Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience

Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience

Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience

Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience

Synopsis

The division of land and consolidation of territory that created the Greek polis also divided sacred from productive space, sharpened distinctions between purity and pollution, and created a ritual system premised on gender difference. Regional sanctuaries ameliorated competition between city-states, publicized the results of competitive rituals for males, and encouraged judicial alternatives to violence. Female ritual efforts, focused on reproduction and the health of the family, are less visible, but, as this provocative study shows, no less significant. Taking a fresh look at the epigraphical evidence for Greek ritual practice in the context of recent studies of landscape and political organization, Susan Guettel Cole illuminates the profoundly gendered nature of Greek cult practice and explains the connections between female rituals and the integrity of the community.

In a rich integration of ancient sources and current theory, Cole brings together the complex evidence for Greek ritual practice. She discusses relevant medical and philosophical theories about the female body; considers Greek ideas about purity, pollution, and ritual purification; and examines the cult of Artemis in detail. Her nuanced study demonstrates the social contribution of women's rituals to the sustenance of the polis and the identity of its people.

Excerpt

In the very early stages of this project I ran into Jack Winkler at a convention, and he asked me, as he usually did when our paths crossed, what I was working on. I replied, “An article on gender and Greek ritual practice. ” When I began to describe the collection of epigraphical material in my file drawer, however, he interjected, “That doesn't sound like an article; it sounds like a book!” Our conversation continued as people hurried off to the next sessions and the hall emptied. We sat down at a deserted table, and over a paper plate piled high with French fries, I sketched out the problems. As we dipped fries into ketchup, we talked about developing a context deeper than the one normally provided for discussions of ancient ritual practice. Jack became more and more interested, and while we slowly made our way through the fries, we outlined a book. This was the late 1980s, when Jack was working on Constraints of Desire and was himself interested in the extended meaning of “slack” and “taut” in ancient discussions that connect behavior with male body type. For the female body, the contrast between wet and dry seemed, on the face of it, related to issues of pollution, and given that this was the eighties, it should be no surprise that we both positioned these issues in the context of a project about the body; Jack even suggested the title Watery Bodies. We imagined a project with two parts. The first half of the book would explore the imagery of female rituals in the context of the broader issues of the body. The second half would target individual divinities and relate their ritual to the life of the city.

I did eventually write the article on the epigraphical material, but by then another file drawer had filled and the individual divinities for the second half of the project had narrowed to two: Artemis and Demeter. In the early nineties, under the influence of survey archaeologists and environmental historians, the ancient landscape had become a special focus of . . .

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