Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion

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Arno Press, 1922 - Religion - 682 pages
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Jane Harrison examines the festivals of ancient Greek religion to identify the primitive "substratum" of ritual and its persistence in the realm of classical religious observance and literature. In Harrison's preface to this remarkable book, she writes that J. G. Frazer's work had become part and parcel of her "mental furniture" and that of others studying primitive religion. Today, those who write on ancient myth or ritual are bound to say the same about Harrison. Her essential ideas, best developed and most clearly put in the Prolegomena, have never been eclipsed.

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About the author (1922)

One of the first women to study classics at Cambridge University, Jane Harrison enjoyed a global reputation based on her writings about Greek religion. At a time when the study of texts was often seen as the only means to study ancient religions, Harrison helped break new ground by using materials and insights derived from archaeology, art history, and comparative anthropology. In Harrison's view, religion is primarily something done; words and reflection come later. In writing on Greek religion, she made a sharp distinction between the cult of the Olympian deities, which she initially devalued, and non-Olympian practices. She correlated this distinction with one between rituals of tendence and rituals of aversion, that is, rituals that venerate and those that seek to ward off potentially evil spirits. In accordance with views popular at the time, she also gave her classification an evolutionary twist, attributing the Olympian cult to invading Indo-European patriarchs from the north, and the non-Olympian practices to a matriarchal, pre-Indo-European, Mediterranean civilization. Readers should approach Harrison's entirely speculative, historical reconstruction with extreme caution. As is true for virtually every scholar of Harrison's generation, the value of her writing consists in the potential elucidation that her questions and categories can provide, not in the results of her actual investigations. Together with James G. Frazer and the so-called Cambridge Ritualists, Harrison has recently been the object of intense biographical scrutiny.

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