Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Padampa Studies in the Last Decade


These last years have seen some interesting and important new publications in Padampa and Zhijé studies. Included in the list are some fresh new translations of the Tingri Hundred and the Tingri Eighty. No matter which it is, Hundred or Eighty, this is the one composition Padampa is most famous for even if it is one he didn’t compose.* If anything is neglected here it wasn’t by design, so let me know what’s missing, I’ll gladly add it. 

I never imagined any Padampa work could ever appear in Catalan, or that a newly found Tangut-language version of his life would be subject of a study in Chinese, but there you go. And what about that Russian article on a Padampa text in Oirat-Mongolian language found in the National Museum of Tuva? What, you never read Tuva or Bust? Sometimes you have to go quite far to demonstrate how much you’ve embraced inclusiveness.

But if you ask me to choose the two publications during the last decade that have done the most for Zhijé and Padampa studies, I answer without hesitation, [1] the 13-volume publication of 2012-2013 and [2] the new translations by Sarah Harding. Looking at the entire list, it might appear that our present-day Padampa is shifting more toward a vision of him as a prophet of things to come and an expert in some kind of divination. That could be an illusion, like so many of our mental images turn out to be. Well, once we’ve developed the ability to see through them.

(*The Tingri Thirteen is the only one that is at all likely to be his, even if hardly anyone recognizes that this is so at this moment in time. Padampa created the form of these couplets and initiated the creation of all the future examples. Look here if you want to know about the monkey and rhino recensions. My own translation of the Tingri Hundred is so far published only here on the internet. I haven't tried to cover internet postings in my list, so with one or two exceptions these are all hard copies consulted in print format.)


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Okay, here’s the list. I insert comments only when I think I can clarify the content in a general way. Since the 13-volume set doesn’t have an author exactly, I’ll list it first 

Zhi-byed Snga Phyi Bar Gsum-gyi Chos-skor Phyogs-bsgrigs / ཞི་བྱེད་སྔ་ཕྱི་བར་གསུམ་གྱི་ཆོས་སྐོར་ཕྱོགས་བསྒྲིགས, alternative title: Dam-chos Sdug-bsngal Zhi-byed Rtsa-ba'i Chos-sde dang / Yan-lag Bdud-gyi Gcod-yul / དམ་ཆོས་སྡུག་བསྔལ་ཞི་བྱེད་རྩ་བའི་ཆོས་སྡེ་དང་། ཡན་ལག་བདུད་ཀྱི་གཅོད་ཡུལ་, Ding-ri Glang-skor Gtsug-lag-khang / དིང་རི་གླང་སྐོར་གཙུག་ལག་ཁང་ (Kathmandu 2012-2013), in 13 vols. 

For more on this, look here. And for a title list, you might need to look here. It does contain some unique titles never before published, such as the guidebook to Tingri Langkhor that Barbara N. Aziz studied years ago, you have to look for them. Most important for future researchers, the text is done using computerized Tibetan script, so it is entirely possible to do Online Character Recognition that will make it simple to search through the entire set with a single click. Some things should never be so easy. Hear my inner Luddite talking?

Matthew Akester, “Ting-ri Langkor (Ding ri Gla/Glang ’khor/skor),” contained in: Idem., Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo’s Guide to Central Tibet, Serindia (Chicago 2016), pp. 668-671.

Especially recommended if you wonder about the history and current state of Tingri Langkhor (དིང་རི་གླང་འཁོར་), the place where Padampa taught during his final sojourn in Tibet, with much on the holy objects and relics that we expect to find emphasized in a pilgrimage guidebook.

Evgeniĭ Vladimirovich Bembeev, “Oĭratskaia rukopisʹ «Shastra pod nazvaniem “Zolotye chetki khrabrosti”, sochinennaia nastavnikom Padamboĭ» iz fonda Natsionalʹnogo muzeia Tuvy” [The Shastra titled ‘A Golden Rosary of Courage’ Composed by Teacher Padamba: An Oirat Manuscript from the National Museum of Tuva], The New Research of Tuva, no. 4 (2019), pp. 53-61. Try this link.

I wish I could tell you more about what this text is, but really, I could use your help here, I’m mystified. If as it seems it is a prophetic text, it could prove interesting, especially as it concerns religious corruption and deceit by rulers, things we know all too well. But wait one minute, I can’t believe myself for finding it considering all the odds, but the very “same” text found in Tuva has been translated into English from its Tibetan original in Sarah Harding’s new book listed below, on p. 537 or thereabout. Sarah prefaces her translation commenting that this text seems to pop out of nowhere, “leaving no paper trail,” unmentioned in Kongtrul’s lists, perhaps explainable if it was added into the Treasury of Precious Instructions (གདམས་ངག་མཛོད་) by someone else. Oddly enough TBRC doesn’t seem to know of even one copy of this title outside of the Treasury of Precious Instructions. Now we know of one, in Oirat.

José Cabezón, The Buddha's Doctrine and the Nine Vehicles: Rog Bande Sherab's Lamp of the Teachings, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2013). 

Translation of an important Nyingma text by one of the three Rog brothers, important for the Zhijé school in the early 13th century, when earlier lineages were consolidated.

Francesc Navarro i Fàbrega, tr., Un Mahâsiddha Indi al Tibet: Vida i ensenyaments de Padampa Sanguie, Editorial Dipankara (Sabadell 2011).

Catalan translation of the Tingri Eighty. Tibetan text is provided in Tibetan script.

_____, tr., Un Mahâsiddha Indio en el Tíbet: Vida y enseñanzas de Padampa Sanguie, Editorial Dipankara (Sabadell 2011). 

Spanish translation of the Tingri EightyTibetan text is provided in Tibetan script.

Carla Gianotti, “Female Buddhist Adepts in the Tibetan Tradition: The Twenty-four Jo Mo, Disciples of Pha Dam Pa Sangs Rgyas,” Journal of Dharma Studies, vol. 2 (2019), pp. 15-29. Look here.

_____, Jo mo. Donne e realizzazione spirituale in Tibet, Ubaldini Editore (Rome 2020).

This contains an Italian translation of Kunga's collective biography of twenty-four women disciples of Padampa. The title that appears in the Zhijé Collection version reads: Jo-mo Nyi-shu-rtsa-bzhi’i Zhu-lan Lo-rgyus dang bcas-pa

_____, “The Lives of the Twenty-Four Jo-mos of the Buddhist Tradition: Identity and Religious Status,” contained in: Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ed., Contemporary Buddhist Women: Contemplation, Cultural Exchange, and Social Action, University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong 2017), pp. 238-244.

_____, “La verità del fuoco. Le ventiquattro jo mo della tradizione tibetana e l'insegnamento di Pha Dam pa sangs rgyas,” a paper given at the first meeting of the Associazione Italiana di Studi Tibetani e Himalayani (Procida 2017).

Sarah Harding, “Pha Dampa Sangye and the Alphabet Goddess: A Preliminary Study of the Sources of the Zhije Tradition.” This was an internet publication at tsadra.org, and I'm not sure if it is still there, need to check. 

_____, Zhije, the Pacification of Suffering (=The Treasury of Precious Instructions: Essential Teachings of the Eight Practice Lineages of Tibet Volume 13), Snow Lion (Boulder 2019), a hardback book in 668 pages.

This includes so much, so much there is no hope of encapsulating it in a brief statement. For now, notice at least that it does include new translations of the Tingri Eighty and the Thirty Aspirations. Most remarkable are the texts for empowerment rituals never before noticed in any publication in any language other than Tibetan that I know of.

Lozang Jamspal and David Kittay, eds. & trs., Pha Dam-pa Sangs-rgyas-kyi Zhal-gdams Ding-ri Brgya-rtsa-ma (Pha Dampa Sangs rgyas’s One Hundred Spiritual Instructions to the Dingri People), Ladakhi Ratnashridipika / La-dwags Rin-chen Dpal-gyi Sgron-ma (Leh 2011). 

Translation of the Tingri Hundred. Each couplet is given in Tibetan script immediately followed by its English translation. Appended to it is a reproduction of a verse praise in honor of the late E. Gene Smith composed by Prof. 'Bum-skyabs with the title Bod-brgyud Nang-bstan Gsung-rab Dar-spel-gyi Phyogs-la Mdzad-rjes Bla-na-mtho-ba'i Sku-zhabs 'Jam-dbyangs-rnam-rgyal Mchog-la Rjes-dran-du Phul-ba Bcos-min Sems-kyi 'Bod-sgra / བོད་བརྒྱུད་ནང་བསྟན་གསུང་རབ་དར་སྤེལ་གྱི་ཕྱོགས་ལ་མཛད་རྗེས་བླ་ན་མཐོ་བའི་སྐུ་ཞབས་འཇམ་དབྱངས་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་མཆོག་ལ་རྗེས་དྲན་དུ་ཕུལ་བ་བཅོས་མིན་སེམས་ཀྱི་འབོད་སྒྲ་ You may have to travel to Ladakh to find a copy of this small book, but I chose the easier path and wrote to the authors. 

Matthew Kapstein, tr., “The Advice of an Indian Yogin,” contained in K. Schaeffer, M. Kapstein & G. Tuttle, eds., Sources of Tibetan Tradition, Columbia University Press (New York 2013), pp. 234-242.

Translation of the Tingri Hundred. Based on the Lhasa xylograph with the exact title Pha Rje-btsun Dam-pa Sangs-rgyas-kyi Zhal-gdams Ding-ri Brgya-rtsa-ma / ཕ་རྗེ་བཙུན་དམ་པ་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་ཞལ་གདམས་དིང་རི་བརྒྱ་རྩ་མ་

Mkhas-grub Khyung-po Rnal-’byor, et al., Zhi-byed dang Shangs-pa’i Chos-skor, Dpal-brtsegs Bod-yig Dpe-rnying Zhib-’jug-khang, Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 2010) / 

Several texts of Zhijé in a conveniently small volume, although the texts it contains were already widely available.

Dan Martin, “Crazy Wisdom in Moderation: Padampa Sangyé’s Use of Counterintuitive Methods in Dealing with Negative Mental States,” contained in: Yael Bentor and Meir Shahar, eds., Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism, Brill (Leiden 2017), pp. 193-214.

_____, “Divinations Padampa Did or Did Not Do, or Did or Did Not Write,” contained in: Petra Maurer, Donatella Rossi and Rolf Scheuermann, eds., Glimpses of Tibetan Divination, Past and Present, Brill (Leiden 2020), pp. 73-88.

_____, “Ritual Indigenization as a Debated Issue in Tibetan Buddhism (11th to Early 13th Centuries),” contained in: Henk Blezer and Mark Teeuwen, Challenging Paradigms: Buddhism and Nativism, Framing Identity Discourse in Buddhist Environments, Brill (Leiden 2013), pp. 159-194. 

This includes a peculiar episode from the Zhijé Collection in which the South Indian Padampa performs a local Tibetan divination ritual for the benefit of a woman who was one of his Tingrian meditation students.

_____, “Yak Snot: Padampa’s Animal Metaphors and the Question of Indian-ness (Theirs and His),” contained in: Hanna Havnevik & Charles Ramble, eds., From Bhakti to Bon: Festschrift for Per Kvaerne, The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture, Novus Forlag (Oslo 2015), pp. 337-349.

David Molk with Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, trs., Lion of Siddhas: The Life and Teachings of Padampa Sangye, Snow Lion (Ithaca 2008). A brief review by Michelle Sorensen appeared in Religious Studies Review, vol. 35, no. 1 (March 2009), p. 78.

This doesn’t quite belong to the last decade like the others listed here, but I include it here anyway because it is such an important translation of a large number of texts not previously Englished. The translators made use of a manuscript that sometimes has significantly different readings, but it seems, based on statements found in Weber’s thesis (see below), that it no longer exists. The autobiography of Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche has been translated by Joshua Waldman and Lama Jinpa and published in 2008 under the title Hundred Thousand Rays of the Sun (I recommend an internet search for the title).

Monika Lorås RønningThe Path of Machig Labdron: gCod, its History, Philosophy, and Contemporary Practice in Central Tibet, Master’s thesis, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Oslo University (Oslo 2005). For an abstract only, look here.

Saerje (Gsar-brje), “Buddhapāla → Dam pa sangs rgyas ← Bodhidharma” [in Chinese], contained in: Wang Bangwei, Chen Jinhua and Chen Ming, eds., Studies on Buddhist Myths: Texts, Pictures, Traditions and History, Proceedings of the International Symposium on Cross-cultural Researches on Buddhist Mythology, Zhongxi Book Company (Shanghai 2013), pp. 165–176.

_____, “The Studies on the Narrative Inscriptions of Master Dharma Cave in Yunnan Province” [in Chinese with some Tibetan], contained in Wang Song, ed., Engaged Buddhism: The History and Reality of Asia, Proceedings of the 2015 Chong Sheng International Forum, Religious Culture Publishing House (Beijing 2016), pp. 97–127. See if this finds it for you.

Neldjorma Seunam Ouangmo [Rnal-’byor-ma Bsod-nams-dbang-mo], Testament Spirituel. Les cent préceptes de Ding-Ri Dernières recommandations de Pa Dampa Sangyé, en appendice Les Trente Souhaits, Editions Yogi Ling (Evaux-les-Bains 1997). 

I add this, even if it lies outside the time parameters, just because it should be noticed more. With the Tibetan and French on facing pages it includes not only the Tingri Hundred, but also the Thirty Aspirations.

Alexander K. SmithlDe’u ’phrul, the Manifestation of Knowledge: Ethnophilological Studies in Tibetan Divination with Particular Emphasis upon a Common Form of Bon Lithomancy, doctoral thesis, École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris 2017). 

This and the next listing share interesting information on the pebble divination teachings given to Padampa by the Bon teacher Khro-tshang ’Brug-lha. The possibility to download a PDF of it is here.

_____, “Prognostic Structure & the Use of Trumps in Tibetan Pebble Divination,” Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft, vol. 12 (Summer 2015), pp. 1-21. 

Michelle SorensenMaking the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Tradition, PhD dissertation, Columbia University (New York 2013). I think it is available here, not sure.

_____, “Padampa Sanggye,” Treasury of Livesaccessed March 10, 2021.

Sun Bojun, “A Textual Research on Chos-kyi-seng-ge, the Xixia State Preceptor,” Journal of Chinese Writing Systems, vol. 1, no. 9 (2018), pp. 1-9. 

At p. 5 there is a paragraph on Padampa's Tangut connections. Here Padampa is referred to by a name that corresponds to Tibetan Nag-chung. Sun Bojun has written, too, about the newly discovered Tangut text with biographical information on Padampa (a part of a Chinese version had been known before). It may be available on the internet if you belong to a subscribing institution.

Sun Penghao, “Four Texts Related to Pha dam pa sangs rgyas in the Chinese Translation of the Tangut Kingdom of Xia,” contained in: Shen Weirong, ed., History through Textual Criticism: Tibetan Buddhism in Central Eurasia and China Proper (Beijing 2012), pp. 85-97.

_____, “Pha dam pa Sangs rgyas in Tangut Xia: Notes on Khara Khoto Chinese Manuscript TK329,” contained in: Tsuguhito Takeuchi, et al., Current Issues and Progress in Tibetan Studies, Research Institute of Foreign Studies (Kobe 2013), pp. 505-521. Try this link.

Khenchen Thrangu, Advice from a Yogi: An Explanation of a Tibetan Classic on What Is Most Important, tr. by the Thrangu Dharmakara Collaborative, Shambhala (Boston 2015). 

A new translation of the Tingri Hundred with teachings in the form of commentary by Thrangu Rinpoche. His longer Tibetan name is Khra-’gu Rin-po-che IX Karma-blo-gros-lung-rigs-smra-ba’i-seng-ge (b. 1933).

Kenchen Thrangu, “On What Is Most Important: Kenchen Thrangu on the Liberatory Verses of the Tibetan Yogi Padampa Sangye,” Tricycle Magazine (Fall 2015). This is an extract from the book.

Trulzhik Rinpoche (’Khrul-zhig Rin-po-che, Kyabje Zhadeu Trulzhik Rinpoche), and Lama Sangye, The Seed of Faith: The History of the Sacred Inner Relics of Dingri Langkor in the Upper Mountain-Pass Region of Tibet, Dingri Langkor Tsuglag Khang (Kathmandu 2014), in 63 pages with color plates. 

I have only seen this listed in an online book catalog. I've never actually seen it. I suppose it’s in English. I imagine it’s just a translation of the pilgrim guide sponsored and studied by Barbara N. Aziz years ago: “The Work of Pha dam pa Sangs rgyas as Revealed in Ding ri Folklore,” contained in: Michael Aris & Aung San Suu Kyi, eds., Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, Aris & Phillips, Ltd. (Warminster 1980), pp. 21-29 and Idem., “Indian Philosopher as Tibetan Folk Hero: Legend of Langkor: A New Source Material on Phadampa Sangye,” Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 23, nos. 12 (1979), pp. 19-37. The original Tibetan of this same pilgrim guide was to my knowledge first made public in a modern print publication in the 13-volume collection listed at the beginning of our list, at vol. 2 (KHA), pp. 803-821, where it has the title Bod-yul La-stod Ding-ri Glang-skor-gyi Nang-rten Byin-can Khag-gi Lo-rgyus Dad-pa'i Sa-bon (བོད་ཡུལ་ལ་སྟོད་དིང་རི་གླང་སྐོར་གྱི་ནང་རྟེན་བྱིན་ཅན་ཁག་གི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་དད་པའི་ས་བོན་). I was of the impression its true author was a nun, one named Ani Ngawang, something that may have gotten lost in the shuffle, as does happen sometimes.

Julika Maria Weber, Translation and Contextualization of Pha dam pa Sangs rgyas’s Three Cycles of Mahâmudrâ Signs, Master of Arts thesis, supervisor Klaus-Dieter Mathes, Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde, Universität Wien (Vienna 2020).

This thesis features in English translation three texts that represent the core of the questions-and-answers section (Padampa’s answers to Kunga’s questions) of the Zhijé Collection. The three together are often called Phyag-rgya-chen-po Brda’i Skor Gsum or Brda’i Zhus-lan Skor Gsum. They are: 1. Pointing Out the Purity of the Body as Signs, 2. Pointing Out Enlightened Verbal Expressions as Signs, and 3. Pointing Out the Realization of the Mind as Signs. You might find an abstract here. David Molk published a translation in his 2008 book, pp. 177-192 (only two titles are given, but all three texts are represented there, and what is more, evidently made use of a manuscript that ordered the paragraphs differently), and I also made a translation that I haven’t yet given to anyone.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Dionysian Drunk Scene, Doubling Back


Dionysos with his Thyrsos on his Panther
By Unknown author - from Le Musée absolu, Phaidon, 10-2012, Public Domain

After a night of very serious drinking, far past the time reasonable people would have rolled off their couches in the triclinium and stumbled home, two strong young men helped the tipsy old man Silenus go outside and get up on his ass. This may have been the true source of the expression, “Drunk off my ass,” you think? Never understood that phrase, and anyway, it turns out the ass wasn’t the only animal Silenus rode on. 

When my copy of Ben Abed's Tunisian Mosaics arrived from the online used bookstore, it immediately opened up to page 199, where a well-preserved (thanks to overzealous preservationists?) mosaic vividly depicts a Dionysian procession. There, bringing up the rear, who could it be but Silenus, naked but bearded, his drinking implements on either side, ready to slide right off the side of his camel! Drunk off his camel? Get my point? There’s that camel again. Where have we seen that before?

Detail from the Dionysian Procession — El Jem, Tunisia

Meanwhile I at last received, with gratitude to its authors, an offprint of a very significant article I had mentioned in the more recent blog on the subject, “Who Is that Drunken Man?” even though I hadn’t read it yet, an article by Valenstein et al. Now that I have read it, I'm fairly convinced that the person I had taken to be Herakles ought to be seen for who he really is, Silenus. And what is that drunken man doing there on the saddlebags of that camel in Chang’an?

I learned from Rina Talgam’s splendid and informative book that the Dionysian room at Sepphoris in the Galilee was a kind of choice of patterns you could have been offered by mosaic makers back in those days. Its prototype was likely in Antakya, ancient Antioch, near the southern Turkish coast. It was one of the three or four largest cities in the late Roman empire. I’ll give you some links on Dionysus in Antioch below. The Galilean “Dionysian room” is most renowned for the bit of it that shows a woman’s face, so attractive it is often compared to the Mona Lisa.... 

But let’s force ourselves to turn our heads and look at another minor part of the mosaic in the same room.

Here below is a photo of “methe” or ‘drunkenness’ normally labelled as Herakles, although I see no clear signs of this identity, and it could just as well be Silenus. I wonder, are people taking the long brown object that seems to be falling off a pedestal to be a club that would establish his Herculean identity? I’m not saying I see it, just questioning if anyone else does. If it is a club and if it's his club, he’s totally lost it.

(*It’s said packed camels travel about 25 miles a day, so at around 5,300 miles, that would take about 212 days. Just guesstimating, no way you should think about trying it.)

"Drunkenness." Said to be Herakles. Sepphoris, Galilee 
I took this photo

To keep the story short, reining in my urge to teeter and meander, I now feel more sure that the drunken man depicted on the side of the Jokhang jug is Silenus, not Hercules, and this argument is to my mind fairly clinched by the fact that the Jokhang jug has a camel-head spout. We have observed that Silenus goes with a camel on both sides of Tibet, in Chang’an in the east and from there all the way west to the northern coast of Africa at El Jem, or about 8,528 kilometers distant. That’s a whole lot of mileage.* But as Silenus and Hercules both are drunken figures of significance to the Dionysian cult, I doubt it makes enough difference to impress anyone with how important it is, particularly for anyone already seeing double. So, my friends, I will leave it at this for now. Cheers!

§     §     §

Investigate some more

Aïcha Ben Abed, Tunisian Mosaics: Treasures from Roman Africa, Getty Publications (Los Angeles 2006).

Lawrence Becker & Christine Kondoleon, eds., The Arts of Antioch: Art Historical and Scientific Approaches to Roman Mosaics and a Catalogue of the Worcester Art Museum Antioch Collection, Worcester Art Museum (Worcester 2005), especially pp. 27-28, 178-181.

The Antakya mosaic of the drinking contest ended up, through circumstances described in this book, in a museum in Massachusetts. There is much good information in this book, sometimes too much ”science“ to suit my taste, but one thing that does bother me is its unconvincing repetition of that boring idea that the Dionysian mosaic is supposed to be a moral plea for moderation. Just because some other Greek discussed moderation doesn’t make it relevant here, because if there was any place where Greeks threw rationalistic moderation out the window to the winds it was in the cult of Dionysus. It’s as if the work of art (or an essay for that matter) can only justify its creation if it makes its consumers better fit into the moral order they’re confined within, that they are trapped by. As if all art and literature has to share the aims of the new Puritans, enjoyment be damned. For entertainment purposes if nothing else, see the interesting takedown of post-colonialist literary productions by Sumana Roy in the February 18, 2021 Chronicle of Higher Education, an essay entitled “The Problem with the Postcolonial Syllabus: Against a Peculiarly Western Allergy to the Pleasure of the Text.” Tibetan studies, too, has lately exhibited signs if might succumb to the narcissistic exploration of the (supposedly post-) colonialist self, conveniently doing away with all necessity to learn a second language in order to secure a respectable job in the academy... blah blah blah blah ... Is that just me indulging in my own form of virtue signaling? You be the judge. I have no doubt you will!

G.W. Bowersock, Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge 2006). 

This book really impressed on me how culturally important Antioch was in late antiquity. It does have a brief treatment on the Dionysian mosaic in the triclinium of a wealthy family’s house in Sepphoris in the Galilee (one archaeologist, Ze’ev Weiss, says he believes it was home to a Jewish high priest).

Örgü Dalgiç, “The Triumph of Dionysos in Constantinople: A Late Fifth-Century Mosaic in Context,” Dunbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 69 (2015), pp. 15-48. 

This has some marvelous examples of processional scenes. One of them has Silenus drunk on his ass (or, as it says, a mule). There’s also a nice one of Dionysos as a child riding on a goat. A Gandharan frieze shows the Sage of Shakya as a child riding on a ram on his way to his first day in school. Another important and much-depicted episode shared by the two heroic beings is the giving of a bath, and in each case it seems to correspond to or inspire cultic enactments in actual practice.

Dionysius as a child, riding on a goat
I took this photo

E. Gruber & J. Dobbins, “Illuminating Historical Architecture: The House of the Drinking Contest at Antioch,” contained in: F. Contreras, et al., eds., Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (2010), pp. 71-76.

Hava Sevillia-Sadeh, “Heracles’ Drunkenness in the Sepphoris Mosaic: Debasement or Consecration?” [in Hebrew]  Cathedra, vol. 127 (2008), pp. 5-32. 

Thanks to Y.B. for her help, as my own language skills are not up to it, but this article is worthy of attention precisely for disagreeing with those experts who keep on saying that the image of Heracles drunk bears a moral message encouraging temperance or at least moderation. The drunken Heracles depiction doesn't mean to tell us, as many have also argued, that there was a Dionysian rivalry with the cult of Hercules. Instead, it wants to tell us that Heracles reached the ultimate aim of the Dionysian cult, the state of complete and total self-abandonment to ecstatic transcendence. It may even explain how he could be turned into a god. Well, I guess technically he was a half-god all along, and was only made a complete god after his death.

Rina Talgam, Mosaics of Faith: Floors of Pagans, Jews, Samaritans, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land, Yad Ben-Zvi Press (Jerusalem 2014). 

This has a very extensive explanation of the House of Dionysos at Sepphoris at pp. 27-43. The whole book has color photographs of mosaics on almost every page. Here is an emphasis on the “moral” to the drinking contest, which is: Herakles is the strongest, most able man in the world, so strong he could become a god, but unlike Dionysos he just can’t handle his drink (ironic, isn’t it, that the normal image of Dionysian cult is one big party its whole point being to get stupid drunk, dance across the countryside with wild abandon, vomit and pass out).

R. Talgam & Z. Weiss, “The Mosaics of the House of Dionysos at Sepphoris,” Qedem, vol. 44 (2004), pp. 1-136 plus illustrations.

Suzanne G. Valenstein with Annette L. Juliano and Judith A. Lerner, ”Hellenism in Sui-Tang Chang’an: Dionysiac Imagery on Mortuary Camels,” New Research on Central Asian, Buddhist and Far Eastern Art and Archaeology (a special issue of Inner and Central Asian Art and Archaeology, vol. 2), Brepols (Turnhout 2019), pp. 319-334. Thanks to Amy for pointing this out and helping me get access.

Overview of the Triclinium floor in Sepphoris
with Dionysian scenes 
Photo by myself

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If you need to go over the issues surrounding the Jokhang jug, you should look back at the on-line 2002 article by Amy Heller.  It evoked a further discussion in 2009 by Ulrich von Schoeder and Joachim Karsten that you can see here.

The Drinking Contest of Dionysos and Heracles.” — https://www.worcesterart.org/collection/Ancient/1933.36.html

Mosaic Pavement: Drinking Contest of Herakles and Dionysos, Early 3rd Century A.D.”  — https://artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/29551

El Jem (Thysdrus): 


The Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii:



Mosaics at Zeugma:


There is also a “Triumph of Dionysus” procession scene in the “House of Dionysus” in Paphos, Crete. Do a web search and you will find it.

Antakya has built a hotel that hovers directly above a huge number of excavated mosaics. There is a long video about it on YouTube.  Just type something like hotel Antakya mosaics into their search box, or better yet do a general video search outside YouTube. I try to never link commercial sites or advertisements, and why should I?

Dionysus lecture (the first half may be useful as an introduction to the subject):


For video entertainment that comes with some serious education in Indian and Tibetan art history, with a certain emphasis on foreign and even Greek connections, go to this site and view lectures by Osmund Bopearachchi and Amy Heller by clicking on the link:

Tung Lin Kok Yuen Buddhist Art Online Lecture Series.

Professor Bopearachchi has especially pertinent illustrated discussions about Herakles and Dionysus and their representations in Gandharan art.  Near the end of his lecture he presents the beautifully intact 2nd-century Begram Stupa, and tries to explain why it contains a continuous band around it with Dionysian scenes, while yet another band shows scenes from the life of the Buddha. He also shows one Roman sarcophagus with its Dionysian procession somewhat resembling the one in El Jem, not neglecting Hercules — I mean Silenus — drunk off his ass.

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Roman era mosaic from Antioch, the Greek says “Enjoy yourself!”*
It was discovered just a few years ago by accident while constructing a cablecar line

(*Notice how the skeleton is reclining as if on a couch in the triclinium, supporting itself with the left elbow, the right hand free to reach for the wine and the bread. If you have long felt a longing to experience a Greek or Roman dinner party, try this page at the MET and notice these words even if you know them to be true: “Imagery associated with Dionysos, the Greek god of wine, intoxication, and revelry, was popularly used on objects designed for serving and imbibing wine.”)

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Finally, an experiential exercise for fully intoxicated Tibeto-logicians only:

I know some of my ideas have met with skepticism, and I am aware that some Tibetanists out there are swiftly dismissive of anything in post-10th century said to date back to the imperial era. In the case of the emperor’s beer jug, attributed to the early 7th century, we can see there is a date equivalent to 1946 CE or 16th Fire Dog inscribed on it (it’s partly effaced making it difficult to understand), so you might be thinking with your well-cultivated skepticism, Is 1946 the real date of its production? So I invite you to look into some of the evidence.  First, go to BDRC.

Then, in BDRC's own local search box, type (or if it’s simpler do a cut-and-paste) in either Tibetan or Wylie script the following string: dngul dam rta mgo ma. Or: དངུལ་དམ་རྟ་མགོ་མ་

By the way, that syllable “dam” is a foreign loan from Persian or Chinese meaning jug or carafe (look into it and let me know your conclusions). We are more likely to be familiar with it in the modern expressions ja-dam, a jug meant for tea (likely a thermos made in China), and shel-dam for bottle.

In recent studies on the jug we are likely to find it called: chang snod rta mgo can. Or: ཆང་སྣོད་རྟ་མགོ་ཅན་

Go ahead and put that in the same search box and see what pops up. You may be surprised at the results of this experiment, but I’m not about to spoil it for you.

No doubt there are a few of you who, like me, will insist that the head on that jug is not that of a horse, but a camel. So you could try replacing rta (རྟ་) with rnga-mong or rnga-mo (རྔ་མོ་ or རྔ་མོང་), and see where that gets you.

Once you’ve found what you’ve found, look back at this five-year-old Tibetologic blog with the title The Emperor’s Beer Jug. The story’s not over yet. They rarely are.



Drunken Hercules (?) supported by young men.
Polychrome stucco, 1st century CE,
National Museum of Archaeology,
Naples — Photo by Y.B.

Silenus, once again, drunk on his ass or mule.
Roman mosaic in National Museum of Archaeology, Naples.
Photo by Y.B. You can also look here.

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