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Rome Stages Artistic Tribute to Ancient Cults

Rome's Colosseum is playing host to a special exhibit of sculpture from the mystery cults of Greek and Roman antiquity. The display, accompanied by light and sound, documents many unofficial and secret religious rituals, some of whose traditions are still practiced today.

Official state religion honored the greater gods of Olympus... the gods honored in giant temples. In private, the mystery cults served as alternative religions, with dyonisian, orphic and mithraic rites, many imported from Egypt and Persia.

The exhibit includes more than 70 statues, frescoes, Greek urns, bas-reliefs and idols discovered in central and southern Italy.

Curator Angelo Bottino acknowledges that little is known about the details of the mystery rituals, since they were shrouded in secrecy. They were practiced at night, and initiation into a mystery cult was an experience of such emotional intensity that no one spoke of it.

However, the cults seem to have gotten along well, and were open to all members of society, from patricians to slaves.

"In antiquity, there were many divinities," Bottino tells Sylvia Poggioli. "The important thing was to find the one that gave you hope and certainty."

The exhibit will remain open until Jan. 8, 2006.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.