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The ancient Greeks had no word for religion!


In her book The Parthenon Enigma, author Joan Breton Connelly resolves a good deal of my ignorance.

One of the remarkable things about ignorance, perhaps the most remarkable thing, is that you don’t realize just how much you’ve got. To become informed, that uncomfortable, often embarrassing, realization is necessary.

The crux of Connelly’s argument is an explanation for the frieze which once ran around the upper wall of the Parthenon’s cella — until the English absconded with it. [BTW: The Greeks want it back.] Many interpretations of the frieze have been proffered, several so contradictory you’d think they’d cancel one another out, but none of them especially satisfying.

I probably bought the book because its publication caused so much consternation in the academic community — no bad thing in art history, science, or any academic discipline, for that matter. So I began reading in the middle, to encounter the substance of her argument, and then went back to the beginning and plowed my way through to the end. Not being an exceptionally good reader, I’m at it again. And, who knows, Dr Connelly may not have seen the last of me.

This isn’t the sort of book you casually recommend to friends, though I may change my mind. After all, she changed mine.

In one of the bracketing chapters, she contextualizes the Parthenon as the center, the focus, of what it meant to be an Athenian (Athenonai), relating the Acropolis to the four Panhellenic sacred sites¹ — Olympus, Delphi, Isthmia, and Nemea — where there is a coïncidence of four necessary, mutually-contributory aspects, no one of which can be considered apart from the others: a hero’s tomb, a temple, a festival built around those two, and a foundational myth. Even the Acropolis at Athens makes considerably more sense within this framework, though it is not one of the sites sacred in that same way. And so, in relieving me of a little of the ignorance I’ve borne these may years, I inevitably wonder what all this could mean for Agincourt.

Is there somewhere in the broad-brush panoramic view of Agincourt a place where physical elements coincide with social ritual, and reflect, through intent, coïncidence, or accident, some aspect of the community’s founding myth? Let me ponder this and get back to you.²

¹ The “festival” at each site consisted of athletic games dedicated to the deity associated there: Olympic Games to honor Zeus; Pithian Games at Delphi to honor Apollo; Isthmian Games to honor Poseidon; and Nemean Games to honor Zeus

² My gut reaction? Yes. The cemetery chapel at Saint Ahab’s, where there is indeed a coïncidence:

  • A TEMPLE: The former Saint Ahab’s church, which had been used as a temporary place of worship at Grou, before a final relocation as the cemetery’s chapel
  • A HERO’S TOMB: When Fr Manning’s body was discovered during construction of Christ the King, is was ceremoniously reburied beneath the chapel floorboards, the very chapel the priest had built ninety years before
  • A FESTIVAL: Each subsequent funeral conducted there reminds the community of, not only one of its earlier and most energetic and innovative citizens, but also…
  • A FOUNDING MYTH: A reminder of the tolerance for difference (of person, point-of-view, or principle) that has been an aspect of the community since its founding — despite recent expressions to the contrary.

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