Greeks on Greekness: Simon Goldhill

Greeks on Greekness Colloquium Abstract

Simon Goldhill, King’s College, Cambridge

“Polytheism and Identity in the Late Antique and the Case of Artemis.”

This paper is interested in the following questions: How is Artemis represented in the Greek texts of the Roman empire? What implications does this representation have for the history of Greek religion – and, more specifically, how does this late material construct a very different model for the goddess from the earlier period, especially the classical polis, where Artemis has been studied with particular intellgence and insight? Does this different model also show us how evidence from this later period has been used in a historically unnuanced fashion, especially by structuralist led models of Greek religion?

Most generally, the paper is concerned with the difficulty of conceptualizing ancient polytheism: it looks at the tension between the drive to systematization (epitomized by structuralist advances in understanding ancient religion) and and the ‘mess’ that individual examples provide, especially with this late and often ‘idiosyncratic’ versions of divinity. There are three sections to the paper.

The first concerns Libanius’ fifth Oration – a prose Hymn to Artemis. This Hymn, when treated at all by modern scholars, is called dull and dutiful. It is, however, a fascinating and innovatory document. First, it is shown that to hymn Artemis in prose in 365 is itself a charged political act. Second, it is shown that Libanius’ decision to make this Hymn a story of personal salvation is generically novel, and indicates a move that may be understood in relation to Christian autobiographical and salvationist narrative, despite his opposition to Christianity. The extreme nature of Libanius’ position is highlighted by an extensive contrast with Synesius whose autobiographical letters and hymns indicate a different, far more accommodating reaction to the tension between Christianity and traditional Greek ideas.

The second section concern Pausanias’ description of the rites of Artemis Laphria at Patras. It is shown that this particularly bizarre set of rituals is not only hard to fit into standard models of traditional Greek religion, but also – and perhaps more importantly – is a story told by Pausanias with a strong political narratie about Empire and Greek relations to Roman authority.

The third section considers Artemis the Huntress and looks at Cynegetic texts, especially ps-Oppian’s Cynegetica and Arrian’s Cynegetica. It is shown that ps-Oppian composes an extraordinary programmatic dialogue where Artemis (as opposed to her brother, Apollo) emerges (for the only time in Greek) as the inspirational force of poetry, which leads to a new, ‘Artemisian’ poetics. Arrian, however, is seen exploring his cultural identity through the adoption of strange rituals of hunting on his estate. Finally, Artemis’ sexualized hunting in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca gives a third, very strange version of the goddess. In each case, tradition and Greekness are expressed and explored through the central institution of hunting.