Sacred Law and Women’s Festivals (Carbon, November 2008)

This is a report by Shane Brennan (Exeter) on a paper given at the BES Autumn meeting, November 22, 2008:

Mathieu Carbon (Oxford), Sacred Law and Women’s Festivals, From Aristophanes to Mylasa

The final paper at the 2008 BES Autumn Colloquium was given by Mathieu Carbon. Restricted in time by a slight overrun on the programme, he nonetheless was able to engage the gathering with his work on the topical subject of sacred law and women’s festivals.

The paper focused on an inscription discovered in Mylasa, Caria, in 1894 (Sokolowkski, LSAM 61). Carbon’s readings of this are based on a squeeze made by Louis Robert in 1932 (FLR Carie 2160), and he has also been able to consult the French man’s field notes on the text (FLR Carnet 29, 1932). The fragment, which on a second autopsy three decades later, Robert remarked had deteriorated somewhat, alludes to a resolution or a decree of the women involved in a festival, probably one connected with Demeter. References in lines 2-4 to ‘lighting’ and the ‘carrying of candles’ suggest a possible reconstruction of Demeter’s search for her daughter; a sense of solemnity seems to be conveyed by an injunction ‘not to push [one another]’ (line 4). Carbon believes that a date for the inscription of somewhere between 400-325 has little probability of being wrong.

An argument has been made that this fragmentary regulation provides a tangible link with the assembly of the women featured in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusai and with the arguably ‘political’ organisation of the Thesmophoria at Athens. On the basis of his restoration of the inscription and a reassessment of the historical evidence, Carbon suggests that we should rather consider the women of Mylasa and Athens as a cult association, which, like many other such religious groups, was in practice only loosely modelled on the political structures of the Greek city. The ‘city of women’ therefore constitutes a theme which, although based to a degree on the partial independence of women in certain spheres of cultic reality, only became fully formed in the parodies of Aristophanes or in other myths concerning women’s festivals.

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