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The Iconography of Greek Cult in the Archaic and Classical Periods

Robin Hägg

The Iconography of Epiphany in Classical Greece (abstract)

Folkert van Straten

Texte intégral

1Representations of gods and goddesses are extremely numerous in the ancient Greek iconographical material. In the archaeological literature the term epiphany has often been rather loosely applied to many of these. An attempt is made in this paper to develop criteria by which those representations that may justifiably be interpreted as epiphanies can be distinguished from the rest.

2Since epiphany implies that the god is seen by man, scenes with deities from which human figures are absent are the first to drop out.

3Among the pictures including both divine and human figures, there is a large class in which the human figures do not betray any awareness of, or reaction to, the presence of the divine figures. Neither these representations should be interpreted as epiphanies. They are the result of an attempt by artists working in a visual medium to depict the invisible divine presence.

4Only when the human figures clearly acknowledge the presence of the gods by their actions or gestures, an interpretation of the scene as a divine apparition may be considered. But even then, in many cases an alternative explanation is more likely. For instance, the large class of Classical votive reliefs with scenes of worship, showing worshippers making the conventional gestures of adoration before their gods, cannot all be taken as depictions of epiphanies. They are better understood as concrete expressions of the abstract notion of a relationship between man and god as established by worship.

5In order to find representations of epiphanies that will stand up to a critical scrutiny, circumstantial factors should be taken into account. The investigation should focus in the first place on gods that are known to be particularly inclined to epiphanies, and on cults where personal apparitions of the gods were the rule rather than the exception. Therefore, the iconography of incubation in sanctuaries of healing gods, and consequently of dream apparitions in general, will be briefly discussed. This will lead us to the Nymphs and their direct contacts with human worshippers, and to Pan and his role in connection with epiphanies in general.


Archeologisch Centrum
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© Presses universitaires de Liège, 1992

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