Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Proskynesis (Greek: prostation)
Proskuneo describes a Persian custom which involved kneeling and putting the face to the ground. This sometimes involved kissing the ground. Proskuneo was taken as the act of submission, respect, gratitude, supplication, neediness, and humility and was used on all sorts of occasions. Thought to have originated as a non-verbal greeting where men of equal rank would kiss each other on the lips. An inferior kissed his superior on the cheeks and where one was much less noble rank than the other he fell to the ground in homage.
Considered to have become ritualized at the oriental courts, depending on rank, visitors would prostrate themselves, kneel in front of, bow for, or blow a kiss to the king. There may have been practical reasons for blowing a kiss as halitosis was thought to be common.
Alexander the Great’s (327) empire spread to incorporate many others cultures but he always insisted Iranians to serve at his court. To win his respect and support he demanded to be treated like a Persian king and had his subjects lay prostate before him. The Greeks protested as prostration, bowing or kneeling, to anyone other than their Gods, was unacceptable. Despite violent opposition it is not clear whether Alexander the Great’s attempt at cultural infliction succeeded but proskynesis was commonly practiced at the courts of his successors and remnants remain today and the custom of bow for kings and queens is still prevalent.
By the time of the Old Testament the custom had passed in judicial behaviour and when an accused was brought before the judge, he lay prostate. If found guilty, the judge would place his foot on their neck. If innocent the judge would stoop over and lift their face with his hand. Lifting the face was a Hebrew concept, which equalled a declaration of innocence in a judicial, proceeding.
When Muslims bow towards Mecca this is another reference to proskynesis and by contrast the posture of early Christian worship. was standing.
According to Brasch (1989), kissing the feet was a gesture of homage and deference, far removed from its erotic roots. Millions of pilgrims with loving pressure have worn down the feet of the statue of Saint Paul in Rome with their lips.
At the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire it was the custom for the faithful to kiss the right hand of the Papal Father. In the eighth century, a rather passionate woman took liberties and according to legend, the Pope cut off his hand in disgust. The custom of kissing the Pope’s right foot was adapted as more appropriate.
Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) had kings and churchmen kiss his feet. Today the act of homage involves kissing the Pontiff’s right shoe. Lips are aimed at the cross-depicted on the shoe. This is either taken as a tribute to his authority or the simulation of servitude.