Université d'Erfurt


Dr. Ioanna Patera

Post-Doktorandin am Max-Weber-Kolleg
von April 2010 bis Januar 2012

Zur Person:

Website der Graduiertenschule "Religion in Modernisierungsprozessen"


Objects within Ritual. Interpretation of Ritual Practices in Ancient Greece

Since the problem of „religion“ is unresolved, historians of Greek religion tend to examine the relations between divinities, festivals and rituals in order to understand and interpret Greek conceptions of gods   and practices. From a more theoretical perspective, the notions of religion, ritual and ritualization are all
thoroughly examined on linguistic as well as anthropological levels. While individual rituals have received extensive treatment, a comprehensive examination of the actual practices is still lacking.

The objects connected with Greek sanctuaries, as mentioned in literary texts, listed in inscriptions, and found in archaeological excavations, are usually considered as belonging to general categories. The terms „ritual object“ and „cult object“ are commonly used without justification. A hierarchy of terms, such as „sacred“, „ritual“, and „useful“, is raised as a blanket response to generally agreed assumptions about the correspondence between specific objects and the role they are thought to fulfil within a sacred space. But our all-encompassing rubrics of „offerings“, „ritual“ or „sacred objects“ do not correspond in an effective way to the categories which the Greeks developed according to other criteria. The inappropriateness of these modern concepts as translations of their Greek equivalents should force us to reconsider the very concepts of object and of ritual. In fact, Greek categories are named, for example, after the material, after a particular use, or after their status as possessions. Usefulness, either sacred or profane, is also taken into account. On the other hand, it appears more and more clearly that most types of objects cannot be connected with specific divinities or with their nature. Significantly, objects appearing in the myths of a given divinity or in inscriptions related to its cult do not necessarily appear in its sanctuaries. What we are left with is the search for ritual gestures to be reconstructed in specific contexts. The function of particular objects, which are more or less important in different cults, are tools for retrieving the concept of „object“ as well as for understanding its use within ritual. Starting with objects, the interpretive systems of rituals through mechanical and often groundless paradigms need to be reconsidered. Practices, performers and divine recipients may be regnized through what circulates between them in media of communication and its material traces.

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