“Les Bergers d’Arcadia” (The Shepherds of Arcadia II)
by Nicolas Poussin, c. 1638-1640
Poussin`s painting “The Shepherd`s of Arcadia II” contains a great mystery concerning Rennes-le-Chateau. Abbe Sauniere had his own oil reproduction of this work hanging in his private rooms. The mountains in the background are the sacred range of the Languedoc and very pregnant Mary Magdalene is the main figure in the foreground. The famous originally Greek saying “ET IN ARCADIA EGO” is carved on the monument and refers to “Death being also in Arcadia” the earthly paradise, but is there more to it? The shepherds are mystified by the inscription, have they come upon the remains of an ancient civilization?
Cardinal Rospigliosi commissioned this work of art, how much of the symbolism was his own and how much was Poussin`s? This piece clearly represents the tradition of Mary Magdalene in southern France. Rospigliosi was an avid student of ancient history and a collector of rare artifacts. Had some of the random findings south of Rome inspired his imagination? Did he share his interest with Poussin who is referenced in the Fouquet letter as possessing a secret that kings would desire to know and which could make one rich? This statement angered the King, Louis XIV, who confiscated the “Shepherds of Arcadia II” painting and kept it hidden from the public, only displaying it to select guests.
In his book about Jules Verne and secret societies, Michael Lamy quotes the Fouquet letter adding significant additional phrases concerning the riches to be gained:
“He and I discussed certain things, which I shall with ease be able to explain to you in detail. Things which will give you through Mr. Poussin advantages which even Kings would have great pains to draw from him, and that, after him, perhaps no one in the world could recover in the centuries to come; and what is more, this could be done without much expense and could even turn to profit, and these are things so hard to discover that no one, no matter who, upon this earth today could have better fortune nor its equal”.
Researchers have pondered whether this reference could refer to the treasure of the ancient Jews rumored to have been hidden in southeastern France by the Visigoths after the sack of Rome in the early 400s A.D. Could the Greek inscription in the painting be a clue to another archaeological treasure near the Bay of Naples, a vast unexplored complex, originally Greek in culture, that lay buried under 60 feet of volcanic ash?
“Life in Pompeii” from Napoli Travel
Nero and the Apocalyptic “Revelation of St. John the Divine”- Literal Brimstone?
The “Book of Revelation” has puzzled and terrified readers for centuries, to whom does it refer? Even the most intrepid interpreter can become lost in the myriad references to heavenly animals who speak, angels who carry bowls and vials of terrors, and the reprobate inhabitants who deserve this vengeance. With the opening chapters addressed to the Gentile churches in Asia (present day Turkey) and written in the first person, the reader may tend to take it all personally and become frightened out of his wits. If we look at the historical situation during which this book was written – it was penned by St. John not long after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ – perhaps this text will become less obscure.
The beasts in heaven say “Come and see” to John who writes down what is shown to him. Among other visions, he sees the four horses and their riders and a pregnant woman in the wilderness who is being pursued by a red dragon (could this woman be Mary Magdalene?). The Earth helps the woman and opens to contain the flood that is sent after her by the dragon.
St. John also views a scarlet beast who is accompanied by his disreputable consort. Does this refer to Nero and Poppaea whom he married after putting his wife Octavia, daughter of Claudius, to death? Octavia had been Nero`s only dynastic claim to the throne. Poppaea was a mature woman when Nero was a youth and she resided in the resort town of Pompeii, a famous port city along with Herculaneum (named for Hercules) 150 miles south of Rome. In the series “I, Claudius”, the entertainments held in the royal seaside villa of the Emperor took place in Pompeii. This area was “Campania” and it was Rome`s premier playground.
In the interior pool (the “impluvium”) of the House of Menander, home of Poppaea Sabina, the bronze statues of Poppaea and Nero were found buried in the volcanic ash. They were crafted when Nero was still a youth so the statue of Poppaea is taller and displays her red-blonde hair. Nero himself had ash-blonde hair and watery blue eyes which made him unique among the Mediterranean populace which probably contributed to his New-Apollo god-complex.
Rome mysteriously burned while Nero was away on his acting tour which included his belated visit to quake-ravaged Pompeii, his wife`s home town. He expressed his sympathy to the victims in Rome by composing a mournful tune about the fall of Troy on his stringed instrument as Apollo would have done on his mythical lyre. The populace had hoped for decent public housing to be built in place of the ramshackle wooden tenements which had gone up in flames, but instead Nero began work on a 35 meter tall (115 feet) colossus of himself as the New Apollo. He raided the surrounding temples for gold with which to cover the statue. This was the ultimate expression of the Cult of the Emperor referred to in St. John`s Revelation as “the image of the beast”. Nero blamed the new Judaic sect called the “Christians” for the conflagration (rumored to be his own ordered arson) and used them as scapegoats – hunting them down and killing them to take suspicion away from his regime. Nero dressed up as Apollo and personally executed them publically while vamping around with his deadly torch.
Nero was also infamous for his over-the-top appetites. He used to dress in the pelts of wild animals before ravishing chained captives of both genders, well earning him the title of “The Beast”. When his new wife Poppaea who was pregnant and near to giving birth complained of her husbands deviant activities, he brutally killed her also. He regreted her murder and mourned for her, making her a goddess after her death.
The branding on the forehead that was done at that time was used to identify slaves, especially runaway slaves. Nero`s false prophet used augury (reading of animal entrails) and astrology to reassure the emperor that the 7.5 earthquake of February 5, 62 A.D. was not a sign of the displeasure of the gods. After many months, Nero and Poppaea had visited Pompeii to comfort its citizens. The buildings were still in ruins but the walls were freshly painted with new murals, one of them being a portrait of Nero playing his lyre. It can still be seen today having escaped the purge of his memory after he was deposed because its setting had become a storage room.
John`s references to “Mystery Babylon” refers to the eastern mystery cults whose ritual practices flourished in the wine-exporting port cities of Campania.
By the time of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, Nero was dead. Was he the beast “who was, and is not, but yet is?” He, as the one head of the hydra had been slain, but other heads lived on. No one was allowed to remember Nero, a “Damnatio Memoriae” had been decreed on all inscriptions and images of him. The new Emperor Vespasian proclaimed a return to the original ideals of Rome and put an end to the excesses of the previous rulers. House murals changed from Arcadian scenes of cavorting satyrs to scenes from Virgil.
Rome was broke from Nero`s extravagant spending, even the vast gold mines of northern Spain could not pay for his costly lifestyle. Poppaea had demanded golden horse shoes for her team of mules and expensive baths of exotic milk to keep her looking young. Unfortunately there was a Jewish revolt at that time which was just the excuse that Vespasian needed to go to war and raid the Jerusalem Temple. Its fabulous wealth was legendary, it was a sure solution to his poverty. Jerusalem was defeated in 70 A.D. and the Temple was robbed and burned. Vespasian`s son Titus memorialized this event on the Arch of Titus which displays the golden Jewish Menorah and the table made of solid gold being carried away by the Roman soldiers.
At the time of the catastrophe in Pompeii, 15,000 Jewish slaves were working on the Colosseum in Rome which was being constructed where the statue of Nero had once stood. It would take 10 years to build. These Jewish slaves knew that the Colosseum was being paid for by the wealth of the Jewish Temple. An inscription on the original architrave read, “This Amphitheater is being constructed out of the spoils of war” – the Jewish War. This was the situation of the Jews at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius.
Archaeologists have uncovered a painting which depicts Mt. Vesuvius before it blew its top when it still had a tall peak. Beside it stands Bacchus clothed in grapes, Vesuvius was sacred to both Bacchus and Venus, fine grapes thrived in its volcanic ash soil. The family of Pliny was staying across the Bay of Naples. Pliny the Elder received a letter requesting an immediate emergency rescue and so he set sail in a trireme ship for the coast of Pompeii, but was overcome by the ash fall before he could depart. Pliny the Younger wrote an account of the eruption and sent it to the historian Tacitus. It survives to this day.
This disaster did not come without warning, as the Old Testament prophets railed against the enemy nations of Israel in their books telling of retribution to come, so the “Book of Revelation” foretells the doom pronounced upon Rome. “Behold I come quickly” is the last line and it begins by saying, “these things which shall shortly come to pass.” What shall “come quickly” is the vengeance of God. Just as happened to Pompeii, Revelation`s woes begin with an angel throwing a burning censer of incense into the earth which causes earthquakes – “And still they did not repent of their (litany of transgressions)….” The Pompeii quake was 17 years before the eruption, but the people were not aware of the warning signs of a volcanic event. The Book of Revelation mentions a rain of fiery hailstones (called “lapilli” in Latin) which is exactly the substance that buried Pompeii along with the ash fall. Herculaneum was hit with the flow of volcanic mud which turned into solid rock making excavation more difficult.
Revelation Chapter 18:15
The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
and saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
and cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
¶ And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;
and the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee:for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.
And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.
Titus succeeded to the throne only eight weeks before the eruption on August 24, 79 A.D. – this week is the anniversary of that date. The ash cloud from Vesuvius obscured the sun in Africa for many months. When he heard of the disaster, Titus` first thought was to spin the perception of the event to the populace: “Titus` priority was, unsurprisingly, to demonstrate to the Empire that the eruption was not a sign of divine disapproval for his reign, or for past error such as the sack of the Temple of Jerusalem.” He staged elaborate services to atone and minted coins which depicted his pious acts as propaganda. (From “Pompeii: The Living City” by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence). The cataclysm was not mentioned in the records of his rule, it was too painful to recall.
Nicholas Poussin lived well before the official discovery of the lost cities, but he had powerful church connections who collected the artifacts that were being discovered by farmers in their fields. Apparently they kept this knowledge even from their secular rulers as noted in the Fouquet letter. How Poussin and his friends would have enjoyed viewing the excavations of our modern day. Together with the information gathered from wax tablet records and graffiti, the art work contributes much knowledge as to their way of life. Poussin also painted classical bacchanal scenes in the same Arcadian setting demonstrating that his mind was on the Arcadian civilization. His painting “The Shepherds of Arcadia II” contains two great mysteries – that of Mary Magdalene in the Rennes-le-Chateau area, and the discovery of the long forgotten lost towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There is more to come on this topic.
Next time: “The Mystery Lamp Found in Pompeii.”