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The Iconography of Greek Cult in the Archaic and Classical Periods

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Robin Hägg

Meaning and Place of the Cult Scene on the Ferrara Krater Τ128

Ioannis Loucas

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  • 1 For full references see Cl. Bérard, Anodoi. Essai sur l'imagerie des passages chthoniens, Neuchâte (...)

1During the Periclean era, an Attic artist painted a scene on a volute krater which could be considered as one of the most “mysterious” scenes of classical iconography. The krater, which is now at the Ferrara museum (T. 128, inv. no. 2897),1 shows a sanctuary with the statues of an enthroned god and goddess with a lion at her side (Fig. 1). The two divine figures hold libation vessels from which liquid pours on an altar in front of them. Beside the altar, there is a female figure, generally considered a priestess, carrying a covered liknon on her head. Approaching the altar is a group, a kind of thiasos, of ecstatic dancers and players of tympanon, double flute and castanets (Figs. 2–5). Although the choreography is ecstatic, similar to those of the typical Dionysiac orgiastic ritual, these figures do not wear pardalids or nebrids and they do not carry the thyrsos but snakes, a chthonic animal which is also represented on their heads as well as on the head of the enthroned god. The scene ends with the hieratic figure of a man playing a double flute, generally considered a priest (Fig. 6).

  • 2 L. Lawler, “The Maenads: A contribution to the study of the dance in ancient Greece”, MAAR 6 (1927 (...)

2This scene created a great and long debate between scholars who, until the exhaustive study of L. Lawler on the iconography of the maenads and the maenadism, doubted even if the ecstatic dance represented on the krater could have taken place. However, the analysis of its choreography by the American scholar proved that it is a real “circle of six dancers seen from one side, the figures moving to the spectator's left being closest to him, the one on the extreme left turning the circle, those moving right being on the far side of the circle, and the third figure from the right turning the circle front as she herself turns in place”.2

  • 3 Cf. Bérard (supra n. 1).

3But, unfortunately, Lawler's study does not answer another question, that of the identity of the two deities, and consequently, of the meaning of the scene. Many scholars, such as J. Beazley K. Kerényi, P. E. Arias, E. Simon, Cl. Bérard,3 have tried to identify the two deities and they have proposed various names: Dionysos, or Dionysos-Hades, and Demeter or Kore, or Semele, or Ariadne; or Iacchos and one of the Eleusinian goddesses; or Sabazios and Kybele. The two words inscribed on the krater, ΚΑΛΟΣ and ΚΑΛΗ, do not facilitate the identification of the two deities, because every Greek deity could be considered by the worshippers as “ϰαλός” or “ϰαλή”.

  • 4 Cl. Bérard and J.-L. Durand, “Entrer en imagerie”, in Cl. Bérard et al., La cité des images. Relig (...)
  • 5 Cl. Bérard and J.-L. Durand, “Entering the imagery”, in Cl. Bérard et al., A city of images. Icono (...)

4Recently, the scene was reanalysed and reexamined by Cl. Bérard and J. L. Durand, on the occasion of the exhibition of the Ferrara krater at the “cité des images”, held in 1984.4 The two scholars, applying a semiotic approach to the analysis of the religious and cultic imagery of the Greeks, formulate the following wise remarks about the scene.5 “It is extremely unusual in Greek imagery of this date to see groups composed on one side of adults and adolescents, even children … and on the other side, of dancers of both sexes … up to this point we have dealt with no scene comparable to this one. Dionysiac groups, for example, are composed mainly of female dancers … and men only participate in them in the guise of satyrs, which transform their existential status … this is not the case here. The attitudes of the dancers, however, show great similarities to Dionysiac choreography, the same contortions of the body, the same jerking of the limbs … the same use of music … On the Ferrara krater frieze, no thyrsos, no crown of ivy, no vase of Dionysiac shape allows to push the interpretation into the realm of the god of wine. At the most, one could say that the atmosphere is somewhat similar: orgiastic, ecstatic dance, spellbinding music, manipulation of snakes. But the differences are too profound to force the parallel … Certainly, the divine couple could be a chthonic Dionysos flanked by an underworld Persephone, honored by Hipta, the mystic priestess who carries the mysterious winnowing fan; but they could equally well be Sabazios and Kybele or another couple, known but rarely celebrated in the secret rites of a sect”. In other words: we are looking for an ecstatic ritual which is connected with one of the hypostaseis of Dionysos and with a great goddess, but which is not purely Dionysiac.

  • 6 Eur. Helen, 1358–1368.

5In fact, the conventional iconography of the Ferrara krater represents an orgiastic, or perhaps it is better to say an ecstatic dromenon (ecstatic dancers) in honour of a goddess of nature (lion) and a kind of chthonic Dionysos (snakes). As Bérard and Durand correctly point out, the scene is unique in classical iconography; but, what it represents is described by the literature of the second half of the 5th century B.C. Indeed, if we look for something similar in Attic literature of this period, we might be surprised by the insistence of a tragic poet, Euripides, of describing in his tragedies a similar ecstatic ritual addressed to the most honoured orgiastic and chthonic deities of antiquity: the Greek Goddess of nature Rhea, or Rhea-Cybele, and Dionysos. For instance, we read in his Helen:6

μέγα τοι δύναται νεβρῶν
παμποίκιλοι στολίδες
ϰισσοῦ τε στεφθεῖσα χλόα
νάρθηκας εἰς ἱερούς,
ῥόμβων θ’εἱλισσομένα
ϰύϰλιος ἒνοσις αίθερία
βαϰχεύουσά τ’ἒθειρα Βρομίῳ
ϰαι παννυχίδες θεᾶς
εὖτέ νιν ὄμμασιν
ἒβαλε σελάνα.
μορφᾷ μόνον ηὒχεις.

  • 11 Cf. S. Kapsomenos, “Ο ορφιϰός πάπυρος της Θεσσαλονίκης”, ArchDelt 19 (1964) 17—25; Loucas (supra n (...)

6But the Euripides' verses cites by G. Mylonas correspond exactly to the identification of Gaia, Meter, Rhea and Demeter mentioned by the Orphic papyrus of Derveni (4th or 3rd century B.C.) in which we read:11

Γῆ δὲ ϰαὶ Μήτηρ ϰαὶ ‘Ρέα ϰαὶ “Ηρη ἡ αὐτή. ’Εκλήθη δὲ
Γῆ μὲν νόμω, Μήτηρ δ’ ὅτι ἐϰ ταύτης πάντα γ[ίνε]ται,
Γῆ ϰαὶ Γαῖα κατὰ [γ]λῶσσαν ἑϰάστοις, Δημήτη[ρ δὲ]
ὠνομάσθη ὥσπε[ρ] ἡ Γῆ Μήτηρ Γῆ ἐξ ἀμφοτέρων ε [ν] ὄνομα-
τὸ αὐτὸ γὰρ ήν.

  • 12 M.-L. Freyburger-Galland, G. Freyburger and J.-C. Tautil, Sectes religieuses en Grèce et à Rome, P (...)

7And they prove a clear identification between Euripides' religious ideas and Orphic beliefs. But this is not all, the tragic poet himself shows clearly in his works that not only did he know the Orphic beliefs but that he also respected them deeply. Euripides presents Orphism as the most ancient and venerable “rite” of the city of Athens and, as M.-L. Freyburger-Galland and J.-C. Tautil point out after an examination of Hippolytus, for Euripides “l’orphisme authentique est une religion tout à fait respectable. L'héroïsme de ses adeptes peut aller jusqu'au martyre”.12

  • 13 R. Goossens, Euripide et Athènes, Bruxelles 1962, 572.

8Certainly, in the verses of Helen quoted above, Euripides speaks about “ϰισσοὶ” and “νάρθηκες” which do not appear on the Ferrara krater. But poetic art has its own conventions. More specifically for Helen, R. Goossens has proved that in this tragedy the poet uses a real agricultural background (which is the ecstatic ritual similar to the one shown on the krater) in which he adds ποιητικὴ ἀδεία — elements appropriate to increase the “exotic” character of the work.13

  • 14 M. Bieber, The history of Greek and Roman theater, Princeton 1971,16.
  • 15 Freyburger-Galland, Freyburger and Tautil (supra n. 12), 121.

9Now the question arises: could the scene represent an Orphic ritual? Perhaps this question sounds a little strange; although the written sources of the classical period do not give us details of the Orphic ritual, most scholars believe that Orphism had nothing to do with orgies and ecstasis. However, there are exceptions, for instance, M. Bieber supported the close connection and relationship between Orphism and the —pure —Dionysism as concerns the orgiastic and ecstatic ritual.14 As regards our scene, the absence of nebrid and pardalid on the worshippers-dancers, as well as the libation given by the two deities themselves (affirmation of the non-bloody “gifts to the gods”) leads us directly to the very first and most important prescription of Orphic piety: prohibition of killing, even an animal. The other Orphic prescriptions, concerning ascetism and vegetarianism, could create the appropriate conditions for the orgiastic ecstasis. M.-L. Freyburger-Galland and J.-C. Tautil, although they believe that Orphism probably is not connected to an ecstatic ritual, accept that: “la privation de nourriture (ascèse) et la carence alimentaire (végétarisme) favorisent les manipulations mentales et les phénomènes hallucinatoires ou extatiques”.15

  • 16 Theophrastus, Char. 16.11.

10Last but not least: the presence in the scene of figures of both sexes and of every age, presence which, as Bérard and Durand rightly point out, cannot be explained on the hypothesis of a typical Dionysiac ritual, can well be explained in an Orphic context. Orphism was open to everyone, without the restriction of sex or age. For instance, we learn from Theophrastus16 that the superstitiousness “τελεσθησόμενος πρὸς τοὺς ’Oρφεοτελεστὰς κατὰ μῆνα πορεύεσθαι μετὰ τῆς γυναιϰός … ϰαὶ των παιδίων”.

  • 17 Cf. Loucas (supra n. 9), 169–186 (with full references).
  • 18 Hippolytus, Elenchos 5.20. Cf. also I. and É. Loucas, “Un autel de Rhéa-Cybèle et la Grande Déesse (...)

11As we are well aware, there was a place in Attica where Orphic rites were under the strict supervision and control of a very powerful priesthood genos, and not a matter of charlatan orpheotelestai, as happened elsewhere from the end of the 5th century B.C. onwards. This was in the ancient deme of Phlya (the actual region of Chalandri and Aghia Paraskevi, between Penteli and Hymettos), where, from the Peisistratid period until the end of the Roman times (4th cent. A.D.) the Great Goddess of nature was worshipped with Dionysos by Orphic orgiastic rites which were organized and executed by priests of the Lykomides local genos.17 According to numerous authors covering Greek and Roman antiquity, the cults of the Lykomides, priests who were connected also with Onomacritus and are presented as (re)organizers of the mysteries of Andania and of the Boeotian Cabireia, were centred in two sanctuaries at Phlya. The daphnephoreion of Apollo and the telesterion of the Great Goddess of nature, who was a very ancient local divinity identified during the historic period with Rhea, Demeter and Cybele and worshipped with “βαϰχιϰά δρώμενα τοῦ Όρφέως”.18

  • 19 Athenaeus 10.424:e–f.
  • 20 Paus. 1.31.4.
  • 21 H. Jeanmaire, Dionysos. Histoire du culte de Bacchus, Paris 1951, 141—142; Th. Zielinski, “L'évolu (...)

12Euripides himself was from Phlya and, when young, he had been an οἲνοχόος at the daphnephoreion of Apollo,19 the god worshipped by the citizens of Phlya also under the epithet Διοννσοδότης, which means “who gave Dionysos” and constitutes an additional element of the Orphic synthesis characterizing the local cults of Phlya.20 Euripides' knowledge of these cults must be one of the most important factors of his attitude towards Orphism and Dionysism. As H. Jeanmaire, who follows M. Zielinski, writes: “à l'esprit et à la foi du poète, qui avait retrouvé (dans sa vieillesse) à l'égard des dieux les sentiments de piété dans lesquels il avait été élevé au temps où, jeune garcon, tel Ion dans le sanctuaire delphique, il était attaché au temple d'Apollon à Phlya, le dionysisme posait une énigme et un problème redoutable”.21

  • 22 Cf. Plut. Themist. 1.4.

13In conclusion, we believe that the ecstatic dromenon which is represented on the Ferrara krater is the same which inspired Euripides to describe the orgiastic ritual in honour of the Great Goddess Rhea-Cybele and Dionysos in his tragedies. We also believe that this ritual, attributed to an Attic secte by Bérard and Durand, is the Orphic-Bacchic dromenon (βαϰχιϰὸν δρώμενον τοῦ Όρφέως) carried out in honour of the local Great Goddess of Phlya by a Lykomidean priest (such a priest may be represented on the Ferrara krater; the hieratic male figure playing the double flute, at the end of the group of dancers). Concerning the exact place where this rite was held, it must be the telesterion of Phlya. This was burned by the Persians but reconstructed by Themistocles, who also was a Lykomedes.22 The two statues on the Ferrara krater must be these of the local Great Goddess and Dionysos.

  • 23 Cf. I. and É. Loucas (supra n. 18).
  • 24 Ph. Williams-Lehmann, “The technique of the mosaic at Lykosoura”, in Essays in Memory of K. Lehman (...)
  • 25 Paus. 8.37.5–6.
  • 26 Cf. Loucas (supra n. 9), 82–96; Mylonas (supra n. 10), 234–235.
  • 27 Cf. Loucas (supra n. 9), 96–106.

14Certainly, at some time between the post-classical times and late antiquity, these statues were replaced by a new cultic group which is represented on the three taurobolian altars from Phlya, dated to the 4th century A.D.23 This group is constituted by four statues, as Ph. Williams-Lehmann has pointed out,24 it reminds one of the cultic group of the temple of the Great Goddess of nature, Despoina, at Lykosoura, where the presence of Anytos is connected by Pausanias to Orphic religion.25 The statues of Phlya were those of the Great Goddess (Demeter- Rhea-Cybele), of Kore, of Hekate and of a young god. The last mentioned must be Dionysos-Iacchos, represented according to the iconography of the Roman period, or Hermes, who was an important god in the local pantheon of Phlya. This cultic group corresponds to the new factors which constituted the religious reality of Hellenistic and Roman antiquity: the importance of the mystic cult of every feminine great deity is increased and absorbs (or minimizes) the presence of her male πάρεδρος. More especially, at Phlya the religious reality of the Hellenistic, but principally of the Roman period, is also defined by the penetration of the Lykomides into the priesthood of Eleusis, without abandoning, of course, their own sanctuaries at Phlya.26 Furthermore, during the Roman period, citizens from Phlya had been priests or priestesses not only of the Eleusinian cult, but also of the cult of Meter of Peiraeus.27

Bibliographie

Scholars have always been impressed by the identification of Demeter and Rhea-Cybele by Euripides, especially in the tragedy Helen, where the mother of Kore-Persephone is not the Eleusinian goddess of agriculture, but the Phrygian Great Mother: she is called μάτηρ ϑεῶν as well as ỏρεία, she is rides on a chariot drawn by lions.7 H. Graillot8 formulated the hypothesis that the identification of Demeter with Rhea-Cybele by Euripides must be inspired by a hymn of the Eleusinian ritual. But archaeological evidence and written sources agree that, at least during the classical period, Rhea-Cybele was absent at Eleusis.9 The Euripidean identification leads directly to Orphism, in which the great feminine deity of nature was very closely related to Dionysos, as happens in the verses from Helen quoted above. This relationship between the great goddess and Dionysos is ascribed by H. Grégoire and L. Méndier, Ε. Will, and G. Mylonas10 to the “personal religious beliefs” of Euripides, who, according to G. Mylonas, “ό Εὖριπίδης, ὁ ὁποῖος ἒρρεπε πρὸς τὴν θεοϰρασίαν, ήτο δυνατὸν ἀνεξαρτήτως ϰαὶ ἄνευ ỏρφιϰῆς ἐπιδράσεως νά ἒγραψε τοὺς στίχους ἐϰείνους. Θὰ τοῦ ήτο δυνατὸν νὰ σκεφθῆ ὅτί ἡ Δημήτηρ ϰαὶ ἡ Ρέα-Κυβέλη ήσαν προσωποποιήσεις τñς Γñς ϰαὶ νὰ τὰς ταυτίση ἀνεξαρτήτως. Σχετικῶς προσθέτομεν ἀπὸ τὰς Βάκχας τοὺς στίχους 275–276 τῆς ὑπθέσεως ταύτης: Δημήτηρ ϑεὰ — γῆ δ’ἐστίν, ὄνομα δ’ὁπότερον βούλη) κάλεί”.

Notes

1 For full references see Cl. Bérard, Anodoi. Essai sur l'imagerie des passages chthoniens, Neuchâtel 1974, 73, n. 2.

2 L. Lawler, “The Maenads: A contribution to the study of the dance in ancient Greece”, MAAR 6 (1927) 107.

3 Cf. Bérard (supra n. 1).

4 Cl. Bérard and J.-L. Durand, “Entrer en imagerie”, in Cl. Bérard et al., La cité des images. Religion et société en Grèce antique, Lausanne and Paris 1984,19–33.

5 Cl. Bérard and J.-L. Durand, “Entering the imagery”, in Cl. Bérard et al., A city of images. Iconography and society in ancient Greece, Princeton 1989, 29.

6 Eur. Helen, 1358–1368.

11 Cf. S. Kapsomenos, “Ο ορφιϰός πάπυρος της Θεσσαλονίκης”, ArchDelt 19 (1964) 17—25; Loucas (supra n. 9), 183.

12 M.-L. Freyburger-Galland, G. Freyburger and J.-C. Tautil, Sectes religieuses en Grèce et à Rome, Paris 1986,125.

13 R. Goossens, Euripide et Athènes, Bruxelles 1962, 572.

14 M. Bieber, The history of Greek and Roman theater, Princeton 1971,16.

15 Freyburger-Galland, Freyburger and Tautil (supra n. 12), 121.

16 Theophrastus, Char. 16.11.

17 Cf. Loucas (supra n. 9), 169–186 (with full references).

18 Hippolytus, Elenchos 5.20. Cf. also I. and É. Loucas, “Un autel de Rhéa-Cybèle et la Grande Déesse de Phlya”, Latomus 45: 2 (1986) 392–404; idem, “Delphinion ou Daphnephoreion? Sur la localisation de la scène de la face principale du cratère en cloche n° 3760 de Copenhague”, AntCl 59 (1990) 70–78; I. Loucas, “Le daphnephoreion de Phlya, la daphnéphorie béotienne et l'oracle de Delphes”, Kernos 3 (1990) 211–218.

19 Athenaeus 10.424:e–f.

20 Paus. 1.31.4.

21 H. Jeanmaire, Dionysos. Histoire du culte de Bacchus, Paris 1951, 141—142; Th. Zielinski, “L'évolution religieuse d'Euripide”, REG 36 (1923) 459–479.

22 Cf. Plut. Themist. 1.4.

23 Cf. I. and É. Loucas (supra n. 18).

24 Ph. Williams-Lehmann, “The technique of the mosaic at Lykosoura”, in Essays in Memory of K. Lehmann (Suppl. Marsyas I), 1964, 190–197, esp. 196, n. 30.

25 Paus. 8.37.5–6.

26 Cf. Loucas (supra n. 9), 82–96; Mylonas (supra n. 10), 234–235.

27 Cf. Loucas (supra n. 9), 96–106.

7 Eur. Helen, 1301–1302, 1308–1311, 1347, 1356.

8 H. Graillot, Le culte de Cybèle Mère des Dieux à Rome et dans l'empire romain, Paris 1912, 504.

9 Cf. I. Loucas, HΡέα-Κνβέλη και οι γονιμικές λατρείες της Φλύας, Athens 1988, 29–30 (with related bibliography).

10 H. Grégoire and L. Meridier, Euripide V, Paris 1950, 105; E. Will, “Aspects du culte et de la légende de la Grande Mère dans le monde grec”, Colloque de Strasbourg: Eléments orientaux dans la religion grecque ancienne (1958), Paris I960, 95–111, esp. 100; G. Mylonas, “Μαρτυρίαι Χριστιανῶν συγγραφέων διὰ χὰ μυστήρια τῆς Έλευσίνος”, Scientific Yearbook of the Faculty of Philosophy of Athens University 9 (1958–59) 7–58, esp. 19, n. 1.

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