Presenter: Amy van der Boor (Thesis review seminar)

As early as Herodotus, the religious assimilation between the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek priestess Io is attested, with their syncretism shaping central elements of Isis’ Hellenistic image. However, while modern scholars have examined Isis and Io’s physical association, a more critical approach is needed on the role of Io in Isis’ shifting cultural identity and reception in Greece and Rome. The aim of this paper is to examine the literary and iconographic representations of Io’s crossing into Egypt as an example of a Greek, and later Roman, adaptation of Isis’ cultural heritage and persona. In particular, it will argue that the syncretism between Isis and Io can be used as a continuing case study for the broader political and social treatment of Isis throughout antiquity. Through examples from the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, the singular identity between Io and Isis that developed over time is seen to reflect a number of central issues in Isis’ Hellenization. In Io’s early physical similarities to Isis, and the later adaptation of their origin stories in the Hellenistic era, Isis was assigned an inherently Greek ‘identity’, justifying her elevated position in Greco-Roman religion. Furthermore, Io’s representation of fluctuating cultural and political hostility between Egypt and Rome will be explored, through her role in Isis’ vilification during the Augustan era, and comparative celebration in the Imperial, with the revival of Hellenistic culture. As such, Io’s association with Isis appears as a uniquely complex religious exchange, detrimental to the establishment of the Hellenistic, and later Roman Isis.


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