The Goddess Bendis in Fifth Century Athenian Culture

Braund D.

This paper is mostly concerned with the arrival and early history of the cult of the goddess Bendis in Athens. Accordingly, it considers in some detail the earliest evidence for her cult there, especially key inscriptions (the Kallias Decrees, the records of the so-called Treasurers of the Other Gods etc.) and the fragments of the comic playwright Cratinus, who included Bendis in his Thracian Women (usually and plausibly dated in the 430s). Images on Athenian pottery are also considered, including a vessel linked to Sotades and so significantly earlier than two more familiar vessels of the 430–420s. There is no reason to suppose that her cult was adopted by the Athenian state (in whatever sense) around the 430s, while muchrepeated, modern claims about specific causes of her adoption do not stand up. Bendis was linked to Thrace, but in the broadest sense, including northwest Asia Minor and Thessaly, where she was said to be the daughter of Admetus (hence her link with Dodona). Among her spheres of concern were not only hunting (where she is among several goddesses akin to Artemis, but distinct from her) and the moon (cf. Hecate), but also – and perhaps most importantly – death and after-life. Orphics seem to have considered her a powerful form of Persephone. Bendis’ festival was, therefore, well suited to the first book of Plato’s Republic. While Socrates’ concern with Thrace and Orphism are thereby exemplified once more, her festival («local» to Chalcedonian Thrasymachus) builds on the sense of katabasis in Book One, and balances the myth of Er in Book Ten. Adrasteia’s brief occurrence in the middle of the same work may also be significant, given her regional and apparently financial links with Bendis at Athens.

Keywords: Bendis, Athenian cult, Athenian religion, Adrasteia, Thracian goddess, Persephone, Orphism, Dodona, Admetus, Sotades, Phiale painter, Kallias decrees, Treasurers of the Other Gods, Artemis, Hecate, Cratinus, Plato, Republic, Thrasymachus of Chalcedon

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