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worship, household


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The domestic cult of a Greek family concerned the protection and prosperity of the house and its occupants, with daily small offerings and prayers to Zeus Ktēsios (protector of the stores), Zeus Herkeios (protector of the wall or fence surrounding the house), and Apollo Agyieus (of the streets) whose image stood at the house's street entrance. The hearth, as Hestia, was sacred, and at mealtimes a bit of food was placed there as a first‐fruits offering. Similarly, before drinking wine, libations were poured on the floor to Hestia or at formal banquets to Zeus and the heroes, to the Agathos Daimon, or to other deities. In these family cults the rituals seem of primary importance and hence were widespread, while the deities honoured varied from place to place. The father served as priest for the family, however, and that may partially explain the regular appearance of Zeus, father of the gods. The admission of new members to the family (brides, babies, and slaves) was marked by initiation rites, often involving the hearth and featuring fertility symbols. Death brought to the household a pollution which was effaced only by the passage of a set period of time.

The Roman domestic cult was similar, centred on the hearth (Vesta), with somewhat more elaborate table ritual, and with Janus watching the door, the Di Penates guarding the stores, and the Lar Familiaris (see lares) offering more general protection. Like their Greek counterparts these deities remained numinous, without distinct personality or mythology. The functions of the Lares and Di Penates were regularly confused. They were housed in the larārium, many examples of which are known from Pompeii.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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