Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 

Greek Popular Religion, by Martin P. Nilsson, [1940], at

p. 65


A great scholar has graphically described Artemis as the goddess of the outdoors (Göttin des Draussen). Untamed nature may be lovely and beneficent, but, on the other hand, it may be terrible and frightful. The desert wilderness, the rugged mountains, the deep ravines, the precipitous torrents, and the thick forests inspire awe in man. Among them he feels himself subject to unknown and dangerous powers. There the wild beasts which attack him and his herds roam about, and robbers may lurk in the glens. "It is better at home, for it is dangerous outdoors" is an old Greek saying, found in Hesiod and in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes1 Within the walls of his house, man feels himself secure, protected from dangers which threaten without. The ancient Greeks would have understood what we mean when we say, "A man's house is his castle." In the beginning of the work of Thucydides there is a vivid description of how unsafe life was in early times because of robbers and pirates.

Descriptions in Homer, supported by archaeological evidence, give us an idea of the house of the early age in its main lines. It was a great, square, single-roomed house--a hall with a porch or forehall on one of its shorter sides and a fixed hearth in its midst. It stood in a courtyard, surrounded by a wall or fence to protect the inhabitants against the attacks of

p. 66

wild beasts and human foes. This house or hall is generally called a megaron. It is by its nature an isolated building, standing free, not connected with other houses, and adapted to country life. But already in prehistoric times there were towns in Greece with complex buildings and narrow streets, 2 and in the great palaces of the Mycenaean age the megaron was introduced into a complex building plan. We may confidently suppose that the detached house with its enclosed courtyard survived for a long time in the countryside, but such mean houses were so lightly built that they have left no traces. When people settled together in towns or large villages, lack of space caused a modification of the plan. The houses were built together and connected, the fence disappeared, and the courtyard was reduced; but the characteristic form of the great living room, the megaron, remained, even in the city of Priene, which was built at the time of Alexander the Great.

The house and its fence protected man against enemies and other dangers, but it needed divine protection itself. Its protector was Zeus, whom we here meet in various roles quite different from that of the weather god. The Greek word for fence is herkos, and herkeios is an epithet of Zeus. According to Homer, the altar of Zeus Herkeios generally stood in the courtyard before the house, where sacrifices and libations were offered to him. Mythology emphasizes the savagery of Neoptolemus by making him slay the aged Priamus on the very altar of Zeus Herkeios. An altar of Zeus Herkeios was to be seen among the ruins of the house of Oinomaos at Olympia. He is found at Sparta as well as at Athens, where Aristophanes and Sophocles mention him. In Sophocles his name is used to designate the whole family. A much more important fact is that at Athens, when the newly elected archons were examined, they

p. 67

were asked whether they owned an Apollo Patroos and a Zeus Herkeios and where these sanctuaries were, for this question presupposes that every citizen had an altar of Zeus Herkeios. The divine protector of the house was found in every house; but his name proves that originally he was the protector of the fence which surrounded the house and that he guarded it against dangers from without.

There is another rather curious instance of the protection which Zeus afforded to the house. He was the god of lightning, and as such he was named Kataibates 3 (he who descends), that is to say the thunderbolt, which was imagined to be a stone or a stone ax. Stones inscribed with the name of this god have been found. Now an altar dedicated to Zeus Kataibates stood beside that of Zeus Herkeios in the ruins of the house of Oinomaos, another was found in a house on the island of Thera, and at Tarentum there were altars before the houses on which sacrifices were made to Zeus Kataibates. The altars were erected and the offerings were made in order to protect the house from a stroke of lightning. This custom seems to have been fairly common.

Much more important and interesting is another form of Zeus in which he appears as a house god, Zeus Ktesios, the most curious of all, because the sky god appears in the guise of a snake. He is not very often mentioned, for on the whole the simple house cult belonged to the daily routine for which literature cared little. But that he was venerated in all of Greece is proved by the fact that this epithet also appears in the Doric form Pasios. It is exceptional for an epithet thus to appear in various dialectic forms. Both Ktesios and Pasios signify "the Acquirer." Sometimes the name is used without the

p. 68

addition of Zeus. An altar of Zeus Ktesios is mentioned by Aeschylus, an altar dedicated to him was found in a house on the island of Thera, and there are other such altars of a small size with his name. On the island of Thasos he is called Zeus Patroos Ktesios, 4 and in its colony Galepsos in Thrace he appears in company with Zeus Herkeios Patroos. 5 He was still not forgotten in the Roman era. Finally, on a relief found at Thespiae his name is inscribed above a great snake (Fig. 26). Fortunately, Attic writers give some information about his cult. Menander says that he was the protector of the storehouse and that his function was to guard this against thieves. 6 It is said that his "image" was erected in the storehouse. Another Attic writer, who treated of the cults, explains the kind of image these were. He calls them semeia (tokens or symbols). 7 These were jars or amphorae, the handles of which were deco-rated with woolen fillets and into which were put fresh water, oil, and fruit of all kinds. The Greek word for this mixture was panspermia or pankarpia, a kind of offering which we have become acquainted with in the agrarian cults. I suppose that this offering was a meal offered to the house god and that the house god in the shape of a snake came to partake of it.

That this supposition is right is proved by a cult that is familiar under quite a different aspect, that of the Dioscuri, 8 the sons of Zeus as their name indicates. I shall not here go into their generally known appearance and cult, but shall confine myself to their role in the house cult. The form in which the Dioscuri appear in mythology and in their cult in later times is certainly the result of a blending of various elements.}

p. 69

[paragraph continues] They were also called Anaktes (kings), and sometimes they appear as children. Their cult was especially popular at Sparta, where they were evidently house gods. A series of reliefs shows their symbols and cult paraphernalia. Their special symbol was the dokana, two upright beams joined by two transverse beams. This has been interpreted variously and ingeniously both in ancient and modern times. The simple explanation is that the dokana represent the wooden frame of a house built of crude bricks. On certain reliefs from Sparta and from its colony Tarentum, and on Spartan coins, two amphorae appear as the symbols of the Dioscuri (Fig. 29). A snake approaches them or is coiling around them or the beams of the dokana (Fig. 31). That the Dioscuri were house gods is proved by their cult. A meal was set out and a couch prepared for them in the house. This is what Euphorion did; 9 Phormion was punished because he would not open the chamber of his house to them. 10 These meals were called theoxenia. Theron of Agrigentum and Iason of Pherae prepared meals in honor of the Dioscuri, and Bacchylides in a poem invites them to a meal from which wine and songs will not be missing. The Athenians spread the table in the prytaneum for them with a frugal, old-fashioned meal of cheese, cakes, olives, and leeks. Some vase paintings and reliefs show the Dioscuri coming to the meal. Here they are riding, in accordance with the common conception (Fig. 32). In Sparta they appear as snakes. The close affinity of Zeus Ktesios and the sons of Zeus is apparent.

Another Zeus, for whose occurrence in the house cult there is no evidence, must be mentioned because he is not infrequently represented as a snake. This is Zeus Meilichios, who was much venerated in Attica (Fig. 27). He is also represented as seated on a throne with a cornucopia (Fig. 28); he is accordingly

p. 70

akin to Zeus the Acquirer. His name signifies the one who has been propitiated, he is the propitious one. This is probably the reason why he became like Zeus the Acquirer. Zeus Soter, the Savior, also seems to have been connected with Meilichios at Piraeus. I do not speak here of that Zeus Soter whom the cities celebrated as the savior of their political freedom, but of the Zeus Soter of the house cult. To him, some of the altars which were found in the houses of the island of Thera are dedicated. Aeschylus says that besides the upper and nether gods he is the third protector of the house. At the symposium the first and third libations were devoted to him. No representations of him in snake form are known, however. Finally, we must mention Agathos Daimon, the Good Daemon, whose name is inscribed on one of the house altars from Thera. At the end of the daily meal a few drops of unmixed wine were poured out on the floor as a libation to Agathos Daimon. He too is represented as a snake.

Why Zeus was the protector of the house is clear if we consider the epithet "father," which is very often given to him by the Greeks, the Indians, the Illyrians, 11 and the Romans, in whose language the epithet coalesced with the noun to form the name "Jupiter." The occurrence of this epithet among these four peoples of Indo-European stock proves that it is an ancient heritage from the time before they had separated. It is generally supposed to designate Zeus as father of gods and men, but this is clearly erroneous. It cannot be believed that in those ancient times, before the Indo-European peoples separated and began their great migrations, there was a nobility which traced its pedigree back to the gods as Homeric heroes did. Nor did Zeus create man or the world. He is neither creator nor father of men in the physical sense. Consequently,

p. 71

the epithet must designate him as pater familias, the head of

the family, which perfectly agrees with the patriarchal social conditions of the Indo-European peoples. And this is the reason why Zeus was the obvious protector of the house.

But the astonishing fact is that Zeus appears as a snake. This Zeus was, of course, called by modern scholars a chthonian deity, because the snake is always considered to represent the souls of, the dead. Certainly it does so very often, but we may question whether this is always the case. It was once supposed that all family and domestic cults had sprung from the cult of the dead. This doctrine should be reduced to its proper proportions. It would surely be astonishing if the house cult had no other roots than the cult of the dead. Among many European peoples, as well as in other parts of the world, we find the snake as the guardian of the house. In my own country--Sweden--the house snake was extremely common, and only a few years ago there died a farmer of whom I know that he was wont to offer milk to the house snakes. The house snake is still generally venerated in the Balkan Peninsula and in modern Greece. When it appears it is greeted with reverent words, such as "welcome, lady of the house," "your obedient servant," "guardian," or "guardian spirit of our house." It is related that in ancient Egypt the houses were full of snakes, which were so tame that they came to partake of offerings when they were called. The Minoan snake-goddess was a house goddess. 12 She was a snake-goddess, not because, as Sir Arthur Evans asserts, she was the lady of the nether world and of the dead, but because she was a house goddess. The guardian spirit of the house had been anthropomorphized, and the house snake had become her attribute. Kipling, in "Letting in the Jungle," says of the doomed village: "Who could fight against the jungle, when the very village cobra had left his

p. 72

hole in the platform under the peepul." The holy snake of Athena also went away when the Athenians evacuated their city at the coming of the Persians, as Herodotus reports. Athena was the house goddess of the Mycenaean king. She inherited the snake from the Minoan house goddess. The great goddess had statues, and the snake could be given to her as her attribute, but in the common house cult there were no statues or even statuettes. Hence, it seems that the house god Zeus himself appeared as a snake. But in reality the association is rather loose and came about because Zeus was the protector of the house and the snake was its guardian spirit in bodily form. Many snakes may live in a house, and therefore people sometimes called them the sons of Zeus, the Dios kouroi. In the cult of the house snake we have come upon another striking similarity between modern folklore and ancient Greek popular religion. We see how modern folklore is helpful to a correct understanding of Greek popular religion. The cult of the house snake also survives in modern Greece.

In the middle of the great living room of the Greek house, the megaron, was a fixed hearth. The fire of this hearth warmed the house on cold days, and over this fire meals were prepared. The fixed hearth was brought to Greece by the Greeks, for in Minoan houses there were only portable fire pots of the sort used for preparing meals in Hellenistic and even in modern times. 13 The sanctity of the hearth is common to the Greeks and the Romans, and it is very probable that the Greek name of the goddess of the hearth, Hestia, and her Roman name, Vesta, are both derived from the same word, although this has been contested. 14 The sanctity of the hearth

p. 73

is bound up with the fixed hearth. Consequently, the Greeks are responsible for it, not the pre-Greek population, who did not have a fixed hearth. The hearth is the center of the house and the symbol of the family. When Herodotus counts the number of families in a town he counts the hearths. 15 The hearth was sacred. A suppliant took his place on the hearth, as did Odysseus, Telephus, and Themistocles, because he was protected by its sanctity. People swore by the hearth. The newborn babe was received into the family by being carried around the hearth, a ceremony which was called amphidromia and took place on the fifth day after birth.

The hearth was the center of the house cult and of the piety of daily life. We should remember that while our piety is expressed chiefly in words, by prayers, the piety of the ancients was expressed chiefly by acts. In our schools the day begins with a morning prayer, but in the Greek gymnasia there was a hero shrine at which cult rites were performed. This fact is particularly evident in daily life. Whereas we say a prayer before and after the meal, the Greeks before the meal offered a few bits of food on the hearth and after it poured out a few drops of unmixed wine on the floor. The libation was said to be made to Agathos Daimon, the Good Daemon, the guardian of the house, who appears in snake form. It is not stated to whom the food offering was made, but if someone is to be mentioned it must be Hestia, the goddess of the hearth.

Thus, the hearth was sacred, and the daily meal was sacred. The sanctity of the meal found expression in the rites which accompanied it. It is a widespread custom to regard the meal as sacred. Among many peoples a stranger who has been permitted to take part in a meal is thereby received under the protection of the tribe and becomes inviolable. The meal unites with sacred bonds all who partake of it. One may recall the old Russian custom of offering a distinguished visitor bread and

p. 74

salt before the gates of the city. The same feeling was alive in Greece. "Thou hast forsaken thy great oath, the table, and the salt," the poet Archilochus says reproachfully to someone; 16 and the orator Aeschines asked emphatically of his colleagues by whom he thought he had been deceived: "Where is the salt? where the table? where the drink-offering?" 17

This sanctity of the meal, which knits the partakers together in a sacred community, will help us to understand the best known and most prominent of all the rites of Greek religion, animal sacrifice. Its meaning and origin have been vigorously discussed. A great scholar, W. Robertson Smith, advanced the hypothesis of a totemistic origin. 18 The animal sacrificed was the god himself, Smith thought, and by eating his flesh the worshippers were united with the god and imbued with his power. This hypothesis has been somewhat modified by Jane Harrison 19 and others, but it is untenable. Not the slightest trace of totemism appears among the Greeks or other Indo-European peoples. The sacredness of the meal suffices to explain the peculiarities of animal sacrifice. The sacrifice is a meal common to the god and his worshippers, linking them together in a close unity. The god is invited by prayer to come to the meal. He receives his portion, and the men, who are the greater number, feast on their portions. This is the reason why only a small portion of the flesh is offered on the altar of the god, a custom which had already struck Hesiod as so peculiar that he invented a mythical explanation of it. 20 The sacrifice is sacred. This is the reason why it is often forbidden to carry parts of it outside the holy precinct. Even the refuse, the bones,

p. 75

and the ashes are sacred and are left in the sanctuary. Such a sacrifice was performed not only at festivals but occasionally in daily life. Whenever an animal was slaughtered, it was considered as a sacrifice and was accompanied by the usual rites. The word philothytes (fond of sacrifices) signifies simply "hospitable."

The sanctity of the hearth was not conferred by any god but was immanent. Hestia was never wholly anthropomorphized. She was given a place in mythology, but her statues are artistic inventions, not cult statues. Nevertheless, her importance was great. A Greek proverb says: "Begin with Hestia," that is to say, "Begin at the right end." If an animal was slaughtered and a sacrifice was performed in the house, the first pieces of the sacrificial meal were offered to her, just as at all meals a few pieces were laid on the hearth. This is the reason why it seems to have been customary to offer the first pieces of all sacrifices, even public ones, to Hestia. The position of Hestia is also reflected in semiphilosophical speculations, in which it is said that Hestia is enthroned in the middle of the universe, just as the hearth is the center of the house.

A few words must be added concerning the role of the hearth in public cult, for this role is the best argument for the belief that the family was the model and basis of Greek state organization. Just as each family had its hearth, so the state had its hearth in the council house, where the officials and a few especially honored citizens took their daily meals. When a colony was founded, the emigrants carried fire from this hearth to kindle the fire on the hearth of the new city.

The cult of the hearth comes down from hoary antiquity, from Indo-European times. It induces me to add a remark of general bearing in regard to the difference between our religion and that of the Greeks, especially their popular religion. This difference is less appreciated than it ought to be, because

p. 76

our attitude is not the same as that of the Greeks. The sanctity of the hearth was great, and we rightly speak of a cult of the hearth because certain sacred acts were performed there. But there were no prayers, no images, and no gods, for Hestia herself was not a full-fledged personality but only a pale personification. The cult consisted in acts. The place was sacred in itself according to the ideas of the ancients. For us it is not so. Nowadays a place is made sacred by erecting a house of God on it. Sanctity is conferred upon the building by its consecration as a church. In antiquity sanctity was inherent in the place. The place was not made holy by building a house for a god on it, but a house for a god was built on a certain place because the place was holy. Finally, although the hearth was sacred, the same hearth was used for nonreligious purposes--for roasting meat and cooking food, for boiling water and heating the room. Here we come upon another difference between ancient and modern religious ideas, which is perhaps greater than any other. We make a clear distinction between the sacred and the profane, we object to using holy things for ordinary purposes. Religion is our Sunday suit. The ancients also made a distinction between the sacred and the profane. Sacred things could not be treated as profane things. But the sacred and the profane were intermingled in daily life in a manner of which there are almost incredible examples. Religion was much more a part of daily life among the ancients than among us. It consisted in acts more than in words. Obviously, there was a danger that these acts might become a mere routine, and in general they probably did. They were deprived of real religious feeling even more than our grace is when it is recited by custom and without thinking.

The sanctity of the hearth was so great that everyone who sat on it was sacred and could not be violated. One would probably say that he was under the protection of the gods. This

p. 77

was, in fact, considered to be so, but the statement is not quite correct. The hearth was sacred in itself, and its sacredness was conferred upon anybody touching it. There was no question of any personal god as mediator. But, on the other hand, everyone who sought protection at the hearth was under the protection of the gods and, it should be added, of a quite special god, Zeus. This takes us back to early times, in which law and justice and the state were only slightly developed. Divine protection to foreigners and suppliants was much more important then than in historical times, when life was regulated by state institutions and laws and was relatively secure. It should be added that respect for certain religious rules in regard to foreigners and suppliants is found among most primitive peoples, and such rules must have existed in very ancient Indo-European times.

Under primitive conditions a foreigner is excluded from the protection of law and custom enjoyed by members of the tribe. The word "guest" and the Latin word hostis (foe) are the same word. A suppliant is a man who by trespassing against law and custom has put himself outside their protection. Such a man might be purified and pardoned. As for foreigners, there might be reasons for entering into friendly relations with them. They might, for example, be merchants, for trade, however restricted, always existed, even in early times and under the most primitive conditions. From ancient times there was a god who conferred his protection upon foreigners and suppliants, namely, Zeus. He, and almost he alone, has epithets referring to this function (xenios, hikesios), and they were very commonly used in the historical age. Zeus was the protector of suppliants and foreigners because he, being "the father," the divine pater familias, upheld the unwritten laws and customs on which the power of the head of the family depended. Such laws and customs were necessary, for otherwise a person who

p. 78

had trespassed would not have been able to make atonement, nor would commerce or other relations with people outside the tribe have been possible. So Zeus was the protector of the unwritten laws, of the moral order, and of customs invested with religious sanctity in primitive Greek society. But as political life gradually developed and life became more secure, this function of Zeus receded into the background in actual practice. Generally speaking, people did not need to turn to Zeus for protection. Theoretically, Zeus always remained the heavenly ruler and the protector of justice and morality, but hardly more than theoretically.

From of old, Zeus had been the protector of the house, the family, and its rights. But as the power of the state increased and internal peace was secured, life became safer and consequently the importance of Zeus in private life diminished. Zeus Ktesios and Zeus Herkeios remained, but not much was said of them. The old rites were performed in a routine fashion, more or less without thought. The importance of Zeus and his cult was noticeably less in the classical age than in Homer. He was still officially the highest god, the protector of the state and of the law. But in daily life people cared more for other gods who were nearer to them.

If in historical times people were relatively safe from the assaults of enemies and from robbery, they feared dangers of other kinds which threatened them and their houses. Belief in magic and witchcraft is primeval and was not lacking even in the classical age. The house also had to be protected against secret perils from these sources, and for this purpose people resorted to gods who were able to avert evils of all kinds. One of these was the great hero Heracles, who had vanquished so many monsters, ghosts (Antaeus was a ghost), and even Death. Above the entrance to the house was placed the inscription:

p. 79

[paragraph continues] "Here the gloriously triumphant Heracles dwells; here let no evil enter."

Another great averter of evil was Apollo, the god of sanctity and purifications. A connection with the cult of stones was peculiar to this god, and holy stones were common in Greece. Xenophon speaks of certain men who did not venerate temples or altars and of others who venerated stones, pieces of wood, and animals. 21 Theophrastus mentions superstitious people who poured oil on stones standing at the crossroads, fell on their knees before them, and greeted them with a kiss of the hand. 22 The omphalos of Apollo at Delphi is especially famous. In origin it was neither a tomb nor the center of the world, but simply one holy stone among many which was made famous by the fame of the god. Holy stones stood before the doors of houses. Perhaps they did in prehistoric times also. Square-cut stones have been found before the gates of the Homeric Troy by Dörpfeld, as well as by recent American excavators. 23 Since they could have served no practical purpose, it is supposed that their purpose was religious. We may perhaps venture to go further. Hrozný has published the inscriptions of four Hittite altars and read their pictographs. 24 Among other gods there is mentioned one whose name is read Apulunas. He is a god of the gates. If this be so, then the oriental origin of Apollo, which has often been asserted but which has also been vehemently contested, is proved beyond doubt. This oriental Apollo was the protector of the gates; so was the Apollo of classical Greece.

Before every Greek house a high conical stone was erected

p. 80

[paragraph continues] (Fig. 30). It was called Apollo Agyieus (Apollo of the street) because it stood in the street before the door of the house. Oil was poured on it, and it was decorated with fillets. Hence, it was sometimes called an altar, and sometimes an altar was erected at its side. We do not know whether the holy stone is older than Apollo himself. At all events, the stone protected the house against evil, and in the classical age it was sacred to Apollo, the great averter of evil.

Before the house an image of the triple Hecate was very often erected (Fig. 33). Aristophanes tells us that when a woman left her house she made a prayer to Hecate. 25 We shall have more to say of this goddess later. The Greeks always regarded her as the special goddess of magic and witchcraft. A power that can produce ghosts and magical evils can also avert them, and this is the reason why images of Hecate were set up at crossroads and before houses.

In this chapter I have dealt with the religion of the house and the family. I may perhaps pertinently conclude it by a few words about the social aspect of ancient Greek religion. In contrast to oriental peoples and to some others, the Greeks had no professional priests and no temples with their own property and administration. The head of the family was the priest of his house and the king was the high priest of the state as long as kingship existed and longer; for when the political power was taken from the king, he was usually allowed to keep his religious duties. Even if professionals, such as seers and sacrificial priests, were called in, they were only advisers. From the beginning, religion and society, or the state, were not two separate entities among the Greeks but two closely related aspects of the same entity.

If we consider these facts, an unexpected question emerges. The house cult was only a small part of Greek religion. Who

p. 81

looked after all the other cults of the gods in the old days? Of course many of the cults, including some which might have been inherited from the Mycenaean age, were under the care of the king. Furthermore, we must not attribute to earlier times great temples and statues like those of the classical age. The cult places were groves, springs, caves, and the like, with a simple altar of unworked stones or sods. We hear of this state of things in Homer, who relates that sacrifices were performed at a spring beneath a plane tree and that votive gifts were suspended from the branches of the trees in the grove. If such a cult place became popular and was visited by many people and if the god received many gifts, a small building was erected to house him and his paraphernalia. This is what we mean when we speak of a temple of those times. A building of this sort might be erected by the people in common. But in several cases we know that the cult was under the care of a certain family, which was, of course, the family owning the ground where the cult place was.

A great many cults were the property of a certain family. We know that this was true in Attica, 26 about which our information is much better than about other states of Greece, and we may suppose that the same was true everywhere. To adduce some examples, the Eleusinian Mysteries belonged to the Eumolpidae; the Mysteries at Phlya belonged to the Lycomidae; the priestess of Athena Polias and the priest of Poseidon in the Erechtheum were taken from the Eteobutadae, whence it is inferred that this family was the old royal house of Athens; and the Bouzygae performed the sacred plowing at the foot of the Acropolis. Herodotus says that he does not know the origin of Isagoras, the rival of Cleisthenes, but that

p. 82

his family sacrificed to Zeus Karios. 27 A certain cult was characteristic of a certain family.

Such a state of things is characteristic of the rule of the nobility, to whom the political power belonged at the commencement of the archaic age. The lower classes, the people without ancestors, turned to modest rural sanctuaries or even to the cults maintained by the nobility, on whom they were dependent. They apparently formed a kind of cult association, of which the members were called orgeones (worshippers). In regard to the cult, Solon seems to have put these associations on an equal footing with the noble families. 28 The noble families were divided into phratries, or brotherhoods, whose members were called phrateres (brothers). The political reforms of Solon and Cleisthenes democratically extended this organization to the people without ancestors. Every Athenian citizen belonged to a brotherhood. This political reorganization must have involved a reorganization of the family cult.

I have already said that the newly elected Athenian archons were asked if they possessed a Zeus Herkeios, an Apollo Patroos, and family tombs and where these were situated. Zeus Herkeios was, as we have seen, the protector of the courtyard. Apollo Patroos was the agyieus, the stone pillar erected before the door of the house. The purpose of these questions was to ascertain that the man was a citizen. In an age when written records were unknown, citizenship was proved by the ownership of a house and ground. Such proof could be given only by men who owned landed property. But the people without ancestors had no landed property. The democratic reform did not alter the form of the examination, but it altered the form of the cult so that it embraced all the people. The old house gods were taken over by the phratries. The phratries maintained

p. 83

a cult of the gods of the phratries. These gods were called patrooi (inherited from the ancestors) or phratrioi (gods of the brotherhood). The Athenians venerated Zeus Herkeios, whom others called Patroos or Phratrios, and Apollo Patroos, who was supposed to be the mythical ancestor of the Athenian people. To these was added the city goddess Athena with the epithet of Phratia.

It may perhaps be objected that the matters just mentioned do not belong to popular religion as we understand it. But in ancient Greece they did, for the cult of the phratry gods was the cult of all the people, since it was the cult of the small subdivisions of the Attic state. The origin of these gods is to be found in the family and house cult. This cult is little known. In the classical age it consisted mainly of the daily routine, and its importance vanished when politics and the great cults became predominant. The aim of this chapter has been to reveal its fundamental significance for a correct understanding of the religion and the life of the Greek people.


65:1 Hesiod, Opera, vs. 365, and Homeric Hymn to Hermes. vs. 36.

66:2 Best known is the town excavated by M. N. Valmin on Malthi and described in his work, The Swedish Messenia Expedition (Lund, 1938).

67:3 See my paper, "Zeus Kataibates," Rheinisches Museum, XLIII (1908), 315 ff. For the various aspects of Zeus mentioned here see also the great work by A. B. Cook, Zeus.

68:4 Revue archèologique, IX (1937), 195.

68:5 Dittenberger, Sylloge inscriptionum Graecarum, Vol. III, No. 991.

68:6 Pseudo-Herakles, frag. 519, in T. Kock, Comicorum Atticorum fragmenta (Leipzig, 1880-88).

68:7 Anticleides, in Athenaeus, XI, p. 473b.

68:8 See my book, The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and Its Survival in Greek Religion (Lund, 1927), especially pp. 469 ff.

69:9 Herodotus, VI, 127.

69:10 Pausanias, III, 16, 3.

70:11 Hesychius s.v. Δειπάτυρος· ὁ θεὸς Τυμφαίοις. The Tymphaeans were a tribe in Epirus.

71:12 See my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, pp. 279 ff.

72:13 In early Minoan times there seems sometimes to have been a fixed hearth; later only portable fire pots existed. See P. Demargne, "Culte funéraire et foyer domestique dans la Crète minoenne," Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, LVI (1932), 60 ff.

72:14 By F. Solmsen, Untersuchungen zur griechischen Laut- and Verslehre (Strassburg, 1901), pp. 191, 213.

73:15 Herodotus, I, 177.

74:16 Frag. 96, in Bergk, Poetae lyrici Graeci.

74:17 Demosthenes, XIX, 189.

74:18 Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 3d ed. (London, 1927).

74:19 Prolegomena, pp. 84 ff.

74:20 Theogony, vss. 535 ff. See Ada Thomsen, "Der Trug des Prometheus," Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, XII (1909), 460 ff.

79:21 Memorabilia, I, 1, 14.

79:22 Characteres, 16.

79:23 W. Dörpfeld, Troja and Ilion (Athens, 1902), p. 134 and Figs. 44, 45; C. W. Blegen in Amer. Journ. of Archaeology, XXXVIII (1934), 241, Fig. 18, and XLI (1937), 593, Fig. 36.

79:24 B. Hrozný, "Les Quatre Autels 'hittites' hiéroglyphiques d’Emri Ghazi et d’Eski Kisla," Archiv orientalin, VIII (1936), 171 ff.

80:25 Lysistrata, vs. 64.

81:26 The examples are collected by J. Toepffer, Attische Genealogie (Berlin, 1889).

82:27 Herodotus, V, 66.

82:28 See my Gesch. der griech. Rel., I, 672.

Next: The Cities; the Panegyreis