A Semantic Study of Greek Piety


In Hosios: A Semantic Study of Greek Piety Saskia Peels elucidates the semantics of the Ancient Greek adjective hosios and its cognates. Traditionally rendered as ‘piety’, hosios was a key notion in Classical Greek religion and reflected a core value in Athenian democracy. Since antiquity, its meaning and usage have puzzled many. This study sets out to resolve various scholarly debates on the semantics of hosios by focusing on the idea of lexical competition. It illuminates the semantic relationship between hosios and its near-synonyms eusebês and dikaios, and the connection to the notion of the ‘sacred’. Using insights from modern linguistic theory, the book also aims to improve methods for research into the lexical semantics of a dead language.

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Biographical Note

Saskia Peels, Ph.D. (2014, Utrecht), is a postdoctoral researcher at the Université de Liège. Her work focuses on different aspects of Greek religion in literature and inscriptions. She is co-author of A Collection of Greek Ritual Norms (Université de Liège 2016).

Review Quotes

"Saskia Peels’ informative book (...) freshly reassesses the semantics of the Greek adjective hosios, a key lexeme for understanding ancient Greek mentalities and ritual practices. It is a product of what I would call the Dutch School, which is creating groundbreaking work on social history(...) The novelty of Peels’ method lies in her use of the latest developments in linguistics and cognition, and in this respect she sets a model for future research. Her book offers new and convincing solutions to vexed questions, and it has already established itself as the point of reference for explaining the meaning of hosios and cognates with substantial implications for the history of religions."
Irene Salvo in BMCR 2018.12.17

Table of contents


Abbreviated Sources

1. Introduction
1 hosios & cognates
2 Research Questions and Goals
3 A Theory of Meaning
4 Outline and Sources

2. The Semantics of ὅσιος - A Preliminary Investigation
1 Distribution
2 Internal Organisation of the Semantic Network
3 ὅσιος on an Evaluative Scale
4 The Cultural Frame(s)
5 The Appearance of a Mentality?
6 Conclusion

3. ὅσιος vs. εὐσεβής
1 Actions vs. Attitudes?
2 hosios & cognates vs. eusebes & cognates: Distributions
3 Affect in Disqualification
4 Conclusion

4. ὅσιος vs. δίκαιος
1 Pleasing Gods and Pleasing Humans
2 hosios & cognates vs. dikaios & cognates: Frames
3 The Fine-Tuning of Evaluative Vocabulary
4 Conclusion

5. Pious Gods - The Marked Usage of ὅσιος for Divinities
1 Markedness
2 ὅσιος and ἀνόσιος Gods
3 Conclusion

6. ὅσιος vs. ∅ - Religious Evaluation in Ritual Norms
1 Religious Evaluation in Ritual Norms
2 Cultural Knowledge of the Unwritten Norm
3 ὁσία and ὅσιος in the Context of Ritual Practice in Literary Texts
4 Two Ideal Types of Sacred Law
5 Religious Disqualifications in Ritual Norms with Other Sanctions
6 Religious Disqualifications in Ritual Norms without Other Sanctions
7 Conclusion

7. The Semantic Paradox
1 ‘Sacred’, ‘Pious’ and ‘Profane’
2 Three Famous Cases of the Semantic Paradox
3 The Semantic Paradox in the Set Phrase ἱερὰ καὶ ὅσια
4 The Semantic Paradox in Denominative Verb Forms
5 Semantic Paradox or Marked Language? Hermes Confused
6 Conclusion


Index Locorum
Index of Greek Terms
General Index


All interested in the notion of piety in ancient Greece and specifically the meaning of the term ‘hosios’, and anyone concerned with the lexical semantics of evaluative terms.