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Anthropomorphism, Theatre, Epiphany: From Herodotus to Hellenistic Historians

Abstract : This paper argues that, beginning with the Euripidean deus ex machina, dramatic festivals introduced a new standard into epiphanic rituals and experience. Through the scenic double énonciation, gods are seen by mythical heroes as gods, but by the Athenian spectators as costumed actors and fictive entities. People could scarcely believe these were 'real' gods, but would have no doubt been impressed by the scenic machinery. Thus the Homeric theme of a hero's likeness to the gods developed into the Hellenistic theme of the godlike ruler's (or actor's) theatrical success (or deceit). So in the Athenians' Hymn to Demetrius Poliorcetes, a victorious ruler entering a city is welcomed as a better god than the gods themselves. The simultaneous rise in popularity of paradoxical stories and experiences in the Hellenistic period was grounded not in believing, but in disbelieving-a phenomenon associated with antiquarian interests, the self-publicity of religious sanctuaries, or amazed credulity. People were increasingly drawn to 'real' gods, leading to long pilgrimages and extensive financial outlay (in the mysteries) in order to see them. I investigate this phenomenon by focusing upon fragments of the 'mimetic' or 'tragic' Greek historians that survive from this period. This paper explores whats seems to be a growing internal change in Greek religion between the fifth and third centuries BC-a progressive shift from performance (when ritual acts by itself, its spectacular character remaining optional) to spectacle (when people put emphasis on impressive delusion, in order to strengthen the reliability of ritual acting), or from ritual drama to the mimetic spectacle of lifelike, plausible appearances. Our aim is to identify a kind of terminus post quem of this change by looking to epiphanic ritual, theatrical mise en scène and individual experience. We argue that while godlike men and women-as well as gods in human form-feature in texts from archaic poetry to the Roman novel, earlier texts emphasize the role of divine grandeur, gods' trickery or ritual performance¹ in such manifestations, while Hellenistic and Greek Imperial texts emphasize the role of illusion, or, conversely , the enduring nature of the divine.
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Renée Koch Piettre. Anthropomorphism, Theatre, Epiphany: From Herodotus to Hellenistic Historians. Archiv für Religionsgeschichte, De Gruyter, 2018, pp.189-209. ⟨10.1515/arege-2018-0012⟩. ⟨halshs-02433986⟩

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