Review – The Mutilation of the Herms

Cover of the The Mutilation of the Herms by Debra HamelThe Mutilation of the Herms, Debra Hamel

This is a short ebook which summarises the written evidence about a curious event that happened in Athens in 415 BC. It might be tempting to dismiss the mutilated statues of Hermes as a drunken prank, but the people of Athens took it extremely seriously. It’s important to remember that at that time religion was a big part of life; it isn’t just like a gang going round and defacing images of Christ, which seems in poor taste but not (for most people) much of a threat. More like a nuisance. But people were executed for involvement with the mutilation of the Herms, and a related issue involving the Eleusinian Mysteries.

This is more summary of the evidence than analysis, but it’s accessible and (to someone like me who will dip into all sorts of random areas of knowledge, at least) interesting. It’s a mystery that still exercises the minds of classical scholars: why mutilate the Herms? Was it just a prank? Was it a political statement? To me, given the issues with performances of the Eleusinian Mysteries for the uninitiated that were happening at the time, it seems to be linked to a more religious than political kind of unrest, but of course the two were more deeply linked then…

All in all, I suspect Debra Hamel and other classicists are more likely to solve the mystery than people reading a short ebook on it, so perhaps I should keep my opinions to myself. But it is interesting to read about, and this ebook made it accessible for anyone, with plenty of information on where to follow up for those who want to go to the sources or read other analyses.

Rating: 4/5

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