A Companion to Greek Mythology by Ken Dowden
and Niall Livingstone (Blackwell Companions to
the Ancient World: Wiley-Blackwell) approaches the
richly diverse phenomenon of Greek myth from a
distinctive new angle -- one that delves deeply into its
origins in shared Indo-European story patterns and the
Greeks’ contacts with their Eastern Mediterranean
neighbours. Contributions from a team of international
experts trace the development of Greek myth into a
shared language, heritage, and way of thinking
throughout the entire Greco-Roman world.
Individual essays address such topics as how myths were presented in stories, poems, dramas and all forms of visual art, as well as the role of myth in philosophy, learning, religion, mystery-cult, and Greek self identity. Other essays explore contemporary reception of Greek myth and the potential of modern theoretical approaches. A Companion to Greek Mythology offers invaluable insights into the ancient world that will help to shape our understanding of the wide ranging appeal and influence of Greek myth across the ages.
Excerpt: Everyone knows the Greeks had myths. But the use of the word 'myth' in modern times only goes back to its use in 1783 by arguably the first modern theorist of mythology, Christian Gottlob Heyne. Myth is therefore as much a product of the modern history of ideas from the end of the Enlightenment onwards as it is an objective product of ancient Greece. It is more than mere stories, but in describing that 'more' and conducting the interpretation of myth we play out the intellectual history of our own times —the romantic and anthropological revolutions of the nineteenth century, and the crises, grand theories, interdisciplinary certainties, and doubt triumphant of the twentieth century And on top of all this there lurks behind mythology its failure to be scripture, to provide the holy books the Greeks surely ought to have had — in order to be an intelligible nation to us and to our nineteenth-century forebears.
It is vital to realize that there is no one thing called 'myth', and for that reason there is no definition that will satisfy all significant uses of the word. `Myth' (which derives from the Greek word mythos, not always 'myth' in our sense) refers to a network of Greek stories to which it is conventional to apply the term 'myth'. This is a matter of empirical fact, not philosophy or circular definition. We know a Greek myth when we see one and have need of no definitions, guidance, or codes of practice to identify it as such. It is, however, not a random network but has a strong core of a system that was on occasion told as a system. Thus, Apollodoros' Library (first century AD) may serve to define that system for us, as his lost predecessor, `Hesiod' had in the Catalogue of Women. Anything that forms part of this is myth. Anything that looks like this is myth. Homer, himself, knew an astonishing repertoire of myths and then, like a tragedian, but one much more wayward and self-confident, bent the mythology he had inherited to develop his own economical but panoramic epics.
This system of myth exists not only on paper or papyrus: it is internalized by all Greek poets, all their historians and thinkers, and by the whole Greek nation. And it was externalized in the sculptures, paintings, and decorative arts for which we still celebrate Greece the key moment captured at the beginning of that chapter Thus Greek mythology defines what it is to be Greek (Graf, cH.11), and Greeks by their common agreement to remember these myths forge a powerful tool of social identity that has been explored by Halbwachs and more recently by Jan Assmann (`Cultural Memory'). Myths are not, however, remembered in isolation: they are interactive, with each other and on countless occasions with every aspect of Greek life and thought. They are a continual point of reference, or system of references, and they constitute what since the late 1980s has been recognized in literature under the term `intertext' 1992: 7-8). Anything that can be thought can be thought better with myth, or against its backcloth, or against it altogether (as in the case of Plato).
As a condition of its being woven into a system, Greek mythology must gain internal links and sequences between its component myths. Thus, genealogy connects one myth with another and gives the illusion of narration in time. The action occurs, too, for the most part in real Greek landscapes. Indeed, geography is a key principle of the organization of the mythological system. Myth may exist across a gulf, across the 'floating gap' in another time system altogether — in illo tempore, as Eliade used to say (e.g., 1969: ch. 2) — but there remains a sense that the genealogies that reach down from gods to heroes and from heroes to other heroes might in the end cross that gulf and link aristocrats of today to heroes of the past (Graf 1993a: 128-9). With this the illusion of history is complete and the mythology has now become the history that Greece did not have, neither the history of transmitted written record nor that of archaeology.
So if myth has wrapped up oral traditions and masquerades as the history of the world from the beginnings of the gods to the Trojan War and its aftermath, what credence did the Greeks give it? Did the Greeks Believe in their Myths? — the title of a classic book of Paul Veyne (1988). Almost any answer can be given to this question — yes, no, or it depends what you mean by `believe'. There are wonderful insights in Veyne's discussion:
The truth is the child of the imagination. The authenticity of our beliefs is not measured according to the truth of their object ... As long as we speak of the truth, we will understand nothing of culture ...
The Greeks ... were never able to say, 'Myth is completely false, since it rests on nothing.' ... The imaginary itself is never challenged. (1988: 113)
But Thucydides (1.11) certainly thought it was worth accounting for the length of time it had taken the Greeks to capture Troy and the historians themselves can disconcert us by their acceptance of or subscription to, myth.
This particular difficulty extends to our own reading of Greek myth. Can we really say that there is nothing preserved of the lost Greek history in Greek mythology? Some have come close to this extreme position. Yet even they will acknowledge that some genuine movements of Greek peoples are reflected in the mythology: the colonization of Rhodes by peoples of the Argolid may be reflected in the mythology (Dowden 1989: 150) and Troy may reflect the takeover of the Asia Minor seaboard by the colonizing Greeks (Dowden 1992: 68). But Troy is the key case where we need to set aside naive views, stemming from Schliemann, which dignify material finds through association with mythic culture as though it were simply history. Hertel tests the case of Troy in CH. 22 and demonstrates, with due caution, what sort of moves may be involved in trying to cut myth down to a possible historical core. A different approach has been that of Margalit Finkelberg (2005) who has looked at how succession to kingdoms works in Greek myth and found in it a system so intelligible in the light of systems that are known elsewhere in the world that she considers the mythology to preserve actual successions. It is a powerful case and perhaps we do not yet have the measure of how to detect history in myth.
There can be no doubt that myth grew out of local traditions. This lesson, first understood clearly by Karl Otfried Muller (1825), is repeatedly forgotten in the history of the study of mythology and is forcefully restated in this volume by Graf (CH. 11). Many myths remained local; for instance, accounting for landscapes and customs. Such a mythology might seem much more like the mythologies we learn about in simpler societies. It was their incorporation into a system, and above all their historicization in the trans-local epic as a tale about manhood at war, the society of heroes, that led to what we know as Greek mythology. This was not, however, some one-off spontaneous generation of mythology as we know it. The collection of the mythology in the Dark Ages was only the latest unification in a dialectic between the national and the local. We sometimes think of nations as a modern structure, as indeed in some senses they are. But a consciousness of one tribal people as belonging to a larger grouping suffices:
I resume, Gentlemen: man is a slave neither of his race nor his language nor his religion nor of the course of rivers nor that of mountain chains. A great gathering of men, sound in spirit and warm in heart, creates a moral awareness that is called a nation. (Renan 1992 (1882): 56)
The history of religion is full of tribal groupings marking their affiliation through ceremonies held at multi-year time intervals. It is likely that a unificatory mythology is maintained in such groupings, as the memory of mythology is necessary for the maintenance of identity. It is therefore no surprise that other 'nations' related to the Greeks should display some elements of parallel mythology (see Puhvel 1987), notably the Sanskrit tradition in India that finds expression in the huge epic Mahabharata. The nations related to the Greeks are the Indo-European peoples — such as the English whose kings descended from Woden — and it is there, in the hypothetical reconstructed Indo-European grouping of peoples, that the story of Greek mythology, in one sense, must start. Here we confront the extraordinarily doctrinaire approach of Georges Dumézil (1898-1986), who claimed to identify the underlying ideology of the Indo-Europeans and the ways in which it found expression in myth. Many classical scholars have simply rejected Dumézil, and his sympathy for some forms of fascism scarcely helped, but there are more intelligent ways forward than this and his system has been thoughtfully and temptingly extended by others, such as, notably, Nick Allen himself and Pierre Sauzeau.
However, ancestry is not all. Peoples do not move from one quarantined area to another. The tale of migration is also a tale of merger and of communication with new neighbours creating new mutual influences. Very few indeed of the names of Greek gods stand any chance of going back to Indo-European (Dowden 2007: 48). Zeus does, perhaps Poseidon, perhaps even Dionysos (< *Diwos-sunos, 'son of Zeus'?). Helen and the Dioskouroi probably belong there too. But not Athara- (as Athene originally was) and not Artemis or Aphrodite either: Athene and Artemis go back to the Bronze Age, appearing as they do on the Linear B tablets, and must belong with the populations of Greece before the Greek-speakers or with the populations that preceded or influenced them. Aphrodite stands a fair chance of being a form of the Phoenician Ashtart (Greek Astarte). Not only the names of gods, but the mythology that gives them substance can follow these paths. It is clear that the societies of the Near East above all possessed highly developed mythologies and were in seamless contact with each other, and in every period —Mycenaean, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic — with the Greek world.
Several scholars worked on the influence of Near Eastern cultures on Greek and in particular on Hesiod. After the pioneering studies of the Hittitologist Güterbock (1946, 1948), this subject increasingly interested classicists until two key publications of 1966 by Peter Walcot and Martin West dealt squarely in their own ways with the issue of Hesiod and his relation to Near-Eastern material. Meanwhile Astour (1967) produced a study of Near-Eastern influence on Greek religion and culture in Mycenaean times, not well received. Then later Burkert (1992 ) produced a brilliant, idiosyncratic, study of the archaic and orientalizing period; and a decade later again West (1997) produced a characteristically massively informed study of influence on archaic and classical literature.' We did not want to repeat this work in the present volume, but decided in the end that it was time to give the experts on the Near East their voice (which they had not had in this discourse since Güterbock, with the partial exception of Astour), so that the character of this mythology might shine out on the basis of the latest and most accurate information, particularly given that primary material is constantly being read for the first time in this discipline, a very different situation from the world of Greece and Rome where there is a huge bedrock of established texts and authors. This is what Livingstone and Haskamp provide in a substantial contribution which authoritatively marks new ground in the presentation of Near-Eastern mythology to students of mythology.
However, in the travelling conditions of Greek times, the Phoenicians were the Greeks' immediate port of call in the Near East, though we know little about Phoenician mythology. That changed, at least for their prehistory, when we discovered the archives of Ugarit. Here was a rich seam of religious and mythological material, and one which bears interesting relation to Old Testament material. This is to be expected as the Canaanites are in effect the Phoenicians looked at through an Old Testament window. A treatment by Wyatt of the Ugaritic (and some Hebrew) material on the afterlife and the Beyond and by Marinatos of Egyptian material and the influence which it appears to have had on conceptions of the Underworld, or rather the Beyond, in the Odyssey are, unusually, brought together in CH. 20. These are the sorts of contexts in which the choices of Homer, and the mythology he represents, are made.
By this stage we can see how huge and complex a job it is to define Greek mythology and situate it within its diachronic and synchronic historical contexts. The next task is to understand the implementation of mythology in Greek culture. This is a question partly of generic horizons, partly of audiences and their expectations, and partly of the ingenuity of the individual writer.
What Homer does with myth is to use it as a backdrop for conspicuously modern plots in a genre that had previously, maybe, served more to bring traditional episodes to life. Though his work amplifies and extends what later generations will accept as myth, he presents a starkly realistic portrait of very mortal heroes against what they perceive as a mythology: Achilles is found singing the famous deeds of men (klea andron, Iliad 9.189), that is, traditional mythology but also the deeds he is thwarted from undertaking by his industrial action; and Helen weaves a web of what for us is mythology of the Trojan War (3.125-8) but for her is a regretful photograph of reality. As Létoublon observes (p. 27) Homer is far from a recitation of myths. But, equally, his world depends on a multidimensional adoption of mythology as a framework of reference and meaning. From the cosmogony to the endgame of Troy, the mythic section of the `Homeric Encyclopedia' flows over with ambience (pp. 38-40).
We do not know as much as we would like about early performances of epic poetry, though Homer gives us imagined glimpses both of the professional singer at work, in the shape of the bards Demodokos and Phemios of the Odyssey, and of the more amateur performance of Achilles mentioned above.5 Epics were clearly performed competitively at festivals; Hesiod mentions travelling to Euboia for such an occasion ( Works & Days 651-9), and a later legend arose of a rather peculiar song-competition which pitted Hesiod against Homer himself. This was only a small part, however, of a much wider song culture, in which almost every significant occasion was marked by its appropriate form of song, often accompanied by dance and other forms of performance, and often presenting myth. (The particular way in which such performances make myth present, connecting the ancient and traditional with the here and now, is described in more detail by Calame, pp. 517-20.)
Our most important representative of this song culture is Pindar (late sixthmid-fifth century BC), a poet who comes late in this tradition and at its pinnacle of sophistication, but who is also in some respects quite conservative.
Pindar's use of myth is analysed by Rutherford. Where Homer uses myth as a foundation for his own highly individual plots and as a backdrop lending depth to the epic landscape, for Pindar, it is a system within which he works, and a world which he and his aristocratic patrons inhabit. For Pindar (as for Homer) the function of myth is not primarily to be told in any straightforward way. These are family stories; we may remind each other of them, take pride in them, derive solidarity from them, occasionally debate which is the authentic version, but we do not need to be told them. Where the Iliad and Odyssey mark a seam or caesura between the heroic then and the everyday now, in Pindar's songs there is no such seam: the world of myth is superimposed on the world of the victorious athletes and other great figures whose achievements he celebrates.
To say that the world of myth is familiar is not, of course, to say that it is ordinary: it has a magical glamour akin to that of the golden Sparta of Menelaos and Helen in the Odyssey. In Pindar's victory odes in particular, myth is used to demonstrate how the victor's extraordinary achievement in winning a Panhellenic contest places him on a par with the heroes of legend, close to the gods. Here as often, the telling of myth places often local or familial traditions in the context of a wider Panhellenic system of stories, a dynamic which is obviously appropriate when celebrating local potentates for whom victory at the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian, or Corinthian games represents a moment of Panhellenic stardom (a moment which the poems themselves, of course, serve to perpetuate). Pindar's poems are good examples of two functions of myth of lasting importance. First is the use of myth as an allusive poetic shorthand, making it possible to communicate and evoke a great deal in very few words; this role of myth is increasingly important as the classical literary tradition travels and mutates from Greece to Rome and beyond. Second is the role of myth as a rhetorically powerful virtual world, like and yet unlike reality, and highly charged (with authority, glamour, beauty, and emotive force), in such a way that intense effects may be achieving by linking the two. Here Pindar stands near the head of the very important tradition of praise and (to a lesser extent) blame in ancient oratory, in which myth (and later, mythologized history, though as Alan Griffith makes very clear this is never an easy line to draw) plays an important role as kings and princes are likened to heroes of old. Myth can also be used to deliver warnings — especially, not to aim beyond the pinnacle of human achievement by aspiring to equal the gods. (Such warnings also, of course, function as praise by implying the person's success is so great that he might actually be in danger of starting to feel like a god.)
From the performance of mythic song emerges drama, above all, though not exclusively, in Athens in the fifth century BC. The question of why a city with a burgeoning democratic system should wish to devote a significant part of some of its most important festivals to rehearsing, in tragedy, the household traumas of Bronze Age princes and princesses has been much discussed. The importance of this question has in turn itself been called into question.' Almost all tragedies, as well as their less well-known relatives the satyr plays, tell stories drawn from myth, and from epic in particular.9 Comedy is generally set, at least partly, in a world closer to the reality of contemporary Athens, but it too makes extensive use of myth, sometimes in parodies of tragedy or epic. (It is also clear that if more comedies had survived, especially from the early fourth-century BC period of the genre's history conventionally known as Middle Comedy, we would have many more examples of extended mythic plots.)
Drama obviously represents a new development in the 'making present' of mythic events which we have already encountered in the performance of lyric, and here, once again, powerful effects result from the superimposition of different worlds. Myth helps drama to tackle the extremes of emotion, the horrors of war, the pain of familial conflict and bereavement, the deepest personal dilemmas, while also retaining a measure of reflective distance. Through using myth, the plays can confront darkest the most terrifying aspects of human experience while also providing the audience with enjoyment and — according to prevailing ancient Athenian assumptions, at any rate — edification from the experience. Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood provided the helpful metaphor of `zooming' and 'distancing' devices by which the tragedians make us aware at one moment of the heroic remoteness of their characters, at another of the closeness of their concerns and experiences to our own (whether 'we' are modern readers or members of an Athenian audience, though, of course, somewhat differently in each case). This is one instance of the wider phenomenon of myth functioning as a lens through which things are seen in a new light, the familiar made unfamiliar or vice versa."
One Athenian comic dramatist teased the tragedians for having such an easy life: not only are their plots ready-made for them, coming as they do from myth, but the audience knows them already!" As Jean Alaux demonstrates, however, the tragedians were very far from adopting any passive approach to their mythic material. Myths are not simple hand-me-downs; nor are they a straitjacket. The availability of different versions enables playwrights to make highly significant choices and changes of emphasis, and to engage in constant dialogue with the tradition (including previous plays, as well as epic and other poetry) and with their audience-members' expectations, a point once made exceptionally strongly by Peter Walcot." The experience of myth is also transformed by its presentation in the theatre in front of a mass audience as the citizens of Athens together watch the affairs of mythical cities brought to life and, often, their leading figures brought to ruin, before their eyes. This, then, becomes a matter of 'pragmatics', the vital significance of the occasion for the meaning. But it is a much harder question whether myth in itself necessarily conveys the messages that the tragedians found in it. It is a remarkable fact about myth that it constantly serves new purposes and one of those purposes, a powerful one, has been to reflect the new interest in women's studies that began in the 1960s. But perhaps we have rushed too readily to the conclusion that myth is a 'source' for attitudes to women and should pause to consider the provocative paradox which Lewis drives home in CH. 23: 'the centrality of mythology in gender scholarship has never been matched by a strong interest in gender amongst those who study mythology.' And at root, as she demonstrates, lies the polysemy of myth — its capacity to bear meanings, many meanings. Myth is Protean, but the myth of Proteus might direct our thought to many other things instead.
So myth provides virtual worlds which are, in a variety of ways, good to think with. A particular case of this is what we may call, if we are forgiven for invoking a contemporary cliché, virtual learning environments. The fashionable teachers known as sophists of the fifth century BC and onwards use myth to add appeal and authority to their classes in ethics, politics, and persuasive speech: Prodikos instructs the young with a tale of Herakles choosing between personified Vice and Virtue, while Hippias has a Spartan audience spellbound with advice supposedly given by Nestor to the young Neoptolemos. N. Livingstone dips into this tradition in CH. 6. Like so much else, it goes back to Homer, in whose poems examples from myth, paradeigmata, are already powerful if far from straightforward instructive tools, and whom the sophists themselves are predictably keen to hail as their model and ancestor.
The greatest 'thinker with myth' of them all, however, and the most fascinating and influential, is the sophists' leading critic: Plato, whose myths are Murray's subject. Where the sophists borrow mythological settings such as the Trojan War or the Labours of Herakles for didactic performances, Plato does something much more radical, creating philosophical myths which use traditional material and 'feel' old, but are in fact (probably: the case of Atlantis, for instance, has been much discussed) essentially new. It seems strange that he should choose to present us with such fictions, in view of Socrates' relentless insistence in his dialogues on the absolute importance of Truth and Reality and on dialectical reasoning as the means of attaining it. Murray demonstrates that, in spite of this paradox, myth is no add-on, but central to Plato's philosophy. Platonic myth is a way of exploring the inadequacy of our understanding of what Truth really is, of pushing at the limits of our understanding and ability to understand, and of groping our way towards understanding of things which, within the limitations of the written dialogue and until such time as the light of philosophical enlightenment dawns, we are unable to talk about any other way. This insight is not restricted to philosophy, as Griffiths makes clear in CH. 10. His examples from the ancient and modern worlds alike demonstrate just how hard it is to eliminate myth from storytelling, and especially from the telling of stories about the past.
So far this discussion may have given the impression that myth in the ancient world was primarily a verbal phenomenon. This is far from being the case: visual images of myths were almost as pervasive in ancient cities as brand and advertising images are in the modern developed world." Scenes from myth were in private homes on more-or-less everyday pottery, a good deal of which survives, and on deluxe precious-metal ware, most of which is lost; they were in public buildings such as temples and porticos in the form of wall paintings — of which, again, sadly little survives — and sculpture. Woodford vividly reminds us of the importance of this visual world of myth by opening with a remarkable first scene in one of Euripides' tragedies. Here, a group of women find a sense of being 'at home' on a visit to an unfamiliar city because they recognize the stories the temple sculptures tell. The women excitedly report to each other what they see: for the benefit of the audience, of course, but at a naturalistic level this is also a reminder that, for ancient Greeks as for us, visual representations of stories provoke an impulse to tell the stories verbally. The old saw that 'a picture is worth a thousand words' cuts both ways. How we, like the women in Euripides' chorus, can know what we are seeing, Woodford explains in CH. 8. Having thus assisted and emboldened us, she sounds a note of caution later in the volume, in CH. 21, where she warns us of a number of ways in which this enterprise of 'telling what's in the picture' can go wrong.
The long reign of Philip II of Macedon (lived c. 382-36 BC, ruled 356-36 BC) and the short, brilliant career of his son Alexander III (the Great, 356-323 BC, ruled 336-323 BC) transformed the Greek world. Philip progressively brought the cities of mainland Greece under Macedonian control and established Macedon as a dominating power. Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire expanded Greek horizons unimaginably — though in fact this was precisely what the Athenian political writer and teacher Isocrates (438-336 BC) had imagined, and had lobbied Philip, amongst others, to do. Not surprisingly, Alexander became mythologized in his own lifetime, fulfilling, as Mori explains in CH. 12, a childhood ambition to rival Achilles; the gods Dionysos and Herakles were also role models."
In the 'Hellenistic' world shaped by Alexander's successors, the collective Hellenic identity which (alongside local identities) myth had played such an important part in constructing in the Archaic and Classical periods became a kind of reality. This was facilitated by the spread of the 'common speech', or koine, as the basic language of literacy and, above all, by the prestige of Greek literary culture, paideia, which became a route to prominence for mixed Greco-Macedonian and non-Greek elites in cities across a huge swathe of the Near and Middle East. Isocrates' favourite fantasy had been that Athens would lead the Greeks in war against the barbarians, and he would have bitterly regretted the loss of the city's freedom (one story has it that it was news of the defeat of Athens and her allies by the Macedonians at the battle of Chaironeia that finally led to the old man's death at the age of ninety-eight). He would have been gratified, however, by the hegemonic role of Athens, culturally though not politically, in the emerging Hellenistic identity. The koine was a modified version of Attic, the dialect of Athens, and Athenian texts — the plays, histories, speeches, and philosophic writings — formed, together with Homer and others, the bedrock of paideia. Mori demonstrates the importance of this identity, and of myth in particular as its vehicle, to Alexandrian Greeks making themselves at home on the threshold of North Africa, a `kindred other'. She shows how the flexibility of myth enabled Hellenistic Greeks to maintain an equilibrium between assimilation of non-Greek ideas and practices and assertion of the primacy of old Hellenic traditions.
The Hellenistic age was an age of collecting, not least collecting information. The information is now in the books (ta biblia), the books are in the library, and, if we are in Alexandria (home to the most famous, but not the only, great library of the period), the catalogue 'tables' (the Pinakes) of the great scholar-poet Callimachos are there to help you find it. Myths are sorted and organized, for example into aetiologies, explanations for the way things are, as in Callimachos' hugely influential (but now sadly fragmentary) poem the Aitia; unusual and obscure versions are competitively sought out, evaluated, and put to poetic use.
The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece by Marguerite Rigoglioso (Palgrave) Greek religion is filled with strange sexual artifacts––stories of mortal women's couplings with gods, rituals like the basilinna's “marriage” to Dionysus, beliefs in the impregnating power of snakes and deities, and more. In this provocative study, Marguerite Rigoglioso suggests these are remnants of an early Greek cult of divine birth, not unlike that of Egypt. Scouring myth, legend, and history from a female-oriented perspective, she argues that many in the highest echelons of Greek civilization believed non-ordinary conception was the only means possible of bringing forth true leaders, and that special virgin priestesshoods were dedicated to this practice. Her book adds a unique perspective to our understanding of antiquity, and has significant implications for the study of Christianity and other religions in which divine birth claims are central.
Now is come the last age of the Cumaean prophecy:/The great cycle of periods is born anew./Now returns the [Virgin] .. ./Now from high heaven a new generation comes down. —Virgil Fourth Eclogue (4-7)1
"The daughter becomes identical with the mother." This statement of Erich Neumann (1963, 309), providing what may well be the key to the mystery of the cult to Demeter and Persephone in antiquity, haunted me for months as I wrote my master's thesis on these two goddesses in central Sicily. There was a depth to it, fascinating and unplumbable, that kept me traveling ever further inward.
I remember standing in my brother's apartment in Brooklyn, New York, in January 2001 when I had the insight that was the starting point of this book. I had been reading Sicilian scholar Anna Maria Corradini's book Meteres: Il Mito del Matriarchato in Sicilia (Mothers: The Myth of Matriarchy in Sicily). Corradini stated for me what seemed a sudden and profound truth: the Demeter/Persephone mystery was, at core, a female-only mystery. Stripping off the layers that the Greeks had added on through the violent intrusion of Hades and other male gods into the story, she suggested that Demeter was a pre-Hellenic parthenogenetic goddess who produced the natural world—and her daughter, Persephone—spontaneously out of her own body.
Parthenogenesis. Self-conception. Virgin birth. Mothers and identical daughters. As I stood in my brother's small office, I had the strange sensation of a foreign thought suddenly illuminating my mind: Were holy women of ancient Greece once engaged in attempting to conceive children miraculously?
Since that time, shards of a Greek history seeming to link women and divine birth have continuously presented themselves to me, glinting through obscure passages in ancient texts and in the prose of unsuspecting contemporary scholars. I have collected these pieces, and in this book I have assembled them. The result is a vessel that may still have many missing parts, but one that begins to reveal an integral form and shape, nonetheless.
During the course of this research I have come to realize there have been so many artifacts staring at us for 2,000 years, in fact, that it is truly stunning no one has put them together before as evidence of possible female cultic practice.2 Practically all of the legendary heroes who came to head the great genealogical tribes of early Greece, as well as various historical political and spiritual leaders and a handful of humans turned divine, were said to have been born of mortal women through sexual union with gods. Not only were Heracles, Perseus, Theseus, and a host of other legendary heroes associated with divine birth stories, but so were historical figures such as Pythagoras, Plato, and Alexander the Great. In certain corners of the Graeco-Roman world, it was believed that miraculous conception could occur through the influence of snakes and celestial rays of light. The healing cult of Asclepius held that women could be impregnated with supernatural assistance—a belief that was the basis for the entire nearby Egyptian civilization. The basilinna, the "queen archon" of classical Athens, was even attested to conduct a secret and presumably sexual rite with the god Dionysus every year. Are such stories and practices—and many, many more—to be dismissed as mere remnants of mythology—that is, fiction—alone? Or do they point to something important about the actual beliefs and rites of ancient Greece?
This book argues for the latter. In doing so, it offers what amounts to a radical reinterpretation of ancient Greek religion, one that suggests priestly women—and the figure of the "holy virgin"—may have been considered far more central to the founding of Greek civilization than previously understood. Specifically, this book makes the case that certain specialized priestesshoods in ancient Greece may have endeavored to conceive children in various non-ordinary ways as an elevated form of spiritual practice. It demonstrates that the intended purpose of this practice was to give birth to a hero or heroine, gifted spiritual leader, or what was considered to be a supernatural being—an individual it was thought could not enter into the human stream through the "normal" sexual channels. This miraculously born individual, as the following chapters show, was considered a special soul capable of benefitting humanity significantly in some way, or of heralding or reinforcing particular value systems for the human race.
The book proposes that attempting to produce offspring through various asexual and/or magical methods was thought to be a specialized sacerdotal activity for women. Although some Greek writers, such as Herodotus, were reportedly skeptical about women's capacity for virgin birth, there were many who apparently believed it was possible—including some in the highest intellectual echelons, such as certain followers of Pythagoras and Plato. This book argues that Greeks who believed in the reality of such a phenomenon held miraculous conception and birthing of a child to be the most advanced form of magico-spiritual achievement possible. At its best, divine birthing was considered a feat that could transport the human race to a new level of functioning and awareness through the influence of the incarnated individual. The evidence shows that the purported birth of a specially conceived child was thought to result in the apotheosis, or literal divinization of the priestess herself—a "promotion" from human to goddess—and led to her corresponding veneration. Similarly, the child of this conception was considered to be of a divine nature and likewise the focus of worship.
To be clear, the task of this book is not to argue whether birth through miraculous means is or ever was possible. It is also not to argue whether any assumed practice by women in ancient Greece to conceive and give birth miraculously to a special category of children was successful or not. Rather, the work is to present and analyze a vast array of information from history, legend, and myth suggesting that groups of priestly women in ancient Greece who at the very least attempted divine birth as a spiritual discipline and who were believed at the time to have been successful may have formally existed. In doing so, this book brings into relief an aspect of Greek religion that has been obscured in the patriarchal era through the relegation of divine birth stories to the status of quaint and frivolous fable.
It is also important to note that in presenting evidence for the existence of what I am calling divine birth priestesshoods in Greece, the aim is not to make a scientific case that parthenogenesis—that is, conception and birth without the participation of the male—ever may have existed as a method intended to eclipse sexual procreation and do away with men.3 Nor is it to suggest that parthenogenesis should be explored as a means of doing so in future. The study discusses parthenogenesis in the religious context only, as a possible spiritual practice that would have had a specialized purpose.
As I elaborate shortly, the aforementioned thesis has enormous heuristic utility in explaining and clarifying numerous paradoxical and puzzling characteristics of ancient Greek religion and mythology. First, it must be emphasized that a key theoretical perspective underpinning this work is the assumption that an earlier cultural substratum underlay all Greek (and related Roman) mythology as it was conveyed in archaic, classical, and post-classical periods. In this, I am in alignment with a number of prominent scholars of ancient Greek religion, as I explain further in Chapter 1. Of particular importance is the fact that such scholars, among them Jane Ellen Harrison, Karl Kerenyi, and Lewis Farnell, posit that this older system was matriarchal. According to this theoretical view, the religion most of us identify with ancient Greece, which is based on the Olympian myths, was a later—and patriarchal—development, the result of invasions to the Greek peninsula throughout the second millennium B.C.E. Although classicists originally thought such newcomers came from the North, subsequent archaeological data has revealed that they arrived from the East and Northeast.
There are plentiful indicators in the archaeological, historical, and literary record to support the theory that female deities enjoyed a far greater prominence and stature in pre-Greek culture than they did in Olympian religion4—and that nearly all such pre-Greek goddesses were understood to be generative mothers and virgins simultaneously. That is, they were parthenogenetic, producing the cosmos and all earthly creatures, including humans, out of their own essence without need for a male partner. This book offers basic evidence to support this idea, a theme that will be developed more fully in a second volume, titled Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity.
This book provides extensive support for the proposition that the cults of these Divine Virgins generated priestesshoods that aspired to replicating the parthenogenetic abilities of the goddesses.
Thus, it posits that in its pre-Olympian form, the cult of divine birth was exclusively a female enterprise, dedicated to attempting to produce special female children. The evidence suggests that as early Greece transitioned to patriarchy, the divine birth priestesshoods experienced a corresponding disruption. No longer were priestesses focused on replicating the exclusive parthenogenetic abilities of the goddess/es, rather they were conscripted to give birth to what were considered the children of male gods—usually, but not always, sons. This book thus offers a fresh perspective on the much-contested religious concept of "sacred marriage," or hieros gamos. It not only provides evidence to support the theory that a sexual ritual was indeed conducted in antiquity between a human figure and what was believed to be a divinity, but it also places the rite in what I contend is its correct historical position as a patriarchal revision of a custom whose intended purpose was the achievement of divine birth.
This is the first scholarly book to explore the theme of divine birth in ancient Greece in an in-depth and comprehensive fashion.° While other writers have suggested that parthenogenesis may have been an attribute of certain ancient goddesses or that women in different cultures and time periods may have attempted non-ordinary methods of reproduction for various purposes, no one has discussed these topics at length in relation to priestess groups in Greek antiquity.? Thus this book articulates an entire thematic complex that has been given only cursory attention.
This book brings a number of new understandings to the study of Greek religion and women's leadership roles in Greek cult. The preliminary analysis offered here of the parthenogenetic aspects of various Greek goddesses, for example, should begin to provide a fresh angle on our understanding of the nature, attributes, and agency of these deities as they were originally conceived. One point it clarifies is the fact that in the ancient world virginity and motherhood were originally understood to be simultaneously possible, coexisting as two complementary aspects of both feminine divinity and the human female in their most exalted, empowered manifestations. Correspondingly, it resolves the seeming paradox of Artemis's serving as a goddess who rejected heterosexual eroticism but who protected women's birthing process. Similarly, it explains why the "married" Hera periodically needed to "renew" her virginity in cultic rites.
In its abundantly detailed argument that various Greek priestesshoods patterned themselves after parthenogenetic goddesses in attempting to conceive children through divine conception and that they later capitulated to hierosgamos unions with gods under the pressure of patriarchy, this book helps coalesce disparate motifs and resolve paradoxes in a larger matrix. It brings into a meaningful whole the numerous legends of women's unions with gods that once seemed fanciful and unrelated. Moreover, in reframing the many "rapes" by gods as instances of male intrusion into the female divine birth mysteries, it provides the missing discourse about female agency in divine/human congress. It subsequently renders understandable the goddesses' "mythological" rage toward such legendary women as representative of conflict that occurred within the divine birth cult during this transitional period. It also retrieves from the realm of "fiction" the identities and practices of women who may well have been historical priestesses.
The thesis of this book similarly renders sensible a number of previously indecipherable female-related rituals. The rite reported by Herodotus in which Ause girls fought each other with sticks and stones to the death in ancient Libya, for example, suddenly becomes understandable as a method the tribe used to divine which maidens the goddess Athena/Neith favored to become holy virgins dedicated to attempting divine birth, as discussed in Chapter 3. The work explicates other previously confounding rituals as propitiation rites—means of circumventing the rage of parthenogenetic goddesses who were believed to be severely displeased over their virgin priestesshoods reverting to hieros gamos unions with gods. Among them is the mysterious ritual in which young priestesses on the Acropolis of Athens (Athena's domain) were ceremonially required to transport "secret things" in baskets to the "garden of Aphrodite," but were expressly forbidden to peek into their bundles, as also explored in Chapter 3. Another is the practice by which young girls at Brauron were required to "mimic" bears as a curious means of honoring Artemis, a topic elaborated upon in Chapter 4. Moreover, in Chapter 5, this book explores the possibility that the Olympic Games originated in the female-only foot races dedicated to Hera at Olympia, leading to the stunning discovery that this famed athletic contest may have emerged from the cult of divine birth associated with this goddess.
In Chapters 6 and 7, this book draws together interesting or typically overlooked details regarding the oracles at Dodona and Delphi, particularly as they relate to women and the feminine. It provides a more comprehensive feminist analysis of the goddess Dione at Dodona, and of the female oracular functionaries at both sites, than has been attempted before. The discussion of the possible connection between these cultic locales and the astral realms of Taurus and the Pleiades opens the window to an expanded understanding of the significance of such star systems in Greek religion and of their relation to the feminine, as well as of prophetesses' likely engagement with not only the chthonic but also the celestial mysteries.
In bringing to light the fact that the dove and the bee were symbols of divine birth, this book further explains why oracular priestesses at Dodona and Delphi were identified with such totems. Similarly, it renders plain why the lore of such places was replete with stories of virgin birth. It explicates the Delphic Pythia's "spousal" relationship with Apollo and, by elucidating the dual understanding of the concept of "conception" as both a physical and mental/oracular process, makes clear why the same verb, anaireô, "to take up," would have meant both "to give an oracle" and "to conceive in the womb." In so doing, this book provides a coherent rationale as to why oracular and parthenogenetic aspirations would have been understood as the province, in many cases, of prophetesses.
In its thesis that terms such as parthenos (variously but unsuccessfully defined by classics scholars as "maiden" or "virgin") as well as heroine and nymph were titles originally used to denote the priestess of divine birth, articulated in Chapter 2, the theory detailed here allows for the resolution of contradictory meanings and characteristics associated with such words, and lends to a new interpretation of Homer's "cave of the nymphs" as symbol of virgin birth. This book foregrounds the importance of virginity as a requirement in certain priestesshoods, as well, but clarifies that celibacy originally was a specialized practice, not a burden imposed on all young women with its later moral connotations. The theory likewise eases the apparent contradictions associated with the possible linguistic relationship between the Greek parthenos and the Egyptian Pr thn, allowing for a conjectural definition of the term as the poetic and apt "holy vessel for the divine star being who has descended from the heavenly cow/Hathor/Neith."
In short, this book places focus on those figures usually ignored or glossed over in discussions of divine birth: the female participants. It moreover suggests new ways of looking at Greek priestesses as not mere ritual technicians, but as holy women who were deeply connected with the esoteric—the hidden and mysterious aspects—of Greek religion. In positioning virgin priestesses as they once may have been seen in the ancient world—as active and purposeful agents in the divine birth process rather than passive bystanders or rape victims—this book also has tremendous implications for the future study of the most famous virgin mother of all, Mary.
For this book, I have approached ancient and secondary texts and iconography using a number of methodologies, which, given the provocative nature of what is being proposed, bear some attention. I first and foremost utilize a feminist hermeneutical approach. That is, I recast written records applying what Schüssler Fiorenza calls "a feminist hermeneutics of suspicion that understands texts as ideological articulations of men expressing, as well as maintaining, patriarchal historical conditions" (1983, 60).8 Moreover, I follow Goff's approach (2004, 25) of reading texts "against the grain," or reading them "for other than their ostensible significance" to recover where and how historical women may have had agency and autonomy in an attempt to create what I hope is a more complete and accurate picture of the ancient Greek priestesshood.
Another methodological approach I employ is neo-euhemerism. That is, I look to mythology and legends as sources of important clues about historical events and actual ancient cultural and cultic practices. The term neo-euhemerism derives from the name of the fourth century B.C.E. writer Euhemerus, who, by investigating the actions and places of birth and burial of the divinities of popular religion, claimed the gods were simply deified human beings, great heroes who were revered because they had benefited mankind in some important way. His rationalizing method of interpreting Greek myths, known as classical euhemerism, was revived in the nineteenth century by scholars such as Spencer ( 1969). In more recent works, Nilsson (1932, 1964), for example, argues that the Greek epics originated in the aristocratic society of Bronze Age Mycenaean culture, reflected the deeds of historical men, and described contemporary events while mixing mythical and folktale elements. Harrison ( 1957,  1963) similarly assumes that myth reflects broad historical contours of Greek and pre-Greek culture. Farnell, too, throughout his classic five-volume work Cults of the Greek States ([1896-1909] 1977), conjectures that various myths may have been indicators of actual custom and ritual.
It should be noted that reading myth as history violates the injunctions of scholars who assume myth is predominantly fictional in nature (see, e.g., Dowden 1995, 44). It is also to be acknowledged that mythology may have suffered at the hands of certain families who attempted to connect themselves with an ancestry that could be traced back to an Olympian god (Guthrie 1967, 55). Still, I concur with Nilsson (1932, 3-4) that there may be at least some measure of reliability to myths as representations of genealogies and chronology. As he notes (2), "The glory and fame of ancient poets depended not, like that of modern poets, on their invention of something new and original, but rather on their presentation of the old traditional material in new and original fashion." Cook (1914-40, 1:675), too, comments, "Even Ovid, facile though he was and frivolous though he may have been, did not invent his Metamorphoses wholesale. Recent research is in fact tending toward the conclusion that he did not invent them at all."
The position I take is that myths are not always or necessarily purely of the realm of fiction, but may contain genuine relics or traces of historical events and cultural practices. I also follow Birnbaum (1993, 3-35), who provides an amplified theoretical discussion of folklore as a repository for secret, subversive, and often subjugated and repressed religious beliefs, particularly as regards women, the feminine, and the subaltern. I would extend this theoretical terrain to include material found not just in folklore, but in the biographies of the goddesses and gods. My aim in examining the ancient stories from such perspectives is not, as in classical euhemerism, to attempt to "demote" the gods to human status in what has been called the "faded god" approach (Lyons 1997, 72). I give but an occasional mention to the idea that many of the deities, notably Hermes, Dionysus, and Apollo, but also Zeus and Athena, to name a few, also have rationalizing myths associated with them. Rather, my aim is simply to bring into consideration the possibility that many of the figures in mythology such as heroes, heroines, "nymphs," and so forth, may have been historical figures. Hence my modified approach is more strictly known as "neoeuhemerism," one also embraced to some extent by Farnell (1921). It is this that really forms the crux of my analysis, as I propose it is to the great religious myths and legends—by the latter, I mean unsubstantiated stories local peoples believed were historical—that information about the cult of divine birth has been relegated. I contend that the rewards of this approach in terms of what it may reveal about priestly women of Greece outweigh the potential dangers.
I should note that starting from the position that heroines and "nymphs" may represent historical women leads to a different interpretation of myth than that of scholars who assume female figures who consorted with gods were in fact demoted local goddesses. Cook (1914-40, 1:524), for example, conjectures that the Phoenician princess Europa, who is said to have borne a son named Dodon or Dodonus to Zeus, "was at first a great earth-mother, who sent up vegetation from her home in the ground." I argue, instead, that the divine status of women such as Europa was granted as a result of their supposed union with gods. Indeed, I suggest that the assumption that such women represented downgraded forms of earlier goddesses is in part what has obscured the recognition of the divine birth priestesshood by scholars. My work of discerning certain female figures in Greek text to be priestesses rather than goddesses parallels work being done by Connelly (2007, 108-36) and others in the area of vase painting, cult implements, and sculpture.
I should also note that in reading myths as history, for the most part I do not distinguish between myths in terms of their dating or the "reliability" of their systematizers, except to comment on instances of what I discern may have been androcentric revisions to an original story. To do otherwise would be beyond the scope of this book and would, I believe, bog the arguments down with unnecessary tedium. Whether one particular myth or another may be suspect as a source of historical information becomes, to my mind, irrelevant in the face of the sheer number of myths I have laid out that point in similar directions. I also maintain that repetitive myth typologies (such as the theme of the "hero slaying the python/serpent"), far from proving the ahistorical nature of such stories, affirm general trends and events in human experience across a variety of locales and time periods. I suggest they may even be survivals of historical events that took place prior to particular diffusions of various pockets of our human ancestors into new cultural groups.
Ultimately, I also approach myths intuitively. As Drewermann (1994, 125) observes, "The symbolism of the myths has to be read like expressionistic works of art in order to grasp their existential code language." Just as myths are what I would argue a pastiche of histories, hidden codes, and politico-religious programs and propaganda, so they require multiple methods in their decipherment and analysis. I am not content to approach them from one vantage point only. Sometimes I apply a feminist hermeneutics of suspicion, sometimes a neo-euhemeristic reading. And sometimes I apply what I would call a "gnostic lens" to the story. That is, I take myths to be expressions of mystical concepts corresponding with what I contend were the more esoteric aspects of Greek religion.
The words of Guthrie (1967, 23) may serve as fitting beacon for what is to follow:
The classics live only because each generation sees in them something a little different from the last, and to try to see them through the eyes of the last generation would be unwise even if it were possible.
It is to be acknowledged that this book is highly provocative. Clearly this project takes the patchwork that is ancient Greek religion and puts it together in new combinations to make unconventional assertions about the way things might have been in the ancient Mediterranean world. As the reader will hopefully discern in the following chapters, I attempt to make such claims as responsibly as possible by supporting them with carefully compiled data. It should be noted that the argument I make herein is cumulative. No one piece of evidence alone is likely to "prove" that a cult of divine birth existed in ancient Greece. The persuasiveness of the thesis, I propose, lies in the sheer volume of suggestive details that point in this direction—the full impact of which cannot be felt without reading through to the very end, where many of the threads come together at last. Whether all may agree with my assumptions, methods, interpretations, and conclusions or not, I can only but proceed ahead, bearing forth the fruits of what has amounted to seven years of gestation and labor with the hope that this project will be meaningful in the larger scheme of things.
Its I indicated at the beginning of this book this analysis has ignored the question of whether or not miraculous conception may be possible. Yet the tremendous amount of evidence explored in the previous chapters suggesting that divine birth may well have been a bona fide religious practice attempted in ancient Greece naturally leads one to wonder: Is there any scientific possibility that women ever could have produced children without the participation of human males?
Parthenogenesis is indeed a natural reproductive mode for a variety of living creatures. In addition to the honeybee, which we explored in Chapter 7, organisms that can reproduce asexually include certain species of aphids, fleas, ants, earthworms, cockroaches, wasps, scorpions, grasshoppers, snails, frogs, shrimp, fish, lizards, snakes, and, occasionally, sharks.' In mammals, parthenogenetic egg cleavage has been reported in mares (van Niekerk and Gerneke 1966), ferrets (Chang 1957), mice, rats, hamsters, Guinea pigs, rabbits, and sheep (Beatty 1967).
Scientists generally assume that spontaneous parthenogenesis rarely occurs in mammals (deGrouchy 1980, 6) and that, when it takes place, it does not produce live births. However, researchers have been conducting experiments to stimulate parthenogenetic activity in mammals and other living creatures for more than a century. Mouse eggs have been stimulated to divide in test tubes with chemicals, enzymes, temperature shifts, or electric shock (Cohen 1998-9, 36, 38). Eggs of certain animals in whom meiosis (division of the egg) has been artificially stimulated have even been brought to term, such as those of sea urchins and turkeys.2 Pincus (1939) claimed to have produced three live rabbit births by inducing meiosis in rabbits using hormone injections, treating the expelled eggs with chemical agents, and transplanting parthenogenetically activated eggs back into the rabbits.
Human eggs have been observed to divide spontaneously in the 4 laboratory up to the pre-embryo stage known as a blastula (Shettles 1956, 1957). They also have been chemically induced to divide parthenogenetically through vacuum pressure as well as through exposure to calcium ionophore (Winston et al. 1991), acid Tyrode's solution (Johnson et al. 1990), and puromycin (De Sutter 1992). Such procedures, however, have reportedly not resulted in live births.
In 1996, Jerry L. Hall, PhD, director of ViaGene Fertility in Los Angeles, began experimenting with activating parthenogenetic development in mice eggs by exposing them to a combination of ethanol (alcohol) and cytochalasin, and reported a remarkably successful activation rate of between 50 percent and 70 percent of the eggs. With Yan-Ling Feng (Feng and Hall 2001), he successfully stimulated mouse embryos to reproduce parthenogenetically through similar means all the way to the trophoblast stage—the point at which a placenta begins to grow. After they transplanted embryos to the uteri of foster mouse mothers, however, the National Institutes of Health, at whose facilities they were conducting some of the work, told the research team to destroy the animals, presumably because of the potential ethical implications of the study. The fact that some of the sacrificed fetuses had completed half of the gestation period suggests they could have resulted in viable births (personal communication, August 17, 2004).
Consistent with the work of other researchers, Hall has also achieved parthenogenetic division with human eggs by exposing them, as he did with mice eggs, to ethanol (alcohol) and cytochalasin. In May 2003, researchers from Gaithersburg, MD–based Stemron Corp. reported that they had grown the human embryos through parthenogenesis to the point where stem cells appeared. The team managed to obtain stem cells from one of the eggs, but the cells died after a few days (Associated Press 2003). According to Hall, no one has yet implanted parthenogenetically conceived human embryos into human wombs.
This brief foray into the history of parthenogenesis indicates that human and mammalian eggs can be made to divide artificially through chemical, electrical, and other means. This brings to mind the herbal fertility remedies of the ancient world, such as vaginal fumigation and pessaries—as well as the mysterious "flash of light" associated with divine conception, discussed in several chapters of this book. Although no parthenogenetically activated human ovum has been brought to term, the fact that no such eggs have been implanted in a woman's womb leaves the question open as to whether such eggs could, in fact, grow into viable fetuses. Thus, strictly on the scientific level, the door may be slightly ajar to human parthenogenesis as an artificial reproductive option for humans.
Such a possibility may be relevant to the thesis of this book—or it may not. For this study has considered non-ordinary conception not as a scientific event, but rather as a spiritual one, one occurring in a realm beyond the laws of nature. The idea that humans possess the capacity to defy the workings of the body in miraculous ways has persisted throughout time. We find it in reports, for example, of the "superhuman abilities" supposedly developed by certain holy men and women in the East. In Tibetan Buddhism, such abilities are termed siddhis, and are thought to be attainable by adepts at particular stages in the training of their consciousness. Allione (1984, 190n17) writes that siddhis include the power to pass through walls, to transform stones into gold, to walk on water without sinking, to enter fire without being burned, to melt snow with one's body heat in extreme cold, to travel to a far-distant cosmos in a few seconds, to fly in the sky and walk through rocks and mountains, extraordinary abilities to read minds and know the future, and the development of all the senses far beyond their ordinary capacities. One can also radiate beams of light from the body and stand in sunlight without casting a shadow, make one's body vanish and other so-called miracles.
Magical capacities have also been attributed to shamans cross-culturally, as well, including the ability to change into animal forms (Eliade 1964, 477-82). Whether one contends such capabilities are achievable or not, it is reasonable to assume that the theoretical "final frontier" regarding magico-spiritual practices—the ability to reproduce life from one's body in non-ordinary ways—also would be an area that spiritual adepts would be keen to explore. Indeed, would not the ultimate accomplishment of mind/spirit over matter be to generate life within oneself through magical means? Would that not, in fact, render the practitioner something of a divine creator himself or herself?
The topic of whether miraculous conception may have been associated with any sort of siddhic practice has hardly been given Consideration in literature about supernormal abilities. Yet such stories do appear—as the foundational legends of many of the world's religions. In the Buddhist tradition, Maya is said to have given birth miraculously to the Buddha (Rhys 1922, 123). In Taoism, the virgin Lao is said to have conceived Lao-Tzu by the sight of a falling star (141). A legend asserts that Zarathustra's (Zoroaster) mother conceived him by drinking a cup of "Homa," the sacred drink (and probable entheogen) that so often figures in Persian and ancient Hindu legends (as Soma) (Hartland 1909-10, 1:12-3). The Manichaeans related that Terebinthus, said to have been the writer of the books from which Mani, their founder, derived his doctrines, was born of a virgin (142). Various Native North American nations claim virgins have given birth to individuals who have served as miracle workers. For the Tsalagi (Cherokee) and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), one such miraculously born (and reincarnating) spirit teacher has been known variously as the Pale One, Wotan, or the Peacemaker. And then, of course, there is the most famous such story of all: that of Mary's divine birthing of Jesus.
Could, then, divine birth serve as the siddhic practice par excellence? Are these stories, like the many that have been explored in this volume, indicative of a worldwide female mystery practice—one that has been in front of our eyes yet escaped serious attention until now? How outlandish is it to consider such a possibility when we are now witnessing the appropriation of "parthenogenetic" power indeed by the biotechnology industry—through genetic manipulation, cloning, stem cell research, the specter of cyborging, and the creation of part-human, part-animal hybrid creatures known as chimerae?6 Is it ill not odd that taking genes from one organism, violently splicing them into another, and creating mutant forms of life is considered rational behavior, while exploring the potential powers of the female reproductive system in a sacred context is deemed irrational??
Such provocative questions aside, on the scholarly level alone the theory presented in this book may well provide a useful template for reinterpreting and making sense of a wide variety of phenomena in archaeology, anthropology, religion, and folklore. The concept of pure daughter-bearing parthenogenesis as resulting in mother/ daughter "twins," for example, suggests that the numerous images of the "double goddess"—that is, identical goddesses depicted side by side or springing from the same torso, which have been found all over the world from the remotest of times —may merit further theoretical analysis. Obviously it also inspires a closer examination of the apocryphal literature surrounding the Virgin Mary and her mother Anne, who herself was said to have divinely conceived her daughter. Similarly, the theory points to the possible need for a reassessment of miraculous birth stories concerning other female figures in the Christian and Jewish traditions, including Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, and Sarah, mother of Isaac. Further, it suggests that much fruit may emerge from a new exploration of Gnostic texts with parthenogenetic themes. It also hints that an examination of the nature, origins, and original purpose of virgin priestesshoods in many historical traditions, among them the Vestal Virgins of Rome and the Catholic nunhood—in which women are posited as "brides of Christ"—may be illuminating.
At the very least, this book should leave readers with an important new angle on Greek mythology. It is clear from the extensive analysis offered here that female figures were part of a critical piece of religious story in ancient Greece that has been ignored or glossed over. Besides the particular "nymphs" and "heroines" discussed throughout this volume, there are scores more whose tales of divine union prove foundational to the establishment of the legendary Greek state. The work yet to be done of bringing these stories to light fully, and properly reframing them as part of a larger practice of divine birth—even if, under the most conservative assessment, one that existed purely in the realm of "myth"—promises to lend agency and dignity to the female and the feminine, past, present, and future.
Ancient Greek Divination by Sarah Iles Johnston (Wiley-Blackwell) offers a broad yet detailed treatment of the attempts by ancient Greeks to seek the counsel of the gods. The first English-language survey of Greek divinatory methods, the book includes in-depth discussions of oracles, wandering diviners, do-it-yourself methods of foretelling the future, magical divinatory techniques, and much more. Author Sarah Iles Johnston provides essential facts on each method and highlights its social and cultural significance, effectively illustrating how the study of divination illuminates the mentalities of ancient Greek religions and society.
The volume is illustrated and contains a chapter-by-chapter bibliography. Combining current scholarship with a lively and accessible style of writing, Ancient Greek Divination takes a new look at a phenomenon that was central to the lives of the Ancient Greeks.
Excerpt: In the town where I live, a few blocks away from the campus where I teach, there is a shop that specializes in providing materials to people who want to foretell the future — and in training them to do it. For a modest fee, a student can enroll in a course that covers the basic techniques of Tarot reading, having first chosen a deck of cards from the many styles that the shop has for sale. Those who don't have time to learn the techniques can arrange for a reading with the shop's proprietor, instead.
The shop is anything but outré. It is well lit and inviting, on a street of renovated Victorian brick houses. Nearby are restaurants, a doctors' office and a coffee shop. The proprietor supports the community by awarding scholarships to university students, and encourages customers to bring along their skeptical parents and friends. This is no fusty fortune-teller with a crystal ball, hidden in the backroom of a more respectable business, but an establishment that has woven itself into the fabric of a large, Midwestern American city. At the time that I write, it has occupied its spot for 12 years; there is a demand for what it offers. Nor is my city unusual in having such a shop. If anything, a web-search suggests that we are somewhat underprovided in comparison with our neighbors. Even small towns in my state usually have a place to buy divinatory tools and to have one's future told.
One might still assume, however, that this shop and others like it serve only a small percentage of the American populace. The setting of my own local store — near a large college campus — suggests that interest in things like Tarot cards is transient and age-linked; perhaps playing at divining the future is the kind of thing one does when young. Leaving aside such "scientific" techniques as weather forecasting, twenty-first-century Americans do not believe that they can foresee the future, much less that they can affect it — at least they don't believe that officially. Take horoscopes, for example, which are probably the most familiar method of prognosticating: in a poll conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2001, only 15 percent of respondents admitted reading their newspaper horoscopes every day or "quite often" (NSF 2002).
And yet we have to wonder how truthfully the respondents were answering. Only a few unassailably serious papers (the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times being prime examples) choose not to run a daily horoscope column. Indeed, most newspapers position the horoscope fairly prominently in a section called "Entertainment," "Arts," "Leisure," or some such thing, alongside the movie listings and the Sudoko puzzle. According to a 2005 survey commissioned by the Newspaper Association of America, this type of section, whatever you call it, is outpaced only by the local and national news sections in readership and, correspondingly, in costliness of advertising rates (NAA 2005). The moneycrunchers at the newspapers must think that the average reader cares a lot about horoscopes, if they grant them such a prime position. If you peruse your newspaper electronically rather than in hard copy, you are likely to find the horoscope conveniently clickable on the side-bar menu alongside television programming, lottery numbers, sports results and the other sorts of things to which you might want easy access every day. And if you cruise Amazon.com ratings for books on astrology, you find that they are remarkably high (as are the ratings for books on Tarot reading).
In spite of what the NSF poll suggests, then, something attracts the average American to divining the future. The cynically-minded might point to the titles of the newspaper sections where the horoscopes are found. "Entertainment," "Leisure" and even "Arts" can be taken to imply that prognostication is nothing more than a diversion (or that this is what people who indulge in it want to tell themselves, anyway). Perhaps it is only a diversion for some readers — but even this doesn't mean we can dismiss it, for a game is only fun if you can suspend your disbelief to at least some degree. And for other readers it certainly is not just a game —the lucrative business of casting horoscopes and reading Tarot cards over the phone or internet could not be sustained as well as it is by people seeking idle amusement (let us not forget, either, that Nancy Reagan's penchant for astrology was thought to have a big enough effect on her husband's policies that it made the cover of Time magazine in May of 1988). Spirit mediums, to add a third popular form of divination to our list, advertise in the Yellow Pages of every American city — and are held up for admiration as the protagonists of popular television shows and movies. Divining the future, or at least thinking about divining the future, sits just as comfortably alongside computers, the internet, and everything else that we embrace as modern as it once sat alongside the telephone and telegraph during the Victorian period, when interest in spirit mediums ran extraordinarily high. Indeed, the desire to gain special knowledge has frequently renewed itself by building upon technological advances: the Spiritualist movement of the 1850s modified the speaking trumpet in order to hear angels; Henry David Thoreau and others thought they could hear the music of the spheres humming over the telegraph wires (cf. Schmidt 2000).
This book is not, however, a study of contemporary western attitudes toward foretelling the future — fascinating though that would be. Rather, I have opened a volume entitled Ancient Greek Divination with a look at the present and recent past in order to introduce what will be a continuing theme — that is, the very pervasiveness of divination. Even if we think we don't believe in it personally, divination is here, and for whatever reason, as a culture we take some trouble to make the simpler forms of it readily available. Similarly, the Roman author Cicero opened his treatise on the topic with the magisterial statement "I know of no people, whether they be learned and refined or barbaric and ignorant, that does not consider that future things are indicated by signs, and that it is possible for certain people to recognize those signs and predict what will happen" (Divination 1.2). It's likely that in antiquity, most people practiced or witnessed some form of divination at least once every few days: divination was always part of offering sacrifices to the gods, usually part of deciding whether to undertake a military maneuver, often part of puzzling out a bewildering dream, sometimes part of diagnosing and treating an illness or choosing a bride, and even, sometimes, part of understanding why your body was twitching or your child was sneezing. Walking through the ancient marketplace, you might glimpse a "belly-talker" who carried a prophetic spirit around inside of herself, an Orphic priest who could tell you what it meant if a weasel had crossed your path, or a state delegation setting out to consult the Delphic Oracle on a matter of public good.
Ancient divination, moreover, adapted itself to different cultures and different technologies just as readily as contemporary divination has. Cicero follows his initial claim with a list of some of the choices available: the Assyrians prefer to divine by looking at the sky because they live on plains, where the heavens are unobstructed by mountains; the Cilicians, Pisidians, Pamphylians prefer bird divination; the Greeks like to consult the Oracles at Delphi and Dodona, and so on (1.2 and cf. 1.91-4). Some degree of variability and adaptability is characteristic of all religious phenomena, but ancient divination was particularly pliant. A relatively straightforward goal — to gain knowledge of what humans would not otherwise know — manifested itself in a variety of ways that combined and recombined themselves. The myriad means reflect a diversity that is culturally specific, but the underlying persistence of desire for divinatory knowledge reflects a basic human need.
One thing does distinguish the Greeks and Romans from us, however, and that is their degree of self-reflection about the topic. Already in the mid-fifth century, intellectuals debated whether divination worked or not (Herodotus defends it against unnamed critics at 8.77) and as the centuries rolled on, they composed numerous treatises that took on the questions of whether it worked, how it worked and why the gods (or whatever) had established it. Many of these treatises survive only as titles or at best as summaries in Cicero's own discussion, but we know enough to at least sketch the central issues, which I will do briefly in this section. More detailed treatments of some issues will be found later in this book; the introduction to the first volume of August Bouche-Leclercq's Histoire de la divination dans l'antiquité (1879-82), now nearly 140 years old, is still the most complete discussion available, although it must be supplemented with the many notes in Arthur Stanley Pease's two-volume commentary on Cicero's Concerning Divination (1920/3) and now also with David Wardle's (2006) commentary on Book 1 of the same (esp. pp. 28-36).
But before we go on to that, it's worth thinking a bit more about why divination so fascinated ancient intellectuals. In contrast to divination, other religious behaviors were seldom examined very closely. We hear very little about sacrifice, for instance, which was considered one of the defining acts of ancient worship. (Lucian has a short and cynical essay on the topic, and Porphyry has a long treatise on why humans should abstain from animal flesh, which included abstaining from sacrifice, but otherwise, mostly what we have are brief comments that, far from asking how and why sacrifice works, assume that we already know.) Similarly, we seldom find ancient texts discussing prayer in a critical manner. Why then did divination, in contrast, draw so much attention?
Part of the answer is that divination more clearly involves participants in a two-way conversation. When you pray or sacrifice, you usually don't get an immediate response — sometimes you have to wait a few months to see whether the crops come in well or whether you conceive and deliver a healthy baby. When you cast the dice or read the entrails or put a question to the Pythia, you get an answer almost immediately. Interpreting it may take you longer, but at least you know that someone has heard you. Divination, then, more than any other religious act, confirms not only that the gods exist, but that they pay attention to us. The Stoic arguments for the validity of divination were built on this assumption, in fact: if divinity exists, it must be beneficent; if it is beneficent, then it will find a way to communicate with us because it wishes us to steer our lives according to divine will. (And vice versa, of course: if divination can be shown to exist, then so must divinity.) The salient questions then become, how do the gods communicate and how can we most effectively take part in this communication ourselves? These questions lead, in turn, to all kinds of interesting ruminations about how the physical and metaphysical worlds operate. Assuming that the gods communicate with us through the entrails of sacrificial animals, for instance, how does a properly informative liver end up in the specific bull or ram that someone chooses for sacrifice? Debates over divination sat at the tip of a very large iceberg of other questions about how the gods and the universe worked.
The variety of techniques employed in divination inevitably increases the number of questions. Enthused prophecy (prophecy whereby a god speaks through the mouth of a human) prompts consideration of what divinity is, existentially, and how it could ever join itself, even temporarily, to a feeble human body. Plutarch tried to solve this dilemma with a complex picture of the soul of the Pythia coming together with Apollo in a sort of vortex of whirlwinds; Lucan toyed with the possibility that what the Stoics called divine pneuma, or "breath," which permeated the world, was inhaled by the Pythia and then struck her soul with prophetic knowledge — as we'll see both below and in Chapter 2, there were other explanations for enthusiastic prophecy on offer, too (Plutarch, Oracles 404e—f; Lucan 5.88-99). The Stoics also thought that pneuma sustained sympatheia, a force that bound together the otherwise disparate parts of the cosmos, and they used sympatheia to explain techniques of divination that depended on reading the appearance or behavior of objects in the physical world. The good diviner knew about the sympathetic links between, say, the appearance of a night-owl during the day and political insurrection and could therefore predict what was going to happen when such a bird showed up. But this prompted such questions as how we should distinguish between the art of the diviner and the art of the doctor, the farmer, the sailor or anyone else who made it his business to learn how one thing signified another that was yet to come — is it divination to know that an olive crop will be abundant by looking at blooms early in the season, or is that just good arboriculture? Is it divination to predict rain by looking at a dark cloud, or is that simply the sort of practical meteorology that every reasonably intelligent person picks up the course of life? And what had established sympatheia in the first place? Fate? Lurking behind that possibility was the gigantic one of whether humans had free will: if a network of sympatheia had been knit into the cosmos at the beginning of time, setting off complex chains of events, then mortals could scarcely expect to change the future. And if they couldn't change it, then what was the purpose of divination, as Lucian's Demonax pointed out (Demonax 37)? Dream interpretation often was explained by assuming that the human soul could disconnect itself from the sleeping body, but this led to questions about the nature of the soul itself, and what, exactly, it was encountering while wandering around. With all of these questions and others to ask, it isn't so surprising, then, that divination prompted more focused thought than other types of religious behavior.
Even before critical discussions begin to appear in our sources, we see attempts to collect and organize divinatory information. Hesiod, at the end of his Works and Days, assembles a list of lucky days that his readers should heed: the eleventh and twelfth days of the month, for example, are good for shearing sheep; the twelfth is also good for setting up a new project on a loom. The twenty-seventh is good for opening a jar of wine. Certain days are good for women to be born on, others are good for men — although the specific day will determine the niceties of a man's personality. Hesiod ends his list of days, and the poem itself, with the remark: "Happy and blessed is he who knows all these things, and does his work without offending the gods — judging the birds and avoiding transgressions" (lines 826-8). The Works and Days was, among other things, a poem purporting to scold Hesiod's badly behaved brother, Perses, and tell him how to live properly — thus, it is not surprising that we finish up with something more or less like this statement, but two things are notable. First, having knowledge of "lucky days" counts as part of living properly. Perhaps we wouldn't call this knowledge "divinatory" in the strictest sense of the word, but it comes close: like omen lists or catarchic astrological charts, a list of days and the activities appropriate for each of them foretells what will happen if a certain act occurs at a certain time (indeed, in the ancient Near East, more extended hemerologies — that is, lists of lucky days and unlucky days on which to do things — were recorded in the same style and contexts as other omen lists). That Hesiod could compose a detailed list of these predictions (all but eight days of the month are characterized by him as being good or bad for something) suggests that already in the archaic period, a fair amount of energy had been spent on collecting and organizing this material. We are still nowhere near to the really extensive, detailed lists of omens and astrological patterns that scribes had long been producing in Near Eastern cultures (writing came later to Greece than to the ancient Near East) but the concept is present: collect, organize and then disseminate predicative information.
Also interesting is Hesiod's advice to "judge the birds." The verb I have translated as "judge," "krino" and its cognates are parts of words that signify divination and the experts who perform it: an oneirokrires is a dream interpreter, for example, and an ornithokrites is an interpreter of birds. What Hesiod advises us to do at the end of his poem, then, is not merely to evaluate birds in some casual sense — are they healthy this year? — or even with a farmer's eye — are they the kind that are likely to eat my grain crop? — but to interpret what their appearances portend. Already a little earlier in the poem, when listing lucky days, Hesiod had advised that the fourth of the month was potentially a good day to lead home a wife — but only after the eager bridegroom had judged (krinas) the bird signs. It's not surprising that another poetic treatise called the Ornithomanteia (Bird Omens) was grafted on to the end of Hesiod's Works and Days at some point. Already, Apollonius of Rhodes had charged that the Ornithomanteia was spurious, but his need to assert this suggests that it was an accepted part of Hesiod's work during the Hellenistic period — lists of birds and their meanings were the sort of thing you expected a famous poet to provide (in this case as in others, the role of the scribe as a provider of religiously important information — so familiar in the Near East — was taken on in Greece by the poet). Throughout Greek antiquity, we hear about other lists of this kind, or treatises that similarly collected and organized such information. In the third century BCE, for example, an author who called himself Melampus, after a famous diviner of myth, composed one treatise on bodily twitches and their meanings and another on birthmarks and their significance. Books on dream interpretation collected types of dreams and paired each with what it signified — the only surviving example is that of Artemidorus, from the second century CE, but we know that others existed far earlier (Apollonius of Rhodes ap. scholiast on Hesiod, Works and Days 828.
In short, there is a lot of ground to be made up - more than a single volume can hope to cover. The title of this book already indicates one choice that I made soon after I started writing: what I had intended to be a work on Greek and Roman divination was pared back to Greek divination alone, not only because I realized that the two cultures provided more material than I could present in one book but also because, more importantly, I realized that there were significant differences between the types of divination practiced by the two and between the intellectual and social structures that underlay them. Although I use some Roman sources - most notably Cicero - to supplement the Greek evidence on which I focus, I make no attempt to analyze Roman divination per se.
Another early decision involved making a choice between the general and the detailed. I am not by nature a writer of lengthy books, much less of multi-volume compendia like that of Bouché-Leclercq. I had to choose, therefore, between either focusing closely on a few selected topics within Greek divination or giving a broader, but less detailed, overview of the whole field. The more I investigated the path that scholarship on divination had taken during the past century - and in particular, as
I became aware that since Bouché-Leclercq, no single work had brought together a representative span of techniques that the Greeks would have called divinatory — the greater seemed the need to provide a general study. Although the ancients had divided divination into "natural" and "technical" types, the division was always somewhat artificial, as the discussion earlier in this chapter has already begun to show: institutional oracles often offered what were usually categorized as "technical" methods, such as lot divination and empyromancy, alongside enthusiastic prophecy, and even dreams — a "natural" method — often required skilled interpretation by humans trained in particular techniques. Until we begin to think of divination as an ontologically unified category (however blurry some of its exterior borders may be), we will risk misrepresenting and therefore misunderstanding its function and meaning in the ancient world.
Having said that, however, I must admit that I found it impossible to organize my material without making some divisions within the category of divination. To me, it seemed heuristically more valuable to do so not under the rubrics of "natural" and "technical" but those of "institutional oracles" and "independent diviners." Certainly, there were overlaps between oracles and diviners as well, as we will see (each borrowed from the other those methods or claims that had proven profitable, and each could, on occasion, validate itself by referring to the other, as when an incubation oracle in Daunia claimed to have been founded by the mythic seer Calchas), but at least one significant difference does distinguish them. Whereas many oracles loomed large on the ancient landscape as panhellenically famous, long-established places, most independent diviners were known exclusively by those who dwelt in the same town as they did, or by those through whose towns they wandered, plying their talents; whatever panhellenic fame they could claim came from affiliating themselves with other people — with guilds of diviners such as the Melampids, the Telliadae or the Iamids (who in turn traced their lineages to famous diviners of myth). Because of these and other differences between oracles and diviners, the questions we ask about each type will vary — what do myths say about the nature of the places where oracles are located, for example? And what does myth say about the nature of the people who are diviners? How does a place validate itself as opposed to a person? How is each embedded in the surrounding social and cultural fabric?
The rest of this book, therefore, is divided in half. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on institutional oracles, starting with Delphi and Dodona and then moving on to Claros, Didyma and some others. Chapters 4 and 5 treat independent diviners (manteis), with Chapter 4 offering an overview of the diviner mostly as we know him in archaic, classical and Hellenistic sources and Chapter 5 focusing on a type of mantis whom we often call a magician — one of the experts who, during the imperial period, composed the extensive collections of spells known now as the magical papyri. Many of these spells are divinatory in nature, and they provide detailed information on how divinatory procedures might be carried out by an independent specialist. This last chapter also provides an opportunity to return to the question that Halliday began to pose, but that received so little attention afterwards: why are magic and divination so often mentioned in the same breath?
Throughout all of these chapters, I have often thought of the challenges that Jean-Pierre Vernant posed in 1974; I have tried to situate divinatory procedures within the social, political and cultural milieux in which they were used, and to use them to shed light on the mentalities that employed them. I am, however, primarily a scholar of religion and myth; my attention therefore has been most strongly drawn to the tantalizing puzzles that our evidence presents concerning what was done during divinatory procedures and how those actions were rationalized; and concerning what was said about divination's origins and the gods who enabled it to function. My focus on divination as a religious phenomenon is, I hope, another step forward. In league with some of the recent scholars whom I cited earlier in this chapter (or whom I cite in chapters yet to come), I want to erase the erroneous impression, given by Nilsson and others, that divination stands only at the margins of Greek religion. It was central, and must be studied as such.
I have written this book with both scholars and general readers in mind. In hopes that the latter will find it welcoming, I have avoided the sometimes daunting panoply of footnotes; to serve the former, I have included the most important references to ancient sources and modern treatments parenthetically in the text (although not necessarily all of them where there are many; the bibliography at the end of each chapter should be consulted by scholars who wish to go further with a specific question). The bibliographies are subdivided according to the divisions within each chapter; works that are relevant to more than one division are listed under "General" at the top of each bibliography.Most abbreviated titles of ancient works should be clear even to the nonspecialist, but a few are clarified in the list on pages xi—xii. Ancient authors from whom only one work remains are usually cited by name alone (e.g., "Herodotus," "Pausanias"), but fuller citations for these are included in the list of abbreviations as well. I have used a Latinate method of transliteration for names of people and places (e.g., "Branchus") unless they are well known under the Greek transliteration. I have used a Greek method for most other Greek words although I have made occasional exceptions for words that will look more familiar to the non-specialist under a Latinate form.
Magic in the Ancient Greek World by Derek Collins (Blackwell
Ancient Religions: Wiley-Blackwell) Magic in the Ancient Greek World
is an innovative introduction to the practice of magic during the
classical period. This book develops a framework for understanding
the role of magic in Greek life.
Thematically organized around detailed case studies of individual types of magic, this volume examines the use of spells, drugs, binding curses, figurines, and the specialists who offered them. Collins reveals how each of these magical practices worked and the cultural structures that allowed them to occur.
Original and insightful, Magic in the Ancient Greek World takes the reader inside both the social imagination and the ritual reality that made magic possible in ancient Greece.
Something of the vitality and vibrancy in the study of ancient Greek magic can be found in the works that have appeared over the last two decades, and there is no end to the enthusiasm in sight.' As might be expected from a burgeoning field, excellent books and articles have been written on everything from the history of the term 'magic' to the range of Greek magical practices attested from Homer down to late antiquity. The present study seeks to contribute to the discussion in a way that is both accessible to non-specialists and challenging to specialists. Thus Collins aim in writing this book is twofold: first, it seeks to introduce non-specialists to areas of Greek magic with which they may not be familiar, and to convey an appreciation for its conceptual and practical complexity; second, each chapter aims to cover both the high points of scholarly consensus and to offer new interpretive frameworks for understanding select Greek magical practices. Not every type of Greek magic is treated — notably, amulets, although the study of amulets could be assimilated easily to one or another of the interpretive frameworks offered here. Nor are literary depictions of magical activity treated here in any great depth. Be that as it may, each chapter is meant to be readable and engaging — hence the author has minimized the use of Greek and Latin and either translated or provided translations of all texts — and at the same time each chapter ventilates a definite argument for interpretation.
One of the longest-running debates in anthropology and the history of magic concerns the definition of 'magic' itself. Despite the lively and at times brilliant contributions to this debate, it will become evident already in the first chapter of this book that Collins thinks that debate is largely irrelevant, at least to the extent that it focuses on defining the meaning of the modern term 'magic', whether it be in opposition to science, technology, religion, or some other term. Ancient Greek terms for 'magic', including Greek uayos and the Latin terms magus, magicus, from which our modern term 'magic' itself derives, do have an interesting and culturally diverse history, which is examined in some depth. But as is established early on, a focus on particular historically attested practices is a more productive way to explore ancient behavior, and doing so often draws into question what to earlier generations of scholars had seemed clearly to be, for instance, either magic or religion. From the point of view of this book, such a distinction is largely effete.
The heart of this book contains five chapters that consider the methodological approaches to magic in anthropology; the development of Greek magic in the classical period; binding magic, curse tablets, and erotic spells, including the use of figurines; incantations derived from Homeric poetry in late antiquity; and the long history of Greek and Roman legislation against magic reaching into the early Middle Ages. A treatment of Roman laws on magic may seem out of place in a book on Greek magic, except that the Romans inherited most forms of Greek magic and in their laws continued to seek Greek precedents to refine Roman magical terms. On more than one occasion in this book extends the study into the medieval period — naturally, because Roman law served as the basis for prosecuting magic in the Middle Ages, and the practices that were prohibited more often than not were essentially Greek in character. More rarely, we shall make excursions into the early modern period, if only to highlight the commanding place which Greek, and subsequently Roman, magical concepts and practices held for later Europeans.
Collins offers initially a history of anthropological theories of magical behavior, from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, which derive for the most part from studies of non-Greek cultures. This chapter is required reading in order to make sense of the interpretations of the Greek material. Rather than a mere survey of anthropological approaches to magic, instead Collins outlines key concepts of sympathy, analogy, agency, causality, and participation which inform my analyses of particular Greek magical practices. At the same time, by tracing the main approaches to magic in anthropology, it is shown where false steps were made and where underlying assumptions misled scholars to ask the wrong kinds of questions about magic. Every reader of this book will bring assumptions to the table about what magic means — and many of these Collins hopes to explode with the help of anthropology, starting with the nature of belief in magic itself.
Next Collins outlines a framework for understanding ancient Greek magic. Here we explore the development of Greek concepts of magic in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, and their underlying basis in causal relationships between the mortal and divine worlds. Next a brief survey of the individuals most associated with magical practice, from Persian priests to itinerant ritual specialists for hire, is set forth with a review the most common magical practices associated with these individuals. New arguments are advanced that Gorgias, who is the first to use the Greek term mageia, understood 'magic' to be essentially purificatory in character, in line with Empedocles and the Hippocratic physicians. Moreover, Collins argues that the Hippocratic author of On the Sacred Disease, who offers the most strident attack against 'magicians', misunderstood the relationship between his own subject matter, epilepsy, and magic. Instead, the author demonstrates that epilepsy could be caused by magical binding, making the remedies offered by the notorious itinerant specialists peculiarly apt.
The follows a survey the varieties of binding magic, with a particular eye toward its development in curse tablets or defixiones, and erotic magic and figurines. Binding the gods in Greek myth is offered as a parallel to human binding, and the argument is made that binding produces a disability in its victim which inverts Greek notions of physical health. The accumulation of body parts in curse tablets is contrasted with the singling out of body parts in the Greek and Roman practice of manufacturing terracotta votives, which were deposited in temples and other sacred sites. Both practices incorporate an extensible notion of the body, which can be collapsed or distributed in time and space as needed. Examples of binding magic used in erotic spells are then discussed, which leads to a treatment of figurines in Greek magic generally, and in erotic magic in particular. Collins argues that magical figurines have to be situated within a broader understanding of Greek attitudes toward statuary — since figurines are tiny statues — that view them as social agents which exhibit some, but not all, human attributes. A discussion of Greek and Greco-Egyptian examples of animating Eros figurines to attract a beloved, with some attention paid to the theurgic animation of figurines within Neoplatonism, serves as a model of social agency and concludes the chapter.
Collins explores the late antique phenomenon of using Homeric verses as incantations. Incantations (epoidai) have a long history in Greek magic, starting with references to their use within Homeric poetry itself. But between the first and fourth centuries CE in Greco-Roman Egypt we find that individual verses are used, sometimes by themselves, sometimes with accompanying rituals, to heal specific ailments or to engender specific changes in their users. The principles by which verses were selected and why are exposed, and attention is given to both prevailing medical and popularly understood theories of ailment to illustrate why certain verses were chosen over others. The practice of using Homeric verses for incantations is then situated within late antique Neoplatonism and theurgy, which Collins argues provides the most cogent rationale for why Homeric poetry, and not the poetry of other prominent Greek (or Roman) poets, became the exemplary source for incantations.
Following which the author explores the history of Greek and Roman legislation against magic. This chapter is the most extensive chronologically, beginning with Greek and especially Athenian laws against poisoning and magic as we can reconstruct them from real and hypothetical cases, and as they were envisioned in Plato's ideal republic. From here we move to a consideration of the Roman Twelve Tables and especially to the Cornelian law on assassins and poisoners as enacted by Sulla in 81 BCE. This law casts a disconcertingly long shadow over later Roman legislation against magic well into the sixth century CE. I examine several criminal cases for magic that were tried under the Cornelian law, with an in-depth examination of the trial of Apuleius of Madaura in 158/9 CE - a case that continued to puzzle commentators well into the sixteenth century, as it does to this day. We end with a review of fifth- and sixth-century legal positions taken with regard to magic in the Theodosian Code and Justinian's Digest, respectively, with a view toward the impact of the Digest on continental European legislation against magic in the Middle Ages.
Despite the authors attempts in this study to convey both some general outlines for, and suggestive methodological approaches to, ancient Greek magic, Collins still believes the subject is inexhaustible. Collins has been reading and thinking about magic the better part of twenty years, and in that time he has yet to find an absolutely airtight explanation for any given magical object or practice. Instead, as more attention is paid to the ritual context, cultural and historical background, and the interpretive possibilities for understanding a magical object or action, it seems that a grasp of its essential qualities recedes. A more modest concluding statement is thus in order: what Collins shows in this book is that by asking questions not only about what Greek magic is, but in particular about how magic does whatever it does and who is affected by it, we may gain some insight into what its practitioners thought it was. After all, magic remains perennially interesting to scholars and lay persons alike not because they believe it to be true, but precisely because they fail to understand how others could believe it to be true. And this very attitude characterizes in different ways the attacks on magic by the Hippocratic author of On the Sacred Disease and Plato. If his interpretations of Greek magic have at all been persuasive, however, Collins offered several alternative approaches to this issue. For a historian of magic, it is less important whether magic is true or real than which cultural constructs allow it to exist. Only within that framework can we approach an understanding of what magic looks like and how people interact with it in a given culture, at a particular time and place.
This study paid a good deal of attention initially to general cultural constructs that bear on magical practices and magical thinking. These constructs, drawn for the most part from disparate cultures, help us to see how key notions of sympathy, analogy, agency, and participation inform how an outsider ought to approach magical practice in any culture, not just in an ancient one. The task then becomes to identify, in the present case, which specifically Greek constructs of sympathy, agency, and so forth are at issue in a given magical practice. These are generalizable constructs that can be applied to any culture's magical practices. With the particular example of the Azande offered by Evans-Pritchard, yet Collins has shown that as outsiders to a magical tradition more often than not we ask questions about causality and efficacy, which from a native point of view are for the most part irrelevant to their practices and concerns. Instead, it is the key notions outlined above that invite one, as close as the evidence will allow, "inside" the heads of magical practitioners. And it is noteworthy to recall that even when Evans-Pritchard directly asked his informants about their rationale for a given practice or belief, they were unable to articulate it much beyond the Zande constructs which he already knew to be active.
Understanding specific Greek constructs then becomes crucial, as it would for any given cultural and historical context, and the example of Homeric incantations is a case in point. Homer was arguably the most significant archaic Greek poet from the point of view of both Greeks and Romans, but this in itself does not explain why his verses were used as incantations. Vergil was equally significant to imperial Romans, yet his verses tend only to have been used for divination. To offer an explanation for this difference, as we have seen, we need to situate Homer in a late antique, Greco-Egyptian context, in which both the rhythm of the hexameter and key terms within individual verses were believed to have therapeutic properties. But as to why Homer and not other epic poets were the preferred source of incantations, we need also to grasp how Neoplatonist authors elaborated on the sympathetic connections between his verses and the divinity they sought to reach through them.
Other examples are the binding and animation of figurines, which Collins sees as flowing from the set of ritual attitudes generally toward statuary shared by both Greeks and Romans. Not that they are exactly alike, but it is such ritual interactions that regard statues as social agents — as humans, or at least as partaking of human qualities — which inform the magical use of figurines. Collins does not claim to have exhausted the interpretive possibilities of binding figurines, and while some readers will take issue with my claim that binding them is to anger them which in turn motivates retributive action on their part, the author is nevertheless certain that magical figurines inhabited the same moral universe as statues and inanimate objects generally. Hence we should be able to translate some of the moral attributes from one realm of activity to the other, and vice versa, because it is culturally consistent to do so. In the same way, the rites for animating erotes can be better understood as transferring the affection of a lover to the figurines, which in turn transfers that affection to the beloved, because the figurines themselves are social agents. The lavish gifts, flowers, fruit, and winged offerings are needed not only because they invoke analogies with Eros, but also because erotes are in effect young boys who need to be persuaded to do one's bidding. Like children, they have a mind of their own.
Conceptions of Greek magic in its main forms and language used to describe it were developed in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, especially in the hostile writings of the Hippocratic author of On the Sacred Disease and Plato. We have seen how the Hippocratic author, as well as other writers interested in magic before him, such as Gorgias, strongly imbues magic with a purificatory strain. The issue of correct purification, with an acceptable theology, seems to have lain at the heart of the dispute between the Hippocratic author and the itinerant specialists with whom he likely competed for business. However, Collins believes the Hippocratic author's arguments are misplaced to the extent that he fails to recognize that epilepsy, his main subject, was thought to result from magical binding. Plato, who is for the most part uninterested in magic, nevertheless uses it as a vehicle to admonish Athenian citizens who fall prey to the envy of their neighbors in believing magic to be real. As an extension of his concern for tranquility in the body politic, his ideal state enacts laws that check these private disputes on the one hand, and check the ambitions of educated men who purvey magical remedies on the other.
Where definitions of magic and its effects are most at issue is in Greek, and then later Roman, law and jurisprudence. The ambiguity of terms like pharmakon and venenum plagued defendants and jurists alike, as whether by trial or careful reasoning attempts were made to distinguish intent from the nature of 'drugs' generally. In later centuries, the emphasis on determining intent recedes into the background as both the drugs themselves and a broadened and negative conception of magic more generally take center stage. In order to have a fuller grasp of this shift in perspective, we delved into late Roman law both to show how it relied on earlier Greek precedents in its interpretation of magic and to foreshadow, through compilations like Justinian's Digest, the hardening of medieval Christian minds toward pagan magic. While the definition of magic would change — not least owing to the puzzling case of Apuleius —and eventually be grafted onto myriad forms of medieval heresy, for late Roman jurists it was ostensibly in the service of protecting the people that private, nocturnal sacrifices, impious rites, the charming away of crops, poisoning, divination from human blood, and magic's power to disturb the minds of the masses which made magic imperative to punish.
The key point to take away is that ancient Greek magic was an expressive and creative realm of human activity, and to that extent it remains open to new scholarly interpretation. The methodological approach to magic adopted in this book tries to appreciate magic's basic cultural metaphors, as well as how those metaphors can change as circumstances and users dictate, without falling prey to the temptation to regard magic as a primarily rhetorical or symbolic exercise. Part of coming to terms with individual Greek practices involves accepting that magic was not static, that such practices necessarily changed over time, and that they were operative within the same understandings of causality and agency that informed daily ancient life. Depositing a curse tablet in a grave with instructions for an invisible entity, for example, simply made no sense in a world in which such invisible entities did not already play a significant role as respondents to human needs. They were part of the extended community, with due obligations and responsibilities, even if some Greeks themselves expressed ambivalence about dealing with them. But it is ultimately modern audiences, with their often deeply felt but little understood anxieties about "magic," that refuse to accept how helpful a hand from the grave could be at times. Yet if the reader can now sympathize, even reluctantly, with that perspective, then this book will have gone some way toward revealing how Greek magic speaks to basic and timeless human needs — because, like the Greeks, we all need help from the grave now and then.
A Companion to Greek Religion edited by
Daniel Ogden (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World: Blackwell)
covers all aspects of religion in the ancient Greek world from the
archaic, through the classical and into the Hellenistic period. Each
of the volume’s 29 essays is written by an international expert and
provides a survey of a particular area that reflects contemporary
scholarship. All the contributions place an emphasis on religious
life as it was experienced by Greek men and women at different times
and in different places. Myth is considered alongside religion
throughout. The Companion opens with a series of contextual essays
devoted to the Near-Eastern and Minoan backgrounds to Greek
religion, the religious structures of Greek society, women and sex
in religious life, and mystery cults and magic. There follow major
sections on local religious systems, sacred space and ritual, and
the divine. Other chapters consider the interactions between
religion and art, literature and philosophy, and look at particular
topics, such as time in Greek religion, whether the Greeks can be
said to have had religious wars, and representations of Greek
religion in cinema.
Contributors to this volume: Andreas Bendlin, Pierre Bonnechere, Jan N. Bremmer, T. H. Carpenter, Kevin Clinton, Susan Guettel Cole, James Davidson, Susan Deacy, Matthew W Dickie, Beate Dignas, Ken Dowden, Françoise Dunand, Gunnel Ekroth, D. Felton, William D. Furley, Thomas Harrison, Charles W. Hedrick Jr., Fritz-Gregor Herrmann, Madeleine Jost, Jennifer Larson, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Janett Morgan, Scott B. Noegel, Daniel Ogden, Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, Nicolas Richer, Scott Scullion, Emma Stafford.
Excerpt: Gods overflowed like clothes from an over filled drawer which no one felt obliged to tidy. (Robert Parker 2005:387)
Matters of religion are central to the things we hold most dear about the culture of the ancient Greek world. So it is with its literature, where we think first of Homer and tragedy, its art, where we think first of the statues of the gods and the mythical scenes of the vases, and its architecture, where we think first of temples. But beyond this, there was no sphere of life (or death) in ancient Greece that was wholly separate or separable from the religious: the family, politics, warfare, sport, knowledge ... The task of designing a companion volume to Greek religion, even one of the substantial length of this one, is accordingly formidable. Comprehensiveness is impossible. Indeed, it is impossible even to define in an uncontroversial way the ground one might aspire to cover comprehensively. Defending himself for directing Lear for the third time, Jonathan Miller likened the play to a "vast dark continent" that one could never hope to explore fully. All one could do was sail around it, disembark at different points, and make narrow treks through the jungle ahead. The chapters of this volume constitute such narrow treks into the vast continent of Greek religion. They cannot, between them, render the territory fully and minutely mapped, but they may offer the reader an impression of the land's size, layout, and diversity. They may indicate the areas that call for closer or further investigation. And the notes made of the flora and fauna encountered along the way will certainly intrigue.
The volume's basic purview is the Greek-speaking world in the archaic, classical, and hellenistic periods (i.e. 776-30 BC), although the "bookends" fall outside these parameters: an initial chapter contextualizes Greek religion within the wider family of Near Eastern religions and there is a final chapter on reception. The selection of topics offered has not been determined by any strong intellectual agenda. Rather, as befits a companion volume, the chapters seek to reflect the subjects and issues generally held to be of importance and interest by contemporary international experts in the field of Greek religion. However, one theme the reader will find to recur in several parts of the volume (and especially Part V) is that of the disaggregation of the term "Greek religion." Whilst a certain degree of across-the-board generalization is not only unavoidable but actually desirable in a Companion, there has also been some attempt to approach the distinctiveness of the religious experiences of individuals or of local communities within the Greek world.
The subject of myth, whilst not addressed head-on here (see Ken Dowden's forthcoming Companion to Classical Myth in the same series), nonetheless pervades the volume. It has been felt too restrictive to devote a focal chapter to each of the Olympian pantheon (however defined), but care has been taken to include substantial discussions of many of the major deities. Thus discussions of Zeus can be found in Chapters 3 and 17, Apollo in Chapters 3 and 9, Athena in Chapters 14 and 26, Demeter and Persephone in Chapters 19 and 22, Dionysus in Chapters 19 and 21, Artemis in Chapter 3, Aphrodite in Chapter 20, Hades in Chapter 5, and Asclepius in Chapter 10.
Scott Noegel (Chapter 1) opens the volume with a synoptic study situating Greek religion in the long context of the religions of the ancient Near East. The question of whether, when, and how the various religions of the Near East may have influenced the form and development of Greek religion is fraught with definitional and other methodological complexities. There are prima facie cases for tracing a number of lines of influence between Asiatic myths and Greek ones: the cosmogonies, the myths of world deluge, and those of battle between god and chaos-dragon. However, since the general relationship, if any, between myth and cult in the Near Eastern societies and Greece alike remains obscure, it is impossible to read shared religious practices directly out of such correspondences. A number of vehicles of transmission of religious culture between east and west may be identified, including trade, war, migration, foreign employment, religious festivals, and diplomacy. Already in the Mycenaean period Greeks were in vigorous contact with Crete, Egypt, Syro-Canaan (note that the Philistines are likely to have been Greek settlers) and Anatolia, and peoples from all around the eastern Mediterranean mingled in Cyprus at this time. In the eighth and seventh centuries BC peripatetic religious artisans may have disseminated technologies across the eastern Mediterranean. When the Greeks did borrow an institution, a god, or a rite, and install it in their own religious system, it is seldom clear how they read the role and meaning of the institution borrowed, which, in any case, were inevitably transformed radically in their new context. On what basis did the Greeks decide to equate a particular god from a religious system structured so differently from their own with a familiar figure from their pantheon?
The next group of chapters (Part II) addresses the supernatural personnel of Greek religion, the gods, great and small, and the dead, great and small. Ken Dowden (Chapter 2) asks how the Greeks constructed their suite of Olympian gods in various intersecting contexts and media. For all their anthropomorphism, the gods were characteristically remote and seldom presented themselves to mankind in direct, visible, or scrutable form. They were constructed through the dimensions of local cult worship, of myth and its refractions in poetry and art, and of theological and philosophical reflection (cf. Part VIII). In visiting the great temple of Zeus at Olympia one would experience the god repeatedly through all these dimensions. Poets had probably taken the central role in establishing a common theogony amongst the Greeks in the dark ages. The canonical number of Olympian gods was twelve, but the number of important gods commonly held to dwell on the mountain was significantly larger. Various attempts to define a pantheon of twelve can be traced from the Homeric poems onwards, and it was often conceived of in terms of a series of pairs of gods. The western tradition's reception of the Olympian gods has inevitably been formed by the great poetical works bequeathed to us from antiquity, such as, Homer apart, Ovid's Metamorphoses. Such works have promoted a simple conception of each of the gods in which they are strongly associated with a primary function ("the god of... ") and with a limited range of mythical tales. But when we look at use of the gods on the ground, as it were, complex and diverse histories and profiles emerge for them, at both local and panhellenic level alike, as can be seen from case studies of Apollo and Artemis.
Jennifer Larson (Chapter 3) explains that the concept of "nature deities," which we might casually use, is an unsatisfactory one. But the notion of minor deities resident in and intimately associated with local landscapes was one of huge significance for the people of ancient Greece, its peasantry in particular. It is rewarding to learn that, at least in some cases, the inherent aesthetic beauty of some places, remote spots, or partly wild gardens, has to be considered a factor in their recognition and cultivation as sacred. Such pleasant places were regarded as the abodes of nymphs. Caves of nymphs with their associated gardens were seldom sponsored by cities. More typically, they would be maintained either by individuals "seized" by the nymphs, "nympholepts," or by families visiting from the immediate environs. Those who worked in the countryside, such as shepherds, would often have a particularly close affinity with the local nymphs. Commonly associated with nymphs was cheerful, noisy Pan, protector of goats and shepherds. He was a temple-based deity in his native Arcadia, but as his cult spread beyond in the fifth century he was put to live with the nymphs in their caves. Similarly, local populations could be devoted to their adjacent rivers, those vital engines of fertility, establish waterside shrines for them, and project them into myth as founding kings of their communities. Those deities based in the natural world but equally accessible to all in the wider Greek world, the Earth, the Sun, the Sea, and the winds, were accordingly more widely worshiped.
Emma Stafford (Chapter 4) offers a review of the developing trends in the personification of abstract entities as humanoid deities. The epic poetry of the archaic period provided a "basic mythological pedigree" for a number of personified figures later destined to achieve full cult status. It is often hard to judge how seriously any given personification should be taken in the ca. seventh-century poetry of Hesiod or Homer. Hesiod gives us a great many "genealogical" personifications (and in this he may well exhibit the influence of the religions of the Near East), but did these personifications enjoy any currency in Greek religious life beyond the poem itself? The Homeric poems often like to exploit the ambiguity between abstraction and personification: just how substantial, how anthropomorphic, is Fear when it (or he) stalks the battlefield? We can be more confident about Sleep, who receives significant attention and elaboration in both poets. In later periods Sleep and Terror alike became the recipients of actual cults. From ca. 600 BC the figure of Youth, wife of Heracles, becomes prominent in art and is associated with the cults of other deities. The sanctuary of Nemesis and Themis ("Righteous Anger" and "Divine Law") at Rhamnous, which seems to have originated in the early sixth century, is of particular interest because here we already have a major sanctuary focally dedicated to personified deities. In the classical period personifications (not all of them divine) were frequently given life, character, and substance on the Attic stage, and a broad range of personifications is to be found on Attic pots of the same period. The fifth century witnessed the development of important cults for a number of personifications, but, in contrast with the Rhamnous sanctuary, these were all associated with the cults of established deities. Persuasion was normally associated with Aphrodite, Fair Fame with Artemis, and Health with Asclepius. The fourth century witnessed a significant expansion in the cults of a number of political personifications, such as Peace, Democracy, Good Fortune, and Concord, the spread of whose cult it is possible to document in detail.
D. Felton (Chapter 5) looks at the dead. She notes the great importance that the Greeks in all periods placed upon the honoring of the dead, and the remarkable consistency they displayed in their modes of honoring, despite the widely varying beliefs they entertained about the nature of death and the afterlife. The dead were continually reverenced and appeased at family and state level. The principal Athenian festivals devoted to these matters were the Genesia (reverence) and Anthesteria (appeasement), the beliefs surrounding the latter partly coinciding with those surrounding the modern western Halloween. In their new underworld home the dead encountered a range of deities, some resident in the world below, others moving between it and the world above. The Hades who ruled the underworld was a somewhat evanescent god, with relatively little cult, myth, or iconography of his own. Ideas about the organization and the internal topography of the underworld —and the corresponding eschatological significance of these things — varied greatly, although the notion that a river crucially separated the dead from the living remained enduringly popular. There was, in the Greek imagination, a possibility of travel between the two realms in extreme cases. Exceptional heroes penetrated into and returned from the underworld in life: Heracles, Theseus, and Orpheus managed to do this for different reasons. And the dead could be called back to the realm of the living through necromantic practices, or could return spontaneously, particularly if they had died before their time, or by violence, or if they remained unburied. In these cases they would typically return to exact vengeance from their killer, or to demand due rites of burial. Such themes are addressed in the highly entertaining ghost stories the ancient world has bequeathed to us.
Gunnel Ekroth (Chapter 6) looks at the heroes. These very much constituted an intermediary category between the gods and the dead, sharing important qualities with both alike, and in some senses oscillating between the two. Hero shrines connected to epic or mythic heroes seem to have become prominent in the eighth century BC, and it is in this century too that offerings at Mycenaean tombs seem to have become popular. The rise of the city-state and the establishment of oikist cults by colonists may have been a spur to such activity. Heroes (men, women, or even children) could be produced from a number of sources: from the tales of myth or epic; from former gods or goddesses cut down to size to fit into new religious systems; from historical or quasi-historical figures, particularly those associated with extreme actions, for good or ill, or with extreme or violent deaths, including those in war. It is no longer thought that heroes typically received holocaust-sacrifices. Rather, they typically received sacrifices similar to those given to the gods, with whom they could play a similar role in the religious system. These were thysia-sacrifices in which meat was distributed to the participants, and theoxenia-offerings, tables of vegetable dishes akin to those consumed by the living, and designed to encourage the recipients to come close to their worshipers. Dedications of blood were largely reserved for heroes associated with a martial context. The sites and shrines at which heroes were worshiped were so diverse in their physical types, overlapped to such a degree with other varieties of monument, and were so informed by local conventions that we depend upon literary or epigraphic evidence to identify them securely. Because of the way in which heroes were strongly rooted in local areas, they could function as valuable expressions of local identity, and the possession of the body of a particular hero could advance a community's claim to precedence over its neighbors. Hence it was not uncommon for a hero's bones to be transferred between territories, or for their location to be kept secret, to protect them from theft. But sometimes a hero could be appropriated merely through the elaboration of a new version of his myth.
We turn then, in Part III, to the mechanisms of communicating with the divine, moving from regular verbal communication by means of prayer and hymn, through symbolic and ritualized communication by means of sacrifice, to the more focused and interactive variety of communication found in divination. William D. Farley (Chapter 7) discusses prayers and hymns, the means by which the Greeks attempted to communicate with the divine through the voice. The silent, meditative variety of prayer familiar from contemporary Christian practice was unknown to the Greeks, for whom prayer more typically took place in the context of public performance. Indeed, it is possible to conceptualize sacrificial procedure as constituting a ritual framework for a multi-media prayer. Greek prayers traditionally had a tripartite structure of invocation—argument--prayer (proper). The argument sections, which sought to persuade the god that the petitioner deserved his help, often reminded the god of sacrifices he had previously made, or used an "advent myth" of the god's arrival to crystallize the notion of his current attendance in the mind of worshipers. Prayers could also be classified on the basis of the standing the petitioner perceived himself to be in with the god: if one had already deserved well of the god, one used a euche; if one had no existing claim to his favor, one used a hiketeia, or "supplication." For the most part prayers were spoken and hymns were sung, but hymns were also designed to please and entertain the god with their artistic beauty, and formed part of a reciprocal charts between man and god. Within the types of hymn a broad distinction may be made between dactylic-hexameter prooimia, third-person narratives of the god's deeds, which could be used to introduce performances, and lyric, second-person addresses to the god, used in cultic contexts.
Jan N. Bremmer (Chapter 8) looks at sacrifice. He begins by outlining the details of the normative process as laid out by Homer, and then contextualizes these against later evidence, especially that from classical Athens, in which the various aspects of sacrificial practice were more heavily dramatized. The most popular sacrificial victims were adult sheep and goats, cheaper than full-grown cows or pigs. Sometimes the age, sex, and color of the victim could be significant, and perfection of form always was. The kill itself was accompanied by a tension-breaking cry of joy from the women present. The dead animal was carved up, and attention was directed first to the parts to be given to the god, the thigh-bones wrapped in fat, or parts of the innards. Then meat was distributed, after cooking, to the mortals present: the notion that all human participants shared in the meat equally was honored more at the ideological level than at the practical one. The principal modern interpretations of ancient sacrifice are critiqued: Meuli's view that sacrifice was essentially ritual slaughter, Burkert's that the shared aggression of sacrificial killing bonded communities, and Vernant's that sacrifice was killing to eat. All have merits, but are ultimately too reductive in their treatment of this polyvalent ritual at the center of Greek society. The significance that, above all, should not be omitted from our understanding of the institution is that which the Greeks themselves gave to it: communication with the gods. In origin, it seems, the Greeks had imagined the gods to be literally sharing in the post-sacrificial banquet with them. Their explicit remarks and implicit indications make it clear that for them sacrifice served the tripartite purpose of honoring the gods, expressing gratitude to them, and appealing to them for things needed. The myths of Prometheus and Deucalion show that for the Greeks sacrifice ordered the correct relationship between man and his gods.
Pierre Bonnechere (Chapter 9) investigates the complex subject of divination. He sets the practice against the context of the pervasive contact and communication the Greeks felt that they had with the gods in all aspects of their lives. It cannot be doubted that the Greeks did in general believe in the power of their oracles, but they had three obstacles to contend with. The first was ambiguity: oracles had to be held to be ambiguous to bridge the gap between the assumption of divine infallibility and ostensible errors made. An interesting outgrowth of oracular ambiguity was the refinement of indirect forms of question by the consulters in order to parry it. The second obstacle was the problem of charlatanism: where did the credibility of the form of divination one happened to be employing lie, on the scale that stretched from the great oracle of Delphi to the unimpressive and hucksterish itinerant diviners? And the third was the vigorous manufacture of false, largely post eventum oracles, which, however, remain interesting for us for what they can tell us about the way in which the oracular sanctuaries were projected. The major distinction between "inductive divination" and "inspired divination" is explained. In inductive divination, properly the preserve of the mantis, messages from the gods are read out of the world around, in the form of such things as prodigies, celestial phenomena, the behavior of birds, the involuntary spasms of the human body, double entendres, and the inspection of sacrificial innards. In inspired divination the gods speak directly to or through individuals, and this type of divination is principally associated with the sanctuaries and prophets. Much inspirational divination took the form of dreams, whether spontaneous or sought out in an incubation sanctuary, such as that of a healing hero. It could also take the form of "enthusiasm," in which a medium or sometimes the consulter himself gained access to the god through a modified state of consciousness, to which he had been helped by some preliminary ordeals. The inspiration-led sanctuaries included Delphi, Dodona, Claros, Didyma, and that of Trophonius, and we know quite a lot about the elaborate consultation rituals used at some of these.
The next group of chapters (Part IV) charts the continuum from sacred space to sacred time, moving from fixed sanctuaries and the more mobile notion of pollution through to the festivals that were defined by space and time, and on to the sacred significance of time itself. Beate Dignas (Chapter 10) recreates a day in the life of a Greek sanctuary, a surprisingly difficult task, since sanctuaries were generally more interested in recording regulations for special festival days rather than for the daily routine. Many smaller sanctuaries will have been closed most of the year, or at any rate will seldom have had their priest on site, a local caretaker supervising them at other times and, as appropriate, making arrangements for occasional visitors to pray, sacrifice, offer votives, or just "share in the beauty and awe of the sacred place." The best-documented sanctuaries, although not necessarily the most typical, are the big healing sanctuaries dedicated to Asclepius and his avatars. This is not simply a function of their importance but also of the fact that they had to devote so much attention to the supervision of their visitors and the management of their needs. A significant record of the most important aspect of the "daily life" that unfolded in the healing sanctuaries is afforded by the many surviving votives, which were displayed either in the temple, in its treasury, or in the open. These most typically consisted of models of the body-part healed, but reliefs and verbal accounts, both of which can be highly vivid, are also found. Inscribed regulations make it clear that sanctuaries could often become embarrassingly cluttered with the votives, which, once given, could not leave the sanctuary. Sometimes their accumulation could even obscure the cult image from view. Older ones could be buried, and metal ones melted down for reuse. The priests had the ultimate say over the organization of the displays of votives, and sometimes liked to group together those given in their own term of office. The experience of being a visitor to one of these sanctuaries is perhaps most immediately conveyed by Herodas' poetic description of a visit to an Asclepieion by two women. We hear how they progress through the sanctuary, which is seemingly open to all visitors, make their offering, admire the displayed votives, and have a friendly chat with the caretaker. Some larger sanctuaries could be the principal source of employment, direct or indirect, in their local community, as Pausanias observed. Sick people and their attendants, who might lodge in the sanctuaries for an extended period, would need all the provisions of the market, and these would come to them, with some sanctuaries even leasing out shops within their precincts.
Andreas Bendlin (Chapter 11) investigates the — for us — slippery notions of purity and pollution in ancient Greece. Purity and pollution were not simple opposites of each other, but rather they were both alike opposites of a condition of normality. Purity was a quality of the sacred realm. Pollution occurred beyond its boundaries in the realm of men. Ancient ideas of ritual pollution only coincided with ancient ideas of pathogenic pollution to a very limited degree. The usual sources of ritual pollution included childbirth, miscarriage, abortion, menstruation, sex (licit or illicit), the eating of some animal products, corpses, and killing. It resulted, accordingly, from abnormal human actions and normal, unavoidable ones alike. The regulations for managing such pollution varied widely from region to region and city to city. The old structuralist belief that ideas of purity and pollution acted as a mechanism of social control leaves much unexplained: it does not, for example, account particularly well for the management of relations between the sexes. It may account rather better for the management of killing: it is obviously desirable that murderers be excluded from their communities. And since the concept of pollution happily entailed also the concept of purification, it offered the possibility of the making of amends and the sometimes useful prospect of the killer's eventual reintegration into his community. One of the most challenging aspects of ancient ideas of pollution for us to come to terms with is the seemingly casual, arbitrary, and unsystematic fashion in which this kind of thinking could be invoked and then abandoned. Few ancients are likely to have gone about their business in a constant state of dread about incurring pollution. More often, a source of pollution, perhaps indirect, would be identified after the fact —after, that is, something had gone awry. A murderer was not ipso facto polluted by the deed of murder: it was only when public proclamation of his pollutedness was made that this condition came into existence. Indeed, it is almost a premise of the Greek cities' annual purifying scapegoat rituals that a city should accumulate numerous overlooked acts of pollution in the course of a year.
Local festivals would be held at a more or less fixed time within the year; they would draw in people from far around, and their central event was normally a sacrifice with an ensuing feast. Scott Scullion (Chapter 12) deploys three case studies to illustrate the difficulties ancient, medieval, and modern scholars alike have had in trying to divine the meanings of festivals, and suggests that, so far as the majority of ancient participants was concerned, we may all have been looking for their meaning in the wrong place. The case of the Athenian Diasia, the festival of Zeus Meilichios, illustrates, amongst other things, the way our dossier of fragmentary evidence for a festival can be compromised by the misunderstandings and anachronistic inferences of the later commentators and lexicographers of the classical tradition, upon whom we depend for much of the evidence's preservation. The case of the Spartan Karneia illustrates how modern conceptions of the significance of festivals have changed repeatedly over the last century, as different methodological approaches have come into and gone out of fashion, each one emphasizing those parts of the catalog of evidence for each festival with a resonance for their own theories. Was the Karneia an expression of guilt and atonement? Was it an initiation rite? Or something else again? The case of the Athenian Oschophoria illustrates the aetiological approach typically taken by the poets and scholars of antiquity to the explanation of their festivals. They tended to conceptualize festivals as commemorative of key events in the mythical past and to develop elaborate — but not necessarily stable — narratives about these events. These "commemorative" aetiologies typically focus on those elements of a festival's rituals that are most unsettling, such as transvestism in the case of the Oschophoria, and attempt to explain them away. However, it is unlikely that much of the aetiological material that survives had any official status at the festivals themselves, and it is also unlikely that many of the participants in the festivals had any strong grasp of it. It is more illuminating to ask, rather, what, for the average participant, the festival experience was all about. Ancient descriptions of the popular experience of participation in festivals focus on the themes of "relaxation, jollification, and entertainment," the latter provided by parades and competitions of drama, singing, and dancing. The light-hearted Aristophanes and the grimmer Thucydides agree on this. For most participants the significance of a festival will not have lain in its unique and arcane features, but rather in the features that it shared with all other festivals. James Davidson (Chapter 13) investigates the way in which ancient Greek religion was deeply structured and informed by processes, sequences, and series: in short, by time. Cycles of the moon were critically important in determining the timing of festivals, which were kept at the appropriate point of the solar year by careful intercalation. The different cities all had their own calendars, but, despite their independent spirits and rivalries, they contrived to keep their calendars remarkably well synchronized, and this fact constitutes one of our strongest licenses to speak of an "ancient Greek religion." Although the Sun (Helios) was a marginal deity in the Greek religious systems, he was one of the most ancient ones, and a deity the other gods were reluctant to meddle with. Star myths ("asterisms") linked heroes and heroines to fixed points within the solar year. The apparent disappearance of stars beneath the earth in the course of their cycles, and their clear reflection in the still lagoons associated with underworld entrances, led to a paradoxical association between stars and the underworld. In the Odyssey Orion is already found in the world below. In this way, stars formed perfect avatars for heroes and heroines, caught between the worlds of immortality and mortality, and allowed them to make spectacular, natural appearances or disappearances at the appropriate times. The numbering of days in the month reflected the moon's waxing and waning structure. Religious activities tended to be concentrated in the earlier part of the month, with the first day being held particularly important. The earlier dates of the month also tended to be sacred to individual gods. These dates inevitably tended to attract their annual festivals, and the date number could structure or reflect the structure of other aspects of their representation and the mythology associated with them. The Greeks sometimes mapped their ritual processes onto imagined mythistorical narratives. Thus the ban on bread on the first day of the Spartan Hyacinthia ceremonially evoked a primordial time when bread had not yet been invented. Myths of Dionysus' arrival project onto the historical level an essential quality of his divine personality, that of being the adventitious god. The Greeks imagined the reign of Zeus not as an unchanging, eternal given, but as a midpoint in a narrative: before Zeus there had been Cronus, and in the future there would be another regime again, headed by a figure akin to Achilles. The Greek cities were age-class societies, and human progression through the age-classes could be mapped onto other varieties of time and process, such as the yearly cycle. In Athens the year sets of adults aged between 18 and 60 each carried a patron hero, with the "retiring" set relinquishing its hero to the newest. The tombs of these (largely obscure) heroes may have formed a sort of "generational clock" around the circuit of the city wall. The 42-year "generation" period structured some important events in Athenian history, such as the reincarnation of the Acropolis.
Our next chapters (Part V) explore the very different shapes into which "Greek religion" could be configured through discrete analyses of the contrasting religious systems of four separate places. The cities of Athens, Sparta, and Alexandria are chosen for their general importance and for the manifest and extreme differences in their social organization and development. Arcadia is chosen for a fourth study as a religious environment functioning outside the framework of the polis. Susan Deacy (Chapter 14) takes on the difficult task of analyzing Athens, and asks how the Athenians balanced the notion that they managed a stable religious system with constant innovation. As a massive city by classical Greek standards, Athens had a massive pantheon of its own to match, consisting of the familiar Olympians, personified abstractions, and heroes and heroines. The patron Athena held a presiding place in the complex religious life of the city. She was literally central to it, her major sanctuary towering over the city centre, as opposed to being located at an external site as was often the case with ancient Greek poleis, and she was symbolic too of the supposedly Thesean synoecism of Attica. The tendency to centralize the religion of the polis under Athena is clearly seen in her appropriation of the "sacred things" of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which had once been controlled by the independent polis of Eleusis. The "Athenian foundation myth," enshrined in the topography of the Acropolis, established Athena's presiding relationship over the other gods and heroes there and represented her as the chosen mother of the Athenian people. The Erechtheum, anomalously by the standards of Greek temples, drew together a diversity of cults under Athena's patronage. It was above all in the context of Athena's great civic festival, the Panathenaea, that the Athenians celebrated their communality. But as Athens rose to power in the Greek world it was through Athena's great festival above all that the city projected its image to that world. Major events in the city's history were symbolically incorporated into the festival — a trireme after Salamis, and the participation of the "allies" as Athens established her empire. And major events in Athenian political historical typically implicated the goddess, as in the tyrant Pisistratus' triumphant return: he was able to unite the people of Athens behind him through the conceit that he was being escorted back by the goddess in person.
Nicolas Richer (Chapter 15) looks at the religious system of Sparta, a city renowned in antiquity for its scrupulous devotion to the gods. There the gods presided over human life in its entirety: they helped in the rearing of children, male and female, and they managed transitions to adulthood, in the context of both the brutal initiation ceremonies in the sanctuary of Orthia and initiatory homosexual relationships. Amongst the city's cults the oldest seem to have belonged to Zeus, Athene, and Apollo, all of whom are mentioned in the Great Rhetra. The kings owed their special position and privileges not least to their role as mediators between gods and the community, in peace and especially during war, when they presided over a sophisticated religious technology of warfare on the army's behalf. The Spartans led their lives emmeshed in religious structures of both spatial and temporal dimensions. The central city itself and the wider territory of Laconia alike were protected by rings of shrines and tombs, with key gods often occupying sanctuaries both at the center and at the periphery. The religious calendar ordered the Spartans' lives with both regular and movable feasts. Religion was heavily exploited in the inculcation of the discipline for which Spartan society was famous: the bodily passions that had to be kept under control were abstracted and sacralized. Spartan beliefs in this area may have exercised a significant influence over Plato's thinking on the passions. Living Spartans were, furthermore, protected and encouraged by the dead, who were meticulously stratified into categories and ranked in accordance with the benefits, martial and other, they had conferred upon Sparta during life or could continue to confer in death. Richer appropriately concludes that the great awe the Spartans displayed towards their gods seems to have been a motor of their history.
Françoise Dunand (Chapter 16) reviews the religious system of Alexandria. For all this city's greatness and importance, evidence for religious life there is scarce: only a tiny amount of the city's literature survives by comparison with that of the heydays of Athens or Rome; its archaeology has been destroyed by two millennia of continuous occupation; and the papyri are less helpful than they are for other Greco-Egyptian topics. And so it is difficult to chart the progress of the city's religious system from blank piece of paper upon foundation in 331 BC to the "palimpsest" it had become in late antiquity. Most cults will have been started spontaneously by groups of Greek immigrants. Amongst the cults of the traditional Greek gods those that came to particular prominence were the ones belonging to Zeus, to Demeter (Eleusinian Mysteries may even have been performed for her), to Dionysus (whose image the kings liked to appropriate), and to Aphrodite (a favorite of the queens). Egyptian gods were repackaged for the city's Greek masters. Isis was already known in mainland Greece before Alexander's campaign, and it may indeed have been he that founded her cult in the city, where her temples soon proliferated. New imagery and attributes were developed for her interaction with her new Greek consumers, amongst whom women may have predominated. Sarapis too, despite the elaborate myths of his origin, was a native Egyptian god, Osiris-Apis, and his existence is attested prior to Alexander's arrival. But he was appropriated from Memphis by Ptolemy Soter and radically redesigned for a role in the new city: a religious innovation of enormous success, given its artificiality. He was brought to serve as Alexandria's protector-god (all Greek cities had to have one), but he was identified, appropriately, with Hades and, a little less appropriately, with Asclepius. Ptolemy III built him the magnificent Sarapieion, the dramatic destruction of which, in AD 392, came to symbolize the end of paganism in Egypt, and indeed further afield. As a pair Sarapis and Isis came to serve as a divine projection of the royal couple, with whom they were often associated. Alexandria was distinguished from the other cities considered here not least by its dynastic cult, which grew by increments out of a cult for Alexander, whose body Ptolemy I had secured for the city, and into which dead Ptolemies were soon incorporated. In the midst of all this Alexandria's important Jewish population seems to have been left to practice its religion in freedom, and possibly even with a degree of moral support from the throne. It was the Ptolemies, after all, who commissioned the Septuagint and who, in Alexandria, presided over the rapprochement between Jewish and Greek culture that permitted the emergence of Christianity.
Finally in our review of different religious systems, Madeleine Jost (Chapter 17) analyzes the initially less heavily centralized, wild, and pastoral, but reputedly pious, land of Arcadia. There are, she contends, two ways in which one can speak meaningfully of an "Arcadian religious system." First, we can look to the existence of distinctively Arcadian deities worshiped throughout the region. In fact there were three "pan-Arcadian" deities that structured the religion of the region as a whole. Two were the goat-god Pan and Zeus Lykaios, who were adopted as federal symbols when the Arcadians formed themselves into a league, the latter despite his associations with human sacrifice. A third was Despoina, whose worshipers celebrated her orgiastic rites in animal costumes, and whose sanctuary at Lykosoura enjoyed an importance that far outstripped that of its local city, receiving honor from all over Arcadia. These deities were distinctively characterized by wildness and animalian aspects. We can also look to the distinctive structuring of the local pantheons of the Arcadian cities, and in particular to the valuable information that can be gleaned from the epithets applied to the gods in these pantheons. These epithets, whilst often familiar from elsewhere in Greece, could sometimes be interpreted in a distinctively Arcadian fashion. Some epithets intriguingly preserve the memories of lost local deities. Others celebrated the preoccupations that chiefly concerned this rustic society, and related to agricultural and pastoral activities. Secondly, we can look to Arcadian mythology for distinctive tales rooted in the land of Arcadia itself An Arcadian religious identity is proclaimed in particular by the myths of animal transformation, such as that of Lykaon into a wolf, and those of Demeter and Poseidon into horses (myths which should not be taken to document an "animal phase" in the history of Arcadian religion). For gods, such transformations represented their intimate connections with the animal world; for men, they represented the regression to the animal state that ensues when the institutions of civilization are flouted.
The following chapters (Part VI) look at the role of religion in structuring or reflecting the structure of society in ancient Greece, moving from relationships between the largest social groupings through relationships within the family and down to sexual relationships between individuals. But in fact the goddess who presided over sexual cohesion between individuals was also, by analogy, asked to preside over the social cohesion of the wider state. Charles W. Hedrick Jr. asks to what extent religion should be understood to have cohered with, reflected, or reinforced social structure in classical Athens. He concludes that general coherence of religion with the political order was manifest, but that religious observance also provided ample scope for conflict as well. From at least the time of Xenophanes the Greeks had begun to perceive religion as a separable entity, and this notion came to flourish with the Sophists. The isolation of religion allowed men to imagine an area in which people could "make their world" and paved the way to the development of political thought. Despite this, in classical Athens most religious observance was "civic," that is to say, the constitution of the various worshiping groups often coincided with the organization of the political order, their religious activities encouraging community solidarity. Thus, in the performances of the Dionysia, the audience was seated in accordance with its civic categories. Religious rites of transition articulated the progression of the young through their changing civic statuses. Women could sometimes achieve a degree of autonomy in the religious sphere distinct from their position in the political sphere: cults of goddesses tended to rest in the hands of priestesses, and women could enjoy festivals, such as the Thesmophoria, and other varieties of worship, exclusive of men. In the Kronia the distinction in status between free and slave was advertised through the mechanism of its temporary inversion. Whereas classical Athens could legitimately boast to be a classless society from the political perspective, high birth and wealth did continue to offer some religious privileges, with certain priesthoods and roles being reserved for the well born or rich. The different demes of Attica, the basic units of the democratic organization, were all distinguished by their own cults and calendars of festivals, and these could sometimes pose a threat to the unity of the umbrella state, to such an extent that some cults were reduplicated in both the city center and the outlying regions. While citizenship of the Athenian state legally seems to have depended upon deme membership, access to deme membership was effectively controlled by the phratries or "brotherhoods," which were predominantly religious associations. Family allegiance could always constitute a threat to the political order, and so family-based cults or religious observances could be particularly problematic for the state: hence the state's particular anxiety about the destructive potential of women's lamentation at funerals.
Janett Morgan (Chapter 19) investigates the relationships between women, religion, and the home. In classical Athenian ideology citizen men were strongly associated with the open, visible space of the city, whereas their wives were associated with the closed, invisible space of the home, which their presence to some extent defined. The home was normally a place of protection for them and a place that the women themselves sought to protect with their rites. But it could also become a stage for their domestic rituals. A striking example of this is the Adonia festival, the rites of which were performed noisily on the roof of the house. Sexual imagery could identify women with the house in which they lived, and in particular with the hearth that formed the symbolic heart of the house. The hearth became emblematic of the family's fertility and continuity, with new brides being introduced to it, and new babies being symbolically carried around it. Festivals associated with Demeter and Dionysus drew women out of their houses and brought them into the visible, political space of the city, temporarily dissolving the critical boundary between the city and the home. The traditional order of the city was renewed and restored as the women returned to their houses. Women presided over the harmony-restoring rites associated with disruptive changes to the composition of the family: birth, marriage, and death. But these changes concerned the state too, and so on these occasions the women again had to become visible as they moved out into the public sphere with their rituals. Women's rites often formed them into protective circles around the vulnerable individuals in the process of transition, the corpse of the dead person on his way to Hades, the newly arriving bride, and the newborn baby.
Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge (Chapter 20) explores the intersection between religion and sex. "Sexuality" is a modern concept that can only be applied anachronistically to ancient society. To circumvent this problem, the study is targeted upon two intimately related Greek terms: aphrodisia and Aphrodite herself. It can be shown that a series of ostensibly unrelated myths of love and sex are structured in accordance with a coherent underlying imagery, notably that of integrative desire, violence, building tension, and calming appeasement. This is found in particular in the Hesiodic account of her birth from the foam produced when the sky-god's severed genitals were cast into the sea, a myth which in many ways establishes the extent of her "honor," that is, of the realm over which she presided. But related imagery may also be found in Hesiod's account of the production of Pandora, the first woman, the traditional account of the choice of Paris, and the tragic accounts of Hippolytus and the Danaids. Much of this imagery was reflected in various ways in the practices of her cults. Her familiar patronage of sexual relations and of those coming to sexual maturity aside, Aphrodite's calming integrative function made her a suitable protectress of social cohesion, whilst her capacity to induce madness and inspire vigorous action made her a suitable protectress of military action. She was a protectress of maritime enterprises both because she was a daughter of Sky and Sea, but also because she was held to apply her calming, integrative powers to the elements. A social group particularly dear to Aphrodite was that of the courtesans. The chapter concludes with a special study of the latter-day myth of "sacred prostitution" in Corinth. The only significant source for this notion is Strabo, and it can be demonstrated that he has erroneously projected into the remote Corinthian past a custom familiar to him from his own, Augustan, day and from his home region of Asia Minor, as found in the cult of the goddess Ma at Comana.
We turn then to the varieties of more secretive religious
activity, those of mysteries and magic (Part VII), beginning with
investigations of the deities of the two principal mystery cults,
that of Dionysus and that of Demeter and Kore. Susan Guettel Cole
(Chapter 21) analyzes the cults of the ever-mobile and adventitious
(though actually already Mycenaean) Dionysus. His willing worshipers
experienced him through a positive form of ritual "madness," which
was radically distinguished from the wanton and destructive madness
experienced by those who resisted his cult. Wine was originally the
primary concern of Dionysiac ritual. The consumption of wine, like
Dionysus himself, could lead to a pleasant and harmless madness,
when done in
Kevin Clinton (Chapter 22) discusses the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Kore. Despite Mylonas' despair at ever discovering the secret of the Mysteries, it is indeed possible to reconstruct a great deal of them from diverse evidence. The mysteria were named for the "blindfolded" mystai, the initiates who were about to see and to undergo an extraordinary experience, the attractiveness of which was enhanced by the secrecy that enveloped it. Literary sources indicate that those who had seen the mysteries hoped for a better afterlife than those who had not. Amongst iconographic sources the Ninnion Tablet and the Regina Vasorum in particular help us to understand the roles of two of the obscurer gods in the Eleusinian myth, the pair of torch-carrying youths Eubouleus and Iakchos. They constituted equal and opposite underworld escorts and framed the sacred drama seen by the initiates. Iakchos (in the form of a statue carried by a priest) escorted the blindfolded initiates to Demeter (in the form of a hierophantid?) as she sat mourning for her daughter on the Mirthless Rock. This can be identified with a rock seat inside the cave in the cliff within the sanctuary itself. Eubouleus in turn (in the form of a priest?) escorted Kore (in the form of another hierophantid?) out of an "underworld" pit adjacent to the rock, to reunite them. Subsequently, images of the two goddesses were displayed to the new initiates in the Telesterion, in a brilliant light that may have emanated from the torches held by the former initiates, the epoptai. The epoptai themselves were then permitted to witness a further scene, perhaps, if the Christian Hippolytus is to believed, a grain of corn and Demeter's cornucopia-bearing child Ploutos, the embodiment of agricultural "prosperity."
M.W. Dickie (Chapter 23) looks at magic. He observes that,
for all the conceptual issues some have raised about the definition
of magic in an ancient Greek context, the ancient concept of magic (
mageia, goeteia) was roughly equivalent to our own, which after all
derives from it. The ancient concept probably had its roots in the
arrival of itinerant Persian fire-priests, magoi, into the Greek
world in the later sixth century BC, whose rituals began to mimic
those of mystery cults. From the fifth or early fourth centuries BC
we find magoi associated with various spell types: curse tablets
(too much has been made of the notion that these are products of
ancient Greece's culture of competition), meteorological spells,
healing spells, root-cutting spells, divination (with the scrying
varieties coming to prominence in the hellenistic period) and
necromancy. But wonders and illusions without specific practical
Our final full group of chapters (Part VIII) looks at the dialogue between religion and some of the media that reflect, refract or constitute it: literature in general, philosophical literature more particularly, and art. Thomas Harrison (Chapter 24) asks how we should view the relationship between religion as portrayed in Greek literary texts and the religion of "real life." Do the different authors offer a partial "take" on the religion around them, skewed and selected by their personal predilections and the genre in which they work? Or are the various imaginary worlds of Greek literature to be regarded as themselves constitutive of Greek religious experience? With what presuppositions do scholars go about selecting ancient texts (or portions of texts) through which to study the subject? The common approach to the study of literary religion, in which utterances on a particular religious theme are stripped out of an author or a text and used to reconstruct that author's attitude to it, is misconceived. In exploiting literary texts for the study of Greek religion we should pay careful attention, in anthropological fashion, to the wider belief system in which statements about the divine, especially ostensibly negative ones, participate. Religious belief was sustained because the Greeks cushioned that belief's principal propositions with a series of let-out clauses. Thus a proposition explicit and implicit in a wide range of classical texts maintains that all unjust acts are punished by divine intervention. This proposition was sustained against experience by, amongst others, the following let-out clauses: retribution is rarely direct; gods do not punish every offence themselves, but can leave other humans to do it; there is not always a one-to-one relationship between offence and punishment; punishment may be delayed, even beyond the perpetrator's lifetime; and (paradoxically) the gods are, for a variety reasons, not always just. Failure to appreciate the role of such let-out clauses in sustaining a system of belief leads casual readers of literary pronouncements in the field of religion to overemphasize views that are apparently critical of traditional religion. Thus when Xenophon talks of fraud in divination, this should not be read as an indication of a personal or a wider Greek doubt of the validity of divination, but as an indication that the general proposition that the gods imparted the truth to mankind through divination was in fact thriving.
Fritz-Gregor Herrmann (Chapter 25) investigates the
philosophical response to ancient Greek religion, and focuses on the
critical moment, namely the theology offered, or seemingly offered,
by Plato. It is possible to offer a relatively coherent summary of
Plato's theology sewn together from prima facie readings of the
relevant dialogues. In this the immutable is associated with the
divine, and the changeable
T. H. Carpenter (Chapter 26) shows how material images formed part of the "complex interweaving of economic, artistic, and political motivations that shaped Athenians' responses to their gods." Neither "art" nor "religion" are concepts the ancient Greeks would easily have recognized, and the concept of "religious art" even less so. As for the multifarious Athenian deployment of material imagery in religious contexts, the Great Panathenaea festival offers a valuable case study. The archaizing amphoras given as prizes are now valued at around half a million dollars each, although at the time of their production they were worth less than the oil they contained. At the heart of the festival was the dedication of a new peplos to the ancient and revered but to us obscure Athene Polias statue, and into this the women of Athens wove every year the story of the Gigantomachy. Indeed, it seems that this story, one of profound metaphorical significance for Athens, was preserved and celebrated rather more in material images than it was in literary narrative. It is striking that no cult was associated with Pericles' magnificent new temple and Athene-image, the Parthenon and the Parthenos: these were adornments for and celebrations of the city, not the goddess. As for the Athenians' representation of their religious practices in material images, extant artifacts may be able to tell us much, but they have to be handled with care. Whilst some vases may indeed be readable as useful documents of traditional Athenian ritual practice, the ritual imagery on others may blur misleadingly into mythological narrative, or it may be realigned in accordance with the ritual practices the painter imagined to prevail in the lands to which he hoped to export his vase. White-ground lekythoi, produced only for the home funerary market, evidently carried imagery intended to speak to the Athenians themselves, and the images they chose to carry were gently reassuring ones.
We conclude with an epilogue on the contemporary popular reception of ancient Greek religion. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Chapter 27) analyzes the silver screen's response to classical mythological subjects. Mass-market movies often respond to ancient myths in a more vital fashion than does art-house cinema: they are more inclined to appropriate the myths and creatively rework them in the spirit familiar in antiquity itself. The study focuses on the projection of the gods and their differentiation from mortals in two mass-market Ray Harryhausen films, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. A basically Homeric Olympus is extended from the tales of Achilles and Odysseus into those of Jason and Perseus. Imagined as a cross between the Acropolis and a nineteenth-century neoclassical fantasy, it is separated from the mortal world by a cloud layer. Here the gods can observe the mortals from whom they live distantly by means of a viewing screen in the form of a pool. The gods are distinguished from mortals by size, by shape-shifting and epiphanic powers, and by dress. They wear white robes that appeal to the image we (misleadingly) derive of them from the marble sculptures antiquity has bequeathed us. But the gods are also differentiated from mortals through the semiotics of casting: gods are played by international stars, mortals by (then) relative unknowns. More subtly, casting is also used to convey the Homeric personalities of the various gods and the relationships between them to an untutored audience in an efficient way. Zeus is taken by the great theatrical lord, Laurence Olivier, his wife Hera by Olivier's familiar "stage wife" Claire Bloom, and Aphrodite by the cinematic "love goddess" Ursula Andress, already known for her iconic salute to Aphrodite's birth from the waves in Dr No. The gods are also distinguished by the clever superimposition of differentiated time-tracks: mortal heroes are shown growing to manhood within the span of a brief divine conversation. The ultimate triviality of mortal life to the gods, and their fickleness in interacting with it, is well conveyed by the mortal world's embodiment in an Olympian chess, game or a toy gladiatorial arena.
The Greek Way of Death by Robert Garland (Cornell University Press) Dead right! And what is true of early Greek attitudes to death is no less true of later attitudes. I cannot imagine that we will ever be able to reach any incontrovertible conclusions about what, after all, can at best be only implicit. Interpreting the realia of death is necessarily subjective and always controversial, however well‑fortified the exercise may be by the most sophisticated theoretical underpinning. Still a solid survey of the main rites and beliefs about death in ancient Greek culture, well worth a read by all classicists.
Sixteen years since the first publication of this book, the study of death continues to be vigorously contested at the intersection between hotly argued methodologies which have a dangerous tendency to shave off into ideologies. The reasons for this are obvious. In the first place, there are few subjects of research where the researcher is more likely to be led astray by his or her culturally determined assumptions. Death after all is both vulgar and banal. Or as Claudius points out to Hamlet: death is nature's `common theme ...from the first course till he that died today'. It follows that nuance and specificity are likely to become buried in the grossness of the inevitable and universal, notwithstanding the extraordinary variety of human approaches to the phenomenon of death. In fact few subjects evoke more contrary reactions and beliefs from one society to another or from one time period to another. There is every reason, therefore, to be guarded in the handling of the data and all the more reason ‑ or, if one is cynical, all the more excuse ‑to take one's academic rivals to task for succumbing to the aforesaid culturally determined assumptions. Twenty years ago Joachim Whaley commented on the `need for scholars to be more clear about the assumptions which underlie many of the recent attempts to study the history of attitudes to death.' His exhortation would hardly be considered less pertinent today.
Moreover, the student of Greek death continues to face formidable obstacles in the handling of data. To begin with, the literary allusions to death and the afterlife are, with the exception of Homer, piecemeal at best. This means that the interpretation of the relevant material, in the almost total absence of any eschatological framework, presents a huge challenge to the conscientious scholar. There are other attendant difficulties. The archaeological evidence is often unsystematically gathered and provides an unreliable indicator of change. Dating based on pottery, particularly less prestigious pottery, which tends to be highly uniform over large stretches of time, is untrustworthy. Many burial sites await full publication. It is still the case that all too frequently the bones are discarded, therefore depriving us of valuable information relating to palaeopathology and palaeodemography, as well as to the most basic issues concerning sex and age at time of death. Lastly, the range of potentially relevant information for the study of death (archaeological, iconographical, epigraphical, literary, etc.) far exceeds the grasp of any single scholar and can easily become overwhelming.
The study of death in the Greek world continues to occupy a central position in studies whose primary focus is not so much the religious beliefs associated with death, but rather the demographic, socio‑economic and political structures of Greek society, which partake of it and which it in turn exemplifies. It figures especially prominently in debates about kinship, civic ideology, self‑identity, elite legitimation, group affiliation, social stratification, and land ownership. In fact one of the most engrossing areas of expansion in the study of Greek history has been death's relationship with the polis. A pioneering work in this field was Nicole Loraux's investigation of the funeral speeches delivered over the Athenian war dead, which sought to demonstrate how this institution created an ideal vision of civic life that helped to define the Athenians' own perception of themselves. Death has increasingly become a discourse, and a hugely elaborated one at that. Mortuary practices are taken to be indicators of society's 'self-representation', and their variability, potentially at least, has as much to teach us about social organization as it does about beliefs in the afterlife. Different disposal treatments, including the practice of cremation versus inhumation, the quantity and quality of grave goods, the length and complexity of funerary arrangements, the orientation of the body, the gender of the deceased, the choice of grave markers, and so on, provide information about the principles governing social differentiation in accordance with the accepted belief that burial practices reflect social standing.' There is also much to learn about a society's level of complexity from its mortuary practices, even though ‑ a important qualifier ‑ the latter do not necessarily constitute a mirror image of its social organization.A corollary to the above is that many important books on Greek religion treat death as somewhat peripheral to their main study. This is perhaps in part because the negotiation of the passage of the recently departed to the underworld was, with the notable exception of the war dead, an essentially private affair. Funerary ritual, with which my book is primarily concerned, thus lay beyond the boundaries of what constituted religious practice in the strict sense of the word, i.e. practices that were intended to solicit the goodwill of the gods, be they the gods of the upper world or indeed the gods of the underworld. Since the sanctity of the gods and, by extension, that of their priesthood was imperiled by the pollution arising from the dead, the priesthood was required to absent itself from all contact with the dead. This left the bereaved without the consolation of religion and quite possibly without the support of a traditional form of words either. Even in the case of the Eleusinian Mysteries it is uncertain what special provisions, if any, might have been made at the moment of parting to guarantee that initiates achieved a blessed hereafter.
Ancient Perceptions of Greek Ethnicity by Irad Malkin (Center for Hellenic Studies: Harvard University Press) is a study of the variable perceptions of Greek collective identity, discussing ancient categories such as blood- and mythically-related primordiality, language, religion, and culture. With less emphasis on dichotomies between Greeks and others, the book considers complex middle grounds of intra-Hellenic perceptions, oppositional identities, and outsiders' views. Although the authors do not seek to provide a litmus test of Greek identity, they do pay close attention to modern theories of ethnicity, its construction, function, and representation, and assess their applicability to views of Greekness in antiquity. From the Archaic period through the Roman Empire, archaeological, anthropological, historical, historiographical, rhetorical, artistic, and literary aspects are studied. Regardless of the invented aspects of ethnicity, the book illustrates its force and validity in history.
"Jean Houston, like an archaeologist of the human spirit probing the great myths and mysteries, continues to remind us why we are here on this earth." Armand Assante, actor, star of The Odyssey
THE HERO AND THE GODDESS; The Odyssey as Mystery and Initiation by Jean Houston ($14.00, paperback, 424 pages, Ballantine Books; ISBN: 0345365674)
THE HERO AND THE GODDESS explores the transformational power of one of the world's greatest stories The Odyssey. This classic tale of adventures and exploits is the supreme metaphor in the Western mind for spiritual initiation. Jean Houston interprets each episode from the epic including Odysseus's confrontation with the Cyclops, his temptation by the Sirens, his descent into the Underworld, and his ultimate reunion with the subtle and brilliant Penelope and explores with us the universal themes of wounding and betrayal, suffering and loss, terrifying triumph and the search for the Divine Beloved.
The Odyssey's most important lesson is the recognition of the powerful union created by the Hero and the Goddess within each of us. Like Odysseus, we are all heroes confronting our own temptations and descent into the Underworld as we forge our destiny. Houston also believes that The Odyssey contains the power to help humanity reinvent itself through harnessing the potent force of the Divine Feminine for it is through Odysseus's deep and committed relationship with the Goddess Athena that he is ushered to the climax of self transformation.
Through detailed exercises and dramatic enactments that can be done in groups or alone, THE HERO AND THE GODDESS guides us to our journey's end renewed, reborn, and rededicated to the possibilities our lives offer.
Jean Houston, internationally renowned philosopher, human potential expert, and mythologist, has explored the world's transformative mythic journeys in her widely acclaimed work with more than thirty-five traditional cultures.