Reciprocity in Ancient Greece

By Christopher Gill; Norman Postlethwaite et al. | Go to book overview

5
Pleasing Thighs: Reciprocity in Greek Religion

ROBERT PARKER

In the tenth Nemean Ode,1 Pindar declares that it is 'no wonder' that Theaios has achieved athletic success, given that his ancestor Pamphaes once entertained Kastor and Polydeukes, those great athletic gods, in his house; he adds the comment 'truly the gods are a race whom you can trust', κăíűàøεωνπιοτòνγÝÉνοç (54). 2 That may appear a surprising claim, if one thinks of the 'trick-devising deceitfulness of god' ( Aiskhylos, Persai93) that various passages of tragedy and epic so poignantly display. But it is a good expression of a more confident and optimistic attitude that is not uncharacteristic of 'practical religion' in Greece; a good introduction too to the theme of reciprocity between gods and men, which is a basic postulate of such practical religion. Almost the whole of Greek cultic practice is in fact founded -- not merely by implication, but through numerous explicit statements -- on the belief or hope that reciprocity of this kind is a reality. The much-abused word 'fundamental' is justified here, since without this ideal of reciprocity the whole explicit rationale of Greek cult practice disappears. It was in consequence a prime source of anxiety for the ordinary believer: the fear that the gods might be ungrateful was a darker thought, perhaps, than the fear that they might be unjust. But it was also a problem for those who stood partly outside traditional assumptions, one of the issues on which philosophers rejected, or attacked, or were embarrassed by, the religion of their fathers.

A final reason for addressing the subject is that it has been strangely neglected or undervalued in almost all studies of Greek religion until very recently. It is symptomatic not only that neither

____________________
1
In addition to standard abbreviations I cite Hansen ( 1983) and ( 1989) as CEG.
2
The Dioskouroi may have particularly attracted such beliefs: see the return they made to Simonides, PMG 510.

-105-

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