Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens

Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens

Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens

Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens

Synopsis

Civic Rites explores the religious origins of Western democracy by examining the government of fifth-century BCE Athens in the larger context of ancient Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Deftly combining history, politics, and religion to weave together stories of democracy's first leaders and critics, Nancy Evans gives readers a contemporary's perspective on Athenian society. She vividly depicts the physical environment and the ancestral rituals that nourished the people of the earliest democratic state, demonstrating how religious concerns were embedded in Athenian governmental processes. The book's lucid portrayals of the best-known Athenian festivals--honoring Athena, Demeter, and Dionysus--offer a balanced view of Athenian ritual and illustrate the range of such customs in fifth-century Athens.

Excerpt

The world is changing fast these days. During the time that I worked on the manuscript for this book, America faced two ongoing wars, crises in major financial and industrial institutions, and growing awareness of changes in the earth’s global climate. We also saw the election of the first African American president. in the meantime, rapid developments in what is called information technology modified how we communicate with each other on a daily basis, while providing a degree of access to images, videos, music, and publications of all kinds that was unimaginable only fifteen years ago. Americans revere progress—new and improved!—and they approach times of volatility as rare openings for growth. What might be experienced as a period of anxiety is framed instead as a desirable opportunity. This capacity to reimagine ourselves and our common future is one of our better qualities as a people.

A society that idolizes progress can also marginalize the study of the past—especially stories from the ancient past of a society on the other side of the globe. Saying “That’s ancient history” is simply a way of dismissing an event and indicating a determination to move forward. “Ancient history” for many people is history that has lost all relevance and no longer has any practical connection to the present. But as a teacher, scholar, and feminist committed to justice and education, I firmly believe that more of us can benefit from a better understanding of the Mediterranean societies of . . .

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