In between two columns that represent
the interior of an oikos
stands a woman, reaching to an altar;
a wreath is hung on the wall behind her.
A scene comparable with Menanders
discription of a domestic ritual boundary.
Musée du Louvre CA 1857. © Perseus 1992
For a number of brief posts, the past six years, I discussed elements of the commonly known 'household' worship, supported with primary and secondary sources. In the post with the title Ancient Greek Superstitious Religiosity, the point was made that the religious act within the private space of one's house could easily share the religious feelings as well as the realisation of the ritual's importance of those practised in public. In Purify My Haunted House, discusses a good example of lex carthatica of a common pollution-to-purifcation ritual schema of Greek ritual logic (I am using the term 'schema' after Sourvinou-Inwood, 2011) within the private sphere. In Rural Dionysia for the Aristophanic household religion there is a clear example of how the 'public' festival schemata reinforced the 'private' ritual schema and vice versa. In this brief post I will examine the ritual boundaries of household worship by taking analogically the connection of the sanctuary's creation of 'sacred space'.

As noted above, there is a connection of the 'private' and 'public' religious practice; both reinforced the other with structural principles and modalities. On the issue at hand, the ritual boundaries within the oikos premises could be addressed by the use of the Greek ritual logic and in this case is the pollution-to-purifcation ritual schema. In Morgan (2007) there is a marvellous examination of the creation of 'sacred space' within the domestic spaces. An example via primary sources is Menander's Phasma (20-25); a young man's stepmother, who before she married his father, has had by a neighbour a daughter. The mother wishes to have continual near her the daughter and for that reason she is brought her secretly in the adjoining house, and the party wall between the neighbour's and her husband's house is pierced by a passage with its entrance made to resemble a shrine which she covered with garlands and ribbons. Thus, under the pretext of ritual practice the young man's stepmother was able to enjoyed regular visits by her daughter. The twist in the story is when the stepson saw her daughter and thought that she was a ghost. What we know from scholiasts is that further encounters change terror to love that resulted into a happy marriage. Although a 'romantic' comedy - which I suspect can easily compete all the modern ones - it gives us a good sense of how Greek ritual logic has been used effectively within the oikos - as we can see in Aristophanes' Rural Dionysia at the above URL - for creating a private 'sacred space':

20 [...] πεπόηκεν ἡ γυνὴ
     διελοῦσα τὸν τοῖχον διέξοδόν τινα
     ὅπως ἂν οἷαί τ' ὦσι πάντ' ἐπισκοπεῖν.
     ἡ γὰρ διέξοδος κεκάλυπται ταινίαις
     θαλλοῖς θ' ὅπως μήτις προσελθὼν καταμάθῃ.
25 ἔστιν δὲ καὶ βωμός τις ἔνδον τῆς θεοῦ

Morgan notes that for the ribbons (ταινίαις) was a convenient way for offering the means to underline the 'sacred space'.  In this respect ribbons that are covering the oikos' shrine / altar are "creating a visual and symbolic separation of divine from mortal space within an internal room" (p. 116 n.14). However, how can we validate oikos' 'sacred space' in respect of the 'public' one?  For Morgan, "private ritual boundary has the same validity and serves the same purpose as the public one."  It is obvious that as in the 'public' sanctuaries the 'sacred space' needs to be marked (see Pedley, 2005: 57) and as the civil and sacred 'public' space was inextricable (ibid., 38) the same can be argued for the oikos' 'sacred space'. An example of space distinction can be seen once again in our beloved Aristophanes when tapestries were used to create a dining space for a symposium its required functions in Wasps (1215), "τὰ γόνατ᾽ ἔκτεινε καὶ γυμναστικῶς | ὑγρὸν χύτλασον σεαυτὸν ἐν τοῖς στρώμασιν".

However, the creation of a domestic ritual boundary, which is reserved for household worship requires the, as mentioned above, the pollution-to-purifcation ritual schema or consecration by purification. Morgan states that "[i]n the private context, a family might create boundaries by ritual behaviour rather than physical demarcation," (p. 116) and this ritual behaviour is of purification. The ritual of consecrating an oikos' altar is evident in Euripides, Heracles, (923-930):

       ἱερὰ μὲν ἦν πάροιθεν ἐσχάρας Διὸς
       καθάρσι᾽ οἴκων, γῆς ἄνακτ᾽ ἐπεὶ κτανὼν
925 ἐξέβαλε τῶνδε δωμάτων Ἡρακλέης:
       χορὸς δὲ καλλίμορφος εἱστήκει τέκνων
       πατήρ τε Μεγάρα τ᾽: ἐν κύκλῳ δ᾽ ἤδη κανοῦν
       εἵλικτο βωμοῦ, φθέγμα δ᾽ ὅσιον εἴχομεν.
       μέλλων δὲ δαλὸν χειρὶ δεξιᾷ φέρειν,
930 ἐς χέρνιβ᾽ ὡς βάψειεν, Ἀλκμήνης τόκος
       ἔστη σιωπῇ.

This could have been the common ritual logic of a household worship scene: the circling and purification of the oikos' altar indicates not only a ritual schema but also points to the participants that this area is now marked as sacred.

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood and Robert Parker (2011). Athenian Myths and Festivals; Aglauros, Erechtheus, Plynteria, Panathenaia, Dionysia Oxford University Press DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592074.001.0001

Janett E. Morgan (2007). Space and the notion of final frontier; Searching for ritual boundaries in the Classical Athenian home Kernos, 20, 113-129 DOI:

John Pedley (2005). Sanctuaries and the Sacred in the Ancient Greek World Cambridge University Press : 10.2277/052100635X