29.5.16

The Charonion

The Charonion is an ancient carved stone bust in the mountainside above Antioch. It dates from the time of King Antiochus in the Seleucid era (3rd century BC).
The Charonion is an ancient carved stone bust in the mountainside above Antioch. It dates from the time of King Antiochus in the Seleucid era (3rd century BC).

The stone figure in the rock wears a veil, and on its right shoulder stands a (badly-weathered) smaller draped figure which appears to wear a calathus, a lily-shaped basket of a type carried in processions in honor of Demeter. Although most of its current battered state is due to damage, examinations have shown that the bust was never finished.

According to the sixth-century chronicler Malalas, the Charonion was carved in an attempt to save Antioch from a plague. After many people had perished from the illness, a seer named Leios commanded that a great "mask" be carved out of the mountain overlooking the city, "and inscribing something on it he put an end to the pestilential death. This mask the people of Antioch call the Charonion."
No inscription is visible on the present sculpture, but it may well have been lost, as the face of the bust has been badly damaged and a portion of the chest is missing. It is difficult to determine whether the bulk of the damage is due to any purposeful destruction or simply to 2500 years of weathering.
The name Charonion may indicate that the carving was intended to represent a deity of the underworld who needed to be appeased to bring to an end the plague that had sent so many souls to Charon.
The Charonion is located just outside the city of Antakya, above the Cave Church of St. Peter.

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