Garner's Greek Mythology

EP 35: Greek Priestesses - Power-Brokers for the Gods

November 14, 2021 Patrick Garner Season 2 Episode 35
Garner's Greek Mythology
EP 35: Greek Priestesses - Power-Brokers for the Gods
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 35. In this show we identify the most exalted and powerful mortal women in Greece. Who were they? ... Priestesses, serving goddesses, and in some cases, gods.

These women were the equivalent of today’s superstars. Their names were known by everyone, they conducted sacrifices, and they led festivals and celebrations throughout the year.

But their most important function was to act as intermediaries, connecting ancient Greek women to the divine ...

Narrated by mythologist and best-selling author, Patrick Garner, Garner's Greek Mythology is unlike any other Greek history series.  Here these divine beings are viewed as if they were anything but mythical...

If you love this podcast, you'll also enjoy new stories about the gods in Garner's novel Homo Divinitas, now available as an audio book on Amazon.com and Audible.com.

Support the show

DON’T THINK FOR A MINUTE THAT WOMEN IN ANCIENT GREECE WERE CHATTEL. YES, MANY WERE BOUND TO THE HOUSEHOLD IN CIRCUMSTANCES THAT MODERN WOMEN WOULD PROTEST ... 

BUT THERE WERE OTHERS WHO PLAYED A HIGHLY PUBLIC ROLE ... WE’VE DISCUSSED MEDEA, CIRCE, KALYPSO, & THE AMAZONS — ALL HAD DIVINE BLOOD ... 

NOW IT'S TIME WE CONSIDERED THE MOST POWERFUL MORTAL WOMEN. 

THEY WERE THE PRIESTESSES, THE WORLDLY REPRESENTATIVES OF GODDESSES & MORE RARELY, OF GODS. 

PRIESTESSES WHO SERVED ATHENE, HERA, ARTEMIS, DEMETER, HESTIA & HEKATE WERE FORMIDABLE. SO WERE THOSE WHO SERVED  ZEUS, APOLLO & DIONYSUS. 

AND EVEN THOUGH THEY SHARED THAT ROLE WITH PRIESTS, THEY WERE AS COMMANDING AS ANY MAN. 

THE TAKEAWAY IS THAT GODDESSES WERE AS POWERFUL AS GODS — & THAT PRIESTESSES SERVED BOTH.

BUT THE REAL POWER-BROKER AMONG WOMEN? IT WAS THE PRIESTESS WHO DID DOUBLE-DUTY AS AN ORACLE. 

SHE WAS SUCH A FORCE THAT EVEN GENERALS WOULD NOT GO INTO BATTLE  WITHOUT HER CONCURRENCE.

ACCORDINGLY, PRIESTESSES WERE REVERED & EXALTED ... THEY CONNECTED THE GREEKS TO THE GODS & GODDESSES WHO HAD CREATED THEIR WORLD ... 

& THOSE WHO WERE ... ORACLES ... WERE MOST REVERED AS THEY COULD FORETELL THE TWISTS & TURNS OF THE FUTURE ...

THIS IS EPISODE 35 OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. WE HAVE LISTENERS FROM 148 COUNTRIES ... SO WELCOME TO EVERYONE, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

I'M YOUR HOST, MYTHOLOGIST & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, PATRICK GARNER. 

THESE STORIES ABOUT THE GODS HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. BUT NOW THERE ARE NEW STORIES THAT ARE AS COMPELLING.

IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY DONE SO, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GODS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. THEY'RE PART OF THE WINNOWING TRILOGY.

YOU CAN READ ABOUT THEM & ABOUT THIS PODCAST AT PATRICKGARNERBOOKS.COM. 

AND AS ALWAYS, THIS PODCAST FOCUSES ON ONE THING ... GREEK GODS, OF COURSE. THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE HERE, NOW ...

FIRST A CALL-OUT TO JOAN CONNELLY, A Professor of Classics and Art History, FOR HER GROUNDBREAKING BOOKS, "PORTRAIT OF A PRIESTESS" & "THE PARTHENON ENIGMA" ... 

CONNELLY'S DECADES OF RESEARCH HAVE OPENED A NEW DOOR TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WOMEN'S ROLES IN ANCIENT GREECE.

SOME OF HER DISCOVERIES ARE WHAT WE'LL DISCUSS IN TODAY'S EPISODE ...

GENERALLY, PRIESTESSES REPRESENTED GODDESSES. THE EXCEPTIONS? THERE WERE TWO WHO WERE ALSO ORACLES & SERVED GODS.

ZEUS' HAD AN ORACLE AT DODONA DATING BACK TO 1600 B.C., but HIS ORACLE WHO was not ORIGINALLY female. 

APOLLO’S ORACLE AT DELPHI WAS ESTABLISHED CENTURIES LATER & WAS ALWAYS A WOMAN. A SUCCESSION OF PRIESTESSES FILLED THE ROLE FOR OVER A MILLENNIUM.

IN THE BEGINNING THE DELPHIC ORACLE WAS A VIRGIN, BUT after INSTANCEs OF HER BEING ABDUCTED & violated. SHE WAS REQUIRED TO BE OLDER THAN 50.

YOU MAY REMEMBER THAT SHE WAS CALLED THE PYTHIA. her name was derived from a MASSIVE python that HAD ONCE occupied delphi.

apollo killed the snake & ESTABLISHED his temple there ... AND to administer the new temple, HE brought in hieros, or sacred clergy. 

THEY WERE PRIESTS & PRIESTESSES, but his oracle was always female.

ZEUS' ORACLE TENDED TO PROPHESY ABOUT PERSONAL MATTERS, WHEREAS APOLLO'S OPINED ABOUT MATTERS OF STATE & WAR ... 

HOW WAS APOLLO'S PYTHIA SELECTED? WE'RE NOT CERTAIN. WE DO KNOW THAT SHE WAS A PRIESTESS WHO HAD ALREADY SERVED HIM FOR DECADES.

SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN IMMERSED IN THE ORACULAR LANGUAGE & TRADITION ... SHE WOULD HAVE SPENT DECADES WATCHING THE FORMER PYTHIA.

SO WHEN SHE TOOK OVER THE SACRED OFFICE, SHE WAS SIMPLY ONE WOMAN IN AN ANCIENT LINE OF PYTHIAS.

DESPITE HER AGE, SHE DRESSED AS A MAIDEN, APPEARING BAREFOOT & WEARING A HEAD COVERING. 

AS SHE LISTENED TO PETITIONERS FROM ACROSS THE REGION, SHE SAT ON A HIGH, ORNATE TRIPOD, HOLDING A BOWL WITH SACRED WATER IN ONE HAND, & A LAUREL BOUGH IN THE OTHER ...

OF INTEREST, ORACULAR CONSULTATIONS WERE HELD IN A LOWER CHAMBER WHICH WAS SITUATED OVER AN ANCIENT FISSURE IN THE EARTH.

SOME SCHOLARS BELIEVE THAT THE FISSURE EMITTED HALLUCINOGENIC GASES & THAT THE PYTHIA SPOKE IN AN ALTERED STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS.

AND AS SHE SPOKE FOR APOLLO, SHE DID SO WITH GRAVE AUTHORITY. 

HER PRONOUNCEMENTS WENT UNQUESTIONED. BUT THE GREEKS WERE PRACTICAL. 

IT WASN'T ENOUGH THAT SHE WAS CONSIDERED THE GOD'S VOICE. THEY EXPECTED HER PREDICTIONS TO BE ACCURATE.

WHAT THEY GOT WAS AT LEAST THAT GOOD. AS AN ORACLE, SHE APPROACHED PERFECTION ...

AND AS A RESULT, THE PYTHIA WAS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL MORTALS IN THE GREEK WORLD.

THERE WERE OTHER INFLUENTIAL PRIESTESSES. THEY SERVED ATHENE, HERA, DEMETER & PERSEPHONE ...

AS AN INTERESTING ASIDE, AS MODERNS WE DATE KEY EVENTS IN ANCIENT GREECE USING THE JULIAN CALENDAR, WHICH WAS FIRST PROPOSED BY JULIUS CAESAR.

BUT THE GREEKS MARKED DATES DIFFERENTLY. THEY OFTEN USED THE NAMES OF PRIESTESSES TO DATE HISTORIC EVENTS. 

THUCYDIDES, THE ANCIENT HISTORIAN, MARKED THE BEGINNING OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR BY NOTING IT BEGAN IN THE 48th YEAR OF CHRYSIS' SERVICE AS A PRIESTESS OF HERA AT ARGOS.

DOING SO MADE SENSE AS EVERYONE KNEW EXACTLY WHO & WHAT HE REFERENCED.

AS JOAN CONNELLY NOTES, THESE WERE HOUSEHOLD NAMES, SO MUCH SO THAT THE PRIESTESSES WERE REGULARLY PORTRAYED IN CONTEMPORARY THEATRE & ART.

PERHAPS THE BEST KNOWN OF THESE SUPERSTARS WAS LYSIMACHE, A PRIESTESS SERVING ATHENE IN ATHENS.

LYSIMACHE DIED AT AGE 88, HAVING SERVED THE GODDESS FOR 64 YEARS. SHE WAS ONE OF ATHENS BIGGEST NAMES.

BUT WE SHOULDN'T ASSIGN HER CINEMATIC ATTRIBUTES. BY THAT I MEAN, WHAT DO WE THINK ABOUT WHEN WE IMAGINE ANCIENT PRIESTESSES?

MOVIES PORTRAY THEM AS YOUNG WOMEN. FOR INSTANCE, THE ROMAN VESTAL VIRGINS WERE ALL CELIBATE.

FOR THEM, FALLING IN LOVE WAS A SACRILEGE. THE ROMANS FREQUENTLY KILLED ANY PRIESTESS CAUGHT IN A ROMANTIC FLING.

BUT GREECE HELD NO SUCH EXPECTATIONS. LYSIMACHE SERVES AS A GOOD EXAMPLE AS SHE RAISED FOUR CHILDREN WHILE SHE WAS HEAD PRIESTESS.

SHE WAS MARRIED & SHARP-TONGUED. THE PLAYWRIGHT ARISTOPHANES LAMPOONED HER IN HIS FAMOUS PLAY, LYSISTRATA.

IN IT THE WOMEN OF GREECE COME TOGETHER TO TELL THEIR MEN THAT, UNLESS THEY STOP MAKING WAR, THEIR WIVES WILL STOP MAKING LOVE.

THE LEAD FEMALE, LYSISTRATA, IS BELIEVED TO BE MODELED CLOSELY AFTER LYSIMACHE. 

IN GREEK, LYSISTRATA MEANS DISSOLVER OF ARMIES, WHILE LYSIMACHE MEANS ... DISSOLVER OF BATTLE

CONNELLY OBSERVES THAT THE AUDIENCE WOULD HAVE IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZED THE HUMOROUS PLAY ON WORDS.

IN EPISODE 15 OF THIS SERIES I HIGHLIGHTED THE Eleusinian mysteries, THE ANNUAL REVELATIONS THAT TOOK PLACE IN ELEUSIS.

THERE, FOR MORE THAN A THOUSAND YEARS, A SERIES OF PRIESTESSES SERVING THE GODDESS DEMETER & HER DAUGHTER PERSEPHONE PRESIDED OVER THE EVENT.

THIS POSITION WAS IMMENSELY PRESTIGIOUS. NOT ONLY DID THE PRIESTESS REPRESENT GODDESSES, HER NAME WAS USED TO DATE THE YEARS SHE SERVED.

LIKE THOSE SERVING ATHENE, THE PRIESTESSES AT ELEUSIS COULD BE MARRIED & HAVE CHILDREN.

THE OFFICES WERE FREQUENTLY HEREDITARY, WITH BLOODLINES DETERMINING WHETHER A WOMAN WAS QUALIFIED.

ALONG WITH PRESTIGE, SHE WAS FINANCIALLY REWARDED. CONNELLY STATES THAT "THIS WAS THE MOST FINANCIALLY LUCRATIVE OF ALL SACRED OFFICES OPEN TO WOMEN ..."

THEY WERE PAID FOR CARRYING OUT THEIR DUTIES AT THE ELEUSINIA, PAID FOR EACH NEW INDUCTEE TO THE MYSTERIES & PAID FOR FAVORABLE SACRIFICES.

WHAT DO I MEAN BY 'FAVORABLE'? SACRIFICES WERE ALWAYS EVALUATED FOR SIGNS FROM THE GODS. THEY COULD BE FAVORABLE OR OTHERWISE. 

SACRIFICES VIEWED AS AUSPICIOUS WERE CELEBRATED, & THE PRIESTESSES, ACTING AS INTERMEDIARIES FOR THE DIVINE, WERE HANDSOMELY REWARDED ...

HOLDING HIGH OFFICE as A PRIESTESS came with RISKS as well as rewards. EARLIER I MENTIONED CHRYSIS WHO SERVED IN ARGOS.

ALTHOUGH SHE HAD HER NAME CITED BY THUCYDIDES TO IDENTIFY THE START OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR, HER FAME TOOK AN UNFORTUNATE TURN.

ON A SUMMER EVENING IN 423 B.C., CHRYSIS SET DOWN HER TORCH WITHIN THE SANCTUARY & FELL ASLEEP.

SHE AWOKE TO A RAGING FIRE. THE TORCH HAD ALIGHTED GARLANDS SET ASIDE FOR THE GODDESS.

TERRIFIED OF RETALIATION FOR HER CARELESSNESS, CHRYSIS FLED FOR HER LIFE. OF COURSE THIS WOULD PROTECT HER FROM THE CITY'S WRATH ...

BUT NOT FROM THE GODDESS SHE HAD SERVED FOR MORE THAN 56 YEARS.

HER NEGLIGENCE CONSTITUTED DERELICTION OF DUTY. SHE KNEW THIS MIGHT UNLEASH HERA'S FURY ON THE ENTIRE CITY.

CHRYSIS WAS NOT THE ONLY PRIESTESS TO FIND HER WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN ... AROUND 360 B.C., AN ATHENIAN PRIESTESS NAMED NINOS MET HER END.

THE GREEK ORATOR DEMOSTHENES NOTES THAT A COMPLAINT WAS BROUGHT AGAINST HER. REPORTS VARY BUT HER CRIME WAS UNFORGIVABLE.

WHY? SHE WAS ACCUSED OF MOCKING DIONYSUS ... PROSECUTED BEFORE A JURY ... FOUND GUILTY ... & EXECUTED.

THESE GREEK PRIESTESSES WERE HARDLY MODEST WOMEN, EXPECTED TO QUIETLY TEND TO CHILDREN & OTHERWISE DISAPPEAR. 

ON THE CONTRARY, THEY LED PROCESSIONS & CONDUCTED MANY OF THE MOST IMPORTANT RITUALS ASSOCIATED WITH THE CITY'S MOST IMPORTANT GODDESSES.

THEIR DUTIES WERE CONSIDERED SACRED — & GENDER SPECIFIC. 

YOU SEE, THE GODS HAD SET THESE ROLES ASIDE FOR WOMEN. THE ANCIENT PLAYWRIGHT EURIPIDES HAS ONE OF HIS CHARACTERS SAY,

"AS FOR THE HOLY RITUALS PERFORMED FOR THE FATES & OTHER GODDESSES, THESE ARE NOT HOLY IN MEN'S HANDS ...

"BUT AMONG WOMEN THEY FLOURISH, EVERY ONE OF THEM. THUS IN HOLY SERVICE, WOMAN PLAYS THE RIGHTEOUS ROLE."

AS OUR SCHOLAR CONNELLY STATES, 'THE PASSAGE REMAINS A POWERFUL TESTIMONY TO THE CENTRAL POSITION OF WOMEN IN THINGS RELIGIOUS.'

WOMEN'S CENTRALITY IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THESE RITES CREATED THE TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION BETWEEN DEITIES & HUMANS. 

THROUGH THEM GREEK WOMEN HAD DIRECT ACCESS TO THEIR GODDESSES.

THE COMMITMENT OF THESE PRIESTESSES WAS CEMENTED BY THE EXAMPLE OF THE FIRST QUEEN OF ATHENS, PRAXITHEA.

WHEN THE CITY WAS THREATENED WITH WAR, PRAXITHEA LEARNED THAT ATHENS WOULD BE SPARED ONLY IF HER OLDEST DAUGHTER WAS SACRIFICED.

WITHOUT HESITATION THE QUEEN AGREED TO THE TERMS. WE SHOULDN'T BE SURPRISED. HER NAME MEANT "ONE WHO DOES THINGS FOR THE GODS."

AND ASTONISHINGLY, HER DAUGHTER READILY PRESENTED HERSELF AS AN OFFERING. BOTH CONCURRED THAT THE CITY'S FORTUNE TRUMPED THEIR OWN. 

ATHENS WAS SAVED BUT HER FAMILY'S FATE WAS TRAGIC: PRAXITHEA LOST HER DAUGHTER, HER HUSBAND DIED IN THE BATTLE, & HER OTHER DAUGHTERS COMMITTED SUICIDE.

YET SHE REMAINED PROUD, REFLECTING THE ENDLESS ALTRUISM THAT TYPIFIED THE HEART OF EARLY ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY. 

IN THE END, RECOGNIZING THE EXTRAORDINARY SELF-SACRIFICE OF THE QUEEN, ATHENE GRANTED THE QUEEN FULL POWERS OF PRIESTHOOD.

AND THEREAFTER ATHENIAN WOMEN GLADLY EMBRACED THE IDEAL OF PRAXITHEA'S SERVICE ...

JOIN ME ... FOR THE NEXT EPISODE OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY

IF YOU LOVE WHAT YOU HEAR, BE SURE TO VISIT Patrick-Garner-Books-dot-com. THERE'S GOOD STUFF THERE ABOUT ALL OF YOUR FAVORITE GREEK GODS ... A DISCUSSION OF THIS PODCAST ... & MORE ABOUT MY THREE NOVELS.

BY THE WAY, MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GREEK GODS ARE AS ENTERTAINING AS MY PODCASTS! ALL ARE AVAILABLE ON AMAZON ... 

AND HERE'S A GREAT ALTERNATIVE: GET MY AUDIBLE BOOK, HOMO DIVINITAS. YOU CAN FIND IT AT AMAZON OR AUDIBLE.

AND THANKS FOR LISTENING ... THIS IS YOUR HOST, PATRICK GARNER ...