Funereally meaty

Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum I
October 28, 2005

A great many outward and visible signs of religious activity are preserved in the mass of surviving textual, archaeological and iconographic evidence from classical lands. They are currently being listed, classified and assessed in the new Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum , scheduled for completion in five illustrated volumes. The full set will be bigger than anything previously attempted in this most challenging sector of classical studies; that it can be contemplated now is a result of the scholarly mechanisms created in Basel and elsewhere during the production of the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (1981-99; eight double volumes of text and plates).

Although its layout will be familiar to users of the Lexicon , the Thesaurus is structured thematically rather than alphabetically. This first volume thus deals with just five basic cult activities. Further "dynamic" elements (among them purification, initiation, malediction and profanation) in volumes II and III will complete the coverage of cult practice; volumes IV and V will be concerned with the "static" elements (places, personnel and instruments) and will be followed by an index volume.

Meanwhile, the long chapters on processions, sacrifices and dedications in volume I are divided into sections: Greek and Roman in all three, together with Etruscan processions and sacrifices and Cypriot dedications. The sections and subsections of the chapters are written in each specialist contributor's preferred language - English, French, German or Italian, all of which are used in the 124 pages devoted to Roman (including early Italian) dedications; the brief undivided chapters on libations and fumigations are presented entirely in German.

In each chapter and section, an introductory essay is followed by bibliography and sources; the latter, in the form of literary excerpts, inscriptions and references to images, are accompanied by a limited range of illustrations (and pointers to many more in the Lexicon ).

Christianity is excluded, and peripheral areas of the classical world are mentioned only when their religious practices are firmly based on, or akin to, those of the Greek and Roman cores. There, varying degrees of selectivity have inevitably been applied, and other choices have had to be made as well.

Even so, I was surprised to read that weddings and funerals "lie outside the scope" of the section on Greek processions and to find that "the most detailed surviving description" of a Greek procession is "too long to quote here". More generally, I wonder if the transcription of previously published translations of the literary sources is appropriate. The original Greek and Latin texts surely hold no terrors for readers at this end of the market: and, when it is complete, the Thesaurus itself may help us to improve on some of the English and other versions of the testimonia quoted here.

That said, it is clear enough on the showing of volume I that the Thesaurus continues the good work of the Lexicon in making it impossible for archaeologists and art historians to neglect the ancient written sources, or for epigraphers and literary specialists to underrate the material record. Best of all, when we have the full set of dynamic and static elements, we shall all be able to reflect on the inward and spiritual meaning of all this hard evidence with far more information at our fingertips than we have had before.

David Ridgway is associate fellow, Institute of Classical Studies, University of London.

Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum I: Processions, Sacrifices, Libations, Fumigations, Dedications

Editor - Bertrand Jaeger
Publisher - J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles www. windsorbooks.co.uk
Pages - 612
Price - £125.00
ISBN - 0 89236 788 1

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