Beneath the Serapeum: A Breath of Ancient Must

December 27, 2016

Miriam visited the subterranean crypt beneath the Serapeum:

   

We passed cavernous chambers of bare stone breathing out their ancient must, some for stocking the scented wood for the temple’s fires and flambeaux, others for storing its sacrificial instruments, ceremonial utensils, and sacerdotal robes. Mostly though I remember my nose tingling from the scents of frankincense, myrrh, and nard in the laboratories where they manufacture the cones of incense.

     

But we were barred from some of the rooms: the chapels for ascetic worship and contemplation, the dungeon for incarcerating those guilty of a sacrilege against the god, the living quarters for the monks, the refectories for the functionaries and servants, the vaults for the temple’s most precious treasures, the stalls and stables for its sacrificial animals, and the well-stocked arsenal to defend the precinct and its enormous wealth. Still we picked our way through the meeting halls and the kitchens with their soot-streaked walls, enormous hearths, bakeries, pantries, and wine cellars, each chamber a hive of activity dappled by the sputtering light of smoky, oil-fed torches and ripe with the smell of sweat on unwashed bodies.

 

I wanted to scribble a message on the stone walls, but Iphigenia, my nanny, warned me that I could be thrown into the dungeon for a desecration like that. As soon as she said that, I thought of the scores of manacled souls rumored to be incarcerated inside its moldy walls.

 

Let Miriam take you to the other sights in Roman Alexandria. Just click here.

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