Touching the Gods: physical interaction with cult statues in the Roman world
“Touching the Gods: physical interaction with cult statues in the Roman world‟ explores different forms of physical interaction with cult statues in the many cults and beliefs evident across the Roman world, and proposes wide-ranging implications of this for the understanding of Roman religions and Roman art. Despite the theoretical detachment of the cult statue in the Roman world, an ideological language of close physical interaction was developed, which manifested itself through both “regular‟ (for example, ritual decoration and washing) and “irregular‟ (such as sexual and violent) contact. Although modern scholarship accepts that cult statues formed part of religious worship within which physical interaction took place, they are generally treated as passive objects. This research addresses the implications of physical interaction for the active role of the statue within Roman societies, through the assessment of the anthropological, social and psychological functions the statue could embody. It establishes a socio-cultural definition of the cult statue in the Roman world, supported by an assessment of Greek and Latin vocabulary for statuary and an assessment of the physical evidence for cult images. The thesis separately considers the different types of interaction, including washing and clothing, verbal communication, transportation, embrace, violence and feeding. The conclusions drawn from these separate types are based partly on a broad study of the full range of interactions, with an additional focus on the points in the ancient dialogue at which their limitations are placed. The cumulative effect of the evidence, across the whole empire and across all interactions possible, illuminates the vast complexity and vast potential of images of the gods in forming, informing and being influenced by human relationships with the divine.
PhD Dissertation, Durham University, 2010