Philostratus's Heroikos: Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century C.E.

Philostratus's Heroikos: Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century C.E.

Philostratus's Heroikos: Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century C.E.

Philostratus's Heroikos: Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century C.E.


This multidimensional collection of essays explores the interrelation of religion, cultural identity, politics, literature, myth, and memory during the Roman Empire by focusing on the cultural dynamics embedded in and surrounding Philostratus's Heroikos, an early third-century C.E. dialogue about Homer and the heroes of the Trojan War. The essays focus on ritual and literary dimensions of hero cult; cultural and community identity reflected in the Heroikos and in early Christianity; and the cultural, literary, and political turn toward heroes in the negotiation of difference, particularly with those outside the Roman Empire. Contributors to this volume include classicists, archaeologists, ancient historians, and scholars of early Christianity: Ellen Bradshaw Aitken, Susan E. Alcock, Hans Dieter Betz, Alain Blomart, Walter Burkert, Casey Dué, Simone Follet, Sidney H. Griffith, Jackson P. Hershbell, Christopher Jones, Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean, Francesca Mestre, Gregory Nagy, Corinne Ondine Pache, Jeffrey Rusten, M. Rahim Shayegan, James C. Skedros, and Tim Whitmarsh.Paperback edition is available from the Society of Biblical Literature (


Ellen Bradshaw Aitken and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean

“Religion was, and remained, good to think with,” concludes Mary Beard in her discussion of the religions of late Republican Rome. in other words, discussions about cultic practice in antiquity provided a rhetorical site for the construction, negotiation, and display of the central values of human and political life. Philostratus’s Heroikos demonstrates a similar point, namely, that hero cult “was… good to think with.” Stories about the heroes, descriptions of cultic practice at the tombs of heroes, accounts of interactions between heroes and other humans all proved good material for thinking about cultural identity, the maintenance of empire, and questions of lifestyle and ethics. This is the central proposal that guides the collection of essays in this volume.

This volume centers on the relationship between religion and the construction of cultural identity in the Heroikos. “Religion” is understood here broadly, encompassing cultic practice, community formation and character, ethical values, and beliefs. We might approach the Heroikos with a number of questions in mind. For example, how does this text demonstrate contemporary practices of Homeric criticism? How does it draw upon and extend established literary conventions of its day? What are its sources? Can the dialogue reveal specific rituals of hero cult as practiced in Philostratus’s day? the answers to these questions come to play in any attempt to understand the religious ethos of the Heroikos and its use for a larger cultural agenda. It is our contention, however, that the religious interests of the dialogue are intimately related to Philostratus’s interests in the literary act of re-creating a coherent Greek identity for the Greek elites of the Roman Empire in the early third century C.E. Samson Eitrem and Teresa Mantero depict Philostratus’s purpose as primarily religious, albeit with a larger cultural agenda; Graham Anderson understands the dialogue as an intellectual exer-

Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome, Vol. 1: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 166.

Eitrem regarded the Heroikos as a serious effort to promote hero worship. However, he also claimed that the Heroikos had a “national purpose”: by present-

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