The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia: A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion

The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia: A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion

The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia: A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion

The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia: A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion

Synopsis

Among maternal deities of the Greek pantheon, the Mother of the Gods was a paradox. She is variously described as a devoted mother, a chaste wife, an impassioned lover, and a virgin daughter; she is said to be both foreign and familiar to the Greeks. In this erudite and absorbing study, Mark Munn examines how the cult of Mother of the Gods came from Phrygia and Lydia, where she was the mother of tyrants, to Athens, where she protected the laws of the Athenian democracy. Analyzing the divergence of Greek and Asiatic culture at the beginning of the classical era, Munn describes how Kybebe, the Lydian goddess who signified fertility and sovereignty, assumed a different aspect to the Greeks when Lydia became part of the Persian empire. Conflict and resolution were played out symbolically, he shows, and the goddess of Lydian tyranny was eventually accepted by the Athenians as the Mother of the Gods, and as a symbol of their own sovereignty.

This book elegantly illustrates how ancient divinities were not static types, but rather expressions of cultural systems that responded to historical change. Presenting a new perspective on the context in which the Homeric and Hesiodic epics were composed, Munn traces the transformation of the Asiatic deity who was the goddess of Sacred Marriage among the Assyrians and Babylonians, equivalent to Ishtar. Among the Lydians, she was the bride to tyrants and the mother of tyrants. To the Greeks, she was Aphrodite. An original and compelling consideration of the relations between the Greeks and the dominant powers of western Asia, The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia is the first thorough examination of the way that religious cult practice and thought influenced political activities during and after the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.

Excerpt

This book has many origins. As the outgrowth of ideas formulated in The School of History: Athens in the Age of Socrates, I presented a paper entitled “The Mother of the Gods and Athenian Identity” in the colloquium “Reading Ancient Ritual,” organized by Lisa Maurizio, Victoria Wohl, and Deborah Lyons, at the annual meeting of the American Philological Association, December 1998. That paper was refined through presentations at the Johns Hopkins University in September 2000, at the invitation of Alan Shapiro and the Department of Classics, and at Bryn Mawr College in April 2001, at the invitation of Leslie Lundeen and the graduate students of the Department of Greek, Latin and Ancient History. In light of discussions on those occasions, it seemed appropriate to transform the paper into a book. The project grew quickly, thanks to the experience of years of study around a topic that, I came to realize, has guided my approach to classical studies.

Like the subject of the present book, I came to Greece from the East. By virtue of my father’s career in the diplomatic corps, I saw Babylon, Jerusalem, Gordium, and Sardis before I ever arrived in Athens. That experience led me to an undergraduate degree in classical studies at the University of California at San Diego in 1974, where I wrote an honors thesis entitled “Kybele” under the direction of Edward Lee. Later that year, in the Graduate Group in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania, my interest in this transcultural phenomenon of the eastern Mediterranean yielded my first graduate research paper, “The (Phrygian) Mother of the (Greek) Gods,” written for Michael Jameson. Eventually, it led to my first dissertation proposal in 1977, “Kubaba: A Study of the Cultural Affinities of North Syria/ Cappadocia, ca. 1900–500 B.C.,” which was accepted by James Muhly. Then I arrived at Athens, where Tyche led me in other directions—fortunately. For though I had formulated most of the questions that underlie this book . . .

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