Hekate: Goddess of the Crossroads

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The evidence of the monuments as to the character and significance of Hekate is almost as full as that of the literature. But it is only in the later period that they come to express her manifold and mystic nature. Before the fifth century there is little doubt that she was usually represented as of single form like any other divinity, and it was thus that the Boeotian poet imagined her, as nothing in his verses contains any allusion to a triple formed goddess. The earliest known monument is a small terracotta found in Athens, with a dedication to Hekate (Plate XXXVIII. a), in writing of the style of the sixth century. The goddess is seated on a throne with a chaplet bound round her head; she is altogether without attributes and character, and the only value of this work, which is evidently of quite a general type and gets a special reference and name merely from the inscription, is that it proves the single shape to be her earlier from, and her recognition at Athens to be earlier than the Persian invasion. Pausanias stated that Hecate was first depicted in triplicate by the sculptor Alkamenes in the Greek Classical period of the late 5th century. Some classical portrayals, such as the one illustrated below, show her as a triplicate goddess holding a torch. Others continue to depict her in singular form. In Egyptian-inspired Greek esoteric writings connected with Hermes Trismegistus, and in magical papyri of Late Antiquity she is described as having three heads: one dog, one serpent and one horse. Hecate's triplicity is expressed in a more Hellene fashion, with three bodies instead, where she is shown taking part in the battle with the Titans in the vast frieze of the great altar of Pergamum, now in Berlin. In the Argolid, near the shrine of the Dioscuri, the 2nd-century CE traveller Pausanias saw the temple of Hecate opposite the sanctuary of Eilethyia; "The image is a work of Scopas. This one is of stone, while the bronze images opposite, also of Hekate, were made respectively by Polycleitus and his brother Naucydes, son of Mothon. (Description of Greece ii.22.7)

A 4th century BCE marble relief from Crannon in Thessaly was dedicated by a race-horse owner. It shows Hecate, with a hound beside her, placing a wreath on the head of a mare. This statue is in the British Museum, inventory number 816. Her attendant and animal representation is of a bitch, and the most common form of offering was to leave meat at a crossroads. Sometimes dogs themselves were sacrificed to her (a good indication of her non-Hellenic origin, as dogs along with donkeys, very rarely played this role in genuine Greek ritual).

Despite popular belief, Hecate was not originally a Greek goddess. She is unknown to Homer and in fact the earliest written references to her are in Hesiod's Theogony. The place of origin of her cult is uncertain, but it is thought (Burkert 1985 p171) that she had popular cult followings in Thrace. Her most important sanctuary was Lagina, a theocratic city-state in which the goddess was served by eunuchs (Burkert). Lagina, where the famous temple of Hecate drew great festal assemblies every year, lay in the originally-Macedonian colony of Stratonicea (Strabo, Geography xiv.2.25). In Thrace she played a role similar to that of lesser-Hermes, namely a governess of liminal points and the wilderness, bearing little resemblance to the night-walking crone. Additionally, this led to her role of aiding women in childbirth and the raising of young men. There was a fane sacred to Hecate as well in the precincts of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where the eunuch priests, megabyzi, officiated (Strabo, xiv.1.23). Hesiod records that she was among the offspring of Gaia and Uranus, the Earth and Sky. In Theogony he ascribed to Hecate such wide-ranging and fundamental powers, that it is hard to resist seeing such a deity as a figuration of the Great Goddess, though as a good Olympian Hesiod ascribes her powers as the "gift" of Zeus:...
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