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Festivals and Legends

Festivals and Legends

Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    Festivals and Legends
    Book Description:

    Since ritual is by definition unchanging, public festivals can disclose earlier stages of social organization. Robertson also shows how the festivals gave rise, by way of aetiology (explanatory tales or legends), to some persistent misconceptions about the past.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7485-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    This book is meant to show that public festivals, a large part of life in every Greek city, can tell us much about secular history that is of general interest. They do so in two ways, positive and negative.

    An old festival that has continued without change provides evidence for an early stage of society, evidence which is otherwise scarce. The setting, the facilities, the officiants, the festival business are all as of long ago. An old festival may be partly superseded by a later one, or a festival program may be enlarged; in such cases we can discern successive...


    • 1 The Hecatombaea, the Enrolment of Citizens, and Southeast Athens
      (pp. 3-31)

      Three Athenian festivals of the month Hecatombaeon, the first in the year, call for a reunion of the whole community: the Hecatombaea at the first quarter, the Synoecia at the full moon, the Panathenaea at monthʹs end. These festivals did not flourish at the same period, nor do they reflect the same kind of society. Each in its turn was the chief new yearʹs festival. The earliest is the Hecatombaea, a relic of the days when Athens was a fairly small community southeast of the Acropolis. The next is the Synoecia, which arose when Attica was first organized in phratries...

    • 2 The Synoecia, the Old Agora, and Attic Phratries
      (pp. 32-89)

      In the course of the Dark Age, society and government changed. In Attica a growing population came to be organized round the city of Athens in a system of phratries. The phratries now effectively enrolled young men as soldiers and citizens. This procedure, conducted at phratry lodges throughout the countryside, became so ingrained that it continued even after Cleisthenes transferred the main responsibility to the demes. With the advent of the phratries, the ceremony of the Hecatombaea in southeast Athens lost all significance. The phratries did not join together in the city, so far as one can see, in any...

    • 3 The Panathenaea, Northwest Athens, and the Enrolment of Citizens
      (pp. 90-119)

      In the early sixth century regional conflict broke out in Attica. The phratries as local associations must have played a large part in this conflict. Peisistratus was able to unite Attica once more; to do so, he placed the phratries under some constraint. Many citizens were enrolled through procedures that were called in question after the end of the tyranny, in the brief interval before demes superseded phratries. Philochorus quotes a law of Archaic aspect that compels each phratry to admit two new classes of persons.¹

      The changes were sanctified by ceremony. Peisistratus suspended the general reunion of phratry members...

    • 4 The Oschophoria and Seafaring
      (pp. 120-133)

      The port of Phalerum is linked to the city in certain rites which show Athensʹ concern with seafaring long before she became a naval power. In the Oschophoria, a festival of early autumn, a procession goes from Athens to the shrine of Athena Sciras at Phalerum to honour two nautical heroes, a pilot and a bow-officer; the two youths who lead the procession are dressed in old-fashioned finery. In another observance of the same season, a foot race is run over the same route, and the winning youth receives a cup of punch, an old-fashioned prize. Both observances are managed...

    • 5 The Olympieia and the Calvary
      (pp. 134-144)

      Though Zeusolympiosis chiefly known for the huge temple begun by Peisistratus and completed by Hadrian, his cult and festival are very old. In late spring, the weather god is asked to bring clear skies for the ripening of the grain; the requisite magic is a noisy, tumultuous display that becomes theanthippasia, an equestrian contest. To witness the spectacle, the Palladium is conveyed to the Hippodrome, just as the statue of Dionysus is conveyed to the theatre. The explanatory myth describes a battle at Phalerum in which Athens takes possession of the Palladium of Troy.

      Peisistratus enlarged the...


    • 6 The Gymnopaediae and the Enrolment of Citizens
      (pp. 147-165)

      ʹIf there is any festival the Spartans care about,ʹ says Pausanias, ʹit is the Gymnopaediaeʹ (3.11.9). He doubtless thinks not only of the artificial splendours of his own day, but also of those famous moments of Spartan history for which the Gymnopaediae supply the background: the humiliation of Demaratus after the kingship is taken from him; the suspension of the festival when Argos is seized by enemies; above all, the report of the catastrophe of Leuctra, while the festival goes on. Not surprisingly, details of the program are sparse and uncertain. Yet enough survives so that we can assign the...

    • 7 Polyandrion Burial and the Fate of the Dioscuri
      (pp. 166-176)

      From the study of festivals we shall turn aside to consider a Spartan military custom: the mass burial of fallen soldiers on the field of battle. Other Greeks preferred to bring home the dead, and from the fifth century onward they were often buried in public cemeteries. The practice is best known at Athens, but there is plenty of scattered evidence to show that it was nearly universal.¹ It is also imprinted in myth; the Greeks at Troy sent home the ashes of the dead, and trouble was taken to recover the bodies of those who fell at Thebes, and...


    • 8 The Parparonia and the Battle of Thyrea
      (pp. 179-207)

      The agonistic festival Parparonia is known from the victory list of the Spartan Damonon and his son, conjecturally dated to the early fourth century, which mentions both horse-races and foot races, and from Hesychius, who speaks of ʹParparusʹ as the setting of games and dances. Parparus is also named by Choeroboscus as the ʹplace at which Argives and Spartans fought over Thyrea.ʹ And since it appears in Plinyʹs list of the mountains of the Argolid, Parparus must be Mount Zavitsa, which runs east from Parthenius to the sea and closes the plain of Thyrea on the north. The place-name is...

    • 9 A Festival of Cenchreae and the Battle of Hysiae
      (pp. 208-216)

      Pausanias informs us of the battle of Hysiae, a victory of Argos over Sparta, and dates it exactly, to 669–668 bc, and points to a monument, a burial of the Argive dead at Cenchreae (2.24.7). His report consists of just three sentences, which also include a notice of the town of Hysiae. Perhaps no secular Greek text of equal length has enjoyed equal authority. For the battle of Hysiae figures in almost every modern account as the first dated battle of Greek history, and as a leading episode in the long-drawn struggle, as it is thought to be, between...


    • 10 The Ithomaea and the Messenian Wars
      (pp. 219-231)

      The festival of Zeus at Mount Ithome is mentioned in the legends of the early Messenian wars, and on closer inspection it emerges that the festival business has helped to shape the legends. In speaking of the Messenian wars, I shall use the term ʹlegendʹ loosely, to include not only popular tales about the past, but also mere fictions of literary origin; for here the two things are hard to distinguish. Almost everyone agrees that these legends, even when they are popular tales, have no value as a record of events. To demonstrate the aetiological element is not to overturn...

    • 11 A Festival of Heroes and the Ordeal of Phigaleia
      (pp. 232-252)

      The town of Phigaleia is small and remote, but great events, if we believe them, were once enacted there. Pausanias has a historical excursus on Phigaleia, unparalleled at other small towns of Arcadia. The town was first besieged and captured by the Spartans, then liberated by a band of Oresthasian champions, who all laid down their lives. The Oresthasians were buried in a tomb in the agora, one of the few but striking Phigaleian monuments noticed by Pausanias; and sacrifice was offered each year as to heroes.

      Modern writers have not questioned these events, nor their ostensible commemoration in the...

  9. MAPS
    (pp. 253-266)

      (pp. 267-277)
      (pp. 278-279)
      (pp. 280-283)
      (pp. 284-288)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-290)