Tropaion is a web-log / electronic journal and Carnival for the ancient Greek Religion and history. The main goal of the web-log is to present original peer-reviewed and well referred posts on theoretical and practical aspects of the ancient Greek religion, to add to a broader circulation of Humanities and Classics in the Internet as well as to rise awareness for the Hellenic Polytheism today and to explore its relation with its ancient past.

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Dionysos mask, found in Myrina (now in Turkey).
Terracotta, 2nd–1st centuries BC.
Louvre Museum Myr 347.
© Joseph Jastrow 2005 / Wikimedia Public Domain

Recently I am enjoying the company of a new book, entitled Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun (OUP 2010) by the eminent scholar Edith Hall. There is an extensive amount of books discussing the term and concept of ‘tragedy’. To name few, I will start with the introductory titles by Adrian Poole’s Tragedy: A Very Short Introduction, (OUP, 2005) and Rebecca Bushnell’s Tragedy: a short introduction (Blackwell, 2008); extensive collection of articles and authors are present in the two ‘companion’ titles, of Easterling (ed.) (The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy. CUP, 1997) and of Gregory (ed.) (A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Blackwell Pub., 2005). More detailed studies of the context of tragedy in relation of the Athenian life and intellectual thought could be suggested to be Kaufmann’s Tragedy and Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1992), David Wiles’ Tragedy in Athens: Performance Space and Theatrical Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and Nothing to Do with Dionysos?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context by John J. Winkler (ed.) (Princeton University Press, 1992). Of course the list does not stop there; there are interesting and innovative studies on ancient Greek tragedy (namely the Athenian). Religiosity is always part of such studies; taking for instance to eminent examples by Jon D. Mikalson’s Honor Thy Gods: Popular Religion in Greek Tragedy (UNC Press Books, 1991) and by Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood’s Tragedy and Athenian Religion (Lexington Books, 2003). Hall’s title, however, offers a straight forward and accessible view to the Athenian tragedy.

Edith Hall’s title, thus, could be recited as an introductory material for students; the first part of the book presents the socio-political and factual elements of the Athenian tragedy, followed by the second half which examines all the surviving to us today thirty-three plays. Hall’s perception of the Athenian tragedy is exactly what her sub-title states: suffering and death (p.11). The Sun plays an important role which defines the conceptual opposition of life – death / death – life hierarchy. Thus, the speciality of the Athenian tragedy establishes the boundary between the living and dead.

What makes, also, important Hall’s view of the Athenian tragedy is the well written and clearly stated importance of this genre of Greek play making for the conceptualization of every-day’s religious and ritual praxis in ancient Athens. Hall states that all performativity elements were indeed derived from the “world of collective ritual” (p.44). Choral song is a hymn of thanksgiving (the Chorus in Antigone, 110-148); the dithyrambic hymn is a hymn of praise or invocation prayer in terms of tragedy’s performativity of ritual praxis. For example the hymn to Zeus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (160-183) and the invocation with the common phrase “ἔλθετε καὶ νῦν” in Oedipus Tyrannus (151-215), they both have the common format of ritual prayer as in Elean women prayer to Dionysus (PMG 871 = Carmina Popularia frg. 6). It is also important to note that the Chorus’ choral or dithyrambic hymns and of paeans have been both melodic and choreographic. In this point I will point to Lawler’s The dance in Ancient Greece (Adam & Charles Black, 1964), forthright statement, “that the Greek almost never sang or chanted verse without using an accompanying movement of some part of his body” (p.98). It is almost inconceivable to withdraw our attention from the Chorus’ importance as a depiction of ancient Greek, Athenian, religiosity.
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Peplos scene. Block V (fragment)
from the east frieze of the Parthenon, ca. 447–433 BC.
British Museum, main floor, room 16.
Source: Wikimedia under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
On the 25th of Thargelion - possibly on the 14th / 15th of June of 2012 - at Athens and the neighbouring communities, such as in Erchia, the Plynteria (Καλλυντήρια κατ' Πλυντήρια) festival was celebrated, in honour of Athena (Phot. s. v. Kallunteria: Pint. Alcib. 34; Harpocr., Suid. s. v.) and Aglauros. A very interesting discussion of Aglauros' existence as a recipient of sacrifices at the Plynteria, see the late Sourvinou-Inwood's published study entitled Athenian Myths and Festivals; Aglauros, Erechtheus, Plynteria, Panathenaia, Dionysia, edited by Parker (OUP, 2011). I have read the book and I strongly agree with a great number of Sourvinou-Inwood's thoughts and her critical understanding of Plynteria. However, more importantly, I agree with Sourvinou-Inwood's methodological approach towards ancient Greek ritual. This methodological approach, offers a theoretical view of 'what it means' for the ancient Greece to warship as they worshipped. Our mission is to re-create in detail the 'meaning' of single elements of the ritual - not based on their symbolic existence, but  as functional variables of 'ritual nexus' that construct religious significance.

The Plynteria is situated on an apophras hemera as part of a group of apophrades hemerai (ἀποφράδες ἡμέραι), unlucky or unfortunate days (dies nefasti), on which no public business, nor any important affairs of any kind, were transacted (DARG s. v.). Therefore, the concept of purification - purification of the community through its re-connection of its autochthony and primordial core - should have been a central element of the Plynteria's 'nexus'. One of these ritual elements is hegeteria - dried fig-cake of purification - possibly offered as a meal to Athena which was deposited in the temple of Athena Skiras (Sourvinou-Inwood, 2011: 179, 192). DARG suggests that in the procession strings of figs were carried (palathe hegeteria or hegetoria which may symbolise fruitfulness, or may, as Mommsen suggests, have also a more 'mystical' connection with an ancient sacrifice of maidens, similar to that of Thargelia, in which the victims were garlanded with figs (see also Jane Ellen Harrison, 1991, p. 116). I will disagree with Mommsen and DARG explanatory entry of hegeteria and especially with the 'mystical' concept of hegeteria. On the contrary, I will agree with Sourvinou-Inwood explanation of hegeteria and the use of figs in the ritual of Plynteria as an identification of communal purification, autochthony and primordiality (Sourvinou-Inwood, 2011: 12, 140-1).

I will go further to explain why hegeteria (the fig-tree; Hesychios (Phot., Hysch. s.v.) "ἡγητηρία · παρὰ ἡγησασθαι οὖν τῆς τροφῆς κέκληται ἠγητηρία" ) was first a symbol of communal union and for that reason equals to autochthony and primordiality which automatically could have been used for purification 'ritual elements'. In Deipnosophists (B.III.c.6-18) there is a beautiful discussion on figs. Magnus suggests that “fig-tree […] was the guide to men to lead them to a more civilized life”. Athenaeus explains that was “the guide” as it was the first discovered fruit to be cultivated amongst the primordial communities. Later he signified the importance of autochthony by adding that there are many different “species of figs”; Aristophanes in his Farmers, according to Athenaeus states that you could plant all different shorts of figs, but he denies to plant the Lacedæmonian as “this kind is the fig of an enemy and a tyrant”. We read of figs from areas of Greece, Phrygia and Cyprus, which are named after their place of origin, such as the Phrygian, the Cretan, the Phibalean, the Olynthian, the Chelidonian. This is an important element of the product’s spatial recognition, that does not only is offering a statement of its quality, but, further, it signifies the important of uniqueness and differentiation of the peoples that produced it. The production, consumption and trade of figs – and of other products of such significance for the local community i.e. wine and oil – were regulated. In Athenaeus, we read a statement by Isistrus that figs were “forbidden to export out of Attica […] which grew in this country”. The term sycophant was born of the practice to accuse those illegal exporters in the courts.

The importance of autochthony and primordiality is also stated in the mythological explanation of the fig-tree (συκῆ). Pherenicus, the epic poet, called συκῆ as one of the Hamadryad Nymphs. We witnessing cults related to the existence, production and conception of the figs: in Lacedæmon worshiped Dionysus Sukites, and in Naxos, Dionysus Meilichus, as the figs have been called μείλιχα. Figs and its products that were especially produced have a symbolic meaning based on its conception by the culture of the population that consumes it. The act of planting fig-trees, trading it or excluding it from any exports, localize it by offering it a cult or use its fruits for local city-state’s cults and rituals underlines its importance for the community’s union and identity. It is extraordinary when we incorporate all these three concepts of purification, autochthony and primordiality with the ‘ritual logic’ of Plynteria: when all three are interrelated, they were signifying the ‘renewal’ and ‘rebirth’ of the community’s life and experiences.
Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (2011). Athenian Myths and Festivals; Festivals and Genē Oxford Scholarship Online DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592074.003.0001

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (2011). Athenian Myths and Festivals; Reading a Festival Nexus Oxford Scholarship Online DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592074.003.0003

Jane Ellen Harrison (1991). Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion Princeton University Press Other: 9780691015149
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Libation of Artemis and Apollo at the omphalos.
Master of Shuvalov (?), ca. 440 BC.
Pushkin Museum.
Wikipedia user Shakko 2009
I had the immense pleasure to read the book by Kimberley Christine Patton, entitled Religion of the Gods; Ritual, Paradox, and Reflexivity published back in 2009 (OUP). The book examines the numerous iconographic depictions of Gods and Goddesses performing a libation or acting towards performing a sacrifice. One example is the attached picture: a libation of both Artemis and Apollo at the omphalos. In this red-figure lekythos, the poured liquid is visible from the Apollo’s phiale. It is logical that looking closely at those pictorial evidences makes you wonder and immediately questions arise. One of the questions is the following: what these depictions mean?
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Lekythos with Winged Victory
with Incense Holder at
Metropolitan Art Museum.
2009 © Sharon Mollerus.
I had the pleasure to read through the Rangar Cline’s book entitled Ancient Angels: Conceptualizing Angeloi in the Roman Empire (2011) which discusses in great detail the concept of angelos (angel) in non-Abrahamic religions (namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam) in the Roman era. It is an incredibly interesting theme of scholarly debate from the early 20th century. It is also a contemporary issue of discussion and debate for modern Hellenic polytheists: what was the nature of angels in ancient Greek religion, how it was involved and presented in the Late Greco-Roman religion, and how it could be differentiated from its Christian understanding? Cline gives immensely beautiful answers with the use of literary, inscriptional, and archaeological evidences. Cline focuses to the study of the Greco-Roman understanding of angels and how they have been worshiped. For Cline, the Christian authorities reacted to this unorthodox characteristic of Roman religion. The author does not “attempt to trace religious influence in one direction or another” (p.xvii), and seek to bring a holistic view of the popular beliefs about angels in Greco-Roman religion, equally providing the prevalent assumptions about and veneration of them in the Late Antiquity, Roman Empire.
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