By Giorgos Despinis (Library of the Archaeological Society of Athens 268). Pp. 172, pls. 45. Archaeological Society of Athens, Athens 2010. Price not available. ISBN 978-960-8145-82-5 (paper).
In fall 2011, the accidental discovery of a wonderfully preserved wooden peplophoros in a rich deposit at the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia underscored once again for specialists and laymen alike that the investigation of the famous rural sanctuary on the east coast of Attica is far from over (see the official press release by the Greek Ministry of Culture from 3 October 2011; www.yppo.gr/2/g22.jsp?obj_id=47312). In the last few years, the systematic publication of the excavations initiated by Ioannis K. Papademetriou in the 1950s has witnessed a veritable resurgence (e.g., V. Mitsopoulos-Leon, Βραυρών: Die Tonstatuetten aus dem Heiligtum der Artemis Brauronia: Die frühen Statuetten 7. bis 5. Jh. v. Chr. [Athens 2009]). Despinis’ work toward the forthcoming publication of the catalogue of sculptures in marble from the excavations at Brauron has resulted in important discoveries that significantly expand scholarly knowledge of the sanctuary and its cult. The volume reviewed here brings together seven essays (in Greek) published between 1994 and 2006—five originally published in German, one in Greek, and one in Italian. In the brief preface, Despinis states that this translation targets a Greek-speaking public of archaeologists, students of archaeology, and interested laymen. But there is much to be gained by the first-ever monographic study of sculptural dedications and cult statues from Brauron. The benefit is compounded by the inclusion of two essays on the Brauronion on the Athenian Acropolis, thus reaffirming the now established methodological norm of studying in tandem the cultic and social interconnections between these two sanctuaries.
The first section of the volume contains five articles, two of which address categories of monuments (the cult statues of Artemis at Brauron, a small group of votive marble plaggonai), whereas the rest tackle interpretive issues of specific sculptures: the “relief of the gods” (Brauron, Archaeological Museum of Brauron, inv. no. ΕΛ 12/ΝΕ 1180), the fragmentary round Altar of Dionysos (Brauron, Archaeological Museum of Brauron, inv. no. ΝΕ 1177), and the votive relief of Aristonike (Brauron, Archaeological Museum of Brauron, inv. nos. 5, 1151). The second section has two essays that deal with the classical statue of the Acropolis Brauronion. Throughout, Despinis brings to light new evidence (e.g., significant fragments that complement existing monuments or add to the Brauronian corpus of specific categories); he thus revisits old theories and interpretations correcting old misunderstandings or bringing forth new, and often convincing, insights about the nature of these monuments and their cultic significance.
The first chapter is a thorough analysis of epigraphic and archaeological evidence regarding the cult statues of Artemis at her sanctuary in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. The Acropolis Brauronion lists are of primary importance in this discussion, as they refer to realities of the sanctuary at Brauron. These texts contain terms referring to at least five statues (“ἄγαλμα ὀρθόν” or “ἑστηκός,” “ἄγαλμα,” “ἕδος,” “λίθινον,” “ἕδος ἀρχαῖον”) but Despinis also publishes substantial, yet fragmentary, evidence for the existence of at least four acrolithic statues. These were often clothed with dazzling multicolored garments of many types—undoubtedly all woven with pride and great craft by the Athenian devotees of Artemis (see L. Cleland, The Brauron Clothing Catalogues: Text, Analysis, Glossary, and Translation. BAR-IS 1428 [Oxford 2005]). The largest acrolithic image was three-times-life-sized, and Despinis tentatively identifies it with the epigraphically attested “ἄγαλμα” in an inscription dated to 343/2 B.C.E. The others cannot be easily identified with those attested in the epigraphic testimonia. Neither is there any concrete evidence for the original setting of all these images of Artemis within the cultic topography of the sanctuary. A few of them may have been housed, as Despinis suggests, in a space or structure named “Pa]rthenon” mentioned in an inscription of the third century B.C.E.—his suggestion that it once stood in the location of the chapel south of the temple needs systematic investigation (44). Perhaps the forthcoming publication of the still unpublished inscriptions from the Brauron excavations by Peppa-Delmouzou could clarify things further.
Despinis’ discussion of the famous “relief of the gods” cogently argues for the restoration of its missing part with a deer-drawn chariot carrying Iphigenia and Orestes—they arrive at Brauron with the Tauric xoanon attested in ancient sources. The evidence for restoring this relief with this iconographically unparalleled theme is circumstantial, notwithstanding Despinis’ convincing identification of the fine female head on a fragment in the Brauron Museum (inv. no. 1179) with the head of the female passenger of the restored chariot. Despinis’ proposal, however, needs careful attention, especially in view of his consideration of the relief as an immediate response to Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris (1446–85), in which the xoanon is clearly associated with the rival cult of Artemis Tauropolos at nearby Halai Araphenides. A concomitant dimension of Despinis’ proposal is the identification of the striding female figure with Artemis. This has much in its favor, no matter who the passenger of the chariot was: Artemis, the goddess of the sanctuary, occupies the axial position of the relief while she shares the company of Apollo and Leto to her right. Of equal importance regarding the visual ambience of the sanctuary is Despinis’ tentative contextualization of the relief within a rock-carved niche somewhere within the sanctuary. Despinis cites numerous comparanda for this practice but no evidence from the sanctuary itself, whose geological history features natural and man-made destructions. Regardless, Despinis’ discussion makes it clear that the relief was not found in its original setting.
In chapter 3, Despinis revisits the very fragmentary round altar of Dionysos, the badly preserved figurative decoration of which has to do with one more mythoreligious arrival. A rather tame Dionysos, a φιλοξενούμενος θεός at Brauron according to Despinis (101), is depicted arriving at Artemis’ sanctuary in a rather solemn procession lead by Hermes. Inscriptions/labels in various states of preservation or legibility help identify many participants in Dionysos’ retinue, among which Despinis recognizes the Hours (Hores), Charites, nymphs, and a Silenos, whose head is partially preserved in a fragment Despinis located in the museum (93–4). Despinis identified in the museum one more fragment of the round altar with remnants of the face and the myrtle-crowned head of a nymph (92–4), a companion to a relatively well-preserved seated figure that exemplifies well the archaistic style of the relief. Despinis does not exhaust the numerous questions raised by this very important monument, for which he proposes a date of ca. 400 B.C.E. Its size, shape, and decoration bespeak its unique significance for the spatial configuration of performative events that tied together the cult of Artemis with that of Dionysos. Unfortunately, the evidence is not sufficient for recontextualizing the relief within the sanctuary. Despinis may be correct in proposing that this altar may attest a close relationship between the sanctuary at Brauron and the rural sanctuary of Dionysos at nearby Halai Araphenides (102).
In chapter 4, Despinis probes questions surrounding the relief of Aristonike, the wife of a wealthy Athenian, Antiphates from Thorai, a deme on the southwest coast of Attica located northwest of Anaphlystos. Although Antiphates is attested as a co-trierarch in 356 B.C.E., there is a paucity of sources regarding his aristocratic spouse and their family. Despinis turns to the relief itself for specific information regarding the composition of the family at the moment of the dedication. His method amounts to a visual prosopography of sorts, as the rendering of individual figures on the relief is differentiated enough to allow the identification of individual members of the family. Despinis sees Antiphates and Aristonike leading the sacrificial procession, followed by their sons with wives and children, and finally their daughter with baby and beardless husband, a cist-bearing female trailing the procession at its end. Despinis’ identification is very convincing. This family portrait is a social statement asserting both the piety and the formidable status of Aristonike’s family. The gesture is grand—a sacrifice of a bull, which is obviously welcomed and encouraged by Artemis. One wonders about the occasion of the event recorded in this relief. Could it be somehow related to the arkteia of the older girl depicted in front of Aristonike? Despinis’ discussion proves that reliefs like the dedication of Aristonike were specialized commissions, rendered from scratch according to the requirements of patrons.
The last article of this section (ch. 5) focuses on a marble statuette of a young female (Brauron, Archaeological Museum of Brauron, inv. no. ΓΕ86+1140/ΝΕ 1233) that Despinis convincingly recognizes as a plaggon, a type of sculpture paralleled only by a somewhat smaller figure in Berlin. He also tentatively identifies two more fragments from the Brauron excavations with minuscule plaggonai, one preserving only the torso, the other only the Early Classical head of a female—an exquisite piece of staggering beauty. Perhaps the newly discovered wooden peplophoros mentioned above was a plaggon as well, one of numerous figures of this type that in antiquity would have made up the main bulk of dedications to Artemis at Brauron.
The second part of the book takes the reader to the Brauronion on the Acropolis of Athens. In chapter 6, Despinis brings forth uncontroversial evidence that sets the record straight about a colossal marble head from the Acropolis. Until recently, this head was misidentified as a figure discovered south of the Theater of Dionysos in 1953 (Athens, Acropolis Museum, inv. no. 13601). Despinis proves instead that it was found in 1839 in the immediate vicinity of the Altar of Athena Hygieia (the correct Acropolis Museum inv. no. is 1352). His analysis is a paradigmatic case of historiographic deconstruction that reintroduces to scholarship an important, yet relatively neglected, piece of sculpture. Despinis argues against the identification of this piece with Dionysos, suggesting instead that the figure depicts Artemis, which he dates to the third quarter of the fourth century. Moreover, he goes one step further in his proposal that this head belonged to an acrolithic image, not unlike those he discussed in his chapter on the cult statues, which he argues is the cult statue of Artemis Pausanias witnessed at the Athenian Brauronion. The suggestion is plausible, but the evidence is rather circumstantial, even if one takes into account the acrolithic statues of Artemis at Brauron. In the final essay of the volume, Despinis conjectures the existence of a temple inside the temenos of the Acropolis Brauronion, the home of Artemis’ cult statue; there is no evidence provided to support this interesting hypothesis.
This compilation in one elegant and well-illustrated volume of Despinis’ articles on the cult of Artemis at Brauron and the Athenian Acropolis is an important scholarly contribution. His scope is broad and nuanced, whereas his rich and multifaceted insights illuminate important aspects of cult and ritual practice at Brauron. Throughout the volume, Despinis often stresses how much of the archaeological evidence at Brauron is still unpublished (e.g., architecture, inscriptions). This volume sets a great paradigm of publication, as it helps readers bring the sanctuary to life. We eagerly anticipate the publication of his forthcoming catalogue of the sculptures in marble from the Brauron excavations.
Department of Art and Art History
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas 78712