Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Thesmophoria

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

THESMOPHORIA, an ancient Greek festival, celebrated by women only in honour of Demeter Θεσμοφόρος. At Athens, Abdera, and perhaps Sparta, it lasted three days. At Athens the festival took place on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of the month Pyanepsion (24th, 25th, and 26th October), the first day being called Anodos (ascent), or, according to others, Kathodos (descent), the second Nesteia (fast), and the third Kalligeneia (fair-born).[1] If to these days we add the Thesmophoria, which were celebrated on the 10th at Halimus, a township on the coast near Athens, the festival lasted four days.[2] If further we add the festival of the Stenia, which took place on the 9th, the whole festival lasted five days.[3] The Stenia are said by Photius to have celebrated the return of Demeter from the lower world (Anodos), and the women railed at each other by night.[4] The Thesmophoria at Halimus seem to have included dances on the beach.[5] The great feature of the next day (the Anodos) is gene rally assumed to have been a procession from Halimus to Athens, but this assumption seems to rest entirely on an interpretation of the name Anodos, and it loses all pro bability when we observe that the day was by others called Kathodos.[6] Probably both names referred to the descent of Demeter or Proserpine to the nether world, and her ascent from it.[7] The next day, Nesteia, was a day of sorrow, the women sitting on the ground and fasting.[8] As to what took place on the Kalligeneia we have no information. Nor can we define the time or nature of the secret ceremony called the " pursuit," or the "Chalcidian pursuit" and the sacrifice called the "penalty."[9]

During the Thesmophoria (and for nine days previously, if Ovid, Met., x. 434, is right, and refers to the Thesmophoria) the women abstained from intercourse with their husbands, and to fortify themselves strewed their beds with Agnus castus and other plants. The women of Miletus strewed their beds with pine branches, and put fir-cones in the sanctuaries of Demeter.[10] Whether un married women were admitted to the festival seems doubt ful; in Lucian's time it would appear that they were.[11] The women of each deme (township) elected two married women of their number to preside over them at the festival; and every married man in the township who possessed property to the value of three talents had to provide a feast for the women on behalf of his wife.[12] During the festival the women seem to have been lodged by twos in tents or. huts, probably erected within the sacred precincts of the Thesmophorium.[13] They were not allowed to eat the seeds of the pomegranate or to wear garlands of flowers.[14] Prisoners were released at the festival,[15] and during the Nesteia the law-courts were closed and the senate did not meet.[16] Aristophanes's play on the festival sheds little light on the mode of its celebration.

At Thebes Thesmophoria were celebrated in summer on the acropolis (Cadmeia); at Eretria during the Thes mophoria the women cooked their meat, not at fires, but by the heat of the sun, and they did not invoke Kalligeneia (which seems to mean that they did not celebrate the last day of the festival); at Syracuse, during the festival, cakes called mylloi, made of sesame and honey in the shape of pudenda muliebria, were handed round.[17] Agrigentum, Ephesus, and Dryme, in Phocis, had also their Thesmophoria.[18]

The above was nearly all that was known about the Thesmo phoria down to 1870. In that year E. Rohde published in the Rheinisches Museum (N. F. 25, p. 548 sq. ) a scholion on Lucian (Dial. Meretr., ii. 1), which he discovered in the Vatican MS. Palatinus 73, and which furnishes some curious details about the Thesmophoria. It also explains two obscure and corrupt passages of Clemens Alexandrinus and Pausanias, the true meaning of which had been divined by Lobeck (Aglaophamus, p. 828 sq.). The sub stance of the scholion is this. When Proserpine was carried off by Pluto, a swineherd called Eubuleus was herding his swine at the spot, and his herd was engulfed in the chasm down which Pluto had vanished with Proserpine. Accordingly at the Thesmo phoria it was customary, in memory of Eubuleus, to fling pigs into the "chasms of Demeter and Proserpine." (These "chasms" may have been natural caverns or perhaps vaults. The scholiast speaks of them also as adyta and megara.[19]) In these chasms or adyta there were supposed to be serpents, which guarded the adyta and consumed most of the flesh of the pigs that were thrown in. The decayed remains of the flesh were afterwards fetched by women called " drawers " (antletriai), who, after observing rules of ceremonial purity for three days, descended into the caverns, and, frightening away the serpents by clapping their hands, brought up the remains and placed them on the altars.[20] Whoever got a portion of this decayed flesh and sowed it with the seed in the ground was supposed thereby to secure a good crop.[21] The rest of the scholion is obscure, and perhaps corrupt, but the following seems to be the sense. The ceremony above described was called the arretophoria, and was supposed to exercise the same quickening and fertilizing influence on men as on fields. Further, along with the pigs, sacred cakes made of dough, in the shape of serpents and of phalli, were cast into the caverns, to symbolize the productivity of the earth and of man. Branches of pines were thrown in[22] for a similar reason.

The custom described in this important scholion is clearly the same as that referred to by Clemens Alexandrinus (Protrep., 17) and Pausanias (ix. 8, 1). From the latter we learn that the pigs were sucking pigs, and from the former (if we adopt Lobeck's emendation peydpois (wvTas for (j.fyapiovTfs) that they were thrown in alive. From Pausanias we may further perhaps infer (though the passage is corrupt) that the remains of the pigs thrown down in one year were not fetched up till the same time next year (cp. Pans., x. 32, 14). The question remains, At what point of the Thesmophoria did the ceremony described by the scholiast on Lucian take place? Rohde thinks that it formed part of the cere monies at Halimus, his chief ground being that Clemens (Protrep., 34) and Arnobius (v. 28) mention phalli in connexion with the " mysteries at Halimus "; but it is not certain that these mysteries were the Thesmophoria. The legend of Eubuleus seems to show that the ceremony commemorated the descent of Proserpine to the nether world; and, if we are right in our interpretation of the name Kathodos as applied to the first day of the Thesmophoria proper, the ceremony described would naturally fall on that day. Further, if our interpretation of Pausanias is correct, the same day must have witnessed the descent of the living pigs and the ascent of the rotten pork of the previous year. Hence the day might be indifferently styled Kathodos or Anodos ("descent" or "ascent"); and so in fact it was.

It is usual to interpret Thesmophorus "lawgiver" and Thesmophoria " the feast of the lawgiver." But the Greek for " lawgiver " is not Thesmophorus but Thesmothetes (or Nomothetes, when nomos displaced thesmos in the sense of "law"). If we compare such names of festivals as Oschophoria, Lampadephoria, Hydrophoria, Scirophoria ("the carryings of grapes, of torches, of water, of umbrellas") with the corresponding Oschophorus, Lampadephorus, Hydrophorus, also Thallophorus and Kanephorus, we can scarcely help concluding that Thesmophoria must originally have meant in the literal and physical sense the carrying of the thcsmoi, and Thesmophorus the person who so carried them; and, in view of the ceremony disclosed by the scholiast on Lucian (compared with the analogous ceremony observed by the Arrephoroi at Athens), we are strongly tempted to suppose that the women whom he calls Antletriai may have been also known, atone time or other, as Thesmophoroi, and that the thesmoi were the sacra which they carried and deposited on the altar. The word would then be used in its literal sense, "that which is set down." How the name Thesmophorus should have been transferred to the goddess from her ministers is of course a difficulty, which is hardly disposed of by pointing to the epithets Amallophorus ("sheaf-bearing") and Melophorus ("apple-bearing"), which were applied to men as well as to the goddess.

As to the origin of the Thesmophoria, Herodotus (ii. 171) asserts that they were introduced into Greece from Egypt by the daughters of Danaus; while, according to Plutarch (Fragments, p. 55, ed. Diibner), the feast was introduced into Athens by Orpheus the Odrysian. From these statements we can only infer the similarity of the Thesmophoria to the Orphic rites and to the Egyptian repre sentation of the sufferings of Osiris, in connexion with which Plutarch mentions them. The Thesmophoria would thus form ono of that class of rites, widely spread in Western Asia and in Europe, in which the main feature appears to be a lamentation for the annual decay of vegetation or a rejoicing at its revival. This seems to have been the root, e.g., of the lamentations for Adonis and Attis. See W. Mannhardt, Antike Wald- und Feld-Kulte, p. 264 sq.

On the Thesmophoria, see Meursius, Græcia Feriata, p. 151 sq.; L. Preller, Demeter und Persephone, p. 335 sq.; Id., Griech. Myth., [3], 1. 639 sq.; Fritsche's ed. of the Thesmophoriazusæ, p. 577 sq.; Aug. Mommsen, Heortologie, p. 287 sq.; Rheinisches Museum, xxv. (1870), p. 548; Gazette Archeologique, 1880, p. 17; Mr Andrew Lang, in Nineteenth Century, April 1887. (J. G. FR.)


  1. Schol. on Aristoph., Thesmophoriazusæ, 80 and 585; Diog. Laer., ix. 43; Hesychius, s.v. τριήμερος (the reading here is uncertain) and άνοδος; Alciphron, iii. 39; Athenæus, 307f. Plutarch (Vit. Demosth., 30) states that the Nesteia took place on the 16th of Pyanepsion, but in this he stands alone.
  2. Schol. on Aristoph., Thesm., 80; Photius, Lex., s.v. Θεσμοφορίων ἡμέραι δ῾ (where Naber should not have altered the MS. reading δ῾ into ιδ῾); Hesychius, s.v. τρίτη Θεσμοφορίων.
  3. Schol. on Aristoph., Thesm., 834.
  4. Photius, Lex., s.v. στήνια; cf. Apollodorus, i. 5, 1.
  5. Plut., Solon, 8; for this passage probably refers to the Thesmophoria, the Cape Colias mentioned being near Halimus (see Erläuternder Text to the Karten von Attika, ii. 1 sq.). The Thesmophorium at Halimus is mentioned by Pausanias (i. 31, 1).
  6. Hesychius (s.v. άνοδος) and the Schol. on Arist., Thesm., 585, suppose that the day was so called because the women ascended to the Thesmophorium, which (according to the scholiast) stood on a height. But no ancient writer mentions a procession from Halimus. For the name Kathodos, see Schol., loc. cit.; Photius, Lex., s.v. Θεσμοφορίων ἡμέραι δ῾. For the statement that at one part of the festival (commonly assumed, by the writers who accept the statement, to be the Anodos) the women carried on their heads the "books of the law," we have only the authority of the scholiast on Theocritus, iv. 25, who displays his ignorance by describing the women as virgins (see below), and saying that they went in procession to Eleusis. The statement may therefore be dismissed as an etymological fiction. Aristophanes, Eccles., 222, is no evidence for the book-carrying.
  7. The Bœotian festival of Demeter, which was held at about the same time as the Athenian Thesmophoria, and at which the megara (see below) were opened, is distinctly stated by Plutarch (De Is. et Osir., 69) to have been a mourning for the descent (Kathodos) of Proserpine.
  8. Plut., Dem., 30; Id., De Is. et Osir., 69.
  9. Hesychius, s.v. Sio>yfj.a; Suidas, s.v. xahKiSiKoi/ Sfory/xa; Hesychius, s.v. jjuia. For flight and pursuit as parts of religious ceremonies, cf. Plutarch, Quæst. Græc., 38; Id., Quæst. Rom., 63; Id., De Def. Orac., 15; Ælian, Nat. An., xii. 34; Pausanias, i. 24, 4; Id., viii. 53, 3; Diodorus, i. 91; Lobeck, Aglaophamus, p. 676; Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, 2d ed., iii. 323.
  10. Ælian, Nat. An., ix. 26; Schol. on Theocr., iv. 25; Hesychius, s.v. κνέωρον; Pliny, N. H., 24, 59; Dioscorides, i. 135 (134, ed. Sprengel); Schol. on Nicander, Ther., 70 sq.; Galen, xi. 808, ed. Kühn; Steph. Byz., s.v. Μίλητος.
  11. Lucian, Dial. Meretr., ii. 1. On the other hand, we read in Strabo (i. 3, 20) of virgins at Alponus ascending a tower as spectators ({{polytonic|/κατἁ) of the Thesmophoria, which would seem to imply that they did not participate in it.
  12. Isæus, De Cironis Hered., 19; Id., De Pyrrhi Hered., 80.
  13. Aristoph., Thesm., 624, 658, with the Schol. ad'll. As to the custom of camping out at festivals, Plutarch (Quæst. Conviv., iv. 6, 2) compares the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles with the Greek Dionysia; from which we may perhaps infer that the worshippers camped out at the Dionysia. Cp. Gumilla, Histoire de l'Orenoque, i. p. 256 sq.
  14. Clem. Alex., Protrep., 19.; Schol. on Sophocles, Œd. Col., 681.
  15. Marcellinus on Hermogenes, in Rhetores Græci, ed. Walz, iv. 462; Sopater, ibid., viii. 67.
  16. Aristoph., Thesm., 80. The word τρίτη seems to mean the Nesteia, as the Schol. ad l. takes it. That the "middle day" was the Nesteia we know from Athenæus, 307f.
  17. Xenophon, Hellen., v. 2, 29; Plutarch, Quæst. Gr., 31; Athenæus, 647a.
  18. Polyænus, v. 1, 1; Herodotus, vi. 16; Pausanias, x. 33, 12.
  19. Mr C. T. Newton discovered in the sanctuary of Demeter and the Infernal Deities at Cnidus a chamber which may have been one of the megara referred to by the scholiast. It contained bones of pigs and marble figures of pigs. The chamber was not, however, originally subterranean. See Newton's Discoveries at Halicarnassus, &c, ii. p. 383 sq.; Id., Travels and Discoveries in the Levant, ii. p. 180 sq. According to Porphyry (De Andro Nympharum, 6) the Infernal Deities had megara, as the Olympian had temples, and the sacrificial pits of the former corresponded to the altars of the latter.
  20. Compare the functions of the two Arrephoroi at Athens (Paus., i, 27, 3). For serpents in connexion with Demeter, compare Strabo, ix. 1, 9.
  21. This, as Mr Andrew Lang has pointed out, resembles the Khond custom of burying the flesh of the human victim in the fields to fertilize them. The human victim was with the Khonds, like the pig with the Greeks, a sacrifice to the Earth goddess. See W. Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India, p. 129.
  22. Reading έμβάλλονσι, with Rohde, for λαμβάνουσι. Compare the custom of Miletus supra. The pine-tree played an important part in the worship of Cybele. Cp. Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, iii. 371.