BMCR 2002.12.07

Héros et héroïnes dans les mythes et les cultes grecs. Actes du Colloque organisé à l’Université de Vallodolid du 26 au 29 mai 1999. Kernos Supplément 10

, 981652. Liège:, 1988. 1 online resource.. EUR 40.00.

This volume on heroes and heroines in Greek myth and cult is the tenth in a series of Kernos Suppléments which began with Robin Hägg’s extremely useful edited volume The iconography of Greek Cult in the Archaic and Classical Periods published in 1992. Titles so far have covered a wide range of topics, including human sacrifice in Greece (Supplément 3), Aphrodite (Supplément 4) and the Chaldean oracles (Supplément 9). The Suppléments as a series appear to have no particular rationale, except as a collection of works mainly concerned with ancient Greek religion. Many scholars have used the volumes in the series and found them useful, and Héros et héroïnes dans les mythes et les cultes grecs will prove to be no exception.

There is a wide range of papers in this largely bilingual volume (with French, English, and a few Spanish papers) which arose out of a colloquium organised at the Université de Valladolid, held in 1999 (and the editors are to be congratulated in having managed to get the volume out in comparatively quick time).

As is almost always stated with any collection of essays, even those with a common theme, there is the danger that the volume will represent a patchy treatment of the topic, with individual papers failing to combine to produce a substantive contribution to the overall theme. To decide whether this is the case here, a list of the contributors and their papers is first necessary:

V. Pirenne-Delforge and E. Suárez de la Torre, E. Introduction thématique, i-xxiii;

C. Barrigón, La désignation des héros et héroïnes dans la poésie lyrique grecque, 1-14;

B. Zimmerman, Eroi nel ditirambo, 15-20;

E. Moutsopoulos, L’univers musical des héroïnes d’Eschyle, 21-28;

F. Jouan, Héros tragique et deus ex machina dans deux pièces perdues d’Euripide, 29-39;

Serghidou, Dégradation du héros et politiques de l’exclusion dans la tragédie grecque, 41-55;

Iriarte, Ismène, Chrysothémis et leurs soeurs, 57-66;

J.L. Calvo Martínez, The katábasis of the hero, 67-78;

A. Motte, La catégorie platonicienne du héros, 79-90;

R. Rodríguez Moreno, Le héros comme μεταξύ entre l’homme et la divinité dans la pensée grecque, 91-100;

E.A.R. Jurado, L’intégration de la classe des héros dans la pensée grecque de l’Antiquité tardive, 101-110;

M. García Teijeiro & T. Molinos Tejada, Les héros méchants, 111-123;

I. Tassignon, Le héros face à Dionysos: étude des modalités du conflit, 125-136;

P. Wathelet, La double initiation d’Achille dans l’ Iliade, 137-147;

J.A. Lopez Férez, Aquiles en Eurípides, 149-166;

Moreau, Actéon. La quête impossible des origines, 167-84;

P. Angeli Bernardini, La donne e l’eroe nel mito di Eracle, 185-96;

F. Diez de Velasco, Marge, axe et centre: iconographie d’Héraclès, Atlas et l’arbre des Hespérides, 197-216;

M. Rocchi, Kerambos e le nevi dell’Othrys, 217-27;

Pérez Jiménez, Perfiles humanos de un héroe. Plutarco y su imagen de Teseo, 229-40;

P. Somville, Héro et Léandre: un example d’héroïsation tardive, 241-46;

I. Ratinaud-Lachkar, Héros homériques et sanctuaires d’époque géometrique, 247-62;

G. Ekroth, Offerings of Blood in Greek Hero-Cults, 263-80;

Verbanck-Piérard, Les héros guérisseurs: des dieux comme les autres! À propos des cultes médicaux dans l’Attique classique, 281-332;

L-M. L’Homme-Wéry, Les héros de Salamine en Attique. Cultes, mythes et intégration politique, 333-49;

A. Blomart, Les manières grecques de déplacer les héros: modalités religieuses et motivations politiques, 351-64;

G. Hoffman, Brasidas ou le fait d’armes comme source d’héroïsation dans la grèce classique, 365-75;

E. Voutiras, La cadavre et le serpent, ou l’héroïsation manquée de Cléomène de Sparte, 377-94;

M. Paz de Hoz, Los héroes en la Anatolia de Estrabón, 395-408;

M. Piérart, Héros fondateurs. Héros civilisateurs. la rivalité entre Argos et Athènes vue par Pausanias, 409-34;

N. Theodossiev, Monumental Tombs and Hero-Cults in Thrace during the 5th-3rd centuries BC, 435-47.

As can be seen, numerous topics are covered by these papers. Everything from blood offerings for heroes (Ekroth), to tragic heroes of myth (Jouan, Lopez Férez), to historical military commanders as heroes (Hoffman; cf. Verbanck-Piérard) to the motives behind hero cults (L’Homme-Wéry, Blomard), finds a place. But the collection is somewhat miscellaneous. The editors have tried to unify the work with an Introduction thématique to the overall subject of heroes and heroisation, but a few comments can be made on some gaps not covered by the papers.

There is no separate gendered treatment of girl and women heroes, despite the presence of héroïnes in the title, and, though the work of J. Larson, Greek Heroine Cults and D. Lyons, Gender and Immortality. Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult are cited, the girl and women equivalents of the Achilles’ and Brasidas’ of myth and cult respectively are relatively overlooked. There are a few token comments in the editors’ introduction where they note, ‘Il est symptomatique d’une tendance de la recherche récente à approfondir notre connaissance de la place et de la condition de la femme dans les société anciennes (et modernes), en partant non seulement des données historiques, mais aussi de celles que fournissent les mythes.’ (pp. xvi). But no methodology of gender actually emerges from this commonplace observation.

In addition, questions of definition are not adequately addressed in the Introduction thématique. Some aspects are covered but one finishes the introduction, and the volume, with a definition of heroes and heroisation which is somewhat general, despite the various (very interesting) case studies. Questions of definition do arise occasionally in the various papers, but it is Rodríguez Moreno’s paper (91-100) which comes to grips with the definition of a hero. What is a hero? Is it simply a semi-divine being halfway between mortality and divinity? In what sense can a dead mortal ‘cheat’ death by evading Hades and becoming a local divinity? What characteristics allow the transformation of a dead athlete or leader into a hero? The burden of proof should not perhaps fall solely on Rodríguez Moreno and would have been better covered by the introduction.

Comments on all of the papers are impossible. The title divides heroes into two broad categories: those of myth and those of cult. Heroes in myth are picked up not only in the material on Heracles (see below), but in papers on heroes in tragedy: Jouan (29-39), Iriarte (57-66), Férez (149-166) and in Homer; Wathelet (137-166). But the volume is largely about cult practice, and this emphasis is correct. It is the interaction between society and religion, or between politics and religion, that is the most relevant and informative for the student of Greek religion to see how the belief systems of the Greeks operated within the context of daily society and politics.

Several papers take up the notion of heroisation and why it might come about. Hoffman (365-75) and Voutiras (377-94) discuss the examples of Brasidas and Cleomenes III respectively and consider why historical individuals might become the recipients of cult. Brasidas’ military success at Amphipolis led to his supplanting the original Athenian oikistes Hagnon, and the breaking of the tie of ethnicity with the Athenians led to an idea that Brasidas would be more effective as a tutelary divinity. But, as Hoffman points out (374), Brasidas was very much an exception from a military point of view: he was not heroised simply because he was a warrior. Drawing heavily on Thucydides’ comments (Thuc. 4.81.3), Hoffman argues that this heroisation was the culmination of a career of someone who excelled (367-69). Perhaps some comparison with the career of Lysander would have been relevant here.

But much more common than the creation of new heroes was the ‘recycling’ of existing ones. Mythical personages were elevated in the archaic and classical periods to heroic status in order to meet the political needs of their new-found worshippers (Blomart, 351-64). Blomart stresses that the hero might be a local figure who finds new emphasis, such as Theseus (357), or be one transferred from another place. Blomart of course discusses the ‘premier exemple’ Orestes (359) who assumed important significance at a turning point in Sparta’s career, at the beginning of the Peloponnesian League. The most interesting discussion of mythical or historical heroes must, however, be Voutiras’ nicely argued points about Cleomenes III (377-94), which are bracketed by the observation that the veneration of living men after death was not unusual (377), especially those who had died violently.

Heroes could be poached from other localities but in addition local figures such as the daughters of Erechtheus, the Hyakinthids, could advise their Athenian worshippers to keep enemy worshippers at bay (Ekroth 269) to prevent the transfer of assistance from the Athenians to their enemies (Eur. fr. 65).

It was perhaps surprising that there was not more treatment of hero figures such as Herakles and Asklepios. Herakles receives some attention from Bernardini (185-96), but the summary treatment was a little disappointing. ‘Philogynia’ and ‘Misogynia’ are covered from the literary sources but without the epigraphic material from Thasos. De Velasco (197-216) deals with the iconography of Heracles, Atlas and the Hesperides, but the problem of essay collections mentioned above is encountered here. There is no overall discussion of Heracles, who is not integrated into the heroic framework, yielding a patchy treatment (see also Verbanck-Piérard’s paper, 292-93).

Apart from Heracles, surely the most important heroic cult was that of Asklepios, transformed with Epidaurian support in the fifth century from hero cult to that of a deity in his own right. Asklepios features in Verbanck-Piérard’s discussion, the longest in the volume (281-332), on the healing cults of classical Athens. Incubation, which was the crucial element in Asklepios’ cult and that of Amphiaraos, requires detailed treatment. There are a few points on p. 311 but they fail to address the chthonic nature of incubation. Why do epiphanies of healing deities occur mainly at night and in the sick person’s subconscious? What is the reality of the healing experience recorded in Arkhinos’ fourth-century dedication to Amphiaraos at Oropos, which in the left register shows the healing hero attending to Arkhinos’ right arm, but in the right register in shallower relief shows the chthonic serpent biting the same area while Arkhinos sleeps on his couch and Amphiaraos looks on? I also missed here a discussion of Pancrates, who is given only a passing mention (p. 325). There are significant gaps in the bibliography (especially Helen King’s important discussion of Asklepios in her Hippocrates’ Woman: Reading the Female Body in Ancient Greece, London, Routledge, 1998, 99-113). But the paper does brings out the sheer variety of healing deities available in classical Athens and underlies the fact that sickness is one area in which humans are most helpless and seek divine aid.

To conclude with some general observations on this erudite and useful volume: while a few papers concentrate on Athens, there are enough evidence and ideas presented about heroes and their myths and cults in this volume to give it a solid coverage of heroes in ancient Greece. Sometimes slabs of Greek text are quoted, but they are usually not translated; this is not a problem for the Greek reader but will present difficulties for those students of Greek religion who are not far advanced with their Greek studies. Some authors are more generous in this respect than others, and l’Homme-Wéry translates the texts that he quotes.

All of the papers are comprehensively annotated with detailed footnotes referring the reader to relevant discussions. An Orientation bibliographique (xviii-xxiii) is appended to the Introduction thématique and provides a useful beginning for any scholar who wants to undertake work in this area. Additional bibliographies are appended to papers that require them.

There was a surprising lack of illustrations and no consolidated list of those that were included. The illustrations provided, however, are wellkeyed into the text. But museum inventory numbers are not always given, an unusual feature in what is meant to be a work for other academics (see e.g., p. 216). An index for a volume of so many papers is not to be expected, but the unifying theme of this volume might have provided an opportunity for one.

There is a great deal of material here. Most of the papers are short and to the point; the longer ones develop themes of interest. A wealth of information is included, and many interpretations are offered. Most of the papers are accessible, and the individual authors approach their chosen topic with sound methodologies. Each focuses on the evidence, but moves beyond the descriptive, asking relevant questions about heroes and heroisation within the context of the paper’s subject. This book will be a standard one to consult on Greek hero cults.