Lewis Richard Farnell.

The higher aspects of Greek religion. Lectures delivered at Oxford and in London in April and May 1911 online

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" Lakedaimon," " Messene," and many others. Some
of these are by no means frigid inventions of the
learning of later mythographers, but can be proved
to be early products of the popular imagination.
We might have supposed that such imagined forms
as Lakedaimon or Zeus-Lakedaimon and Messene
would have helped to free religion from the swathing-
bands of the gentile concept. But this was by no
means the case, for these shadow-personages of the
territory were woven early into the genealogies of
the leading families and are imagined as real anees-

^ Corp. biscr. Grcec, 5786.
^ Coi'p. Iiifscr. Attic, 2. l664.


tors. After this we shall not be surprised to find that
even the trade-guilds invent an ancestor, by whose
cult the guild is held together. Thus, the guild of
the Kepa/xet?, "the Potters" at Athens, imagine an
ancestor-hero, Kepa/xog, ''the Potter," in whose cult
they unite. So powerful and so fruitful of social
and religious results was the idea of kinship in the
ancient Hellenic world.

We see, then, that the clan-system and the social
groups of Hellas were organically connected with the
cults of heroes and human ancestors real or imagined.
But they were more closely consecrated to the high
divinities, pre-eminently at Athens to Zeus, Athena,
and Apollo, the chief powers of the Greek political
world, but elsewhere— it might be — to Aphrodite or
Poseidon. Hence arose the cults most important for
the social and ethnic history of Greece, such as Zeus^
<l>paT/3to9, Athena ^parpia, or 'AwaTovpia, Apollo
and Zeus Ilarpojo^, the ancestor of the clan, or
Poseidon AcofiaTLrr]^, the god " who builds the
house," the pre-eminent ethnic deity of the Minyan
stock. ^ The social function of such cults was to
preserve the purity of the civic blood against alien ''

We note here an interesting contrast between the
ancient Mediterranean and modern Christendom in
respect of the law of marriage. Our religion has in
theory no gentile prejudices, and favours marriages
between aliens, but is strongly sensitive concerning

1 Fide the interesting inscription concerning the Delphic phratry
of the Labyadai in my Cults', iv. p. 2S.


the laws of prohibited degrees. Hellenic society-
had indeed such laws, though less rigid than our
own ; but taking always the gentile point of view
it favoured intermarriage between members of the
same clan, in fact in certain circumstances compelled
the nearest of kin to marry. On the other hand, it
was most sensitive against marriage with aliens, pro-
hibiting this severely unless a specially favoured and
friendly State or alien individual had been granted
the rights of intermarriage. This was logical and
natural ; for marriage implied a communion of
worship, and the deities of kindred desire to have
communion with none but the members of the kin.
Hence these deities of the phratries and the clans,
Zeus, Athena, Apollo, looked with jealous care to
the legitimacy of the child and the purity of its
parentage, when the father brought his boy or girl to
the phratores and "gennetai," to enrol them on the
register of phratry and '' gens," so that they might rise
to full civic status. The father must take an oath
by the altar of Zeus Phratrios, and the phratores who
adjudicated on each case must place their votes on the
same altar before dropping them in the voting-urn.
A heavy fine was inflicted for the wrongful introduc-
tion of an illegitimate child. The same ceremonies
were prescribed for the adoption of a child, which
was only legal if the phratores and Zeus Phratrios
consented. At Troizen the maidens must dedicate
their girdle to Athena Apatouria, the goddess of
the clans, on the eve of their marriage; for the
maidenhood of Athena did not detract from her


maternal interest in the legitimate increase of her

It is interesting also to study the social and ethnic
value of the cult of Apollo Ilarpojo^ at Athens,
who was revered as the divine '* ancestor" of the
Attic clans. The son who had been newly presented
to the phratores by the father must also be taken to
the temple of Apollo Patroos, to communicate there
with him.

The archon-elect was scrutinised before he could
assume office ; and one question was whether he
possessed the worship of Zeus Herkeios and Apollo
Patroos, and where their shrines were to which he
had access.^ The object was not to impose any dog-
matic religious test, such as those to which candidates
for office in modern times have been subjected, but
to establish his legitimacy as full Attic citizen ; the
religion, so to speak, is in the blood of a certain stock,
and is therefore proof of the purity of blood.

We find also a striking phrase in a speech of
Demosthenes,^ who makes the speaker call the
members of his own gens the " clan-kinsmen of Zeus
Herkeios and Apollo Patroos." Apollo, being the
father of Ion, was the flesh-and-blood ancestor of the
Ionic stock ; and the non- Ionic clans of Attica had
taken over his cult and the ancestral fiction from the
Ionic. But Zeus was never imagined as the ancestor

1 The old Mediterranean goddess Ajihrodite had assumed the
patronage of the phratries and the title 'ATrarov/Ji; in some Ionic States;
vide my Cults, vol. ii. p. 657.

2 Aristot., Atken. Polit.^ 55.

3 Or., 57, § 67.


of any branch of the Attic people ; therefore the
phrase " kinsmen of Zeus Herkeios " must possess a
different sense from the other; it may express the
feehns" that those who have contact with the altar of
a god establish a spiritual kinship with him. We
notice also with interest that the yivo<; or clan
borrows the cult and altar of the family-god, the
god of the garth, in order to maintain the illusion
that its members are of one flesh.

We have now to consider the constructive part
played by Greek religion in the life and organisation
of the city, the evolution of which was the highest
achievement of the secular history of Greece.

We have reason to suppose that the very origin of
the polls was in many cases religious. We have
evidence that before the Homeric period the exclusive
tribal-religious system had been transcended, and that
certain tribes might share and maintain a common
temple; for instance, the Delphic Amphiktyony had
arisen before society had become predominatingly
civic. The temple would be surrounded with sacro-
sanct ground, and this would serve as a rallying place
for commerce and social union. Adjacent habitations
could naturally arise, and the settlement could grow
into a city, just as, in our early Middle Ages, a town
might arise under the shadow of a monastery. The
name " Preston " points to such an origin ; and names
of cities such as " Athena? " the settlements of Athena,
Alalkomenai the settlements of Athena Alalkomene,
Potniai " of the mistress," Megara " the nether shrine
of Demeter," indicate the same process of develop-


ment. In these cases the temple is the nucleus of the
expanding community. But also when, as perhaps
happened more frequently, secular motives such as
military security prompted the foundation, the bond
that holds the city together is none the less religious.
And this civic religion is penetrated with the idea of
kinship, the ruling idea of Greek polytheism. The
city, with all its various and often heterogeneous
elements, was regarded as one family ; and it is im-
portant to note how much of the civic ritual is derived
from the worship of the household. The cult of
Zeus 'E/DAceto?, as it had been adopted by the clans
from the individual family, was also taken over by
the "poHs." We hear of his altar on the AcropoHs
of Athens in Athena's oldest temple ; ^ at Olympia
an altar of the same title was erected on the ruins of
the house of the mythic ancestor Oinomaos.^ As
the family confirm the sentiment of consanguinity
by partaking of the common meal, so we find in the
ancient Attic feast of the Dipolia, the festival of
Zeus the city-god, the type of a sacramental family-
meal in which all the citizens partake of the sacred
flesh of the sacrificed ox, and of which the legend,
as preserved by Theophrastos, suggests that this
partaking was in ancient times a condition of

Again, as each householder had his " holy hearth,"
so the city sanctified its " Hestia " in the Prytaneum

1 Philochoros in Miiller, Fragme7ita Historicorum Grcecorum, vol. i.
p. 409, frag. 146.

2 Paus., 5. 14. 7. ^ Cults, vol. i. pp. 56-58, 88-91.



or town-halL where usually the perpetual fire was
maintained on which the continuous life of the State
was imagined to depend ; and there is some reason
for supposing that this rite of fire-maintenance in the
town-halls descended from the days of the heroic
monarchies, when perpetual fires with similar ideas
attaching were maintained in the kings' palaces/
In fact, the study of the Hestia-cults, as I have
tried to show in my Cults of the Gi^eek States,
reveals more strikingly than any other evidence the
organic association of the higher and broader religion
of the State with the close and intimate religion of
the family. Perhaps the most salient example of this
is an archive of the State-ritual of Kos, in which the
goddess Hestia appears to present a public sacrifice
to Zeus, the city-god, on behalf of her householders.^
Again, we receive a similar impression when we
note the anxious care and solemn organisation that
the Greek State devotes to the family and gentile
cults and tendance of ancestors. We know most
about the Attic Anthesteria, a three-days festival, of
which the last day, called the Day of Pots because of
the pots or pitchers of cereal offerings consecrated to
the dead, was purely an All-Souls' celebration. But
we have the right to beheve that the Greek com-
munities generally had similar annual institutions.
And in seasons of peril and anxiety, when a threatened
State consulted the Delphic oracle, the response of
the god would be likely to include an injunction to

1 Op. ciL, vol. V. pp. 350-354.

2 Op. cit., vol. V. pp. 349-350.


maintain most zealously the traditional rites in honour
of the ancestral spirits ; ^ and a common form for the
question of the consulting city to take was : '* To
what god or to what hero shall we sacrifice ? " More-
over, as the family, the gens, and the phratry had
respectively their guardian ancestral spirits, so there
emerged in the haze of popular belief a common State-
ancestor for the whole polis, often a heroic kinsman
in the closest union with the chief State divinity.

We know what Erechtheus meant for the Athenians,
the snake-hmbed earth-man from whom they all
claimed a shadowy descent, the fosterling of Athena
whom she '* set down in her rich shrine," '" and whom
they placed so near to their high gods Zeus and
Poseidon that the gods and the ancestor borrowed
each other's names. We know what the Aiakidai
meant for ^Egina, the hero-ancestors by whose aid
the battle of Salamis was won, whom the Athenians
must propitiate before they ventured to attack the
island,^ and whose primal parent Aiakos was the
high-priest of the " Hellenic " Zeus. Wherever the
Locrians settled, the hero Aias Oileus was their un-
seen guardian, for whom they actually left a place in
their ranks when they marched to battle.^ Some of
these ancestral cults enshrine the most transparent
fictions : the worship of Ion at Athens ; of the
Phaeacian Alkinoos at Corcyra, who shared the
temenos of Zeus ; the shadowy Phoroneus of Argos,

1 Cf. the oracle quoted by Demosthenes, IIpo? Ma/capr. p. 1072.

2 Horn.,//., 2. 549.

3 Herod., 5. 89. ^ Conon, Narrat., 18.


in whose memory a perpetual fire was kept burning.
Yet these fictions easily passed in the popular
imagination for ancient facts belonging to the history
of the ancient kindreds whose union framed the
State. And the Delphic oracle that lent its powerful
influence to the maintaining and propagating such
cults must have been aware of their social value for
the morahty of household, clan, and city. Moreover,
many of these hero-worships made for political
stability and the maintenance of the constitution
and ancestral policy of the State. To detach Sikyon
from her Argive associations Kleisthenes must drive
out the spirit of Adrastos : before rejecting the
Athenian in favour of the Lacedaemonian alliance,
the men of Amphipolis must first disestablish the
guardian-spirit of their Athenian founder Hagnon.
The great legislators might be "heroised" after death :
the spirit of Lykourgos watched over the constitution
that he had framed and bequeathed : the founder of
the city might be buried in the market-place, so that
his influence might inspire the counsels of the State :
the Megarians were advised by the oracle, at least
according to their interpretation of it, to admit the
spirits of the dead into their political counsels.^

Nevertheless, great as was the social and political
value of these cults of hero -ancestors and human
benefactors, they are overshadowed and absorbed in
the religious systems of the " poleis," by the higher
products of polytheism. It was not to any hero
or mortal ancestor that the momentous cult - titles

1 Paus., i., 43. 3.


Polieus or '' Polias " were attached, but only to the
highest divinities Zeus and Athena, pre-eminently
political powers ; and it was they above all others
who inspired political wisdom, and who alone were
worshipped as BouXatot, deities to whom the members
of the council prayed and sacrificed before each meet-
ing. Certain divinities, such as Athena and Apollo,
must have acquired these political proclivities in
pre-Homeric days.

We cannot always fathom the iimer sentiment
and beliefs of the average individual of so distant a
past ; but, looking at the outward acts and cere-
monies recorded, we find a religion unique perhaps
in the world for its almost naively intimate associa-
tion with the whole political and social life of the
people. The religious atmosphere is all-pervading :
the law-courts and the market-places, the council-
chamber and the town-hall are consecrated places
and under the charge of certain deities. Important
acts of State were accompanied by sacrifice ; the re-
ligious oath w^as administered to magistrates, jurymen,
and other officials ; the admission of the youth into
the ranks of citizens was a solemn religious ceremony,
when the Ephebos swore to defend the land and the
laws, not to disgrace his arms nor desert his com-
rade, in the names of Zeus, of the war-god, and of
the ancient goddesses or nymphs of the soil.^ The
original union of the villages or the tribes into a
single city-State, the most momentous event in the
history of each community, would be commemorated

1 Pollux, 8. 105.


by some religious festival, such as the ^woiKia-ia at
Athens, " the festival of the union of the houses,"
founded according to Thucydides by Theseus, the
creator of united Attica, and consecrated to Athena.
Or the national union would be consecrated and
safeguarded by attaching some significant and potent
title to the divinity whose concern it was : this may
have been the function of Artemis Pamphylaia at
Epidauros ; this certainly was the significance of such
titles as Zeus Pandemos and Aphrodite Pandemos ;
for the evidence clearly proves, as I have shown,^ that
this latter appellative does not allude to the goddess
of common and venal love, but to the high political
character of the Ionic goddess in whose name Theseus
drew together all the " districts " into one State.

No doubt these legends often reflect historic facts
important both for religion and politics. The incor-
poration of a small community into a larger State
would naturally be accompanied by the transference
of certain lepd, religious rites and services which
would be regulated by treaty and contract. We
have evidence, for instance, that the union of Eleusis
and Eleutherai with Attica was effected partly by
means of a religious charter regulating the ad-
ministration of the mysteries and the worship of
Dionysos Eleuthereus.

Greek religion, then, is absorbed in politics, espe-
cially at Athens, where occasionally even a partisan-
colour is given to it, and the older Athenians may
have tried to thwart Themistokles' democratic mari-

1 Vide Cults, vol. ii. pp. Q5^-QQ^.


time policy by the argument that it was Hkely to
be displeasing to Athena, the ancient land-goddess.^
Their late descendants dared to call her a democrat
and to erect an altar to Athena " Demokratia," ^ and
no doubt it did not seem so naive to the ancient
world as it does to us, when a city of Asia Minor
appointed Apollo as a magistrate for the year,^ or
when the late reactionary reformers of decaying
Sparta appointed the ghost of Lykourgos as inspector
of secondary education/ Even the orator's platform
was thought worthy of the presence of Zeus, who
took one of his cult-titles from it ; so that Plutarch
dares to call it ''the common shrine of Zeus the
counsellor and the city-god, of Themis and Justice."^

The outlook of these political cults is wide and at
times even imperial, yet they do not at once carry
the religion beyond the horizon of the old family
worship. For the " polis," the union of the kindreds,
was regarded in some sense as the family " writ large."
And Plato expresses well the sentiment of his
civic contemporaries when he dedicates the akropolis
of his ideal State to Zeus Athena and Hestia,^ as if
the two great civic deities would naturally establish
the new society around a family hearth.

The idea of the State as a family was still more
vitalised in some communities by the belief that

1 f^ide Plut., Fit. TkemisL, 19.

2 C. I. A., 2. 1672; cf. 3. l65.

^ Arch'dologische Anzeiger, 1894-, p. 124.

* Annual of British School, xiv. p. 112.

5 Hesych., s.v. 'Etti^t^z-iio? ; Plut., p. 819 E.

6 Laws, p. 745 B.


one of the high deities was actually the aboriginal
ancestor. There is no reason to doubt that this
fiction occasionally represented for the popular mind
a physical fact of early history ; that at Athens
Apollo was called Harpwo?, "the ancestor," and at
Delos TeveTojp, " the father," according to the natural
flesh-and-blood significance of those terms. Athena
only escaped being the physical ancestress of the
Athenian people through the strength with which
even in early times the dogma of her virginity was
maintained, and the myth brought her as near as it
dared to being the actual mother of Erechtheus, one
of the mythic ancestors of the Athenians. Aphrodite
was, through her daughter Harmonia, the ancestress
of the Thebans, and therefore the Theban women
pray movingly to her as " the first mother of the
race, for from thy blood we are sprung."^

At times, however, the epithet ITarpwo? might be
understood as expressing only the ideal and spiritual
sense of divane fatherhood, or perhaps merely that
the cult had come down from immemorial antiquity.
The title in the local cults of Zeus does not always
convey a belief in the physical descent of the wor-
shippers from him ; and certainly the Sicyonians who
called Artemis ITarpoja could not have done such
violence to the common Hellenic belief in her vir-
ginity as to have supposed that any of their kindred
were literally descended from her : the appellative
must merely have expressed the affectionate sense
of kinship between the goddess and her people.

1 .Esch., Sept. c. Thel)., 140.



This prevailing atmosphere of the family that

pervaded the city and the civic reHgion produced

results of far-reaching importance both for religion

and morality.

We may trace its working in the religious sphere

first ; and what is said of Greek society will be more

or less true of the many other ancient and modern

communities that have had or have the same system.

It narrowed the religious horizon and the area of

religious fellowship ; for worship was regarded as the

special privilege of a certain kin : vno ro)v ttoXltcop

TTperrei TLfxaaOai tov^ Oeov<; (" it is (only) by citizens that

the gods ought to be worshipped ") is Aristotle's axiom

that best expresses its spirit.^ To such a religion the

missionary impulse is entirely alien, and therefore

this does not appear in Greek history until the Orphic

propagandism grew powerful, ignoring the barriers

of city and kin. In the many cases where the State

absorbed alien elements of population with diverse

cults, the fiction of kinship was likely to arise so as

1 FoL, 7. 9, p. 1329.


to satisfy the religious sense ; or if a particular tribe
was conquered and remained on in a servile status,
the cult might be left in the hands of the slaves.
Again, in communities such as the Greek "poleis"
where the deities are pre-eminently citizens — even
Boreas is called " citizen " at Thourioi — mixing inti-
mately in the communal business and life, in the
social amusements, artistic and athletic competitions,
the religious temper was not so likely to be dominated
by awe, or by a sense of the ineffable sublimity and
infinite omnipotence of the godhead, as by a sense of
the kindliness, neighbourliness, the good fellowship of
the divine kinsmen. It was this that made possible
both the licence of Aristophanes and at the same
time the human and genial grandeur of the creations
of Pheidias. This is the average truth, although
here and there in ^schylus and Pindar we catch an
echo of that more exalted tone which is familiar to
us in Hebrew religious poetry, and which is now
beginning to be heard from the ruins of Babylon.
Further, the civic temper of religion does not easily
lend itself to excesses of ecstasy or self-prostration,
and both these are alien on the whole to the developed
spirit of pure Hellenism. When ecstasy came to
it, it came through the alien Dionysos ; and at first
this was mainly an ebullition of physical vitality ;
and Hellenic o-oy^pocrvvr], the sober or "bourgeois"
virtue that saves the State, was able to regulate it.

So far we are speaking of limitations, which may
possess, however, certain negative advantages. We
may also mark down to the old religious theory of


Hellas a positive advantage which was to reveal
itself signally in the cosmopolitan religion of the
future. The old-world civic cults quickened and
deepened the consciousness of the kinship between
the godhead and particular human groups. When
the narrow barriers were broken, and the city was
subsumed in a world-empire, this momentous idea,
hitherto flowering in confined plots, could spread and
germinate over the world : and a world - religion
brought out the conception of a Civitas Dei, " the
Citizenship of God," itself a spiritual emanation and
development of the Grseco-Roman Polis ; and in this
world -city all mankind have kinship with the divinity.
In Greek lands this idea was first proclaimed by
Orphism, which seemingly has nothing to do with
the civic system. But Orphism developed on the
lines of the old Thraco-Phrygian religion, which no
doubt contained the faith of mortal kinship with the
divine, a faith probably assisted by a savage sacra-
ment ; and within this aboriginal religion we must
suppose that this idea was local and particular.^ A
phrase in the Axiochos, a poor dialogue attributed
to Plato, but written under the inspiration of late
Orphism, is worth noting : the sick man is comforted
concerning the destiny of his soul after death by the
assurance that he is yepprjTr)'; tcop 6eo)v, " one of God's
clan " ; the words are mystic, but they are suggested

1 We cannot suppose that when the rude Bithynians, near
cousins of the Thraco- Phrygians, planted the cult of " God the
Father" in Bithynia and Phrygia, they had in mind his universal


by the vocabulary of the old Attic clan and phratry

In the spheres of morality and law, concentric as
they are in early society, we trace interesting results
of the working of this civic-religious view. The
human group that is held together by a religion based
on the narrower concept of kinship tends to be

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Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellThe higher aspects of Greek religion. Lectures delivered at Oxford and in London in April and May 1911 → online text (page 5 of 11)