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  • Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village by Juliet du Boulay
  • Anna Marina Iossifides
Juliet du Boulay . Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village. Limni, Evia, Greece : Denise Harvey . 2009 . Pp. 462 . 32 plates, 5 diagrams. Hardcover €38.00 . Paperback €25.00 .

This is the second of Juliet du Boulay’s books chronicling the lives, beliefs, and values of a small community in the mountains of Evia, Greece. Her first book, A Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), was informed by fieldwork conducted in the village of Ambeli from roughly 1966 through 1968 and again from 1970 through 1972. In vivid detail, that initial book described her experience of living in a [End Page 193] small, isolated, subsistence community in direct contact with the natural world, as suggested by chapter headings that described the village, house, and community and then moved on to the individual, the family, and the wider relations of kinship and friends.

This second book is based upon the same fieldwork, complimenting and expanding on the previous work. Many aspects of the villagers’ lives will be familiar to those who have followed du Boulay’s earlier publications: the symbolism of the right-handed dance, the zinari (belt) and its relation to blood ties, and the irony of gender wherein women (although associated with Eve) are able through practice to overcome their base natures, while men are condemned to fears of failing to realize God’s perfection. Yet these familiar themes take on a timeless meaning as du Boulay analyzes them in terms of the Orthodox liturgical tradition, shedding light on how this tradition has informed practice and perspectives in everyday life. In this sense then, the book suspends and weds different times: the eternal and everyday, cyclical and historical. The fieldwork material from which the author draws is four decades old. The people of Ambeli are forever caught in those moments of fieldwork in their remote village, their then present linked to an Orthodox past.

Du Boulay explicitly avoids discussing the disputes and bitter conflicts of present-day Greece, as she glosses over the disputes and conflicts of the then rural society she describes. Her account explains and smoothes over the contradictions, difficulties, cruelties, politics, and power relations described in much contemporary ethnography. However, the narrative that she does create highlights and explains certain central values still evident in Greece today: the centrality of family and kin, an understanding of hospitality, an in-grained suspicion of those who are neighbors and potential competitors.

The portrait du Boulay offers may be likened to a Rockwell painting of that perfect Thanksgiving family dinner to which we aspire come November. For example, in the discussion of the open-air festival of the wheat harvest, the contradictions and oppositions both within and between categories are reconciled. The security of human company as opposed to human greed and envy, the wild and dangerous world of nature as opposed to the purity of the innocence of creation, and the daily contention of separate households as opposed to the village community are all refocused as the entire community joins in “the round dance.” In this dance, reconciliation is achieved between kin groups and between the village community and the natural world (159). The critical element of making sense of village activities, du Boulay points out, is work—both that of man and of God. In the work of planting, harvesting, threshing, and the making of bread, she concludes that God and man and the world are linked.

Through the medium of bread then, gained by the sweat of man’s brow, the eucharist, the family meal, and the great acts of sharing and giving described above bring together themes of work and festival, and reveal festival not as the antithesis of work but as its apotheosis.


And she continues noting that work (δουλειά) associated literally with slavery becomes leitourgia (λειτουργία), that is “public or communal work or service, hence the communal service of God, the ‘liturgy’ ” (160). [End Page 194]

The foregoing paragraph’s quotes are not just exercises in clever associations. The elegantly written book manages to place the villagers’ own images of the sacred...


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