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Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Wolfson Fellow

Dr Ivana Petrovic

Contact Dr Ivana Petrovic (email at

Areas of Doctoral Supervision

Ancient Greek poetry and Greek religion.


I am a Senior Lecturer in Greek Literature and have a Diploma in Classics from Belgrade University and a Ph.D. in Greek literature from Giessen University. I was a Fellow of Sasakawa Peace Foundation (1999), and a Residential Fellow at the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies (2009/10).

My main research interests are Ancient Greek literature, religion and South-Slavic oral traditional poetry.

My first monograph, "Von den Toren des Hades zu den Hallen des Olymp. Artemiskult bei Theokrit und Kallimachos", was published by Brill Academic Publisher (Mnemosyne Supplements 281).

I have published articles in journals and edited volumes on Ancient Greek poetry, Greek magic and religion, and iconotexts (intermediality) and have co-edited volumes on the relationship between image and text (ebook, Giessen University), on the Roman triumph (Steiner Verlag), and on Greek epigram (Cambridge University Press).

I am also interested in reception and visual culture. My analysis of Oliver Stone's film "Alexander" which focuses on the way the film uses ancient biographies of Alexander the Great (especially Plutarch) and ancient mythology (especially the myths about Dionysus, Prometheus, Heracles, Medea, and Achilles.) has recently been singled out by Oliver Stone. He praised the article as "excellent" on his facebook page and recommended it to tens of thousands of his facebook followers. He also posted a link to the book on his website.

Currently, I am working on two monographs on inner purity in Greek religion together with my colleague (and husband) Andrej Petrovic. The title of our project is "Inner Purity in Ancient Greek Religion: A Manifestation of Belief".

Objective: To investigate what the notion of inner purity can tell us about the nature of Greek religion, and to thus establish the place of belief within Greek religiosity.

Abstract: Was ancient Greek religion really ‘mere ritualism’? Early Christians denounced pagans for the disorderly plurality of their cults, and reduced Greek religion to ritual and idolatry; Protestant theologians condemned the pagan ‘religion of form’ (with Catholicism as its historical heir). ‘Greek religion had little to do with belief, and a great deal to do with practice and observance of … customs’, says one representative scholar in 2010. But we argue that there was also an important place for belief in Greek rituals. We examine the Greek notion of inner purity as a manifestation of such belief and highlight the significance of intrinsic, faith-based elements in Greek religious practices — providing the first comprehensive history of the trope of inner purity in Greek religion. This novel concept of Greek religiosity aims to shift the debate in the scholarship on Greek religion away from the evolutionary model. Since religious language frames philosophical, historical, and anthropological debates, as well as aspects of medical humanities, this project is of import for humanities in general.


Project description: A large amount of evidence bears witness to the importance of the inner purity of the worshipper: From the 7th c. BC onwards we encounter requests for a correct psychological or mental attitude formulated in terms of having pure thoughts, mind, or psyche. The texts stipulate that worshippers ‘should present themselves not only with a body clean of every deed of injustice, but also with a pure soul,’ or that they should enter the sanctuary pure, and that ‘to be pure is to think pious thoughts’. Cumulative evidence testifies that correct inner disposition was at the core of the Greek concept of piety. This disposition is typically articulated through categories of inner purity.

- What does inner purity have to do with belief? Formulations of inner purity provide an ideal case to test and explore the role of orthodoxy in Greek religion, and to tackle the complexities associated with the role of belief in pagan religions in general. This matters, since the study of Greek religion is still decisively influenced by a ritualistic approach that denies internal investment in ritual action, and divorces the inner disposition of Greeks towards the gods from their outward actions on their behalf. According to deeply rooted scholarly opinion, the principal difference between ancient Greek religion and modern monotheistic religions is encapsulated in the dichotomy between ‘religions of form’ and ‘religions of spirit.’ As a ‘religion of form,’ Greek religion is often perceived as ‘mere ritualism,’ to which notions of belief are alien. Greek texts do not utilise words synonymous with the English ‘belief’; however, they do classify worshippers’ mental dispositions as pure or impure. By doing so, the texts refer to a system of ritual purity to define and prescribe correct thinking about the gods. Even if correct (‘pure’) inner disposition is often articulated vaguely as thinking ‘religiously correct thoughts’, close analysis of sources reveals a degree of specificity (ethical and religious values, esp. justice and morality; the specific nature and powers of individual divinities; contemplation of ritual efficacy) that points towards the worshipper’s acceptance of specific propositions as true, and hence, belief.

- Where is the shift in the discourse on purity? In the 17th century, rituals of purification were seen as evidence of Satan’s presence in the world; Victorian ‘scientists of religion’ saw them as the primitive placation of ghosts, German scholars interpreted them as placation of daemons. In a paradigm-changing move, Mary Douglas claimed that where there is dirt, there is system, rather than ‘the savage’. While Robert Parker’s 1983 landmark investigation has emphasised the central role that ritual purity played in Archaic and Classical Greece, he focused primarily on purity of body and actions. Parker perceives correct thinking about the gods as distinct from ritual purity, whereas we contend that it was a component of the purity system. We abandon entrenched embroilments resulting from the tropes of evolution for the sake of an elastic model of religiosity, which we label ‘intrinsic performativity’.

- Why does inner purity matter? From early epic poetry to the 3rd C. AD inscriptional evidence one can identify varied jostling discourses on the significance of worshippers’ inner disposition in the context of ritual performance. Thinking correct thoughts about the gods was perceived as directly determining the outcome of ritual performance. Inner correctness made for piety and ritual efficacy, while an incorrect inner disposition amounted to impiety and resulted in transgression and ritual failure.

- Evidence: Literary texts (Hesiod, Xenophanes, Theognis, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes), philosophical critique of contemporary cult practice (Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato, Xenophon, Theophrastus, Porphyry, Iamblichus), inscriptional evidence, and 'Orphic' texts.

- Methodology: Informed by recent thinking in anthropology (Valeri 2000), we perceive purity not as a monolithic and static system, but as a plurality of chronologically and societally distinctive, but related, sub-systems. Hence we discuss individual testimonies as sub-systems and in a second step seek to establish their potential relationships.

Planned research outputs:

Two co-authored volumes: Inner Purity in Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical (manuscript completed, projected publication date: 2015); Inner purity in Greek Religion: From Plato to Iamblichus (initial draft of chapters completed, projected completion date: 2017).



Articles: review

Books: authored

Books: edited

Edited works: contributions

  • Petrovic, Ivana (2009). Apollo. In Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Gagarin, M. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Publishers.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2009). Artemis. In Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Gagarin, M. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Publishers.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2009). Hymns. In Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Gagarin, M. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Publishers.

Essays in edited volumes

  • Petrovic, Ivana (2014). Posidippus and Achaemenid royal propaganda. In Hellenistic Studies at a Crossroads. Hunter, Richard, Rengakos, Antonios & Sistakou, Evina De Gruyter. 25: 278-300.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2013). The Never-Ending Stories: A perspective on Greek Hymns. In The Door Ajar: False Closure in Greek and Roman Literature and Art. Grewing, Farouk, Acosta-Hughes, Benjamin & Kirichenko, Alexander Heidelberg: Winter Verlag. 203-227.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2012). Callimachus' Hymn to Apollo and Greek Metrical Sacred Regulations. In Hellenistica Groningana. Gods and Religion in Hellenistic Poetry, Proceedings of the Ninth Groningen Workshop on Hellenistic poetry. Harder, M.A., Regtuit, R.F. & Wakker, G.C. Leuven et al. Peeters Publishers. 281-306.
  • Petrovic, I. (2012). Dichtung, Reinheit, Opferritual. In Ästhetik des Opfers. Zeichen / Handlungen in Ritual und Spiel. Bierl, T., Honold, A. & Luppi, V. Wilhelm Fink. 107-130.
  • Petrovic, I. (2012). Divine Masters and Human Disciples. The idea of gods as teachers and its development in Greek poetry and philosophy. In Meister und Schueler in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Renger, A.-B. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht Uni Press. 53-68.
  • Petrovic, I & Muth, S. (2012). Medientheorie als Chance. Überlegungen zur historischen Interpretation von Texten und Bildern. In Ansehenssache. Formen von Prestige in Kulturen des Altertums. Christiansten, B. & Thaler, U. Herbert Utz Verlag. 281-318.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2012). Rhapsodic Hymns and Epyllia. In Brill’s Companion to Greek and Latin Epyllion and Its Reception. Baumbach, Manuel & Baer, Silvio Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers. 149-176.
  • Petrovic, I. (2011). Callimachus and Contemporary Religion: the Hymn to Apollo. In Brill's Companion to Callimachus. Acosta-Hughes, B., Lehnus, L. & Stephens, S. Leiden: Brill. 264-285.
  • Baumbach, Manuel, Petrovic, Andrej & Petrovic, Ivana (2010). Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram: an introduction. In Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram. Baumbach, Manuel, Petrovic, Andrej & Petrovic, Ivana Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1-20.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2010). The life story of a cult statue as an allegory: Kallimachos’ Hermes Perpheraios. In Divine images and Human imaginations in Ancient Greece and Rome. J. Mylonopoulos Leiden: Brill. 170: 205-224.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2009). Transforming Artemis: From die Göttin des Draußen to City-Goddess. In The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations. Bremmer, Jan N. & Erskine, Andrew W. Edinburgh et al.:
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2008). Aitiologie des Triumphes. Properz 4.6. In Triplici invectus triumpho – der roemische Triumph in augusteischer Zeit. Krasser, H., Pausch, D. & Petrovic, I. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2007). Plutarch's and Stone's Alexander: fortuna et virtus. In Ancient Greek World in Cinema. Morcillo, M.G. & Berti, I. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.
  • Petrovic, Ivana & Petrovic, Andrej (2006). Look Who is Talking Now!: Speaker and Communication in Metrical Sacred Regulations. In Ritual and Communication in the Graeco-Roman World. Stavrianopoulou, Eftychia Liege: Centre International d'Etude de la Religion Grecque Antique. Kernos Supplément 16: 151-179.
  • Petrovic, Ivana (2004). Artemisfeste und Frauen, Goettliche Didaktik als literarischer Topos. In Studia humanitatis ac litterarum trifolio Heidelbergiensi dedicata, Festschrift für C. Christmann, W. Edelmaier, R. Kettemann. Hornung, A, Jaekel, Ch., Schubert, W. New York: Peter Lang. 144.: 251-270.

Journal papers: academic