Greek incubation rituals in Classical and Hellenistic times
Abstract: This study documents and analyzes the structure and function of Greek incubation rituals in Classical and Hellenistic times. The first part (Chapter 2) examines all relevant literary and epigraphical testimonia concerning the rites and rules surrounding incubation. In the second part (Chapters 3-5) the structure and function of the ritual complex are analyzed. As a first step, it is shown that there was no coherent structure of the ritual at all the sanctuaries offering it, but that the ritual practice varied according to local customs and factors such as size of the cult (the common factor being to sleep in a sacred place). In the next step, theoretical models are used to explain the function of the rituals. Previous approaches, explaining incubation as a Chthonian phenomenon, a rite of passage, or comparable to initiation in mystery cults, are shown not to conform to the testimonia at hand on incubation rites. An analysis of the social context of the rites surrounding incubation shows that incubation rites other than at the dormitory differed surprisingly little from the rites of other worshippers at these sanctuaries. Various ritual factors are explored to explain why low intensity rites might create a high intensity experience. In the final chapter, the structure of incubation rituals, entailing both ordinary rites for any worshipper and rites comparable to those of priests acting as intermediaries with the gods, is examined in the light of its origins in Greece. Disproving previous theories on the origins of incubation, it is argued that the phenomenon started as an exclusive consultation technique for priests, magistrates and select worshippers, being a natural variant of oracular techniques in Archaic and Early Classical Greece. When incubation appeared for everyone in society in Classical times and in the cult of Asklepios, rituals for the masses were constructed, keeping some rites for intermediaries but adding new motivational factors, which in total made up for very popular cults. This development might be seen as a democratization of the phenomenon of incubation.
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