1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dionysia

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DIONYSIA, festivals in honour of the god Dionysus generally, but in particular the festivals celebrated in Attica and by the branches of the Attic-Ionic race in the islands and in Asia Minor. In Attica there were two festivals annually. (1) The lesser Dionysia, or τὰ κατ᾽ ἀγρούς, was held in the country places for four days (about the 19th to the 22nd of December) at the first tasting of the new wine. It was accompanied by songs, dance, phallic processions and the impromptu performances of itinerant players, who with others from the city thronged to take part in the excitement of the rustic sports. A favourite amusement was the Ascoliasmus, or dancing on one leg upon a leathern bag (ἀσκός), which had been smeared with oil. (2) The greater Dionysia, or τὰ ἐν ἄστει, was held in the city of Athens for six days (about the 28th of March to the 2nd of April). This was a festival of joy at the departure of winter and the promise of summer, Dionysus being regarded as having delivered the people from the wants and troubles of winter. The religious act of the festival was the conveying of the ancient image of the god, which had been brought from Eleutherae to Athens, from the ancient sanctuary of the Lenaeum to a small temple near the Acropolis and back again, with a chorus of boys and a procession carrying masks and singing the dithyrambus. The festival culminated in the production of tragedies, comedies and satyric dramas in the great theatre of Dionysus. Other festivals in honour of Dionysus were the Anthesteria (q.v.); the Lenaea (about the 28th to the 31st of January), or festival of vats, at which, after a great public banquet, the citizens went through the city in procession to attend the dramatic representations; the Oschophoria (October-November), a vintage festival, so called from the branches of vine with grapes carried by twenty youths from the ephebi, two from each tribe, in a race from the temple of Dionysus in Athens to the temple of Athena Sciras in Phalerum.

See A. Mommsen, Feste der Stadt Athen (1898); L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie; L. C. Purser in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities (3rd ed., 1890); article Dionysos in W. H. Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie; and the exhaustive account with bibliography by J. Girard in Daremberg and Saglio’s Dictionnaire des antiquités.