Monday, October 29, 2012


Laura Gawlinski (ed.), The Sacred Law of Andania: a New Text with Commentary. Sozomena, 11. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. xi, 285. ISBN 9783110267570. $154.00.

Reviewed by Hugh Bowden, King's College London (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The Mysteries of the Great Gods of Andania are one of the better documented mystery cults in the Greek world, leaving aside the Eleusinian Mysteries. Pausanias has a number of things to say about the cult in his book on Messenia (esp. 4.26.6-8, 33.4-5), and an inscription relating to the first celebration (or the restoration) of the festival, discovered in 1858, survives, cut in two and built into the doorway of the church in Konstantinoi in Messenia, where the front face is still easily readable. The text has been republished many times since the initial discovery, as Gawlinski outlines in the introduction to the text and translation (pp. 61-2), and a complete translation is included in Marvin Meyer's sourcebook (preview online).1 The inscription, which is probably part of a longer original text, gives detailed instructions about the organization of the festival, including oath-taking, the order of the procession, the provision of camping facilities, the financing and provision of sacrificial victims, and other practicalities. Inevitably it reveals nothing about the performance of the mysteries themselves, beyond requiring silence from the participants in the festival who are not being initiated while the rites take place somewhere out of sight.

Laura Gawlinski's contribution to the scholarship on the inscription and the mysteries is an excellent new edition of the text, based on careful autopsy as well as previous editions, and following current epigraphic conventions, accompanied by parallel translation and followed by a detailed commentary.

The first chapter addresses 'The Text and its Context' (pp. 1-32). The usual date for the inscription is 91 BC (year 55 of the Achaean era), but Petros Themelis has argued that it should be redated to AD 24 (year 55 of the Aktian era). 2 Gawlinski offers a full and balanced discussion of the competing proposals, concluding that she is 'not fully persuaded' by Themelis' arguments (pp. 3-11). On the other major matter of debate, whether the inscription marks the creation of a new festival or the revival of an existing one, she comes down firmly in favour of the latter point of view (pp. 12-16).

The second chapter (pp. 33-59) discusses the topography of the sanctuary as described in the inscription, and of the area near Konstantinoi, where the festival is presumed to have taken place, and its relationship to the city of Messene. This includes a careful analysis of Pausanias' account of his travels in the area, which benefits from Gawlinski's own exploration of the area on foot.

Text and translation come in Chapter Three. The text itself is presented on left-hand pages, with a full critical apparatus below, and a detailed epigraphic description below that. Since the stone is fairly well preserved, the final text is not significantly different from earlier editions, although Gawlinski offers a new and preferable restoration for the second part of line 55 (lost when the stone was cut in half) that makes more sense of the funding arrangements. She also restores the word μέρη in a space at the start of 96. The differences between Gawlinski's text and that printed by Nadine Deshours, in the most recent monograph on the Andanian mysteries,3 have no implications for the interpretation of the inscription, but Gawlinski's edition is now clearly to be preferred to all its predecessors.

The facing translation keeps closely to the text but is very clear. Words for which there is no clear English equivalent are generally transliterated, and then given a full discussion in the commentary. Meyer, who did not have the luxury of providing detailed notes, let alone a commentary, offers translations which do not always enlighten ('Egyptian tunic' is not a great improvement on kalasiris), but sometimes might seem preferable. In line 29, describing the order of the procession at the festival, Meyer has '... then the director of the games, the priests of the sacrifices, and the flute players'; Gawlinski offers us '... then the agonothetes, the hierothytai, and the auletai'. She does explain the meaning of the first two terms in the commentary (pp. 138-9), but the discussion of οἱ αὐληταί would leave those unfamiliar with the word no clearer about what these 'players' played. For the intended readership of this volume however, this is probably not important.

Chapter Four (pp. 97-246) is the commentary. Obscure words are helpfully discussed. Since the inscription has detailed regulations about women's dress, the commentary is an excellent place to go for cosmetic vocabulary. On p. 127, for example, Gawlinski discusses φῦκος ('a rouge made from seaweed') ψιμίθιον ('a white, lead-based make- up') and ἀνάδεμα ('a ribbon-like band used to tie up the hair') with references to (mainly classical) texts. Not all the problems of what the terms might mean are resolvable, and Gawlinski indicates clearly the limits of current knowledge. When it comes to discussing ritual, there are frequent references to parallels, most often drawn from Sokolowski's volumes of Leges Sacrae and Clinton's edition of Eleusinian inscriptions. The bibliography on which the discussion is based is up-to-date, with several items dating from 2010 and at least one from 2011.

The commentary is followed a by a one-page appendix giving the text of Syll.3 735, which includes an oracle about the Mysteries requested by Mnasistratos. Unfortunately, the text in line 17 is a mess.

There are three indexes. Somewhat confusingly, and without indication, the first of these, the Index Verborum, gives references to the lines of the inscription, while the other two, Ancient Sources and the rather brief General Index, refer to page numbers. It is not a bad idea to do this with an Index Verborum since it allows quick access to the relevant places in the commentary as well as the text, but it has its downside. References in the text to protomustai play a role in the discussion of the nature of the document in Chapter One, but there is no way to use the index to find one's way to this discussion. And at the very least, if neighbouring indexes are using different referencing systems, the reader deserves to be told.

Inevitably not everything in Gawlinski's text will convince every scholar. Since they first became the subject of serious academic study a bit more than a century ago, 'mystery cults' have tended to attract more than their fair share of speculation, and hypotheses for which there is relatively little firm evidence have sometimes been accepted as hard fact. One looks to commentaries on texts to anchor discussion firmly to what can be said with confidence. In general this volume does this task well, but there are places where it might be seen to be extending speculation rather than resolving it. For example the inscription calls for the supply of three piglets, 'when one purifies in the theatre' (l. 68). Gawlinski comments (p. 169), 'the involvement of a theatral space in a purification calls to mind thronosis ... This was used as a preliminary purification (myesis) in the Samothracian Mysteries.' The latter claim is backed up by a reference to Kevin Clinton's discussion of myesis at Eleusis and Samothrace,4 with a note that Clinton 'tentatively suggests the circular Theatral Area ... as a possible location for the rite at Samothrace'. But Clinton is only repeating a hypothesis of A.D. Nock, based on a references in Plato to thronosis in the cult of the Corybants in Athens, and a passage of Strabo (10.3.19) that connects the Corybantes with the Kabeiroi and the Kabeiroi with Samothrace (elsewhere Strabo is scathing about those who make such confident connections: Strab. 7 fr. 50): there is no actual evidence for thronosis at Samothrace, and therefore no basis for drawing parallels between the Samothracian Theatral Area (not, it should be noted, the actual theatre in the Samothracian sanctuary) and the theatre (of uncertain location) mentioned in the inscription.

A more fundamental issue relates to the identity of the Great Gods and of 'the gods for whom the Mysteries are celebrated' (so described in ll. 2-3 and 28-9). Gawlinski has a discussion of 'deities' in the first chapter (pp. 17-22), where she presents 'the prevailing trend', which follows Pausanias in seeing the mysteries as belonging to Demeter and Kore, and 'recent scholarship', which emphasizes the role of the Great Gods themselves. She notes that the masculine form τοὺς θεούς can refer to a group of mixed gender, and therefore suggests that 'the gods for whom the Mysteries are celebrated' could have included goddesses, and in particular Demeter. As for the Great Gods themselves, she states after a brief discussion (p. 21) that 'The Great Gods should be identified as the Dioskouroi, perhaps as a result of syncretism between two separate cults'. Line 24 refers to women who are to be dressed εἰς θεῶν διάθεσιν. The word θεῶν here is usually translated as 'gods' (thus Meyer; Deshours translates it 'dieux'), but Gawlinski argues that since the people dressing up are women, the word should be understood as 'goddesses', and that it refers to Demeter and Kore, even though Kore is never mentioned in the inscription. Neither in the discussion of 'deities' nor in the translation or commentary does she refer to the more usual translation. The whole discussion assumes that phrases like 'Great Gods' or 'the gods for whom the Mysteries are celebrated' were simply convenient ways of referring to groups of gods whose identity was otherwise known. This seems a questionable assumption, especially in mysteries, where the opportunity to discuss any aspects of cult was restricted. The worshipers at Andania may simply not have known who the gods were to whom they were offering cult.

The issues are important for making sense of Greek religion, but they are only a small part of what is in the inscription. It is unlikely that there will ever be scholarly agreement about the precise nature of the Andanian Mysteries, but from now on the debate will be grounded in a fully reliable text, and a commentary that puts it into its widest context.


1.   Marvin W. Meyer, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook: Sacred Texts of the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean World, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, 49-59.
2.   Petros Themelis, 'Τα Κάρνεια καὶ ἠ Ἀνδανία' in E. Simantoni-Bournia et al. (edd.) Ἀμύμονα ἔργα. Τιμητικὸς τόμος γιὰ τὸν καθηγητὴ Βασιλη Κ.Λαμπρινουδάκη, Athens, 2007, 509-28.
3.   Nadine Deshours, Les mystères d'Andania: Étude d'épigraphie et d'histoire religieuse, Paris: De Boccard, 2006.
4.   Kevin Clinton, 'Stages of initiation in the Eleusinian and Samothracian mysteries', in Michael B. Cosmopoulos, M.B. (ed.), Greek mysteries: the archaeology and ritual of ancient Greek secret cults, London and New York: Routledge, 50-78.

1 comment:

  1. Just to respond to Hugh Bowden's point on the new edition of the inscription, I would simply like to emphasise that Nadine Deshours' edition and her translation of the text are extremely careful and simply very good. To say that Deshours' translation is superseded by Laura Gawlinski's edition is perhaps an overstatement. At any rate we should be grateful to have both editions in different languages that also represent two traditions.


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