“The revels we shared in the days that are gone”: Examining female participation in the cult of Dionysos in ancient Greece and Rome.
LE3 .A278 2017
Bachelor of Arts
This investigation uncovers the function of women and femininity in the cult of Dionysos in ancient Greece and Rome with a particular interest in the agency women derived from cult participation. This is achieved through the analysis of popular myths, Euripides’ Bacchae,epigraphic and historical sources juxtaposed with archaeological sources and scholarly analysis. Sources are presented chronologically to provide a clear and comprehensive view of the evolution of Dionysian cult. Chapter 1 explores the origins of Dionysos and his female retinue in Dionysian mythology and their presentation in Euripides’ fifth century BCE drama. The focus Euripides places on women in Bacchae emphasizes the prominence of women in the cult while his exploration of Dionysos and femininity establishes Dionysos as a defender of the feminine principle. Bacchae is further examined as a historical source in Chapter 2 for its function as an act of reception for Dionysian cult in the Classical period. Chapter 2 examines female cult participation in Classical and Hellenistic Greece using historical sources and epigraphic evidence. The earliest epigraphic evidence of female bacchants originates in Hellenistic Magnesia and Miletus. In general, women benefitted from greater access to the public sphere in the post-Classical period. Historic sources and Hellenistic inscriptions illustrate the positions of authority maintained by women in Dionysian cult and their participation in the public sphere. It was through participation in Dionysian ritual that women could engage in public life and still maintain the respectability afforded them by seclusion. As Dionysian cult entered Rome through Southern Italy, a Romanization of the Greek cult imposed cult hierarchy and strict regulations. These modifications are examined in Chapter 3, along with the decline of female participation in the Roman Bacchic cult due to the hierarchical nature of Roman society. In sum, this thesis maintains that the cult of Dionysos facilitated the participation of women in the public sphere through ritual activity, and granted them public privileges without compromising the ideal of seclusion in Greek society. The hierarchical nature of Roman society necessitated the modification of a cult which boasted gender-mixing and a diverse membership. Due to the hierarchic nature of Roman society centred around the principle of the paterfamilias, female participation declined in the Imperial period.
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