Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.11.26 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.11.26

Corinne Bonnet, Amandine Declercq, Iwo Slobodzianek (ed.), Le représentations des dieux des autres. Colloque de Toulouse, 9-11 décembre 2010. Supplemento a Mythos, 2.   Caltanissetta:  Salvatore Sciascia Editore, 2011.  Pp. ix, 260.  ISBN 9788882413880.  €30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Gian Franco Chiai, Freie Universität Berlin (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This interesting book collects the proceedings of a conference, held in Toulouse on 9-11 December 2010, the representation of the deities of the others in the religions of ancient world.

The first article by A.-F. Jaccottet investigates the iconography of Cabires on the vases from the Theban Cabirion. As the votive inscriptions on the vases show, these two deities are designed Kabeiroi only in Thebes. They are depicted respectively as an old bearded man with grotesque character and as a boy (pais): otherness is expressed through this grotesque iconography, which shows interesting similarities with that of Dionysos. Furthermore, in contrast to the Cabiric cults at Samothrace and Lemnos,1 where the number and (in case of Samothrace) names of these deities are unknown, we know the number and the appearance of the Theban Cabires through epigraphical dedication and iconographic representation. In the next article J. Soler (17-29) examines Apuleius’ rhetorical strategies in expressing and emphasizing the foreign character of the Dea Syria and her worshippers by endowing her with traits of Cybele (such as the effeminacy and immorality of her priests etc.). This negative representation aims at opposing the Dea Syria to Isis, who is depicted positively as an almighty goddess, able to see the whole of mankind. The negativity of the Dea Syria does not depend on her foreign origin, but on the immorality of her cult and priests. Through a philological analysis of selected texts of different authors, D. Barbu (31-49) reconstructs the idea of idolatry, understood as perception of others by Christians, from antiquity to the modern period. The first attestation of this notion can be found in the Oracula sibyllina (3, 38) in a Jewish context, mentioning εἰδόλων θρήσκειν. The term eidolon acquired its modern sense only in the biblical tradition, where it refers to the prohibition of images in worship of God.2 C. Pisano (51-64) studies the reception and interpretation of Hermes as the highest deity in archaic Lydian culture, analysing the Hipponax fragment (fr. 3 Masson), in which the Greek god Hermes is identified with the Lydian Candaules. This interpretation aims at connecting the Lydian deity with the ἀγκυλομῆτις of Hermes, in order to associate μῆτις with royalty. We find an interesting parallel in Caesar (BG 6,17), who identified the chief god of the Celtic pantheon with the Roman Mercury, the omnium inventor artium. The assimilation of the most important deity with Hermes may reflect a Greek view of the Lydians as robber barbarians, while the alternative tradition, in which the Lydian dynasty is said to descend from Heracles, is due to a Dorian-Aeolian view of this people, as one conducting an aristocratic and fine life. A.-C. Rendu Loisel’s paper (65-82) focuses on two categories of religious Babylonian and Assyrian texts: those describing God and the “Göttertypentexte”. In describing the god’s body, the former use metaphorical associations between body parts and ritual elements, while the latter describe statues or iconographical representations of god and represent important source for the iconography of cultic statue. In these texts the similarities between human and divine are emphasized with phrases such as “the face is that of a woman” or “the hands are those of a man”. Gods and demons are seen as tangible anthropomorphic entities, with bodies of their own. B. Pongratz-Leisten’s long article (83-111) reconstructs some aspects of the translatability of divinities in the ancient Near East; she illustrates the impossibility of defining religious communities on the basis of political boundaries in the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual cultures of these regions. I. Slobodzianek (113-128) draws an interesting comparison between the Greek term and concept of τιμή, attested in archaic times in Homer and Hesiod, and that of me, recurring in the Sumerian texts, in order to show the construction of the divine in two different polytheistic systems; she focuses on the figures of Aphrodite and Inanna and their relationships to the sovereign gods. P. Matthew (129-142) studies the presence of narrative topics of the “Königsnovelle” from the New Empire in the texts of the Alexander Roman and Nectanebo’s dream. Such topics show that the author of the Alexander Roman had familiarity with the local Egyptian culture and that elements of Egyptian literary (and religious) culture, as for example the procession of the sacred boat with the cult statues, are adopted (and adapted) in this narrative literary genre. G. Ducoeur (143-158), noting that the Indian local cults are neither mentioned nor interpreted in the Greek texts - with the exception of a fragment of Chares of Mytilene, transmitted by Athenaeus (Deipn. 1, 48, 27d) -, analyses Megasthenes’ tale concerning the civilising rule of the god Dionysos in India as well as his plausible identification with the local king Pṛthu according to an euhemerist interpretation. F. Ruani (159-176) studies texts concerning the polemic of Ephrem of Nisibe (4th century) against the Manichaean concept of divinity, which he considered a form of modern paganism. Analysing the archaeological and epigraphical testimonies, C. Apicella (177-192) reconstructs the integration of the Apollo cult in Sidon with the plausible mediation of the Sidonian merchants, who resided in Delos, as well as his assimilation (interpretatio) with the local god Eshmun. In his interesting contribution, S.G. Caneva (193-219) offers a careful analysis of the epigraphical and numismatic evidence for the Greek-Macedonian appropriation of the Ammon-Zeus figure, as well as a reconstruction of the policy of integration, pursued by Alexander and later by the Ptolemies, who represented themselves as his legitimate successors. D. Dana (221-237) assesses the representation of the Thracians by Herodotus and its reception (and fortuna) in modern authors.

In the conclusion (239-251), J.-P. Albert, N. Belayche, C. Bonnet and P. Borgeaud give an useful overview of the single contributions, discussing the notion of otherness in ancient culture.3

In sum, this book offers a stimulating set of readings on a very important aspect of ancient religion, showing how the perception and negotiation of otherness was intimately connected to the local cultural contexts. The variety of the topics, however, can represent a difficulty for any reader, but it nevertheless shows the importance of an interdisciplinary approach through a comparative (and diachronic) research on the cults and deities of different regions and epochs, in order to reconstruct the modalities as well as the way to represent “les dieux des autres” in diverse cultures and periods. Perhaps, the editors of this volume should have composed an introduction, explaining the notions of “representation and perception of the deities of the others” in reference to the application of these concepts to historical and concrete cases from different chronological contests and cultures, helping the reader to find a common red thread among those apparently diverse contributions.

Table of Contents

C. Bonne: Introduction VII
Altérité en images et en discours
A.-F. Jaccottet: Les Cabires. Entre assimilation et mise en scène de l’alterité 1
J. Soler: La Déesse Syrienne, dea peregrina: la mise en récit de l’altérité religieuse dans les Métamorphoses d’Apulée 17
D. Barbu: Idole, idolâtre, idolâtrie 31
C. Pisano: Gradi di alterità e logiche di «traduzione»: il caso di Hermes/Candaule 51
A.-C. Rendu Loisel: Décrire le corps d’un dieu en Mésopotamie ancienne 65
Comparer, interpréter, adapter
B. Pongratz-Leisten: Comments on the Translability of Divinity: Cultic and Theological Responses to the Presence of the Other in the Ancient Near East 83
I. Slobodzianek: La definition des «pouvoirs divins» dans les sources littéraires sumériennes et grecques: une nouvelle approche comparative des me et des timai 113
P. Matthew: «Barques sur le Nil ….» La légende de Nectanébo comme récit de dé-légitimation 129
G. Ducoeur: Interpretatio, relectures et confusions chez les auteurs gréco-romains: le cas de Dionysos indien 143
F. Ruani: Des noms célèbres de différents dieux / Mani et ses compagnons proclamèrent (C. Haer. XL 3): à propos de la conception manichéenne de la divinité vue par Éphrem le Syrien 159
Stratégies d’appropriation et d’intégration
C. Apicella: Le culte d’Apollon à Sidon ou les modalités d’intégration d’un dieu étranger 177
S.G. Caneva: D’Hérodote à Alexandre. L’Appropriation gréco-macédonienne d’Ammon de Siwa, entre pratique oraculaire et légitimation du pouvoir 193
D. Dana: Comment représenter les coutumes religieuses des Thraces (Hdt. V 3-8), entre Anciens et Modernes? 221
J.-P. Albert, N. Belayche, C. Bonnet, P. Borgeaud: Conclusions 239
Index géneral 253


1.   On the Cabiric Lemnian cult see L. Beschi,, “Immagini dei cabiri di Lemno” in G. Capecchi et al. (eds.), In memoria di Enrico Paribeni,, Rome 1998, 2 vols., I, 45-59 (with bibliography of earlier publications) and, “Gli scavi del cabirio di Chloi”, in Un ponte fra l’Italia e la Grecia: Atti del simposio in onore di Antonio di Vita, Padua 2000, 75-84, at 77-79; recently J.N. Bremmer,, “Hephaistos sweats or how to construct an ambivalent god”, in J.N. Bremmer – A. Erskine (eds.), The Gods of Ancient Greece. Identities and Transformation, Edinburgh 2010, 193-208, at 195-198.
2.   For a good introduction on this thema with a useful collection of the literary sources see M. Bettetini, Contro le immagini. Le radici dell’iconoclastia, Rome-Bari 2006.
3.   Now see remarks in C. Bonnet, “«Comme des nœuds qui les unissaient tous ensemble» (Voltaire). Le processus d’interpretatio en Phénicie à l’époque hellénistique”, CRAI2012, 503-515.

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