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Author Topic: Greek Personal Religion: A Reader  (Read 6632 times) Average Rating: 0
LyricFox
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« Topic Start: March 11, 2010, 04:54:59 pm »

Title: Greek Personal Religion: A Reader
Author(s): Stephen Instone (ed.)
Publisher: Oxford:  Aris & Phillips
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 0856688983
ISBN-13:
Current Price and More Info from Amazon

From the Bryn Mawr Classic Review:
Ce petit livre s'intéresse à la religion "personnelle" des Grecs, par opposition à la religion civique ou poliade, plus souvent et plus systématiquement étudiée ces dernières années. L'auteur s'y interroge sur la façon dont les Grecs se représentaient les relations entre chacun d'entre eux et leurs dieux, à partir de quelques situations emblématiques. Il rassemble des témoignages empruntés aux domaines de la poésie épique, de la philosophie, de la littérature, du sport, de la médecine, qui montrent des hommes ayant recours en leur nom propre aux dieux pour leur demander une aide personnelle pour gagner, pour guérir, pour obtenir leur salut après la mort ou encore pour avoir raison d'un ennemi.

Read the full review at the Bryn Mawr Classic Review web site.

Additional Description:
The relationship between the individual and the divine in ancient Greece is a complex one, which has tended to be neglected in favour of studies of state religion, festivals, sanctuaries and oracles. This reader presents a selection of texts that shed light on many potential aspects of an individual's personal religious beliefs and influences including divine epiphany, superstition, epilepsy, athletics victories, life after death, philosophy, pollution, Orphism and curse tablets. The Greek authors include Homer, Hesiod, Theophrastus, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Pindar, Empedocles, Plato and Aristotle as well as a Hippocratic text, orphic gold leaves, and fragments of the Derveni Papyrus. Each text has an introduction explaining the background and significance of the passage, an English translation and commentaries. The Greek texts are given in a separate section at the end of the book.

Special Notes:
This book is in English even though the review at BMCR is in French.

Legal Notes: Some description text and item pictures in this post may come from Amazon.com and are used by permission. The Cauldron is an Amazon Affiliate and purchases made through the Amazon links in this message help support The Cauldron.



Discussion and reviews of this book are welcome in this thread. If you've read the book, please tell us what you think of it and why.
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« Reply #1: March 12, 2010, 08:52:00 am »

Special Notes:
This book is in English even though the review at BMCR is in French.

Hrm.  Anyone read French well enough to give a quick idea of how favorable the review is?  The book sounds good, at least...  And it looks like it's something I can get from the university library (gods bless them, again), but as wonderful as that place is it's pretty out of the way so I'd like to have a better idea of what I'm getting into first.

...Not that not knowing will really stop me from checking it out.  Grin
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« Reply #2: March 12, 2010, 12:10:14 pm »

Hrm.  Anyone read French well enough to give a quick idea of how favorable the review is?  The book sounds good, at least...  And it looks like it's something I can get from the university library (gods bless them, again), but as wonderful as that place is it's pretty out of the way so I'd like to have a better idea of what I'm getting into first.

...Not that not knowing will really stop me from checking it out.  Grin

I used Google translator, it's pretty good.
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« Reply #3: March 12, 2010, 12:18:22 pm »

I used Google translator, it's pretty good.

...d'oh.  I don't know why I didn't think of that.  ::scurries off to translate::  Er, thanks.  Grin
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« Reply #4: May 21, 2010, 12:05:53 pm »

Discussion and reviews of this book are welcome in this thread. If you've read the book, please tell us what you think of it and why.

Having picked it up a couple of weeks ago from the university library, and just finished it:

The premise of this slim volume is simple:  There's not enough study being done of the way that the ancient Greeks interacted with the Gods on a personal level.  Plenty of research has been done, plenty of books written, about the civic religion of ancient Greece if you know where to look.  There hasn't been as much of a survey of how the Greeks related to their gods individually.  It isn't that the source material isn't there, Instone points out.  It's just that people aren't really focusing on it.  Hence, this book, a presentation of fifteen selected texts examining just that.  This is not, and does not pretend to be, an in-depth or comprehensive study of the subject; it's more of a sampling, intended to give a taste of the material and perhaps give direction for further investigation.

There is a short introduction, giving a quick overview of the texts to be addressed and the purpose of the book.  Then the texts themselves are presented, each with an introduction, a brief bibliography, an English translation, and finally notes.  (The untranslated Greek texts are available in the back.)  Instone's writing is informal enough to be engaging while still retaining sufficient authority to be convincing.  The translations I think are also primarily by Instone, or at least no other translator is credited in most cases; at times I found them to be a bit on the colloquial side for my taste, but overall they were quite clear and readable.

This is an excellent book for a reader who is interested in exploring ancient Greek writings, but needs some help interpreting the primary sources.  It covers a broad range of the familiar (Homer, Plato, Aristotle) and the less-well-known (Theophrastus, Empedocles).  Instone's introductions set up the context of each passage well, and his notes help twenty-first century readers successfully navigate the language of more than two millennia past.  He is careful to note any place where translation, interpretation, or even the original text is unclear.  His interpretation and conclusions seem reasonable, and he draws upon well-established sources such as Burkert and Garland to lend support.

Not only the writing, but also the format make this a good introductory read.  The selections range in length from a single page to twelve pages long, introductions and notes included; the average is about five pages.  This makes for relatively easy reading even if you (like me) find scholarly writing and primary sources difficult to wade through, since each short section can be read and digested individually before moving on to the next.  I hope to find more books laid out in similar manner in the future, as I found this much easier to wrap my brain around and move through in a timely manner than other scholarly or primary sources I have tackled.

If I have one complaint about the book, it is that sometimes the connection to the purported topic seems a little bit tenuous.  I fully believe that it's there, but don't feel that Instone was clear enough in explaining how some of his selected texts illustrate the relationship between individuals and their Gods.  Some passages seem more like history lessons or overviews of how some groups in or around Greece perceived the Gods.  However, these are still instructive and well worth reading even if they seem a bit off-topic, and the book as a whole is certainly still something I would recommend to those interested in the subject matter.

(Cross-posted to various places, including Goodreads and my reading journal.)
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« Reply #5: May 21, 2010, 06:15:38 pm »

Having picked it up a couple of weeks ago from the university library, and just finished it:


Thank you, Star!
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« Reply #6: May 22, 2010, 11:16:28 am »


If I have one complaint about the book, it is that sometimes the connection to the purported topic seems a little bit tenuous.  I fully believe that it's there, but don't feel that Instone was clear enough in explaining how some of his selected texts illustrate the relationship between individuals and their Gods.  Some passages seem more like history lessons or overviews of how some groups in or around Greece perceived the Gods. 

That's a testament to how thin the literature is on the topic. Good scholarship eschews gross speculation. If the author believes he sees connections but can't really support the belief with the text, suggesting the connections at the outset, presenting the works, and leaving the final conclusions to the reader is good form. Anything beyond that might risk ones academic credibility.

We can speculate though. Most if not all of the documents he discussed will be freely available online. Do y'all ever read and discuss source documents of that nature around here?
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« Reply #7: May 22, 2010, 11:22:12 am »

We can speculate though. Most if not all of the documents he discussed will be freely available online. Do y'all ever read and discuss source documents of that nature around here?

Of course. Though I suspect you'll find most of the discussions of scholastic works and primary source materials in the various religious SIGs or in the posting on academic book sources (like this one).
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« Reply #8: May 22, 2010, 12:50:55 pm »

Of course. Though I suspect you'll find most of the discussions of scholastic works and primary source materials in the various religious SIGs or in the posting on academic book sources (like this one).

I don't understand how a SIG is a discussion. That aside, what source documents were covered in the book?
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« Reply #9: May 22, 2010, 02:07:44 pm »

I don't understand how a SIG is a discussion.

A SIG isn't a discussion. It's a board devoted to specific religions (or other special interest groups). If you're in the Greek Recon board, you're going to find a vastly different discussion depth than you are in a 101 board. Boards that have Recon focus are going to be more indepth and focus more on primary source material and scholastic secondary source material. You'll find more source documentation discussions in those boards.

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That aside, what source documents were covered in the book?

I'm not the one to ask. I'm not the one who posted the review other than the one from Bryn Mawr. You'll need to ask Star.
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« Reply #10: May 22, 2010, 02:52:56 pm »

That aside, what source documents were covered in the book?

I've unfortunately returned the book to the library already, so I'm afraid I can't transcribe the exact list for you.  The description posted by Lyric at the beginning of the thread (which is essentially the text from the back cover, via Bryn Mawr) gives a pretty good idea of what's included, though.
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« Reply #11: May 22, 2010, 06:33:00 pm »

...what source documents were covered in the book?

The best that I could manage through Google is the following Table of Contents:

     * Homer Iliad 1.188-222 : a divine intervention
    * Hesiod Works and days 724-828 : personal observance
    * Theophrastus Characters 16 : Superstition
    * Herodotus 6.105-106 : a divine epiphany (Pheidippides and Pan )
    * Aeschylus Agamemnon 160-106 : hymn to Zeus
    * Pindar Pythian ten : the victorious athlete and the divine
    * Empedocles, selected fragments : the divine forces of love and strife; metempsychosis and the divine
    * Plato Symposium 209e5-212a7 : divine forms
    * Aristotle Nicomachean ethics 1177b26-1179a23 : divine theoria
    * Hippocratic Sacred disease 1-6 : epilepsy
    * Lex sacra from Selinous : pollution
    * Orphism (1) : Herodotus 4.78.3-4.80.5, Scyles and Olbia
    * Orphism (2) : gold leaves, a selection
    * Orphism (3) : the Derveni papyrus (selected fragments)
    * Curse tablets.

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« Reply #12: May 23, 2010, 12:19:53 pm »

The best that I could manage through Google is the following Table of Contents:

     * Homer Iliad 1.188-222 : a divine intervention
    * Hesiod Works and days 724-828 : personal observance
    * Theophrastus Characters 16 : Superstition
    * Herodotus 6.105-106 : a divine epiphany (Pheidippides and Pan )
    * Aeschylus Agamemnon 160-106 : hymn to Zeus
    * Pindar Pythian ten : the victorious athlete and the divine
    * Empedocles, selected fragments : the divine forces of love and strife; metempsychosis and the divine
    * Plato Symposium 209e5-212a7 : divine forms
    * Aristotle Nicomachean ethics 1177b26-1179a23 : divine theoria
    * Hippocratic Sacred disease 1-6 : epilepsy
    * Lex sacra from Selinous : pollution
    * Orphism (1) : Herodotus 4.78.3-4.80.5, Scyles and Olbia
    * Orphism (2) : gold leaves, a selection
    * Orphism (3) : the Derveni papyrus (selected fragments)
    * Curse tablets.

Most of these texts are available online.

http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.html
http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/works.htm
http://www.archive.org/details/charactersoftheo00theorich
http://classics.mit.edu/Aeschylus/agamemnon.html
http://infomotions.com/etexts/gutenberg/dirs/1/0/7/1/10717/10717.htm
http://www.scribd.com/doc/4642136/EMPEDOCLES-OF-AGRIGENTUMEnglish
http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/symposium.html
http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html
http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/sacred.1b.txt
http://www.societasviaromana.net/Collegium_Religionis/purify.php
http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.html

I didn't find free online English translations for the last two items, but they have been translated and published in several books, so they may be around for free somewhere.

Anyway, this is a pretty challenging literature, even for scholars. It's a worthy study though. If a handful of people here wanted to go through any of these and discuss them, I'd be interested.
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« Reply #13: May 23, 2010, 01:49:03 pm »


Anyway, this is a pretty challenging literature, even for scholars.

This is very typical and standard reading for Greek Recons. Challenging? Yes. Unheard of for pagans? Not in the least.
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