CLSS-209 Greek Religion
Fall for 2017-2018
Ancient Greek religion has often been characterized as a religious system fueled more by ritual practice than by belief: there was no central sacred text comparable to the Bible or the Koran, and no body of dogma to which worshippers subscribed. The leading practitioners of Greek religion, priests and priestesses, were essentially amateurs who often served for a single year and sometimes even bought their priestly offices at auction. The most important religious ritual was animal sacrifice, and subsidiary rituals included prayers, hymns, and libations. Every Greek was expected to take part in these rituals, whether they were performed in the household, the neighborhood, the city, a regional sanctuary, or a Panhellenic sanctuary such as Delphi or Olympia.
Both the ritual practices and the underlying motives and beliefs of Greek religion were complex, giving evidence of a long historical development and significant local variation. In this course, we will explore this complexity through readings from important recent scholarship on a variety of topics to include the following: the theory and practice of animal sacrifice, sacred laws governing the behavior of worshippers, religious festivals, priests and priestesses, the role of women in Greek religion, oracles, and mystery cults. Assigned readings will serve as the basis for class discussions. In addition to taking midterm and final exams, students will serve as weekly discussion co-leaders and write one short research paper (8-10 pages) on an individual topic to be chosen in consultation with the professor.
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