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Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion

by Robert B. Parker

Buy the book: Robert B. Parker. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion

Release Date: May, 1990

Edition: Paperback

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Buy the book: Robert B. Parker. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion


Miasma -- Not for the Faint of Heart

"Miasma" (or me-ahz-MAH' as the ancients would say it, we think) is a subject and a book that will be of most interest to scholars of ancient Greek culture, religion and language, as well as to students of comparative languages and literatures. It is a dense but well-written text by Parker, an important and recognized scholar. Organized conceptually, the book begins with an introduction to related and apparently overlapping terms: miasma, agos, enages, katharsos, hosios, hagnos, and the like. These terms can be examined in terms of how they are thought to relate to birth/death rituals, lustrations, the shedding of blood, purification of holy sites, etc. This would be quite enough but Parker's erudition ups the book's score. He analyzes each concept and situation in terms of the various genres of his sources and in terms of the time periods in which tehy were written. These are the materials from which we have derived our notion of daily life in ancient Greece, and Parker is well-versed in the entire canon of Greek dramas, philosophy, history, cult records, oratory, mythology, and on and on. The author's observations and conclusions are surprising and very valuable not only because of his close and careful of the citations that illuminate his theories, but because the care taken itself reminds us of the danger of making broad assumptions based on a narrow review of primary sources. This is a major text in the field of Greek religion and it's been a long time coming. I wish he'd put forth his own hypotheses at the beginning of each section, which would make note-taking a lot easier, but it would deprive the reader of the carefully-reasoned arguments that lead him -- and us -- to his conclusions. Kudos.

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