Feast and Ancient Greek Dance: Live texts and Key Symbols

Author: Sotirios Bekakos (Department of Philosophy – National Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece)
Speaker: Sotirios Bekakos
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
COMELA 2022 General Session


Feasts and ancient Greek dance are two key elements of the ancient world that can be studied in an anthropological perspective. These two elements are strictly connected in the ancient Greek culture. In previous studies, I tried to focus on the dialectal elements of feast in Southern Italian romance and Greek dialects, to illustrate the persistence of the feast as linguistic and cultural elements that symbolize the memory of a community (Bekakos 2009: 29 – 51).  In this paper, feasts and ancient Greek dance are discussed as linguistic, social, and cultural phenomena. The term feast with the main terms of ancient Greek dance are illustrated and studied with the use of ‘deep play’ and ‘thick description’. Thick description is a term proposed by Clifford Geertz (1926 – 2006) in The Interpretation of Cultures (1973) but comes from the work of the philosopher of language Gilbert Ryle (1900 – 1976). The term refers to an ethnographic method that privileges sensitivity to detail and the multiple significations that an activity, event, or symbol may bear. The principle is to record, in detail, the immediate context of the phenomenon observed to extract the meanings, feelings, and world views that shape and inform social life. The term ‘deep play’ is adapted by Geertz from the writings of Jeremy Bentham in The Theory of Legislation (1802). It is a practice that enriches culture, symbolizing ‘the dramatization of status concerns’ and creates significant meaning. Thus, the context is the feast and dance is a phenomenon that uses emotions for cognitive purposes. To illustrate the interpretative challenges posed by this way of understanding the relationship between context and text, two Athenian examples can be considered, under the light of linguistic anthropology and anthropology of the ancient world, an inscription from the Athenian Agora (Inv. no 7484), where the ephebes are praised for their participation in the Aianteia feast of Salamina, and a dithyrambus of Pindar (fr. 75 Snell – Maehler)

Keywords: Feast, Ancient Greek Dance, Symbol, Text