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The Ancient Greeks Weren't All Geniuses, by Anatoly Karlin - The Unz Review
Claire Schrader has brought together a group of authors who are passionate about ritual theatre. Their chapters are both a source of inspiration and a challenge to our normal ways of thinking and bein You can use the altar in this rite and other rites of Sheikh Ahmed Husse From handshakes and toasts to chant and genuflection, ritual pervades our social interactions and religious practices. The reversesituation, that a man dies instead of a sacrificiaranimal, is a berovedmotif in tragedy:see Burkert eg66 n6. For the action to be thus redirected and maintained, there had to be ritualization.
Biology's recent usurpation of the term appears, however, to confuse the concept, mixing the transcendent with the infra-human. But perhaps these two do indeed meet within the fundamental orders that constitute life.
Thus, we deliberately start from the biological definition of ritual, and from there we will soon be led deep into the nature of religion. Since the work of Sir Julian Huxley and Konrad Lorenz,l biology has defined ritttal as a behavioral pattern that has lost its primary function-present in its unritualized model-but which persists in a new function, that of communication. This pattern in turn provokes a corresponding behavioral response. Lorenz's prime example is the triumph ceremony of a pair of graylag geese, which is no longer prompted by a real enemy.
The victory over a nonexistent opponent is meant to demonstrate and draw attention to the couple's solidaritv and is confirmed by corresponding behavior in the paitner, who understands the ritual communication because of its predetermined stereotypy. In the triumph ceremony, communication is reciprocal and is strengthened by the reactions of each side. But it can also be one-sided, as, for example, when a threatening gesture is answered by ritual submission, which thus upholds a hierarchy.
This communicating function reveals the two basic characteristics of ritual behavior, namely, repetition and theatrical exaggeration. For the essentially immutable patterns do not transmit differentiated and complex information but, rather, just one piece of information each. This single piece of information is considered so important that it is reinforced by constant repetition so as to avoid misunderstanding or misuse.
The fact of understanding is thus more important than what is understood. Above all, then, ritual creates and affirms social interaction. Ritualization appearedat its most meAlthough sacrificebegan in the hunt',it city cultures' and at its most grueticulous and brilliant in th; ancient its form and perhaps even some in Aztec civiliz"ii""' ft maintained see G' Devereux' on the shock caused by blood a. Le67orc'probn'o 'atcr ANET68,andcf.
A' E' tensen's'tieatment' rcinq; rip gitow dpailv Kult yy,thosunil 4Paideuma. Vermaseren santa Priscain RomeQ , zt7-zo In the lacuna, eternalihad been read, but this cannot have been there: S. Pancierain U. Bianchi, ed. Weidkuhn, Aggressioiidt,Ritus, Siikularisierung In defining ritual as "action re-done or pre-di"ne,,,J. Harrison Epilegomena to the study of GreekRetigionfigztl, xliii recognized the displacement of behaviorbut not the communicatoryfunction.
Now E. Leach,for example,finds that "communicativebehavior" and "magicalbehavior" in ritual are not basicallydifferent Philos. LondonBz5i, l:'l, 4o -4o4.
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Raising one's hands, waving branches, wielding weapons and torches, stamping the feet while turning from attack to flight, folding the hands or lifting them in supplication, kneeling and prostration: all these are repeated and exaggeratedas a demonstration whereby the individual proclaims his membership and place in the community.
A rhythm develops from repetition, and auditory signals accompanying the gestures give rise to music and dance. These, too, are primordial forms of human solidarity, but they cannot hide the fact that they grew out of aggressive tensions, with their noise and beating, attack and flight. Of course, man has many modes of expression that are not of this origin and that can be ritualized. But in ethology, even laughter is thought to originate in an aggressive display of teeth.
Some of these ritual gestures can be traced with certainty to the primates, from waving branches and rhythmic drumming to phallic display and raising the hand in supplication.! It is disputed to what extent ritual behavior is innate or learned. There is even a possibility that specific learning or formative experiences may activate innate behavior. Universal modes of behavior suggest an innate stock from which they are drawn.
Yet, building upon these, cultural education creates special forms delimiting individual groups almost as if they were "pseudo-species. I Ever since Emile Durkheim, sociologists have been interested in the role of rites, and especially of religious rituals in society. OgZq 1.
On drumming see Eibl-Eibesfeldt r97o 4o; on phallic display see I. Rosenkotter, Frankfurter Hefte zt ,, and cf. Durkheim, ks formesebmentairesde Ia aie religieuse rgtz; tg6oa ,59g: ,,c,est par l,action commune qu'elle Isc. A ritual can persistin a com- 'Jll! Somereligious developmentshave indeed tended in this direction. The swift fall of most Gnostic movementsand the final fall of Manichaeismwere undoubtedly causedby their negationof life, just as the monks of Mount Athos, who were maintained by the outside world's consciousnessof sin, are dying out today.
If, however, practically all human cultures are shaped by religion, this indicatesthat religious ritual is advantageousin the processof selection,if not for the individual, then at leastfor the continuanceof group identity. The impulse for imitation, which is highly developedin man and especiallyin children, is decisivehere, and it is encouragedby the theatricalityof ritual.
Children act out weddings and funeralsagainand again. This alone, howevet cannot preservethe form of ritual, which remainsrigid and unchanging over long periods of time. For this, the rite must be establishedas sacred. A religious rite is almost always "serious": somedanger is evokedarousinganxiety,which then heightensattentiveness and lifts the subsequent proceedings out of the colorful stream of daily experience.
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Thus, the learning processleavesan ineradicableimpression. By far the greatestimpressionis madeby what terrifies, and it is just this that makesaggressiverituals so significant.
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But even this is not enough to guaranteethe permanenceof the ' f ritual: deviationsare correctedby elimination. Ritull was evidently so important for the continuanceof human societythat it becameone of the factorsof selectionitself for innumerablegenerations. Thosewho will not or cannotconform to the rituals of a societyhave no chancein it.
Only those who haveintegratedthemselvescan haveinfluenceand affectaction. Here, the seriouscharacterof religious ritual becomesa very real threat.
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The psychologicalfailure to meet this threat causes personal catastrophe. For instance, a child who consistentlylaughs during solemn occasionswill not survive in a religious community. Gruppe, RML Suppl. Group selection is not accepted by the molern theory of evolution-see R. Dawkins, fhi Setfish Genei -but it is still granted that,,a grudger's strategy" is ,,evolutionarily stable,,: iUii. The biologicar-functional view of rituarhasa consequence that is serdomrearized'beca. Eversince wilhelm Mannhardt and Rob"erts";; ;, the study of rerigionshas focusedon ritual' The evidenc".
Thus, ars looked for its rool: in ,,aeepef;',Lore schorprimitive ideas. On the Teufelspeitsche seeA: z8 ,8r-ros. The sourceof their beliefsand practicesis. This changein perspective,of course,takesus back to a basicassumption of primitive religion which religious studies constantly try to transcend:the sourceof religiouscustomis the "ways of our ancestors. Plato expressedit thus: children come to believe in the existenceof the gods by observing how "their own parentsact with utmost seriousnesson behalf of themselvesand their children" at sacrificeand prayer.
To be cautious,let us say that all human action is accompaniedby ideas, surrounded by images and words. Tradition embraceslanBuageas well as ritual behavior.
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Psychoanalysiseven speaksof "unconscious ideas. By meansof interpretation,one can attributeideas to any aiiion. Human beingscan usually understand ritual intuitively, at least in its constituent parts. Thus, ritual makes sensein two ways. It is quite right to speak of "ideas" or "insights" which are "contained" in ritual and which it can 'uC.
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L6vi-Strauss, Le totimisme auiourd'hui tozf. L Hallowell, American Anthroltologist z8 , Preface n. Thereis no lustiti. I" rh; ii;;;ry of mankind, rituar is far older than linguistic communication. Myth andRituql Ritual, as a form is a.
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