Civic Rites explores the religious origins of Western democracy by examining the government of fifth-century BCE Athens in the larger context of ancient Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Deftly combining history, politics, and religion to weave together stories of democracy’s first leaders and critics, Nancy Evans gives readers a contemporary’s perspective on Athenian society. She vividly depicts the physical environment and the ancestral rituals that nourished the people of the earliest democratic state, demonstrating how religious concerns were embedded in Athenian governmental processes. The book’s lucid portrayals of the best-known Athenian festivals—honoring Athena, Demeter, and Dionysus—offer a balanced view of Athenian ritual and illustrate the range of such customs in fifth-century Athens.
List of Illustrations
Introduction / The City of Pericles and Socrates
One / Cleisthenes: The Family Curse behind Athenian Democracy
Two / Athena: Religion and the Democratic Polis
Three / Pericles: Empire and War in the City of Athena
Four / Demeter: Civic Worship, Women’s Rites, and the Eleusinian Mysteries
Five / Alcibiades: Politics, Religion, and the Cult of Personality
Six / Dionysus: Civic Rituals of Wine, Theater, and Transformation
Seven / Socrates: Impiety Trials in the Restored Democracy
Epilogue / The City after Socrates
Glossary of Terms
Suggested Further Readings by Chapter
Nancy Evans is Associate Professor of Classics at Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts.
"Civic Rites clearly demonstrates the complete interdependence of religion and democracy in Athens, illustrating just how much the ancient Athenians' view of the relationship between these powerful forces differs from that in twenty-first century, Western democracies. Evans has provided a systematic, thorough, and lively treatment, liberating readers from modern expectations and offering a new window onto Athenian society."—Loren J. Samons, author of What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship
"It is a double task the author has undertaken: to demonstrate the interdependence, nay, integration of politics and religion in the high days of 'democratic' Athens and to bring this special form of 'democracy' home to a contemporary non-specialist public. She brilliantly succeeds in both, presenting a clear and poignant narrative with graphic details. Civic Rites is a novel and fascinating course through a seemingly well-known field."—Walter Burkert, author of Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth
"In equal measures intelligent, accessible, and well-informed, this book provides a contemporary introduction to classical Athenian religious practices and their manifold cultural significance. Evans interweaves overviews of political, economic, and social history with engaging descriptions of several major Attic rites. This book will interest specialists while providing students with an illuminating pathway into the familiar yet alien world of ancient Greek religion."—Deborah Boedeker, Brown University
"With vivid, elegant writing and compelling imagination, Nancy Evans recreates the complex interaction of religion and politics in the ancient Athenian Democracy. Deftly interweaving chapters on cult and on political developments, she shows the general reader an Athens that is stranger to modern sensibilities than we often realize, and yet one from which we can learn many things about democratic life. A wonderful achievement."—Martha Nussbaum, author of The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy
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