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Fragment I of the seventh-century Spartan poet Alcman, better known as the Louvre Partheneion, remains one of the most vexing specimens of Greek lyric. Scholars have debated with great vigor about the meaning of various elements in the poem: the Tyndaridae legend, H6poV (line 14), oV (line 61), the light imagery, the horse imagery, the Pleiades (line 60), the "Ten" and the "Eleven" (lines 98-99), and so on. Although definitive interpretations are elusive, I believe that one viable solution to the meaning of these elements and their function in the poem is at hand through a hitherto unexplored avenue of inquiry, Mircea Eliade's theory of sacred time. Alcman's poem was intended to be sung by a chorus of girls performing some sort of ritual. Although we cannot be sure what kind of ritual it was, whether involving agriculture, marriage, or something else, as a religious ritual the ceremony was essentially an intersection of the world of myth and the quotidian world, the everyday world whose functions included agriculture, marriage, and other things that rituals are supposed to enable. Generally speaking, a ritual's success depends on the other world, which expresses itself most dramatically through myth, even as it employs implements of this world (torches, farm equipment, sacrificial victims, etc.). This interaction was of particular interest to Eliade and permeates much of his prodigious corpus, where he discusses the two worlds in terms of the "sacred" and the "profane." It is by relating each of the puzzling elements listed above to the "sacred," by showing how the performance of the Partheneion brought its participants into sacred time-"a primordial mythical time made present"-that I hope to uncover their meaning and function.I
Patterson, L. (2005). Alcman’s Partheneion and Eliade’s Sacred Time. Classical and Modern Literature, 25(1), 115-127.
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