We often think of classical Greek society as a model of rationality and order. Yet as Walter Burkert demonstrates in these influential essays on the history of Greek religion, there were archaic, savage forces surging beneath the outwardly calm face of classical Greece, whose potentially violent and destructive energies, Burkert argues, were harnessed to constructive ends through the interlinked uses of myth and ritual.
For example, in a much-cited essay on the Athenian religious festival of the Arrhephoria, Burkert uncovers deep connections between this strange nocturnal ritual in which two virgin girls carried sacred offerings into a cave and later returned with something given to them there and tribal puberty initiations by linking the festival with the myth of the daughters of Kekrops. Other chapters explore the origins of tragedy in blood sacrifice; the role of myth and past crime in the ritual of the new fire on Lemnos; the ties among violence, the Athenian courts, and the annual purification of the divine image; several well-known myths, often retold in poetry, that refer to religious festivals; and how failed political propaganda about the miraculous birth of a king entered the realm of myth at the time of the Persian Wars.
With "Savage Energies," Burkert convincingly shows how the lessons of myth and ritual interacted to construct and reconstruct classical Greek society. Classicists, historians of religion, and mythologists should all benefit from his insights."show more