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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2005

T C 357 • Reconstructing Ancient Religion: Test Case Ancient Greece

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
41155 MWF
10:00 AM-11:00 AM
WEL 3.266

Course Description

In this course we shall examine how scholars go about reconstructing the religious beliefs and practices of a foreign, and in this case ancient, culture. We shall examine literary, historical, linguistic, archaeological and iconographical evidence for ‘Greek religion’ from the pre-Greek Indo-European and non-Indo-European stage into the Mycenaean palatial/Homeric period and then in historical times into the 4th century. We shall aim for diversity of methods and some sense of the development of scholarship concerning the notion of ancient religion. Readings will include selections of translated Linear B tablets relating to cult and ritual, the epics of Homer and Hesiod, selected Greek tragedies, inscriptions of the historical period relating to the organization of festivals and sanctuaries and “private” offerings, and modern studies (anthropological, pyschological, archaeological and historical) of Greek religious practice in various periods. We shall also explore the basic concepts of divinity and preternatural forces affecting the lives of human beings, the deities who come to be regarded as central within the historical Greek pantheon, ritual practice and notions like religious pollution, the operation of sanctuaries and their cult personnel, the relationship of the “religious sphere” to the “secular sphere,” the effects of cross-cultural contacts on religious beliefs and systems, and finally the relationship between private beliefs and public cults.

About the Professor Thomas Palaima has visited many lands and seen too many things. His work experiences include summer stints on garbage trucks and road repair crews (including Friday road kill pickup) and high school janitoring (where he acquired a taste for graffiti and distaste for petty power-mongering). He has been fortunate to be a MacArthur fellow (1985-90) and twice a Fulbrighter (Greece 79-80 and Austria 92-93). He is also founding director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory here at UT Austin. His published intellectual work has covered Greek prehistory, ancient economy, society and religion, the history of writing and administration, “myths” of war and violence, film and the music of Bob Dylan. He also writes regular op-ed pieces on general cultural topics for the Austin American-Statesman and regular reviews for the London Times Higher Education Supplement, and frequently visits Austin grade schools and high schools for outreach. Professor Palaima’s most recent claims to fame, however, are the appearance of his hands writing the opening lines of the Iliad on papyrus in 6th-c. B.C.E. epichoric script for a Discovery Channel documentary on Troy and the Trojan horse (first shown May 2004), and a three-minute commentary about ancient warfare on NPR (August 2004).

Grading Policy

This course does not contain a substantial writing component. The course will be run in a seminar-discussion format. Grades will be based on two written assignments, one on an assigned topic and another on a topic of your own choosing, (20% and 30% of final grade, respectively), two class reports combined with leading of class discussion (15% and 25%) and overall class participation (10%).


Selections from: W. Burkert, Greek Religion L. B. Zaidman and P.S. Pantel, Religion in the Ancient Greek City N. Marinatos, Minoan Religion M. P. Nilsson; Cults, Myths, Oracles, and Politics in Ancient Greece Translations of Linear B Tablets and Hittite documents Translations from I. De Prott and L. Ziehen, “The Sacred Laws of the Greek City States Collected from Inscriptions” Homer, The Iliad (trans. Lombardo) Hesiod, Theogony, Works and Days (trans. Lombardo) Homeric Hymns Aeschylus; Agamemnon, Choephoroi, Libation Bearers Euripides, Bacchae Sophocles; Antigone, Oedipus Tyrannus Thucydides, Account of the Plague at Athens A course booklet containing plans and illustrations for iconographical, architectural, and artifactual evidence for religion. It will also contain selected readings of key articles in modern specialized scholarship, including a few of my own.


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