Above: The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Ava Babili. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.
Articles from the
Oxford Classical Dictionary
Greek religion | Aphrodite | Apollo | Ares | Artemis | Athena | Demeter | Dionysus | Hades | Hephaestus | Hera | Hermes | Hestia | Poseidon | Zeus | Tyche | Isis | Osiris | Sarapis | altars | amulets | animals | cakes | chthonian gods | crowns & wreaths | curses | divination | dreams | ecstasy | Egyptian deities | epiphany | fasting | festivals | gestures | hero-cult | hymns | libations | magic | masks | miracles | nymphs | oaths | oracles | pharmakos | pollution | portents | prayer | priests | processions | prophecies | purification | rites of passage | ritual | ritual transvestism | sacrifice | sanctuaries | satyrs & silens | statues | temple | terminology | theurgy | votive offerings | wine
An Archaeology of Ancestors: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Early Greece
In this fresh consideration of the origins of the ancient Greeks' ideas and practices concerning their own past, Carla M. Antonaccio demonstrates that hero cult and ancestor cult persisted, throughout the Iron Age, long before epic poetry's heroic narratives were widely disseminated. Although it was not until the dissolution of Iron Age societies that epic poetry and organized hero cult developed to aid claims to legitimacy, practices such as visiting tombs to make offerings were common, and contradict the usual picture of Iron Age religious conservatism.
Pagan Priests: Religion and Power in the Ancient World
ed. Mary Beard & John North, 1990
This book explores the activities and functions of priestly officials in Babylon, Greece, Egypt, and Rome in the two millennia preceding the rise of Christianity. Seven noted scholars seek to identify common characteristics of ancient priests and to illuminate the nature of the pagan priesthood, the meaning of ritual, and the role of religion in ancient societies.
In classical Greece women were almost entirely excluded from public life. Yet the feminine was accorded a central place in religious thought and ritual.This volume explores the often paradoxical centrality of the feminine in Greek culture, showing how out of sight was not out of mind. The contributors adopt perspectives from a wide range of disciplines, such as archaeology, art history, psychology and anthropology, in order to investigate various aspects of religion and cult. They include the part played by women in death ritual, the role of heroines, and the fact that goddesses had no childhood, at the same time posing questions about how we know what rituals meant to their participants. This book is a lively and colourful exploration of the ways in which religion and ritual reveal women's importance in the Greek polis, showing how ideologies about female roles and behaviour were both endorsed and challenged in the realm of the sacred.
Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical
Walter Burkert, trans. John Raffan, 2013
In this book Walter Burkert, the most eminent living historian of ancient Greek religion, has produced the standard work for our time on that subject. First published in German in 1977, it has now been translated into English with the assistance of the author himself. A clearly structured and readable survey for students and scholars, it will be welcomed as the best modern account of any polytheistic religious system. Burkert draws on archaeological discoveries, insights from other disciplines, and inscriptions in Linear B to reconstruct the practices and beliefs of the Minoan–Mycenaean age. The major part of his book is devoted to the archaic and classical epochs. He describes the various rituals of sacrifice and libation and explains Greek beliefs about purification. He investigates the inspiration behind the great temples at Olympia, Delphi, Delos, and the Acropolis―discussing the priesthood, sanctuary, and oracles. Considerable attention is given to the individual gods, the position of the heroes, and beliefs about the afterlife. The different festivals are used to illuminate the place of religion in the society of the city-state. The mystery cults, at Eleusis and among the followers of Bacchus and Orpheus, are also set in that context. The book concludes with an assessment of the great classical philosophers’ attitudes to religion. Insofar as possible, Burkert lets the evidence―from literature and legend, vase paintings and archaeology―speak for itself; he elucidates the controversies surrounding its interpretation without glossing over the enigmas that remain. Throughout, the notes (updated for the English-language edition) afford a wealth of further references as the text builds up its coherent picture of what is known of the religion of ancient Greece.
Oxford Readings in Greek Religion
The study of ancient Greek religion has been excitingly renewed in the last thirty years. Key areas of interest have been: the relationship between religion and politics; new and unexpected perspectives opened up by archaeological finds; the symbiosis between myth and ritual; the role of gender differences in the practice and perception of religion; conceptual problems raised by the very notion of "religion." This volume gathers together challenging papers by many of the most innovative participants in this renewal. Almost all the articles have been revised by their authors and/or provided with Addenda, to take account of the most recent scholarship. One article has been translated specifically for this collection; another is for the first time provided with illustrations. No single school or style of approach is privileged: the aim is to illustrate a range of possible methods which may be adopted in the investigation of this endlessly fascinating material. The volume also contains an important introductory essay by Richard Buxton.
Below: Phiale (shallow bowl used for pouring ritual libations); ca. 300-250 BCE. Source/creator: The Art Institute of Chicago.
License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
For the Greeks, the sharing of cooked meats was the fundamental communal act, so that to become vegetarian was a way of refusing society. It follows that the roasting or cooking of meat was a political act, as the division of portions asserted a social order. And the only proper manner of preparing meat for consumption, according to the Greeks, was blood sacrifice. The fundamental myth is that of Prometheus, who introduced sacrifice and, in the process, both joined us to and separated us from the gods—and ambiguous relation that recurs in marriage and in the growing of grain. Thus we can understand why the ascetic man refuses both women and meat, and why Greek women celebrated the festival of grain-giving Demeter with instruments of butchery. The ambiguity coded in the consumption of meat generated a mythology of the "other"—werewolves, Scythians, Ethiopians, and other "monsters." The study of the sacrificial consumption of meat thus leads into exotic territory and to unexpected findings. In this work, the contributors—all scholars affiliated with the Center for Comparative Studies of Ancient Societies in Paris—apply methods from structural anthropology, comparative religion, and philology to a diversity of topics: the relation of political power to sacrificial practice; the Promethean myth as the foundation story of sacrificial practice; representations of sacrifice found on Greek vases; the technique and anatomy of sacrifice; the interaction of image, language, and ritual; the position of women in sacrificial custom and the female ritual of the Thesmophoria; the mythical status of wolves in Greece and their relation to the sacrifice of domesticated animals; the role and significance of food-related ritual in Homer and Hesiod; ancient Greek perceptions of Scythian sacrificial rites; and remnants of sacrificial ritual in modern Greek practices.
“What is a Greek priest?” The volume, which has its origins in a symposium held at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., focuses on the question through a variety of lenses: the visual representation of cult personnel, priests as ritual experts, variations of priesthood, ideal concepts and their transformation, and the role of manteis. Each chapter looks at how priests and religious officials used a potential authority to promote themselves and their posts, how they played a role in conserving, shaping and reviving cult activity, how they acted behind the curtain of polis institutions, and how they performed as mediators between men and gods. It becomes clear that Greek priests had many faces, and that the factors that determined their roles and activities are political as well as historical, religious as well as economic, idealistic as well as pragmatic, personal as well as communal.
In this philosophy classic, which was first published in 1951, E.R. Dodds takes on the traditional view of Greek culture as a triumph of rationalism. Using the analytical tools of modern anthropology and psychology, Dodds asks, "Why should we attribute to the ancient Greeks an immunity from 'primitive' modes of thought which we do not find in any society open to our direct observation?" Praised by reviewers as "an event in modern Greek scholarship" and "a book which it would be difficult to over-praise," This book was Volume 25 of the Sather Classical Lectures series.
How did ancient Greek men and women deal with the uncertainty and risk of everyday life? What did they fear most, and how did they manage their anxieties? Esther Eidinow sets side-by-side two collections of material usually studied in isolation: binding curse tablets from across the ancient world, and the collection of published private questions from the oracle at Dodona in north-west Greece. Eidinow uses these texts to explore perceptions of risk and uncertainty in ancient society, challenging previous explanations. In these records we hear voices that are rarely, if ever, heard in literary texts and history books. The questions and curses in these tablets comprise fervent, sometimes ferocious appeals to the gods. The stories they tell offer tantalizing glimpses of everyday life, carrying the reader through the teeming ancient city -- both its physical setting and its social dynamics. Among these tablets we find prostitutes and publicans, doctors and soldiers, netmakers and silver-workers, actors and seamstresses. Anxious litigants ask the gods to silence their opponents. Men inquire about the paternity of their children. Women beg the gods to help them keep their men. Business rivals try to corner the market. Slaves plead to escape their masters. This material takes us beyond the headlines of ancient history, offering new insights into institutions, activities, and relationships. Above all, individually and together, these texts help us to understand some of the ways in which ancient Greek men and women understood the world. In turn, the beliefs and activities of an ancient culture may shed light on modern attitudes to risk.
Below: Zeus on his throne gives birth to Athena, assisted by several gods; 19th c. CE print based on archaic vase painting.
Source/creator: New York Public Library Digital Collections via Picryl. License: Public domain.
Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens
Civic Rites explores the religious origins of Western democracy by examining the government of fifth-century BCE Athens in the larger context of ancient Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Deftly combining history, politics, and religion to weave together stories of democracy’s first leaders and critics, Nancy Evans gives readers a contemporary’s perspective on Athenian society. She vividly depicts the physical environment and the ancestral rituals that nourished the people of the earliest democratic state, demonstrating how religious concerns were embedded in Athenian governmental processes. The book’s lucid portrayals of the best-known Athenian festivals—honoring Athena, Demeter, and Dionysus—offer a balanced view of Athenian ritual and illustrate the range of such customs in fifth-century Athens.
The Strangeness of Gods: Historical Perspectives on the Interpretation of Athenian Religion
This book combines studies of changes in modern interpretations of Greek religion with studies of changes in Athenian ritual. The combination is necessary in order to combat influential stereotypes: that Greek religion consisted of ritual without theological speculation, that ritual is inherently conservative. To re-examine the evidence for Greek rituals and their interpretation is also to re-examine our own preconceptions and prejudices. The argument presented by S.C. Humphreys tries to bring Greek texts closer to the 'classic' texts of other civilizations, and religion, as a form of speculative thought, closer to science. Her studies of Athenian rituals put this emphasis on changing interpretations into practice, showing that the Athenians thought about their rites as well as celebrating them.
Who marched in religious processions and why? How were blood sacrifice and communal feasting related to identities in the ancient Greek city? With questions such as these, current scholarship aims to demonstrate the ways in which religion maps on to the socio-political structures of the Greek polis ('polis religion'). In this book Dr Kindt explores a more comprehensive conception of ancient Greek religion beyond this traditional paradigm. Comparative in method and outlook, the book invites its readers to embark on an interdisciplinary journey touching upon such diverse topics as religious belief, personal religion, magic and theology. Specific examples include the transformation of tyrant property into ritual objects, the cultural practice of setting up dedications at Olympia, and a man attempting to make love to Praxiteles' famous statue of Aphrodite. The book will be valuable for all students and scholars seeking to understand the complex phenomenon of ancient Greek religion.
Below: Silenus with the infant Dionysus; Roman copy from ca. 1st-3rd c. CE of Greek original. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Creator: JL1996. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.
Greek Sacred Law: A Collection of New Documents
This work contains two parts. Part I constitutes a guide to the corpus of Greek sacred law and its contents. A discussion of the history of the corpus and the principles governing its composition is followed by a detailed review of its contents, in which the evidence is classified according to subject matter. Part II contains inscriptions published since the late 1960s from all around the Greek world excluding Cos and Asia Minor (checklists for these are appended). The text of each inscription is presented alongside restorations, epigraphical commentary, translation, and a comprehensive running commentary. Most of the inscriptions are illustrated. The volume should prove useful to scholars of Greek religion, historians, and epigraphists.
The foremost religious festival of ancient Athens—the city dedicated to Athena, goddess of war, fertility, arts, and wisdom—was the Panathenaia. Challenging old assumptions and refuting new theories, this work addresses the many problems of interpretation and understanding that have swirled for years around the Panathenaia. Among the issues discussed is the recent sensational controversy over the Parthenon frieze, perhaps the best known but least understood work of Greek art. For centuries the frieze has been thought to represent the Panathenaia procession, but recently the argument has been advanced that it depicts the sacrifice of the daughters of the Athenian king Erechtheus. This book offers compelling evidence that the frieze does indeed depict the festal procession and also demonstrates that scenes of contemporary ritual were not unique to the Parthenon. Editor Jenifer Neils and the contributors—eminent classicists, archaeologists, and art historians—explore the role of the Panathenaia in Athenian life and compare it with similar festivals held throughout the ancient Greek world. They discuss such topics as the Panathenaia’s mythical origins, the phenomenon of the festival’s valuable prizes (oil-filled amphoras, rather than the customary laurel wreath), and the architecture, sculpture, and painting related to the festival. This work will provide valuable insights to scholars and students concerned with ancient religion, mythology, art, literature, and gender issues, as well as anyone with a keen interest in the ritual topography of the Athenian Acropolis and the iconography of the Parthenon frieze.
Golden finger ring depicting Aphrodite; late 4th c. BCE. Source/creator: The Art Institute of Chicago.
License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
How did the classical Greek city come into being? What role did religion play in its formation? Athens, with its ancient citadel and central religious cult, has traditionally been the model for the emergence of the Greek city-state. But in this original and controversial investigation, Francois de Polignac suggests that the Athenian model was probably the exception, not the rule, in the development of the polis in ancient Greece. Combining archaeological and textual evidence, de Polignac argues that the eighth-century settlements that would become the city-states of classical Greece were defined as much by the boundaries of "civilized" space as by its urban centers. The city took shape through what de Polignac calls a "religious bipolarity," the cults operating both to organize social space and to articulate social relationships being not only at the heart of the inhabited area, but on the edges of the territory. Together with the urban cults, these sanctuaries "in the wild" identified the polis and its sphere of influence, giving rise to the concept of the state as a territorial unit distinct from its neighbors. Frontier sanctuaries were therefore often the focus of disputes between emerging communities. But in other instances, in particular in Greece's colonizing expeditions, these outer sanctuaries may have facilitated the relations between the indigenous populations and the settlers of the newly founded cities. Featuring extensive revisions from the original French publication and an updated bibliography, this book is essential for anyone interested in the history and culture of ancient Greece.
This book is the precipitate of a conference convened in 1997 to explore concepts of divinity as both one and many in ancient Assyria, Egypt, Greece, and Israel. The five original and provocative essays that resulted engage issues as diverse as the advantages and disadvantages of polytheism; different concepts of deity held by these closely related societies; the possibility that plural nouns may denote singular beings and vice versa; the many definitions of monotheism; and how to decide whether an ancient author in referring to a god as one was characterizing that god as numerically singular, best in quality, or simply first to appear on the cosmic stage.
Religions of the Ancient Greeks
This book is about the religious life of the Greeks from the eighth century BC to the fifth century AD, looked at in the context of a variety of different cities and periods. Simon Price does not describe some abstract and self-contained system of religion or myths but examines local practices and ideas in the light of general Greek ideas, relating them for example, to gender roles and to cultural and political life (including Attic tragedy and the trial of Socrates). He also lays emphasis on the reactions to Greek religions of ancient thinkers - Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian. The evidence drawn on is of all kinds: literary texts, which are translated throughout; inscriptions, including an appendix of newly translated Greek inscriptions; and archaeology, which is highlighted in the numerous illustrations.
Sources for the Study of Greek Religion
ed. David G. Rice & John E. Stambaugh, 2009
Since its initial publication in 1979, this collection has become an essential classroom resource in the field of classical studies. The Society of Biblical Literature is pleased to present a corrected edition—in a new, attractive, and electronic-friendly format—with hopes that it will inspire a new generation of classicists and religious historians.
Below: Bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon, recovered from a shipwreck off ancient Artemision; c. 460 BCE.
Source: Flickr. Creator: Steven Zucker. License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays
Jean-Pierre Vernant, ed. Froma I. Zeitlin, 1991
Jean-Pierre Vernant has profoundly transformed our perceptions of ancient Greece. Published in 1991, this collection of nineteen essays probes deeply into themes of enduring interest--death, the body, the soul, the individual, and relations between mortals and immortals; the mask, the mirror, the image, and the imagination; the self and the other, and, more broadly, the concept of otherness itself, or "alterity."
Below: An olive grove in Zakynthos. Source: Unsplash. Creator: Andreas Weilguny. License: Unsplash license.