In Rome during the first century B.C., the Egyptian cult of the goddess Isis took root quickly, especially among humbler folks and women of all social classes. Isis, a compassionate and loving goddess of fertility and motherhood, was often portrayed nursing her infant son Horus, a composition that would soon be echoed by the Christians and their Virgin Mary with her baby son.
Like other mystery cults, the cult of Isis required initiation and baptism and had a professional priesthood on staff. The Isis temple in Rome, built in 43 B.C., sat next to the temple of Serapis in Mars Field. Although Isis took human form, she was often worshipped in conjunction with other Egyptian deities, including Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead.
In Rome around A.D. 19 lived an outstanding follower of Isis called Paulina, a Roman matron described as virtuous, well-to-do, and easy on the eyes by the Jewish Roman historian Josephus, who related her story in his book called Antiquities of the Jews.
It seems that Paulina had an unwelcome admirer, a Roman called Decius Mundus, who peskily plied her with a great many gifts, all of which she refused. Desperately in love with Paulina, he finally offered her 200,000 Greek drachmas if she would sleep with him. (Author Josephus discreetly called his offer “for one’s night lodging.”)
When Paulina indignantly refused, Mundus went into a tailspin. Seeing no love in his future, he resolved to starve himself to death. Ide, a freedwoman who lived in his household, was horrified. Being a gal prone to mischief and possibly sweet on Mundus herself, she offered to help. Soon she’d convinced the lovelorn man that she could persuade the object of his obsession to get into the sack with him. “Of course I’ll need some money to make the arrangements,” she said, adding, “Fifty thousand drachmas should do it.”
Much heartened, Mundus started eating meals again, while Ide went about her nefarious plotting. Well aware that Paulina was not swayed by money but by her faith, Ide hit up a couple of the most dubious individuals in the Isis priesthood. At length they came to a mutually agreeable deal. They would get half the loot if they helped snare the luscious parishioner for Decius Mundus.
The older of the two Isis priests then asked for a private audience with Paulina, telling her, “I’ve been sent by the god Anubis, who admires your faith and who’s fallen in love with you. He invites you to come to him for a private prayer session.”
Paulina, whose gullibility quotient would make her a prime target for televangelists these days, went for it. Smirking with pride at her specialness, she told her husband about being singled out by the god Anubis. He might have frowned a bit when she got to the part about dining at the temple and a sleepover with the jackal-headed god, but he trusted her implicitly.
Accordingly, Paulina put on her best “virtuous but sexy” ensemble and headed for the temple of Isis. During dinner, the god Anubis remained invisible and inaudible, which obliged Paulina to make small talk with herself. Afterward, she was shown to a private chamber. The priests then left, dousing the light and closing the doors as they did so.
It wasn’t long before “Anubis” made his appearance. With alacrity, Mundus closed in on Paulina and began to make love to her; she seemed equally engaged. She didn’t even question his lack of a jackal’s head. Before daylight, he crept away and a disheveled but serene Paulina headed for home.
The Egyptian god Anubis often accompanied the goddess Isis. Anubis had a human body and the dark head of a jackal.
She couldn’t wait to tell her husband and friends about her intimate new status with the god. They were dumbfounded; knowing Paulina’s innate modesty, however, they were forced to believe her story. For three days, she gloried in what she thought of as her spiritual adventure.
On day four, Decius Mundus showed up at her door. “You’ve saved me two hundred thousand drachmas, madam,” he told her. “Even though you rebuffed my love gifts and reproached me, you liked me pretty well when I called myself Anubis.” Paulina was floored. And furious. Crying, ripping at her garments, she immediately became hysterical about the wicked trick that had been played on her. “It was horrible!” she sobbed to her husband. “He came at me again and again. I want you to take my cruel deception to the highest level! To Emperor Tiberius, in fact!”
Her uxorious husband took Paulina at her word; he repeatedly nagged at the emperor, asking him to inquire into the matter. To everyone’s shock, Tiberius did so. The outcome? The guilty priests and Ide, the evil little enabler, were crucified, and a large number of Isis worshipers were deported to the malarial island of Sardinia. Tiberius also ordered the temple of Isis to be razed to the ground and the goddess’s statue to be thrown into the Tiber River.
But what about Decius Mundus, the secret adulterer, whose avatar-sharp portrayal of Anubis was obviously spot-on? Tiberius merely banished the man from Rome. As the emperor explained, the crime Mundus had committed was done out of the passion of love.