Robert Parker#

Laudatio by Heikki Solin#

Professor Parker is one of the leading - if not the leading - figures among students of Greek religion and in general one of the greatest scholars of Greek culture and society. He studies it from an anthropological perspective. In particular, he is interested in how Greeks’ thought and behaviour was shaped by their religious beliefs. Of late, he has been studying the interaction of Greek religion with other polytheistic systems, particularly in Asia Minor; here inscriptions are a prime source of evidence for him.

His first book was Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (1983, pp. 413), a predecessor of the following great work, but already in itself a masterly study. This work was hailed as the most important book on Greek religion to appear in many years, as an extraordinarily penetrating study of religious thought and practice and as a balanced analysis of Greek social values.

His second great work was Athenian Religion: A History (1996, pp. 389), a substantial contribution to the study of Athenian religion. From it one gleans his adherence to the Durkheimian scheme of concentrating on the social function of religion, on the “worshipping groups”, and on fitting his account “of rites and gods upon the underlying social framework”. He stresses the value of focusing on one city (the most important of all cities of the Greek world), and of linking developments in religion to their historical context. He introduces what becomes a persistent concern of the book, the not wholly valid - but not completely invalid - distinction between “private” and “public” in discussions of Greek religion. All private cults - even domestic cults - have some greater or lesser degree of state involvement or oversight, and they should not be imagined as too different from “public” cults.

This is the first book that undertakes a comprehensive history of Athenian religion. It is not an exaggeration to call it groundbreaking. New evidence, historical Quellenforschung, shifting archaeological and artistic dating, and more critical and historical attitudes touch them all. Parker lays out all this material and carefully and thoughtfully picks his way through it. He presents his arguments in a careful and precise way (in fact, clarity of thinking and style is a pervasive feature of the book). All in all, a fundamental piece of work.

Polytheism and Society at Athens (2005, pp. 544) treats an important argument already present in the previous book, and it can be characterized as a synchronic, thematically organized complement (though designed to be read independently) to Athenian Religion. As in that work, Parker here returns to the embeddedness of the omnipresent religion, a central factor of social stability, and in the same way, Parker has modernized the approach to the study of Greek religion. A really fundamental and important book for the historian of Greek religion and society.

Parker’s latest monograph is On Greek Religion, which has appeared this year (or will appear soon). I have not yet seen it, but according to what I have heard, it should be as important as his previous books.

Robert Parker is a great reformer of the study of Greek religion and Greek society. Moreover, he is the holder of one of the most prestigious chairs in Classics in the world, being the Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford. His great activity in scholarly matters, for example as editor of many collective works dealing with ancient culture should also be mentioned.

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