Friday, June 6, 2014


Philippe Borgeaud, Doralice Fabiano (ed.), Perception et construction du divin dans l'Antiquité. Recherches et rencontres, 31. Genève: Librairie Droz, 2013. Pp. 354. ISBN 9782600016445. 51.25 CHF (pb).

Reviewed by Aikaterini-Iliana Rassia, King's College London (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The volume Perception et construction du divin dans l'Antiquité grew out of a two-day International colloquium, entitled "Perception des dieux, émotions, maîtrise rituelle: corps divins, corps humains" which was held at the University of Geneva in March 24-26, 2011.

The contributions of the volume, all written in French, are introduced by the editors Philippe Borgeaud and Doralice Fabiano, who outline the overarching goal of the Geneva conference: the investigation of the "corporeal" contact between humans and gods ('la perception sensible de la présence divine et …les émotions qu'elle dégage', p.10). Classified thematically, the individual papers are divided into three parts: the first deals with the gods and their statues (pp.19-87), the second focuses on regional cases of epiphany of gods (pp.121-211), and the third on the politics of emotions (pp.237-293).

The first part opens with a brief essay on "Voir les dieux à Rome" by Anne Dubourdieux who builds her argument on the basis of Estienne's contention (Ph.D. thesis) that both 'signum' and 'simulacrum' are preferred nouns for designating a divine representation.1 Dubourdieux's argument that there is a symbolic tension in the function of Roman divine statues is certainly correct. As she nicely argues, the statues could reflect both the presence (signum), and the absence (simulacrum) of a god. In the following essay, Corinne Bonnet and Adeline Grand-Clément examine how the emotional attachment towards divine statues was a vital feature in distinguishing ancient communities (Greeks, Romans and Barbarians) on the basis of their reverence. Their basic argument is formulated around two case-studies: the exile of the statues of Apollo of Gela and Artemis of Segesta. Next, we turn to Collard's paper on Les dieux et leurs statues dans la céramique grecque, which is a part of a doctoral thesis under preparation. Collard investigates two different groups of red-figured vases (Attic and South-Italian) that depict divinities right next to their statues.2 As she correctly argues, this iconographic pattern is not arbitrary, for the artists express different modes of divine representation, and this doubling ought to be further examined (pp.81-83). Finally, the first part closes with Anne-Catherine Gillis' paper on the piety of artisans as reflected in the evolution of the artistic representation of Hephaistos.

Part two, dedicated to case-studies of scenes of epiphany, begins with Sophie Montels' paper on Scénographies sculptées et présence divine. Her paper investigates how the Greeks attempted to make "visible" their deities in shrines or public spaces via the placement of a group of divine statues situated in specific architectural settings. Montel begins with a brief discussion of the earliest traces of modes of installation of divine statues, which have been found in the Minoan sacred sites at Anemospilia, Kommos, and Dreros. This interesting paper also focuses on the divine statues of the Hellenistic temples of Despoina at Lycosoura, of Tycheion at Aigeira, and finally at the Dionysion of Thasos and Labraunda in Karia. The paper's greatest contribution is to contextualise these statues within diverse regional settings and chronological periods. In a thought-provoking paper, Lorenz Baumer discusses how the epiphany of Asclepios in votive-reliefs3 could be facilitated via specific demarcated spaces within the sanctuaries of Asclepius, the so-called abata, which are documented at Amphiareion, Athens, Rhamnous and Corinth.

In the next contribution, Doralice Fabiano expands our understanding of nympholepsy, and gives a useful summary of the earliest publications concerned with the study of nymphs. In many respects, Fabiano's paper is a tour de force on the theme of possession by nymphs. It not only draws on a vast range of scholarly publications but also makes her knowledge very accessible to the reader, both in the polished writing-style and also in the generous discussion of respective ancient texts and inscriptions, often given in the original, as well as in translation. Her novel argument lies in her thesis that nympholeptes (e.g. Archedamos and Pantalkes) by serving as gardeners, they created, organized and facilitated the physical presence of nymphs in their designated sacred spaces.

The sensory (visual, smelling and hearing) impacts in constructing divine epiphanies is examined in the last two papers of Part 2. Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel offers a very enlighting discussion on the sensory impact of the polymorphic, man-made constructed voices of the Mesopotamian storm-god Adad, a demon and the whispering of a priest during rituals that could enhance the contact between the worshipper and the divine. Athanassia Zografou discusses the olfactive (e.g. use of aromatic plants) and visual (e.g. use of lamps and fumigations) impacts of epiphanies, displaying a deep and extensive knowledge on the instructions and advice given in Greek magical papyri, concerning the creation of divine epiphanies in dreams.4

The third part shifts the perspective to the politics of emotion. One of the most innovative ways to conceptualize ancient religions is to consider how ancient people felt in the sight of the presence of the divine (epiphany); how religious theories and practices of specific gods were shaped by specific emotional states (e.g. fear, joy, reverence). The study of human "reactive" emotions in reference to the complex relationship between divine representation and human perception is one of the most dynamic research areas, with most representative scholarly attempts: the recent project 'The Social and Cultural Construction of Emotions: The Greek Paradigm', of Angelos Chaniotis.5 Thus, the third part of the volume is a welcome contribution to this vigorous research area.

The cults of Artemis in Asia Minor may be widely known, but most of the cultic details of each cult evade clear conceptualization. Stephanie Paul has set to dispel some of this mist, by focusing on the reorganization of the cult of Artemis Kinduas, that was held during the second half of the 2nd century BC at the city of Bargylia (Caria), after an epiphany of the goddess as recorded in four Hellenistic decrees. She offers a comprehensive and comparative analysis of this major reorganization, by situating this change in ritual practice within parallel regional frameworks, as these are identified in the cults of Artemis Leukophryene in Magnesia and Artemis Hiakynthotrophos (she who nourishes Hyakinthos) in Cnidus.

The next paper by Marie-Christine Villanueva Puig, addresses a very well-known topic and convincingly reconstructs the politics behind the ritual meanadism, which was embedded in the Attic sacred landscape during the Classical period. Her paper is concerned with the generation of emotions that give rise to individual behavior by women in a setting where the city retains some indirect control over this behavior. Moving to the Roman culture, the third part concludes with Anne-Françoise Jaccottet's paper which focuses on four transformations of human bodies into divine ones: the apotheosis of Herakles, Romulus, Sabina and Antoninus are briefly discussed, for grouping these individual cases under the same theme, that of politics of religion.

Any reader of this volume will also benefit from four useful aids, which altogether enhance the usefulness of the volume: a summary of the contributions in English and three indices [(i.) ancient and modern authors, pp.335-338, (ii) fundamental notions, pp.339-340, (iii) ancient sources, pp.347-351]. The real significance of this new volume lies in the vast compendium of evidence, literary, archeological, and iconographic, and, its multicultural perspective, since it portrays different attitudes of the perception of the gods from Greek, Roman and Mesopotamian cultures. For the reader who favors the methodology of comparativism in religion, the papers by Corinne Bonnet and Adeline Grand-Clément, Hélène Collard, Stéphanie Paul and Lorenz Baumer are useful.

All the papers collected here successfully address the common theme of the volume. In terms of the intended audience, it is specifically aimed at historians of religion, archaeologists, and art historians, but it will also appeal to more advanced students of the history of religions. The editors and the authors are to be congratulated for this rewarding and eminently readable volume. This is a volume well worth consulting by anyone interested in divine representation, and humans' emotional reactions to the "corporeal" sight of the divine, within the context of ancient Mediterranean religions.

Table of Contents

Philippe Borgeaud et Doralice Fabiano, Introduction, 7

Anne Dubourdieu, Voir les dieux à Rome, 19
Corinne Bonnet et Adeline Grand-Clément, Quand les statues divines se meuvent et (s') émeuvent entre Grecs et Barbares, 35
Hélène Collard, Montrer l'invisible. Les dieux et leurs statues dans la céramique grecque, 61
Anne-Catherine Gillis, Des démons dans l'atelier. Iconographie et piété des artisans en Grèce ancienne, 87

Sophie Montel, Scénographies sculptées et présence divine, 121
Lorenz E. Baumer, Où le dieu touche. Réflexions archéologiques sur les sanctuaires d'Asclépios, 147
Doralice Fabiano, La nympholepsie entre possession et paysage, 165
Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel, Voix divines en Mésopotamie ancienne, 197
Magicae Athanassia Zografou, Rencontrer les dieux en rêve dans l'antiquité tardive : la ''programmation" des rêves dans les Papyri Graecae Magicae, 211

Stéphanie Paul , Manifestation du divin et reconfiguration des panthéons à la période hellénistique. L'exemple des Artémis d'Asie Mineure, 237
Marie-Christine Villanueva Puig, Un cas de possession ritualisée : le ménadisme, 261
Anne-Françoise Jaccottet, Du corps humain au corps divin : l'apothéose dans l'imaginaire et les représentations figurées, 293

Résumés, 323
Index de noms, 335
Index des notions fondamentales, 339
Index des sources anciennes, 341
Table des illustrations, 347


1.   For the Ph.D. thesis, see Estienne Sylvia (2000): Les dieux dans la ville. Recherches sur les statues de dieux dans l'espace et les rites publics de Rome, d'Auguste à Sévère Alexandre, Université Paris. For a comparative Greek study on the vocabulary that ancient Greeks used to signify the function of a statue, see J.Bremmer (2008): "Iconoclast, Iconoclastic, and Iconoclasm: Notes Towards a Genealogy", Church History and Religious Culture 88, pp.1-17, esp. page 2.
2.   The Ph.D. thesis under preparation is entitled as 'Montrer l' invisible. Recherches sur la mise en image de la présence divine dans la céramique grecque, (ULg- EHESS, Paris).
3.   Another important discussion of the visual exegesis of votive-reliefs of the epiphany of Asklepios was undertaken by Verity Platt (2011): Facing the Gods: Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Art, Literature and Religion, Cambridge University Press, esp.pages 31-40.
4.   For a relevant article on dream incubation , see also Kimberley C. Patton (2004): "A Great And Strange Correction: Intentionality, Locality, and Epiphany in the category of dream incubation", History of Religions, Vol.43: 194-223.
5.   The seminal works are by A. Chaniotis and P. Ducrey (2014), Unveiling Emotions II. Emotions in Greece and Rome: Texts, Images, Material Culture, Stuttgart. A. Chaniotis (2013): "Staging and Feeling the Presence of God: Emotion and Theatricality in Religious Celebrations in the Roman East", in L. Bricault, C. Bonnet (eds.), Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Roman Empire, Leiden: Brill, 169-189. A. Chaniotis (2012): Unveiling Emotions: Sources and Methods for the Study of Emotions in the Greek World, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. A. Chaniotis (2011): Ritual Dynamics in the Ancient Mediterranean: Agency, Emotion, Gender, Representation, Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag. Joannis Mylonopoulos (ed.), Divine Images and Human Imaginations in Ancient Greece and Rome. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 170. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. xvi, 437.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.