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?

Patton explores the possibilities with an impressive theoretical investigation. It is one of the very few such scholarly material, which methodologically brings a far-reaching change towards the established presumptions of ancient Greek religiosity and religiousness. Via the use of Hegelian reflexivity; this is revealed through the function of the principle of Being-for-self (Fürsichsein) throughout the various processes of Logic – a needed methodological tool in the course of speculative discourse analysis. This fundamental re-evaluation of the established theoretical hypothesis on divinities performing ritualistic praxis brings a well balanced theoretical answer. It also provides a theoretical escape rout from the established theoretical hypothesis that caused the problem: the premise that the sacrificing Gods’ depictions replicate a particular ‘religious idea’. An ‘idea’ that produces a position towards ritual, which is not completely clear to us today, for the simple reason, that the Greeks did not felt the need to clarify their actions and thoughts.

The author includes a list of documented iconography of sacrificing Gods. The research gives also comparative examples from the Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian and other polytheistic and monotheistic religions. Patton is, therefore, very near to provide an answer to my initial question: what these depictions mean? The answer surely is a surprising revelation: “high gods pour out wine, they are in fact acting religiously through, on behalf of, and because of themselves” (p.13) The question that follows is how that is possible as all sacrifices need a recipient; a recipient who stand higher than the donor so that could be propitiated or worshipped. The author gives a remarkable, but at the same time, simple answer: the sacrificing Gods and, thus, their religious praxis is not directed towards a higher being than themselves, because simply religion itself belongs to the Gods. Accordingly, They perform libations and sacrifices as Gods, and this divine practice does not intend to venerate the ‘other’ – as a human worshipper will do – but, on the contrary, the god’s ‘self’ as the source of religion and not the participants – a clear proof of Their omnipotence.

Patton beautifully put it in one phrase, which reads “as the gods, so religiousness” (p.314), these depictions of divinities’ ritualistic performance were, for the ancient Greeks, a “deliberate portrayal of the omnipotent gods as ritually self-sufficient and paradigmatic” (p.315). Finally, I am confident that the author provided a theoretically valid explanation, an answer to this problem; an answer that is both derived by a radical methodological approach, and falsified by the boundless use of sources and iconographical evidences. With a rich conclusive remark, Patton, ends the book: “[a]nomalous, selftransmuting, and utterly real, they bring rather an iconic challenge to our limited imaginations” (p.316). This book, unquestionably, is one exhilarating, thought-provoking and extremely informative scholarly literature that I read on this subject.