On Greek religion by Parker, Robert

By Parker, Robert

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19 Alongside these physically impossible or implausible events we find what one might term the morally implausible occurrence in which the wrath of Talthybius was embodied. It was not a breach or even a bending of the laws of nature that the two men sent up into Asia and killed were the sons of the two men earlier sent up into Asia and released; it was a meaningful event that revealed the slow and oblique working of divine justice. Three elements stand out in the language Herodotus uses in these contexts.

The gods were, in a sense, literally present in their sanctuaries. Greeks constantly, in documents and contexts of very different kinds, referred to what we would call a statue of a particular god simply by that god’s name; in representations on vases of scenes set in temples, it is often unclear whether we are looking at a statue or at an actual god. To be sure, they knew that statues were made by craftsmen from physical materials; and plain statements that statues are gods, or that gods are statues, are not to be found.

But the Pheneates maintained, according to Pausanias, that their mysteries were a replica of those of Eleusis, introduced by one Naos, a descendant in the third generation of the primeval Eleusinian Eumolpos. Possibly, then, the writings claimed to be the mechanism by which sacred lore was transferred by Naos from Eleusis to Pheneai. They would then be an equivalent, mutatis mutandis, to the tin tablets of Aristomenes. Whatever the truth about that particular case, the general proposition that texts had no direct place in the conduct of the vast majority of Greek rituals is unaffected.

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