National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Shannon M. Dunn

Affiliation: Bryn Mawr

Shannon Dunn is a Ph.D. candidate at Bryn Mawr College (ABD, expected 2024), Her dissertation is titled, “Peloponnesian Border Sanctuaries”. She holds degrees from Bryn Mawr (M.A.) and Colorado College (B.A.). Her research interests include:  Greek polytheism and cult regionalism; maritime religion; the relationship between landscape, mythology, and cult practice; and early modern reception of antiquity; contemporary issues of cultural heritage. She is the Bass lecturer for the AIA’s 2023-2024 National Lecture Program.


Eleusis, most commonly associated with Demeter and Persephone, is also the site of a curious temple shared by Artemis and Poseidon. Of all the buildings at Eleusis, Pausanias only describes those outside the walls of the inner sanctuary, claiming that a dream forbade him from describing the structures or rites within (1.38.6). His description of a single temple dedicated to both Artemis Προπυλαίας (“before the gates”) and Poseidon Πατρός (“father”) in the forecourt has been the primary means of identifying the remains of a Hadrianic temple, one of the least studied parts of the site. While Artemis’s associations with gateways are well attested, the reason for her pairing with Poseidon in this shared space is poorly understood. What significance would Poseidon have for denizens of or visitors to Eleusis? This talk reviews the literary and archaeological associations of Poseidon with Eleusis, to illustrate the layers of meaning his worship may have held for Eleusinians. Identified as “Father” Poseidon by Pausanias, at Eleusis Poseidon is a deity of fertility and a progenitor –- aspects which are often emphasized in places where he is found in association with Demeter. In connection to his power over water (whether coming up from underground or from the sea), and to his role as the divine ancestor of many heroes and noble families, his generative powers played a role in the fertile Thriasian Plain and in the origins of the priestly families who administered Eleusis. Although at Eleusis his temple was not only shared with another deity but also located outside of the main ritual space of the Mysteries, I demonstrate that he played an essential supporting role in the sanctuary, and that his cult there was an important connection to the world of Eleusis beyond the Telesterion: to the fertile Attic plains, the important routes through central Greece, the maritime community of the gulf, and the myths most central to Athenian identity.

This talk explores the three main sanctuaries of Poseidon around the Saronic Gulf: Sounion, Isthmia, and Kalaureia, and their relationships to the communities of the Gulf. The Saronic was a busy space of commercial and military activity, and the cross-gulf visibility enabled by the geographic proximity, as well as the relatively calm waters, allowed for easy communication among politically different regions of Greece. Coastal temples served as religious spaces, navigational aids, and markers of political and cultural territories. Temples of Poseidon are often found in these coastal locations, on high places such as hills or promontories, outside the city walls at territorial edges, and situated along major routes of travel. I will review these three sanctuaries which are all oriented toward the gulf, but were significant to this “Saronic neighborhood” in different ways. By considering issues of visual connectivity, approachability, manipulation of the landscape, and distances from roads and harbors, we will observe not only specific and local relationships between Poseidon, his sanctuaries, and the landscape, but also some Saronic trends, including the role of Athens — a strong presence at each site, whose own appreciation of Poseidon grew as their naval influence spread throughout the Saronic Gulf and beyond.

While in most cases in ancient Greece it was neither necessary nor feasible to bound one’s territory entirely with a border wall, in many instances the borders were at least partially demarcated, and there were many ways of doing so. When natural features (most often a mountain range or a river) were not sufficient, man-made markers were placed. Natural features were convenient for marking borders –- a large mountain range clearly divides two areas. This lecture focuses on different types of water features used as territorial borders or as spaces that signified edges of certain types of space. Rivers were commonly used as boundary lines, but these borders could be complicated by rivers changing course or by territories extending their holdings beyond the “natural” boundary. Watersheds, the combination of mountainous and riparian ideas of boundaries, could also serve to determine a border. Even wetlands seem to have been seen as areas that could signify a frontier; Artemis “Limnatis,” that is, of the lake or marshes, became an epithet seen in cults along territorial boundaries, whether an actual lake was present or not. There has also been debate over whether we can or should treat the coastline as a boundary –- where does a territory end, and does it include the sea? These are questions that continue to plague modern border disputes, notably in the Aegean between Greece and Turkiye. This talk will review watery boundary zones in the ancient Peloponnese, focusing on religious spaces of the borders and their relationships to the water.

The Homeric Hymn to Poseidon names the god’s two duties: “to be tamer of horses and savior of ships.” These two elements–-horses and the sea–-appear together in many aspects of ancient Greek life, whether in myth, religion, the visual arts, or literature. Not only Poseidon, but also the Dioskouroi, the twin horse gods, were gods of seafaring, appearing to sailors as the “St. Elmo’s fire” phenomenon. In the Odyssey (4.708), Penelope even calls swift ships “horses of the deep,” while the Phaeacians who finally bring Odysseus home have a ship that is compared to a chariot pulled by four stallions (Odyssey 13.81). At Olympia, a bronze dolphin was waved as the signal of the start of the horse races in the hippodrome, where there was an altar of Poseidon Hippios (“of horses”). A sanctuary complex for Poseidon Hippios has been excavated just outside ancient Mantinea in Arcadia, which ancient sources tell us had a nearby sacred grove of trees called Pelagos (“sea”). What is the connection between these two aspects? Were horses and the sea simply two major components of ancient Greek life, or were there deeper symbolic connections? This talk explores the relationships between horses and the sea through various media: iconography, literary metaphor, and cult practices.

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