Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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from the trenches
Books: Portrait of a Priestess Volume 60 Number 3, May/June 2007
by Eti Bonn-Muller


In Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece (Princeton University Press, $39.95) archaeologist Joan Breton Connelly of New York University argues that religious office was the one place in ancient Greek society where women's roles were "equal and comparable" to those of men.

To please and honor the gods, for example, clergy led ceremonies that culminated in sacrificing an animal, which was inspected for omens and placed piece by piece on an altar fire. Traditionally scholars believed priestesses were forbidden to take part in the slaughter and ritual feast. Connelly asserts that some priestesses not only consumed the sacred meal, but also were involved in every aspect of the sacrifice, from selecting the animal to butchering it. By examining the lives and work of 150 priestesses--from Troy's Kassandra, whose beauty distracted Ajax, to the historical Berenike who was celebrated for her civic and philanthropic contributions to the city of Syros--Connelly reinstates these women to their rightful place in ancient history.

Eti Bonn-Muller is copy editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America