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Aspects of Ancient Greek Cult: Context, Ritual and Iconography

Aspects of Ancient Greek Cult: Context, Ritual and Iconography

Edited by Jesper Tae Jensen, George Hinge, Peter Schultz, and Bronwen Wickkiser (Aarhus Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity 8). Pp. 250, b&w figs. 37, color figs. 22, tables 11, plans 7. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus 2009. $48. ISBN 978-87-7934-253-8 (cloth).

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This volume publishes papers given at a conference held in Aarhus, Denmark, in January 2004, which dealt with diverse aspects of ancient Greek cult. The participants were mainly younger scholars of different nationalities, organized by Jesper Tae Jensen and led by the Nestor-like figure of Richard Hamilton. There are eight papers altogether, seven of which (in English) were given at the conference, while the eighth (in German) by Papaefthymiou was not. Subjects range widely between the iconography of votive reliefs, an ethnological perspective on ancient Greek music, and the cultic persona of the partheneia of Spartan lyric poetry. But the emphasis is principally on the history and architectural development of the cult place of Asklepios on the south side of the Athenian Acropolis (three papers taking up 70 pages), followed by a single enlarged (also 70-page) article by Schultz on the images and ideology of the Philippeion at Olympia. Five years have passed since the conference, and many of the papers have already appeared elsewhere in different formats, but their collection here preserves the record of a successful event.

An introductory paper by Bredholt Christiansen carefully examines the meaning and usage of the word “cult” in the history of religion and archaeology, noting that whereas it hardly occurs in religion (where “ritual” is preferred), it abounds in archaeology and ancient history, perhaps on account of their greater social focus. This conclusion, while of some mild interest in itself, has little impact on the approach of the other contributors. Hamilton’s paper (“Basket Case: Altars, Animals and Baskets on Classical Attic Votive Reliefs”) adopts the lighthearted approach evidenced in the title, which is intended to counterbalance the statistical analysis he employs to discover the relationship between worshipers, altars, animals, and kistai (high-sided baskets) on marble votive reliefs. He supplies a useful appendix listing the many categories of relief that he has considered, but illustrations are seriously lacking, and it is indeed a mathematical exercise to attempt to validate his conclusion. The kiste, it seems, is little more than an attractive visual complement to the scene, and it is in no way essential to the offering that is represented by the votive.

In the first of the papers on the Asklepieion, Wickkiser questions a widespread belief that the importation of the cult of Asklepios to Athens in 420 B.C.E. was mainly owing to the devastation caused by the plague of 430–426. She finds the six-year gap before the introduction of the cult surprising and points out that the ailments normally treated by the god were chronic ones (e.g., ulcers, stomach problems) rather than fatal conditions such as plague. She suggests that other wartime factors may have been responsible for the introduction, including the possibility that Athens imported Epidauros’ signature cult as a way of opening diplomatic relations with a city whose geographical location made it critical to Athenian success against Peloponnesian aggression. The following paper (“Der Altar des Asklepieions von Athen”), by Papaefthymiou, gives a concise account of the layout of the Asklepieion from the time of its founding by the private individual Telemachos in 420–19 and then focuses on the results of the excavation carried out by Papaefthymiou in 2001 on the remains of the so-called altar in the eastern terrace of the sanctuary. She concludes that the surviving blocks do indeed belong to the altar, as probably rebuilt in Augustan times.

This identification and interpretation is challenged by Lefantzis and Tae Jensen in their joint paper, “The Athenian Asklepieion on the South Side of the Akropolis: Early Development c. 420–360 BC.” They argue that the eastern terrace was indeed the site of the original Asklepieion of Telemachos but that the central monument reexcavated in 2001 was not the altar but the remains of another early structure going back to 418/17–416/15. Thereafter, they identify at least four distinct phases of construction; but for reasons that are not fully explained, they give details of only the first two here. Their arguments rest on new and careful analyses of the cuttings and dressings of the surviving foundation blocks from which they deduce the form of the original structure as well as a second arrangement that supplied the modules for a regular plan of the whole sanctuary in the late fifth century. There is no clear indication of what they suppose this structure to have been, but hints in the text (110 n. 14) suggest it was the first small temple in timber, which was then depicted in simple fashion on the double relief panel of the Telemachos monument. Further elucidation must await the publication of the remaining phases elsewhere.

Schultz (“Divine Images and Royal Ideology in the Philippeion at Olympia”) develops his previous recently published work on the remains of the statue base in the Olympia Museum. According to Pausanias, this once supported five portraits in gold and ivory (by Leochares of Athens) of Philip II of Macedon, his parents (Amyntas and Eurydike), his son Alexander, and (probably) Alexander’s mother (Olympias), which were displayed in a tholos built just inside the sacred Altis to celebrate the Macedonian victory over mainland Greece at Chaironeia in 338 B.C.E. Schultz examines the possibility that these portraits provided the impetus for the long subsequent sequence of divinized ruler portraits in Hellenistic sculpture. He approaches the question from three aspects: patron and sculptor, composition and appearance, and finally their setting within the curving architecture of the building. With regard to patronage, Schultz takes issue with previous scholars who have given the completion of the project, if not the whole undertaking, to Alexander rather than Philip. He argues from the evidence of the Parian marble type used for the curving base and some of the tholos architecture, from the tooling and from the size of clamp cuttings, that the group was of a single build, with no evidence of a break or a two-phased construction. He concludes (correctly, in my view) that the monument and its five portrait statues were ordered by Philip and completed by the time of his assassination in 336. Close similarities between the base and crown moldings of the Olympia statue base and wall moldings of the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea point to a common link via Leochares and Skopas back to the Maussolleion at Halikarnassos, from whose sculptures Schultz sees possible inspiration for the Olympia group.

Turning to the composition and appearance of the group, Schultz affirms his previous view that the cuttings for the plinths on top of the base are suitable only for marble statues and that Pausanias got it wrong when he claimed they were chryselephantine. He correctly deduces that Philip stood in the center of the group opposite the doorway, flanked by Alexander and Olympias to the viewer’s left and Amyntas and Eurydike to the right. On the evidence of a Eurydike statue from Vergina, he argues that the style of the female statues would have been retrospective Atticizing, like the Eirene of Kephisodotos (but not, it should be noted, influenced by the female portraits of the Maussolleion). For the appearances of the male portraits, he can only indulge in informed speculation, maintaining that Philip would have been suitably divinized and Zeus-like, on the slight evidence for his cult at Philippi and elsewhere, while he argues at some length for Alexander being represented nude in one of the versions of the Alexander Doryphoros. No account is taken, surprisingly, of the possible Argead portraits from the royal tombs at Vergina, nor does he discuss the considerable height of the base on which the statues were set.

With regard to the setting of the portraits inside a circular building, Schultz suggests that the Philippeion itself might be regarded as a theatron and that comparable rounded architectural structures became regular galleries for the display of what he calls “heroic, semi-divine or divine figures” (158)—a noteworthy watering down of the terminology in the paper’s title. He concludes that if, as is likely, the door of the Philippeion faced east, “a Zeus-like Philip and his heroic family standing on axis with Zeus’s altar would have left little to the imagination” (163). This is a lively and provocative paper that convinces early on but becomes increasingly speculative. He does not yet quite succeed in making the case for the Philippeion images standing at the fountainhead of Hellenistic royal portraits.

The final two papers consider cult with reference to music and lyric. Tvarnø Lind (“Music and Cult in Ancient Greece: Ethnomusicological Perspectives”) argues for an interdisciplinary and creative approach to the study of ancient Greek music, including musical reconstruction. With regard to ethnomusicology, he reviews the impact of cultural understanding, identity processes, and postcolonialism on modern perceptions of ancient music and ritual. Hinge completes the volume with an impressive study of the fragments of Alcman’s lyric Partheneia from Sparta. Contrary to common opinion, he maintains that the girls who are named in the poems were not person-specific but were generic roles, kept within an oral tradition and linked to kinship in the Spartan tribes and villages. He argues that it was not until the late third century B.C.E. that they were collected and first published by Alexandrian scholars.

The volume overall is well researched, full of good ideas, attractively presented, and a credit to the interdisciplinary program of the Centre for the Study of Antiquity at Aarhus.

Geoffrey B. Waywell
Department of Classics
King’s College London
London WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

Book Review of Aspects of Ancient Greek Cult: Context, Ritual and Iconography, edited by Jesper Tae Jensen, George Hinge, Peter Schultz, and Bronwen Wickkiser

Reviewed by Geoffrey B. Waywell

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 2 (April 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1152.Waywell

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