BMCR 2021.04.39

Πλειών. Papers in memory of Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood

, Πλειών. Papers in memory of Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood. Ariadne, supplemental series, 1. Rethymnon: School of Philosophy, University of Crete, 2018. Pp. xvii, 390. ISBN 9786188222915 €26,00 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (1945-2007) was, arguably, the smartest and most influential member of my generation of students of Greek religion. She also was a dear friend. Although classical scholars might associate her most with the idea of polis religion,[1] she was a highly versatile classicist, who covered a wide area: from Minoan iconography via Mycenaean philology to tragedy, vases and myth. In her work, she increasingly stressed that we should try to avoid the assumptions of our own culture, although she overestimated, it seems to me, to what extent that is possible. Christiane was a warm-hearted person, both to the friends of her own generation and to much younger scholars, of whom many were present on Crete in 2012 for a memorial conference, of which the book under review is the partial outcome.

The book begins with a survey by Athena Kavoulaki of Christiane’s career, which not only discusses her scholarly work but also pays attention to her novels and poetry, and a summary of the contributions. The introduction concludes with a complete bibliography (1-20), and an Appendix contains the poems she wrote as a student.[2]

The book starts with a contribution by Ian Rutherford, her former Reading colleague, on the practice of cities sending delegates to festivals and sanctuaries, a subject he discussed with Christiane a number of times, as he explains. He persuasively discovers a ritual scheme in which ‘the movement of sacred delegates between a Greek city and Delphi is coordinated with a myth about primeval purification of Apollo or Orestes … A special symbol of the primeval purification is the wearing of laurel taken from a significant tree’. The discussion shows the popularity of the Orestes myth and the varied purposes to which it could be applied, thus also showing, I would add, the flexibility of the myth-ritual relationship.

To what extent can we apply the study of polis religion to Caria? To answer that question, Robert Parker, whose study of Athenian religion is its finest fruit,[3] focuses on Mylasa and the Chrysaoric league. His careful analysis leads to interesting questions about the nature of the emergence of the polis and the place of kinship-based units in that process. After a brief presentation of the public documents of the Amphiaraion of Oropos until the later fourth century, John Davies proposes an economic analysis of the sanctuary from the point of view of modern economic theories, asking to what extent Athens acted as a rational manager of its assets, but I do not feel that the modern theories add much to what we understand already.[4] In the style of Christiane, that is, working with the idea of ‘filters’, Sally Humphreys interestingly analyses the history of the approaches to the Athenian exegetai from the nineteenth century onward until today and manages to expand the number of Athenian exegetai.[5] Peter Wilson contributes a rich article by studying theatres in the Attic demes, which are helpfully plotted on a map (p. 101). He shows that the members of demes could and did visit theatres of other demes and that these theatres could, not impossibly, also be rented out to private entrepreneurs. His nuanced discussion is surely the best survey of the deme theatres at this time.

Turning to textual analyses, Agis Marinis focuses on the panhellenic aspect of Greek religion by looking at Pindar, Paean 6, for which he could better have used the translation by Furley and Bremer than his own.[6] The reading of Pindar is interesting, but the relation between polis religion and panhellenic religion remains somewhat vague. Renaud Gagné ponders the problem of unknowability of the divine by looking at two passages of the Hippolytus (822-833 and 1379-1383). Both of them refer to ancestral fault to make sense of their predicament. As he argues, this ‘implicit theology of ideas like ancestral fault, independently of any consideration of cult, is an integral element of the “discourse of religious exploration” staged by tragedy’ (p. 192). John Petropoulos discusses time in Theocritus’ Adonis Hymn in an interesting manner, even though the comparisons with the Greek Orthodox Passion/Easter celebration sometimes seem a bit strained.

Michael Anderson looks at Stravinsky’s 1927 opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex and discusses how the latter brought out the religious dimension of the play in this work. Anton Bierl turns to the Antigone, one of Christiane’s favourite dramas. Taking his point of departure from Antigone 115-1152[7] and the little known hymn in the Anthologia Palatina (9.524) composed of epithets of Dionysos, Bierl follows Vernant in seeing the god as ‘the Other’, even though this interpretation has been persuasively criticised by Albert Henrichs, who would have appreciated Bierl’s very useful collection of Dionysian epithets.[8] Bierl studies the many epithets connected to ecstatic cries, such as Iacchos, Thriambos and Euios, but the real value of his contribution is the collection of Dionysian epithets, even though one can sometimes quarrel with individual explanations or expand the number of references.[9] Finally, Mika Kajava and Elina Salminen collect and discuss disc-shaped artefacts connected to athletes. This is a very useful, well-illustrated collection of evidence, building on the earlier one by Paul Jacobsthal (1880-1957). They show that the early discuses were dedicated to gods, but also used in funerary contexts.

The well edited book—I did not note any typos—concludes with a good index. One would have liked, perhaps, more engagement with Christiane’s work, as in Parker’s contribution, but overall she would have been pleased with this memorial volume.

Table of Contents

Ian Rutherford, ‘Delphi, Primeval Purification and Theōria: In Search of a Schema’, 21-31)
Robert Parker, ‘Caria and Polis Religion’, (33-57)
John Davies, ‘Was “Polis Religion” Economically Rational? The Case of Oropos’ (59-84)
Sally Humphries, ‘The Athenian Exegetai’ (85-96)
Peter Wilson, ‘The Theatres and Dionysia of Attica’, (97-144)
Agis Marinis, ‘Pindar’s Sixth Paean: Conceptualizing Religious Panhellenism’ (145-77)
Renaud Gagné, ‘Euripides, Hippolytus 822-833 and 1379-1383: Theology, Religious Exploration, and Unknowability’ (179-193)
John Petropoulos, ‘Sacred Time in Theocritus’ Hymn of Adonis (Idyll 15)’ (195-220).
Michael Anderson, ‘Tragedy, Greek Religion, and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex’, 221-228
Anton Bierl, ‘God of Many Names: Dionysus in the Light of His Cult Epithets’, (229-288)
Mika Kajava and Elina M. Salminen, ‘Greek Inscribed Discs: Athletes, Dedications and Tombstones’, (289-331)
M. Inwood, ‘What is the Point of Religion’, (335-340)
Appendix: Poems by Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (341-380).


[1] Her two influential articles on polis religion have been conveniently reprinted in R. Buxton (ed.), Oxford Readings in Greek Religion (Oxford, 2000) 13-55.

[2] For a fine biographical sketch with a list of obituaries, see also R. Parker, ‘Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood’, in L. Goldman (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005-2008 (Oxford, 2013) 589-90.

[3] R. Parker, Polytheism and society at Athens (Oxford, 2005); see also his spirited defence of the idea of polis religion: ‘Religion in the Polis or Polis Religion’, Praktika tes Akademias Athinon 2018, 20-39.

[4] For the economics of sanctuaries, see also P. Brulé, Comment percevoir le sanctuaire grec? (Paris, 2012).

[5] For Pausanias’ guides (p. 94), add C.P. Jones, ‘Pausanias and his Guides’, in S. Alcock and J. Elsner (eds), Pausanias: Travel and Imagination in Roman Greece (Oxford, 2001) 33-39.

[6] W.D. Furley and J.M. Bremer, Greek Hymns, 2 vols (Tübingen, 2001) 168-69.

[7] Bierl prints Δηοῦς in 1121, but it should be Δηιοῦς, cf. J.N. Bremmer, ‘Rescuing Deio in Sophocles and Euripides’, ZPE 158 (2006) 27.

[8] A. Henrichs, ‘“He Has a God in Him”: Human and Divine in the Modern View of Dionysus’, in T. Carpenter and C. Faraone (eds), Masks of Dionysus (Ithaca, NY, 1993) 13-43 at 31-39.

[9] See, for example, F. Graf, Nordionische Kulte (Rome, 1985) 35 (D. Aktaios), 75 (D. Kemelios); R. Parker, Greek Gods Abroad (Oxford, 2017) 187 (D. Katapogon); J.N. Bremmer, The World of Greek Religion and Mythology (Tübingen, 2019) 33 (D. Thyoneus), 37-41 (Agrionia), 38 (D. Agrios), 40 (D. Eri)kryptos, 276 (D. Bassareus). Also note the absence of a reference for Attis as Dionysos.