Photo by A Turizm Yayinlari, Istanbul

ORPHEUS OR JESUS? The stunning central panel of a 1,500-year-old mosaic discovered northwest of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, depicts a musician playing a lyre, surrounded by charmed animals both real and mythical. The figure was originally interpreted by the excavator as a representation of Christ. This supposition was predicated on the assumption that the building in which it was found was a Christian tomb chamber, a conclusion that has since been questioned. Elsner explains that although it was not unusual for images of the Greco-Roman world to be given Christian significance in late antiquity, neither was it unusual for pagan images to be used simply as beautiful and benign decorations for Christian or Jewish buildings with nonliturgical functions. In the case of the Istanbul mosaic, the figure is very likely a depiction of Orpheus as himself.