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Hecate


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Was a popular and ubiquitous goddess from the time of Hesiod until late antiquity. Unknown in Homer and harmless in Hesiod, she emerges by the 5th cent. as a more sinister figure associated with magic and witchcraft, lunar lore and creatures of the night, dog sacrifices and illuminated cakes, as well as doorways and crossroads. In Hesiod's Theogony, she is praised as a powerful goddess who ‘has a share’ of earth, sea, and sky—but not the Underworld—and who gives protection to warriors, athletes, hunters, herdsmen, and fishermen.

Throughout her long history, Hecate received public as well as private cult, the latter often taking abnormal forms. She was worshipped in liminal places, and sacrifices to her were as anomalous as the goddess herself. In Athens altars and cult images of Hecate stood in front of private homes and esp. at forks in the road. Her favourite food offerings consisted of a scavenging fish tabooed in other cults—the red mullet—of sacrificial cakes decorated with lit miniature torches, and, most notoriously, of puppies. The illuminated cakes were offered at the time of the full moon.

Hecate's nocturnal apparitions, packs of barking hell‐hounds, and hosts of ghost‐like revenants, occupied a special place in the Greek religious imagination. She protected the crossroads as well as the graves by the roadside. Having become a permanent fixture of the Greek and Roman Underworld, she gives Virgil's Sibyl, a priestess of Apollo and Hecate, a guided tour of Tartarus. Because of her association with the Underworld and the ghosts of the dead, Hecate looms large in ancient magic. Sorceresses of all periods and every provenance invoke her name as one who makes powerful spells more potent.

Representations of Hecate in art fall into two broad categories—her images are either single‐faced or three‐faced. After c.430 bc, the goddess of the crossroads is often shown as a standing female figure with three faces or bodies, each corresponding to one of the crossing roads.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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