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Die Pan-Grotte von Vari
October 2006 (110.4)
Die Pan-Grotte von Vari
By Günther Schörner and Hans Rupprecht Goette. With epigraphical commentary by Klaus Hallof (Schriften zur historischen Landeskunde Griechenlands 1). Pp. xi + 128, figs. 5, pls. 64, maps 5. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2004. €75.80. ISBN 3-8053-3363-3 (cloth).
This detailed and well-illustrated study of the Vari Pan cave grew out of Schörner’s participation in a seminar on “Sanctuaries in Attika” at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Athens in April 1995. The core of the monograph is an updated republication of the finds from the excavation of the cave in 1901 by the American School of Classical Studies (C.H. Weller et al., “The Cave at Vari,” AJA 7  263–349). Unfortunately, in terms of small finds, the authors were limited to what was published and illustrated in 1903, supplemented by sherds and lamps in the collection of the DAI, collected by Wrede in 1921. They were not permitted to study the bulk of the small finds that are stored in the National Museum in Athens. Schörner, the primary author, is responsible for the sections on the cave and the finds. Goette is the author of the first chapter on the topographical context, and he provided the photographs and the new squeezes of the rupestral inscriptions. Since the manuscript was completed in 1997, the book ends with helpful Nachträge citing and commenting on more recent work.
Goette begins with a summary of the sites known in this area of the southern foothills of Mount Hymettos. He concentrates on issues pertinent to the cave and discusses and rejects, on good grounds, Lauter’s suggestion that the cave is not the Pan cave mentioned by Bishop Synesios in a letter of the fifth century A.D. He also, with good argument, rejects Travlos’ view that the Vari farmhouse was a priest’s house for the cave. He notes the settlements, grave precincts, sanctuaries, farmhouses, and rupestral horoi, commenting on their function and identity and locating them on two large-scale maps of the region.
Schörner begins his discussion by taking the reader on a tour of the two-roomed cave, following the path that the ancient visitor would have taken, traversing the western room first. The assumption that a counter-clockwise circuit was the ancient route is not new with Schörner, but if there is still any doubt, his argument should remove it. Along the way, in careful detail, he describes the carvings on the walls, the most unusual feature of this cave, providing measurements and discussing functions. Schörner argues that most of the features in the eastern room are probably the work of the nympholept Archedemos, carved in the second half of the fifth century B.C. He accepts that the relief of the stone carver was a signed self-portrait and suggests that he also carved the seated female figure, whom he believes to be Kybele, correctly noting that despite the Archaic appearance of the work, it too probably dates to the fifth century. In general, Schörner’s observations are acute and careful. A new 1:40-scale plan shows the locations and general design of all the features.
A new contribution is the section detailing modern visits by Westerners to the cave, from Chandler in 1765, the first known Westerner to visit the cave, through Connor and Amandry. Accompanying this section are illustrations from the publications or diaries of the early modern travelers, some published for the first time, including a sketch by Gell of the area of the western room just below the cave mouth, which includes the lion-head carving that no longer remains (pl. 20).
There are full catalogues of the inscriptions from the cave, the eight rupestral inscriptions, five inscriptions on separate blocks, the dedicatory inscriptions on the six Pan and Nymph cave reliefs, and the graffiti on the vases. New in Hallof’s commentary is the reading of Pan as dedicatee, along with the Nymphs, of one of the reliefs (62) and a new stemma for the family of three of the dedicators, one of whom dedicated a second relief. The reliefs are well catalogued and illustrated, including close-ups of the inscriptions.
The 16 terracotta figurines that King illustrated in 1903 are catalogued and provided with better photographs. The pottery is well and concisely summarized. An important addition from the DAI sherds is a krateriskos fragment (91–2, pl. 50.4), so we now know this Artemis-related shape at two Pan and Nymph shrines, the Eleusis cave, and Vari. Also notable is a late sixth-/early fifth-century black-figure lekythos, probably the oldest piece from the cave (90–1, pl. 48.1). Finally, 13 of the 14 Late Roman lamps illustrated by Bassett in 1903 are catalogued and newly photographed. They indicate that the Late Roman use extended from the late third to the sixth, and possibly into the seventh, century.
The two concluding sections deal with the chronology of the cave and the cult practices. Schörner follows the excavators in suggesting that the cult started in the fifth century, perhaps not long after the Battle of Marathon, thus predating the work of Archedemos in the second half of the fifth. Archedemos is thus not the founder of the cult, but he was responsible for the embellishments and perhaps the layout of the shrine and cult and its subsequent popularity in the Late Classical and Early Hellenistic periods. Schörner also follows the excavators in believing the renewed Late Roman cult use to have been Christian rather than pagan, while accepting the seemingly contradictory view, at least to this writer, that the Late Roman use of the Parnes Pan cave was pagan (109).
Schörner envisions the cult to have something of the nature of an initiation cult, involving primarily the Nymphs, in their roles as nature deities and protectors of brides and the young, and Pan. The initiatory elements would include a ritual bath in the western room, descent through the darker portions of that room, and surprise at entering the main part of the shrine, the decorated and votive-laden, lighter eastern room. There, blood offerings were made on the altar next to the Archedemos relief and probably on another as well. A joyous feast was also held, complete with dancing, attended by both men and women; inscriptions indicate that both were dedicators. After the feast the visitors would proceed up the eastern room, depositing their votives as they departed. Some of this is of course speculative, and some of his suggestions seem to be taking the evidence too literally or too far (e.g., that the placement inside the cave of the lex sacra, referring to washing of entrails, implies that the victims were killed inside the cave). Nevertheless, the reconstruction of the ritual is useful, and the arguments are well reasoned and grounded upon the physical evidence.
In sum, although there is not much new here, it is good to see the material well and thoroughly described and illustrated. The book certainly should be in all research libraries, and it will appeal to specialists of Attika and of Greek religion.
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Book Review of Die Pan-Grotte von Vari, by Günther Schörner and Hans Rupprecht Goette
Reviewed by Jere Wickens
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 4 (October 2006)
Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/463