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Experience of Ancient Festivals Conference - Abstracts




Soi AGELIDIS, To What End? Festivals, Rituals and Death in Eleusis.


Festivals are events usually connected with positive emotions of joy and excitement, bringing people together and celebrating the community of the worshippers. References to past and future can underline these ties in order to strengthen the cohesion of the group. Although these characteristics can be detected also in the festivities concerning Eleusis and the sanctuary there, a more melancholic and lonesome perspective is obvious here: the mythological background and the ritual setting request from the people a confrontation with their own mortality and challenges the concepts of death handed down over hundreds of years. By applying basic principles of psychosomatic anthropology in a diachronic perspective I aim to trace the emotional impact of the procession from Athens to Eleusis on the participants, their perception of landscape and architecture during the performance of the rituals and their construction of the god Hades himself in this context. The focus of the analysis will lie rather on the individual as part of the society than on the society itself. For each individual walks their way alone, right to the end. But, to what end?



Xavier BUXTON, Pathos and Drama: Reconstructing the Emotional Experience of Eleusis.

What happened at Eleusis? ‘Aristotle’, Synesius recalls, ‘believes that those who are being initiated have not a lesson to learn, but an experience to undergo and a condition into which they must be brought, once they have clearly become fit’ (Fr. 15 Rose Ἀριστοτέλης ἀξιοῖ τοὺς τελουμένους οὐ μαθεῖν τί δεῖν, ἀλλὰ παθεῖν καὶ διατεθῆναι, δηλονότι γενομένους ἐπιτηδείους). The juxtaposition with διατεθῆναι encourages us to give παθεῖν some emotional weight, and this presents a difficulty for modern scholars: πάθος is by nature transitory, personal, particular. Initiates are rarely represented in the iconography, where judging emotion is anyway notoriously subjective and susceptible to cultural projection. Kevin Clinton, who has been publishing on the site and the cult since 1971, laments that ‘we will never be able to capture the pathos’ of the initiates, despite ‘occasional suggestions’ in art and literature; Walter Burkert goes further, arguing that not even a ‘filmed record’ would help, since ‘the gap between pure observation and the experience of those involved in the real proceedings remains unbridgeable’. Jan Bremmer, taking a critical view of the sources, attempts only a ‘thin’ description, a sequence of events stripped of subjective meaning.

This paper will offer a contrary approach. For although the experience of Eleusinian initiates may never be ‘captured’, it is not wholly inaccessible. The evidence affords two means of reconstruction. First, there is the direct testimony of ancient writers describing the πάθος of initiation. From these, as I will show, a distinct emotional vocabulary emerges: a group of terms, deployed in combination or in sequence, with some consistency over a thousand years. In addition to this testimony, we have a framework of ritual events; using emotional scripts from the Hymn and elsewhere, we may postulate certain probable initiate responses; these can be compared with the emotional programme suggested by direct testimony. This analysis allows for new speculation on the nature of the Eleusinian ‘mystic drama’ suggested by Clement of Alexandria.



Naomi CARLESS UNWIN, Experiencing Pompai: The Orchestration and Performance of Processions in the Greek East.


Processional culture was pervasive in the civic landscapes of the Greek East, entwined with the equally ubiquitous festival calendar; pompai commonly served as the focal point of communal celebrations, and were the most explicitly performative element. Fundamentally, processions were ritual movement, structured around the worship of a deity, the commemoration of a myth, or the celebration of an event. They were also social performances, requiring the subscription and participation of the community, and conducted within orchestrated space. This paper will explore the material, spatial, and experiential aspects of processional performances in the Hellenistic and Roman Greek East, focusing on their status as ‘special events’ in the civic calendar. This can be traced in our source material through the level of attention paid to their organisation; in particular, epigraphic evidence preserves detailed processional outlines and itineraries. The epigraphic sources will be interrogated to reveal the conduct of pompai in different case cities, examining the special provisions allocated for processions during festivals and their design; this will be supplemented by literary and archaeological depictions to reveal the principles or assumptions underlying processional performances.

The intention is to consider the organisation of pompai from the planning stage through to the post-performance celebrations as intrinsic to the whole; elements including the anticipation and orchestration of the procession (rehearsals, dressing up, ornamentation, travelling to the route) will be examined alongside the performance on the day itself (movement along the route, role playing, ritual enactments, post-processional feasting). The success of processions depended on communal participation, both in the processional body and spectating; this in turn depended on the efforts expended to create a spectacle worth seeing. By examining the intersection between the practical and experiential elements, we can better appreciate processional performances as an articulation of communal dynamics.



Esther EIDINOW, Sensuous Geographies and Divine Encounters.


How did Greek gods smell—and why is this important for understanding mortal relations with the gods?

In this paper, I examine the potential role of the sense of smell, and specifically the smells of festivals, in the development of ancient Greek conceptions of the gods. I draw on theories of grounded cognition, which argue that not only minds and bodies, but also physical and social environments play a crucial role in human cognition. Building on this approach, I explore some possible responses to literary depictions of Greek gods, focusing on descriptions of smell and examining the information they provide about the nature of the gods and their perceived relations with mortals.

Some texts mention the extraordinary nature of a divine fragrance, giving little sensory detail; some provide very specific information about the smell of a god; others provide descriptions of the gods themselves in the process of smelling odours. I argue that these descriptions, in different ways, may have activated for their audience a similar, but personalized experience, within the constraints of shared cultural forms. Accounts of divine fragrances or gods in the act of smelling can provide us with insights into the ways in which concepts of the divine may have been formed, shared, personalized, embodied and embedded within, across, and between communities.



Daniel HANIGAN, Almost There: Enargeia and Experience at Aethiopica 3.1.1-3.5.2.


Heliodorus’ Aethiopica is a text obsessed with slippery questions of perception and experience. Central to this are its numerous ekphrastic passages which, as Tim Whitmarsh has shown, “seep” into their narrative surrounds and infect the discourse with “ontological and perceptual uncertainty”. This paper explores the way in which festival experience is bound up in this matrix of illusion and deception by looking closely at Calasiris’ quasi-ekphrastic narration of the meeting of Theagenes and Charicleia in the Thessalian procession to the tomb of Neoptolemus at Delphi (3.1.1-3.5.2). I show that Heliodorus effects a novelistic recalibration of the procession, less as a sacred occasion for religious observance, and more as an organic meeting place for star-crossed lovers, echoing a trope familiar from Xenophon’s Ephesiaca. Moreover, I argue that Cnemon’s myopic recognition of the heroic couple (and his attendant disregard of the other dimensions of the procession) destabilizes Calasiris’ carefully constructed verbal spectacle and, in doing so, undermines the confidence of Heliodorus’ readers in the capacity of enargeia to manufacture and control virtual experiences.



Athina KAVOULAKI, Ritual Synergy and Intimacy in Choral Festivities: Pindar fr. 75, Aristophanes’ Frogs and Euripides’ Cyclops.


In Archaic and Classical Greece choruses performing choreia (song and dance performed by a group) played a pivotal role in the festivities and more broadly in the ritual activities of the Greek communities. Excluding sacrifice in the strict sense, all stages of the various festival practices could feature choral activities. This emphatic presence of choruses cannot be explained away in a simple or singly unifying way. The interaction between song and context is complex and multilateral, and every insight that can be gained from an investigation of the surviving material can add to our understanding not only of the poetics of the choral material but also of the cultural experience and significance of festivals and ritual events.

In my paper I would like to focus selectively on choral songs that seem to be related to the ritual complex of the heorte (festival) and more particularly to its initial stage, i.e. the stage of the pompe. My attention will be drawn to some characteristic surviving instances of songs incorporating motifs that are relevant to the broader ritual pompic context which enables linearly progressive movements (with a ritual destination) combined with stationary, circular ones. In my analysis I will draw attention to the chorus’ capacity to explore the potential of the initial ritual practices and to rework poetically its place in the heorte. The discussion will include various means that the chorus employs (patterns, motifs and artifices expressed in performative language or imagery), so that in the new reworked environment agency can be broadened, in the sense that human and superhuman (or non-human) agents can be harmoniously engaged in the action. By employing such means the choruses seem to set up a process of interaction with the gods in the direction of implicating the gods in the choral action and even inscribing the gods in the body of the performing group, enhancing a sense of embodied communication and community between mortals and immortals.

My first test case will be the famous prelude of a Dithyramb for the Athenians composed by Pindar (fr. 75 S-M) for a historical Dionysiac feast in Athens. This historically-enacted choral instance will be juxtaposed and correlated to an important dramatic example of choreia, namely the Mystai parodos in Aristophanes’ Frogs; the parodos in Euripides’ Cyclops will add further insight (from a mythical perspective) to my investigation. In the passages to be discussed the ritual, space-traversing event enacted or thematized tends to be so orchestrated, as to activate a flow of mutual ‘liking’ between the agents involved (mortal and immortal) and to enhance a sense of intimacy and reciprocity that turns the whole choral undertaking into a synergetic achievement.



Francesca MODINI, Romancing Festivals: Festival Sounds and Other Senses in the Novels.


My aim in this paper is to explore the role of sensory experience, primarily but not exclusively that of sound and music, in the context of festivals as depicted in the ancient novels. Festival settings play an important part in the cultural background of novels – in particular Greek, but I will use Latin comparanda too when appropriate. My main objective will be to understand a) how the sensory experience of ancient festivals was reconfigured in the novelistic tradition; and b) what the sensory elements of ‘romanced’ festivals can tell us about the version(s) of Greek culture staged by the novels.



Zahra NEWBY, Experiencing Festivals Through Material Culture: the Patras Mosaic in Context.


A detailed mosaic found in the Roman colony of Patras in Greece shows a series of musical and athletic competitions of the type which took place at Greek festivals. In this paper I will explore the ways that it acts as a form of visual catalogue of a festival, setting it in juxtaposition with the epigraphic evidence for festivals in Roman Greece and Asia Minor as well as with other mosaics depicting similar scenes. I will examine whether there is a particular hierarchy of events represented here, and what it at stake in the ordering of events on the mosaic, to see whether this can help us to understand the importance of the mosaic in its original context, as well as the wider significance of festivals in Roman Greece.



Martin REVERMANN, Comic Festivals and the Art of Re-Imagination.


The prism of comedy generates refractions of the festival experience which have distinct patterns and tonalities. At a basic level, the thematic range and flexibility of this genre, which is in no way restricted to (and tied down by) the realm of myth and traditional tale, enables it to select its themes at will and zoom in or out at its own discretion. In conjunction with its dramaturgical freedom, comedy thus very much becomes a theatre of the imagination. This of course applies to festivals as well, which can be refracted en miniature (Dicaeopolis’ private Dionysia in Acharnians) or on the large scale of an entire play (Women at the Thesmophoria). In both these cases, a discussion of which will be the core of this paper, ritual frames and ritual scripts are invoked, re-written and, most of all, re-imagined to generate a festival experience sui generis (which is itself embedded within the experience of the dramatic festival-at-large).

By creating these re-imagined festivals comedy presents itself as being in a position to provide privileged access to a novel, yet recognizably familiar festival experience. One of the many dimensions to consider here is the sociological one: re-imagined within the mass medium of (comic) theatre, a gender-restricted festival like the Thesmophoria, for example, transgresses its point of departure and now becomes far more widely accessible (to men of all ages, non-citizens and non-Athenians, especially once the play starts travelling to other places where it may also be re-embedded within a different overall festival framework). The festival experience thus re-imagined by comedy is unique, and cannot be generated by other performative and literary modes of expression (tragedy, satyr play, mime). But it also needs to be seen as an important part of, and addition to, the entire portfolio of religious experiences acquired by members of these communities in the course of their life-times.



Ian RUTHERFORD, Inebriation at the inundation: aspects of festival experience in Greco-Roman Egypt


There was a rich festival culture in Greco-Roman Egypt, reflecting the differing religious traditions of different population groups there (Egyptians, Greeks and others). Many types of festivals are attested, including traditional ones celebrated in temples and towns in the khora, and the newer Ptolemaic ones organised in Alexandria and elsewhere. Over the half millennium from Herodotus' encounters with Egypt to the heyday of Roman Egypt there were many changes in festival culture, though some aspects remained the same.

This paper will try present some forms of popular experience at Egyptian festivals in this period. Available forms of evidence include papyri, inscriptions in temples, and Greek and Egyptian literary texts. It will cover a range of festivals, including festivals of Isis and Osiris and festivals celebrating the Nile inundation. But the main focus will be the so-called "festival of drunkenness" which was celebrated in honour of goddesses, and on which light has been shed recently by new finds in Egyptian literature.



Michael SCOTT, Group-Think: The Experience of Being in a Group at Ancient Greek Religious Festivals.


One of the most recognisable aspects of most ancient Greek religious festivals was that individuals came together to form groups to worship. We have become comfortable with the idea that such group formation had – and was intended to have – a psychological impact on those participating and indeed on those spectating (and who, in many cases, were prohibited from doing otherwise). Group religious festival activity – we often read in scholarship – thus served to define who was in and crucially who was outside of the community; enhance and strengthen a particular group identity; as well as, on occasion, present a visible representation (and reinforcement) of that community’s internal hierarchy to the community itself.

This paper, with the help of a variety of modern cognitive behavioural theories and scientific insights into group-think, seeks to look again at the evidence for the dynamics of group behaviour at a variety of archaic and classical ancient Greek festivals in order to understand better the experience of the ordinary citizen within the group itself. It will seek to clarify in particular the degree to which the individual within the group was conscious of the effects of group-think and, in addition, whether such group activities created as much unity and clarity of identity/purpose/community as we often suppose.



Mali SKOTHEIM, Festivals and Fragrance: The Theater Festival as Smellscape.


Participants experienced festivals with all of their senses, including smell. Building upon recent work on the senses, especially Smell and the Ancient Senses, ed. Mark Bradley (Routledge, 2015) and Senses of the Empire: Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture, ed. Eleanor Betts (Routledge, 2017), I suggest that the experience of smell was not only a part of Greek theater festivals in the Roman era, but that some olfactory experiences were planned and curated. This is seen most clearly in the use of saffron to create a fragrant experience of the festival. The sprinkling of saffron in the theater is referenced in various Roman authors, including Apuleius, who fancifully describes saffron being dissolved in wine and sprinkled on the spectators in the theater from a hidden pipe, until it suffuses the theater with a lovely fragrance and dyes the goats grazing around the theater a vibrant yellow (Apuleius, Metamorphoses 10.29-34).

Ephemeral vegetal decorations such as garlands not only brought color into cities and sanctuaries during festival time, but also the smells of flowers and plants. Such vegetal decorations induced joy and delight at the pleasant smells and polychromatic space of the theater and festival, an experience central to the purpose of festivals, which were meant to please the gods. Flowers and other vegetal decorations and were also closely tied to the specific time of year and place in which the festival was held, which had further religious significance. Smelling such vegetal decorations may have evoked memory of past festivals on the part of participants. Additionally, smell works in tandem with other sensory experiences, such as the simultaneous smell and sight of garlands. In the case of food smells, we might also consider the anticipation of taste as part of the olfactory experience. Participants' noses would surely have been tickled by the smells of food prepared for the festival, such as the feasts sponsored by benefactors, such as Epaminondas of Acraephium for the Ptoia (IG VII 2712), or those of the foods at stalls set up for festival-goers. Animal sacrifices, central to ancient festivals, were also experienced through smell, whether the sharp smell of blood and viscera, or the smoke of burnt offerings. All these scent experiences worked together to create the smellscape of an ancient festival.



Richard SEAFORD, Image Perceived as Deity in the Polis Festival.


We cannot assume that the 'sensory, emotional, physical and aesthetic engagement of ordinary citizens in festival proceedings' formed a separate basic layer of apprehension on which broader conceptions were constructed. It is no less likely that (pre-)conceptions already had a determinative presence in the whole range of these engagements. One preconceived perception that we can be confident was widespread in the classical polis was of statues of deities as embodying (or being) the deities themselves (T. Scheer, F. Hölscher). This is an extreme manifestation of the dissolution - characteristic of festivals - of the boundary between human and divine. Taken together with the perceptions and emotions accompanying collective focus on deity (especially the processional escort), it helps to explain various political uses of festivals, as well as the distinctive inter-relation between chaos and order that can be surmised for some of them.



Hugo SHAKESHAFT, In Touch with the Divine: Festive Beauties in Archaic and Classical Greece.


This paper will investigate the significance of beauty at festivals in Archaic and Classical Greece. By analysing a variety of literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources, the paper argues that beauty was a common desideratum for many standard ritual elements of festivals, for example, processions, sacrifices, and musical and athletic contests. Pleasing the gods and celebrating the human community of worshippers were mutually supportive interests underlying the desire for aesthetic splendour at festivals. Yet the aspiration to beauty had deeper theological resonance owing to the gods’ own association with beauty; beauty in ritual performance made humans appear, if only briefly, godlike. The spectacle and experience of beauty at festivals was thus invested with the power to mediate and manifest the communion of gods and humans.



Erin WARFORD, Festivals and Place-Making in the Athenian Sacred Landscape.


Place-making refers to the processes by which geographic places accrue meaning, as a group inhabits these places and layers its values, perceptions, memories, and traditions onto a landscape. Athenian festivals presented prime opportunities for place-making as crowds of people gathered together for shared experiences and rituals. As the festival calendar provided a kind of structure to the Athenian year, so too the regular performance of festivals provided a geographical “routine” as Athenians visited the locations of festival activities. Festivals encompassed a range of places including temples and altars, spaces for performance and athletic competition, spaces for eating and drinking, and processional routes which physically traced the relationships between places. In these places, Athenians saw, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled many things, an intense sensory experience that would have been particularly likely to leave lasting memories – especially as these festivals were repeated year after year. While these experiences and the memories formed from them were individual, they were also shared with other festival-goers, allowing for the creation of collective memories. The individual and collective feelings, memories, and associations with festival activities became layered on to the places where these activities happened, sometimes taking form as a joke in a comedy, a monument to an especially memorable performance, or a piece of art expressing a myth or story. The places, experiences, and memories shared between festival-goers constituted one part of the collective Athenian identity, an identity which was intimately tied to an Athenian sense of place and landscape. This paper will map Athenian festivals onto the sacred landscape and consider the ways in which festivals shaped and were shaped by the locations in which they took place.