Daniel Ogden (Ed.), 2007. A Companion to Greek Religion. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World: Literature and Culture

By Thom, Johan | Acta Classica, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Daniel Ogden (Ed.), 2007. A Companion to Greek Religion. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World: Literature and Culture


Thom, Johan, Acta Classica


Daniel Ogden (ed.), 2007. A Companion to Greek 'Religion. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World: Literature and Culture. Maiden, Mass., Oxford, UK & Carlton, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing 2007. Pp. xxi + 497. 85.00[pounds sterling], US$149.95. ISBN 978-1-4051-2054-8.

Despite the number of introductions to Greek religion that have appeared in the recent past, this companion edited by Daniel Ogden offers a fresh contribution to the subject. It covers a wide spectrum of topics, but the individual essays do not attempt to provide a summary or survey of the topic involved, but rather focus on questions regarding the topic. It also does not aim at a comprehensive coverage of Greek religion, but allows the individual contributors to select the issues they consider important in the current scholarly debate. In some essays one could have wished for more information about the topic, but on the whole this approach succeeds in stimulating further interest in the subject.

The volume covers the Greek world before the advent of the Roman Empire (i.e. 776-30 BC), with two 'bookend' chapters on the Near Eastern context and on reception.

Part I, 'In the Background', contains only one chapter (chap. 1), on 'Greek Religion and the ancient Near East' by Scott B. Noegel, in which the vexing question of the nature of the influence of ancient Near Eastern myths and cults on the development of Greek religion is discussed.

Part II is titled 'The Powers: The Gods and the Dead' and deals with the supernatural beings populating Greek religion. Ken Dowden discusses the way the collection of Olympian deities was constructed and presented in various contexts and through various media (chap. 2, 'Olympian gods, Olympian pantheon'). Jennifer Larson discusses the importance of the so-called 'nature deities' in rural areas and their relationship to remarkable natural phenomena in chap. 3 ('A land full of gods: nature deities in Greek religion'). In the next chapter ('Personification in Greek religious thought and practice'), Emma Stafford looks at the development of abstract entities into personified, anthropomorphic deities through the various periods of Greek culture. The dead, their relationship to the living, the cults and festivals associated with them, and the interaction between the underworld and the world of the living are discussed by D. Felton (chap. 5, 'The dead'). Gunnel Ekroth treats the heroes, their origins and cults, in chap. 6 ('Heroes and hero-cults').

Part III, 'Communicating with the Divine', looks at the various ways and means of establishing communication with the gods. William D. Furley discusses the different types, forms and functions of prayers and hymns (chap. 7, 'Prayers and hymns'). Chap. 8, by Jan N. Bremmer, deals with 'Greek normative animal sacrifice' as a form of communication. He describes the details of the process, but also critiques modern interpretations of sacrifice (Meuli, Burkert, Vernant). Pierre Bonnechere looks at the various forms of 'Divination' (chap. 9) and the problems associated with it (ambiguity, charlatanism, the production of false oracles).

In Part IV, 'From Sacred Space to Sacred Time', aspects of the sacred in its relationship to sanctuaries and festivals are considered. Beate Dignas tries to establish what 'A day in the life of a Greek sanctuary' (chap. 10), especially the healing sanctuaries, would have looked like. …

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