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  • Greek Festivals, Modern and Ancient: A Comparison of Male and Female Values by Evy Johanne Håland
  • Peter S. Allen (bio)
Evy Johanne Håland, Greek Festivals, Modern and Ancient: A Comparison of Male and Female Values. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2017. 2 volumes. Pp. xiv + 826. 101 illustrations. Cloth £68.99.

Evy Håland has produced a monumental work of scholarship in two volumes comprising 826 pages of text, 1,230 footnotes, 101 photographs, and a bibliography that runs to almost 1,000 citations. Her stated purpose is a corrective—to give girls and women their proper place in both ancient and modern Greek festivals and other rituals. Arguing, correctly, that our principal sources for ancient Greece are overwhelmingly males who have largely written females out of the picture or downplayed their roles, Håland offers another perspective, demonstrating that females have always played important parts in many rites and continue to do so today. The book is based on extensive research on the sources for both ancient and modern Greece, as well as several brief stints of hands-on field research by the author in various parts of the country. The end results of all this are mixed. Håland has succeeded in showing that females have always played more significant roles in Greek ritual life than most sources have indicated, but there are myriad problems with some of her other observations and assertions.

She begins with a discussion of ancient and modern Greek rituals and sex roles therein. This is followed by an exposition on survivalism and continuities, as well as a chapter on Greek religion in general in which she explores the complexities of pre-Christian and Christian traditions in Greece. Next comes a close examination of eight modern Greek festivals: the Dormition of the Virgin Mary on Tinos, the Babo midwinter festival in Macedonia, Carnival in Macedonia, the Kalogeros festival in Thrace, a Clean Monday festival, Easter on Karpathos, the Anastenaria (firewalking) in Northern Greece, and the festival of the bull on Lesbos, all of which she attended and reports on. The next chapter is a detailed description of several ancient festivals: the Panathenaia, the Eleusinian Mysteries, three women’s festivals (the Thesmophoria, the [End Page 187] Haloa, and the Skira), two Dionysian festivals (the Athenasteria and the City of Dionysius), and the Adonis festival. Throughout Håland emphasizes the links of all these festivals to fertility, healing, and death, themes elaborated upon in Volume 2, where she also elucidates her perspectives on sex roles in these festivals, both ancient and modern.

On the question of continuities between ancient and modern Greece, Håland is cautious, preferring to focus on parallels, asserting that similarities in ancient and modern Greek rituals can largely be attributed to similarities of circumstances and ecology, as well as the fact that the major components of these rituals—feasting, processions, offerings, sacrifices, and competitive games—are found in festivals universally, and thus it is logical that Greeks, both ancient and modern, would incorporate them into their festivals. Nevertheless, she invokes the distinction between survivalists and antisurvivalists, terms largely out of favor today, to characterize certain scholarly perspectives. She is critical of those she identifies as antisurvivalists (46–62), singling out anthropologists Loring Danforth and Michael Herzfeld in particular, both of whom are reluctant to make direct links between modern and ancient rituals. For example, Håland criticizes Danforth for not comparing certain aspects of the modern Anastenaria festival to practices associated with ancient rituals. She does, however, cite both Danforth and Herzfeld more favorably elsewhere.

The author identifies herself as an historian and an ethnohistorian and has a good command of the ancient literature and the literature on the ancients. She also has a broad familiarity with the modern Greek folkloric and anthropological sources, although there are some lacunae. Furthermore, this is an English edition of a work first published in Norwegian in 2007 without any updating; thus, there is only a small handful (fewer than a dozen) of references to works published after 2001, except for citations of some of her own works. It might have been helpful and appropriate to include such works as Women...


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