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The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia

The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia: A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion

Mark Munn
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 476
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  • Book Info
    The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia
    Book Description:

    Among maternal deities of the Greek pantheon, the Mother of the Gods was a paradox. She is variously described as a devoted mother, a chaste wife, an impassioned lover, and a virgin daughter; she is said to be both foreign and familiar to the Greeks. In this erudite and absorbing study, Mark Munn examines how the cult of Mother of the Gods came from Phrygia and Lydia, where she was the mother of tyrants, to Athens, where she protected the laws of the Athenian democracy. Analyzing the divergence of Greek and Asiatic culture at the beginning of the classical era, Munn describes how Kybebe, the Lydian goddess who signified fertility and sovereignty, assumed a different aspect to the Greeks when Lydia became part of the Persian empire. Conflict and resolution were played out symbolically, he shows, and the goddess of Lydian tyranny was eventually accepted by the Athenians as the Mother of the Gods, and as a symbol of their own sovereignty. This book elegantly illustrates how ancient divinities were not static types, but rather expressions of cultural systems that responded to historical change. Presenting a new perspective on the context in which the Homeric and Hesiodic epics were composed, Munn traces the transformation of the Asiatic deity who was the goddess of Sacred Marriage among the Assyrians and Babylonians, equivalent to Ishtar. Among the Lydians, she was the bride to tyrants and the mother of tyrants. To the Greeks, she was Aphrodite. An original and compelling consideration of the relations between the Greeks and the dominant powers of western Asia, The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia is the first thorough examination of the way that religious cult practice and thought influenced political activities during and after the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93158-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. MAPS
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The present study originates in the question: How did the Mother of the Gods, a foreign deity, come to Athens? An answer to this question requires an understanding of the role of religion in classical Greek history, giving equal attention to the evidence of history and of religious ideology. To pursue such an understanding in the case of the Mother of the Gods and Athens, this study moves on two levels. One is the level of narrative, describing the background of the cult of the Mother of the Gods, and the circumstances under which it became established at Athens. Right...

  8. Chapter 1 Sovereignty and Divinity in Classical Greek Thought
    (pp. 13-55)

    In the study of classical Greek religion and its relationship to Greek society, there is no equivalent to Henri Frankfort’sKingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature(1948).¹ The reason is not far to seek. By contrast to their neighbors in the Near East, Greeks of the classical era generally shunned the institution of kingship, and organized themselves according to various forms of collective government. The theme of kingship, therefore, has not seemed particularly appropriate for any study devoted to Greece of the classical era. Yet the imagery and...

  9. Chapter 2 The Mother of the Gods and the Sovereignty of Midas
    (pp. 56-95)

    Wherever we find the Mother of the Gods honored among the Greeks, she was a divinity whose powers over this world were manifest in many ways. To her devotees, her motherhood was her capacity as a nurturer, particularly of all animate creatures, animal and human. In this respect, the Mother of the Gods could be regarded as another name for Earth, Ge or Gaea, who was often invoked as Mother, Mother of All, and even Mother of the Gods.¹ Motherhood, as a description of her place in the pantheon of gods, was a quality by which she was most closely...

  10. Chapter 3 The Mother of the Gods and the Ideals of Lydian Tyranny
    (pp. 96-130)

    The story told to Alexander during his visit to Gordium about how Midas became king preserves, I believe, the earliest account of the Mother of the Gods as she became known to the Greeks.¹ This conclusion emerges from the close correspondences, observed in the previous chapter, between the symbols and imagery described in that story and those depicted in the Phrygian relief sculptures and archaic monuments to PhrygianMatar,the Mother, which probably began to be carved in the seventh century and became most widespread in the sixth.²Homeric Hymn14,To the Mother of the Gods,is probably sixth-century...

  11. Chapter 4 The Mother of the Gods and the Practices of Lydian Tyranny
    (pp. 131-177)

    Mortality is the undoing of every scheme of worldly perfection. For this reason perfection belongs to immortal gods alone. The previous two chapters have traced the outlines of an ideology of rulership based on the premise that perfection on earth can be found where rulership comes closest to divinity, and actually participates in it through the coupling of kings and their godlike consorts. The present chapter will demonstrate how the inescapability of death for the men and women who lived and performed in these archetypal roles, in Lydia, was articulated through ritual, monument, and myth into a vindication of tyranny....

  12. Chapter 5 Asia, the Oikoumenē, and the Map of the World
    (pp. 178-220)

    The Mermnad empire created under Gyges was a powerful peer to the empires of Assyria, of the Medes, of Babylon, and of Saïte Egypt. The Greeks, in this world of empires, were subordinate to the Lydians. By the time of Alyattes and Croesus, Greek communities were either among the many subject peoples of Asia under Lydian rule, or among Lydia’s partners and allies across the Aegean. Among Greeks across the Aegean, unity with Lydia was represented by those who, like the Spartans, upheld kingship and a wide range of customs in common with the Lydians, and those who embraced Lydian-style...

  13. Chapter 6 The Mother of the Gods and Persian Sovereignty
    (pp. 221-261)

    According to Herodotus, when Sardis fell to the Persians, the possessions of Croesus became the possessions of Cyrus.¹ Perhaps even more important than the transfer of the material wealth of Sardis was the acquisition by the Persians of the symbolic capital of Lydia. In the eyes of the former subjects and neighbors of the Lydians, by seizing Sardis Cyrus and the Persians won the rulership of Asia.² When Darius began to assert Persian sovereignty across the waters from Asia, we find him utilizing the symbols that had previously justified Lydian sovereignty. The most distinctive token of dominion and submission associated...

  14. Chapter 7 Persian Sovereignty and the Gods of the Athenians
    (pp. 262-292)

    The murder of Darius’ heralds in 491 marked a critical point in the formation of Greek identity. From that moment on, the movement toward classical forms in both politics and religion became decisive. Considering the inherent diversity within Greek culture, this was not a unitary movement, and in many respects the Athenians stand apart from the rest. But by setting themselves alongside the Spartans in a leading role among Greeks resisting Persian domination, the Athenian example became increasingly influential. Within this movement the distinction between the Hellenic and the Asiatic or barbarian reached its sharpest definition. The earlier archaic age...

  15. Chapter 8 Herodotus and the Gods
    (pp. 293-316)

    Preceding chapters have traced tyranny as an ideological system that ordered power relationships, communal identity, worldview, and religion. As the sovereignty of Achaemenid Persia took root in Asia and took the place of Lydia on the horizon of the Greeks, it drew on the ideology of tyranny in all of its aspects, from political to religious, to bring its subjects into harmonious cooperation with its manifest power. Greeks were divided in their response to this mixture of pressure and persuasion. Many elements of communal identity, cosmology, and theology among Greeks were rooted in the ideology of tyranny, and strong tyrannies,...

  16. Chapter 9 The Mother of the Gods at Athens
    (pp. 317-350)

    Chapters 6 and 7 presented the argument that the tale of theMētragyrtēs, the wandering priest of the Mother of the Gods, who came to Athens only to be killed by the intolerant Athenians, originated in the execution of Darius’ heralds in the first decade of the fifth century. We are now approaching the historical conclusion of the tale of theMētragyrtēs, in the last decade of the fifth century, when the Athenians received the Mother of the Gods and established her cult in their Council House. The present chapter examines these circumstances, and provides a perspective from which it...

  17. Conclusions
    (pp. 351-358)

    Our original question has now been answered, and now we may say that we know how the Mother of the Gods came to Athens. We know in the sense that the story has been filled out and told from its once-upon-a-time beginnings in Phrygia, traced through places and persons familiar from other stories and histories, and taken to its ever-after ending at Athens. The resulting account has a much deeper context than the simple tale of theMētragyrtēs, the eunuch priest of the Mother of the Gods who attempted to introduce her worship to uncomprehending Athenians. The story of the...

    (pp. 359-402)
    (pp. 403-426)
    (pp. 427-428)
    (pp. 429-452)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 453-453)