“When men drink, then they are
rich and successful and win lawsuits and are happy
and help their friends. Quickly, bring me a beaker
of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something
--- Aristophanes, The Knights, 424 B. C. E.
"We shall sing
Dionysus / On the holy days / Him who was twelve
months absent / Now the time has come, now the
flowers are here."
I know how to lead off the sprightly dance of the
lord Dionysos, the dithyramb. I do it thunderstruck
originated with the annual rites of Dionysos;
tragedy commemorating the terrible suffering and
dismemberment of the God, comedy the joyous and
riotous exuberance surrounding his triumph over
death and return to the living world. At first the
rites were simple affairs, consisting of small
choruses who sang special songs such as the
dithyramb. Eventually the choruses grew more complex
and individual parts developed
Festivals of Attica
in a 1986 San Francisco presentation gave us:
"From Ritual to Rapture, from Dionysus to the
SPRING FESTIVAL The Parade of
Dionysus in his Ship
This mosaic, from the
"House of Virgil," in Sousse, Tunisia depicts the
majestic procession of the triumphant god, who is
standing, his head wreathed in vine-leaves, holding
a long thyrsus (lance) in one hand and the reins of
his chariot in the other. Alongside him stands a
3rd c. AD (Sousse Museum [more]).
Intersecting the wheel of time and the wheel of
“The only place where the two systems link is at the
hole in the center, which means that they link in a
nowhere, or in a hole” . During some festivals, it
is as if one enters the nowhere which links the two.
And here, in this time and space of nowhere, where
eternal order links with time, one encounters the
“word made flesh.” For it is through this hole that
the mysteries of the universe flow into mortal life.
her 1980 book On Divination and
Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance,
Marie Louise von Franz described two
interlocking wheels, one horizontal and one
vertical, representing two complementary but
Phallic Ritual Procession
Phallophoria festivals were a part of the spring
festivals where phallic symbols were carried in ritual
procession, yet the archetypal cannon never allowed the
androgynous Dionysos himself to be shown with an
The Calendar & Festivals
a good summary of the Athenian calendar & its
detailed reconstruction of the Athenian calendar
FHW Survey - Religion & Festivals
A good overview of the major Greek & Roman
Eleusinian Mysteries (Beck)
full collection of the texts
Eleusinian Mysteries (Beach)
essay & bibliography
Thesmophoria - II
|Many Greek festivals were
held in honor of Dionysus; most famous were the
The Athenian year
consisted of twelve months, with the first month, Hecatombaion, beginning around midsummer at the new moon
before the summer solstice. (Parke, 29) From the
music, singing, and dancing at the festivals of Dionysus
developed the dithyramb [choral lyric with exchanges between
the leader and the chorus] and ultimately Greek drama.
Festival of the Vine Flower
In Athens, as in other
Ionic cities, there was a custom each spring to celebrate
the "Festival of the Vine Flower"
This is a feast
of the dead as well.
| It is the eighth month
amongst the Athenians, sacred to Dionysos. It is so
called because most things bloom (anthein) from the
earth at that time." -Suidas 'Anthesterion'
As the Greek year began about Sept 1 this would mean
parts of which were sacred to Dionysus as Lord of the Vine.
Day 1: Pithoigia ("Opening of the Wine-Jars") the
jars of new wine were opened. Then master and slave partook
of the wine, side by side.
Day 2: Choes ("Pitchers") The second day was known as
"Beakers", on which they blessed the new wine and competed
in drinking from it to the sound of trumpets. On that day,
children had a holiday from school and were supplied with
small beakers in order to participate in the festivities.
The festival began with a
drinking contest, where the men in silence, at a separate tables
The slaves were allowed to participate in this contest as
equals. Athenians considered Choës a day of defilement: citizens
painted house doors with pitch and chewed buckthorn leaves
while ancestral spirits, the Keres, were though to have
filled the city.
Swinging like Erigone: During the day, the virgin
Athenian girls let the boys push them in swings, associating
themselves with the tragic figure of Erigone. Erigone's
swinging memorialized the sacred
love-death of the tragic Erigone who hung herself
after discovering her father dead in a well.
Her father was
Ikarios, the first man Dionysos showed how to make
wine and whose death came at the hands of the ungrateful
villagers he had first shared the nectar with as they
believed he had poisoned them. Before Erigone's death she
marries Dionysus and the girls would sing a song where they
would touch the grape at the height of their ascent.
The Roman poet Ovid has her become the god's wife by eating
a grape, but in Aristotle's time a song of Erigone was
penned by a famous erotic poet. Kerényi notes this rite that
has roots as far back as ancient Crete and Sumer, judging by
unearthed statuettes of swinging girls. Erigone's swinging
symbolizes the moment of death and love, a theme rarely
explored by artists in the present.
This playful ritual formed
a prelude for another sacred marriage, that of the Athenian
queen with Dionysos.
Day 3: Chytroi
containing cooked vegetables and seeds (traditional food for
the dead) were left out for the wandering spirits. However,
precautions were taken to prevent the spirits from coming
too close: people chewed hawthorn, smeared their doors with
pitch, and tied ropes around the temples. At the end of the
festival, they drove out the spirits, saying, "Out you Keres,
it is no longer Anthesteria!"
SACRED MARRIAGE or hieros gamos:
It was probably on this
day--actually on the evening of the day preceding, since for
the Greeks the new day began at sunset--that the sacred
marriage or hieros gamos was celebrated the sacred
marriage of a mortal woman to the god.
A public procession
set forth, in which Dionysus' image was paraded through the
streets of Athens in a ship driven on wheels. Accompanying
it, were bands of participants dressed as satyrs and
On reaching the Temple of 'Dionysus in the Bog' - some
distance outside the walls - there took place the ritual
marriage of the Queen to Dionysus.
Dionysos was formally wedded to the Basilinna, wife of the
Archon Basileus (King Archon). The bride was escorted from
the sanctuary of Dionysos in the Marshes to a building
called the Boukoleion ("ox-herd building") in or near the
Agora. Before the ceremony fourteen noble women called
Gerarai ("ladies of honor") made offerings at fourteen
altars in the sanctuary.
The union of queen and god
took place just after sunset at the end of Choës in the
Boukolion, a small house in the Agora, "the
bull's stable," which was the ancient official residence of
the king. A reference to bull's role as a sacred amimal for
The wedding, a fertility rite, is explained by the
myth that in earlier times the Athenian hero Theseus gave up his bride, the Cretan princess Ariadne, to Dionysos.
To be Queen would be a great honor and the only woman in the
room when the rites were administered. Perhaps the wife of a civic magistrate
given the title of 'the King Magistrate', who was, among
other things, supervisor of religious affairs or another
chosen for mysterious reasons. The groom might be a priest of Dionysos or the Archon Basileus,
dressed and masked as Dionysos.
what is know of this rite comes from an orator's
speech protesting the choice of a non-Athenian
for queen, the basilinna.
offered the unspeakable sacrifices for the city;
she saw what as a non-Athenian she ought not to
have seen. A woman such as this entered the room
that no other of all the many Athenians enters
save only the wife of the king. She administered
the oath to the Venerable Ones who attend at the
sacred acts, she was given to Dionysos as wife,
she conducted for the city the ancestral
practices towards the gods, many sacred, secret
(Burkert, Greek Religion, p 239.)
The Greater Dionysia in Athens
Greater Dionysia was celebrated in Athens in the late spring for five
days. Pisistratus, in the second half of the sixth century B.C.,
introduced the cult of Dionysos in the city as an addition to the
popular rural one.
Dionysian theatre was noted for its
democratic nature for everyone was invited to be
entertained. During the celebration business life stopped,
prisoners were freed in order to participate.
In the city, this festival opened with a
phallic parade, in which the god's image was born through
the streets of Athens from outside the walls and brought to
the Temple of Dionysus on the slopes of the Acropolis. After
completion of the sacrifices, the image was now born to the
theatre dancing floor (the orchestra) accompanied by torch
bearers - and there it stood throughout the presentation of
the plays over the next several days but not before the
komos, or revel, a night-long feast and celebration.
an ancient Greek festival, which was celebrated annually at
Orchomenus in Boeotia and elsewhere, in honour of Dionysus
Agrionius, by women and priests at night. The women, after
playfully pretending for some time to search for the god,
desisted, saying that he had hidden himself among the Muses.
"And he is
permitted to kill anyone he catches, and in our own
time Zolius the priest did so."
The tradition is that the daughters of
Minyas, king of Orchomenus, having despised the rites of the
god, were seized with frenzy and ate the flesh of one of
their children. At this festival it was originally the
custom for the priest of the god to pursue a woman of the
Minyan family with a drawn sword and kill her. (Plutarch,
Quaest. Rom. 102, Quaest. Graecae 38.)
Encyclopedia -- Volume 1 Index
Rural or Lesser Dionysia
The Rural Dionysia would see repeat performances of the
plays in areas outside of Athens. The Greeks loved their
dramas - and people would travel from all over to witness
competitions. They lasted for almost six days, and included
processions, songs, dances, and feasts.
During the Hellenistic Age, after
Alexander had brought Greek culture to the places he
conquered, no city was complete without its Greek theater.
Special seats of honor were reserved for Priests of
This festival took place during the month
Poseideon (December), at various times in the various demes
(villages) of Attica, the countryside around Athens. A
feature of the celebration was a procession in which a large
model of a phallos (a male organ) was carried along,
accompanied by a noble lady serving as Basket-Bearer with a
basket of raisins or other fruit. A billy-goat was led along
to be sacrificed to Dionysos.
On the second day of the festival, there is the
Askôliasmos, a contest to see who can balance longest on top of a
greased, inflated wine-skin (askos). One-legged games such as standing
on one leg, one-legged races, one-legged tag with the raised leg,
one-legged hopping endurance were also enjoyed.
These traditions were the foundation the Romans built
the more elaborate and widely celebrated
Lenaea (in winter)
Lenaea was the festival were the wine of
the season was born. The theater was an integral part of
Dionysus’s festival Lenaea. Many of the great Greek
tragedies actually originated during this festival. Lenaea
took place in the beginning of winter, the followers of
Dionysus referred to the time the wine finished fermenting
as its birth. They also believed this coincided with one of
the births of Dionysus (Kerenyi 284).
Aristophanes' comedy the Acharnians,
presented in 425 BCE at the Lenaia, features a chorus from
the deme of Acharnai, who have been displaced from their
village by Spartan invasions of Attica and forced inside the
walls of Athens. The hero, Dikaiopolis ("just city"), makes
a private peace with the Spartans. (The treaty is a skin
full of wine, since the word for "libations" also meant
"treaty.") He then conducts his own private celebration of
two Dionysiac festivals, the Rural Dionysia and the Choes.
combines Tragedy and Comedy:
Anthesteria, in which women and
children took the larger role; now when
Souls walk the streets again, we men
take a bigger part; we wear the masks,
we appear as Spirits. The festival
combines Tragedy and Comedy: grief that
the God has died and joy that He has
returned from the Dead. From the
sacrifice of the God we learn that Death
is an essential part of Indestructible
Life (Zôê). The profound mystery of this
festival is that Dionysos exists in two
aspects; He has gone down among the
Dead, and yet lives on earth in our
Phalloi. At one time He is both the
Emasculated Lord of the Dead and the
Young Hunter on Earth. As the former, we
see Him as the Masked Pole (Stulos). As
the latter we see Him dressed in the
Nebris (Dearskin) and hunting boots;
ribbons are tied around His head and
hands, and He carries a branching
narthex stalk for His Thursos (Dionysian
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