Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology

Daniel between the lions is depicted in this wall painting from the catacomb on the Via Latina which was discovered in 1955. The theme of deliverance recurs again and again in catacomb paintings. Daniel in the Lions’ Den, (Daniel 6), the Three Boys in the Furnace (Daniel 3), Noah and the Ark (Genesis 7ff), and the near sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), are all found pictured on the walls and carved on sarcophagi. In the painting reproduced here Daniel stands with his arms extended in prayer for protection from the jaws of death, no less than from the jaws of the lions. Daniel is shown nude (as is Hercules in another room of the same catacomb); his nudity indicates that Daniel is not primarily a historical figure, but a symbol of the soul’s struggle against the forces of evil. Christian catacomb paintings frequently represented events from the Old Testament in which the faithful follower of God is saved from heathens, because the Christians in Rome hoped that they would be delivered from the heathens of their time.

The Via Latina catacomb seems to have been used by a wealthy group of families who commissioned paintings of Biblical scenes and mythical subjects. This mixture of sacred and profane themes could indicate that both pagans and Christians were buried in this catacomb or that by the fourth century, when this catacomb was formed, Christians accepted classical as well as Biblical themes in their funereal art.