Archaeology Odyssey 1:2, Spring 1998


Athenian Religion: A History

Robert Parker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 370 pp., $24.95

Greek worship was decidedly not monotheistic. One wonders how a people so famously devoted to reason and logic could have believed in so many gods and goddesses—deities often portrayed in Greek mythology and literature as unreasonable, even immoral.

Robert Parker avoids addressing the more irrational aspects of Greek religion by limiting his subject to Athenian public worship of officially recognized gods. This has the advantage of disciplining a good deal of unruly material. But it also means that more private or peripheral religious practices and rituals—curse tablets, magic, talismans, dreams and other cultic paraphernalia—are left to the side. Religion, to Parker, is a product of society, one of the primary means by which social groups define themselves and become integrated into a larger body politic. Parker therefore sets his history of Greek beliefs, rituals and festivals within the context of the political development of the Athenian city-state.

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