I'm sorry this post is a day late; yesterday was pretty hectic, and I just could not do a post like this justice. So here we are, with the first of the 'Q's for the Pagan Blog Project. I have been dreading these two weeks for the entire year. Not only is the letter 'Q' not part of the ancient Hellenic alphabet, there are not that many interesting English words starting with the letter 'Q' which can be applied to ancient Hellas or modern Hellenistic practice. For the first 'Q', I have decided to explore the 'Quaestiones Graecae', written by Plutarch in the first century AD.

Plutarch (Ploútarkhos, Πλούταρχος) was a Greek historian, biographer, and essayist, who later in his life became a Roman citizen. As such, he was extraordinarily qualified to write two standard works: the 'Quaestiones Graecae' (Αἴτια Ἑλληνικά, or Greek Questions), and the 'Quaestiones Romanae' (Αἴτια Ῥωμαϊκά, or 'Roman Questions'). These essays are part of the book series 'Moralia' (Ἠθικά, loosely translatable as 'Matters relating to customs and mores'), and can be found in book IV of the series. The Greek Questions contain fifty-nine questions, the Roman version hundred-thirteen, and all pertain to matters concerned with their respective culture. Many of the answers are names, or customs, and the Greek Questions are thus valuable for research on ancient Hellenic life.

The questions have a wide range of usefulness, but many of the answers give insight into the lives of the ancient Hellenes, the important familial lies, and clues into the duties of those concerned with divine issues. Question number three, for instance reads: "who is She that Kindles the Fire (hypekkaustria) among the people of Soloi?", to which Plutarch replies:

"This is the name which they give to the priestess of Athena because she performs certain sacrifices and ceremonies to avert evil."

Soloi (Σόλοι) was an ancient city and port in Cilicia, in present day Turkey. As such, it cannot be said that all temples of Athena would have had a hypekkaustria on hand, but it does mean there is recorded precedence for the custom.

The nature of the  is thus that some of Plutarch's answers are informed guesses: to some of the questions posed, he does not know the actual answer, but in keeping with the style of writing, he answers them regardless, sometimes with multiple answers. Question number 31, for example, reads: "why is it that at the Thesmophoria the Eretrian women cook their meat, not by fire, but by the rays of the sun; and why do they not call upon Kalligeneia?". His answer:

"Is it because it happened that the captive women whom Agamemnon was bringing home from Troy were celebrating the Thesmophoria at this place, but when conditions for sailing suddenly appeared favourable, they put out to sea leaving behind them the sacrifice uncompleted?"

Answers--and even questions--like these give valuable clues about Eretria (Ερέτρια), a town in Euboea, facing the coast of Attica across the Euboean Gulf, but also about the Thesmophoria festival and religious festivals in general. For example, from the question, it becomes clear that meat is typically 'cooked' (which can mean any type of preparation, but the original Greek may be clearer on this) over a fire during the Thesmophoria (and perhaps other religious festivals), and that the Thesmophoria was at least partially dedicated to Kalligeneia (Καλλιγενεια), the Nymph nurse of the goddess Demeter and of her daughter Persephone. From other sources, we know that Kalligeneia was worshipped in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and thus ties the mention of her by Plutarch the Thesmophoria to the Mysteries in a minor way--a tie that other writers strengthen.

The Quaestiones Graecae are a treasure-trove of information for the well-informed and questioning Hellenist, and making time to read all the questions and answers is most certainly time well spent. All the questions and answers can be found here.