Occasionally I will post questions that have been asked on my Curious Cat page (where you can ask me all kinds of questions anonymously). These will be exactly as they appear on the Curious Cat page, but I may expand on my answers slightly in separate posts, or below the original answer.
Where do you think the field of Greek religon is moving after polis religion?
This is a very loaded question, and you will get as many different answers as scholars of ancient Greek religion.
The first thing to say is there are a lot of good things about the polis religion model, and it has helped us over the last 25 years advance the study of Greek religion immensely. It has become, and I think will continue to be, a starting point for new scholars of Greek religion - certainly until there is a new model as widely accepted and used as polis-religion.
To my mind, polis religion has two major flaws: it doesn't account for 'marginal' personal religious practices (this has been really well-explored by scholars like Esther Eidinow and Julia Kindt), and it doesn't account for personal religious experiences: the simple fact that people are different, experience things differently, think about things, believe things all differently.
That's why I think the future of the field (and my own work) will lay in materialism as a theoretical framework (in fact, I am planning to write an article about this very thing, and how it can be used in ancient history!).
Materialism is closely linked to sensory studies, but not quite the same (though they are highly complementary!). It can allow us to conduct ethnographic studies through 'lived' experience, objects, practices, traditions, and spaces in a place where we cannot conduct direct ethnography. When applied to the study of religion, this means that we look at how people encounter in their ‘everyday world’, as well as the sensations and feelings of everyday life, focused through the lens of religious practice. It can be focused through other lenses, and even in the study of religion, it's important to take civic, political, social, and economic lenses into account (this is another question, about religious embeddedness!).
I want to be very clear that this is not THE way forward. The future of the study of Greek religion will be, I think, a patchwork of interweaving and overlapping methodological and theoretical frameworks for which my part will, I hope, be the introduction of Materialism. There is already wonderful work being done in and through sensory studies and cognitive approaches (Jenifer Larson's recent Understanding Greek Religion is an excellent introduction to this).
And, I think that it will be quite a while before we can move on from polis religion and the influence of Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood.
There lay the elaborately wrought robes, the work of Sidonian
This passage from Homer’s Iliad is interesting to think about what the purpose and nature of Greek religion actually is. I came across the passage today while looking through texts that might hint at the emotionality of weaving Athena’s peplos (I will post more on the peplos another time). Given the women who dedicate the robe in the passage are not the weavers it wasn’t very much use for that, but what it did make me think about was the connection between people and gods in early Greece.
Basically, what’s happening here is that a group of Trojan women, led by Athena’s priestess* Theano, are dedicating a robe to Athena. They didn’t weave the robe themselves, but Paris (here Alexandros) brought it back with him when he returned with Helen, and a group of women from Sidon (the presumed weavers of the robe). Theano and the Trojans lay the robe across Athena’s lap and they prayed for the destruction of Diomedes. But… Athena wasn’t really having it, so she denied their request.
Relationships with the gods were multidirectional, in that they were meant to be beneficial in every direction (god-individual-family-community), and offerings and dedications played a large part in that benefit (after all, beyond ‘existence’ what really are the gods getting out of this arrangement if not dedications, offerings, and veneration?!?). But, this isn’t a system of direct and immediate benefit (you give me x, I’ll give you y, and we’re square). Athena had already (in book 5) given Diomedes advice and assistance, so we know that she’s inclined towards him (although presumably the Trojans don’t know this, otherwise they might have skipped to the next god on the list).
The kinds of relationships that are built up are, instead, like the relationships you might form with any other (mortal) person: I’ll do a favour for you now, and you might do one for me later. That’s the point of ongoing worship for the gods, to build up goodwill so that when you do come and say ‘If you get Diomedes out of the way then we’ll give you a dozen cows, and to show we mean business have this robe’ then the god(dess) gets Diomedes out of the way. But, this passage from Homer goes to show that doesn’t always work. In that way, Greek religion is much like modern life – sometimes you do everything right and you still don’t make it out on top. It doesn’t mean you stop trying, you just move on to the next thing.
*The idea of ‘the priest’ or ‘the priestess’ is a bit moot in early Greece – priest- and priestess-hoods belonged to a particular divinity or cult and (in most cases) they had no authority or official participation in the cults of other gods.
Edited: because in my over-excitement I gave the Trojans a bit too much insight into the workings of the gods... Sorry Trojans and thanks Niels for pointing this out!
(Plato's) Socrates, in Cratylus, argues that Persephone should correctly be called something like Pherepapha (404c-e), because her real name (cited, confusingly, as Pherrephatta, shows that she is wise:
For since things are swept along (φερόμενα), wisdom is the power to grasp (ἐφαπτόμενον), comprehend, (ἐπαφῶν), and to follow (ἐπακολουθεῖν) them. Thus it would be correct to call this goddess ‘Pherepapha’ or something like that, because of her wisdom, that is to say, her power to comprehend what is being swept along (ἐπαφὴ τοῦ φερομένου). (Plat. Crat. 404c-d, trans. Reeve.)
Fear, Socrates explains, leads to wilful errors of naming and the employment of alternative spellings in an effort to disguise the true meaning of the name. The correctness (or, more accurately, the incorrectness) of Plato’s etymology does not alter the point: people were afraid of the goddess and changed her name to make her somehow more palatable. Persephone is near-interchangeable with Kore, and the chorus of Euripides’s Helen calls Persephone the ἀρρήτου κούρας (‘unspoken girl’ Eur. Hel. 1306-1307; cf. fr. 63 (Kovaks)); these all add up to the same affect: renaming the goddess changes her power in some way. Rudolf Wachter argued that the ‘original’ name we should look for is more like Φερρῶφαττα (with either an omega or omicron in place of the epsilon), for which there are nine attestations. Seven of these are found on fifth-century Attic vases, by individual painters. This shows an etymology with ‘she who threshes ears of corn’, but this does not directly presuppose a Frazer-esque Corn Maiden. Perrophatta is not an embodiment of corn, but an intermediary between Demeter and the people, ensuring agriculture – her mother’s gift – is received. When Pherrephatta retreats beneath the earth, seeds also retreat. Here, both goddess and seeds mature and grow, before sprouting forth to bring life to the people. In this incarnation, Persephone is not a submissive and deferential divinity, hiding behind her mother or husband. She is an active participant in the life-cycle of grain, and therefore of the earth and its population.
There is an interesting parallel her to Hades, who is also mention by Socrates (Crat. 403a), although here we find Hades being renamed as another god - Plouton. Hades was an absent god - he's almost absent from cultic life (the notable exception is his cult in Elis). The etymology of 'Hades' points to something like 'unseen one' or 'the invisible'. Although Hades is obviously not the only god who is unseeable to mortals, since many Olympic gods appear invisible, and are often not directly seeable in cult as well. But other gods make themselves invisible and Hades is (nearly) always invisible. Not, I should note, imperceptible, but that under certainly conditions (namely, being alive) he is concealed. One may see him clearly but only after death.
This reputation might have been perpetuated by his mythic 'cap of invisibility' - first found in Homer, when Athena uses it to hide herself from Ares (Il. 5.8.44-845.) According to pseudo-Apollodoros, the Kyklopes gave 'Plouton' (note the renaming) when he gave Zeus the thunderbolt and Poseidon the trident, which would mean that it was an inextricable part of his character (Bibl. 1.2.1.). Hesiod also mentions the cap, but here it does not make the wearer invisible, but cloaks him with the νυκτὸς ζόφον αἰνὸν (‘awful gloom of night’ Sh. 227.). Night and darkness are well associated, particularly in Homer were dying heroes are described as having night or darkness descend upon them or cover their eyes (e.g. Hom. Il. 5.659). The juxtaposition between dark and light is the same as the juxtaposition between the living and the dead: the living man sees and the dead man is shrouded in darkness. Darkness is a natural attribute of invisibility. The Underworld - and therefore Hades - is shrouded in darkness, and the dead are invisible to the living.
Fear may have much to do with the unnaming and renaming of both Persephone and Hades, and they are both stifled of (or stifling of) mortal senses: Hades cannot be seen, and Persephone cannot be heard - this is an obviously simplistic view of naming (unnaming, renaming), but I wanted to get some of these basics down quickly, because in the next few posts I am going to go into some more detail on various aspects of Persephone and Hades (and particularly their unnaming and renaming), so I would be interested to hear any initial thoughts before those posts come out.
I am currently in the process of putting together a short article titled Were There Mystery Rites for Demeter Chthonia in Hermione? (which does what it says on the tin), and I have been reading over some of the research I have done on other Demetrian cults with (potential) Underworld provenance. The vast majority of these come from - surprise surprise - our old friend Pausanias, and two of the more interesting ones related to Persephone's abduction.
Persephone's abduction is a pretty interesting story, and the traditions that run outside what's presented in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter are particularly so. Pausanias offers several different accounts that share common elements, and the main crossovers relate to the traditions associated with Phigaleia (Paus. 8.42) and Thelpousa (Paus. 8.25.)
In Phigaleia, the local version tells of Demeter being raped by Poseidon after Persephone's disappearance. She fell pregnant and had a second daughter - Despoina, 'the Mistress'. Mourning for Persephone and feeling rather wrathful, Demeter retreated into a cave, dressing herself in black. With Demeter's retreat came the inevitable death of vegetation, livestock, and eventually the population. Zeus sent the Moirai to convince Demeter to set aside her anger, and restore the fertility of the land. She did so, and the Phigalians declared her cave-hideaway a sacred site, erecting an unusual statue in her honour:
Pausanias mentions that this unusual statue was burned, around the start of the fifth century BCE. Some time after the loss there was another period of barreness, and the Phigalians went to Delphi to find out why. They were told to dedicate a second statue to Demeter:
Arkadian, Azanian acorn-eaters,
By addressing the Arkadians as 'acorn-eaters' the response resonates with their claim to be the most ancient Greek people - that is, they lived on acorns before Demeter gave them the gift of agriculture, which she had now rescinded because they failed to properly venerate her. There is a lot to say about this 'oracle' alone, but what I want to draw out here is how 'anyone of intelligence with a good memory' would know why the original wooden statue was made in such an unusual way - and the answer can be picked out of the oracle: 'stallion-mated Deo'.
Demeter was raped by Poseidon in another local version of Persephone's abduction as well. Here, in Thelpousa, Demeter tried to rebuff Poseidon by disguising herself as a mare. In response, he turned into a stallion and then raped her. She has two cult epithets here - 'Erinys' because of the fury and anger she felt following the violation, and 'Louisa' - because after she set aside her grief and anger she bathed in a local river.
The horse plays a significant role in the Thelpousan tradition, and its cryptic inclusion in the Phigalian tradition shows a connection (at least to Pausanias) between the two cities. In Thelpousa, Demeter and Poseidon's forced union produces two offspring - the horse Arion and a daughter, whose name cannot be known to the uninitiated. Following the Phigalian tradition, Pausanias calls her Depsoina, and says she was the most worshipped divinity in the region. A daughter of Demeter, with a descriptive pseudonym, whose true identity is hidden to the uninitiated is a familiar trope, but Pausanias quite clearly differentiates between Despoina and Kore (who is unequivocally equated with Persephone by way of Homeric revelation), but he does not give Despoina a(nother) name. Persephone is directly relevant to Despoina's birth: her disappearance facilitates Demeter's rape.
Assuming that a reader of Pausanias's work will start at the beginning and read though to the end, they will have read the Thelpousan tradition, involving the horse-disguises, first, so they would know about this before getting to the Phigalian version and the oracle. This presents an interesting flattery into the text: a reader, who quite recently read the Thelpousan account, will recognise the horsey trope in the Phigalian account and count themselves in the intelligent and good-memoried class of people who understand exactly why the horse is being employed at Phigalia and the link to Telpousa. The stories are told far enough apart that it won't be immediately apparent to the reader why they remember the horse-related story of Demeter and Poseidon.
Or, perhaps I am giving Pausanias a little too much credit...
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