Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2012.10.40 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.10.40

Antoine Hermary, Bertrand Jaeger (ed.), Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum. Volume VII: Festivals and Contests.   Los Angeles:  J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011.  Pp. xx, 272; 35 p. of plates.  ISBN 9781606060742.  $250.00.  

Reviewed by Kent J. Rigsby, Duke University (

Volumes of ThesCRA have not before been reviewed in BMCR. The project is an offshoot of LIMC. The first “level” (the term used in the first five volumes but now abandoned), consisting of volumes I- III, addressed “Dynamic Elements/Activities,” the second level, IV-V, “Static Elements.” Now the third installment, VI- VIII, surveys “Contexts and Circumstances.” Each of the three has its own numeration of “chapters” (so designated in the preface, p. xvi; no label in the text), running continuously across its several volumes; the third installment “Contexts and Circumstances” has five, of which chapter 3, “Festivals and Contests,” occupies all of the present vol. VII. Chapters are divided into numbered sections and subsections. Cross-references are to volume / chapter / section / subsections; within a chapter, to section / subsections. Citation by the rest of us would best be to volume and pages.

Each section and (usually) subsection is preceded by its own bibliography, cited in the text in abbreviated form. A further bibliography covering the whole series and explicating the abbreviations of those works is in a volume, not mentioned in the “Plan of the ThesCRA” on pp. xi-xiv, entitled ThesCRA Abbreviations/Index of Museums (2006; briefly supplemented here on p. xvii), pp. 1-48. The result is that the reader must flip to one of three different places, one of them a separate volume, to obtain a full and usable reference. While the series is distributed by the Univ. of Chicago Press, the Univ. of Chicago library is not unique in not owning the Abbreviations volume.

Volume VII has three unnumbered parts (cross-references among the parts take the form “VII 3 Rom. 4.2.3”). Each has its own table of contents (the volume has none). The count: Festivals and Contests in the Greek World (169 pp. / 23 line-drawings / 20 black and white plates; contributions in English and German, 4 authors), Etruscan World (21 / 6 / 10; German, Italian, French, 3 authors), Roman World (77 / 0 / 5; French, 7 authors).

Festivals and Contests in the Greek World has five sections, beginning with “definition and general characteristics.” Then come three particular themes: physical setting – the topography and architecture of festivals; images of festivals in art; descriptions of festivals in literature; finally a set of case studies: five individual festivals. Etruscan World, in three sections: an introduction (two pages) assessing the ambiguities of the pictorial evidence and listing probable instances of festivals; then a section on “spectacles,” chiefly theatrical; and a survey of “games and sports.” Roman World, in four sections: “Definitions and sources”; occasions/calendars; communal contexts of festivals (from city to family); and a selection of festivals and the gods honored by them.

In general: these articles are careful and well-informed, and their documentation and the bibliographies are current and intelligently chosen. The plates are excellent, as one would expect. There are many cross-references to the plates of LIMC; a few illustrations duplicate those in LIMC, but most do not. The material and the topics often overlap with those discussed in other volumes of ThesCRA (especially I 1-58 “Processions” and IV “Cult Places”), and cross-references are quite numerous. Hence the volume is difficult to use when not in proximity to the rest of the series, the “Abbreviations” volume, and LIMC.

Greek World (3-172): the opening section, a general introduction to Greek festivals and competitions, is as clear and authoritative an overview (35 dense pages) as we have. It is accessible to any undergraduate; specialist scholars will not be surprised by the content but will value the rich selection of examples in the notes, many of them recent epigraphical discoveries.

The section on the physical settings of festivals is one of the most innovative and stimulating contributions in the volume. It illustrates the settings of panhellenic vs. local festivals; oracular shrines; limited-access festivals (women, temples of Demeter); and festivals conducted beyond the limits of a shrine, in which the city served as a temple.

The treatment of artistic representations of festivals is fullest for Athens—the Parthenon Frieze and the calendar frieze, and the festivals of Dionysus; more brief on mysteries of Demeter and Kore. There is also a note on art produced for festivals (vases, Athena’s peplos).

Festivals described in literature are organized by genre, and literature means imaginative literature (understandably: one could not survey all the festivals mentioned by Pausanias or Plutarch). With one exception this means poetry: epic, lyric, drama; and then “Hellenistic,” exemplified by Theocritus (and unfortunately not Herodas) and the Greek novel (this discussion is brief, but interesting and original).

The last section offers brief descriptions of five festivals, diverse in character, geography, and origin: Thesmophoria, Hyacinthia, Daedala, the Andania cult, and the Demostheneia in Lycia, the last two being private foundations.

Etruscan World (173-194): after the cautionary introduction, the section seeking to document dramatic spectacles, organized chronologically, brings together a group of promising illustrations; but the most cogent evidence for theater must remain the several references in Roman authors to the recruiting of Etruscan actors. The section on “games and sports” seeks to document specific genres of competition, more readily recognizable in the artistic evidence, and to identify the gods honored.

Roman World (195-272) is the most coherent and systematic of the three parts. The first section surveys the Latin vocabulary, quickly describes the several types of source material, and then, in a more disjointed entry (“Discours antiques”), discusses four literary genres that addressed festivals (one misses here a treatment of Latin elegy). Illustrations are confined to the calendars and to coins for the Ludi Saeculares.

The section on times and occasions is arranged as an account of the several sorts of ritual calendars on record. This is clearly laid out and will be useful, especially the table offered for the observances of the city of Rome (220-224), which are the focus of the survey. In employing the calendars as the organizing principle, the account inevitably does not distinguish rigorously between festival and sacrifice, a distinction insisted on in the Greek part. The account of the Feriale Duranum does not discuss its origin or cite Nock, Essays 736-790.

For communities that celebrated festivals, of cities we are given only Rome, a disappointing limitation. The countless festivals of the towns of Republican Italy seem to have held a particular fascination for Romans (e.g. Ov. Am. 3.13). The festivals of the provincial leagues are studied only for the Latin west, to the exclusion of the richer Greek evidence. For collegia we are referred to vol. VIII, but given a short statement about Dionysiac thiasoi (the technitai of Dionysus are irrelevant here: they did not host the festivals but only supplied performers). The role of the family in festivals is illustrated by the Liberalia, and by a longer discussion of the ritual activities of the imperial family.

A final section on “some gods” parallels the final Greek section, introductory essays on half a dozen particular festivals that can be illustrated in some detail from the epigraphical sources. The Kaisareia of Gythium in Laconia, a Greek civic cult, is included among Roman cults apparently because the honorand was the imperial house.

This last item apart, the volume has little to say about festivals and competitions in ruler cult (see Robert in Essays C. B. Welles), and so one does not learn how they might be distinct from other festivals (e.g. the prominence of gladiatorial combat at the provincial league games). Likewise, adherence to the theme Greek/Etruscan/Roman has meant that festivals in the eastern cults appear only occasionally (the Megalesia get two pages, privileged as a Roman state cult). Similarly vol. I on Processions omitted the abundant testimonies for those of the eastern gods. Hence two large areas of Greco-Roman religious experience are poorly represented. Although the Preface states that volumes VI-VIII “brings to fruition” the ThesCRA, the Plan, repeated from earlier volumes, now lists also a future fourth installment, “Religious Interrelations between the Classical World and Neighbouring Civilizations”: though the promised organization is geographical, that volume may fill in some gaps about the eastern cults.

The series does not seek to be like LIMC and offer an alphabetical and complete listing of festivals. Such a book would be of great service – “Anthesteria,” “ephebic,” “harvest,” “Quinquatrus,” “trieteric,” etc. A glance at RE will show how badly we need an article “Pythia” on the many Pythian games. But much of what is valuable in the approach followed here would be lost in such an encyclopedia: the format of the volume, essays with selective exempla, has allowed the authors to compare a large range of material and to discuss issues that would not readily arise in an alphabetical list.

The result is that the series is difficult to use as a reference tool; and indeed the general introduction of this volume advises “to read the entire volume” (p. 2). That, given the four languages, excludes nearly all American undergraduates and not a few graduate students. The volume will probably be read selectively. In compensation, the sections are sufficiently atomized and well labeled to let users find their way easily to particular topics (107 “Die Schiffskarren-Prozession,” 253 “Les fêtes funéraires”). Ultimately, the utility of the series as a whole will depend greatly on whether there is to be an index, and of what ambition – one thinks of the ever-useful indices of Daremberg-Saglio.

[Update, 4 Dec. 2012. Dr. Bertrand Jaeger from the LIMC Editorial Office in Basel writes that an index of proper names and themes in all eight volumes is in preparation and will appear in spring 2014.]

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