation Hercules. The other distinctive aspect of the constellation Hercules, the “upraised club” (or other powerful weapon) is instead envisioned as the over-arching wing or wings of the angel.

Below is an example of an Annunciation scene, painted around the year AD 1270, and showing the Angel with characteristics distinctive to the outline of the constellation Hercules:

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Note that in the above Annunciation scene, the artist has chosen to depict the Virgin Mary standing in front of a tall rectangular tower with a triangular roof: this tower’s shape is clearly evocative of the outline of the central body of the constellation Ophiuchus in the heavens (towards which the downward-reaching arm of the constellation Hercules can be seen to be pointing).

These examples should confirm that the angelic image in the mosaic recently unearthed in the Casa di Giove in Pompeii is associated with the constellation Hercules, and this helps to confirm as well that the moth-winged man being transfigured in that mosaic, just below the angelic figure, is associated with the constellation Ophiuchus.

Just above the first “angelic” figure we see another similar angelic-looking figure with feathered wings, this time reaching downward and extending a laurel crown. The arc of this wreath of laurels is almost certainly associated with the dazzling arc of the Northern Crown in the heavens, Corona Borealis (as indicated in the star-chart above, where I have drawn a green arrow pointing from the Northern Crown in the chart to the laurel wreath crown in the artwork).

It is an undeniable fact that figures associated with the constellation Hercules in ancient myth and ancient artwork are frequently described or depicted as grasping an arc-shaped object which is associated with the Northern Crown (Corona Borealis). Indeed, the Northern Crown is located immediately in front of the constellation Hercules in the heavens, and although the constellations are not “usually” or “normally” seen as being connected, we can easily envision a line from the downward-reaching arm of Hercules to the nearby stars of the Northern Crown:

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

There are a great many myths from around the world in which a Hercules figure is envisioned as grasping a figure associated with the Northern Crown. One familiar episode on which I have written extensively in the past is the story of the Judgment of Solomon, from the book of 1 Kings in the Bible. In that story, Solomon directs a figure (whom we can designate as the “Swordsman”) to cut a living baby in half and give one half to each of two mothers who each claim the baby to be her own (the swordsman does not actually cut the baby in half, in case you are not familiar with the story — Solomon commands “Stop!” before the baby is actually divided, by which fact we know that Solomon is talking to someone else with a sword, and is not wielding the sword himself in that story).

In that episode of the Judgment of Solomon, the Swordsman can be convincingly shown to be played by the constellation Hercules in the heavens, while the infant being held by the Swordsman is associated with Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Artwork down through the centuries consistently represents the Swordsman in a posture reminiscent of the outline of Hercules, with sword held overhead, and consistently shows the baby in a “hard arch” representative of the arc of the Northern Crown in the heavens:

Ancient mosaic with esoteric celestial elements discovered during recent Pompeii excavations — Star Myths of the World

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Finally, we can address the coiled cobra snake depicted beneath the scorpion in the mosaic. As shown in the star-chart above, I believe this serpent corresponds to the constellation Hydra in the night sky, which is located just to the west of Scorpio, and which features a “circlet” at the front of the sinuous serpent shape, very suggestive of the hood of a cobra. Indeed, the outline of Hydra could be envisioned as suggesting a cobra with head rearing up. I have drawn an arrow in the star-chart between the constellation Hydra and the coiled serpent in the mosaic. Note that once again the serpent in the artwork is “mirror-image” to the direction of the constellations in the sky — this mirroring is consistent throughout the mosaic and appears to have been a deliberate choice on the part of the artist. Again, such mirroring is not unusual in sacred artwork depicting figures who are based on heavenly constellations: sometimes the scene is mirror-image to the way we see it from earth looking to the sky.

Thus, we can see that the evidence supporting the assertion that the recently-unearthed mosaic from the Casa di Giove in Regio V of the ruins of Pompeii depicts a scene that is patterned after the celestial figures in the heavens is quite abundant, and quite compelling (I would say conclusive).

The scene does not appear to depict the constellation Orion: rather, I would argue that it depicts a transfigured mortal who is depicted in the position of the constellation Ophiuchus in the heavens, directly above a great scorpion (the constellation Scorpio) and a coiled cobra-snake (the constellation Hydra). Above, we see an angelic being with a torch, setting the head of the rising man aflame: this angelic being can be confidently associated with the constellation Hercules. Above that, we see yet another angelic being, also (according to my analysis) based on Hercules, but this time offering a crown instead of a flaming torch. This crown is almost certainly identified with the Northern Crown in the heavens, which is often envisioned in other myths as being held in the hand of the constellation Hercules.

The parallels to other artwork and other myths in this newly-discoverd mosaic are striking. The fact that I have published analysis of other artwork based on these same constellations from other myth-traditions years before the “mosaic of the transfigured man” from the floor of the Casa di Giove was ever revealed to the world is powerful confirmation that the previous analysis was correct, and that these ancient patterns based on the constellations were used in myths from many cultures (and are even found in artwork that we have not re-discovered at the present date).

It should be fairly self-evident that the image of the “transfigured man” contains many symbols which are today thought to belong to literalist or Biblical Christianity. The mosaic depicts an angel bringing a crown down towards a transfiguring mortal: this iconography is a direct parallel to scriptures describing  the awarding of a crown by a heavenly angelic figure, found in the Biblical passages of Isaiah 62: 3, 1 Corinthians 9: 25, 2 Titus 4: 8, 1 Peter 5: 4, Revelation 2: 10, and Revelation 4: 4.

Similarly, the mosaic depicts an angelic being placing flames upon the head of the transfiguring mortal: this iconography is a direct parallel to scriptures describing flames coming down upon the heads of the assembled faithful at the Pentecost gathering described in Acts 2: 3. The scene can also be seen as having parallels to the scene described in Isaiah 6: 6 – 7 in which a cherubim brings a live coal held with tongs and places it upon Isaiah’s lips.

I would argue that these parallels arise because the scenes described in the scriptures and the scene portrayed in the mosaic are based upon the same celestial figures, the important constellations Ophiuchus and Hercules, as well as the Northern Crown.

It is quite moving to think of this piece of ancient artwork, buried by the deadly eruption of the powerful volcano Vesuvius in AD 79, a full 1, 940 years ago this year, resting under its heavy blanket of congealed ash and debris, waiting patiently in darkness and in silence, bearing its powerful message through the centuries, to finally emerge at this date to proclaim it again.

It is a message which declares that the world’s ancient myths and scriptures are celestial and esoteric in nature, and that they are united by an ancient system of metaphor which has been forgotten or suppressed for many centuries (although it was obviously known during the years prior to the eruption of Vesuvius Mons).

And it is a message of our connection to the heavenly realm, the realm of the Higher Self, associated with the higher elements of air and fire, with which we are actually connected even during this incarnate life, imprisoned as we are for a time in the realm of the lower elements of earth and water, and surrounded by serpents and scorpions.

We can only wonder what other ancient treasures await re-discovery underneath the yet-unexcavated Regiones of the ancient city of Pompeii.