HOMINIBUS VAGIS VITAM: THE WANDERING OF HOMO HELLENISTICUS IN AN AGE OF TRANSFORMATION
At the forefront of Isis Lochias’s sanctuary in Dion was a carved screen that portrays the goddess. She is portrayed in a frontal pose that enhances her gallant and omnipotent ﬁgure (Pandermalis 1982; 1999, 89-117; Hatzopoulos 1999; Wild 1984, 1841-42; Egelhaaf-Gaiser 2000, 173 n. 348). This carved screen dates back to the second century BCE. On the upper right part of the carved screen we ﬁnd the following inscription:
The element that makes both the inscription and the carved screen signiﬁcantly important is Isis’ designation as QMBOIUFB. This devotional adjective is hapax legomenon in the entire inscriptional record that has come to light until now from the regions of the Greco-Roman oecumene. The importance of this speciﬁc adjective is supported by the fact that it underlines the henotheistic yet syncretistic ﬁgure of the goddess as Isis-Demeter. At the same time, though, it relates the divine ﬁgure to the hieros logos of the cult as described by Plutarch, since there are many similarities between his narration of the Hellenized ﬁgure of Isis and Demeter and how she is presented in the pseudo-Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The latter underlies those parts of Plutarch’s narration where he develops the mythical tradition that is related to Osiris and Isis (Plutarch, Is. Os. 355ǹ-357ǹ-D; Grifﬁths 1970, 309-33). Isis, like Demeter, ﬁnds her home city after wandering. According to the mythical tradition Demeter stops at Eleusis and Isis at Byblos. Demeter’s departure for Eleusis is the “reason” par excellence for the establishment of her cult there (Homeric Hymn to Ceres 90-97, 133-34 in Richardson 1974,
177-79, 190; in Foley 1993, 40-41). The reference to the departure myth of Isis to Byblos must be construed as an inﬂuence from the Greek mythical tradition (Plutarch, Is. Os. 357ǹ-Ǻ in Grifﬁths 1970, 324-26). They are two goddesses who are distinguished by the pain of loss of their beloved person. Thus “seeking” and “ﬁnding” are concepts that particularly characterize these two cults of the ancient world (Plutarch, Is. Os. 371Ǻ-372C in Grifﬁths 1970, 469-99). The adventure of Persephone-Kore and Osiris offers a comforting model to people of the Hellenistic era who face similarly difﬁcult conditions during their lifetime. Primary among them is the reality of “wandering,” typiﬁed by sailors and merchants, who consider Isis as their protector deity. People of the Hellenistic era are characterized above all by dispersion and wandering. The correspondence between mobile, wandering deities and wandering people helps to create the sense of reciprocity and mutuality that develops between the divine and the human world, which is a peculiarity of all cults that dominate the religious life of people during the Hellenistic period (Bianchi 1979, 5; 1982, 5). The farraginous populations of the Hellenistic era are constantly moving in order to ﬁnd better fortune and new sources of afﬂuence (Xenophon, Mem. ǿǿ.1.13.7-14.1). The foregoing situation is also directly connected to the great economic crisis that, during the fourth century BCE, irreparably afﬂicts the habitants of the Greek mainland, especially members of the lower social classes. The difﬁcult position of the Greek population becomes even harder during and after the end of the Peloponnesian War. The difference between “afﬂuence” and “indigence” becomes tenuous, and for this reason many are forced to search for better fortunes in old colonies of the Greek cities or even in the broader oecumene (see, e.g., Isocrates, III.184.108.40.206; VIII.220.127.116.11, 117.1; XII.76.5; Rostovtzeff 1941, 1:74-125; 2.1129; Fuks 1972, 17-44; Ste Croix 1981, 369-79; French 1991, 24-40). Many prefer to enlist as mercenaries in the armies of the many satraps of the East or in the expeditionary armies of Alexander’s successors (Rostovtzeff 1941, 1:14348; 2:1033, 1126-27; Grifﬁth 1935; McKechnie 1989, 79-100; Green 1990, 39-40, 45-46, 302-303; Walbank 1993, 89-90, 163-66; Seneca, Ben. 3.22). Counted among the wandering people of this period are the merchants who are continuously moving within the Mediterranean territories and beyond (Rostovtzeff 1941, 1:168-69; 2:1238-52; Nock 1933, 48-49; McKechnie 1989, 178-203; Green 1990, 362-81, 536; Walbank 1993, 227-29). While the conquests of Alexander radically changed the traditional politico-economic scene and created a new reality centered on the Hellenistic kingdoms, an unprecedented development of commerce takes place in the broader ecumenical environment (Rostovtzeff 1941, 1:169-87, 381-404, 541, 56566; 2:619-20; Green 1990, 326-27, 378-81). Many important transit centers are created (e.g. the city of Alexandria) that constitute the centers of
attraction for the emigrating people of that era (Fraser 1972, 1:7, 20-21; Rostovtzeff 1941, 1:315-422; Green 1990, 80-90, 155-60; Walbank 1993, 155-57). At the same time, many of the old commerce centers of the Mediterranean (e.g. the harbor of Piraeus) retain-even during this period-their special importance (Garland 1987; Mikalson 1998, 30, 43, 45, 51-52, 102103, 106, 137-44, 204). People of this era come to believe that they are no longer attached to a speciﬁc land or connected to the gods of their homeland, and for this reason the traditional values of religio-social life are intensely questioned, even if not thrust aside altogether (Isocrates, XII.50.2-8). At this time people perpetually wander towards the unknown, in most cases without regard for the dangers and twists of life. They aim at reaching the boundaries of the world. They face a world where there is neither beginning nor end, and eventually they lose all connections with their initial point of departure; freedom is exchanged for the enclosure of their patrimonial environment and their ancestors’ collective way of living (Rostovtzeff 1941, 2:1095-97; Green 1990, 382-95; Martin 1994, 125-31). They face the concepts of the inﬁnite and inscrutable that bring about intense feelings of perplexity and insecurity. Due to their dynamic and open character societies in this era develop a “centrifugal” character, distinguished from the so-called “centripetal” one (Smith 1978, xi-xv, 100-103, 130-42, 147-51, 160-66, 16971, 185-89, 291-94, 308-309). The new ecumenical dimension of the “world” induces a radical change of the people’s worldview. What counts as knowledge is no longer shaped as much by local as by trans-local, ecumenical ideals. Thus, people become ardent adherents of these new ecumenical ideals, so as at least to acquire a social status in their new environment (Meleager, Anth. Gr. 7.417.5-6; Teles, Exil. 25.4-7; Green 1990; Pakkanen 1996, 121-22). All these ideas are also strengthened by the representatives of different philosophical schools of the Hellenistic period. Among them a dominant position is held by the Cynics, who advocate freedom and the detachment of people from the conventional way of social living (Nock 1933, 168-69; Green 1990, 56-57, 612-17; Long 1997). Stoic teachings about “cosmopolitanism” also contribute to people’s sense of the whole oecumene as their homeland (Plutarch, Alex. fort. 329a 8-329b1 [fr. 262]; Diogenes Laertius, Vita philosoph. 6.63.3; Rostovtzeff 1941, 2:1121; Baldry 1959, 3-15; Nock 1933, 171-72; Nilsson 1974, 2:293-94; Green 1990, 64, 312, 388, 634; Pakkanen 1996, 121-28). Thus, the overall conditions of this period enables conveyors of power (kings and priests) to use certain “common denominators” (e.g. imposing or allowing a single common language or promoting the phenomenon of syncretism) that facilitate the imposition of new politico-religious situations, as
well as the mutual understanding and communication between people of the Hellenistic oecumene (Martin 2004; Pachis 2003, 29-30; 2004, 184). Their general tactics rely on a systematic use of traditional as well as any kind of innovative aspects that appear during this period. Crucial in the politics of the conveyors of power is the strategy of propaganda that reinforces the imposition of new types of government (Dunand 2000, 66-67; Pachis 2003). Besides, it is implied by the rulers that, in contrast to those who choose to remain faithful to the traditional ways of thinking, those who will adopt the new ideals will be among the well-favored in the overall politico-economic as well as religious system of this time. The tactics of a directed imposition of innovative ideas is even more intense, and thus controlled, in certain important centers (i.e. the capital cities of the Hellenistic states) than on the periphery (Smith 1978, 98-99, 107-19, 294-95; Pachis 2004, 184). The new cities that are being established in the realms of the Hellenistic kingdoms follow the Greek socio-religious mode of living, but their structure differs from the traditional one of the city state (Rostovtzeff 1941, 1:132-35, 255-602; Nilsson 1974, 2:35-37; Green 1990, 155-70; Walbank 1993, 55-58, 186-98). In the big cities members of the lower classes are increasing in number, dangerously giving rise to levels of inequality that was an unknown phenomenon during the classical period. The majority of inhabitants of the new cities are foreigners. Their move into these new cities increases the feeling of displacement and isolation, since there is no speciﬁc kin or ethnic relationship to bind them with other members of the cities’ or areas’ populations to which they have migrated (Rostovtzeff 1941, 1:20315; 2:615-32; Svencickaya 1996). In their attempt to mitigate the sense of displacement and isolation in the cities of the vast oecumene, people organize themselves into common associations that rely on the model of the familiar thiasoi and eranoi that continue to constitute an inﬂuential form of social life during the imperial age (Foucart 1975 ; Poland 1909; 1939-40, 147-200; Nilsson 1974, 111-12; Green 1990, 363-65; Martin 1994, 125; 1995a, 102-107; Parker 1996, 5, 161, 266, 333-42; Pakkanen 1996, 52-54; Kloppenberg and Wilson 1996; Mikalson 1998, 30, 31, 43, 45, 143, 145-48, 151-55, 216-41,275-77, 292, 298, 308-15; Harland 2003). In this way, they hope to ﬁnd their lost sociality and security within the devotional thiasoi of this period. Therefore, the concept of society develops along the model of these groups, which now constitute a miniature of traditional Greco-Roman social groups (Martin 1994, 128). The spirit of cooperation and religious cohesion that develops among the members of these associations is rather intense. At the same time, however, many new elements appear in the structure of their organization, elements that render these associations decisively different when compared with the associations in earlier periods. According to Mary Douglas, people
who participate in those devotional groups as members actually perform a transition into a new social reality that has nothing in common with their previous one (Douglas 1982, 1-7; Pakkanen 1996, 20-21; Festugière 1954, 40). Their entry and integration into those socio-religious groups automatically distinguishes them from the rest of the social body, makes them cut off any connection with their traditional familial and racial environment, and helps them to create new bonds that differ radically from the principles of kin afﬁnity (Martin 1994, 128-29; Smith 2004, 333). They believe that they will ﬁnd their lost sociality and security in the devotional thiasoi of this period. The concept of society develops in the environment of those groups, which constitute a substitute miniature of traditional Greco-Roman social forms (Martin 1994, 128). In such an unstable world, the ideas about the dominant place of fortune govern the everyday life of people and intensify the determinative inﬂuence of the personiﬁed Tyche (Roman Fortuna) in human life (Polybius 1.35.6, 2.25.4-6, 11.5.8, 18. 28.4-5 et passim; Cicero, Div. ǿ.27; Rostovtzeff 1941, 2:1122-23; Turcan 1996, 295; Green 1990, 53-55, 271-73, 396, 400-401, 634; Roveri 1956, 275-93; Walbank 1972, 58-65, 68; Ferguson 1970, 7787; Nilsson 1974, 2:200-18; Kajanto 1981; Martin 1995b; 1995c; Sfameni Gasparro 1997a; 1997b). The personiﬁcation of abstract concepts starts to dominate the religious life of people by the end of the classical period and is a characteristic of periods during which traditional values of the organized social body are disrupted. Tyche dominates people’s lives and the consequences are explicit: one feels like a captive of her caprices and one’s life seems like an ungoverned ship facing storms (Aristotle, Phys. 195b.13198a.13; Festugière 1954, 41; Green 1990, 401).