Douglas Cairns continues exploring his favourite articles from the Journal of Hellenic Studies archive.  You can access these articles for free by following the links below, or you can read his previous post.

JHS 1973 was another classic issue, a volume in honour of E. R. Dodds on his eightieth birthday.  As well as poetic tributes by Hugh Lloyd-Jones (in Greek) and W. H. Auden, the volume features articles on themes close to Dodds’s heart by an outstanding cast of scholars that includes Jacqueline de Romilly, Albrecht Dihle, K. J. Dover, A. J. Festugière, Denys Page, and Bruno Snell.  A number of the articles remain fixtures on reading lists the world over – Lloyd-Jones on modern interpretations of Pindar, Page on Stesichorus’ Geryoneïs, and Winnington-Ingram on Zeus in the Persae among them.

Equally regularly cited is John Gould’s Hiketeia.  Gould, then Professor of Classics at the University College of Swansea, had preceded Colin Macleod as Tutor in Classics at Christ Church; already in 1982 Macleod recognized his predecessor’s paper as a ‘classic treatment of supplication’ (p. 140 n. 75).  Gould deploys the insights and methods of cultural anthropology, drawing especially on E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Julian Pitt-Rivers, J. K. Campbell, and Alvin Gouldner, as well as on the work of other pioneers in the application of these methods to Classical Studies, such as Walter Burkert, Jean-Pierre Vernant, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, to set out the ‘rules’ of the ‘game’ that is hiketeia, especially as a dynamic force in the narratives of Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides, and in the plays of the Attic tragedians.  This, as Gould points out, was a theme that had been ‘almost totally ignored in what is written in standard words [sic: sc. ‘works’] on the social and religious institutions of ancient Greece’ (p. 74). Accordingly, his aim was ‘to provide a modest and partial account both of the institution as a ritual act and of its place and significance in the fabric of Greek social institutions’ (p. 75).

Richly rewarding, stimulating, and informative as the article is, it was never intended to provide the last word on the subject; it is, after all, only 30 pages long.  Part of its significance, indeed, is the impetus that it gave to those who wished to take its ideas further by testing and modifying them.  Recently, Gould’s approach to supplication as a ‘game with rules’, with its emphasis on physical contact either with a person’s body (especially the chin and the knees) or with an altar, as well as its distinction between ‘full’ supplication, involving ritual contact, and ‘figurative’, in words alone, has been criticized by F. S. Naiden (Ancient Supplication (Oxford, 2006), especially pp. 8-12).  Naiden surveys a much wider range of evidence, over a longer historical period, than Gould did, and his book is immensely valuable for its wealth of detail, its focus on historical as well as literary evidence, and its account of Greco-Roman supplication as a ‘quasi-legal’ practice.  He takes a much less formalist view, placing more emphasis on the power of suppliants’ arguments and the merits of their case.  But his claim that, for Gould, the ritual performance of supplication is ‘invariably successful, provided the requirements of the ritual are met’ (pp. 8-9, cf. p. 11) is – as a reader will see within seconds of opening Gould’s article – a caricature.  Gould is perfectly well aware not only that his ‘rules’ of ‘full’ supplication are subject to gamesmanship, but also that they may simply be ignored (pp. 81, 83).

What Gould’s approach explains better than Naiden’s does is why gamesmanship should even be necessary. Gould may, in contrast to Naiden, pay too little attention to the merits of the suppliant’s case, but his frequent references to the suppliant’s use of persuasive rhetoric show that he certainly did not think that arguments were ‘superfluous’ (pace Naiden, p. 11). According to Naiden (p. 10), Gould ignores ‘myth and morality’; but the emotion of aidôs, to which Gould devotes five stimulating pages (pp. 85-90), is not just an aspect of ‘the psychology of ritual’ and much more than ‘a sense of respect for the gods’ (Naiden, ibid.).  Gould does not think that aidôs is ‘the Greek term’ for respect for the rules of the game of supplication (Naiden, p. 133): he knows very well what the term means, and expects that his readers will too.  His emphasis on aidôs as a dynamic aspect of the interaction between suppliant and supplicated is part of his recognition that the morality of supplication is deeply embedded in the social values of honour (timê), ‘a value … of universally accepted significance in the society of ancient Greece’ (p. 75). Naiden, by contrast, in paying too little attention to the dynamics of timê, to the social norms in which timê is implicated, and to the emotions which sustain and depend on those norms, may be thought to being operating with an unnecessarily thin notion of ‘morality’.  Though I came to disagree in many respects with Gould’s characterization of aidôs, his article was still an immense influence on my PhD thesis on that topic, eventually revised and expanded as a book, Aidôs (Oxford 1993).

To be continued…

We will continue to share these article highlights from Douglas Cairns on Wednesday 16 August.  Don’t forget you can access any of these articles for free using the links above.

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