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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I do not know if you are familiar with the following document which exists in the Digital Collection of the University of Chicago, and more precisely the Fathom Archive. It is short but very ornate interview by the eminent Professor on Classics and specialized on ancient magic, Christopher Faraone.

The interview is short but still answers some important questions which provide a fast and easy reading and a résumé of his long lasting research and study. Faraone started on his early graduate years to be interest on ancient magic and especially on Latin poems with references to curses and spells. That was in Stanford University in the early 80s. A course for this subject leaded him to write his doctoral theses on ancient magic with supervision by Professor Winkler.

He is stating that magic was common and under continues use by the Greeks regardless of the era. For the Greeks the notion and practice of magic was everywhere and commonly accepted by personal and civic morals. Scholars however, he argues, they continually dating evidence of magic in later or earlier eras from that of the Classical. “They were looking for rationalist Greeks in the evidence from the classical period, and when they found evidence of "irrational" magical ritual they conveniently dated it in such a way that it no longer was evidence for the period that they were looking at.”

The ancient Greek religion was never apart from the chthonic and / or the underworld gods. He stated that scholars believed on an evolution of the ancient Greek religion. An evolution that Athenians as leaders presented the worship of the Olympian Gods – the Sky Gods. However, nowadays “modern scholars have a much more inclusive view of what constitutes Greek religion.”

Modern observers confuse ancient Greek magic with the modern – or the magic which does not relates with the Greek Gods / Goddesses. He stated that, “[a] lot of what we call magic was for the Athenians simply chthonic religion, religious rituals that were connected with Hermes, Hecate, Hades, Persephone, and gods that lived in the ground--gods that were very closely connected with ghosts and the dead.” Magic was interrelated in the everyday life of an Athenian and a Greek. People used magic to communicate, request, win, love and kill. There are evidences of trials were the eradicator was accused for using magic as weapon. Magic, therefore, was “a morally neutral technology”.

From the earliest curse tablets we do not have any evidences that suggest of any professional magicians working from handbooks – as we are familiar from later cases. As it was a custom and well know an individual could practice magic. Faraone gives the example of Plato’s Republic and the Adeimantus, who mentions “that most people believe that if you've done something evil, you can assuage the gods' anger simply by performing the correct sacrifices. In other words, you can bribe the gods and buy them off. The result is, in this case, that someone who has done wrong goes unpunished. Then he says that people also believe that the gods can be persuaded to punish innocent people, and he cites as evidence the fact the people who hang around the doors of the rich and for a fee will cast curses against their enemies.”

Faraone concludes with an idea that says in brief: the Athenians – that can include the rest of the Greeks (?) – were familiar with magic and magical practices which were in use in an everyday basis. Consequently, as an immediate insight by reading the interview, I get the following questions and conclusion: Athenians used magic in everyday basis and mostly for providing the worst of their fellow-citizen. Can we therefore claim that Athens was an evil place in which each citizen cursed his fellow-citizen? Or maybe what we have as evidences which are very limited in numbers are unique cases of men and women who had a different way to conceive polis and fellowship? Professor Faraone did not make clear the fact that magic had no relationship with the Hellenic religious praxis and therefore Greek magic did not exist. Chthonic deities and Gods were in fact worshiped but in a communal way and under the family’s, genos and polis’ regulations and customs. Magic was a practice hidden in the dark concealed in the crave stones a pockets. It was not a ritual or rite, therefore was not a religious praxis. You can read the interview here and make your conclusions.
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I was visiting several web-pages of Hellenic interest during the first week of the starting Christian calendar when I reached a number of messages and articles discussing on the Triesperon, Τριέσπερον; a celebration which was linked -according to the articles perspective- with the new year in between the 21-22nd day and the 24-25th of December. Reading those comments I found a number of contradictory points in the way that inter-connection of the ancient-Greek and Hellenistic tradition was established with the Sun’s birth and with minor Olympian deities –such as Heracles– as well as the importance of the Triesperon which had, as it was stated, a relation with the Sol Invictus celebrations by the Romans. I am arguing therefore that the Triesperon did not has any relationship with the birth of the Sun - Helliou genethlion, Ηλίου Γενέθλιον -the Roman Sol Invictus (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti)- and/or with the Heliodesia as those articles arguing.

Firstly I would like to define Triesperon which according the LSJ the word occurs in two cases in the classical literature and are as follows: 1. Luc.Somn.17, Gall.12. – with the meaning of dream-bringer, oneiros. 2. in Lyc.33 who connects it with Heracles who was begotten in a triple night, Subst., hê Hêrakleous trans.: the triple night, Alciphr.3.38. Hence the celebration of this festivity has as meaning the birth of Heracles (Iliad, 16.778. Corpus fontium historiae byzantinae, xi, 1975, 647-55). Thus accordingly the above cannot prove that the celebration of Triesperon was in honour of the Sun and its birth. On the contrary was a festivity for the birth of Heracles. For that reason I am posting below what I consider to be more rightfully claimed as Sun’s celebrations in between the 22nd of November and the 25th of December.

Helliou genethlion, Ηλίου Γενέθλιον, and Heliodesia, sunset, Ηλιοδύσια –according the Codex Baroccianus 131 (saec. xiv), f. 423-423V, which was published in the Cat. codd. astrol. graec. ix, i, and contains numerous unconditional astronomical entries such as the New Year (νέο έτος) to be placed on the 23rd of September and the Heliodesia on the 22nd of November. Both the Helliou genethlion and Heliodesia do not have any relationship with the New Year celebration at least in the known Hellenic space. The New Year celebrations were normally transferred according the birth date of the current Emperor. For example the above mentioned date of the New Year was an Asian Minor calendar degree (c. 9 B.C.) with a request by the Paullus Fabious Maximus that the New Year celebration must be fixed according the birthday of Augustus (OGIS 458). Therefore the Hellenistic –Roman era– New Year festivities were not according the ‘ancient ways’. Therefore "birth of the Sun" does not mean the beginning of a new religious year.

In the case of Heliodesia (22nd of November when Sun enters the sign of Sagittarius and passes in the lower hemisphere and sends its rays up to the earth surface) is mostly related in the myth of Pluto and Dionysus (Porphyr., περί αγαλμάτων, frg. 7) or better known by the representations of Kronos (that represent the Sun of the night) – the early passage of the Sun is called Epinomis (Plat. Epim. 987c). Here we can see the relationship in between the ‘day and year’ and the ‘night and the end of the year’. Therefore the time in between the 24th of November and the 24th of December was called Kronia (Anal. Bollandiana, 16, 1879, ii). According the calendar of Antiochus (Silz,-Ber. Heid. 1910, 16) on the 25th of December there is the celebration of the Helliou genethlion. With the correlation of Kronia, the Heliodesia and the Helliou genethlion we can have the following results: a) the Kronia and the Heliodesia have the same starting day, b) and they both starting on the χειμερινή τροπή (Lyd. De ost. 70). Therefore the Heliodesia and the Helliou genethlion mark the end of the Sun’s existence into the Underworld (in Rome was call Sol Invictus with games on his honour-see CIL i2, p. 338). (Weinstock, S., 1948: 40-42)

Last Edited: 13/11/2010
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