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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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The Aiora or swinging ritual was first introduced at Athens during the Anthesteria – the hours in between the Choes and Chitron. After a request from a reader and friend I find and translate (my free translation from the Latin text) what I consider to be a nicely presented myth of Ikarios and Erigones. Nilsson in his eminent work the Greek Popular Religion (p.33) considers that is a fertility charm - he discusses more in “Die Anthesterien and die Aiora”, Eranos, XV (1916), 187 ff. The translated text is from the Servius' Commentarius in Vergilii Georgica [ed. G. Thilo and H. Hagen, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1881­4)].

For the festivity known as oscilla (the Greek Aiora, Αιώρα) there are different opinions for its origin. Some mention the following myth: the Athenian Ikarios, father of Erigones, when he presented to the mortals the wine which was received from the father Dionysus, was murdered by the farmers, who drank more than was allowed, and they believed that he (Ikarios) had poisoned them. His dog went to his daughter, Erigones, who followed the dog’s trails, found her fathers body and she hanged herself. She, according to Gods’ decision, was transferred to the stars and is the one (constellation) that we call Parthenos. And his dog is the (constellation) Keon. After a short period of time a disease/mania was upon the Athenians that affected all their young women; leaded them to hang themselves. The oracle’s response was that if the disease was to be ended the Erigones and Ikario’s bodies must be found. Regardless their endeavors to find the bodies they were unable to recover them, in addition, to present their respect they draped men by the trees so that it will look like as to search the bodies also in the air. But because few of them were fallen, they thought to create representations of their images for replacements. (ii 389)

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There is the common belief that reincarnation is a “good thing” and, a more common but hugely mistaken belief that Hellenic religion (ancient Greek religion) supports that “afterlife” belief. Both cases are not right in a sense. First, the Hellenic religion, taken for example the city-state mystical practice of Eleusis does not advocate any belief or idea of reincarnation, second, maybe for the Buddish is an acceptable and honored stage of a divine soul, but for the Orphic mystery cult that is not the case. For the Orphics reincarnation was the sentence of the human’s “original sin”, the death and eating of the divine child named Zagreus.

We know the Orphic myth of Zagreus. Zagreus was identified later as an epithet of a “father” god, Zeus and / or Dionysus, however, in the primary concept of this Orphic myth, Zagreus, was a child slaughtered and consumed raw by the Tirans. Zeus punished Titans by razed them with a thunderbolt. Prometheus mixed the Titans’ ashes wit clay from which the humankind was produced. This denotes the following: the human kind has divine (the parts of the dead Zagreus) and half condemned by gilt, the “Titanic”. The human kind was, therefore, condemned for continues mortal existence through a cycle of rebirths (the reincarnation).

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We are all familiar with the tragedy of Oedipus and more familiar with his encounter with the Sphinx (I believe all humans they see the picture posted with the message: Attic cup, Museo Gregoriano Erusco, Vatican). We also know Freud and his extreme fascination for Oedipus’ novel.

Sphinx was considered, not only – in common belief – as man strangler and slayer of young men, but also as representation of the human psyche. Freud was the first individual after Plato that clearly and openly states the communion in principle of the tripartite human soul with the tripartite Sphinx’s existence (human, lion and bird).

Plato in his Republic book nine (588c) compares the tripartite nature of human soul with the Sphinx. The part of human’s bodily appetites with the Sphinx’s lion body. The head of the Sphinx with the controlling intelligence and so on.

At the same line of comparison Freud and his school seek to discover the subconscious under the veil of mythology. As he said, mythology is the dream of the young humanity, and therefore the soul of all humans is covered under the folk and tales. Therefore, every myth reveals a primarily concept of human social and mental behavior. The Sphinx uncovers the truth to Oedipus – the truth for all humans the autoerotism. Oedipus kills Sphinx and that is an action of his denial – a denial of his actions, fears and unconscious wishes – and at the same time extinguishes the animal part (the bodily appetites of men) of the Sphinx. But Oedipus does not only slay the animal part but also the Sphinx’s human part (the ‘repressor’ of the unconscious – the ego or the platonic intellect) and that underlines his own distraction and death.

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It seems that the Hellenistic times – which increased at its late years – metaphysical concepts of the Underworld were interlinked and combined together. Mystical cults, such as of Orphic, the Idaean Dactyls, of Trophonius and of Eleusis have been bound together into the people’s mind and, therefore, on numerous liturgical formulae (the known today magical papyri). An example is the Orphic Formula, ὁ λόγος ὁ Ὀρφαϊκός as depicted by the Hellenistic mystagogoi.

Ἀσκει κατασκει ερων ορεων ιωρ μεγα σεμνυηρ βαυϊ / γ’, φοβαντία σεμνή· τετέ[λ]εσμαι / καὶ [τ]ὰ ἄλλα εἶδον κάτω, παρθένος, κύων, / καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ πάντα.

The eminent Hans Dieter Betz (1980: p. 292) discuss a passage found in the PGM LXX – a twenty-eight lined formulae known as Catabasis Ritual – which displays the Orphic Formula combined with few (two out of six) words of the Ephesia grammata. The ἀσκει κατασκει are terms used in the Ephesian grammata, however the rest seems to be a magical verse. Clement of Alexandria considers the first phrase the formula to the Idaen Dactyls (Stromatis i. 15, pp/ 46-47). The following phrase - τετέ[λ]εσμαι / καὶ [τ]ὰ ἄλλα εἶδον κάτω, παρθένος, κύων, / καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ πάντα. – according to Clement is the Eleusinian, σύνθημα,‘password’ to the Underworld (Protr. 2.21 and also in Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, 1961, pp. 294 ff). Dieter translate it as follows:

I have been initiated, / and I descended into the (underground) chamber of the Dactyls, / and I saw the other things down below, virgin, bitch, / and all the rest.

The phrase “I have been initiated” by taking in granted the rest of the formulae assumes that the individual had passed an initiation which involves Hekate. In addition the initiation was held in an underground chamber, a crypt, similar with the venues used in Eleusis and in Lebadeia.

What we can conclude is that the magical papyri are not just a collection of hermetic or wizards’ magical formulas but at the same time a strong tool for the scholar to identify and underline lost rituals’ of the Hellenic mystical cults.

Reference: Hans Dieter Betz, (1980), ‘Fragments from a Catabasis Ritual in a Greek Magical Papyrus’, History of Religions, 19 (4), pp. 287-295

Picture: Hecate; drawing by Stephane Mallaemè in Les Dieux Antiques, nouvelle mythologie illustrée, Paris, 1880.

More on magical papyri read here.

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From the early Bronze era the most respectful burial custom was the cremation of the dead. We meet that custom in the Homeric epics and, throughout, the ancient Greek history we have examples that when a katharsis was needed, cremation was used. Read more on funerary and lamentation Greek customs here. The reason for cremation’s use is not, only, the environmental and hygienic efficiency and economy but a matter of metaphysical importance.

The Christian dogma, in the West, - in the East the Orthodox Church does not accept the concept of purgatory, but rather the “condition of waiting”, therefore prayers are only used for comforting the dead throughout their ‘waiting’ time – accepted from the early years the concept of purification (i.e. Origen). In the writings of Gregory of Nyssa (4th century) we read that no one can “approach God till the purging fire shall have cleansed the stains with which his soul was infested” (the earliest source that mentions the term ‘purgatory’ is of Benedictine Nicholas of Saint Albans to the Cistercian Peter of Celle in 1176). For the Catholic Church, purgatory, “is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who […] are, not entirely free from venial faults”.

The Hellenic view of purification has two main differentiations from the Christian: a) there is no purification of the soul from any evil in this or the afterlife, b) and the concept of purification is not a punishment of any short.

Little more analytically: The soul of the dead Patroclus cannot pass to Ades because the other souls disallow him the entrance, for that reason ‘waits’ and plead to Achilles:

θάπτε με ὅττι τάχιστα, πύλας Ἀΐδαο περήσω. / τῆλε μἐέργουσι ψυχαί, εἴδωλα καμόντων, / οὐδὲ μέ πω μίσγεσθαι πέρ ποταμοῖο ἐῶσιν, / ἀλλαὔτως ἀλάλημαι ἀνεὐρυπυλές ϊδος δῶ. / καὶ μοι δς τὴν χεῖρ’ ὀλοφύρομαι. οὐ γὰρ ἔταὔτις / νίσομαι ἐξ Ἀΐδαο, ἐπήν με πυρός λελάχητε.

Thus, in the Homeric ages the burial (θάπτε με) was the cremation of the dead as, Patroclus, at the end clarifies (πήν με πυρός λελάχητε). The soul of Patroclus is not accepted to enter Ades because without cremation of the body is unpurified.

Now let as look at the case of Lake Acheronta and the third river called Pyrephlegethonta (Πυριφλεγέθοντα) as has been described in Phaido. It is important to understand the different concept and principle of the katharsis in the Christian and Hellenic view. Socrated, in Phaido (113d), articulates the reason for the Acheronta’s existence: διὰ πυρός κάθαρσις τῶν κακῶς βεβιωκότων and after οἰκοῦσί τε καὶ καθαιράμενοι τῶν τε δικημάτων διδόντες δίκας πολύονται, εἴ τίς τι δίκησεν. The underworld purification in the Hellenic concept had no connection with punishment (the κολαστήριον) but rather a well accepted and desired state of any Greek soul.

Today neo-Hellenes and individuals who believe on the concept of soul’s immortality and they wish for “κύκλου τ’ ἇν λήξαι καὶ ναπνεύσαι κακότητος, requesting from the contemporary Government to accept egalitarianism and cremation of the dead to be executed in Greece (see detailed article here).

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By hearing the term Graecus ritus we think of a Greek typology throughout a Roman religious praxis. The eminent, John Scheid (1995), argues that Graecus ritus may sound ‘foreign’ from the traditional Roman way (ritu Romano), but it is not that the case. There was no an original Roman way of religious practices, but, on the other hand Roman religious manner, intergraded neighbour religious customs. The Roman religion consisted of numerous ritus and cintus which regulate the religious mos, νόμο, τρόπο of each single religious practice.

Thus the ritu Romano was similar to the Graecus ritus – it was the same as discussed below. We can look at Ludi saeculares (c.a. 204) and Giovanni Pighi in De ludis saecularibus (1965) and the sacrifice in honour of Juno (2nd of June):

praetextis sumptis et coronis [accitis, de Palatino in Capitolium venerunt. […] Dein --- posita corona et p]raetexta, adsistentibus [[Geta Caes.]] et pr. pr. et ceteris v[v. cc., purificatus per publicos XVvirum manus --- retinens manibus]/[dextera --- et la]eva cultrum op[liq. C]otorium et pateram cum vino, retinente pr{a}ecatione[[m Geta Caes.]] immol[avit I]unoni reginae vaccam alb. Graeco Achivo rit[u hac precatione] (155 f., iv, 4ff)

In the very start of the sacrifice the Septimius Severus and the other priests wearing the toga praetexta and laurel wreaths, which is the only Greek element – Greeks when performed sacrifices were always wreathed. The immolatio – the main sacrificial act – was supposed, as stated in the Latin text, to be performed by Graeco Achiuo ritu, Ἀχαϊστί, with the Greek manner. Whoever, as Pighi presents the immolatio of the victim, it seems has nothing to do with the Greek manner of victims immolation. As Scheid states, “to sacrifice Graeco Achino ritu during a festival Graeco ritu, means that you make sacrifices which are mainly very Roman”, and in minor cases the Greek προ-θυσία might be included, nothing else was non-Roman. Therefore it is extremely unsubstantiated to believe that the Roman sacra Graeco ritu was a Greek way of religious praxis (Ελληνικόν έθος).

Resources: John Scheid, (1995), ‘Graeco Ritu: A typically Roman Way of Honoring he Gods’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 97, pp. 15-31.

Giovanni Battista Pighi, (1965), De ludis saecularibus populi romani Quiritium libri sex, (2nd Ed.) (Amsterdam: P. Schippers)

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In the article entitled, The Altar of Pity in the Athenian Agora, by Homer Thompson (Hesperia, vol. 21, no. 1, 1952, pp. 47-82) we read an excellent study on the altar of Pity in the Athenian Agora. Statius (Thebais. xii, ll. 481) talked about the altar and cult of Pity at the Athenian Agora:

Urbe fuit media nulli concessa potentum / Ara deum ; mitis posuit Clementia sedem

The altar of Pity in Athens has been consecrated by the children of Herakles or according to Apollodorus (ii, 8, 1) Herakles’ children took refuge at the altar.

Pausanias (i, 17, 1), claimed that there was no other altar of Pity in Greece except of the one in Athens. According to Αρχαιολογική Εφημερίς (1883, p.150 no, 43) there was another altar of Pity in by the temple of Asklepios in Epidauros which was consecrated after the time of Pausanias.

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I just noted a small passage in Proclus Scholia in Timaios (i, p. 469) has οὐ μακράν τῶν Εὐδανέμων τοῦ βωμοῦ· ὅστις δε μεμύηται ταῖν θεαῖν ἐν Ἐλευσῖνι, οἶδε τῶν Εὐδανέμων τον βωμόν ἐπί τοῦ δαπέδου ὄντα.In short the passage mentions the “altar of Eudamenon” or “the altar of Eudamenoi” that was, whether, a separate altar in Eleusis, or, another title for an altar in Athens. In Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandri (III, 16, 8) placed the altar “not far” from Metroon. According the Greek religiosity an altar of a divinity means that receives offerings and sacrifices. I know that there is a prayer in Eumenides (Eu.938) which asks for Favorable Winds (eudanemoi) who are the bringers of health, wealth and prosperity; however, I am not familiar of any source that claims the existence of an altar at the time of Aeschylus. It seems, therefore, that in the Hellenistic times Athenians altered novel figures into state divinities.

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