Banquet scenes. We must consider carefully the first depictions of banquets in the 3rd-4th c., long held to be eucharistic solemnities because of the presence of the fractio panis. Thus Wilpert interpreted the banquet scene in the Greek chapel of the catacomb of S. Priscilla: the bishop, as president of the liturgical celebration, does not lie on the stibadium like the other six guests, but occupies the place of honor in cornu dextro. He breaks the bread with a certain solemnity, to distribute it to the others, as he will do with the wine in a two-handled cup near his hand. The woman participating in the banquet has her head veiled, which was rigorously prescribed for eucharistic celebrations, whereas for ordinary banquets it was pointless and unusual.
Seven baskets of bread and a plate with two fishes and loaves recall the biblical account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes Wilpert, Fractio panis, 5ff.; 817. Against this eucharistic interpretation, others see early Christian banquet scenes as depicting funeral banquets, in close parallel with scenes of similar structure in secular art. Bread and fish are the customary food of the dead; the baskets of bread, Brasilia Map Tourist Attractions which recur frequently, allude to the large number of guests, who were often given loaves as gifts. Heavy consumption of wine is suggested by the lively gestures with which the servers are invited to mix new wine, as we see in several parts of the banquet scene in the area of the Agapai in SS. Pietro and Marcellino WK 133, 2; 157, 1ff.. The survival of the pagan tradition of the funeral banquet in the early Christian period is amply demonstrated Dlger, Brasilia Map Tourist Attractions ICQUS 5, 50327; A. Stuiber, Refrigerium interim = Theophaneia 11 Bonn 1957 124-136. Interestingly, in the banquet scenes in SS. Pietro and Marcellino the servers are usually called Agape and Irene a recent discovery has revealed the name of a Sabina, RivAC 35 1970 fig. 22. If these are not simply two very common Christian names, we can obviously see in the funeral banquet the expression of the hope of participation in the celestial feast of the blessed, where Love and Peace will prepare the meal.
In any case, the banquet depicted in the hypogeum of Vibia as a realistic funeral banquet is clearly characterized by the captions as a banquet of the blessed: Vibia, introduced into the Elysium by the angelus bonus, takes part in the banquet amidst the bonorum iudicio iudicati WK 132, 1. Nor is the opinion that the many baskets or vases allude to the high number of guests always on target. In cubicle A of SS. Pietro and Marcellino, Christ distributing the wine at Cana is set in the framework of a banquet scene WK 57. The motif of the multiplication of the bread and wine is set even more integrally in a banquet scene, with the caption TAS EULOGIAS CU ESQIONTES, Brasilia Map Tourist Attractions on the frieze of the apse of the underground basilica of Karmuz at Alexandria DACL 1, 1127ff. and fig. 279; RBK 1 1966 106. The varied interpretation of proto-Christian banquet scenes marked out the route later followed by research on early Christian iconography. In contrast with the first apodeictic judgments, it is advisable not to determine the spiritual content of the earliest banquet scenes by archaeological means alone. To what extent the memory of the biblical multiplication of the loaves, the hope of participation in the eschatological banquet, and perhaps also the representation of the Eucharist were present in the minds of authors and spectators, remains an open question. 2. Biblical scenes and typological prefigurations of the Eucharist. Whether the OT scenes of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac WK 41; 78, the gathering of the manna catacombs of Cyriaca WK 242, 2, the return of the spies with the cluster of grapes DACL 8, 1161 and fig. 1157ff. 11ff., Habakkuk bringing bread to Daniel in the lions’ den Rep. 43-5, and finally the depiction of Abel and Melchizedek contain eucharistic symbolism is something that cannot as a rule be established with certainty, and is deduced more from patristic interpretations than from the depictions themselves. For the sacrifice of Isaac, e.g., it seems that its interpretation as a type of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and model of Abraham’s obedience in faith precedes the eucharistic interpretation, such that eucharistic content can be ruled out of the earliest iconographical repesentations. But the 6th-c. mosaics of the presbytery of S. Vitale in Ravenna, showing Abel and Melchizedek beside an altar, do express an undeniable eucharistic allegory, given that they are in the apse of the church Timmers 689, fig. 1; this also goes for the adjacent scenes of Abraham offering hospitality to the three men at Mamre and hastening to sacrifice his son.