Hekate in early Greek religion




Von Rudloff, Ilmo Robert

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Classical and later literature commonly presents Hekate as a goddess of malevolent magical practices and ghosts. However, earlier and contemporary evidence seems to contradict this picture by revealing beneficial functions and public acceptance of her worship. This study focuses upon all the evidence concerning the worship of Hekate in the Greek world until c400 B.C.E., to determine what her early primary functions were and how the later shift in emphasis in portrayal arose. The limited record indicates that in early times Hekate was a secondary figure who could serve one or more of several specific functions that can be categorised under the titles Propylaia, Pro polos, Phosphoros, Kourotrophos, and Chthonia. The first three of these were her most distinctive functions, and often involved attending upon more prominent deities such as Demeter and Persephone, Artemis, and K ybele. Two anomalous instances in which Hekate served a primary role, in the Theogony and in Roman Karia, are best explained as being isolated exceptions rather than indicating her early status. Hekate' s chthonic function is poorly attested in the Archaic evidence, but came to be strongly emphasised and associated with extreme and fantastic magical practices in literature by the end of the fifth century. Aspects of this role suggest that it may have reflected an exaggerated literary tradition rather than prevalent religious and magical practices. The early archaeological evidence is concentrated about the Aegean Sea and in western Anatolia. Together with the nature of many of her associations with other deities, this suggests that Hekate originated, at least in part, as a close but minor associate to the "Great Goddess" figure common to Anatolia. However, there is insufficient evidence to confine her homeland to Karia, the region favoured by modem scholars such as Nilsson, Kraus and Burkert.