Communicating with the Gods in Ancient Greece: The Design and Functions of the ‘Thymele’ at Epidauros

By Peter Schultz and Bronwen L. Wickkiser.

Published by The Technology Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Rituals that enabled communication between mortals and immortals were critical to the ancient Greeks as a means of improving relations with their seemingly capricious gods. Our study reaches well beyond textual evidence — the traditional bastion of classical scholarship — to recover another way that the Greeks used technology, in this case architectural engineering, to improve communication with the gods.

Studies of the acoustics of ancient Greek structures have focused almost entirely on theaters. But before the acoustically stunning theater at Epidauros was constructed, its architect had designed a round marble building encircled by a colonnade (diameter ca. 22m) and placed it in the very center of this same sanctuary. According to building records from Epidauros, this building, called the thymele, was by far the most expensive structure erected there in the fourth century BCE during a major expansion program. Despite its centrality both physically and presumably also ritually, the thymele continues to baffle scholars because its function remains unclear.

We argue that one of the functions of this building was an acoustic sound box to amplify music sung to the healing gods Apollo and his son Asklepios, whose sanctuary this was. As we will demonstrate, the design and decoration of the building, its name (thymele), and the textual evidence of the hymns themselves, some of which were inscribed on marble blocks at Epidauros, all indicate that this building was a locus for songs accompanied by a lyre and sung to Apollo and Asklepios to request their assistance with healing individual bodies as well as the body politic. The thymele broadcast these songs to other worshipers in the sanctuary and, more importantly, to the ears of the gods.

Keywords: Acoustics, Ancient Greek Architecture, Ancient Greek Religion, Ancient Greek Performance, Ancient Greek Music, Ancient Greek Cult

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp.143-164. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.362MB).

Peter Schultz

Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Art, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, USA

Bronwen L. Wickkiser

Assistant Professor, Department of Classical Studies, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA


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