History of Ancient Religion

Quiz Notes

On this page, I’ll be posting notes on each of the quizzes that we have. These quiz notes are not meant to be the “right answers” so much as information relevant to the arguments you might make in response to these questions.

PDFs:You can also find the Quiz Notes in PDF form on the Print/PDF page.

Quiz #1

1. What does it mean to say that polytheists tend to believe in a “unity of the divine”?

The “unity of the divine” describes the gods collectively—a divine world. The pantheon is not just aan accumulation of random gods and goddesses; rather, it is a structured whole—a system where the gods interact with each other, and that collectively represents the forces of the natural world and a counterpart to the world of mortals.

In the tripartite theory of polytheistic theology put forward by the Roman scholar Varro, this “unity of the divine” represents the natural or cosmic theology: a self-contained system in which the gods cooperate in creating and maintaining the world.

In other words, each god is part of a larger process that as a whole is responsible for the physical world.

2. The Kassites favored the Sumerian gods, led by Enlil. How did Marduk end up becoming dominant instead?

The Kassites had a close cultural connection with Sumer, and as they took control over lower Mesopotamia (during the 15th century BCE) they preserved Sumerian heritage and especially aspects of their religion, consecrating the key buildings in their new capital city to Enlil, Ninlil, and other primary Sumerian gods.

The Kassites were displaced by the inhabitants of the city of Babylon, who established a new and more domineering dynasty (around the 12th century BCE). The First Dynasty of Babylon emphasized the power of Babylon over all other cities, unlike the Kassites. One of the ways they brought about this dominion was to raise the profile of Marduk, their city god, over the rest of the pantheon. The Babylonian rulers and priests promoted Marduk to king of the gods and ascribed more and more power to him, mirroring the irresistible dominion of Marduk’s city on Earth.

Babylon was expanded and rebuilt on a grand scale, becoming the most impressive city of the ancient world. The superiority of Babylon and Marduk over all mortals and gods was merged in the construction of the Etemenanki Ziggurat, which at the time was thought to the most massive temple in the world (and which provided the inspiration for the fable of the Tower of Babel).

3. What does the “theologization of history” refer to? Give an example of what you mean.

The tripartite structure establishes an enclosed world of gods; an enclosed world of mortals that tell stories about gods; and a mechanism of indirect interaction via cultic prctices (rituals, sacrifices, offerings, festivals, and divination).

Over time, some societies chafed at the idea of the gods being so aloof and looked for signs that the gods influenced human history. This provided an explanation for how what happens to us as humans seems not to be totally under our control. The gods determined or affected the course of human history, the welfare of the state, and the wellbeing of the people; they did this be sending victories and defeats, health and illness, prosperity and disaster.

This idea developed in to the use of religious guilt and divine punishment as a political tool in ancient society. Rulers and groups could use betrayal of the gods and divine wrath in particular to discredit previous rulers or foreign enemies.

This could also be applied not just to the whole community but to individuals forging a relationship with a “personal god,” notably in Babylon and Assyria. Related to this is the idea of judgment after death—the gods taking direct action to determine the course of an individual’s afterlife.

EC1. According to the text, the original three spheres or dimensions ascribed to polytheism (by the Roman scholar Varro) are all of the following EXCEPT:

(d) quadratic theology

EC2. This week’s reading was “Poem of the Righteous Sufferer”. How would you describe the main character’s attitude toward the gods? Give an example of what you mean.

This is subjective, but there are a number of things that can be mentioned here, including the protagonist’s expectation of suffering—and even a certain amount of pride therein, as proof of his piety toward Marduk. He sees the other gods as petty and at cross-purposes; what matters is the judgment of Marduk, who is remote and on the other side of the troubles he experiences. He fears the potency of Marduk and the disruptive capriciousness of the other gods. Ultimately he feels the suffering he faces in life and at the hands of the minor gods allows him to earn maturity and the recognition from Marduk he believes he has earned.

Quiz #2

1. How were individuals in antiquity subject to multiple religions at once? Give examples.

Not only is the ancient world a patchwork of local pagan religions, but with each community the individual was subjected to multiple levels of religious obligation.

At the most private level, a person had obligations to his or her household gods, which were less anthropomorphic and more spiritaul manifestations of a family’s abiding relationship with land and home. A family’s rituals and traditions toward the household gods were different in each home, and operated entirely independently of the communty’s collective religious observances. Household religion was informed by cultural heritage, the land and home, private practices kept across generations, and the remembrance ancestors.

A person was also obligated to small social groups based on neighborhoods (crossroads guilds, for example) or profession. One example of the latter is the military unit, which often (especially among the Romans) had shared religious obligations that reinforced their collective identity as a unit.

Finally, a citizen had religious obligations to the community and its collective relationship with the gods through cultic practice (rituals, games, festivals, sacrifices, and so on).

2. The Hittite Instructions to Temple Officials state, “Are the minds of man and gods somehow different? No!” How did the Hittites see the gods as being like mortals?

The Hittites saw the process of gaining favor with the gods as exactly like the appeasement of a lord or king: the gods, like nobles, could be brought around to a positive demeanor toward you if you offered gifts and massaged their egos. The mentality of the gods, in other words, was seen as very similar to that of humans when it came to seeking and achieving a positive outcome.

The main difference is that because of the barrier between the mortal and divine worlds, humans can speak directly to the gods but gods speak only indirectly. Thus their prevailing mood and demeanor must be ascertained through divination; the study of the movements of birds, water snakes, smoke, the oracular lot, and other omens.

3. According to the text, what might lead to the political or military oppression of a cult? Give an example.

The main idea here is that, in a world where peoples and individuals all are subjected to a wide array of complex religious obligations, suppression of religion tends to come about when the adherents of a religion form a strong enough identity that they pose a political threat.

The demeaning of a religion can be a tool of war, painting the enemy’s beiliefs as barbarian or seeking to deprive the ebemy of their gods by annexing them onto your pantheon; but after conquest this tends to give way to integration. What’s more likely is a religious group being seen as a threat within an empire because that group is forming a potent alternative identity to the empire’s that endangers the empire’s rule. This is seen with mystery cults, which are often joined by those who seek an alternative sense of who they are, and especially by the Jews and the Christians in the Roman Empire.

EC1. The religion of the Hittites involved:

(c) A pantheon of gods from many different cultures, including Hittite, Hattian, and Hurrian

EC2. This week’s reading was “Divination Among the Hittites”. What do you think this reading suggests about how the Hitties related to their gods? Give an example of what you mean.’

This is subjective, but there are a number of things that can be mentioned here. The thing that most stands out to me is that divination is used as a practical system to achieve specific desired results, whether that be knowledge, prophecy, cures, or military advantage.

Because this system is made up of many traditions of Hittite, Hattian, and Hurrian origin, the Hittites saw multiple paths to the same end. Thus they might seek to gain an answer to a particular question through dreams, the study of birds, the examination of the liver of a sacrificed animal, or an Old Woman casting an oracular lot.

Because the questions put were yes/no only, the question was asked repeatedly in different ways as well to be sure of the correct understanding of the gods’ message.

Quiz #3

1. Who was Zarathustra? What change did he bring about in ancient Iran?

Zarathustra was a religious reformer living in Iran in the early Iron Age (historians disagree about the actual century). He promoted two key elements of later Iranian religion. First, the Iranian pantheon was rethought to focus on Ahura Mazda as an organizing force—not a creator god, but one who gave creation form and structure.

Second, he taught that the divine world, and its influence on Earth, was balanced between two opposing forces: one of truth and order, represented by Ahura Mazda, and one of falsehood and disorder, represented by Ahriman. Ahura Mazda and Ahriman were presented as twin deities, who each made a choice early in cosmic history—Ahura Mazda choosing truth and Ahriman choosing falsehood.

These teachings are the basis for the Iranian religion known as Zoroastrianism, which in subsequent centuries became central to Iranian culture. The key element of Zoroastrianism in terms of human behavior is the emphasis on free will: like the twin gods, all mortals have a choice between true and false actions.

This two-force perspective can be described as dualism, in contrast to polytheism and monotheism.

2. According to the text, what was the distinction between magic and religion in the ancient world? Give an example.

The text argues that what is called magic and what is called religion tends to overlap in forms and practices: both disciplines involve clearly defined rituals; the use of sacred words to invoke divine power (prayer, incantations, forms of divination); sacred objects (relics, talismans, divination stones); and practitioners possessed of unique knowledge.

What distingishes magic from its religion is that it is external to the observer’s religion. Its exotic nature means that magic is both taboo, as outside religious prescription, and alluring—something outside the rules of the local religious system has the freedom to accomplish what religious practitions cannot.

Magic practitioners, sincde they were able to expand on or exceed orthodox ritual, were also thought of as having more control over the power of the divine world, compared with priests and other religious figures, who were dependent upon the gods’ participation.

This can mean magic practitions becoming an alternative to official religious institutions, especially for the common folk—though note that the Hittites, when seeking multiple channels to understand the gods’ will, sometimes consulted village wise women in addition to the official palace augurs.

3. What are some of the ways words and language played a role in ancient magical practices?

Expertise with words was considered a primary characteristic of the magic practitioner. These included the ability to produce curses tailored to the individual and the circumstance using longstrading ritualized formulae. Secret words were kept as potent means of unlocking divine force. Narratives within spells were a means of including the lore being a spell in order to ground them in the origin of the pwer being invoked. In some cases the literal eating of words was thought to have a inciting effect on the forces being called upon.

Also related to this is the power of names: magic focused on a human target was usually understood to require something elemental to that person (hair, blood, etc.); in some cultures a person’s true name could be used in this way, as a focal point of targeted magic.

EC1. Traditional worship of ancient Iranian gods involved all of the following EXCEPT:

(c) rites of cleansing involving bathing in butter and soft fruits

EC2. This week’s reading was “The First Civilized Man”. What do you think this reading suggests about the ancient Iranians, and how they understood the relationship between gods and mortals? Give an example of what you mean.

This is subjective, but there are a number of things that can be mentioned here, including the presence of free will in Yima’s refusal to impose Ahura Mazda’s laws upon his people, instead seeking to provide a model for civilized behavior. The interactions between Ahura Mazda and both Yima and Zarathustra suggest is was based on mutual respect (rather than on a master/servant model), with the gods’ role to care for the world and its people. Another point is that civilization is seen as a process, one that is ongoing through Yima’s life and still developing in Zarathustra’s day.

Quiz #4

1. The author of this week’s reading on monotheism makes a distinction between “evolutionary monotheism” and “revolutionary monotheism.” What is evolutionary monothism? How is revolutionary monotheism different?

Evolutionary monotheism involves a process in a polytheistic society whereby a particular god becomes dominant over a pantheon, gradually subsuming the roles of the other gods, so that divinities otherthan this central god are seen as aspects of the will and power of that god. Over time, this dominant god becomes thought of as the Supreme Being, a superdeity, with all other gods being one and the same with that deity. This process describes the supremacy of Marduk in Babylon, for example, and the way Ahura Mazda subsumed all the divities of order and good in Zoroastrianism.

Revolutionary monotheism, in contrast, starts as rejection of a set of beliefs—revolutionary monotheism involves first stating what god is not and how god should not be worhsipped. Revolutionary monotheism is based on the distinction between true and false, between one true god and the rest of the forbidden, false, or nonexistent gods. Only revolutionary monotheism requires a divide between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, with punishm,ents for those who believe wrongly. Such a reform was attempted by Akhenaten, a New Kingdom pharaoh, but most closely describes “biblical monotheism” (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

2. What kinds of reforms were associated with king Josiah? What were the long-term effects?

Josiah was associated with the “deuteronomic reforms,” in which the structures of a newly discovered “book of the law”—thought to be the book now called Deuteronomy—were imposed on the Judean people ca. 621 BCE during the critical period between the deportation of Israel and the Babylonian exile. These reforms centralized the cult of Yahweh. Sacrifices could only be performed at the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem; all other altars, whether to Yahweh or any other god, were destroyed throughout Judea. The worship of Canaanite gods such as Baal and Asherah were suppressed.

In the short term, Josiah’s reforms did not wipe out the worship of other gods, which according to contemporary prophets persisted in the decades after Josiah’s death. But the emphasis on the book of the law meant that the Judean religion could be brought with them to Babylon in their exile, a physical focal point of their faith and a reflection of the fact that Yahweh was bound, not to the land as with pagan gods, but to those who were observers of his law.

3. What is the connection between monotheism and the importance of scripture?

Revealed truth that cannot be reexperiences in any natural way must be codified for transmission to future generations. Whereas polytheism tends to rely on observation, divination, and maintenance of customary practices, revolutionary monotheism requires persistence of words and truths revealed by god. This leads to the development by the first generations of highly normative and canonized scripture, which fixes the truth of god and dictates the practice of adherents.

Canonized scripture is found in religions derived via revolutionary monothotheism, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the dualist Zoroastrianism and eastern religions focused on regularizing social behavior, such as Buddhism, Daoism, and others.

EC1. “Hyphenating gods” refers to:

(d) The Egyptian practice of pairing the local name of a god with a corresponding figure shared across communities

EC2.This week’s reading was “Abraham and Isaac”. What do you think this reading suggests about how the Jews who told this story (centuries after Abraham) thought about their god and their relationship with him? Give an example of what you mean.

This question is subjective; a number of ideas could be brought up here, including the necessity of total obedience, faith, and sacrifice; the “imminence” of Yahweh, actively involved in manipulating the actions of his people in a way that recalls the gods of Syria and Canaan; and the suggestion of strict patriarchy, with Abraham neglecting to consult Isaac and thus depriving him of the chance to offer himself willingly to god.

Quiz #5

1. What are some common elements of ancient creation myths?

Creation myths involved a number of common elements across various cultures. Most notably, many creation myths involved a primeval conflict among the gods, often with a hero-god overcoming earlier, more chaotic gods and establishing order. This is seen (for example) with Marduk, who rose to defeat his destructive mother and formed the world from her carcass, and with Zeus, who defeated his father and imprisoned or killed the primitive Titans and established the rule of order, fathering the deities of Olympus.

The means of creation tended to be either (a) procreative, using divine sperm or spit; (b) invocative, with the creator god pronouncing the existence of creation; or (c) by means of craft, e.g. a potter or blacksmith god forming the universe by hand.

In most creation myths, the world was created either by a hero-god imposing order or by a demiurge crafting or invoking the world from the materials of the cosmos. However, in some mythologies (e.g., that of the Hellenistic Greeks), the earth was eternal and the creation stories involved the birth of the gods.

2. According to the author of the first Egypt article, the Egyptians saw the cosmos as a “process.” What did he mean by that, and how were the gods involved?

According to the Egyptians, the cosmos was a process rather than a space. This meant that the idea of order involved the Egyptian divinities being involved in a constant effort at overcoming disorder and destruction. Most of the gods cooperate in the project of maintaining the world and keeping the cosmic process going. The success of this process was not taken for granted and order was constantly at stake.

This core of this process was the solar circuit, the path that the sun-god Re followed through the heavens by day and the netherworld by night. The assistance of mortals was also required, through the propagation of ma’at (harmony and balance) in the mortal realm and aiding the gods where needed.

3. What were some the ways the arrival of the Ptolemies (305–30 BCE) affected religion in Egypt?

The conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great inaugurated a new period of Greek influence, or Hellenism, on Egypt. This was enshrined in the rule of the Ptolemies, the Macedonian-Greek successors of Alexander in Egypt. Egypt was deluged with Greek language, Greek thinking, Greek technology, and Greek forms of creative expression.

However, Hellenism, far from smothering Egyptian tradition, was instead leveraged by Egyptians as a further means of championing the supremacy of Egyptian religion over others. Greek language and techniques were used to promote Egyptian religious ideas in texts, sculptures, and other imagery, some which traveled far beyond Egypt.

The way Egypt held fiercely to its truly ancient traditions in a time of Hellenistic assimilation across the east had the side effect of making Egyptian culture seem exotic and foreign to other Hellenistic peoples, and the practitioners of its ancient religion mysterious and inscrutable, eventually leading to a perception of Egyptian priests as wizards and seers.

EC1. Ma’at was all of the following EXCEPT:

(c) Sacrificed as a burnt offering on the completion of every solar cycle

EC2. Both the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians studied and tracked the stars, but for different reasons. What factors motivated the ancients’ study of the heavens?

Mapping the heavens was critical for discerning anomalies therein, which was a useful tool for cultures with heavy reliance on divination, such as the Hittites and the Babylonians. Any unpredictable movement of the heavens (such as a comet or a supernova) would be interpreted via divination as a message from the gods.

Because the Egyptians believed in cycles and permanence, however, astrology for them involved charting the motions of the heavens in order to recognize its patterns and ensure mortals were acting in accordance with those patterns, as part of their responsibility to assist the divine in preserving ma’at on earth.

Quiz #6

1. What is a scapegoat ritual? What function is it normally meant to perform? In what sorts of ways does it vary from culture to culture?

A scapegoat ritual is a purification ritual in which the burdens of a community are placed on an animal, which is then ejected from the community into the wild, taking the burdens with it. These burdens might include plague, sin, or other pollutions requiring purification.

The animal used varies; goat were likely because an inexpensive animal was used, but other animals were used, and sometimes the “scapegoat” being cast out was a woman or a male slave. The officiant varied as well—the ritual might be conducted by the king, as protector of his city (e.g., the Hittites), by the high priest if the relationship with the patron god was at stake (Israel), or the community together (Greece). Most iterations involved only one animal, the one that was sent into the wild, but the Israeli-Jewish version (recorded in Leviticus) included a second goat, which was sacrificed to Yahweh.

A related Roman practice, rarely employed, involved a Roman general “scapegoating” himself and the enemy troops in order to purify his army, with the hope of mitigating the gods’ wrath and enabling a Roman victory.

2. What were some theories about Minoan religion put forward by the the excavator of Knossos, Sir Arthur Evans, that are now discounted?

Evans asserted that the Minoans’ religion was dominated by a Great Minoan Mother Goddess, indicating a mAtriarchal structure both for the divine world and among the Minoans themselves. Minoan religious iconography includes divinities of both genders and does not support a single, overarching female goddess, much less social matriarchy among the Minoans.

Evans also overemphasized fertility as the central concern of the Minoan cult practices, which led Evans to conclude Minoan religion was conceptually primitive. Given the sophisticated and complex urban society and industrial economy of the Minoans, historians have long discounted Evans’s position and assert a religious system of comparable complexity to other urbanized, industrial ancient societies.

3. According to the author of the text on rituals, what are the key differences between ritual and myth? What do they have in common?

The author asserted that (a) myth is never a complete reflection of ritual, but only selectively focuses on certain parts of it; (b) what is symbolic and reversible in ritual is realistic and irreversible in myth; and (c) myths are more mobile than ritual.

EC1. Reconstruction of Minoan mythology and theology can be undertaken with the aid of all of the following EXCEPT:

(a) Literary documents [Minoan documents are few and the writing system has not been deciphered]

EC2. Many festivals of the new year in antiquity involved reversals (masters serving slaves, humiliation of kings, the unfettering of a chained god). What do you think might be some of the reasons behind such reversals? How do they relate to the turning of the calendar?

One reason, of course, is entertainment. But the reversal rituals of the new year also end the old year with chaos so that the new year can begin with the deliberate reinstallation of order: the master and slave resume their normal roles, the proper king retakes his throne, the primeval god is reshackled.

Quiz #7

1. What are some of the reasons similar stories appear the mythology of different cultures?

Some mythologic motifs are universal, such as the separation of sky and earth, and so generate stories independently in many different ancient cultures. Even some of the explanations are predictible and appear spontaneously in various cultures: e. g. , the sky and earth being formed from the separation of a single unity (as in the Babylonian myth of Tiamat’s body being dived into earth and heavens). The transition to a more ordered urban civilization also suggests a chaotic past (often represents by older, more savage gods) being succeeded by younger gods who provide order and stability; this motif occurs in many cultures.

Other stories are more singular, and their presence in other cultures is the result of diffusion. For example, the flood narrative originated in Sumer and later spread to Akkad, Babylon, Assyria, and thence to the Hittites, the Jews, and other cultures. This diffusion can by the result of migration, the overlap of neighboring peoples, or the merging of cultures through conuest or synthesis.

In these cases the storiesare often altered to reflect a culture’s needs and values; e. g. , the survivor of the flood in the Sumerian narrative (Utanapishtim) is an outcast because he defied universal mortality; Noah, in the Jewish narrative, is in contrast a prototype for a new morality rooted in the covebant with Yahweh.

2. What kinds of elements did the religion of the Minoans and the Mycenaeans seem to have in common? How did the Mycenaeans do things differently?

The Minoans and Mycenaeans shared a lack of urban temples. They also both employed hearths for sacrifices and banqueting and bench sanctuaries. The Mycenaeans may also have been influenced by the Minoans in the choice of the sea god, Poseidcon, and the chief god of their pantheon.

The Minoans focused the religious rituals on sacred places deep in nature (peaks, forests, caves). The Mycenaeans, by contrast, had great central hearth rooms at the hearts of their palace cities, indicating rituals recularly performed within the city. Bench sanctuaries were also found within the Mycenaean cities.

3. Texts that begin “I will sing” and the like suggest what about the nature of mythology? How does this help explain the diffusion of mythological stories?

That mythology was meant to be orally performed, often by a master storyteller who regularly chanted the ancient stories of a city or town as part of their communal festivals. These performers would be easily accessible to visiors from other communities, who could bring the stories with them as they traveled. The storytellers themselves might also travel and share stories with other communities or each other. Young men might travel in search of a storyteller to train under, bring their own stories with them.

EC1. Deities attested in Mycenaean Linear B tablets include all of the following EXCEPT:

(c) Akhenaten [Akhenaten was an Egyptial pharaoh, but the others are all attested from Linear B]

EC2. Why do you think it’s difficult for us to nail down what mythology is? Given our discussions and the readings, what do you think is the best way to define mythology as it was used in the ancient world?

This answer will be somewhat subjective, but the key idea here is that categorizing the stories an ancient culture tells according to various functions is a modern phenomenon. In ancient polytheistic cultures, myths, legends, and history were all part of the same fabric of how society worked and how mortals related to the natural world and the divine.

Later, the advent of monotheism meant that some of these stories were “wrong,” and mythology was systematically deprecated. But in polytheistic society that was not the casse, and all kinds of stories coexisted as a melange of what existed “before” and “outside” the structured world the ancient citizen saw around themselves.

Quiz #8

1. For the Greeks, what was the basis of the relationship between humans and the divine? Describe how it worked from the Greek perspective.

In eveyday religious practice, the Greeks thought in terms of two related ideas: charis and timē. Charis was a favor expected to be repaid; timē was honor owed according to a powerful figure who used that power wisely. The process was not a transactional, tit-for-tat dependence, but rather gods treated well because the gods rejoiced in taking care of those who honored them and treated them well. The gods granted the mortals’ prayers for crops, prosperity, health, and safety of self, family, and community; in return humans gave sanctuaries, sacrificesz, hymns, and dances. The Greeks were also motivated by a desire for adornment, a need to make the gods beautiful.

This view is slightly different in literature, particularly epic poetry and tragedy. Literature was more likely to show the relationship with thegods being fractured, in order to highlight the dramatic results of human selfishness and how this displeases the gods. Where the emphasis in literature often seemed to be on wrath and punishment for the dramatic purpose of reinforcing cultural behavioral norms, in everyday life Greeks expected a stable and positive relationship with the gods, with occasional pollution and religious oversights rectified through purification rituals.

2. How is initiation into a mystery cult similar to adolescent rites of passage or joining a guild? What’s different about it?

In all three cases, the initiation involves not just the recitation of words or actions, but a transformation of the subject. Undergoing initiation into a mystery cult, as with the otherrituals, involves emerging as something new, with a new relationship to society and the divine.

The difference is that mystery cult initiations are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in a polytheistic society having special relationships with multiple gods via different mystery cults might be seen as a benefit. Mystery cult initiation could also be preformed more than once by the same subject in the same cult. This is in contrast to adolescent rites of passage and induction into a guilt, which were permanent transitions and were exclusive (you could not be inducted into more than one professional guild, for example).

3. What is a divine epithet? How were they used in Greek communities?

A dine epithet was an additional name for a god or goddess, often associated with a special rite or function performed by that deity. For example, Athena Parthenos (Athena the Pure) and Athena Nike (Athena the Victorious) both had temples on the Acropolis.

Epithets often indicated local variation on the panhellenic gods, reasserting the local nature of Greek worship that was smoothed over by the universalization of the gods inherent in the works of Homer and Hesiod. For example, Zeus Syllanius, mentioned in the Great Rhetra, was known only in Sparta.

EC1. Mystery cults tended to do all of the following EXCEPT:

(d) Completely replace the initiates’ civic religion [mystery cults were optional rites that supplemented civic religion]

EC2. The reading mentions an “eighth-century renaissance” at the end of the Greek Dark Age. What kinds of developments are associated with this renaissance?’

The eigth-century renaissance involve a dramatic increase in religious building and dedications, including monumental temples and cult statues. Note that this describes edifices and works created in a permanent form (stone, marble) that could be discovered by archaeaologists. Mud and brick antecedents may be lost to us.

This is also the period in which the Greeks regained a writing system, which means that the transition to writing of oral performances (especially epic poetry) and the dissemination of these works begins during this time.

Quiz #9

1. According to the reading, what are some of the “consequences of literacy” in relation to ancient religion?

One aspct has to do with memory. In a nonliterate tradition, myths and traditions are remembered if there is a need for them to be remembered; if there is no need for them, they are forgotten and left behindf by the community’s collective consciousness (a process called “social amnesia”). This causes tradition (“the ways of our ancestors”) to be organic and develop with the community. With a written tradition, the stories and rules become fixed, earlier customs become fixed and preserved, and as a community changes a dissonance develops between adhering to tradition as stated in the text, and the needs of the current society.

Writing begets writing. The existence of a written tradition leads to writing about that tradition, some of it in support and explanation, some skeptical or hostile. The hostile strand also persists and remains as a potential focius for counterculture and, in monotheistic religions, heresy.

Writing also allows for greater social complexity, as preserving information makes possible more elaborate and far-flung institutions.

2. What was the disciplina Etrusca? How did the Etruscans believe it came about?

According to Etruscan legend, the wise infant Tages emerged from the furrow of a plowed field in Tarquinia. He taught the techniques of divination to the Etruscans, which were recorded in a set of books that were called the disciplina Etrusca by the Romans. There were three books: one on haruspicia, the consultation of animal entrails after a sacrifice; one on the religious interpretation of lightning; and one containing the details religious ceremonies. The books did not survive and are now known only from fragments quoted elsewhere.

3. What does the author mean when she talks about religious writing with “symbolic,” rather than just utilitarian, function? What are some examples?

In contrast with utilitarian writing, which is only about recording information, in this case symbolic writing refers to writing where the written word has religious function as an object, apart from its content. This includes writing that is meant to act as a memorial, or to reify (make physical) a set of words as a focal point of religious attention. Examples might include the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, or spells or curses written on papyrus that are thought to phyically preserve the power of the spell.

EC1. The few surviving examples of Etruscan writing include all of the following EXCEPT:

(b) A fragmentary poem purported to be from the goddess Aritmi to her lover Menvra

EC2. What is the potential significance for the Romans of the story of Cn. Flavius “publishing” the sacred religious calendar by posting it in the Forum?

Religious information that was hitherto controlled by the Roman priests, including various legal rules and details about days on which cases could be brought) was made available to the public, to be shared by those who could read with those who could not. This constituted a (metaphorical) revolutionary act against the governing priestly class, as performed by a freedman’s son on behalf of the common people.