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Classical Journal On-Line <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 17 Dec 2007 19:10:44 -0600
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Myth, Ritual, and Metallurgy in Ancient Greece and Recent Africa. By SANDRA 
BLAKELY. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xiv 
+ 328. Cloth, $96.00. ISBN 978𢠧21855006.

Order this text for $96.00 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit 
CAMWS and the Classical Journal: 


Where to begin with a book as unique as Blakely's on ancient Greek daimones 
and African metallurgy? Although B. provides a useful compendium of 
evidence for the different ancient Greek daimones (the Daktyloi, Telchines, 
Kouretes, Korybantes or Kabeiroi), her book does not simply discuss their 
relationship to Greek iron-working technology. Nor is it a superficial 
overview of one or two African cultural systems whose smelting traditions 
bear upon select aspects of the Greek material. Rather, B. successfully 
discusses both the Greek and African material (particularly the practices 
of the Fipa of Tanzania and the BaKongo), and most important, the 
similarities and notable differences visible in the mythic and ritual 
response to iron technology in each cultural context. [n. 1] Throughout, B. 
also offers fascinating comment on the historical development of cultural 
comparativism in classical scholarship on the daimones (e.g., pp. 7982, 

Some classicists may balk at the cross-cultural approach of this book, even 
though B.抯 goals include highlighting specific differences between 
cultural systems and challenging the modern scholar to pinpoint meaning for 
the Greek daimones dependent upon specific circumstances, as opposed to a 
generalized synchronic interpretation or broad and wishful analogies with 
other cultures. B. herself notes at the start (p. 2) that the evidence for 
ancient Greek daimones is paltry and contradictory, and her anthropological 
and comparative approach to society and technology together is thus 
refreshing, and illuminates the smattering of ancient Greek material 
through noticeable disjunction, not necessarily parallelism. In what 
follows I comment only on some of B.抯 main points.

B. presents the Greek daimones as distinct types, while noting common ties 
to the great goddess and her child, autochthony, mysteries, dance and even 
certain territories. Variability, however, seems to be a hallmark of the 
daimones, particularly in ritual. Most important, given the usual images of 
these groups, B.抯 observations and comparisons suggest that many Greek 
daimones were not linked solely to metallurgy or even considered gods of 
the smithy; yet each group抯 relation to metals affects its proximity to 
the Great Mother. The more metallurgy, the less maternal principle and the 
more destructive, physically bizarre and criminal the daimon. She offers a 
particularly fine discussion of the iconography and other testimonia for 
the Kabeiroi and usefully compares Dionysiac and satyr traditions with the 
Boiotian Kabeiroi, concluding that the Kabeiroi provide a model for a 
non-Hellenic group that has little, if anything, to do with Hephaistos and 
smiths (pp. 3854).

B. situates her study of African iron in local traditions and ritual 
performance, using an approach informed by ritual functionalism. In 
different sections of the book, B. nicely details梑oth culturally and 
philologically梕xamples of Greek material close to ritual performance, 
e.g., the important 4th-century BCE inscribed Eretrian Hymn to the Idaian 
Daktyloi and the Palaikastro hymn to the Kouros. She also includes fine 
discussions of magnetic amulets (pp. 13947) and Herakles Daktylos as 
Egyptian Bes (pp. 14551), and is at her best when she discusses the 
6th-century Argive epic Phoronis, whose magical and ethnically foreign 
Daktyloi assert the importance of iron in a competitive ritual and 
political context (pp. 192214), and the Telchines of Pindar抯 Olympian 7 
(pp. 21526).

B.抯 analysis of African sociotechnology leads her to discuss the Greek 
daimones in terms of their powers in medicine, performance, social 
hierarchy, gender and magic. In discussing African traditions, especially 
those of the Fipa of Tanzania, she argues that the metallurgical craft of 
Greek daimones are not associated with female child-bearing itself or 
sexuality; rather, the daimones seek to protect the child (particularly 
Zeus) and its mother through a display of martial power. Tanzanian 
comparanda also suggest reading the Greek daimones as military figures 
concerned to mark their own territory as distinct from that of the mother 
figure and to ensure the territory抯 fecundity through armed dance. Certain 
daimones are more associated with apotropaic magic or destructive magic in 
general (e.g., the Telchines), but this has little to do with their 
metallurgical skills.

B. also raises the controversial issue of cultural diffusion between Greece 
and Africa. Notably, the evidence she adduces for Greek and African iron 
technology militates against derivation, perhaps most importantly so for 
the old hypothesis of Mediterranean origins for African metallurgy through 

One might wish for a less synchronic approach to the sources for the 
daimones. B. begins her chapter on iconography, for example, with a 
discussion of the image of Kabeiros on imperial coinage of Thessaloniki, 
which she tenuously links to the mysteries of the Lemnian Kabeiros; she 
then turns immediately to the metallurgical imagery of the Lemnian Kabeiroi 
from Aischylos few fragments (see pp. 338). This temporal juxtaposition 
of different types of sources is often hard to follow, although the paucity 
and chronological scope of the evidence (literary in particular) means that 
B.抯 method might have been the only one possible (see esp. pp. 2731, 
227). B. does comment, when possible, on chronological development of the 
different groups (e.g., pp. 212).

At times B.抯 dense style comes close to a list of sources and makes for a 
difficult read. She is occasionally repetitive, although mostly between the 
chapters and the introduction. The bibliography is complete, the indexes 
useful and the illustrations excellent. The notes, unfortunately, are not, 
for too often the references include no page numbers; the reader is left to 
refer to entire articles and even books. The text is quite clean, although 
there are a few minor errors. [n. 2]

Despite these flaws, B.抯 book is the first of its kind: a deep, 
multidisciplinary look at the varied and mysterious Greek daimones, as well 
as a successful elucidation of these shadowy figures through comparison 
with modern African communities.

Bucknell University

[n. 1] At the outset I should acknowledge a lack of experience with the 
African traditions, which limits my response to B.抯 use of this material. 
[n. 2] e.g. 揳ccouterment and 揹egrees (for 揹ecrees), both on p. 17.

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