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Civic Rites

Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens

Nancy Evans
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Civic Rites
    Book Description:

    Civic Ritesexplores the religious origins of Western democracy by examining the government of fifth-century BCE Athens in the larger context of ancient Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Deftly combining history, politics, and religion to weave together stories of democracy's first leaders and critics, Nancy Evans gives readers a contemporary's perspective on Athenian society. She vividly depicts the physical environment and the ancestral rituals that nourished the people of the earliest democratic state, demonstrating how religious concerns were embedded in Athenian governmental processes. The book's lucid portrayals of the best-known Athenian festivals-honoring Athena, Demeter, and Dionysus-offer a balanced view of Athenian ritual and illustrate the range of such customs in fifth-century Athens.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94548-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. MAPS
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Introduction The City of Pericles and Socrates
    (pp. 1-11)

    IMAGINE THE GREEK MEDITERRANEAN, just over 2,400 years ago. A surprisingly strong spring sun warms the limestone buildings in the Athenian Agora, the commercial and communal center of the city. High above on the Acropolis marble monuments and a great bronze statue of the armed goddess Athena glint in the sunlight. In the city streets brightly colored red and yellow wild flowers spring up amid the grass growing along the edges of the paving stones, and they barely stir in a faint morning breeze. In a large, walled courtyard in the Agora on this morning, a group of well over...

  7. ONE Cleisthenes: The Family Curse behind Athenian Democracy
    (pp. 12-34)

    THE ATHENIANS WHO TRIED SOCRATES for impiety in 399 BCE and found him guilty were heirs to a set of democratic practices that had been in existence for a little over a century. The breakthrough to what we would recognize today as a democratic form of government had come around the year 507, when an Athenian aristocrat named Cleisthenes suddenly emerged as a leader and guided the Athenians through a series of reforms. But Cleisthenes was not the first democratic reformer; he was building upon foundations laid by generations of Greeks before him.

    As is the case with most figures...

  8. TWO Athena: Religion and the Democratic Polis
    (pp. 35-62)

    ON WARM SUMMER WEEKEND EVENINGS across suburban America, the smell of grilled meat wafts across neatly clipped lawns. While children snack on hot dogs and hamburgers and romp in the backyard, adults sit on the patio sipping drinks. Wisps of smoke rise in the evening dusk. Perhaps the grown-ups are chatting about a recent movie, or party politics, or perhaps they trade neighborhood gossip before they consume their charbroiled beef. Throughout the evening, the host stands at the grill and oversees the social ritual of the great American barbeque. Barbeque grilling can be seen as a custom that unites America...

  9. THREE Pericles: Empire and War in the City of Athena
    (pp. 63-99)

    CLEISTHENES BRIEFLY ASSUMED A LEADING role in Athens in the late sixth century when he led thepolisfollowing the expulsion of the Pysistratid tyrants. The reforms he advanced drew on an inherited understanding among the Athenians that their government was charged with funding and maintaining the civic rites of its citizens: at festivals and civic sacrifices the citizen body worshipped the ancestral gods while it feasted on meat purchased by the state. Cleisthenes’ political opponents raised the memory of the curse of the Alcmaeonid family, but Cleisthenes nevertheless won over the respect of the Atheniandēmos,who benefited from...

  10. FOUR Demeter: Civic Worship, Women’s Rites, and the Eleusinian Mysteries
    (pp. 100-130)

    ATHENS WAS SACRED TO ATHENA, goddess of the olive, of handcrafts, and of wisdom, but Athenians were of course polytheistic, and for many generations they had also worshipped Demeter, the goddess whose power was manifest in abundant sheaves of wheat. The plains of Attica could provide only a limited supply of wheat, barley, and rye—certainly not enough to feed all the citizens and residents of thepolis;over time Athens became dependent on imported grain to feed the population in the main city and the Piraeus. The Athenian navy ensured the empire’s continuing access to foreign markets by protecting...

  11. FIVE Alcibiades: Politics, Religion, and the Cult of Personality
    (pp. 131-169)

    THUCYDIDES’ LAST REPORTED SPEECH of Pericles in book 2 depicts the dynamic Athenian leader encouraging the people of Athens to be patient and maintain their naval empire. Above all Pericles warned against expanding the empire while at war. This plan might well have worked, had the Athenians stuck to it. But Thucydides’ narrative clearly states that after Pericles’ death the Athenians did just the opposite: eventually private ambition and the desire for honor and wealth won out over the interests of the city. When Alcibiades, a member of Pericles’ extended family, took a leading role in Athenian affairs, his regard...

  12. SIX Dionysus: Civic Rituals of Wine, Theater, and Transformation
    (pp. 170-207)

    ALL THINGS ARE IN FLUX. Plato famously attributed this aphorism to the Ionian philosopher Heraclitus (Cratylus402a). Alcibiades’ twists and turns, from Athens to Sparta to Persia to Athens, certainly illustrated the flux of power and personality, and Athenians who during one decade suffered two coups, two counterrevolutions, and a general amnesty could speak directly to the often painful process of political transformation. But long before Alcibiades, Heraclitus, or Plato there was Dionysus, the god with the great power to transform. Grapes yielded wine, the youth matured to adulthood, the domestic wife could become wild with Dionysian madness, and the...

  13. SEVEN Socrates: Impiety Trials in the Restored Democracy
    (pp. 208-240)

    ATHENIANS VOTED. THEY VOTED AS judges in the law courts, and at Dionysian festivals. They voted in their demes, and in the Assembly on the Pnyx. In a law court a jury voted to convict Socrates. This final chapter will return to episodes presented in earlier chapters to reflect one last time on the historical evidence, its cultural context, and most importantly its connection to the trial of Socrates. Four pivotal moments had repercussions that reached beyond the restoration of the democracy in 403: the events leading up to the trials of 415, the two coups of 411 and 404,...

  14. Epilogue The City after Socrates
    (pp. 241-244)

    AFTER THE YEAR 399 the Athenians experienced no more drama for a while, as Athenian democracy returned to its full function. The fourth century was a time of relative stability for the democratic institutions that had been put in place by Ephialtes and Pericles following the Persian Wars and then revived in 403. The Atheniandēmosduring the fourth century could take full advantage of the sanctuaries built during the period of empire under Pericles: Athena’s monumental Acropolis and Demeter’s Eleusinian sanctuary. In the 330s Lycurgus added to Athens’ splendor by constructing a permanent stone theater in the urban sanctuary...

    (pp. 245-250)
    (pp. 251-256)
    (pp. 257-264)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 265-272)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-274)