49 pages 1 hour read



Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 380

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.


Historical Context: Polytheism in Classical Athens

Ancient Greek polytheism is not a religion in the contemporary sense, but rather a set of beliefs and practices at the intersection of myth and ritual. Myths told various stories about gods and heroes, and rituals honored these immoral forces of myth with the intention to please them and invoke their power to benefit the community. Life in an ancient Greek city-state is believed to have been organized around gods, heroes, and the ritual worship of them. Thus, the city-state was not a secular entity as modern people might define it. Ritual pervaded public and private life.

Though the gods and heroes that city-states across the ancient Greek-speaking world worshipped came from the same body of myth, each city-state honored its own version of gods and heroes. It was not considered untenable for Sparta to worship a martial manifestation of Aphrodite and for another state to worship a different version of her. This duality is exemplified in the two versions of Aphrodite cited in Pausanias’s speech.

In Athens, the ancient Greek city-state that provides the bulk of sources for historians, the patron goddess was Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategic warfare, and crafts associated with domestic life, weaving especially. With respect to warfare, she was the counterpart to (and sister of) Ares, who represented the brutality and bloodlust of battle.