The book does not require much prior background, but is not light reading. It's still a must-read for anyone interested in the role of women or religion in ancient Greece.
The following is a summary of each of the 10 chapters of Connelly's Portrait of a Priestess.
2. II. Paths to Priesthood: Preparation, Requirements, and AcquisitionThere were 4 paths to priesthood: inheritance, allotment, election/appointment, and purchase. Election, which may have spread from the civic to the religious spheres in the first half of the fifth century B.C., was used for the more important priesthoods. Some of the paths were combined, so an elected priestess might have to pay. Purchasing was usual in lifelong priesthoods. In the Archaic Period to the Hellenistic Period, a priestess needed good birth and financial resources.
4. IV. Dressing the Part: Costume, Attribute, and MimesisPriests/priestesses, kings, and gods all had sceptres. Dress codes were ordained locally and people appearing at the sanctuaries could be punished and turned away for improper attire. White was usually worn at healing sanctuaries. Some priestesses wore purple; others weren't allowed to. At Eleusis, shoes had to be of felt or the skin of sacrificed animals. Priestesses had a special temple key bent twice at right angles. Goddesses might impersonate priestesses and priestesses goddesses. Sometimes it is impossible to tell whether a woman is the priestess or the goddess.
5. V. The Priestess in the Sanctuary: Implements, Portraits, and PatronageFrom at least the early 4th century, there were statues of Greek priestesses in the sanctuaries. Heads of the statues were carved separately from the torsos and arms. Paintings of the gods usually show them holding libation bowls to receive liquid offerings.
Priestesses are depicted in prayer with their arms raised and palms facing upwards, usually standing. Libations of water, milk, oil or honey were made to reinforce prayer and were poured from shallow bowls onto the flaming altar. The animals sacrificed were inspected for omens, and were then cut up in pieces and placed on the altar fire. The end of the sacrificial ritual was the sharing of the cooked portions of the meat.
7. VII. Priestly Privilege: Perquisites, Honors, and AuthorityPriestesses received financial advantage, legal benefits, and social prestige. They might have freedom from taxation, the right to own property, and priority of access to the Delphic Oracle. Their personal safety was guaranteed and they could have front row seats at competitions (some reserved and inscribed). Some could pass on their rights to their descendants. Some could affix their seals to documents and could argue sanctuary law. They received a share of the sacrifices and of the price paid for sacrifices. Some received a fee from each initiate. They could be punished for over-charging.
8. VIII. Death of the Priestess: Grave Monuments, Epitaphs, and Public BurialPublic burial was one of the highest civic honors and exceptional for women, but was awarded to priestesses. The earliest funerary monument or a priestess is the stele of Myrrhine, a preistess of Athena Nike from the end of the fifth century B.C., in Athens.
9. IX. The End of the Line: The Coming of ChristianityChristianity meant a gradual lessening of the prestige of women. In the early Church there were women elders/presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, and prophetesses. The Synod of Laodikeia in the mid fourth Century eliminated women as presbyters and forbade women from entering sanctuaries. The Montanists continued to allow women importance, even ordaining them as priests.
10. X. ConclusionsCivic assemblies met only 145 days a year, but the religious calendar had 170 annual festival days and women participated in 85% of all religious activities in Athens. Priestesses were in charge of more than 40 major Athenian cults as well as minor ones. Women were important in the religious sphere, which made them important in public life, period.
In A.D. 393 Emperor Theodosius ordered the destruction of all temples, cult images, ancient festivals, Eleusinian Mysteries, the Panathenea and Olympics. This put an end to the important role of priestess.