Academic journal article Helios

Performance, Hysteria, and Democratic Identities in the Anthesteria

Academic journal article Helios

Performance, Hysteria, and Democratic Identities in the Anthesteria

Article excerpt

"To walk is to lack a place," writes Michel De Certeau in his reflections on urban landscapes and their uses. (1) Such a notion of aimless and anonymous wandering in a city could not be more divorced from Athens' well-organized ritual processions. (2) With their proscribed route, costumes, order, and activities, ancient processions converted streets into living theater as marchers simultaneously defined their city and themselves in front of spectators. The Panathenaic procession, for example, not only created an idealizing and hierarchical spectacle of Athenian residents, but also marked three cosmic divisions in the city: the Dipylon gates and the realm of the dead in the Kerameikos; the Agora, or the civic center and land of the living; and the lofty Acropolis where Athena and the divine resided. Everyone in the procession, as well as the spectators, demarcated the spatial, social, and cosmic contours of Athens, as they all turned, both literally and spiritually, to observe the culminating act of worship on the Acropolis. (3) To march in the Panathenaia was to perform one's individual and civic identity and to define, not to lack, a place. Thus we could dismiss any connection between ritual marching and De Certeau's comment on modern urban walking, if not for the disorderly processions of the Anthesteria, wherein marchers veered randomly towards Athens' periphery, and, unfettered to the city's center, performed identities that could not be expressed there.

There were a number of parades associated with the Anthesteria festival. (4) On the first day of the festival, the eleventh of Anthesterion, called Pithoigia, the residents of Athens opened large jars of new wine (pithoi) and poured libations to Dionysus in his precinct near the city's wall, called "Dionysion in Limnai" or "The Precinct of Dionysus in the Marshes." (5) One somewhat informal procession doubtless led there. (6) Libations were followed by public symposia in which slaves were allowed to participate. (7) The second day, called Choes, refers both to three-liter jugs of wine from which citizens and slaves drank in a more or less public drinking contest and to smaller jugs that were given to young Athenian boys. The contest was followed by another parade, specifically called a komos, involving ritual mocking from wagons. (8) This parade may have concluded at the Dionysion in Limnai, where wreathed jugs were dedicated. (9) Typically, a komos, and the symposium preceding it, involved dressing as Easte rner, Scythian, satyr, maenad, or perhaps simply woman, as did most Dionysiac rituals. (10) On the night of Choes or perhaps on

Chytroi, the third day of the festival, (11) a sacred marriage between the wife of the archon basileus (Basilinna) and Dionysus (his statue, a priest, or her husband) took place in the Boukoleion located in the Agroa. (12) A bridal procession sometimes identified with the Katagogia--a procession in which a representation of Dionysus was led through the city on a ship-cart (13)--may have led to the sacred marriage. On every day of the Anthesteria a cross-section of Athenians drank, mocked "those in government," (14) wore costumes, sang, and danced in choruses as they paraded in semi-formal groups throughout the city in no set pattern. To walk in the parades of the Anthesteria was to lack a place. It was also, and necessarily, to lack a clearly defined civic identity or, in the interpretation of most scholarship on Dionysus, to play the Other, (15) that is, to engage in status or role reversal.

The Anthesteria's parades, like the festival itself, involved many reversals, a defining aspect of most Dionysiac worship. Most classicists interpret the Anthesteria as a ritual of inversion or reversal (the nomenclature varies) which had a conservative, rather than a revolutionary, function: the Anthesteria allowed participants, slaves, and citizens alike to "blow off steam," and hence was a social lubricant. (16) Eric Csapo, however, has recently argued that Dionysiac rituals involving reversals create periods of "confusion" and "interstructure. …

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