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date: 22 July 2017


Anthesteria, a festival of Dionysus which despite its name (suggesting anthos, flower) was associated particularly with the new wine. It was celebrated in most Ionian communities, but details are known almost exclusively from Athens, where it was of an importance comparable perhaps to modern Christmas. It was celebrated in the correspondingly named month Anthesterion, roughly late February. On the evening of the first day, ‘Jar-opening’ (Pithoigia), pithoi of the previous autumn's vintage were taken to the sanctuary of Dionysus in the Marshes, opened, offered to the god, and sampled. On the following day, drinking-parties of an abnormal type were held: participants sat at separate tables and competed, in silence, at draining a chous or five-litre (nine-pint) measure (whence the day's name Choes); slaves too had a share. Miniature choes were also given as toys to children, and ‘first Choes’ was a landmark. The third day was called Chytroi, ‘Pots’, from pots of seed and vegetable bran (panspermia) that were offered, it seems, to the dead. On the basis of a proverb ‘Away with you, Keres, it is no longer Anthesteria’, it is often supposed that souls of the dead were conceived as wandering at the festival; but this is problematic, since Kēres are normally spirits of evil, not souls, and the proverb is also transmitted in the form ‘Away with you, Carians (Kares)’. It was almost certainly during the Anthesteria that the wife of the basileus was somehow ‘given as a bride’ to Dionysus (who may have been escorted to her in image on a ‘ship-chariot’, a rite known from vases). A series of vases which show a mask of Dionysus on a pillar, in front of which women draw wine from mixing-bowls while others dance, may evoke a part of the same ceremony.

The main problem posed by the festival is to see how its different elements relate to one another. Recent critics have stressed the idea of ‘reversal’ as a unifying factor: it is clear at all events that the Anthesteria is not just an amalgam of a well-lubricated wine festival and a glum commemoration of the dead, as the Choes rite itself is marked by traits of abnormality and reversal.


A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, The Dramatic Festivals of Athens, 2nd edn. rev. by J. Gould and D. M. Lewis (corr. edn. 1988), 1–25.Find this resource:

R. Hamilton, Choes and Anthesteria (1992).Find this resource:

N. Robertson, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 1993, 197–250.Find this resource:

S. Humphreys, The Strangeness of Gods (2004), 223–274.Find this resource:

R. Parker, Polytheism and Society at Athens (2005), 290–326.Find this resource:

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