Ritual and Politics, Individual and Community in Plutarch’s Works: The Life of Nicias as a test-case
THE FIRST part of this report offers a selective update on research involving both a research seminar and an international colloquium that I co-organized with Frances B. Titchener at Rethymnon in 2017, whereas the second offers a sample of my own research on the subject.
The purpose of the 2017 colloquium (27–30 April) and the graduate seminar that Frances Titchener and I team-taught along with other faculty members at Rethymnon during the spring-term of that year was to explore ritual in Plutarch’s works by asking a series of questions, specifically: how Plutarchan representations of rituals contribute to the characterization of individuals and/or communities? What do they tell us about the way individuals relate to their peers or to their community at large and/or the ways cities or other forms of community relate to one another? How do rituals interact with politics (personal and communal, local and inter-state)? How do they affect individual and communal identities?
The second part explores Plutarch’s representation of Nicias’ exploitation of the performative and communicative nature of ritual as it emerges from four key episodes: (a) his decision to free one of his servants in the theatre of Dionysus on the spur of the moment; (b) his innovative improvement on the Athenian theoria to Delos as architheoros; (c) his striking provision to worship the Delian god(s) in perpetuity and (d) his daily private sacrifice and divination at home in Athens. Taking into account the persistent emphasis on Nicias’ fear of gods and men throughout the Life, it is argued that these four episodes show that ritual offered Nicias an outlet for coping with his fear of men without abandoning his political ambitions.
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