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AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 1 I An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship Greeks most often prayed and made offerings to a deity in that deity s own sanctuary. In this chapter we begin by constructing
AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 1 I An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship Greeks most often prayed and made offerings to a deity in that deity s own sanctuary. In this chapter we begin by constructing such a sanctuary, first introducing the essential elements and then adding features found in many sanctuaries. In its simpler form, with an altar and a surrounding fence, our sanctuary will be typical of thousands of sanctuaries in the city-state of Athens alone and of many more thousands elsewhere in the Greek world; in its developed state, with a temple and monumental statue of the deity, it will be similar to only about twenty major sanctuaries even in Athens, the richest of the Greek city-states at this time. Ours will be a sanctuary of Poseidon, the god who, for all Greeks, was, among other roles, the master of the sea. For Athenians in the fifth century Poseidon was particularly important because their navy was instrumental in establishing and maintaining their empire and because trade by sea, especially the importation of the grain necessary to feed their people, was central to their economy. The Athenians were the most sea-oriented of all Greeks in this period, and for them Poseidon assumed a special importance. Our sanctuary of Poseidon will be located at Sunium, on the summit of a promontory on the southernmost tip of the Athenian coastline. This promontory overlooks a large expanse of the Aegean Sea which Athenian warships and freighters regularly traversed as they made their way to and from the Athenian harbor at Piraeus. We have chosen this cult site for our Poseidon because the Athenians chose it for theirs. By the middle of the fifth century the Athenians had at Sunium a fully developed sanctuary of Poseidon, with a temple visible still today from many miles out at sea. We re-create, hypothetically, the beginnings and development of this sanctuary, AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 2 2 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship Figure I.1 Head of a bronze statue of a god, usually identified as Poseidon or Zeus and dated to about 460 B.C.E. For a photograph of the complete statue, see Figure I.7. It was recovered from the sea near Cape Artemisium off the east coast of Greece in the 1920s and is now in the National Museum, Athens. Courtesy of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Athens, neg. no. Hege 850. not in an attempt to describe and explain the features of the real cult of Poseidon there but to establish a model for the nature and development of Greek sanctuaries in general. We shall later see many modifications to this model as we examine the cults of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis, of Demeter at Eleusis, of Apollo at Delphi, and several others, but it will be useful to have a model of typical sanctuaries in mind before we turn to the exceptions. AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 3 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship 3 Rhamnous Mt Parnes Marathon Icaria Eleusis Mt Aegaleos Mt Pentelicon Piraeus SALAMIS ATHENS Phaleron Mt Hymettus Erchia Brauron Thoricus AEGINA Sunium Map I.1 Map of Attica. Location Why did the Athenians locate a cult of Poseidon at just this spot on the Athenian coast? How were cult sites in general selected? Some sites apparently had a natural mystique. Mountain tops were often sacred to Zeus, the god of the sky and the weather. Springs, the source of the water always in short supply in Greece, and caves almost always attracted cults. Springs and caves were often assigned to the Nymphs. The god Pan, himself often associated with Nymphs, was given a cave on the north slope of the Acropolis when his cult was established in Athens about 490. Artemis preferred rural sanctuaries, also often associated with sources of water. A water source, necessary for medicinal purposes, may have played a AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 4 4 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship Figure I.2 View of the Aegean Sea from the cella of the Temple of Poseidon at Sunium. Photograph by the author. role in locating Asclepius sanctuary on the south slope of the Acropolis in 420/19. Places touched by the gods themselves, as by Zeus with his lightning or by Poseidon with his trident on the Athenian Acropolis, also became sacred. By contrast to these naturally numinous places many cult sites, especially in urban areas, seem to have been selected based on the deity s function. Athena, the armed patroness and protectress of Athens, had her major sanctuaries on the Acropolis, the city s fortified citadel. The cult sites of Zeus Boulaios (of the Council), Zeus Eleutherios (of Freedom), and Apollo Patroös (Ancestral) were clustered on the west side of the Agora (marketplace), in the Classical period the governmental and archival center of Athens. Similarly Hephaestus, the god of fire, shared a temple with Athena in an area of Athens that housed foundries and blacksmiths. The siting of these sanctuaries as well as of many in new cities founded as colonies suggests that often the Greeks were willing to locate sanctuaries, as we do churches, on the basis of land available and AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 5 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship 5 to fit them into a larger urban design. These sanctuaries were built in places appropriate to the gods activities in civic affairs, not in a place sacred, as it were, by nature. In these cases the site was made sacred by the establishment of the sanctuary. The reasons for choices of sites for cults surely varied widely, and we can see patterns but no one pattern. Myths, as we shall later see for the cult of Apollo at Delphi, sometimes explained that the deity selected the location of a cult site. Many of the smaller cult sites throughout the Greek world also had myths explaining their origins, but these myths do not survive, and we now have no way of knowing why they were where they were. For our cult of Poseidon, the site of Sunium seems an obvious choice, with its commanding view over one of the major sea lanes to and from Piraeus, the last such vantage point before the ships disappear from view on the open sea and the first point from which hostile ships would be sighted. It may also be that this site was initially chosen or later developed especially because of its frontier location, with the intent of laying permanent claim to this remote spot and establishing Poseidon as a potent defender against the form of attack most likely at this border. In the late fifth century, in fact, the Poseidon sanctuary at Sunium was enclosed within a large military fort with considerable naval installations. The Altar The altar serves to receive offerings to the deity, and since giving offerings was a fundamental form of worship for the Greeks, the altar was the one essential physical component of cult. An altar may, in fact, serve as the litmus test for religious cult: if a deity had one, we can be sure that he or she was worshiped and was a part of practiced Greek religion. If a deity did not have an altar, that deity was most probably a creation of the literary tradition or of folklore, not of the religious tradition, and did not receive sacrifice, prayer, or dedications. A few figures such as the personifications Eirene (Peace) and Agathe Tyche (Good Fortune) made the transition from literary to religious figures in the fourth century, and we recognize that transformation in Athens when altars are built and dedicated to them. Some altars were simple pits (bothroi) or low-lying structures with openings to the bare earth (escharai). Liquid offerings such as water, milk, and honey were poured into these. These altars were for deities and divine figures thought to dwell in or beneath the earth, and, presumably, the offerings were thought to seep down into the earth to their recipients. Poseidon is, however, an ouranic ( of the sky ) deity who dwelled and moved AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 6 6 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship about above ground, in the sky. The offerings to these deities are directed upwards, towards the sky. Their altars (bômoi) needed to have a flat surface on top to hold the offerings, but otherwise could assume a variety of shapes usually rectangular but sometimes square or cylindrical. Altars ranged greatly in size, often in proportion to the size of the sanctuary itself. Simple altars might be waist high, a block of stone a meter square or a cylinder equally tall. Monumental altars were often features of panhellenic sanctuaries. The altar of Zeus at Nemea, for example, was a rectangular structure over 41.5 meters long and 2.42 meters wide and that of Zeus at Olympia was 38.1 meters in circumference at its base and 6.7 meters high. Such were, however, very much the exception. Since the ouranic deities were in the sky, for the offerings to be visible to them and for the savor of the burnt offerings to reach them their altars had to be outdoors, not within a building and covered by a roof, and so altars within a temple were a rarity. And, finally, altars of the ouranic deities were oriented to the east. The priest, as he made the offerings or sacrifice, stood on the west side of the altar, facing east. Offerings to ouranic deities were made before noon, often at dawn, and as he performed his rituals the priest would be looking towards the rising sun. The altar will be the first element of our sanctuary of Poseidon. Let us make it a block of stone. In other cities we might well use limestone, but in Athens, with its mountains of marble, we can make it of this beautiful and durable stone. Let us make it of Pentelic marble, about 1 1 /4 meters high and wide, two meters long, and with a molding around the top edge. We are obliged to carve Poseidon s name on it, so that both the god and visitors know it is his. Each altar is so designated with the god s name or with the name of a specific group of gods because there were no common altars to serve all the gods. If one wished to make an offering to Athena, one must offer on her altar. If, as in our case, the offering is to Poseidon, it must be made on his altar. An offering to Poseidon on an altar of Athena would be received by and would influence neither deity. Our altar is of stone because it must endure the elements. On occasion we will want to burn offerings on it, and then we will put on the altar a metal pan to protect its surface from the fire and ashes. We will orient our altar, as always, to the east, but, by chance, in our sanctuary at Sunium it will appropriately also face the open sea. We have inscribed on it Poseidon s name in large letters, perhaps painted for ease of reading. And so our sanctuary of Poseidon is founded. The one essential element, the altar, is in place, inscribed with Poseidon s name. The altar is oriented to the east and overlooks the Aegean. Since it is of marble and has sculpted moldings, it is a bit more elaborate than altars found in the simplest sanctuaries, and this betokens future development of the sanctuary. AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 7 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship 7 Figure I.3 A marble altar, dedicated by the Athenians to Aphrodite and the Charites in 194/3 B.C.E. It was discovered by the Agora in Athens and is now on display in the National Museum. Photograph courtesy of the National Museum, Athens, inv. no The Temenos As was very commonly done, we will mark off an area around our altar. We might use boundary stones (horoi) at the corners or a surrounding fence (peribolos), thereby establishing the enclosed area as a separate precinct. We are cutting off (for which the Greek is temnein) an area from the surrounding land, and the Greek term for such an enclosed area is temenos. Our temenos is to be dedicated to a god and hence is sacred (hieron), and the two terms together, temenos and hieron, mark the two aspects of our sanctuary: a temenos as a separate precinct, and a hieron as a sacred place, the god s property. Let us use a low fence, quite probably of mud brick or field stone, which will serve more to demarcate the sacred area than to protect it. It might deter the wandering cow or sheep, but its gate would not be locked and the temenos would be readily accessible to human visitors. Everything within the temenos is sacred, that is, the property of the deity, and the deity, not the fence, will protect it. Sylân is the Greek word for to steal, and property and persons in Greek sanctuaries enjoyed asylia, the right not to be stolen. Individuals seeking refuge in these sanctuaries had asylum. They were under the protection of the god of the sanctuary and could not be removed against their will. They might AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 8 8 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship be tricked out or starved out, but under no circumstances could they be forcibly dragged out. To steal property of the god from a temenos was both a civil and a religious crime. In Athens such malefactors if caught would be prosecuted in the courts, but an even greater danger faced them, caught or not, from the wrath of the offended deity. The abode of the gods is a protection shared by all men. Euripides, Heraclidae 260 The altar is an unbreakable shield, stronger than a fortification tower. Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 190 Most cults of Poseidon had open access and were not, like some Greek cults, limited to either men or women worshipers. Let us assume that men, women, and children of Athens could enter the temenos of our Poseidon cult at will unless they were polluted. Those polluted were ritually impure and were denied access to virtually all sanctuaries in the Greek world. One polluted from sexual intercourse must bathe to remove the pollution before entering the sanctuary. Those who had entered the home of a woman just having given birth could not enter a sanctuary for three days, and new mothers and midwives probably had to wait longer. Men and women who were polluted from attending a funeral or being in the presence of a corpse were excluded from sanctuaries for a time. Sexual intercourse, childbirth, and attendance at funerals are, of course, normal events of life and were not in moral terms polluting or reproachable, but they made one ritually impure, repulsive to the divine. Those who had killed another, except in battle, voluntarily or not, were also polluted, and they were forbidden entrance until they had undergone formal rites of purification, rituals distinct from any legal proceedings that might be involved. An individual recently engaged in these various activities did not belong in and was out of place in a sanctuary, and the concept of pollution was a marker for that. He or she was, while polluted, excluded from the worshiping community. If a polluted person was in the sanctuary, the deity would not come, and prayers and offerings would be in vain. Pollution in the classical Greek religious tradition is a quasi-physical state in the sense that pollution is a real or symbolic dirt that can be passed on by contact, not a moral state. One rids oneself of such pollution by washing, by the gradually cleansing passage of time, or by appropriate rituals. The impure dirt from sexual intercourse, childbirth, and murder are physical and, perhaps, obvious. Funerals and the aversion to the dead may be explained by the nature of the ouranic gods themselves. They were AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 9 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship 9 by nature deathless, the gods of the living, and in the Greek tradition these gods abhorred death and withdrew from anything (except their own sacrificial victims) tainted by it. For this reason the dead, those who had recently attended the dead, and murderers were excluded from the gods sanctuaries. As the whole of the island of Delos gradually became thought of as the sanctuary of Apollo, the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus in the sixth century removed from the surrounding hills all tombs which even overlooked Apollo s temenos, and then in 426/5 the Athenians had all the remaining tombs removed from the island. The same acts that pollute individuals and prevent them from entering sanctuaries are all the greater dangers if they occur in a sanctuary, and therefore every effort was made to prevent sexual intercourse, childbirth, or a death from occurring there. Those caught trysting in a sanctuary could even be put to death, and on Delos it became the practice to remove both those who were dying and women in childbirth to a nearby island before they polluted Apollo s sacred island. And, of course, to kill someone in a sanctuary was a heinous sacrilege which would be punished by the god. Never, from dawn forward, pour a shining libation of wine to Zeus or the other immortals, without washing your hands first. When you do, they do not hear your prayers; they spit them back at you. Hesiod, Works and Days (Lattimore translation) Pollution can be imagined as a form of real dirt or filth and in its most minor forms could simply be washed away. Greeks wished to be physically clean when they approached their deities morally clean was not the issue. Often, just at the gate of a sanctuary, stood a basin (perirrhanterion) of water with which the worshiper sprinkled himself, symbolically cleansing himself before approaching the divine. A Hippocratic author (On the Sacred Disease ) describes the act as follows: We ourselves establish boundaries of the sanctuaries and precincts for the god so that no one may pass over them unless he is pure. When we go in, we sprinkle water around ourselves, not as though we were polluted but to purify an uncleanliness we had before. Sprinkling the water from the perirrhanterion around oneself would not eliminate the more serious pollutions of association with the dead and of murder, but it would suffice for the accumulated dirt of the day. For our cult of Poseidon let the first temenos fence be of mud brick, low, perhaps a meter high, and with a single gate. For most sanctuaries the area AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship Figure I.4 Drawing of the sanctuary of the Twelve Gods, founded in Athens by the grandson of the tyrant Pisistratus in 522/1 B.C.E. It served also as the official central milestone from which all distances in Attica were measured. It has the typical form of a sacred temenos with an altar facing east, a peribolos wall, and a perirrhanterion at the main gate. Courtesy of the American School of Classical Studies, Athens: Agora Excavations. enclosed was probably quite small, with land enough just for the altar and for the priest to perform the necessary rituals. Poseidon, however, is a major deity, and even as we establish his cult at Sunium we foresee expansion and development of the sanctuary. Therefore we make his initial temenos rather large, meters. Let us have also a perirrhanterion at the gate for the worshipers final cleansing before they enter the sanctuary. With the altar, its surrounding fence, and the perirrhanterion we now have the basic elements of a Greek sanctuary the altar being required, the fence and perirrhanterion being very common. Our temenos is somewhat larger and our altar a bit more elaborate than most, but together they represent the most common form of a Greek sanctuary. Priests and Priestesses For Poseidon and his sanctuary we need a priest (hiereus) since our deity is male. If our deity were female, Athena or Artemis, we would have a priestess AGRC01 4/26/04 11:33 AM Page 11 An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship 11 (hiereia). The priest will probably be an elder of the family that has tended Poseidon on this site for decades or even centuries. We have been imagining that we are founding this cult of Poseidon, but in fact such a cult would probably have been originally founded, perhaps in the eighth century B.C.E. or earlier, by an aristocratic family who owned the property, and the priest is quite likely a descendant of the family of the original founders. He is chosen by the family and will hold his priesthood for life or unti
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