Mefsout, Aggelos. "Multiple Cult Epithets within the Polis: Apollo Delios as a Case Study." CHS Research Bulletin 11 (2023). https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:103377751
University of Crete Pre-doctoral Fellow in Hellenic Studies 2022–23
In 2022 I had the unique privilege of being appointed as a Pre-doctoral Fellow in Hellenic Studies by the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University. This tremendous opportunity has been a milestone in my academic career, as well as a pivotal point in the continuation of my ongoing research as part of my doctoral dissertation.
The title of my dissertation is “Apollo Delios and the Spread of his Cult in the Aegean”, under the supervision of Dimitrios Bosnakis, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Crete. During the ongoing study addressing this particular cult, I am constantly confronted with the issue of the parallel presence of distinct cults centered around Apollo within the cultic and ritual context of the same polis. The coexistence of exclusively local epithets and epithets that are common in many parts of the Greek world form a fertile ground for the understanding of this specific aspect of Greek religion. The research carried out under the CHS Pre-doctoral Fellowship was ideally combined with the subject matter of my doctoral dissertation in an effort to elucidate the meaning of a variety of cult epithets which Apollo can bear within the cultic life of ancient Greek communities.
The title of this research project is “Multiple Cult Epithets within the Polis: Apollo Delios as a Case Study.” Through this project I tried to shed light on this phenomenon by examining the cult epithets of Apollo in four major city-states of the Aegean as case studies, namely Paros, Thasos, Kameiros and Kos. In those cities the cult of Apollo Delios is epigraphically attested, while in the cases of Paros and Thasos the sanctuaries of Apollo Delios (so-called “Delia”) have also been excavated, wholly or in part (for Paros see Rubensohn 1962; for Thasos see Grandjean and Salviat 2006; Grandjean and Salviat 2012). These four cities were chosen due to some particularities both in terms of their process of formation and in terms of their religious landscapes. Furthermore, they offer a prolific epigraphic material related to the cult epithets of Apollo in question.
After a brief presentation of the history of the cities, as well as of the position of the cult of Apollo Delios in them, I proceeded to a rudimentary categorization of the rest of the known epithets of Apollo into various groups, based on their form and the function of the deity which they underlined in each case. For the interpretation of the epithets, I utilized both possible interpretations that had already been given in antiquity as well as interpretations based on modern scholarship and archaeological finds (e.g., Graf 1996; Brulé 1998; Parker 2003; Versnel 2011; Parker 2021). Certain epithets and, by extension, cults seem to dominate over others, both geographically and temporally (Pythios, Delios, Karneios). A category with somewhat clearer boundaries is the group of toponymic and topographic epithets, associated with a specific location, although this is not always revealing in relation to the character or of the cult. Another category of epithets underlines the healing and protective aspect of Apollo (e.g. Apotropaios, Pharmakios, Prostaterios etc.). A category of epithets that can be defined with some precision are those which suggest a pastoral/agricultural character (e.g. Epimelidios/Epimelios, Mylantios, Petasites etc.). In addition, there are also some so-called poetic epithets, which often appear in literary texts (e.g. Hekebolos, Mousagetes, Nymphegetes). Nevertheless, some of the epithets cannot be strictly categorized. Thus, it becomes evident that the strict division of epithets into different groups is not always easy, since some of those overlap either because of their very form or because of the need that they served.
The attempted interpretation of the meaning of the other epithets – besides that of ‘Delios’ – and the revelation of the corresponding characteristics of the god could be extremely helpful in unveiling the needs that all those cults fulfilled within the cities under examination. Moreover, a deductive reasoning, through the comparison of the divine properties underlined by the various epithets and the known characteristics of these other cults paid to Apollo, can in some cases highlight, wholly or in part, the distinctive character of the cult of Apollo Delios vis-à-vis the other cults of the god. Furthermore, it can surely contribute to the understanding of the original meaning of the epithet and eventually in the identification of the specific needs of the devotees that this particular epiclesis fulfilled within the specific religious and sociopolitical context of every single polis, a fact which in every probability lies behind the widespread diffusion of the cult in the Greek world (for a relatively recent collated list of the testimonies in connection with spread of the cult, see Grandjean and Salviat 2006, pp. 318–324). In this respect, the project contributed greatly to one of the main goals of my dissertation, which is to understand, as much as possible, the original meaning of this particular cult.
The research project led to some preliminary conclusions, which can be incorporated in my PhD dissertation but also expanded into future research projects. The examination of the epithets shows the level of specialization that a deity could acquire by bearing a particular epithet. The epithet Delios, with its enduring and extensive presence, seems to have expressed the desire of the inhabitants of the Aegean to maintain a close relationship with the sacred island, the birthplace of Apollo. Furthermore, the fact that it does not seem to be exclusively associated with a certain ethnos or city, the absence of any distinct specialization but also its toponymic connection with the sanctuary of Delos, possibly indicate that it was underlining a primary essence of the god, containing a multitude of properties and being common to all Greeks and especially to the islanders. The conclusions of my research could also be implemented on other well-known case studies related to Apollo or other deities with toponymic epithets attested outside the place they indicate (e.g. Apollo Pythios, Artemis Ephesia or Athena Itonia). Moreover, the study of the totality of the cults of the same deity, but with different epithets in the context of a particular polis, could perhaps lead to very interesting observations regarding this feature of ancient Greek polytheism. I am also extremely grateful that my research paper was published in the FirstDrafts@Classics@, thus being my first publication in a foreign language journal.
Apart from the research proposal discussed above and its relation to the general research questions of my dissertation, I must underline the privileges offered by the fellowship. First and foremost, the access provided to Harvard University’s online databases and resources. Through this I was able to gain access to bibliography necessary for the completion of my dissertation, which would have not been otherwise accessible physically or digitally in Greece. Furthermore, the trip to Washington DC, at the physical location of the CHS, gave me the opportunity to have unlimited access to the Center’s Library.
Regarding the aforementioned trip, it was a profound experience in many ways. I was able to visit significant and world-renowned cultural and scientific institutions of Washington DC (e.g., Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, Dumbarton Oaks, National Gallery of Art), as well as major historical sites (National Mall, U.S. Capitol, National Archives). I also became acquainted with the fellow recipients of the CHS Pre-doctoral fellowship, as well as with visiting fellows, researchers and scholars of diverse academic backgrounds and interests, residing at the CHS. In that way I was able to expand my academic network.
Following a presentation at the Center (Fellows Talk: Pre-doctoral Fellows in Hellenic Studies), I received very fruitful feedback and commentary, implemented both on this particular project as well as on my dissertation which is underway. The fact that I was able to present the results of my project to the other resident fellows of the CHS, has also been an important personal milestone, since it was the first time, I addressed an academic audience in a foreign language. All of the aforementioned experiences have been major personal stimuli, offering new perspectives in my research. In addition, all the benefits offered through this fellowship proved really helpful and inspiring towards my further pursuit of my research interests related to the project I undertook as a CHS Pre-doctoral fellow.
In conclusion, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my academic advisor, Associate Professor Melina Tamiolaki, who has been extremely supportive, providing useful guidance throughout my appointment as a CHS fellow. Moreover, I am really thankful to all the community of the CHS, both in Greece and in Washington DC for their support in all the phases of the fellowship and their kind hospitality during my stay in the U.S.
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