Un dono inatteso. Memorie iraniche nei Magi cristianizzati


Iranian Magi are a constant presence in the imagination of the Christianized West. In the Gospel of Matthew (2, 1-12) an episode is introduced which will soon become one of the most celebrated motives in the art and literature of ancient, medieval and modern Christianity. This episode will come to the point of becoming, mainly in Rome, the central theme of the Epiphany, the manifestation of God in the Child Jesus. The expectation of a Saviour, of a restored Saośyant, is part of the royal ideology both Christian and Iranian, and finds its fulfillment in the symbolism of light. According to Philostratus the Parthian kings depicted their gods in sidereal appearance. That is because they had a heavenly and igneous origin themselves: Ammianus Marcellinus transcribes the epithet that designated the “King of Kings” Šāpuhr as offspring of a divine descent consubstantial with the stars and the two luminaries. A “Lord of the world” was expected in the whole ancient East and had become an object of veneration also in Rome in the form of a mysterious sidus Augustum. Tiridates, king of Armenia, went to Rome in 66 a. D. with a cortege of Magi to worship the mithrized emperor Nero. According to the models expressing sacred royalty king Mithridates Eupator was an incarnation of the god Mithra and like Mithra was born in a cave from a star fallen from the sky. These conceptions will be found in an important Christian text, the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum, according to which the Persian Magi used to ascend every year the “Mount of Victories” waiting for a star which carried in itself the image of a child and which was to be the sign of the Great King’s birth.

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