Anthropomorphism, Theatre, Epiphany: From Herodotus to Hellenistic Historians

and Renée Koch Piettre

Abstract:

This paper argues that, beginning with the Euripidean deus ex machina, dramatic festivals introduced a new standard into epiphanic rituals and experience. Through the scenic double énonciation, gods are seen by mythical heroes as gods, but by the Athenian spectators as costumed actors and fictive entities. People could scarcely believe these were ‘real’ gods, but would have no doubt been impressed by the scenic machinery. Thus the Homeric theme of a hero’s likeness to the gods developed into the Hellenistic theme of the godlike ruler’s (or actor’s) theatrical success (or deceit). So in the Athenians’ Hymn to Demetrius Poliorcetes, a victorious ruler entering a city is welcomed as a better god than the gods themselves. The simultaneous rise in popularity of paradoxical stories and experiences in the Hellenistic period was grounded not in believing, but in disbelieving – a phenomenon associated with antiquarian interests, the self-publicity of religious sanctuaries, or amazed credulity. People were increasingly drawn to ‘real’ gods, leading to long pilgrimages and extensive financial outlay (in the mysteries) in order to see them. I investigate this phenomenon by focusing upon fragments of the ‘mimetic’ or ‘tragic’ Greek historians that survive from this period.

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Archiv für Religionsgeschichte is a specialised journal dealing primarily with religions of the ancient world. The different aspects of the field of research are covered in essays, reports on the main areas of religious studies and in individual articles.

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