Thursday, July 30, 2015


Michael H. Jameson, Cults and Rites in Ancient Greece: Essays on Religion and Society. (Edited by Allaire B. Stallsmith). Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xxxvi, 362. ISBN 9780521661294. $99.00.

Reviewed by Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (

Version at BMCR home site


This volume assembles 13 articles on cults and rites in ancient Greece written by M. Jameson over a period of nearly fifty years. Widely known as an epigrapher, historian, and archaeologist, each of his articles included in this book has had a lasting impact on scholarship since the time of its publication. The author himself had collected the essays in this book when his untimely death in 2004 interrupted the preparation of the volume. The present collection results from the encouragement of his colleagues Paul Cartledge, Irene Polinskaya and Allaire B. Stallsmith, who celebrate the figure of their mentor and colleague in the preface. Jameson's papers are divided into four parts: Gods and Heroes; Rites; Religion and Society; and The Study of Greek Religion. Such a framework offers a clear and sharp view of Jameson's methodological and conceptual approach to the study of Greek religion. Each of the four parts is introduced by an essay by a leading international scholar: Fritz Graf, Christopher Faraone, Robert Parker, and Jan Bremmer. Their contributions honour Jameson with a detailed and insightful review of his papers that goes beyond the current selection of texts included in this book. Each of them highlights in a different way Jameson's engagement with the subject of ancient Greek religion.

Paul Cartledge writes the General Introduction, which attempts a conspectus of Jameson's published scholarship; it is interwoven with some personal observations and larger commentary. He tries to give a representative account of Jameson's works by separating them into four topics: epigraphy, religion, intensive field-survey archaeology, and agriculture and slavery. A complete bibliography of Jameson is included at the end of this chapter.

The first part of the collection, dedicated to Gods and Heroes, is introduced by Graf, who affirms that Jameson naturally thought of Greek religion in the framework of local religion. Graf explains Jameson's attitude towards Greek religion as that of an epigrapher who works in the first instance on local inscriptions and local cults. In the words of Graf, "Jameson's essays remain models - for epigraphers in how to think about Greek religion, and for historians of Greek religion in how to use the documents of epigraphy" (p. 8). Indeed, two of the four papers in this first part have their point of departure from an inscription. The paper "Apollo Lykeios in Athens" edits and comments on an Athenian decree that establishes a tax that must be paid by the hoplites in the temenos of the god. Apollo Lykeios becomes the god of adult men in their military situation. "Perseus, the Hero of Mycenae" begins with two late inscriptions from Mycenae in order to analyze the local evidence of his cult. Perseus is tied to the Archaic polis' institution of initiation into adulthood and citizenship. Without denying the influence of the Ancient Near East on the Perseus myth, he defends the idea that the local Peloponnesian rites of maturity were attached to the myth from the Near East, which in turn may have been influenced by Spartan rituals. The third paper of this section focuses on Echetlaeus, the hero of Marathon, who is linked with the sacred rite of plowing. Taking his starting point from a detail of a painting in Athens' Stoa Poikile, Jameson presents a linguistic analysis of the hero and concludes that the name and the hero must be connected with the plow- handle, an object with ritual associations. The fourth paper, "The Asexuality of Dionysus," tackles the paradox that the god most closely associated with the phallus has a feminine side, lacks sexual interest in women and is usually represented as "detached and unconcerned with sex." Jameson explains these characteristics through Dionysus' role as mediator between male and female. This explanation is hardly satisfactory for Bremmer (p. 296), who concedes, however, that Jameson's paper appeared just before the publication of several Macedonian inscriptions connecting Dionysus the "pseudo-male" with initiation.

"Rites" is the rubric of the second part, introduced by Faraone. In "Sophocles, Antigone1005-1022: An Illustration," Jameson links a scene described by Tiresias at the end of the Antigone with a vase-painting in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, which shows an animal sacrifice performed on an altar. According to him, the scene represents the moment in which the officiant and other observers are taking the omens from the behaviour of the tail. In "Sacrifice before Battle," Jameson gives a thorough discussion of the various kinds of pre-battle sacrifice through the myths and the images and metaphors of poetry. There were two basic types: the usual burnt sacrifice and the sacrifice performed at the battle line (σφάγια). The author contextualizes the different stages of the battle and the different types of sacrifices and also connects the historical battle sacrifice with the mythical human sacrifices of the Greeks. The article "Ritual of the Athena Nike Parapet" explains how detailed knowledge of Greek ritual is crucial to interpret the sculptures of the shrine's friezes. A winged Nike in the act of killing a bull represents a battle-line σφάγια, whereas the Nike setting up war trophies symbolizes the end of the battle. In the last essay of the section, "Theoxenia," Jameson examines the evidence for the offering of meals on tablets to gods and heroes in different areas of the Greek world. Combining epigraphic and iconographic data and small votive reliefs, he places the ritual within the system of Greek sacrifice, where division and reciprocity between human and divine is the major aim. One of the great merits of this essay, as well as "Sacrifice before Battle" and "Apollo Lykeios," is the assemblage of exhaustive evidence for these rites, making these papers the starting point for any future work on these topics.

The heading of the third section is "Religion and Society"; the section is introduced by Parker. "Labda, Lambda, and Labdakos" connects the names of Labda and Labdakos with the archaic Corinthian form of the lambda. This hypothesis presupposes that the stories of Labda and Labdakos postdate the adoption in Greece of the Phoenician alphabet. This article, together with the earlier article on Perseus, tackles mythical themes, a minority in Jameson's bibliography. Nevertheless, although Jameson does not focus on a mythical subject, his essays show clearly the complicated relationship between myth and cults. "Sacrifice and Animal Husbandry" maintains that the sacrificial calendar of rural Attica was determined by the seasonal availability and habits of different animals, by the annual increase of young and the culling of the older ones. Jameson's deep knowledge of the ancient agricultural world is clearly seen in this paper. Also remarkable is the analysis of the evidence from excavated bones for the selection of animals for sacrifice. "Religion in the Athenian Democracy" notes that, contrary to the traditional view, management of cults by aristocratic gene emerged for the first time under the democracy. However, it is the polis that is the provider of sacrificial meat on a large scale. Jameson minimizes the crisis in late fifth century religion, which was supposedly due to the emergence of foreign and mystic cults and the skepticism of intellectuals. "The Spectacular and the Obscure in Athenian Religion" tackles how the demos of the city organized, adapted, and preserved the sacred space and time of the city as a whole. Jameson analyses the nature of public sacrificial ritual as performance, as well as other types of sacrifice that did not require an audience, such as purification rites, animal sacrifice for obtaining favorable signs, and the many small-scale sacrifices conducted by individuals.

The fourth and last section of the book, entitled "The Study of Greek Religion," is introduced by an essay by Bremmer. With "Sacred Space and the City: Greece and Bhaktapur," Jameson responds to Robert Levy's comparison between this medieval small city in Nepal and the archaic Greek polis. Jameson deals with the subject of symbolic space and stresses the absence of a separation between town and country, unlike Asian cities. The lack of information about the creation of sacred space in Greek cities may be due to the absence of a clergy made up of religious experts.

The volume closes with an exhaustive bibliography covering all the essays and an index of names and topics.

This collection of papers illustrates clearly Jameson's approach to Greek religion: his most important contributions are several articles in the field of sacrifice and the nature of Greek religion. Throughout the pages of this volume, he appears as an expert aware that one needs to master several distinct approaches in order to write a properly interconnected account of complex phenomena. Jameson emerges as a scholar of both literary and epigraphic texts, who combines them with iconographic evidence as necessary, to deal with the study of Greek religion. He reveals himself not as a theorist of Greek religion but as a scholar interested in the social and political contexts and consequences of the rituals he analyzes. His studies of local rituals connected with gods and heroes explain local beliefs but also contribute to the panhellenic image of these figures. The main merit of the volume lies in posing a wide range of questions and responding to them with judicious answers.

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