BMCR 2006.10.10

Idia kai demosia. Les cadres ‘privés’ et ‘publics’ de la religion grecque antique. Actes du IXe colloque du CIERGA, tenu à Fribourg du 8 au 10 septembre 2003. Kernos, suppl. 15

, 981652. Liège:, 1988. 1 online resource.. €40.00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Les cadres ‘privés’ et ‘publics’ de la religion grecque antique gathers papers originally given at a conference of the same name held in Fribourg in 2003. Inspired by a 1995 colloquium in Paris on the notions of public and private in ancient Greece, the editors describe the aims of the Fribourg conference as a reexamination of these concepts in the context of Greek religious practices.1 The volume covers a wide range of topics from Homeric language to Egyptian sanctuaries in the Roman period. Most of the essays are detailed case studies that focus on specific problems, while a few consider broader questions; taken together, they provide a complex and evolving picture of the link between private and public in Greek cult. Many essays highlight the lack of correspondence between ancient and modern categories.2 If there is no strict opposition between private and public to be found, the volume shows that the various ways in which the individual and the communal realms are interconnected offer a fascinating perspective on Greek thought. This is especially true of cult, where individual experience acquires significance only by being articulated in the community. Some of the essays could have benefited from firmer editorial control: a few give the impression of having made the transition from talk to paper with little revision, and some of the repetitive introductory material that prefaces several articles could have been brought together more profitably in the introduction.3 Despite these drawbacks, the volume as a whole asks important questions and offers stimulating answers. While few will read the volume cover to cover, all should find several essays relevant to their research.

Guy Donnay examines the phrase μεσῶι ἕρκει in the Iliad, where it is used by Achilles and Priam in two prayers. Drawing upon the language of the Homeric prayers and on comparisons with the iconography of libations accompanying scenes of departure of warriors on vase paintings, Donnay argues that “in the middle of the enclosure” is the equivalent of “in the middle of the courtyard” or “in the middle of the house,” which implies that a prayer described in this way must be “private.” Donnay also explores the various meanings of herkos from the literal sense of physical barrier to the more metaphorical sense of protection against an attack. While the prayers are firmly placed within the domestic realm of the oikos, the requests made by Achilles and Priam concern safety and protection outside the house. Donnay concludes that, although addressed to Zeus, these Homeric prayers should not be linked to the cult of Zeus Herkeios since his sphere of action would not extend outside the herkos.

François de Polignac examines early uses of writing in Greek sanctuaries. Building on Detienne’s notion of “publicity” as a way of avoiding a misleading dichotomy between public and private, de Polignac defines a different opposition between two sets of inscriptions in their cultic context. Inscriptions on votive offerings, which by definition aim at being seen, can nevertheless be divided into two different categories: dedications inscribed or painted on precious or monumental objects meant to be seen by as many people as possible are widely attested from the end of the 7th century BC on; by contrast, the second category, graffiti, is less visible and much more numerous. Inscriptions on small everyday objects are varied, ranging from dedication to abecedaries, and very numerous from the late 8th century BC on, and widespread throughout the Greek world. De Polignac convincingly argues that the most important aspect of all these graffiti inscriptions is the “performance” of writing in a ritual context, which is both individual and public. De Polignac thus concludes that the increase in votive inscriptions from the end of the 7th century on does not indicate a switch from private to public, but signals a transition to a dominant model of mastering time through the mastery of the sign.

Pierre Brulé starts his essay with Aristotle’s definition of the city as “a group of houses” ( οἰκιῶν) and a passage from Plato’s Euthydemus where Socrates discusses households and ancestral hiera ( ἱερὰ οἰκεῖα καὶ πατρῷα). Brulé argues that the cult of Zeus Herkeios ripples through from the oikos to the rest of the city: Zeus Herkeios is understood as the guardian of the oikos, yet citizenship in turn is defined as the ownership of a Herkeios, and his cult also plays a role at the level of the phratry, genos, deme, and tribe. The cult of domestic divinities like Zeus Herkeios can thus extend from the context of the family to that of larger social units, which also reflects the Athenian extension of the notion of ancestry beyond literal family ties. The editors could have exercised their authority here and striven for greater clarity: the essay reads at times as if it were a draft, with several possible versions all left in (e.g. p. 48 “le privilège / l’exercice”). Although the argument has obvious links to Donnay’s essay on Zeus Herkeios in the Iliad, Brulé’s essay is not cross-referenced with the earlier essay (which does refer to the latter one).

Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge turns to the question of the status of priests in the city and, more particularly, to the connotations of the word demoteles : were priests described as demoteleis more “public” than others? Pirenne-Delforge examines how the adjective is used in ancient sources, including the first extant (and unique) use in Herodotus (to describe a sacrifice), the single mentions in Thucydides (festival) and Plato’s Laws (sacrifices), and the orators and inscriptions (sacrifices or rituals). Turning to inscriptions on the island of Cos, Pirenne-Delforge shows that strong link between the notion of price and ritual evoked by telein (payment vs. ritual action) and the ambiguity of the word demos (community vs. political entity) allow for a different understanding of the word beyond “at the public cost” or “with public authority” offered by Liddell-Scott-Jones. In Cos, the word refers to priests who purchase an office and who are consecrated ( telein in the religious sense) by the people. Priesthoods acquired in this way thus do not reflect a kind of privatization of religion that would distinguish between privately and publicly funded priesthoods, but rather reaffirm the city’s authority over sanctuaries that are important to the community as a whole.

Stella Georgoudi focuses on the role of women in religion. Her essay complements Pirenne-Delforge nicely as both show how the performance of religious duties move seamlessly between the private and the public sphere. Scholarship, as Georgoudi reminds us, tends to look at the role of women in ancient Greek religion through the lens of Athens, and more particularly through the distorting mirror of tragedy. Georgoudi suggests some possible approaches towards a better understanding of the “active role of women in civic cults.” Looking at three examples concerning priests and priestesses and their function in the community, Georgoudi shows that priestesses are not relegated to a secondary role. Religion also is a way of incorporating women in the community, and the only realm in which women were in fact treated as citizens. Like their male counterparts, priestesses pray in the name of the city, address the Boule, and can be entrusted with keys to the temple.

Turning from priesthood to politics, Pauline Schmitt-Pantel’s essay examines how the notions of idion and demosion are articulated in the actions of well-known 5th century political figures (Aristides, Themistocles, Cimon, Pericles, Nicias, Alcibiades). She focuses in particular on religious actions performed by these men as private citizens in a public or civic context. Private offerings can be made to celebrate city events, and the Athenian citizens, for example, grant Cimon the right to erect herms in honor of his victory at Eion. Using Plutarch as her main source presents some problems for Schmitt-Pantel’s argument, but she persuasively shows that Plutarch’s text reflects 5th century realities. Although there is no strict differentiation between the political and the religious realms, the division between public and private cult remains operative. Individuals can make offerings to divinities who protect the city in a public context, yet public cults remain the prerogative of the city as a whole: when Themistocles displays confusion between private and public cults by establishing a sanctuary for Artemis Aristoboule near his house, it becomes a cause of his ostracism. There is also evidence that Themistocles and Cimon had two tombs each, showing, Schmitt-Pantel concludes, how the division between their private and public roles is reflected in the dual way in which they are remembered as both private and public figures.

Louise Bruit Zaidman’s essay offers an in-depth study of the ways in which one public figure, Xenophon, constructs his religious persona in the Anabasis. The Anabasis allows us to look at how the public and private, or the private and the collective, interact in the context of religious piety. When Xenophon starts his account he is a private citizen, but as his public role of army leader becomes more important, he starts to depict himself acting on behalf of the community. The narrative also highlights that what we call private is in fact always thought of in terms of the public, as Xenophon’s own piety becomes meaningful only through the social sanction given to his private behavior.

Isabelle Ratinaud-Lachkar examines burial practices in Argos in the second half of the 8th century BC as a way of exploring the ways in which individuals understand themselves and their roles in the community. While types of burials can differ, Ratinaud-Lachkar argues that the meaning of the objects placed in tombs remains constant: adults are accompanied in the beyond by generic objects that define their social role in terms of war and feasts (weapons, obeloi, vases). More diverse personal objects, such as small figurines and cups, are typically found in children’s graves. Ratinaud-Lachkar argues that, for adults, it is their status in the community that takes precedence over their individual personalities, and concludes by drawing a parallel between Argive burial practices and the Homeric understanding of idios as denoting the individual as a social being whose place in society is defined by his possessions.

Athena Kavoulaki focuses on Athenian mourning regulations. While the rules governing funerals have been examined in their political and economic implications, Kavoulaki frames her discussion around the movement from the domestic setting of the prothesis to the public display of the ekphora. Arguing against strictly political interpretations of mortuary legislation, Kavoulaki shows the importance of religious beliefs in the Greeks’ understanding of funerary rituals. As Plato’s Laws demonstrates, not only physical, but also social contact with a dead body can be the source of miasma. The ekphora is a ritual with a public impact, and thus Athens seeks to regulate what could be a source of ritual pollution for its citizens.

Alain Moreau turns to drama and explores the contrast between what he defines as private, popular, and official mourning in Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Electra and Antigone, and Euripides’ Electra. Moreau argues that these plays present an opposition between private and public mourning, with the hero forced to perform private mourning rituals in defiance of the community’s official stance represented by a misguided leader or king. Popular mourning, symbolized by the chorus or other representatives of the humble citizen, functions as the middle term. In each play, popular mourning ultimately aligns itself with private mourning, in contrast to insincere or inadequate official mourning, and thereby brings about a kind of ritual purification. The opposition Moreau makes between public and private mourning is troubling and brings us back to the question of the lack of correspondence between modern and ancient categories. One wonders, for example, what Moreau makes of some of the secondary literature on these plays, such as Sourvinou-Inwood’s work on the Antigone, which shows that our perceptions of the play and its characters are very different from those of its original audience.4

Following up on Walter Burkert’s study in Ktema 23, Louise-Marie L’Homme-Wéry focuses on the tension between private and public in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Athens controls and administrates the sanctuary, although participation remains a private matter. Athens integrates the Mysteries in the city as a public festival, while at the same time the Eleusinian priests maintain control the rites’ content and the secret that is revealed only to initiates. The Mysteries thus remain midway between idion and demosion.

The tension between private and public at the core of the Eleusinian sanctuary is also found in a variety of religious associations, which are the focus of the next three essays. Yulia Ustinova looks at religious associations in terms of their legal status. Greek law does not make a clear distinction between private and public corporations, Ustinova argues, but there is a clear distinction between two kinds of groups: the various subdivisions of the state in which a citizen is born and the various associations that an individual can choose to join of his own volition. Such voluntary associations exist already in the archaic and classical period, where they benefit from a great degree of freedom. A law attributed to Solon already attests to these associations’ right to administer their own affairs freely as long as they do not conflict with city laws. The law remains vague on the subject of voluntary cult associations, perhaps, Ustinova argues, because the right of free association seemed so obvious that it did not need to be protected or because in the absence of a concept of juristic person there is little legal basis for action.

Anne-Françoise Jaccottet looks at Dionysiac associations in the Hellenistic period and shows that these groups are incorporated into the city’s religious life. Although trance and initiation are powerful individual religious experiences, these experiences are articulated in a collective context. Dionysiac associations play the role of intermediaries between individual and city, and these associations in turn can be understood as complementary with rather than in opposition to city cults. In the next essay, Véronique Suys examines a broader range of cultic associations in the Hellenistic period and comes to very similar conclusions about the complementary relationship between private religious associations and official cults.

Sophia Anziri focuses on the question of ruler cult in the Hellenistic period. Archaeological evidence of offerings made by functionaries and soldiers, both as individuals and as members of ad hoc religious associations indicates some measure of private cult among citizens who hold government or military jobs. Decrees concerning sacrifices performed at home in honor of the ruler also provide evidence for private practices: some decrees allow citizens to build altars to Ptolemy V, while a decree from Iasos shows that newlyweds offer sacrifices to Laodice III. Still, much is unclear about the interaction between state and private ruler cults, and Anziri ends her study by stressing its “preliminary” status and the need for taking into account the complex interaction between Egyptian and Greek religious practices in Ptolemaic Egypt.

Panayotis Iossif attempts to take this interaction between Egyptian and Greek attitudes into account in his essay on Hellenistic inscriptions. Iossif differentiates between two categories of dedications: inscriptions with huper and the dative typically reflect Greek and Macedonian attitudes towards a ruler who is worshipped as a god; inscriptions with huper and the genitive, by contrast, show the influence of Egyptian practices and attest to the “pharaonisation” of the concept of the ruler. The ruler comes to be seen as both an Egyptian divinity and an intermediary between worshipper and gods.

Renée Koch Piettre examines the apparent tension between the Epicurean maxim “live unnoticed” and the public role of teachers and priests who are honored as both Epicureans and public figures in inscriptions from the Hellenistic and Roman period. The paradox, she argues, is only superficial. There is no absolute distinction between private and public, and religious and political activities are not incompatible with the Epicureans’ goal of a peaceful life within a community of friends.

Emmanuel Voutiras examines the status of the Sarapeion in Thessaloniki. The sanctuary was founded by a private association or individuals in the 3rd century BC, which shows that Egyptian cults were present in mainland Greece early on, and its influence grew in the city. An inscription from the 2nd century BC shows that King Philip V ensured protection for the sanctuary’s ability to dispose of offerings and other precious objects, and the sanctuary was open to the public. Yet, despite royal protection and public festivals, the sanctuary was under the control of a private association of specially initiated priests.

The volume closes with Isabelle Tassignon’s informative study of naturalia and curiosa found in Greek sanctuaries, including a catalogue of such offerings. Tassignon shows the contrast between two kinds of offerings that reflect two kinds of mentalities: on the one hand, the naturalia (rocks, seashells, amber, pine cones, etc.) and curiosa (stalactites, animal bones, horns, and fossils) that gradually disappear at the end of the 6th century BC, and on the other hand, objects such as miniature tripods or kouroi. The former offerings can be understood as a kind of bricolage made by isolated individuals while the latter kind of offerings are made by individuals who feel themselves part of a community and aim at competing with the larger and more valuable offerings made by more wealthy citizens or associations of citizens.

The volume offers a good overview of many of the most interesting questions about the religious experience in ancient Greece, and, as the editors vow in the introduction, it opens up many promising paths.


Présentation, par Marcel PIÉRART et Véronique DASEN (vii-xvi)

Guy DONNAY, Euchet’epeita stas mesôi herkei (Iliade Pi 231, O 306) (1-11)

François DE POLIGNAC, Usages de l’écriture dans les sanctuaires du haut archaïsme (13-25)

Pierre BRULÉ, “La cité est la somme des maisons”. Un commentaire religieux (27-53)

Vinciane Pirenne, La cité, les dèmotelè hiera et les prêtres (55-68)

Stella GEORGOUDI, Athanatous therapeuein. Réflexions sur des femmes au service des dieux (69-82)

Pauline Schmitt, Les pratiques religieuses dans la construction de l’image des hommes politiques athéniens du Ve siècle avant J.-C. : de l’idion au dèmosion (83-97)

Louise BRUIT ZAIDMAN, Xénophon entre dévotion privée et dévotion publique. L’exemple de l’Anabase (99-111)

Isabelle Ratinaud, Qui enterre-t-on ? Idion et dèmosion vus au travers des tombes argiennes d’époque géométrique (113-127)

Athena KAVOULAKI, Crossing Communal Space : The Classical Ekphora, ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ (129-145)

Alain MOREAU, Deuil officiel et deuil privé dans la tragédie. L’Orestie, les deux Électre, Antigone (147-158)

Louise-Marie L’Homme, Les Mystères d’Éleusis entre privé et public (159-175)

Yulia USTINOVA, Lege et consuetudine: Voluntary cult associations in the Greek law (177-190)

Anne-Françoise JACCOTTET, Du thiase aux mystères. Dionysos entre le ” privé ” et ” l’officiel ” (191-202)

Véronique SUYS, Les associations cultuelles dans la cité aux époques hellénistique et impériale (203-218)

Sophia ANEZIRI, Étude préliminaire sur le culte privé des souverains hellénistiques : problèmes et méthode (219-233)

Panayotis IOSSIF, La dimension publique des dédicaces ” privées ” du culte royal ptolémaïque (235-257)

Renée KOCH PIETTRE, Des Épicuriens entre la vie retirée et les honneurs publics (259-272)

Emmanuel VOUTIRAS, Sanctuaire privé – culte public ? Le cas du Sarapieion de Thessalonique (273-288)

Isabelle TASSIGNON, Naturalia et curiosa dans les sanctuaires grecs (289-303)

Index, par Sandrine DUCATE-PAARMANN.


1. The conference proceedings were published in Public et privé en Grèce ancienne: lieux, conduites, pratiques. Ktèma 23 (1998) edited by F. de Polignac and P. Schmitt-Pantel. Some contributors have essays in both volumes: F. de Polignac, P. Schmitt-Pantel P. Brulé, S. Georgoudi.

2. This is something the editors of Ktema 23 also confronted, especially in the introduction, 5-13, and M. Casevitz’s essay on the vocabulary of private and public, 39-45.

3. E.g. the essays by Schmitt-Pantel, Ratinaud-Lachkar, Kavoulaki all begin with introductory material on the notions of “public” and “private.” There are a few production problems, which seem to be concentrated in a few essays; p. 30, note 12: πρὸγονον for πρόγονον; — p. 39, note 48, parentheses problem; — p. 45, note 78, “Le” for “le”; — p. 48, missing word “il fort significatif”; — p. 51, missing word “des manifestations de cultuelles”; — p. 88, note 18, “elle” for “Elle”; — p. 143 “Epinenides” for “Epimenides”; — p. 179 “in on” for “on”; — p. 180, note 20, “Aristotle is” for “Aristotle in”; — p. 181, note 29, “un” for “in”; — p. 187, note 70, “E. Dignas” for “B. Dignas”; — p. 200, “magnésie” for “Magnésie”; — p. 215, note 63, “Aretusa” for “Arethusa”; — p. 216, note 67, “l’A.”; — p. 220, note 6, “differencies” for “differences”; — p. 222, note 22, “fontionnaire” for “fonctionnaire”; — p. 222, note 23, “IKlaudiupolis” for “I.Klaudiupolis”; — p. 225, note 37, “fontionnaire” for “fonctionnaire”.

4. See Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane, “Assumptions and the Creation of Meaning: Reading Sophocles’ Antigone.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 109 (1989): 134-48.