Chapter

Ancestral Gods, Ancestral Tombs: The Household and Beyond

Robert Parker

in Polytheism and Society at Athens

Published in print March 2007 | ISBN: 9780199216116
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191705847 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199216116.003.0002
Ancestral Gods, Ancestral Tombs: The Household and Beyond

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According to a proverb, ‘starting from Hestia’ was for Greeks the proper way to begin; and in describing an Athenians' religious world it seems natural to do just that — by starting from the unit of which Hestia is the symbol, the individual household (oikos) with its associated cults. The Athenians did not think in terms of the religion of the household or household gods, but they did have altars within their homes where members of the household joined together to worship. Some few Athenians were buried along with their great-great-grandfathers and may, before their own death, have brought them offerings. But smaller tomb groupings with less historical depth were much more common. The extending argument is that household gods were merely a subset of the gods whom the Greeks themselves called ancestral gods, a group in some contexts identical with the gods of the city, but more particularly associated with the phratry (or genos).

Keywords: ancestral gods; ancestral tombs; ancient Athens; household; Hestia; cults; oikos; religion; phratry; burial

Chapter.  16195 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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