Adam and Eve (with Cain and Abel?)

4th century
Catacomb of the Via Latina

A 4th-century hair-style, from a floor mosaic in the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Another internet site has labeled this as "Adam and Eve in a melancholy pose, with Cain and Abel," assuming that the two seated figures on the left are the melancholy parents and the two standing on the right are the sons with their offerings. But the second figure from the right is certainly a woman. She wears a stola over a belted peplos, and her hair is worn up in a style like that of the "bikini girls" in the contemporaneous floor mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale. The figure standing beside her wears a man's tunic. Thus the two are certainly Adam and Eve with the symbols of the work that God assigned to them: a sheep, whose fleece is spun by women; and sheaves of wheat, the product of Adam's assignment "to till the earth from which he was taken" (Genesis 3:23). This symbolism is seen again and again on Roman Christian sarcophagi in the 4th century.

Who, then, are the seated figures on the left? When I first posted this image I thought they were Cain and Abel, but it is more likely that they are the primal couple at an earlier moment, still wearing the animal skins God gave them just before expelling them from Eden (3:21). The one on the right has upswept hair like the standing Eve; the one on the left has a more voluminous head of hair than his companion, but so does the standing Adam. Also, the garment on the left has just one strap and exposes half the chest, while the figure on the right apparently has a two-strap garment more appropriate for a woman.

The panel would thus be illustrating a progression from the couple's initial condition in what we sometimes call the state of nature, to a civilized condition consequent on their performing the labors God assigned to them.

More of Adam and Eve
More of Cain and Abel

Source: The Christian Catacombs of Rome website