Department of Classics, University of Reading
‘Welcome, visitors’: religious inclusivity in a Pharsalian cave-cult
One of Thessaly’s most fascinating religious inscriptions is the long fourth century verse discovered in a cave near Pharsalos, describing the nymphs and numerous deities worshipped in the cave, and the activities of a mortal, Pantalkes, who plainly dedicated his energies to the care and management of the cult. The inscription has long been recognised as revealing an important instance of personal religion and of nymph-worship. What has not, however, received the attention it deserves is the relationship of the inscription with the particular religious context of Thessaly, and the Pharsalos region specifically.
There is a challenge inherent in such an approach: worship of nymphs in company with other rustic deities is a widespread phenomenon in Classical Greece, with norms and conventions common across regions. How can such a seemingly universal Greek cult type be linked with the particular religious environment of a specific location? This paper, however, will demonstrate that the Pharsalos inscription reveals a delicate balance of the local and the generic, containing elements which anchor it to a wider tradition, and, at the same time, ingredients tying it to specifically Thessalian mythological and cultic concerns.
It will be argued that the cult in the Pharsalos cave offers invaluable insights into the ways in which religious customs of a highly mobile and ‘exportable’ kind facilitated the juxtaposition of local and inter-regional identities. The study of Thessalian religion draws strength not just from the recognition of the unique (such as the Pheraian cult of Ennodia) but also from its ability to reveal the position of Thessalian communities within wider networks of practice and belief.
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