Sparta Flash Card #27: religion: gods and goddesses

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Sparta Flash Card #27: religion: gods and goddesses



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APOLLO at Amyklai


Obv.: King Araeus. Rev.: Apollo
BMC Laconia 1

Pausanias, Periegesis Hellados III. 6:

"...On the way down to Amyklai from Sparta you come to the River Tiasa. People believe that she was the daughter of Eurotas, and beside the river is a sanctuary of the Graces Phaenna and Kleta, just as Alkman says. They think that it was Lakedaimon who built the sanctuary of the Graces here, and who gave the Graces their names.

These are the interesting things at Amyklai. There is a stone stele naming Ainetos a winner of the Pentathlon; he died, or so they say, with his head still wearing the wreath after winning at Olympia. There is a portrait of him, and there are bronze tripods. The older tripods are said to be a tithe of the spoils of the war against Messenia. Under the first tripod stands a statue of Aphrodite; under the second is Artemis; these tripods and their decorations are by Gitiadas. But the third tripod is by Kallon of Aegina, and under it stands a statue of Kore, Demeter's daughter. Aristandros of Paros made the Woman with the Harp, who is apparently "Sparta", and Polykleitos of Argos made the Aphrodite of the Amyklaians, as they call her. These tripods are larger than the others, which came from the Battle of Aegospotamoi.

Bathykles of Magnesia, who made the Throne of the Amyklaian, dedicated the Graces when he had completed it, along with a statue of Artemis of Good Thoughts. The question as to who taught Bathykles and under which Spartan king he worked is one which I leave aside, but I saw the Throne, and I will describe it. In front of it and behind it rise two Graces and two Seasons; on the left stand Echidna and Typhoeus, while on the right there are Tritons. It would weary my readers if I went through all the workmanship in detail; but, to summarize (since most of it is familiar anyway), Poseidon and Zeus are carrying Taygete, the daughter of Atlas, and her sister Alkyone. Atlas is also carved on it, and the fight of Herakles and Cyknos, and the battle of the Centaurs in the Cave of Pholos. I do not understand why Bathykles carved the Minotaur, bound and taken alive by Theseus. There is a Phaeacean dance on the Throne, and Demodokos is singing. There is Perseus, triumphing over Medusa. There is the carrying off the daughters of Leukippos, the fight between Herakles and the giant Thourios, and the fight between Tyndareus and the giant Eurytos. Hermes is carrying the infant Dionysos to Olympus, and Athena is bringing Herakles to live with the gods forever. Peleus is handing over Achilles to be brought up by Cheiron, since Achilles is said to have been one of his pupils. Kephalos is being carried off by Eos because of his beauty. The gods are bringing gifts to the wedding of Harmonia. There are images of the combat of Achilles with Memnon, and Herakles punishing Diomedes the Thracian, and Nessos in the River Euenos. Hermes is taking the goddesses to be judged by Paris. Adrastos and Tydeus break up the fight between Amphiaraos and Lykourgos, son of Pronax. Hera is looking at Io, daughter of Inachos, who has been turned into a heifer. Athena is escaping from Hephaestus, who is pursuing her. Then there is the series of the great deeds of Herakles: Herakles and the Hydra, and Herakles bringing back the Hound of Hades. Anaxias and Mnasinous are each on horseback, but Megapenthes the son of Menelaus and Nikostratos share a horse. Bellerophon is destroying the Lycian monster; Herakles is driving off the cattle of Geryon.

At the upper limits of the Throne are the sons of Tyndareus on horseback, one on either side; here are sphixes under the horses and wild beasts with their heads raised, a lioness under Polydeukes and a leopard on the other side. On the very top of the throne is the dance of the Magnesians, who worked on the Throne with Bathykles. Underneath the throne, behind the Tritons, there is the Calydonian Boar Hunt, Herakles killing the sons of Aktor, Kalais and Zetes driving off the Harpies from Phineus, Perithoos and Theseus carrying off Helen, Herakles with the lion by the throat, and Apollo and Artemis shooting Tityos. There are carvings of Herakles fighting the Centaur Oreios and Theseus fighting the Minotaur, the wrestling match of Herakles and Acheloos, the story of Hera bound by Hephaestus, the games given by Akastos for his father, the story of Menelaus and Proteus the Egyptian (from the Odyssey. Finally, Admetus is harnessing his chariot with a boar and a lion, and the Trojans are bringing jars to offer them to Hektor.

The part of the Throne where the god would sit is not a single continuous thing, but has several seats with a space next to each seat. The middle part is very broad, and that is where the statue stands. I know no one who has measured this, but at a guess you could say that it was forty-five feet. It is not the work of Bathykles, but ancient and made without artistry. Except for the face and the tips of its feet and hands it looks like a bronze pillar. It has a helmet on its head, and a spear and a bow in its hands. The base of the statue is shaped like an altar, and Hyakinthos is said to be buried in it. At the Hyakinthia, before the sacrifice to Apollo, they pass through a bronze door to dedicate the offerings of a divine hero to Hyakinthos in this altar; the door is on the left of the altar. There is a figure of (B)iris carved on one side of the altar, and Amphitrite and Poseidon on the other; Zeus and Hermes are talking together, with Dionysos and Semele standing nearby and Io beside Semele. Also on this altar are Demeter and Kore and Plouto, the Fates and the Seasons, and Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis (they are bringing Hyakinthos and Polyboia into Olympus; they say that she was his sister who died a virgin). In this sculpture, Hyakinthos has already grown hair on his face, but Nikias the son of Nikeratos had him painted as extremely beautiful, which is a reference to the fact that Apollo was in love with him. Herakles is also sculpted on this altar, being led into Olympus by Athena and all the gods. Then there are the daughters of Thestios, and the Muses and Seasons. The story of Zephyros, and how Hyakinthos was killed accidentally by Apollo, and the story of the flower, may not be true, but let it pass.

Amyklai was uprooted by the Dorians...."


Hyacinth was one of his male lovers. Hyacinthus was a Spartan prince, beautiful and athletic. The pair were practicing throwing the discus when Hyacinthus was struck in the head by a discus blown off course by Zephyrus, who was jealous of Apollo and loved Hyacinthus as well. When Hyacinthus died, Apollo is said in some accounts to have been so filled with grief that he cursed his own immortality, wishing to join his lover in mortal death. Out of the blood of his slain lover Apollo created the hyacinth flower as a memorial to his death, and his tears stained the flower petals with, meaning alas. The Festival of Hyacinthus was a celebration of Sparta.


by Ron Leadbetter

The daughter of Leto and Zeus, and the twin of Apollo. Artemis is the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility (she became a goddess of fertility and childbirth mainly in cities). She was often depicted with the crescent of the moon above her forehead and was sometimes identified with Selene (goddess of the moon). Artemis was one of the Olympians and a virgin goddess. Her main vocation was to roam mountain forests and uncultivated land with her nymphs in attendance hunting for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. Contradictory to the later, she helped in protecting and seeing to their well-being, also their safety and reproduction. She was armed with a bow and arrows which were made by Hephaestus and the Cyclopes.

In one legend, Artemis was born one day before her brother Apollo. Her mother gave birth to her on the island of Ortygia, then, almost immediately after her birth, she helped her mother to cross the straits over to Delos, where she then delivered Apollo. This was the beginning of her role as guardian of young children and patron of women in childbirth. Being a goddess of contradictions, she was the protectress of women in labor, but it was said that the arrows of Artemis brought them sudden death while giving birth. As was her brother, Apollo, Artemis was a divinity of healing, but also brought and spread diseases such as leprosy, rabies and even gout.

Being associated with chastity, Artemis at an early age (in one legend she was three years old) asked her father, the great god Zeus, to grant her eternal virginity. Also, all her companions were virgins. Artemis was very protective of her purity, and gave grave punishment to any man who attempted to dishonor her in any form. Actaeon, while out hunting, accidentally came upon Artemis and her nymphs, who bathing naked in a secluded pool. Seeing them in all their naked beauty, the stunned Actaeon stopped and gazed at them, but when Artemis saw him ogling them, she transformed him into a stag. Then, incensed with disgust, she set his own hounds upon him. They chased and killed what they thought was another stag, but it was their master. As with Orion, a giant and a great hunter, there are several legends which tell of his death, one involving Artemis. It is said that he tried to rape the virgin goddess, so killed him with her bow and arrows. Another says she conjured up a scorpion which killed Orion and his dog. Orion became a constellation in the night sky, and his dog became Sirius, the dog star. Yet another version says it was the scorpion which stung him and was transformed into the constellation with Orion, the later being Scorpio. Artemis was enraged when one of her nymphs, Callisto, allowed Zeus to seduce her, but the great god approached her in one of his guises; he came in the form of Artemis. The young nymph was unwittingly tricked, and she gave birth to Arcas, the ancestor of the Arcadians, but Artemis showed no mercy and changed her into a bear. She then shot and killed her. As Orion, she was sent up to the heavens, and became the constellation of the Great Bear (which is also known as the Plough).

Artemis was very possessive. She would show her wrath on anyone who disobeyed her wishes, especially against her sacred animals. Even the great hero Agamemnon came upon the wrath of Artemis, when he killed a stag in her sacred grove. His punishment came when his ships were becalmed, while he made his way to besiege Troy. With no winds to sail his ships he was told by the seer Calchas that the only way Artemis would bring back the winds was for him to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Some versions say he did sacrifice Iphigenia, others that Artemis exchanged a deer in her place, and took Iphigenia to the land of the Tauri (the Crimea) as a priestess, to prepare strangers for sacrifice to Artemis.

Artemis with her twin brother, Apollo, put to death the children of Niobe. The reason being that Niobe, a mere mortal, had boasted to Leto, the mother of the divine twins, that she had bore more children, which must make her superior to Leto. Apollo being outraged at such an insult on his mother, informed Artemis. The twin gods hunted them down and shot them with their bows and arrows; Apollo killed the male children and Artemis the girls.

Artemis was worshiped in most Greek cities but only as a secondary deity. However, to the Greeks in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) she was a prominent deity. In Ephesus, a principal city of Asia Minor, a great temple was built in her honor, which became one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World". But at Ephesus she was worshiped mainly as a fertility goddess, and was identified with Cybele the mother goddess of eastern lands. The cult statues of the Ephesian Artemis differ greatly from those of mainland Greece, whereas she is depicted as a huntress with her bow and arrows. Those found at Ephesus show her in the eastern style, standing erect with numerous nodes on her chest. There have been many theories as to what they represent. Some say they are breasts, others that they are bulls testes which were sacrificed to her. Which is the true interpretation remains uncertain, but each represent fertility.

There were festivals in honor of Artemis, such as the Brauronia, which was held in Brauron; and the festival of Artemis Orthia, held at Sparta, when young Spartan boys would try to steal cheeses from the altar. As they tried they would be whipped, the meaning of Orthia and the nature of the ritual whipping has been lost and there is no logical explanation or translation. Among the epithets given to Artemis are: Potnia Theron (mistress of wild animals) this title was mentioned by the great poet Homer; Kourotrophos (nurse of youth's); Locheia (helper in childbirth); Agrotera (huntress); and Cynthia (taken from her birthplace on Mount Cynthus on Delos). When young girls reached puberty they were initiated into her cult, but when they decided to marry, which Artemis was not against, they were asked to lay in front of the altar all the paraphernalia of their virginity, toys, dolls and locks of their hair, they then left the domain of the virgin goddess.



-Chief priests- regraded as the descendents of Heraceles and therefore of divine ancestry.

-2 Pythioi (priestesses) keep regular contact with the Delphic Oracle

-Sacrificed regularly on campaigns- omens

-If state prospered king’s praised- vice versa- unless a reasonable religious excuse was given. “Cleomenes 1 was forgiven for not taking Argos when he explained his interpretation of a nasty omen”-K.Welch.

-Every 9 years, Ephors looked to sky for god’s approval of the king- they held office as long as the gods were pleased.


5. Religion, death & burial, & systems of belief & practice:

  • Beliefs, practices, organization & buildings-Worshipped 12 Olympian gods & goddesses Zeus-divine founder of Sparta. Had own cult of goddess Artemis Orthia. Important gods- Apollo Carneia, Apollo of Amyclae, Athena Chalkioikos, Helen & Leucippides. Believed the gods ruled their lives, treated them with honor & respect-made offerings. “Those who honor the gods most…are best in war” Socrates. Birth, death & state events-accompanied by religious ritual. Religious festivals took precedence over everything incl. war. The kings were chief priests as they descended from Heracles & therefore divine ancestry. Priests would sacrifice, care take sanctuaries & temple, in charge of sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (oracle). The pithioi would consult the oracle on matters concerning Sparta. Remains of religious buildings- Sanctuary of Amyclae (statue of Apollo), temple of Athena Poliouchos (Athena of the city), sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, the Menalaion (Helen & Menelaus), shrine to Agamemnon & Cassandra & temple to Poseidon.

  • Relationship with Delphi-Most powerful oracle (Delphi), made important decisions about the future. Spartans were in charge of the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, believed it was the oracle their system of Gov’t- Plutarch wrote that Lycurgus obtained from the oracle a rhetra, which laid down the constitution that should be adopted by the Spartans. Spartan kings appointed the Pithioi.

  • Funeral rites for the kings-Only people that died in battle or in childbirth would have a marked grave. When a king died in battle, a statue was made & carried to his burial. The funeral; women beated cauldrons, 1 man & 1 women from each family dressed for mourning, all people of Laconia forced to attend funeral, Spartiates, perioikoi & helots strike their heads & wail, all declare he was the best king. After- no meetings for 10days, new king pays all debts, news of death sent throughout country.

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