This is collectionof snippets from various sources about the social history
of paganism--function of temples, festivals, manner of worship, needs & expectations,
Herodotos, The Histories, c. 430 BCE
In other respects the festival is celebrated almost exactly as Dionysiac festivals are
in Hellas, excepting that the Egyptians have no choral dances and no plays. They also use
phalli four cubits [6 feet] high, pulled by ropes, which the women carry around, and whose
male genitalia are operated by strings to go up and down. A piper goes in front, and the
women follow, singing hymns in honor of Dionysos. The erection of the phallus, however,
which the Hellenes observe in their statues of Hermes, they did not derive from the
Egyptians, but from the Pelasgians; from them the Athenians adopted it, and afterwards it
passed to the other Hellenes. The Athenians, then, were the first of the Hellenes to have
an erect phallus....
Letter of Demophon to Ptolemaios, c. 245 BCE
Send us at your earliest opportunity the flutist Petoun with the Phrygian flutes, plus
the other flutes. If it is necessary to pay him, do so, and we will reimburse you. Also,
send us the eunuch Zenobius with a drum, cymbals, and castanets. The women need them for
their festival. Be sure he is wearing his most elegant clothing. Get the special goat from
Aristion and sent it to us. Send us also as many cheeses as you can, a new jug, and
vegetables of all kinds, and fish if you have it. Your health! Throw in some policemen at
the same time to accompany the boat.
Strabo, Geographia, c. 20 CE
A festival is celebrated every year at Acharaca; and at that time in particular those
who celebrate the festival can see and hear concerning all these things; and at the
festival, too, about noon, the boys and young men of the gymnasion, nude and
anointed with oil, take out a bull and with haste run before him into the cave; and, when
they arrive at the cave, the bull goes forward a short distance, falls, and breathes out
Dio Chrysostom, Or. c. 110 CE
Some people attend the festival of the god out of curiousity, some for shows and
contests, and many bring goods of all sorts for sale, the market folk, that is, some of
whom display their crafts and manufactures while others make a show of some special
learning---many, of works of tragedy or poetry, many, of prose works. Some draw worshipers
from remote regions for religion's sake alone, as does the festival of Artemis at Ephesos,
venerated not only in her home-city, but by Hellenes and barbarians.
Lucian, De Salt., c. 160 CE
The Bacchic dance is taken especially seriously in Ionia and Pontus, although it
belongs to Satyric drama, and has so taken hold of people there that, in the festival
time, they put aside everything else and sit the day through, watching corybants, satyrs,
and shepherds; and people of the best lineage and foremost in every city dance, not in the
least embarrassed but proud of it.....Each town or region celebrates the festivals of the
gods with its own rites; thus, to Egyptian deities generally by lament, to the Hellenic
for the most part by choruses, but to the non-Hellenic by the clangor of cymbalists,
drummers, and flutists....At Delos not even the sacrifices are offered without dancing.
Boy choruses assembled and, to the pipe and kithara, some moved about, singing, while the
best performed a dance in accompaniment; and hymns written for such choirs are called
Pausanias, Description of Hellas, c. 175 CE
Every year too the people of Patrai celebrate the festival Laphria in honor of
their Artemis, and at it they employ a method of sacrifice peculiar to the place. Round
the altar in a circle they set up logs of wood still green, each of them sixteen cubits
long. On the altar within the circle is placed the driest of their wood. Just before the
time of the festival they construct a smooth ascent to the altar, piling earth upon the
altar steps. The festival begins with a most splendid procession in honor of Artemis, and
the maiden officiating as priestess rides last in the procession upon a car yoked to deer.
It is, however, not >till the next day that the sacrifice is offered, and the festival
is not only a state function but also quite a popular general holiday. For the people
throw alive upon the altar edible birds and every kind of victim as well; there are wild boars, deer and gazelles; some bring wolf-cubs or bear-cubs,
others the full-grown beasts. They also place upon the altar fruit of cultivated trees.
Next they set fire to the wood. At this point I have seen some of the beasts, including a
bear, forcing their way outside at the first rush of the flames, some of them actually
escaping by their strength. But those who threw them in drag them back again to the pyre.
It is not remembered that anybody has ever been wounded by the beasts.
Clementis Recognitiones, c. 220 CE
Most men abandon themselves at festival time and holy days, and arrange for
drinking and parties, and give themselves up wholly to pipes and flutes and different
kinds of music and in every respect abandon themselves to drunkenness and indulgence.
Letter of Aurelius Asclepiades to Aureleus Theon, c. 295 CE
I desire to hire from you Tisaïs, the dancing girl, and another, to dance for us at
our festival of Bacchias, for fifteen days from the 13th Phaophi by the old calendar. You
shall receive as pay 36 drachmai a day, and for the whole period 3 artabai
of wheat, and 15 loaves; also, three donkeys to fetch them and take them back.
Herodotos, The Histories, c. 430 BCE
And so the word which came to Cleomenes [King of Sparta] received its fulfillment. For
when he first went up into the citadel, meaning to seize it, just as he was entering the
sanctuary of the goddess, in order to question her, the priestess arose from her throne,
before he had passed the doors, and said, "Stranger from Sparta, depart hence, and
presume not to enter the holy place---it is not lawful for a Dorian to set foot
there." But he answered, "Woman, I am not a Dorian, but an Achaian."
Slighting this warning, Cleomenes made his attempt, and so he was forced to retire,
together with his Spartans.
Inscription, Miletus, 275 BCE
Whenever the priestess performs the holy rites on behalf of the city, it is not
permitted for anyone to throw pieces of raw meat anywhere, before the priestess has thrown
them on behalf of the city, nor is it permitted for anyone to assemble a band of maenads
before the public thiasos has been assembled. And whenever a woman wishes to
perform an initiation for Dionysos Bacchios in the city, in the countryside, or on the
islands, she must pay a piece of gold to the priestess at each biennial celebration.
Philo Judaeus, De Providentia, c. 20 CE
At Ascalon, I observed an enormous population of doves in the city-squares and in every
house. When I asked the explanation, I was told they belonged to the great temple of
Ascalon---where one can also see wild animals of every description, and it was forbidden
by the gods to catch them...
New Testament, 1 Corinthians 8, c. 56 CE
So about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, we know that "there is no idol in
the world," and that "there is no God but one." ...But not all have this
knowledge. There are some who have been so used to idolatry up until now that, when they
eat meat sacrificed to idols, their conscience, which is weak, is defiled.....If someone
sees you, with your knowledge, reclining at table in the temple of an idol, may not his
conscience, too, weak as it is, be "built up" to eat the meat sacrificed to
Ps.-Lucian, Am., c. 85 CE
Around the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Knidos was an orchard, and under the most
deeply-shadowy trees were cheerful picnic places for those who wanted to provide a banquet
there; and some of the more well-bred used these, sparingly, but the whole city crowd held
festival there, in truly Aphrodisiac fashion. And at Formiae, a benefactor staged each
year a ceremony for Jupiter, at which he would distribute 20 sesterces to each of
the city senators dining publicly in the grove.
Plutarch, Moralia, c. 110 CE
It's not the abundance of wine or the roasting of meat that makes the joy of sharing a
table in a temple, but the good hope and belief that the god is present in his kindness
and graciously accepts what is offered.
Pausanias, Description of Hellas, c. 175 CE
They say that someone uninvited entered the shrine of Isis at Tithorea and died soon
after...I heard the same thing from a Phoenician in regard to a temple of Isis at Coptos.
Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, c. 200 CE
Sacrifices were devised by men, I do think, as a pretext for eating meals of meat.
Strabo, Geographia, c. 20 CE
On the road between the Tralleians and Nysa is a village of the Nysaians, not far from
the city Acharaca, where is the Plutonium, with a costly sacred precinct and a
shrine of Pluto and Kore, and also the Charonium, a cave that lies above the sacred
precinct, by nature wonderful; for they say that those who are diseased and give heed to
the cures prescribed by these gods resort there and live in the village near the cave
among experienced priests, who on their behalf sleep in the cave and through dreams
prescribe the cures. These are also the men who invoke the healing power of the gods. And
they often bring the sick into the cave and leave them there, to remain in quiet, like
animals in their lurking-holes, without food for many days. And sometimes the sick give
heed also to their own dreams, but still they use those other men, as priests, to initiate
them into the mysteries and to counsel them. To all others the place is forbidden and
Persius: From Satire II, 60 CE
Mark this day, Macrinus, with a white stone, which, with auspicious
omen, augments your fleeting years. Pour out the wine to your Genius! "A sound mind,
a good name, integrity"---for these he prays aloud, and so that his neighbor may
hear. But in his inmost breast, and beneath his breath, he murmurs thus, "Oh that my
uncle would evaporate! what a splendid funeral! and oh that by Hercules' good favor a jar
of silver would ring beneath my rake! or, Would that I could wipe out my ward, whose heels
I tread on as next heir! For he is scrofulous, and swollen with acrid bile. This is the
third wife that Nerius is now taking home!"---That you may pray for these things with
due holiness, you plunge your head twice or thrice of a morning in Tiber's eddies, and
purge away the defilements of night in the running stream.....You ask vigor for your
sinews, and a frame that will insure old age. Well, so be it. You are eager to amass a
fortune, by sacrificing a bull and court Mercury's favor by his entrails. "Grant that
my household gods may make me lucky! Grant me cattle, and increase to my flocks!" Yet
still he strives to gain his point by means of entrails and rich cakes. "Now my land,
and now my sheepfold teems. Now, surely now, it will be granted!"
Philostratos, Life of Apollonios of Tyana, c. 190 CE
When the plague broke out at Ephesos and there was no stopping it, the Ephesians
sent a delegation to Apollonios asking him to heal them. Accordingly, he did not hesitate,
but said, "Let's go," and there he was, miraculously, in Ephesos. Calling
together the people of Ephesos, he said, "Be brave; today I will stop the
plague." Then he led them all to the theater where the statue of the
God-Who-Averts-Evil had been set up. In the theater there was what seemed to be an old man
begging, his eyes closed, apparently blind. He had a bag and a piece of bread. His clothes
were ragged and his appearance was squalid. Apollonios gathered the Ephesians around him
and said, "Collect as many stones as you can and throw them at this enemy of the
Gods."The Ephesians were amazed at what he said and appalled at the idea of killing a
stranger so obviously pitiful, for he was beseeching them to have mercy on him. But
Apollonios urged them on to attack him and not let him escape. When some of the Ephesians
began to pitch stones at him, the beggar who had his eyes closed as if blind suddenly
opened them and they were filled with fire. At that point the Ephesians realized he was a
demon and proceeded to stone him so that their missiles became a great pile over him.
After a little while Apollonios told them to remove the stones and to see the wild animal
they had killed. When they uncovered the man they thought they had thrown their stones at,
they found he had disappeared, and in his place was a hound who looked like a hunting dog
but was as big as the largest lion. He lay there in front of them, crushed by the stones,
foaming at the corners of his mouth as mad dogs do.....
1. Thanks to Minerva, that she restored my hair.
2. Thanks to Jupiter Leto, that my wife bore a child.
3. Thanks to Zeus Helios the Great Sarapis, Savior and Giver of wealth.
4. Thanks to Silvanus, from a vision, for freedom from slavery.
5. Thanks to Jupiter, that my taxes were lessened.
6. I pray for the safety of my colony and its senate and people, because Jupiter
Best and Greatest by his numen tore out and rescued the names of the decurions that
had been fixed to monuments by the unspeakable crime of that most wicked city-slave who
refused to work...
1. Shall I receive the allowance?
2. Shall I remain where I am going?
3. Am I to be sold?
4. Am I to obtain benefit from my friend?
5. Has it been granted me to make a contract with another person?
6. Am I to be reconciled with my children?
7. Am I to get a furlough?
8. Shall I get the money?
9. Is my lover who is away from home alive?
10. Am I to profit by the transaction?
11. Is my property to be put up at auction?
12. Shall I find a means of selling?
13. Am I able to carry off what I have in mind?
14. Am I to become a beggar?
15. Shall I become a fugitive?
16. Shall I be appointed as an ambassador?
17. Am I to become a senator?
18. Is my flight to be stopped?
19. Am I to be divorced from my wife?
20.Have I been poisoned?