Greek cults of deified abstractions
This dissertation aims to explore the phenomenon of the worship of abstract concepts in personified form and its development in the Archaic and Classical periods. An introductory chapter surveys previous scholarly literature on the subject and covers some general theoretical issues: i) definitions; ii) problems of sources and methodology; iii) the question of the predominantly feminine gender of these figures; iv) ancient and modern theories on deified abstractions as a class. Six chapters then look at a selection of individual cults in roughly chronological sequence, each exemplifying one or more of the general questions raised by such cults. Themis provides a good example of the very "mythological" deified abstractions of the Archaic period and the problems of tracing the origins and early history of personification cults. Nemesis was probably worshipped at Rhamnous from the sixth century, but acquires unique status in the fifth from an association with the battle of Marathon; the cult of the two Nemeseis at Smyrna, I argue, is a fourth-century innovation. Peitho is often associated with rhetoric, but a survey of her cult associations in a variety of locations emphasises her erotic side, an aspect further revealed in vase-painting. These three figures all have roots in archaic literature, whereas Hygieia, though soon mythologised as daughter of Asklepios, does not appear in any medium before her arrival in Athens in 420 BC in the healing god's wake. Her cult particularly raises the question of how seriously personifications could be taken as deities, since the concept which she embodies is so patently a human desideratum. Later innovations are similarly often dismissed as "mere" allegory or propaganda, as is illustrated by the case of Eirene in fourth-century Athens, most famously represented in Kephisodotos' group of Peace holding the child Wealth, her cult introduced in response to quite specific political circumstances. The problems of correlating archaeological and literary sources are particularly acute in the case of the most "abstract", figure to be considered, Eleos, eponymous deity of the Athenian "altar of Pity"; although the altar dates from the late sixth century, its insubstantial god is probably a later development. From these six case studies some provisional conclusions can be offered on the place of deified abstract ideas in Greek religious thought and practice.