Monday, June 22, 2009


The Athenian Ephebic Oath

During the work week, I eat lunch alone in my cubicle and read a book while I'm eating. Who can afford to eat out these days? Besides, I'd rather read a book than to listen to fellow diners discuss some television show I haven't seen.

Now I'm reading a stimulating book by H.I. Marrou — A History of Education in Antiquity, tr. George Lamb (1956; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982). On p. 106 Marrou discusses the Athenian ephebic oath. Here is a translation and text of the oath from P.J. Rhodes and Robin Osborne, Greek Historical Inscriptions 404-323 BC (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007):
Gods. The Priest of Ares and Athena Areia, Dio, son of Dio of Acharnae has dedicated this.


The ancestral oath of the ephebes, which the ephebes must swear. I shall not bring shame upon the sacred weapons nor shall I desert the man beside me, wherever I stand in the line. I shall fight in defence of things sacred and profane and I shall not hand the fatherland on lessened, but greater and better both as far as I am able and with all. And I shall be obedient to whoever exercise power reasonable on any occasion and to the laws currently in force and any reasonable put into force in future. If anyone destroys these I shall not give them allegiance both as far as is in my own power and in union with all, and I shall honour the ancestral religion.

Witnesses: the Gods Aglaurus, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalios, Ares and Athena Areia, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Heracles, and the boundaries of my fatherland, wheat, barley, vines, olives, figs.


Oath which the Athenians swore when they were about to fight against the barbarians.

ἱερεὺς Ἄρεως καὶ Ἀθηνᾶς
Ἀρείας Δίων Δίωνος Ἀχαρ-
νεὺς ἀνέθηκεν.


ὃρκος ἐφήβων πάτριος, ὃν ὀμνύναι δεῖ τ-
οὺς ἐφήβους. οὐκ αἰσχυνῶ τὰ ἱερὰ ὅπ-
λα οὐδὲ λείψω τὸν παραστάτην ὅπου ἂν σ-
τειχήσω· ἀμυνῶ δὲ καὶ ὑπὲρ ἱερὼν καὶ ὁσ-
ίων καὶ όκ ἐλάττω παραδώσω τὴν πατρίδ-
α, πλείω δὲ καὶ ἀρείω κατά τε ἐμαυτὸν κα-
ὶ μετὰ ἀπάντων, καὶ εὐηκοήσω τῶν ἀεὶ κρ-
αινόντων ἐμφρόνως καὶ τῶν θεσμῶν τῶν
ἱδρυμένων καὶ οὓς ἂν τὸ λοιπὸν ἱδρύσω-
νται ἐμφρόνως· ἐὰν δέ τις ἀναιρεῖ, οὐκ ἐ-
πιτρέψω κατά τε ἐμαυτὸν καὶ μετὰ πάντ-
ων, καὶ τιμήσω ἱερὰ τὰ πάτρια. Ἵστορες [[ο]]
θεοὶ Ἄγλαυρος, Ἑστία, Ἐνυώ, Ἐνυάλιος, Ἄρ-
ης καὶ Ἀθηνᾶ Ἀρεία, Ζεύς, Θαλλώ, Αὐξώ, Ἡγε-
μόνη, Ἡρακλῆς, ὅροι τῆς πατρίδος, πυροί,
κριθαί, ἄμπελοι, ἐλᾶαι, συκαῖ.


ὅρκος ὃν ὤμοσαν Ἀθηναῖοι ὅτε ἤμελλον
μάχεσθαι πρὸς τοὺς βαρβάρους.
I'm interested in the witnesses to the oath and why these particular gods and objects were chosen. I think that Reinhold Merkelbach, "Aglauros: die Religion der Epheben," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 9 (1972) 277-283, discusses the witnesses, but I haven't been able to see the article yet. Jon Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), p. 155, has some suggestions:
Aglaurus, as we have seen, was a daughter of Cecrops, and in one version of her myth she willingly sacrificed herelf to save her country in the midst of a war. It may have been for that reason that the ephebes, who were expected to do the same, swore their oath in her sanctuary and saw themselves under her supervision. Hestia is the hearth of city-state, maintained with a perpetual fire in the Prytaneion, the state's official dining building. Enyo, Enyalius, and Ares and Athena Areia are millitary deities and, by their prominent position in the oath, reflect the primarily military orientation of the ephebeia. Zeus may be present as the protector of oaths (Horkios). Thallo (Flourishing) and Auxo (Growth) are personifications, and the nature of Hegemone (Leaderess) is uncertain. Heracles is relevant both as one who wards off evil and because these young men had, at their Apatouria, each made an offering of wine to him before the cutting of their hair. Finally the land and its agricultural products are invoked, not as gods, but, in this context, as revered objects these young men are obliged to defend and protect.
See also Josiah Ober, Athenian Legacies: Essays on the Politics of Going on Together (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 197:
The grammar of the second part of the list of witnesses is not absolutely clear. The witness list begins with the term "theoi" (gods). The gods in question are then named: a total of eleven deities, including personifications of "increase, growth, and leadership" (Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone). So far so good. The second part of the list begins with the term "horoi of the patris" and continues with five major products of arable agriculture. And here lies the crux: is this part of the list paratactic — a series of (six) separate witnessing entities, one of which is "horoi"? Or is the phrase horoi tēs patridos, like theoi, a collective noun whose elements are described by the (five) words that follow? On the second hypothesis, we might suppose that "wheat, barley, vines, olives, figs" is a collective metonym for "the horoi of the patris." Or (on an even closer parallel with theoi) that among the larger set of horoi tēs patridos, the particular horoi that will witness the oath are (again metonymically) the several products. According to the first (paratactic) hypothesis, the horoi are not defined as agricultural products; their physical form remains textually indeterminate. According to the second (metonymic) hypothesis, the horoi themselves are actually agricultural products. The metonymic reading certainly makes for better syntactic parallelism (theoi/horoi). Moreover, according to Plutarch (Alcibiades 15.4), a metonymic reading was adopted as early as the late fifth century B.C. by the politician and general, Alcibiades, who supported his policy goal of boundless imperialism with the argument that the Athenians had sworn to treat as their patris any place in which wheat, barley, vines, olives, and figs were grown.
Here is Plutarch, Alcibiades 15.4 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
However, he counselled the Athenians to assert dominion on land also, and to maintain in very deed the oath regularly propounded to their young warriors in the sanctuary of Agraulus. They take oath that they will regard wheat, barley, the vine, and the olive as the natural boundaries of Attica, and they are thus trained to consider as their own all the habitable and fruitful earth.

οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς γῆς συνεβούλευεν ἀντέχεσθαι τοῖς Ἀθηναίοις, καὶ τὸν ἐν Ἀγραύλου προβαλλόμενον ἀεὶ τοῖς ἐφήβοις ὅρκον ἔργῳ βεβαιοῦν. ὀμνύουσι γὰρ ὅροις χρήσασθαι τῆς Ἀττικῆς πυροῖς, κριθαῖς, ἀμπέλοις, ἐλαίαις, οἰκείαν ποιεῖσθαι διδασκόμενοι τὴν ἥμερον καὶ καρποφόρον.

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