In his opus Antiquities of the Jews, historian Flavius Josephus documented that it was in this month in the year 19 C.E. that a dishonest slave and two wicked priests of the Cult of Isis were crucified on orders of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.
There were many reasons that this cult and related others were persecuted (along with the Christians of the era), not the least reason being that Isis and her cohorts were perceived as ‘eastern’ and ‘foreign,’ associated with the vanquished and only recently demised Queen Cleopatra. Perhaps the following story, then, was merely a contemporaneous cover for what was, in actuality, a crackdown on those viewed as subversive libertines whom the authorities had come to fear and loathe.
Per Josephus, there was a wealthy Roman woman of the day named Paulina. She was married to one Saturninus, and was said to have been “of a beautiful countenance… and great modesty.” And unfortunately a devoted follower of Isis and all the rest of the Egyptian pantheon. A fellow Roman aristocrat, Decius Mundus, fell madly in lust with Paulina and attempted to seduce her with words and gifts, all to no avail. The final straw occurred when Mundus bluntly offered Paulina 200,000 drachmae for her, er, company one night. She was mortally offended at such a coarse suggestion.
Mundus was despondent, so great was his lust for Paulina, her wedded state notwithstanding. He decided to starve himself to death. His slave, Ide, took pity on him and opined that the priests of the Isisian Cult might be able to help. On Ide’s suggestion, Mundus offered two corrupt elders in that temple 25,000 drachmae each – a bargain compared to what had been turned down earlier by Paulina herself – to assist him with his carnal quest, and they agreed.
The priests went to Paulina and told her that, in a stunning revelation, Anubis the jackal-headed god had appeared to them and said he wanted to enjoy Paulina’s beauty himself. Paulina was flattered – a god wanted to ravish her! – and ran to tell her husband that Anubis desired her to “sup and lie” with him as soon as possible.
I mean, seriously, what response could Saturninus possibly have given under these circumstances other than ‘that sounds wonderful, dear’?
At the appointed time, Paulina showed up at the Isisian Temple – I guess Isis was pimping for her fellow god? – had a lavish dinner with Anubis (though he remained invisible and silent throughout the meal) and then retired to the prepared bedchamber. In total darkness, Mundus slipped out from behind the curtains and proceeded to have his way with Paulina all night without uttering a word or exposing his face to light.
Must have been some performance to pass for a diety’s without arousing suspicion.
Paulina went home in a state of ecstasy. Mundus, like too many foolish lotharios before and since, crowed about his conquest. Word got back to Paulina and Saturninus that they had been duped.
That power couple, though, was not without recourse, as they were good friends with the Emperor Tiberius. The Emperor immediately took measures to avenge the dishonor of Paulina. He razed the Temple of Isis to the ground, threw her statue in the river, and suppressed her cult and those of the other Egyptian deities, not the least of them Anubis’. Finally, he ordered that the slave Ide and the two priests be crucified.
As for Decius Mundus, he was merely banished from Rome, as Tiberius decided that what he had done was only performed “out of misguided excess of the passion of love.”
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