Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.2.10

Björn Forsen, Griechische Gliederweihungen. Eine Untersuchung zu ihrer Typologie und ihrer religions- und sozialgeschichtlichen Bedeutung. Helsinki: Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens, vol. 4, 1996. Pp. ii + 225, 115 figs. FIM 250. ISBN 951-95295-5-1.

Reviewed by Angelos Chaniotis, New York University, Department of Classics.

F(orsen)s book deals with an interesting group of dedications, commonly known as anatomical votives. The anatomical votives represent diseased body parts healed or expected to be cured by a deity.1 These dedications have not attracted the scholarly interest they deserve2 despite their ubiquity in the ancient and modern Mediterranean world and their obvious significance for religious studies and -- to some extent -- for the history of medicine.3 Anatomical votives were made from a variety of materials (wax, wood, silver, stone, terracotta) and in a variety of forms (relief, sculpture in the round, painting). In his book (originally a dissertation at the University of Helsinki) F. catalogues only the relief dedications on stone found in the Aegean world (mainland Greece, the Aegean Islands, and the Greek colonies of Asia Minor) from the 4th cent. BCE to the 2nd cent CE. Nevertheless, in the discussion of this material he considers all the other known types of anatomical votives.

After a brief presentation of the history of the relevant scholarship (I, pp. 1-7) F. discusses those representations of body parts which should not be regarded as anatomical votives (II, pp. 9-27), such as weights with representations of female breasts, representations of ears which allude to the invocation of epekooi theoi,4 representations of hands raised in prayer, and images of footprints as symbols of the permanent presence of a deity or a worshipper. 171 stone reliefs representing sick body parts (eyes, hands, arms, legs, genitals, breasts) are catalogued in detailed lemmata (III, pp. 29-104). Most dedications (111 pieces) are known from various sanctuaries in Attika, primarily from the Asklepieion (49 pieces) and the sanctuaries of Zeus Hypsistos (23 pieces) and Aphrodite at Dafni (9 pieces). Another major group are the still unpublished dedications found recently in the sanctuary of Artemis Kyparissia in Sparta (16 pieces) and the 16 votives known from various sites on Paros. Isolated attestations are known from other sites in the Peloponnese (Epidauros and Kalamata), Thessaly (Demetrias, Pherai, Vendelos, and Gonnoi), the islands (Mytilene, Samos, Kos, Rhodes, Delos, Melos, Crete), and coastal cities of Asia Minor (Ilion, Pergamon, and Smyrna). In this admirably complete catalogue F. has also included lost dedications, known only from old excavation reports. F.'s descriptions of the votives are detailed and usually accurate;5 his study of the inscriptions led to a series of convincing emendations (nos 1.5, 1.6, 1.23, 1.36, 1. 38, 1.48, 20.1, 29.2, 33.2).

The catalogue is followed by three chapters devoted to the systematic discussion of the material. In the first chapter (IV, pp. 105-131) F. summarizes the basic characteristics of the stone anatomical votives (material, form, size, decoration, colors, manner of display, inscriptions), presents useful statistics for the body parts represented in them, and discusses their geographical and chronological distribution. The preponderance of the Attic material suggests that this particular type of anatomical votive originates in Athens, probably in the period of the great building programs and the flourishing sculptors' workshops (5th/4th cent.). Indeed, the stone votives seem to have been popular in areas and periods in which the production of other marble artifacts (e.g., sarcophagi) prospered. They disappear in the 3rd cent. CE, possibly because of an economic crisis. The stone ex-votos co-existed with other types of anatomical dedications in the Eastern Mediterranean. Anatomical votives made of metal are attested as early as the 7th cent. BCE (Artemision of Ephesos); they are predominant among the votives listed in the Athenian inventories of the 3rd cent. Terracotta votives are known predominantly from Korinth (5th-4th cent.); they are more closely connected with the stone reliefs than with the terracotta votives of Central Italy, which are characterized by a display of accurate anatomical details. The representations of diseased body parts in Anatolian reliefs (especially in Lydia and Phrygia) should be seen in connection with the 'propitiatory inscriptions' (see note 3). Finally, the various groups of Cypriot votives (sculpture in the round, painting, and relief) form a distinct category with unusual features, such as the representation of the dedicants with raised hands or with offerings.

The next chapter (V, pp. 133-159) discusses the divinities to whom the anatomical votives were addressed. A weakness of this otherwise useful discussion of the deities and their sanctuaries6 is the too formalistic division of the deities into those who preside over birth and women ("Geburts- und Frauengottheiten": Artemis, Aphrodite, the Nymphs, Demeter and Kore) and those who protect health ("Heilgottheiten": Asklepios, Amynos, Heros Iatros, Amphiaraos, Zeus, Herakles, Apollon, Athena). The reader will not be surprised that at the end of the chapter (p. 157) F. admits that the line which divides these two groups does not really exist. More convincing is the rejection of the old view that certain deities were 'specialized' in the cure of particular diseases.

In the last chapter (VI, pp. 161-174) F. discusses the gender of the dedicants and attempts to determine their social position through a cautious use of the onomastic material.7 His conclusion that women are more strongly representated in sanctuaries of goddesses and that the dedicants did not come only from the lower social strata is convincing (but not very surprising). The book concludes with a summary (pp. 175-180), an admirably complete bibliography, concordances, indices, and excellent photographs.

Forsen offers a meticulous and judicious treatment of a neglected, but central aspect of ancient religious mentality, which should interest the historians of religion, society, medicine, and art. His book will be the basic work of reference on the anatomical votives for the years to come.


1. On the contrary, F. assumes that all votives were dedicated after a healing (p. 133: "als Dank für eine Genesung"; cf. p. 107). However, dedications (especially those labelled as "vows") could also be made in expectation of divine help, as the formulaic expression EU)CA/MENOS KAI\ E)PITUXW=N (as opposed to the simple EU)CA/MENOS) indicates. An actual (or imaginary) cure is clearly expressed by phrases such as EU)XARI/STW=, (KATA)TUXW=N, THERAPEUTHEI/S et sim. Cf. nos. 8.20, 10.2, 11.2, 13.1, 16.1, 18.1, 19.1.

2. The most important study is still F. T. van Straten's, "Gifts for the Gods", in H. S. Versnel (ed.), Faith, Hope, and Worship. Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World, Leiden 1981, 65-151; cf. S. B. Aleshire, The Athenian Asklepieion, Amsterdam 1989.

3. For this latter aspect, not discussed by F., see A. Chaniotis, "Illness and Cures in the Greek propitiatory inscriptions and dedications of Lydia and Phrygia", in H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, Ph. J. van der Eijk, and P. H. Schrijvers (eds.), Ancient Medicine in its Socio-Cultural Context. Papers Read at the Congress Held at Leiden University, 13-15 April 1992, Amsterdam-Atlanta 1995, vol. II, 323-344.

4. On these representations see also F. Kayser, "Oreilles et couronnes. À propos des cultes de Canope", BIFAO 91, 1992, 207-217.  

5. Notice, however, that a dedication from the Athenian Asklepieion (p. 47, no. 1.37) is described as the right leg of a man, whereas a look at the relief (fig. 31) shows that the relief represents the lower part of the body of a man, including his genitals. The difference of this relief from other representations of legs (e.g., fig. 32-34, 36-43, 51, 64, 112) justifies the suspicion that it was not the health of his right leg that the dedicant was concerned about.  

6. I single out a few bibliographical omissions: on the sanctuary of Herakles Pankrates (p. 59f., no. 7.1) see also E. Tagalidou, Weihreliefs an Herakles aus klassischer Zeit, Jonsered 1993, 159-165; on the Pheraian sanctuary of Artemis Ennodia (p. 88, no. 18.1) see P. Chrysostomou, H( THESSALIKH\ THEA\ E)N(N)ODIA FERAIA THEA/, Thessalonike 1991; on the Thesmophoria (p. 142) see the important study of H. S. Versnel, Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion. 2. Transition and Reversal in Myth and Ritual, Leiden 1994, 235-260. F. follows the old view that the cult of Zeus Hypsistos was influenced by or originated in Judaism; see, however, P. R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor, Cambridge 1991, 127-144; cf. M. Paz de Hoz, "Theos Hypsistos in Hierokaisareia", Epigr. Anat. 18, 1991, 75-77.  

7. The assumption that the metronymic in p. 97 no. 30.1 (Paros) suggests that the dedicant was an illegitimate child is more reasonable than the assumption that she was a slave. For metronymics see A. B. Tataki, Ancient Beroea. Prosopography and Society, Athens 1988, 433-435.