Readers should be aware that the sources for Greek cults are lacunose and of widely varying date and reliability; they include the testimony of ancient poets, historians, and scholars; inscriptions; reports of excavated sanctuaries and their contents; and other bits of evidence. Scholars typically reconstruct rituals and festivals by judiciously weighing and combining information from these sources, and this practice has its pitfalls. For example, all scholars of ancient Greek religion are dependent to some degree on the testimony of the antiquary Pausanias, who lived in the second century CE and wrote a voluminous travelogue listing sights “worth seeing” in mainland Greece, with a heavy emphasis on sanctuaries. The accuracy of Pausanias’ eyewitness descriptions has been repeatedly verified by archaeologists, and he is generally considered a reliable guide with respect to the places and objects he himself observed. But while Pausanias had a strong personal interest in the Archaic and Classical Greek periods, and a good eye for distinguishing their products, his reports of festivals and rituals as they were practiced and understood c. 160 CE are not necessarily accurate guides to what was done and believed centuries earlier. Therefore, the synthetic descriptions of festivals in this book must be viewed not as established facts, but as “best guesses” based on the available evidence.5
The remainder of this chapter is a (very) brief introduction to a few more of the terms, concepts, and methodological issues that are most critical for the study of ancient Greek cults. Specialists will already be familiar with these terms and the debates surrounding them; for those new to the discipline, one of the introductions to Greek religion cited at the end of the chapter, or Walter Burkert’s classic handbook Greek religion (1985) will provide further context for the cults described in this book.