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Religion: Terms, Concepts, and Places

Religion: Terms, Concepts, and Places



Afterlife. Greek concepts of the afterlife varied tremendously. Generally, people accepted that some sort of existence continued after death, and thus elaborate funeral rituals existed, including regular family visits to tombs to bring offerings for the dead. People who died prematurely or violently or who were not given adequate burial could become vengeful ghosts. The picture of the afterlife in Homer was gloomy, with the dead portrayed as vague shadowy figures twittering and squeaking in the realm of Hades. Both Hesiod and Homer also described Elysium, or the Isles of the Blessed, as a place inhabited after death by a few favored heroes; it probably was a survival from Minoan beliefs. The mystery religions were unusual in promising some form of pleasant afterlife as a consequence of being initiated and perhaps following some set of ritual and/or ethical practices in life. Certain philosophers, especially the Pythagoreans and others, such as Plato, adopted, with considerable variation, the Egyptian concept of transmigration of the soul.

Altar. Offerings to gods were made at an altar, a raised platform or block of stone. In the case of chthonic deities, a sunken pit performed a similar function. Altars were normally outdoors, though major temples had smaller indoor altars for bloodless sacrifices, in addition to larger outdoor ones. Smaller altars were ubiquitous throughout Greece for both major gods and various minor divinities. Greek houses had hearths sacred to Hestia and small domestic altars.

Amphictyony. Local communities usually formed an amphictyony, or league, to care for a shrine or temple, as well as to enforce various laws connected with the cult, such as enforcing truces during festivals and preventing pollution of the sanctuary. The most important was the one formed around the temples of Apollo at Delphi and Demeter at Thermopylae and which was responsible for the Pythian games. This league fought three major sacred wars over guaranteeing the right of free passage of pilgrims to Delphi, enforcing a vow made to Apollo concerning use of the agricultural lands of Crisa, and maintaining the independence of Delphi. Unlike Christianity and Islam, Greek religion did not have a concept of crusade or jihad; the rather unusual amphictyonic sacred wars were not over conversion or dogma but concerned maintaining a Panhellenic cult and punishing specific acts which interfered with the local activities and autonomy of the cult.

Amulets. Charms, or amulets, were worn for magical, normally apotropaic, purposes, usually as protection against witchcraft, illness, or the evil eye. Various ancient amulets made of a variety of materials have been recovered by archeologists. Many amulets are inscribed with names of deities or magical formulae.

Anthropomorphic. The term anthropomorphic means “in the form of a human.” Most Greek gods were anthropomorphic, i.e. human in shape and behavior but with certain superhuman characteristics (immortality, ability to transport themselves large distances, invisibility, and so forth).

Apotropaic. The term apotropaic means averting or warding off. Various forms of emblems, amulets, statues, and other objects and rituals were used to ward off various inimical powers and influences, including witchcraft, the evil eye, illness, and the anger of the gods. Small charms to ward off the evil eye, made of blue glass with stylized representations of eyes, are still widely sold in Greece.

Archon. In most Greek poleis, or city-states, the highest-ranking officials were called archons. In Athens the arkhôn basileus (king archon) performed the ceremonial functions which in legendary antiquity were thought to have been performed by kings. These duties included responsibility for the mysteries: the Lenaea, a winter festival in honor of Dionysus; the Anthesteria, a spring festival in honor of Dionysus; and the Areopagus court, which presided over trials concerning murder and certain offenses against the gods.

Astrology. The Greek practice of interpreting signs in the heavens was known as astrology.

Augury. Interpreting the patterns of flights of birds is known as augury.

Blood Offerings. Living animals, usually domestic, were killed during a blood-offerings ceremony. A bull or ox was considered the most impressive sacrifice, but goats, sheep, pigs, and poultry were common. The animal had to be in good health, without defects, and of the right color (light for Olympian gods, black for chthonic gods and the spirits of the dead). Civic ceremonies including blood sacrifices began with a procession. A virgin would carry a sacrificial knife in a basket filled with barley or baked goods, while the other participants followed her, leading the animal, which may have been decorated with ribbons. Water was poured on the hands of the participants, cleansing them, and then sprinkled on the animal’s head, so that it would nod, thus consenting to the sacrifice, an important gesture because an unwilling victim was considered a bad omen. After worshipers scattered barley (a preliminary bloodless sacrifice) on the altar and animal, the person performing the sacrifice would kill the animal. The entrails were observed for omens and then roasted on the altar and eaten by the priest and other important individuals. The fat and bones were burnt, rising up in the form of smoke as an offering to the gods; the worshipers cooked and ate the meat. The communal meal was a crucial part of the act of worship.

Bloodless Offerings. Many solid foods, especially fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and cakes, were offered to the gods by being placed on altars or burnt. Liquid bloodless offerings were called libations and usually consisted of oil, honey, or wine.

Burial Customs. Corpses were buried or cremated, with the remains of adults being placed away from populated areas to avoid ritual pollution, although young children might be buried near houses. The bodies of criminals were placed in pits or in the sea. Burial rituals were quite elaborate, including purifications, formal mourning, a procession to the gravesite, and various sacrifices.

Chthonic Deities. The chthonic, or underworld, deities are not an absolute category but rather a way of distinguishing among aspects under which gods were worshiped. Certain functions of the gods, primarily fertility and death, were closely tied to the earth and the realms beneath the earth. Some gods, such as Hades and Hecatë, were exclusively associated with the underworld. Others, such as Zeus, Demeter, Persephonê, and Hermes, had both earthly and heavenly characteristics and were worshiped in both aspects—one might speak more properly of chthonic worship than chthonic deities. While offerings to heavenly deities were burnt on raised altars, so that the smoke floated up into the sky towards the gods, chthonic offerings were either burnt completely or poured into pits in the ground. Heavenly deities receive white or light-colored animals; chthonic offerings were black or dark. Often the chthonic deities (or deities in their chthonic aspects) were harsher and more vengeful than heavenly ones. The Furies, for example, were primarily chthonic in nature. While scholars used to hold that the chthonic aspects of Greek religion were more primitive than the Olympian ones, archeological evidence does not support that there was a distinct chronological evolution; moreover, primitive is a misleading term for early or nonindustrial cultures.


Take wax [or clay] from a potter’s wheel and make two figures, a male and a female. Make the male in the form of Ares fully armed, holding a sword/in his left hand and threatening to plunge it into the right side of her neck And make her with her arms behind her back and down on her knees. And you are to fasten the magical material on her head or neck, . ..

And take thirteen copper needles and stick 1 in the brain while saying, “I am piercing your brain,__________; and stick 2 in the ears and 2 in the eyes and 1 in the mouth and

2/in the midriff and 1 in the hands and 2 in the pudenda and 2 in the soles, saying each time, “I am piercing such and such a member of her,__________, so that she may remember no one but me,__________, alone.’*

And take a lead tablet and write the same/spell and recite it. And tie the lead leaf to the figures with thread from the loom after making 365 knots while saying as you have learned, “ABRASAX, hold here fastf You place it, as the sun is setting, beside the grave of one who has died untimely or violently, placing beside it also the seasonal flowers.

The spell to be written/and recited is: “I entrust this bind* ing spell to you, chthonic gods,… to infernal gods and daimons, to men and women who have died untimely deaths, to youths and maidens, from year to year, month to month, day to day,/hour to hour, 1 adjure all daimons in this place to stand as assistants beside this daimon. And arouse yourself for me, whoever you are, whether male or female, and go to every place and into every quarter and to every house, and attract/and bind her. Attract her, __________, whom__________bore and whose magical

material you possess. Let her be in love with me, .. . Let her not be had in a promiscuous way,... nor let her do anything with another man for pleasure, just with me alone....

Source : Hans Dieter Betz, ed, The Greek Magical Papryt in Translation,Including the Demotic Spells(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

Cult. The term cult is taken from the Latin word cultus, meaning “care” or “cultivation.” For the Greeks one’s relationship with the gods was not primarily a question of belief or disbelief, but of performing appropriate ceremonies such as tending and/or caring for the various gods’ places and prerogatives. Worship of a god might include giving the god food or drink (bloodless sacrifices), animals (slaughtering the animals at an altar), dedicatory objects (statues, figurines, and so forth), or performances (singing, praying, or dancing in honor of the god). Some of these actions were performed at specific locations (temples or shrines) and some on specific occasions (before drinking, funerals, and festivals). One worshiped, or participated in the cults of, various gods either to obtain benefits or to ward off harm the gods could cause; for example, giving gifts to Asclepius to cure or ward off illness. Cults could be Panhellenic (having participants from all over Greece), regional, or local. Most poleis had official cults and festivals such as the Panathenaea honoring Athena in Athens, the Carnea in honor of Apollo in Sparta, and the Heraea of Hera in Argos.

Curse/Binding Tablets. Defixiones were thin lead tablets on which curse or binding spells are inscribed. The person commissioning a curse tablet would usually hire a magician to inscribe a curse on a tablet while performing various magical ceremonies and then bury the tablet. Most of the tablets that have been recovered curse opponents in lawsuits, athletic contests, artistic competitions, or business. Another common category was love charms—the person who commissioned the tablet might ask that the beloved fall out of love with his rival or in love with him. The tablets would request that a deity (usually Demeter, Persephonê, or Hermes of the underworld) inflict damage on the victim, silencing a tongue in a lawsuit, causing a chariot not to finish a race, or turning customers away from a business rival. The tablets were often buried in wells (which lead down to the underworld), fresh graves (so that the dead could carry the tablet with them to Hades), or the place where the curse was to take effect (for example, an athletic stadium).

Delos. The birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, Delos is a small island (one of the Cyclades) in the Aegean Sea and was a center for worship of Apollo, controlled by Athens during much of the Classical era. Theseus is said to have stopped at Delos on his return from Crete.

Delphi. The most famous oracle of Apollo was located in Delphi on the southern slopes of Mount Parnassus. Delphi was already a holy place in the Mycenaean era (1600-1200 b.c.e.). Archeologists have found many terra-cotta female figures there, possibly associated with the cult of the “holy Pytho,” which was mentioned in Homer. The cult of Apollo dates to the eighth century b.c.e. According to myth, an earth goddess and her serpent, Python, were defeated by Apollo, and Apollo took over their sanctuary. Apollo is said to have shared the precinct with Dionysus, each of them taking it in turn for half of the year. The path to the temple was adorned with many statues and treasuries containing offerings to Apollo, some commemorating athletic victories in the Pythian games, and some giving thanks to Apollo for oracles and other favors. Maxims attributed to the Seven Sages were inscribed on the temple. The priestess of the temple, the Pythia, was a woman appointed when she was more than fifty years old; after being selected, she left her family and lived a secluded life. On auspicious days during which people could consult the oracle, she sat on a tripod and was thought (though archeological evidence does not support this theory) to have breathed vapors from a deep chasm. Under the influence of Apollo, she spoke prophecies that were then composed into formal oracles (often in verse) by various priests. Several minor priestesses tended the hearth in the temple. Also in the temple precinct was the omphalos, a rock in the shape of a navel, which was said to mark the center of the known world.

Derveni Papyrus. The only substantial ancient papyrus roll to have been found in Greece itself is the Derveni Papyrus. It dates from the fourth century b.c.e. and was partially burned on a funeral pyre. It contains a commentary on Orphic cosmology.

Divination. Greeks had several ways of predicting the future and/or interpreting the wills of the gods. Plant growth, animal behavior, prodigies (unnatural occurrences), the entrails of sacrificial animals, dreams, and celestial phenomena—all were interpreted as significant. Some of the main forms of mantike (divination) practiced in antiquity were augury, haruspicy, dreams, prophecy, astrology, necromancy, and omens.

Dreams. A person’s dreams were normally considered prophetic. Artemidorus’, Oneirocritica, or Dream Book (second century C.E.) describes how to interpret each element of dreams.

Eleusis. A town in Attica near Athens, home to the mystery cult of Demeter and Persephonê, Eleusis shows evidence of continuous habitation and cult activity from Mycenaean through Roman times. There are several successive layers of cult sites, beginning with a Mycenaean megaron that was replaced first by an Archaic temple and then by the telesterion, a large hall with arena-style seats, built by the tyrant Peisistratus and enlarged in the time of Pericles. The Eleusinian Mysteries were both uniquely important to Attica and were also Panhellenic, in the sense that participation was open to anyone who went through the proper initiation rites, including barbarians and slaves.

Epiphany. The actual visible appearances of gods, usually intervening in human affairs, epiphanies were frequent in Homer and common in drama. An actor portraying a god suspended on a crane, known as a deus ex machina (god from a machine), often resolved apparently insoluble dilemmas in tragedy. Though the Greeks did not believe that the gods were ordinarily visible in their own times, they did have examples of gods and dead heroes occasionally intervening in momentous events, such as helping the Greeks in their war against Persia. The Athenian tyrant Peisistratus took advantage of this belief when he returned from exile in the sixth century, accompanied by a tall woman dressed like the cult statue of Athena, whom he claimed to be the goddess. The gods were believed to appear often in dreams when people would “incubate” at temples such as those of Asclepius.

Euhemerism. Euhemerus of Messene wrote a novel (circa 311-298 b.c.e.) that advanced the theory that the traditional Greek gods actually had been extraordinarily talented or important people whose deeds were magnified by later generations, until they eventually became considered gods. Modern scholars use the term euhemerism to describe theories accounting for mythical stories as distortions of historical narratives.

Festivals. Days officially designated by a community for worship of specific deities, festivals were normally holidays during which no official business (lawsuits, legislative assemblies, instruction in schools, and so forth) could be conducted. Truces were declared for the larger Panhellenic festivals such as the Olympic Games and often local festivals as well. The religious and secular components of festivals were not clearly demarcated. Sacrifices were offered to the gods being honored, but the meat from the sacrifice was shared in a communal feast by the participants. Often games such as chariot and foot races, wrestling, and other athletic contests were held in honor of the gods, but these were opportunities for competition among participants and betting among spectators. Some festivals, especially in the countryside, were simple ceremonies and merry-making celebrating the fertility of the land or the harvest. Choral performances of hymns (singing and dancing in honor of the gods) on simple threshing floors gradually evolved into more elaborate urban artistic forms of the Classical Period (480-323 b.c.e.)The larger city festivals such as Panathenea and Great Dionysia at Athens, Carnea at Sparta, Heraea at Argos, and Daidala in Boeotia might include theatrical performances, recitations of poetry, and oratorical displays, often staged as competitions with the best performance given an award. Merchants flocked to festivals to hawk their wares to the spectators, and embassies were sent from one city-state to festivals in other poleis, often using the truces negotiated for the festivals and amphictyonic laws allowing the right of safe passage through neighboring areas to festivals as occasions to conduct important negotiations.

Games. Athletic contests were held at various festivals in honor of the gods. Perhaps the most famous were the Olympic Games, held every four years, starting in 776 b.c.e., in honor of the Olympian Zeus. Other famous festivals included the Pythian (at Delphi, in honor of Apollo) and the Nemean (in honor of the Nemean Zeus near Argos) games. The main athletic contests were chariot races, footraces, wrestling, boxing, jumping, and the pankration (combination of wrestling and boxing). Spectators wagered on the outcomes of the games, and vendors sold a variety of foodstuffs and other goods. Orators and poets often entertained the spectators and recited compositions praising the victors.

Haruspicy. The ancient Greeks practiced haruspicy, examining the entrails of sacrificial animals.

Hecatomb The term hecatomb literally means an offering of one hundred oxen, but it was also used to describe any sacrifice of animals.

Herm (Greek herma) . A stylized sculpture of Hermes (or occasionally another god), the Herm were placed as boundary markers at crossroads, public buildings, and private houses. They consisted of square stone pillars with erect phalluses and a bust of the god, usually with a beard. They were apotropaic (functioned to avert evil). The Herm of the Classical Period probably evolved from early non-anthropomorphic heaps of boundary stones.

Holocausts . A holocaust was a blood offering in which animals were completely burnt rather than the meat’s being reserved for a feast. Holocausts were extraordinary forms of sacrifice, specifically reserved for purifications, burials, underworld gods, and for requesting important favors such as victory in an impending battle.

Incubation . An individual could sleep in temple precincts in order that the god may appear to him or her in a dream. The best known example of incubation was at the temples of Asclepius, where sick people would sleep and receive visions of how to cure their illnesses. Often (typically for a fee) priests at the temple would help interpret the visions. Various purificatory rituals and sacrifices were usually conducted by the petitioner before going to sleep. Incubation was also practiced at several other temples, including those of Isis and Sarapis, for purposes of recovering lost objects and seeing the future, as well as curing illness.

Libation (Greek spondê) . A libation was a liquid offering to the gods, usually wine, milk, honey, or water, either performed alone or in conjunction with sacrifices. Since libations were always part of the ritual performed at the signing of a peace treaty, the Greek word for treaty was spondai. At the beginning of symposia (drinking parties), the participants always poured libations of unmixed wine to the Olympian gods and heroes.

Magic . Ancient Greeks used magic (incantations, potions, amulets, curse tablets, necromancy, or other acts or sayings) to influence or understand the world and invoke supernatural beings, whether gods, ghosts, or demons. There was no clear demarcation between magic and religion or gods and demons. The gods and prayers of one nation were often the demons and magic of its enemies; for example, the Christian bishop Augustine believed in the existence of the Greek gods, but he considered them demons rather than entities worth worshiping. Within Greek context, magic can best be described as individual and unsanctioned invocations of the supernatural. While all harmful uses of potions (poisons, love charms, and so forth) and incantations (curses) were considered magical, not all incantations or potions were for harmful purposes. Folk religion and medicine (midwifery) existed on the border between magic and religion, while curses and spells were always magical. Magic, especially when used for harmful purposes, was usually illegal in antiquity, but nonetheless widely practiced. Archeologists have recovered many papyri containing magical spells, as well as curse tablets.

Mystery Cults . The ancient mysteries were cults distinguished by the need for initiation and elaborate purification rituals before one could participate in them. They were often concerned with fertility and offered worshipers a promise of a better afterlife if they followed certain rules of conduct and regularly performed certain ceremonies. Certain aspects of the mysteries could only be revealed to initiates and were considered understandable only through experience of the ceremonies rather than explicable in words, an attitude epitomized in the Greek maxim pathein mathein (“to experience is to learn”). Few other generalizations can be made with any degree of accuracy about mystery cults in the Classical Period. Some of the better-known mysteries were those of Orpheus, Dionysus, and the Eleusinian.

Necromancy . To engage in necromancy, or calling on the spirits of the dead, was considered an illegal act in ancient Greece.

Olympus . Over 9,500 feet, Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and, in myth, the home of the Olympian gods. It is located in Northern Greece, on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, and is part of a range negotiable only by a limited number of passes, thus protecting Greece from invasion from the northeast.

Omens . Many sorts of natural phenomena were interpreted as omens, including the behavior of plants and animals. Tics, itches, and sneezes were also interpreted as omens.

Oracles . The term oracle refers either to a god’s answer to a worshiper’s question, usually predicting future events or giving advice on actions or decisions, or a place or shrine where one could obtain such messages. Among the most important ancient oracles were those of Apollo at Delphi and Zeus at Dodona. Oracular sayings were often cryptic or paradoxical, thus the failure of an oracle was usually attributed to its misinterpretation. A famous example is the one of Croesus, King of Lydia, who was told by the Delphic oracle that if he attacked Persia, a great kingdom would be destroyed. He attacked, and his own kingdom was destroyed.

Orphic . A follower of the cult of Orpheus, Orphic was a legendary musician and was also follower of Dionysus. By the Archaic Period (700-480 b.c.e.), several poems concerning divine mysteries were attributed to Orpheus. These poems included a detailed description of both the cosmos and gods of Orphic belief. The Orphics believed that one’s conduct during life affected one’s fate in the afterlife. They thought that humans shared with the Titans guilt for the death of Dionysus Zagreus, and that Persephonê demanded some form of atonement from humans before they could progress to a better afterlife. Humans were reincarnated three times, and if they behaved properly in their lives (avoided evil and pollution and were initiated into the Orphic mysteries), they would spend their afterlives on the Isles of the Blessed.

Polis (plural poleis) . Greece and the various Greek colonies were divided into hundreds of city-states, self-governing administrative entities consisting of a city and the surrounding countryside. There are often distinct names for both the main city of a polis and the polis as a whole; for example, Athens is the main city of Attica, and Sparta, of Lacedaemonia. Often each polis had its own specific official cults.

Pollution (Greek miasma) . Pollution consisted of defilement, uncleanness, or impurity as a result of violating religious taboos or coming into contact with something unclean, such as a corpse. Acts that clearly violated the laws of the gods (sacrificing with unwashed hands, murder, leaving a corpse unburied, incest, eating human flesh, and so forth) might pollute not only the individual committing the act, but also his family, his descendants for several generations, and even his city, bringing the anger of the gods on everyone with whom the polluted person associated. Significant literary examples include the opening of Sophocles’s Oedipus the King (circa 497-405 b.c.e.), or the curse of the house of Atreus, described in Aeschylus’s Oresteia (458 b.c.e.). Certain Greeks believed that illnesses or misfortunes might be the result of some form of pollution associated with their ancestors and would hire wandering purifiers to help them find the cause of the problem and correct it. Acts of purification could be either simple (for example, washing in either fresh or sea water) or quite complex.

Priests . There was no separate clerical caste in ancient Greece, nor was priesthood a profession held by people with special training. Instead, priesthood was an office, in most cases requiring its holder to perform duties only on special occasions. Priests and priestesses were usually appointed by secular officials from a pool of eligible people. Eligibility was determined by gender and age (priestesses at Delphi, for example, were selected from women more than fifty years old). In some cases priests were chosen from specific families (the Eumolpidae and Ceryces for the Eleusinian mysteries); sometimes priestly functions were part of the duties of government officials (for example, the Spartan kings and Athenian archons). While freedom from pollution was necessary (someone who had just killed his mother or violated a sanctuary would be ineligible), priests were not required to be morally or spiritually superior to the general populace, nor, except in the case of mystery religions, did they have any special knowledge about the divinities they served. Priests were responsible for conducting sacrifices and other rituals of the gods they served, in return for which they received part of the sacrifices (the skins of animals, food, and so forth) and sometimes an additional stipend. At smaller shrines priestly duties might require very little time, whereas larger Panhellenic cults (Apollo at Delphi, Zeus at Olympus, and Eleusinian mysteries) might require several temple officials.

Prophecy . Individuals (such as Cassandra in Homer’s Iliad[circa eighth-seventh centuries b.c.e.] and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon[458 b.c.e.], or the prophet Tiresias who appeared in Sophocles’s Antigone[442 or 441 b.c.e.] and Oedipus Rex), spoke as the voices, or interpreters, of gods. In the Archaic Period (700-480 b.c.e.), there were individuals who traveled around Greece, practicing various forms of prophecy, purification, and magic as careers.

Sacrifice . A sacrifice was a gift to the gods, an act central to Greek religious practice. Sacrifices were generally offered at places sacred to the gods, either fixed shrines, altars, temples, or hearths, or, in the case of armies, portable altars. Common types of sacrifices included blood offerings, bloodless offerings, and holocausts.

Temple . A temple was a building which housed the image of a deity, and sometimes even the deity, in a manner similar to Near Eastern practice, rather than the Judaeo-Christian one, in which a temple or church is a place for worshippers to congregate. A temple was normally located in a temenos (temple precinct), which also might contain various other buildings, including shrines, altars, and treasuries. Temples were similar in structure to, and probably evolved from, Mycenaean megara, rectangular halls with entrances through porches (usually with columns) at one of the narrow ends. The main room of a temple, the naos or cella, contained the cult statue, which usually was placed at the opposite end of the room from the entrance. Temples could be either small and simple or large and ornate, with multiple rows of columns and elaborate friezes. Although there could be a small altar for bloodless sacrifices inside the temple, most sacrifices were performed outdoors at an altar in front of the temple.

Theriomorphic . The term theriomorphic means “in the form of an animal.” Theriomorphic gods are more typical of the Near East and Egypt than of Greece, although certain Greek household or chthonic deities could appear as snakes. Some divinities, such as Pan and Satyrs, are partially theriomorphic.

Thiasos . A thiasos was an association dedicated to the worship or cult of a specific deity. Thiasoi functioned as private clubs, with social, as well as cultic, purposes. Many educational institutions were organized as thiasoi dedicated to the Muses.

Transmigration . Also known as reincarnation or metempsychosis, transmigration was the belief that after death the soul moved into a new body. Although this notion was common in Egyptian religion, it was not generally believed in Greece during the Classical Period. Pythagoras and his followers were among the limited number of philosophers who believed in transmigration. For this and other reasons, they tended to be vegetarians. One theory held by some of the later Pythagoreans was that in a fixed period (sometimes given as three thousand years) the soul migrated through all the birds of the air, fish of the sea, and beasts of the land, before it finally was reunited with the divine world from which it had descended.

Votive Offerings . Objects given permanently to the gods were called votive offerings. Votives were of two sorts, those given to a god in advance by people desirous of receiving favors from that god or those given in thanks after a favor has been bestowed by a god. Often a person would promise a god some object or action if the god helped him in a certain way (gave victory in battle, healed an illness, or caused success in a financial venture). This manner of dealing with the gods, sometimes referred to by the Latin phrase do ut des (“I give that you might give”), is characteristic of Greek religion. Votives are found throughout the Greek world in locations ranging from major temple precincts to small rural shrines. Cities might offer magnificent statues or metal tripods in return for victories, while a farmer might leave a god a small terra-cotta figurine. Common votives included statues resembling the cult image of the god (from full-sized marbles through small terra-cottas), weapons of vanquished enemies, mirrors, tools, or clothing. In the area around Delphi, many cities built treasuries to contain their offerings to the god, which many times overflowed the temple precinct. People could also dedicate themselves to a god, offering either a certain period of service or regular offerings.


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