Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lily Ross Taylor on PROSKUNHSIS

The following is taken from Lily Ross Taylor's _The Divinity of the Roman Emperor_, Philological Monographs, no. 1 (Middletown, Conn: American Philological Association, 1931).

This post deals with PROSKUNHSIS

"The Greek word PROSKUNHSIS denotes an act of devotion to a god that consisted either in kissing the hand toward the image or--less often--in kissing the ground before it. The Greeks used the word to describe the Persian custom of greeting the king by bowing down and kissing the earth. Alexander's conquest of the great Persian empire had brought him into close contact with Persian customs and manners, and in general he found it wise to adopt them" (pp. 18-19).

"Of course the PROSKUNHSIS did not always imply 'worship' in our sense of the word. It was a form of greeting extended among the Persians by inferiors to those far above them (Hdt. 1.134). For an analysis of the material on the PROSKUNHSIS, see Schnabel, Klio, XIX, 118ff."

The full reference for the article to which Taylor refers is
Paul Schnabel, "Die Begründung des hellenistischen Königskultes durch Alexander," Klio 19 (1925) 113-27.


Duncan said...

Duncan said...

This demonstrates that it is a little more complicated

Compare Exo 3:5

Edgar Foster said...

I've read Taylor's work, and her comments on PROSKUNHSIS must be viewed in context. She was not trying to give a full historical analysis of the word, but rather, her book deals with the development of emperor worship. However, I think she perceptive notes that PROSKUNHSIS focuses on the act of prostration, kneeling (etc) as opposed to focusing on worship, although that meaning is sometimes part of the word's semantic value.

Duncan said...

Presumably, Taylor makes her assertion on the basis of this reported event:-

5. 330–327 bc.
The pursuit of Bessus took Alexander into outer Iran and lasted from 330 to 327, during which time he subdued vast tracts of
the outlying areas of the empire—Hyrcania, Areia, Drangiana, Bactria, and Sogdiana—but his Macedonian soldiers were
becoming increasingly reluctant to advance further. Advancing from Drangiana Alexander performed the feat of taking his army
across the snows of the Hindu Kush. He descended into Sogdiana, and eventually captured and killed Bessus. In 328 he
reached the furthest northeast
boundary of the Persian empire, the river Jaxartes (Syr Darya), and here he founded
Alexandria Eschate, ‘the furthest’. Later that year after a violent quarrel at a banquet he killed his lifelong friend Cleitus with one
blow, a rash act of which he bitterly repented, retiring to his tent in the manner of Achilles in Homer's Iliad.
By early 327 Alexander had overcome the last resistance in the northeast
borders by the spectacular capture of two
apparently impregnable mountain fortresses. Among the captives was Roxane (Roxana), the daughter of a Sogdian baron,
whom Alexander loved at sight and immediately married, in the customary form of Macedonian marriage. She became the
mother of his son, Alexander IV. In the same year another plot was discovered against his life, implicating Callisthenes, the
nephew of Aristotle and the expedition's historian, who was eventually killed. Callisthenes was reputed to have refused
Alexander the obeisance, proskynesis, traditionally given to the Persian kings. Although proskynesis might involve no more
than kissing the tips of one's fingers towards a person or god, to the Greeks it meant prostrating oneself on the ground, which
they regarded as impious when done before men.

Taken from The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature

Edgar Foster said...

Not only does Taylor make this point, but other lexical sources say the same thing. BDAG also contains information on the historical background of PROSKUNHSIS, which agrees with Taylor's analysis. I would not be surprised if LSJ contained similar data, since what Taylor writes is a commonplace among classicists and NT scholars.