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Testing the Limits of Personal Religion and Civic Identity: The Case of Xenophon at Scillus

Hannah Willey

Xenophon’s Anabasis provides a rare opportunity for the historian of Greek personal religion. It offers the chance to study in some depth the religious activities of a complex individual over a protracted period (see Parker (2004)) or, rather, the ways in which he chose to present those activities to the world. In this paper, I explore two key episodes in the religious life of Xenophon, which are significantly interrelated and, indeed, immediately juxtaposed in his narrative: a dedication offered to Apollo in the Athenian treasury at Delphi and the establishment of a new cult to Ephesian Artemis at Scillus near Olympia. Each undertaking constitutes part fulfillment of a vow to offer a tithe of the spoils gathered by the Ten Thousand on their Asian campaigns. These religious acts, I argue, provide a particularly striking insight into the complex and personal ways in which Xenophon can construct and display a nuanced and independent identity for himself through cult, by engaging in a critical and creative dialogue with the religious structures, institutions and systems of authority of both his own polis and the wider Greek world.

I argue that Xenophon’s narrative of cult foundation at Scillus must be considered in relation to his account of his dedication to Apollo in the treasury of the Athenians, as two parts of a single ritual act stemming from the same vow. The treasury of the Athenians at Delphi evokes a particular set of religious and political associations and values. Thus, for example, the imagery elides the distinction between Athenian and Greek models of success and identity, in part through the symbolism of the archetypal Athenian hero Theseus in battle with the barbarian Amazons, and appropriates in a religious context individual achievement for the polis (cf. Neer (2004)). Xenophon, by bringing into mainland Greece the cult of Ephesian Artemis, with its associations with the Amazons and the Persians, constructs a pointedly different conception of Greek religious authority and identity. Xenophon, an exile, whose ties to Athens, Sparta and Scillus are at this point far from straightforward, creates through this cult foundation a space in which he can locate himself, not in an exclusive relation to Athens, but within a more complex and inclusive nexus of religious and political identities and loyalties. Furthermore, I trace the ways in which Xenophon, in his presentation of the cult and its foundation, appropriates for himself the religious authority more usually reserved for the polis by eliding the distinction between himself and the cultic community at large, a cultic community which is itself presented almost as a self-contained polis community: the ritual community is at once a quasi-civic community and a markedly Xenophontic one.

We thus find in these two juxtaposed dedications, and in the juxtaposition itself a complex dialogue with one dominant strand of Athenian religious and political self- representation and authority. Only by recognizing this dialogue can we understand how Xenophon articulates here a very particular individual and collective religious identity and a very particular attitude to the relation between individual and collective identities through his cult. The cult foundation narratives offers Xenophon an opportunity for thinking through questions of community, identity and status in dialogue with, but not in subordination to, established paradigms of religious-civic identity. This case, then, offers an illuminating insight into the complex ways in which the relation between public and private engagements with the gods might be cast and manipulated in the fourth-century Greek world.


 
Session/Panel Title:

Ancient Greek Personal Religion

Session/Paper Number

81.4

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