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In this essay, I explore the poetic, emotional, and ritual dimensions of hero cult as presented in Philostratus's Heroikos. After a short digression on hero cult in the Greek period, I focus on the emphasis placed on the emotional bond between worshiper and hero, as well as the important role played by hymns and laments in the narrative. l propose to investigate these twin themes in depth by focusing on examples provided by Philostratus himself, and particularly the cult of Melikertês. Because Philostratus associates hymns and laments with initiation or mystery cults, I also consider the link between hero and mystery cult in the Heroikos, as well as in earlier Greek texts. The link between these two forms of ritual, I argue, is already present in the classical sources, yet while the connection between mystery and hero cult is not unique to the Roman period, the function of initiation in Philostratus's narrative is different; it expands in order to accommodate skepticism and include conversion. Whereas the reality of heroes is implicitly accepted as fact in archaic and classical sources, in the Heroikos their existence needs to be established through a series of proofs; the reader, along with the Phoenician merchant of the dialogue, undergoes an initiation of sorts. The central role of initiation into the mystery of the hero in the narrative reflects historical changes in the perception of cult heroes in the imperial period. Just as we see a gradual movement from unquestioning belief in heroes to skepticism, and from hearing about heroes to reading about them, we also see a shift from mourning to communion with the hero come back to life.


Ellen Bradshaw Aitken & Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean


Society of Biblical Literature





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Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century C.E.

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