Adriano Bertollini

Supplication. Symbolic Violence and Language

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The ritual of supplication (hiketeia) is a legal and religious institution of ancient Greece: it is the extreme plea for acceptance of a human being stripped of social ties and possessions, who relies on the benevolence of the community in which he seeks asylum and on the protection of Zeus hikesios, defender of the suppliants. By virtue of divine protection, the ritual is a symbolic and semiotic practice marked by a profound ambivalence. Insisting on this ambivalence, the article aims to take on the suppliant as an anthropological document of homo sapiens’ dangerousness to conspecifics. The risk of conflict (verbal and physical), evoked and then (most often) exorcised through acceptance, is brought to the fore in ritual. Beginning with an analysis of texts (Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides), an anthropological-philosophical reading will be advanced to show how much speech and symbolic practices can calm physical confrontation, but also explode violence.


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