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published: 1/20/05
updated: 12/16/13

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Anthesteria




Anthesteria was one of the festivals held in honor of Dionysus. It was celebrated in most Ionian communities, but most of our information about the festival comes from Athens, where it was of particular importance. Anthesteria was held annually for three days (11th-13th) in the month of Anthesterion (February-March). Although its name indicates a Festival of Flowers (anthos), the festival focused primarily on opening the new wine and on placating the spirits of the dead.

On the evening of the first day, called Pithoigia (Jar-opening), casks of the previous vintage were taken to the sanctuary of Dionysus in the Marshes and libations were offered to the god of wine and sampled by all the household. The rooms and the drinking vessels were adorned with spring flowers, as were also the children over three years of age.

The second day, named Choes (Pitchers), was a time of merrymaking. The people dressed themselves gaily, some in the disguise of the mythical personages in the suite of Dionysus, and paid a round of visits to their acquaintances. The primary activity of the day was a drinking competition, in which participants sat at separate tables and competed in silence at draining a chous (a five-liter container) of wine. Slaves had a share as well. Miniature choes were given to children as toys, and "first Choes" was a rite of passage.





It was believed the spirits of the dead walked the earth during Anthesteria, and the third day of the festival focused on this aspect. The day was called Chytroi (Pots) from the pots of seed and vegetable bran (panspermia) that were offered to the dead. People also chewed leaves of whitethorn and smeared their doors with tar to protect themselves from evil. A common proverb was, "Away with you, Keres (evil spirits), it is no longer Anthesteria."

It was also during Anthesteria that the state conducted a secret ceremony in which the basilissa (or basilinna), wife of the basileus (king), participated in a ceremonial marriage to Dionysus. She was assisted by 14 Athenian matrons, called geraerae, chosen by the basileus and sworn to secrecy. The ritual was conducted in a sanctuary of Dionysus in the Lenaeum, which was open only on this day.




References

  1. "Anthesteria." Price, Simon and Emily Kearns, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion (Oxford UP, 2003), p. 31.
  2. "Anthesteria." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 22 Jan. 2005 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9007768>.
  3. "Anthesteria." Biblioteca Arcana, University of Tennessee. 22 Jan. 2005 <http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/JO-Anth.html>