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date: 11 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys the forms, content, functions, and settings of Greek and Roman prayer using evidence from the middle of the first millennium bce through the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods. Much of the evidence for prayer in antiquity is preserved in fictional literary contexts (like the Homeric epics and Attic drama) or in ancient historiography—in which prayers, like speeches, were composed for inclusion in particular literary settings. Given the formulaic character of most ancient prayers, however, literary prayers were typically intended to imitate the conventions of actual prayer in order to achieve verisimilitude. Prayer, like all human institutions, is culture-bound and must be understood in light of its polytheistic ancient religious context, often very different from the context of modern monotheistic types of prayer. Greek and Roman prayer was almost always used in the context of sacrifice, considered a gift to a god obligating him or her to respond positively to the supplicant’s request. Types of ancient prayer included petitionary prayer, vows (often accompanied by votive offerings), curses, oaths, thanksgiving, hymns, and oracular inquiries. Ancient prayers often exhibited a three-part structure consisting of an invocation, an argument (often omitted), and a request.

Keywords: curse, hymns, invocation, oath, oracles, prayer, reciprocity, thanksgiving, votive offering, vows

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