Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.10.23

Anne-Françoise Jaccottet, Choisir Dionysos. Les associations dionysiaques ou la face cachée du dionysisme. Vol. I: Text; II: Documents.   Zürich:  Akanthus, 2003.  Pp. 207; 367.  ISBN 3-905083-18-3.  EUR 85.00.  

Reviewed by William Slater (
Word count: 3467 words

Dionysus is a more productive source of imagery than any other ancient divinity, and has been enjoying a boom market as the post-modern god. Analysts have been gushing about our inability to stop him travelling, our paradoxical incapacity to tie him down long enough to be analyzed; classical pundits have celebrated his diversity, his ambiguity, his resistance to rules or classification; his followers, even the stolidi Batavi, have got together in enthusiastic thiasoi to talk up the market. And there is much to talk about. When their patron has not been penetrating the city or the Other, he has been disestablishing the oikos, fudging genders and genres, and getting up to all sorts of ultramodern academic tricks. We remember wistfully the simpler if equally wrongheaded days of Gernet, when he could be hailed as the great promoter of democracy, the dispenser of egalité and fraternité, or just the Great Mediator. Truly a god for all seasons and academic fashions. But while the itinerant priests of the postmodern may outdo each other in their hymnal stylings: "On le recontre partout et il n'est nulle part chez lui", perhaps it is time to moderate our enthusiasm and ask where the ubiquitous chap really has got to. The enigmatic nomadic and incoercible (2.332) -- are we running out of words, even in Cambridge? -- certainly cannot be confined within the covers of even a large two volume book.

And perhaps the frenzy is abating. This dissertation under the art historian Bérard, noted for his often impenetrable semiotics, has a solid and sober theme: the epigraphic evidence for Dionysiac associations, collected in volume 2, while the general analysis is mainly in volume 1. This format works rather well, since one can operate with both volumes open, and the sensible layout in double columns with footnotes at the bottom of the pages and pictures in the right place is to be greatly commended. (The useful book of LeGuen on the Dionysiac Artists is comparable). There are good indices, but not good enough. Why do we have references to AE and BE but not SEG, which occurs often enough in the text (e.g. SEG 4.598 ~ GIBM 4.1032 from Teos, the thiasos of Hediste = koinon of the Dionysiastai, which belongs with her no.132)? It is impossible for scholars now to buy BE, and most libraries do not allow it to be taken out. There are several signs of last minute additions, e.g. the two important hellenistic inscriptions about associations of boukoloi from Atrax and Eretria, long published, are mentioned and their implications discussed on 2.184 but are missing from the epigraphic index and the catalogue. The scholar hardpressed for time will naturally consult this index and conclude Jaccottet has missed them, though her discussion is important for her view of the development of the boukoloi; and so the indices are then not a totally reliable guide to the contents. More understandable are those inscriptions that were published at the last minute which have been tacked on where possible. Note also the annoying division of the bibliography into the regular = frequently cited, and -- separated from it by a general index -- a list of authors cited, who are however sometimes more frequently cited, and who may well feel aggrieved at this unjust apartheid.

Naturally the author has not seen the inscriptions, though she has had advance help with the important group from Callatis. There are -- as is normal nowadays -- quite a number of mistypings, in several languages. These only become serious, and less forgiveable, when we find a woman on a Magnesia inscription (2.248) called improbably Eplis, and find her translated into French as Eplis also, and so one is happy that Flelix gets his proper name in translation. Lollia Catulla a.k.a. Cattula suffers onomastic transmogrification several times in 2.79-82, and surely Gettix at no. 101 should be Tettix with Merkelbach. Sometimes the conventions of epigraphy are misstated (e.g. no.158 strat<i>agiou should be {i}) or brackets omitted. This kind of thing is a nuisance because these inscriptions do contain many orthographical errors, and one must consult further to determine whether the anomalous forms are original or not. Likewise, if inscription no.62 in vol 2 registers t[elete] as a supplement, it should not then become a certain reading on which much is built in vol. 1.132. On the whole however, despite the gremlins, good sense is uppermost; one is glad to have all this evidence (200+ inscriptions!) at last set out in a way easy to consult, in Greek, Latin, with translation, and with adequate bibliography and analysis, listed in the usual BE/ SEG order. She sets out her limits, e.g. no technitae associations, not every Dionysiac mosaic, not every mystai association -- all reasonable. Care is always needed with such an ambitious theme, and better a few errors than a futile perfectionism. One may safely guarantee that the book will find a place on the shelves of all scholars interested in the cult of Dionysus.

Two native French speakers, consulted about the writing, gave suitably diverse opinions. A philologist opined that the language was elegant, an epigrapher that it tended to the obscure. Both are probably right. Jaccottet does enjoy celebrating the diversity of her subject in lyrical style, sometimes with an orgy of excited rhetorical questions (e.g. p.13-4) while the reader patiently waits for answers. But her feet are also firmly on the epigraphical ground, and she can be effective when demonstrating that the inscriptions do not support some of the current generalizations. True, epigraphy testifies anyway to the real -- or at least, more real -- world of associations, and deals with a Dionysus who is pinned unnaturally within four walls (1, 148), but the study of Dionysus needs now a global command of philology and art as well as epigraphy, and Jaccottet makes a good try, though she is the first to allow that this is now beyond the capacity of any single scholar. Further, the cult and image of Dionysus changed greatly over a thousand years, even over the course of the influential fifth century BC, -- which is largely outside the scope of this book, -- so that great gaps in our knowledge must remain; and of course there was no orthodoxy which would reduce the possibility of parallel traditions, even in the same city at the same time. Jaccottet remarks on all this, though she should also have added that the theatre where Dionysiac myth was commonly performed and re-interpreted in dance spectacles will also have been a great if unseen influence for anomalous development. (I missed a reference to Richard Green's demonstrations of how drama and theatre itself became integrated into Dionysiac imagery even in the fourth century BC.) The overwhelming popularity of the Dionysiac in art of the second and third century AD is not easily explained, but now we can see this popularity reflected in the epigraphy of Dionysiac associations. All in all therefore, it is a daunting task to look at epigraphy from the third century BC to the 4th AD, and to interpret it against the complex and ever shifting background of art and literature and cultic association. But the inscriptions, rooted in the reality of society, also act as some control over the myths and images which flourished with such luxuriousness. (But when the association has its day of "going to the mountain", we still do not know if they actually leave the building.) The various genres of evidence can all influence one another, and Euripides' Bacchae -- or, as I should argue, its contemporary performances -- could affect the rituals of an archaizing Dionysus cult five hundred years later or the fraudulent historical sources of Magnesian inscriptions. On the other hand a cult can continue unchanged for hundreds of years in a specific location, focussing on e.g. the/ a "cave" as an eschatological symbol, -- un mouvement cavernophile -- while a totally different kind of Dionysus cult of bulls and herdsmen can exist not far away. The god even in associations does indeed resist classification or analysis.

Her evidence begins in the third century BC, and from that perspective she warns firmly against the prejudices of those fixated on literature or art, -- especially of the sixth/fifth century -- and so of "thiasomanie" and of a priori theoretic schemas. This is refreshingly realistic, and needed to be said. There is nothing immediately Dionysiac or frenzied or maenadic about the word "thiasos" at all. We then plunge headlong into the great and unique Torre Nova inscription (pp.30-53), which she takes, following others, to be a familial hierarchic grouping, honouring the dead "hero", the consul Macrinus and his family, who will have organized this complex performance/ ritual, with its more than 400 names and 26 liturgical categories of worshippers, male and female. The motivation is likely to reflect the distant Greek origin of the family with Theophanes of Mytilene. It will be the extreme example of a fascination with mysteries and titles that appears not only in Dionysiac worship in the 2nd century. All this may indeed (p.53) have something to do with Dionysus, but more to do with contemporary systems of values, as she says. Jaccottet, as a sober scholar, nowhere uses an expression like "kitsch", but unkind shepherds may have occasion to repress that term from their vocabulary in the course of reading this book. There float in the background Antony at Ephesus, Messalina in her garden, Hadrian the new Dionysus both multiplex and multiform ... the boundaries of Dionysiac ritual and performance are fluid, as befits their transgressive patron. Still, bluntly, when does ritual become just silly theatre? Perhaps when you outfit your undergardener as cave-guardian no.2?

The next chapters are short and swift. No orthodoxy; it all depends where and when. That leads directly to (p.59) the ominous "chimère moderne ou réalité antique?" which leaves maenadism severely trashed. Rome was really not amused by the bacchanals of 186 BC, or at least by what it thought these mixti viri feminis were up to. Then as now, luxuriant imagery can be dangerous when interpreted by the unimaginative, and Dionysiasm above all was a loosely unified world of expanding images largely independent of its multiform cult associations. Jaccottet wants us to concentrate more on the inscriptional reality and less on the overexuberant academic foliage. That means in effect 35 statistical pages about feminine and masculine. The associations are overwhelmingly masculine, and there are only two possible exclusively feminine thiasoi (p.75). Frankly this reviewer cannot believe in the reading of one of these, no. 25 from near baths in Philippi, now perhaps lost and incompletely published, though that was promised in 1937:

Lib et Lib et Herc | thiasus maenad | regianar aq|[ua]m induxit p [s]

Upperclass Maenads as euergetic plumbers are alarming, and her translation "Ménades royales" seems philologically out of the question; one would expect a name. The other is a well known classically-influenced group from Miletus, but she is unwilling to accept (p.76) that even that must be exclusively female. Not surprisingly, Jaccottet allows herself a polemic against the obsession with thiasoi, especially female ones; those Dionysiac few from historical literature we know are all public, and associated with specific rituals. Four epigraphic groups of Dionysiac worshippers are exclusively masculine, and eleven certainly mixed, which must be regarded as the norm. From the evidence of epigraphy, Dionysus is not (p.81) a "dieu de trangression" at all but a "dieu familiale". No penetration here. Women tend to get the cult roles of traditional ritual; the men get administrative titles and related honours, and probably do most of the administration. When the association is mixed, the women often seem to have top roles, but of course some associations are funded by testaments from women. The evidence is against Nilsson's theory of hellenistic males suddenly entering female thiasoi. Associations in the classical period and thereafter were probably normally mixed; it is our classical sources that deform the picture by prioritizing females in Dionysiac cult. Why? "l'homme bacchant doit rester dans l'ombre", which he certainly did. Conclusion: forget Maenads, and think Bacchants.

Having herded the academic sheep and goats back into their pens, Jaccottet turns (101-122) to Dionysus as bull, for he was in early times so worshipped by attendants masked as bulls, and that strand of his worship had a long life, with the boukoloi of Dionysus Kathegemon of Pergamum (nos. 91-102) perhaps best known. Here one suspects Jaccottet of a bit of old fashioned structuralism, when she tries to turn boukoloi into "men of the wild" -- the "wilde Männer" of swiss folklore? -- pasturing their animals on the mountain eschatiai. Greek cattle are not goats, and they need water meadows, which are not to be found amidst the pines of Kithaeron. They are also valuable beasts and need to be kept close to home to milk. She is here too generous to the fantasies of Jeanmaire (p.110). Bucolic pastoralism is paradoxically an urban phenomenon, and we cannot be surprised if it evolved especially at the Attalid court (p.108) in connection with Dionysiac tauromorphy. Interesting is the probability that the boukoloi performed their dance-pantomimes in the theatre itself and so were indirectly linked to the Dionysiac technitae. There are some rather obscure pages here, difficult to summarize, since Jaccottet has a French bee in her bonnet; but she strongly opposes the concept of the human cortege as a mirror or model of the divine, espoused by some French scholars: rather "to be a bacchant or maenad is to be part of a human thiasos into which the god enters (i.e. parousia) by the religious efficacy of orgiastic practices." There is too great a gap (p.114) between myth and the associations, which do not even have nymphs and satyrs. The result is, she affirms, that one cannot explain the association of the boukoloi as some sort of mirror of the divine cortege, so familiar in art.

Chapter eight deals with mysteries, and Jaccottet admits that the fragmentary sources scarcely allow for objectivity (p.127). They occur in imperial times esp. in Asia and the Balkans, and not only in Dionysus cult. She opts for a lexical study of mystai, telete, which is linked especially to females, orgia and trieteris, which is not very conclusive, but she thinks that this mystery cultism has little to do with the particular cult history of Dionysus, but rather a general modish tendency. The recurrence of the role Hierophant suggests a revelation of some sort, but no overall unity can be determined, and different kinds of inititation seems to be possible, with groupings such as the birth of the young god and liknon, or the symbolism of wine/ vine as triumph over death, etc. Geography is important.

Chapter nine deals most usefully with the spatial areas connected with the associations, in the manner made popular recently by the books of Egelhaaf-Gaiser and Bollmann, neither yet available to Jaccottet, who promises us more on the subject. She surveys the long-lived cave-based cult in Callatis, and notes that it must be a very early example of a vaulted room (an operosum antrum) and so related to contemporary tombs; an eschatological ritual seems inevitable. On the other hand the "cave" of Dionysus at Thasos was probably just a leafy bower. Again, the Peiraeus family-based association was located in a house, where the wealthy founder Dionysius surely felt that the Dionysiastai were also to revere him as a hero besides the god, as they did. The intriguing possibility is mooted that he changed the name from orgeones to Dionysiastai precisely to facilitate this. For the Melos sanctuary, she could have done more with the iconography [see C.Q. 49 (1999) 512] but she is rightly skeptical of hyperinterpretations by those who try doggedly to find mystic significance in the banal. The Iobacchic basilica at Athens is somewhat similar, and Jaccottet might have emphasized more that these rooms were for banquets, as well as ritual pantomime/ performances; see on this now the excellent survey of U. Egelhaaf-Gaiser, Kulträume im römischen Alltag (Stuttgart 2000). On the other hand, the iconography of Dionysiac mosaics at Cologne and (less certainly) Virunum do not prove that they were association headquarters. The same is true for the Maison de Bacchus at Djemila. (K. Dunbabin tells me that she would not now regard it as more than standard Dionysiac decoration). Jaccottet has good remarks (esp. 195) on the need for care in interpreting the varied and ever-evolving repertory of Dionysiac images as linked to specific cult, if we have no epigraphy. Altogether, sober stuff.

Volume 2 list all the inscriptions, Greek and Latin, including such monsters as Torre Nova and the Iobacchic rules, with dates and bibliography, and in clear print. Particularly useful are the Callatis ones, supplied by a generous Avram in advance of publication. What an irony that Salviat still cannot provide the full text of the Thasos inscription after 40 years! Good pictures are supplied where possible of relevant symbolism and of architecture. Translations were workmanlike. I mention only one inscription, because she follows Robert [BE 1970 505]. In the notorious epigram for Alkmeionis at Miletus [no.149], the final words kalwn moiran epistamene do not amount to "qui connait la destinee reservee aux bons" or other misleadingly eschatological translations . Moira as is usual takes a genitive of content, "a portion that consists in noble things", and this is just a banality: she was a person of high principles. In addition, when we are told that she goes as priestess pro polews "marchant à la tête de toute la cité" we should be alerted to the debate over the meaning of the term pro polews (lastly P. Herrmann, Chiron 2000, 170, despite her 2.71 n.93). But this is no place to criticise in detail the thousands of lines of long-debated text and translation that we have here. The expert should observe due care, and we should all be grateful to have them collected.

Some items deserved perhaps more prominence in volume 1, the bellmen of Phrygia perhaps; but these matters are to be found in the summaries attached to the actual inscriptions and pictures in vol. 2, where for instance will be found a further discussion of the development of the Pergamene boukoloi. Some overlap was inevitable between the two parts of the work, but the cross-referencing is thorough. (Still, one does miss a picture or even mention of the bizarre Mexican hats of some worshipers of Dionysus Kallon at Byzantium! one can forget that these people often looked weird.) It becomes clear from this survey that some of the associations are primarily familial, yet others are connected to imperial cult (esp. the hymnodoi), others to the Dionysiac technitae (at Smyrna nos.115-127, and, though she specifically does not seek to cover this tricky issue otherwise, it would have been necessary to mention more carefully I.Smyrna 598, noted only 2.215 and not in the index), others even to the army (in the Balkans), and they were seldom "purely" religious institutions, or "purely" private or public, and status in society varied greatly; and perhaps all this deserved more emphasis in vol. 1. The material continues to grow, and add further nuances. In epigraphy e.g. we now have SEG 1999 814 from Saloniki to put beside her no.19-22: it is a mixed speira of at least 26 members, with the usual absurd Titelwirtschaft (e.g. the wretched formation archikranearches! cf. her no.48) that we expect of the 2/3 century, but they do seem to have a tinge of Kybele worship; they probably dressed up as well. Some unpublished material suggests that female telete [cf. nos. 149-50 from Miletus with SEG 1999 1528] might be more closely linked to marriage ritual, which would be interesting for the Macrinus inscription as well as the Villa of the Mysteries. In architecture the remarkable Podiumsaal of the bacchants at Pergamum (1.93) does have Dionysiac imagery painted on it, and we await a survey and discussion of this and other similarly strange imperial symposium rooms, undoubtedly derived from the East, in the dissertation of H. Schwarzer (Berlin). One can note that the banquet-room at Akmonia for the Pergamene Dionysus Kathegemon (her no. 84) is called an exedra, the same term as is used for the podium-rooms at Kition. We may also expect an authoritative volume from the Dionysus expert S.G. Cole (often cited but consigned to the list of authors) on later Dionysus cult. No doubt: Dionysus will continue to surprise us. Jaccottet has not had the last word, but she has given us a sober and worthwhile analysis of a major theme of classical antiquity, and an invaluable checklist of inscriptions. The book will have lasting value and utility, and one may hope accordingly that Jaccottet numbers will be cited.

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