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Milesische Forschungen. Vol. 4, Der Apollon-Delphinios-Kult in Milet und Die Neujahrsprozession nach Didyma: Ein neuer Kommentar Der Sog. Molpoi-Satzung

July 2008 (112.3)

Milesische Forschungen. Vol. 4, Der Apollon-Delphinios-Kult in Milet und Die Neujahrsprozession nach Didyma: Ein neuer Kommentar Der Sog. Molpoi-Satzung

By Alexander Herda. Pp. 541, figs. 22, b&w pls. 6, tables 3, fold-out color map 1. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz am Rhein 2006. €65. ISBN 3-8053-3560-1.

Reviewed by

In producing this long-awaited and badly needed new edition of the so-called Molpoi Decree, Alexander Herda has done us a great service. The decree and the cultic detail it provides would, by themselves, merit the careful research and analysis clearly evident on every page. But far more important, Herda’s masterly reinterpretation of the decree provides us with a richly detailed reconstruction of the major annual festival of one of Ionia’s most prosperous and venerable poleis.

Herda follows, in broad terms, Rehm’s views on the history of the decree’s text, although he is generally inclined to backdate its various elements. Based on the preserved lists of Milesian aisymnetai and close analysis of the decree’s archaic ritual language, Herda posits an original, Late Archaic text preserving details of even older (eighth–seventh century B.C.E.) dromena. This “Kerntext” underwent redactions in the first half of the fifth century B.C.E. Subsequent accretions, identified on the basis of language and epigraphic comparanda, date from the late fourth century to ca. 200 B.C.E. Herda’s careful philological and historical arguments constitute a persuasive refutation of Robertson’s view of the decree as evidence for a complete reorganization of Milesian cult in the Late Archaic period, following the devastating stasis attested by Herodotos (5.29). Rather, on Herda’s interpretation, central portions of this (ostensibly Hellenistic) copy constitute some of our earliest documentary evidence for the organization and conduct of a major polis festival and ritual procession, with details datable to the seventh century B.C.E., and in some cases even older.

Indeed, Herda’s close attention to the dressing of and cuttings on the stone carrying the inscription reveals one index of the decree’s importance to the city’s religious life. The Molpoi Decree, along with other important polis documents (e.g., the list of aisymnetai), was prominently displayed in the shrine of the city’s hauptgott, Apollo Delphinios, where it would stand until the end of pagan Miletos, when these important records of the city’s ancestral religious practices were employed, face-down, as paving elements for the Early Byzantine hall.

On the basis of a fragmentary archaic calendar also found in the Delphinion, and after comparing the calendars of Milesian colonies, Herda concludes, rightly it seems, that the four days listed on the decree (seventh–10th) belong to Taureon, the first month of the Milesian calendar. As the seventh was generally held in reverence as Apollo’s birthday throughout the Greek world, Herda proposes that these four days constituted the major annual Milesian festival of Apollo Delphinios—which simultaneously functioned as the city’s new-year’s festival—which included ceremonies and a procession of both the outgoing and incoming city officials (aisymnetai and prytaneis), as well as the youth of the city (paides, epheboi, neoi). Herda argues that the festivities of the seventh were concerned primarily with the swearing in of the new aisymnetes with the attendant sacrifices and feasting, and perhaps the swearing in of the neoi, that is, those young citizens who had completed their ephebic service. Subsequently, on the eighth and ninth, the prosetairoi of the aisymnetes were sworn in, and the outgoing and incoming aisymnetai sacrificed (and feasted upon) goats and sheep to Apollo, culminating with a sacrifice to Hestia offered by the outgoing aisymnetes in the Molpon, which Herda identifies as none other than the Prytaneion of Miletos.

The predawn hours of the festival’s last day witnessed the hamilleteria, obviously a contest of some sort. Drawing on the well-known literary evidence for choral dance competitions of youths at Apollo festivals elsewhere, especially Sparta, as well as the etymology of “Molpoi” (from molpe—dance), Herda argues at length for interpreting the Milesian hamilleteria as a choral dance contest for the newly sworn-in young citizens of the city, with the two stephanophoroi (old and new aisymnetai) and priest of Apollo as the choregoi (“producers/directors”). In this context, Herda does not adduce evidence from the Panathenaia for other sorts of contests (pyrrhike, eutaxia, euandreia) involving the epheboi.

At some point before the beginning of the procession, two gylloi, or aniconic four-sided stones, were to be set up, one at the shrine of Hekate before the gates at Miletos, the other beside the gates of the shrine at Didyma. Siding with Graf against the influential interpretation of Wilamowitz (and the weight of the ancient evidence, most notably Pausanias), Herda sees these gylloi not as primitive representations of Apollo but as “sacred boundary stones” that establish and protect a numinous axis: the Sacred Way between Miletos and Didyma. We should note that nothing precludes the view that the gylloi could be seen as images of Apollo that created and protected the divine rapport of the Sacred Way. Pritchett’s study (Pausanias Periegetes, vol. 1 [Amsterdam 1999] 99–170) of sacred stone worship is not cited here and would have repaid consultation.

With the rise of the sun began the grand procession from Miletos to Didyma, led by the stephanophoroi in the company of the Basileus. Herda plausibly identifies an aition for this arrangement in a fragment of Nicholas of Damascus that describes the death of the last “real” king of Miletos, Leodamas, and his succession by the first aisymnetes, Epimenes. Whether the story constitutes evidence for a seventh-century B.C.E. procession from Miletos to Didyma, as Herda states, is questionable. Herda relies on Hellenistic inscriptions to fill out further the circle of participants. The involvement of the priests and cult attendants of the other important Milesian deities such as Artemis and Zeus seems highly likely, as does the presence of representatives from the Milesian demos, probably organized by phratry. On the basis of later inscriptions, Herda envisions these representatives organized into yet more chorai of youths and maidens.

The inscription lists seven ritual way stations, mostly sanctuaries or statues, on the route to Didyma: Hekate before the Sacred Gate, at Dynamis, at Akron near the Nymphs, Hermes at Kelados, at (Apollo?) Phylios, by the Horned One (Apollo again?), and finally “by the statue of Chares” at the Gates of Didyma. At each of these, the participants stopped, danced, and raised the paian to Apollo, and in two instances, at Phylios and at Keraiites, these hymns are specified as “beside the altar,” raising the likelihood of a sacrifice. For each of these sites, Herda provides rich commentary, illuminating the reason for each deity’s inclusion, and where archaeological evidence is available, the site of the station. Hekate was also worshipped at Apollo’s shrine in Miletos and was apparently conceptually related as well, Hekate bearing the “light” epithets Phosphoros and Hypolampteira in Miletos. Herda sees Dynamis as the personification of the authority of the Milesian magistrates who led the procession. The Nymphs, near Akron at the height of the processional way, received their honors as the nourishers and protectors of the youth who accompanied the procession, as did Hermes at Kelados, which Herda interprets as a statue of Hermes in the sanctuary of the river god Kelados. Herda posits the mysterious Phylios as a manifestation of Apollo “of the Phyle,” whose choruses honored him with their song, while Horned Apollo received his song and sacrifices as a god concerned with the initiation of the newly enrolled citizen youths (neoi). Finally, the procession reached Didyma, a statue of Chares, a particularly famous local archaic potentate of the Milesian fortress of Teichioussa, and culminated with a sacrifice at the altar of Apollo Didymeus. From at least the year 206/5 onward, the Milesians elevated this final stage to another festival in its own right, called every fifth year the Didymeia, and in the four intervening years, the Bo(i)egia.

Although Herda necessarily relies heavily on inference in this reconstruction of events, his careful attention to the actual words of the inscription (especially the technical, cultic vocabulary) regularly produces strong hypotheses. For example, focusing on the term orgia in line 4 and adducing regional epigraphic and literary parallels lead to the conclusion that the Molpoi of Miletos were not, as Wilamowitz had proposed, a society of sacred singers or dancers, nor dancing priests like the Roman salii, but rather the orgiones/oregones of Apollo Delphinios in Miletos. Herda’s careful philological work also more fully explains the role of the Onitadai, who are responsible for the preparation and cooking of the sacrificial meat (mageiroi), as a separate cult association of “Theban” Herakles, whose altar and shrine Herda places within that of Apollo at Didyma. Likewise, it seems highly plausible that we are to understand the stephanophoroi mentioned in certain contexts as the outgoing and incoming aisymnetai, acting as “Opferherrn” in the various sacrifices. Much less certain to my mind is Herda’s apparent conclusion that the inscription’s prosetairoi were in fact the prytaneis of Miletos, who along with the eponymous aisymnetes also constituted the membership of the Molpoi. Although nothing in the language of the inscription prevents us from making such a surmise, it remains precisely that, and although repeated in a variety of contexts, Herda does not formally lay out an argument for this identification at any point. Such evidence as we have from other sacred associations does not suggest that their membership was restricted to sitting state officials.

In other instances, Herda does not cite evidence from Athenian or Ionian contexts that might reinforce and/or improve his reconstruction(s), regularly preferring Doric comparanda. The most striking instance comes in his argument for identifying the Molpon (a contracted form of “Molpeion”) as the Prytaneion, where the aisymnetai, prosetairoi, and neoi feasted after each day’s ceremonial. Herda somewhat puzzlingly adduces the Doric syssitia from Naukratis and the Cretan poleis here. But the well-known Athenian ephebic inscriptions (e.g., IG 22 1011 line 5, etc.) show the Athenian epheboi, in the company of their overseer and the priest of the demos, witnessing the annual inaugural sacrifices (eisiteteria) at Hestia’s hearth in the Prytaneion. While the Athenian ephebic inscriptions all date from the Hellenistic period, Herda does not shy away from relying heavily on later evidence in other contexts. Likewise, in his otherwise excellent discussion of Apollo Keraiites, Herda makes no mention of the Horned Altar of Apollo on Delos, again preferring comparanda from the Peloponnesos and islands. Perhaps least convincing of all is his attempted reinterpretation of the term Boegia, in light of two Spartan glosses in Hesychius (s.v. “Boua” and “Bouagor”). Instead of referring to the leading or driving of sacrificial cattle to Didyma, Herda assures us that Boegia in Miletos refers not to leading of cattle but to a “group of youths” who will perform in the agon at Didyma.

Most of these are relatively minor issues of detail and interpretation that should not distract us from Herda’s considerable achievement. Epigraphers and scholars of Greek religion will find valuable and often new insights on almost every page of this fine volume, which should be carried by all research libraries.

Matthew Gonzales
Department of Classics
Saint Anselm College
Manchester, New Hampshire 03102

Book Review of Milesische Forschungen. Vol. 4, Der Apollon-Delphinios-Kult in Milet und Die Neujahrsprozession nach Didyma, by Alexander Herda

Reviewed by Matthew Gonzales

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 112, No. 3 (July 2008)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1123.Gonzales

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