March 15, 2014

Anthesteria Begins

The cherry trees are starting to bloom, and the full moon is tomorrow, so my Anthesterion starts today.

I don’t have the resources to do buy all the wine and flowers I’d like. I have two bottles on hand, and that’s it. No money to buy more. But I’ll do what I can with what I have.

I’ve been reading about it. Both secondary sources like Jane Ellen Harrison’s chapter on the topic in Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, and the many primary sources Sannion compiled. And frankly, I cannot find much in the primary sources that supports the idea (found in Harrison, and often used by Hellenic recons) that this was in any way a morbid or creepy festival. Certainly the dead attend, for the opening of the wine, but it seems instead to have been a joyful Carnival, although a return to flesh instead of a farewell, and the involvement of the dead to be more in the tradition of the Mexican Days of the Dead, with offerings and visitation, but also simply inviting them to the celebration. The oft-cited purification aspects of chewing buckthorn I would associate with dealing with hangovers, rather than with the later expelling of the keres, or spirits of the dead. Plutarch tells us, “they broached the new wine at Athens. It was an ancient custom, to offer some of it as a libation before they drank it, praying at the same time that the use of the drug might be rendered harmless and beneficial to them.” I really see no reason that partying down with the dead needs to be a gloomy or creepy affair. And that includes the ritual of the Aiora, where young girls hung dolls and ribbons from trees and were pushed on swings to commemorate the death of Erigone that so angered Dionysos. Indeed, I interpret it as an attempt to cheer and appease her spirit, to make the Sorrowing One joyful again, as a girl should be.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been looking into the role of the Nurses of Dionysos, the nymphs of springs and rivers and rain who raised him, and the association between them and watering wine, as in the Deipnosophistai: "therefore the streams were called Nymphs and Nurses of Dionysos because mixed-in water increases the wine." This opening and watering of the wine takes place on the first day of Anthesteria, Khutroi, or jars, meaning the jars in which the wine has been fermented and aged.

There’s another association with water, this one on the third day, Pithoigia, when an offering is made to the dead and Hermes Chthonios, and the dead are expelled from the house.

Theopompos says that those who had been saved from the flood [of Deukalion] boiled a pot of every kind of seed, whence the festival is thus named, and that they sacrificed in the Pitchers festival to Chthonic Hermes; but that no one eats from the pot.

I dreamt of a flood last night, of my house and yard and car being flooded. Before I looked out and saw the flood, I had seen a second staircase leading down from the main floor, next to the stairs that lead to the door, where no stairs are, where this is no room for them, and the stairs were dark and frightening. I went back up to the bedroom and told my wife I’d seen them, and we looked out the window, and there was the flood. We escaped it, in what I think was a bus or a motorhome that sat too high for the flood to have damaged.

Out of respect for the Hyades and Nysiades, I got out an old mask that had been made to represent water, originally painted in shades of blue, with droplet shapes. It was sadly faded, and so I hunted around for some paints to refresh it. Oddly, silk paints were what worked best, but since they’re transparent, the deep brown of the leather underlies the blues and makes them much darker than I’d prefer. I dry-brushed some silver paint over top of the droplets to make them stand out more. I’m quite pleased with the effect, overall.

I’m sure when Anthesteria is over, I’ll write it up some, with, perhaps, pictures. For now, I’m headed out, to gather some greenery for the altar, and to parade the phallos around town a bit.