Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer

By Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy; Irene S. Lemos | Go to book overview

19

RELIGION, BASILEIS AND HEROES

Carla Antonaccio

The brief of this chapter is to discuss basileis (perhaps to be rendered as 'chieftains'), in conjunction with religion, and also with the complex and contested concept of the hero, in the early Iron Age. It seems best to begin with clarifications of terms, starting with religion. It is disputable whether it is even legitimate to disembed religion as a separate category of study (or of society) at all, and an agreed definition of Greek religion is not so easy to establish. In Walter Burkert's fundamental study, Greek Religion, the first footnote occurs after the first two words of the first sentence on the first page, and it occurs after the very words 'Greek Religion'. (The note gives a full page of references to earlier scholarship on the topic, rather than a discussion of what the subject itself might be.) Several pages into the book the author ventures to define Greek religion: 'A supra-personal system of communication' which 'like Greek civilization itself… is delimited in time and place by the reach of Greek language and literature'(Burkert 1985: 7). There are several possible objections to this characterisation: it is too vague, and its range too dependent on language (just one aspect of culture or identity), to say nothing of communication, and on literature, as opposed to other modes of discourse. Indeed, though Burkert's book is about the practices of Greek religion as well as what might be constituted as 'belief', practice is subordinated in this definition to what can be said about religion.

Archaeology may be invoked to recover practices that are unavailable in the literary sources (about which more below), or aspects of those recorded in written sources that are not represented by writers. Thus, in the same year that saw publication of the English translation of Burkert's study, Colin Renfrew set out an archaeology of cult, attempting to provide archaeological criteria for the study of prehistoric religion, with the Bronze Age sanctuary at Phylakopi as exemplum (Renfrew 1985). Renfrew's study set out to define precisely how to identify religion as it might be encountered in the remains of an era and a culture without texts. But Renfrew suggested an approach not to the study of cult itself,

The author takes this opportunity to thank the conference organisers for the wonderful hospi-
tality in Edinburgh. Thanks, also, to the Ridgways for their warm welcome. I am much indebted
to Tom Palaima and Jim Wright for stimulating conversation between sessions.

-381-

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