Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Monday, 7 January 2013

Cults, worship, and festivals in ancient Greece


Thargelia  was one of the chief Athenian festivals in honor of the Delian Apollo and Artemis ( Roman Diana) held on their birthdays, the 6th and 7th of the month Thargelion (about May 24 and May 25). It was both a vegetation festival and a ritual expiation of communal guilt.

On the 6th a sheep was sacrificed to Demeter Chloe on the Acropllis, and perhaps a swine to the Fates, but the most important ritual was the following. Two men, the ugliest that could be found (the Pharmakoi) were chosen to die, one for the men, the other (according to some, a woman) for the women. Hipponax of Kolophon claims that on the day of the sacrifice they were led round with strings of figs on their necks, and whipped on the genitals with rods of figwood and squills. When they reached the place of sacrifice on the shore, they were stoned to death, their bodies burnt, and the ashes thrown into the sea (or over the land, to act as a fertilizing influence).

A Pharmakós (Greek: φαρμακός) in Ancient Greek religion was the ritualistic sacrifice or exile by the sorcerers of a human scapegoat or victim. The victims themselves were referred to as pharmakoi and the sorcerer was referred to as a pharmakon. A slave, a cripple or a criminal was chosen by the pharmakon or sorcerer and expelled from the community at times of disaster (famine, invasion or plague) or at times of calendrical crisis, after being given pharmakeus or drugs by the pharmakon or sorcerer who was a practitioner of Pharmakeia or pharmaceutics.

 Interestingly enough, Pharmakeia (or Pharmacia) was the Naiad nymph of a poisonous spring near the River Ilissos in Athens (southern Greece).
The first day of the festival featured the cathartic rite of the pharmakos (scapegoat). One or two persons, male or female, were selected to be a scapegoat. They were usually criminals or outcasts, but occasionally an important person would sacrifice himself or herself for the city. The scapegoat was fed, led through town, then expelled from the city. In times of severe calamity, the scapegoat might be thrown off a cliff, cast into the sea, or sacrificed on a funeral pyre. The rite of the pharmakos cleansed the town and prepared for the new harvest.
Thargelia also included a first-fruits sacrifice in which a pot of the first grains were offered to the gods. This was the act that officially kicked off the harvest season. The festival concluded with a procession and the official registration of adopted persons.


Anthesteria, one of the four  Athenian festivals in honor of Dionysus (collectively the Dionysia)), was held annually for three days, the eleventh to thirteenth of the month of Anthesterion (the January/February full moon); it was preceded by the  Lenaia. At the center of this wine-drinking festival was the celebration of the maturing of the wine stored at the previous vintage, whose pithoi were now ceremoniously opened, and the beginning of spring.
This small "chous," a vessel for wine, would have been given as a gift to a young boy during the Athenian festival known as the Anthesteria, celebrating the new wine. Such vessels depict children at play, often imitating adults. Here, a chubby Eros runs, pulling a child's toy cart behind him. He wears a wreath, a spiked headdress, and a string of amulets across his chest.

The Anthesteria also have aspects of a  festival of the dead who freely roamed the city, comparable to the Roman Feast of Lemures, the expulsion of ancestral ghosts.

The Lemuralia or Lemuria was a feast in the religion of ancient Rome  during which the Romans  performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead from their homes. The unwholesome spectres of the restless dead, the lemures or larvae were propitiated with offerings of beans. On those days, the  Vestals would prepare sacred mola salsa,  a salted flour cake, from the first ears of  wheat of the season.

 Because of this annual  exorcism of the noxious spirits of the dead, the whole month of May was rendered unlucky for marriages, whence the proverb Mense Maio malae nubent ("They wed ill who wed in May").

Lemures may represent the wandering and vengeful spirits of those not afforded proper burial, funeral rites or affectionate cult by the living: they are not attested by tomb or votive inscriptions. Ovid interprets them as vagrant, unsatiated and potentially vengeful di manes or di parentes, ancestral gods or spirits of the underworld.

 John Collier, The Priestess of Bacchus
 John William Godward - At the Gate of the Temple

On the first day of Anthesteria, called Pithoigia (Πιθοίγια "opening of the casks"; cf. οἴγειν "to open"), libations were offered from the newly opened casks to the god of wine, all the household, including slaves, joining in the festivities. The rooms and the drinking vessels in them were adorned with spring flowers, as were also the children over three years of age.
The second day, named Choës (libations), was a time of merrymaking. The people dressed themselves gaily, some in the disguise of the mythical personages in the suite of Dionysus, and paid a round of visits to their acquaintances. Drinking clubs met to organize drink-off matches, the winner being he who drained his cup most rapidly. Others poured libations on the tombs of deceased relatives. On the part of the state this day was the occasion of a peculiarly solemn and secret ceremony in the sanctuary of Dionysus en limnais - ἐν λίμναις, "in the marshes", closed for all the rest of the year. The basilissa - βασίλισσα (or basilinna - βασιλίννα), wife of the archon basileus for the duration, went through a ceremony of marriage (hierogramy) to the wine god, in which she was assisted by fourteen Athenian matrons, called gerarai, chosen by the basileus and sworn to secrecy.

The days on which the Pithoigia and Choës were celebrated were both regarded as apophrades (ἀποφράδες, Latin equivalent  nefasti, "unlucky") and miapai (μιαραί, "defiled"), necessitating expiatory libations; on them the souls of the dead came up from the underworld and walked abroad. 

According to Phiotus, people chewed leaves of buckthorn  and besmeared their doors with tar to protect themselves from evil. But at least in private circles the festive character of the ceremonies predominated.

Godward A.,  Priestess

The third day was named Chytroi ("feast of pots", from χύτρος, "a pot"), a  festival of the dead.
It was believed the spirits of the dead walked the earth during Anthesteria, and the third day of the festival focused on this aspect. The day was called Chytroi (Pots) from the pots of seed and vegetable bran (panspermia) that were offered to the dead. People also chewed leaves of whitethorn and smeared their doors with tar to protect themselves from evil. A common proverb was, "Away with you, Keres (evil spirits), it is no longer Anthesteria."

It was also during Anthesteria that the state conducted a secret ceremony in which the basilissa (or basilinna), wife of the basileus (king), participated in a ceremonial marriage to Dionysus. She was assisted by 14 Athenian matrons, called geraerae, chosen by the basileus and sworn to secrecy. The ritual was conducted in a sanctuary of Dionysus in the Lenaeum, which was open only on this day.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau Young Priestess,

John William Godward, A Priestess

Herodotus, Histories 2. 49 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"Melampos [a mythical seer] was the one who taught the Greeks the name of Dionysus and the way of sacrificing to him and the phallic procession; he did not exactly unveil the subject taking all its details into consideration, for the teachers who came after him made a fuller revelation; but it was from him that the Greeks learned to bear the phallus along in honor of Dionysus, and they got their present practice from his teaching. I say, then, that Melampos acquired the prophetic art, being a discerning man, and that, besides many other things which he learned from Egypt, he also taught the Greeks things concerning Dionysus, altering few of them; for I will not say that what is done in Egypt in connection with the god [i.e. Osiris] and what is done among the Greeks originated independently: for they would then be of an Hellenic character and not recently introduced. Nor again will I say that the Egyptians took either this or any other custom from the Greeks. But I believe that Melampos learned the worship of Dionysus chiefly from Kadmos of Tyre and those who came with Kadmos from Phoinikia [modern Lebanon] to the land now called Boiotia."

Plato, Laws 637b :
"The Dionysia (Festival of Dionysus) . . . a revel such as I once upon a time witnessed 'on the wagons' in your country [i.e. Athens]; and at our [the Spartans] colony of Tarenton, too, saw the whole city drunk at the Dionysia. But with us [the Spartans] no such thing is possible." [N.B. At the Feast of Dionysus in Athens it was customary for revellers mounted on wagons to indulge in scurrilous language during the processions.]

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 33. 11 :
"They [the people of Amphikleia in Phokis] celebrate orgies, well worth seeing, in honor of Dionysus, but there is no entrance to the shrine, nor have they any image that can be seen. The people of Amphikleia say that this god is their prophet and their helper in disease. The diseases of the Amphikleans themselves and of their neighbors are cured by means of dreams. The oracles of the god are given by the priest, who utters them when under the divine inspiration."

Suidas s.v. Brauron :
"Braurôn : A place in Attika, in which the Dionysia used to be held and they drank and snatched up many prostitutes. And Aristophanes [writes] : `O master, how great a four-year-festival arse she has.' [This] is said because of the fact that the sacred Dionysiac delegations are sent every four years."

 Auguste Leveque, Bacchanalia.
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 2 :
"The district of the Athenians many girls without cause committed suicide by hanging, because Erigone [mythical devotee of Dionysos], in dying, had prayed that Athenian girls should meet the same kind of death she was to suffer if the Athenians did not investigate the death of Icarus and avenge it. And so when these things happened as described, Apollo gave oracular response to them when they consulted him, saying that they should appease Erigone if they wanted to be free from the affliction. So since she hanged herself, they instituted a practice of swinging themselves on ropes with bars of wood attached, so that the one hanging could be moved by the wind. They instituted this as a solemn ceremony [i.e. the Aiora on the third day of the Anthesteria], and they perform it both privately and publicly, and call it alétis, aptly terming her mendicant who, unknown and lonely, sought for her father with the god. The Greeks call such people alétides."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 27. 3 :
"[In Pellene, Akhaia] is a sanctuary of Dionysus surnamed Lampteros (Torch). In his honor they celebrate a festival called the Lampteria (Feast of Torches), when they bring by night firebrands into the sanctuary, and set up bowls of wine throughout the whole city."

  Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Vintage Festival

Lawrence Alma-Tadema - A Dedication to Bacchus

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 8. 2 :
"Here [in Potniai, Boiotia] there is also a temple of Dionysus Aigobolos (Goat-slayer). For once, when they were sacrificing to the god, they grew so violent with wine that they actually killed the priest of Dionysus. Immediately after the murder they were visited by a pestilence, and the Delphic oracle said that to cure it they must sacrifice a boy in the bloom of youth. A few years afterwards, so they say, the god substituted a goat as a victim in place of their boy."

 Franz von Stuck, Drunken Centaur

Thesmophoria was a festival held in Greek cities, in honor of the goddesses  Demeter and her daughter Persephone.  The name derives from thesmoi, or laws by which men must work the land. The Thesmophoria were the most widespread festivals and the main expression of the cult of Demeter, aside from the  Elusinian Mysteries. The Thesmophoria commemorated the third of the year when Demeter abstained from her role of goddess of the harvest and growth; spending the harsh summer months of Greece, when vegetation dies and lacks rain, in mourning for her daughter who was in the realm of the Underworl. Their distinctive feature was the sacrifice of pigs.

Not much  is known about the Thesmophoria, as only women were allowed to attend, and it was rare that women wrote down anything at this time, short of letters. The "mysteries" or initiation rites (teletai) surrounding restrictive religious ceremonies were jealously guarded by those who performed them. The chief source is a scholiast  on Lucian (Dialogue Meretricii 2.1), explaining the term "Thesmophoria".

The ceremony involved sinking sacrifices into the earth by night and retrieving the decaying remains of pigs that had been placed the previous year in the megara of Demeter, trenches and pits or natural clefts in rock . As  snakes were known to congregate in such pits, the scholiast on Lucian explains, those who didn't go to retrieve the remains shouted to scare away any that might be lurking down there. After prayers the foetid remains of the pigs from the previous year were mixed with seeds and planted (Scholiast on Lucian): ""the clearest example in  Greek religion of agrarian magic," Burkert observes (1985 p 244).

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, On the Road to the Temple of Ceres

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Way to the Temple

APHRODI′SIA, festivals celebrated in honor of Aphrodite, in a great number of towns in Greece, but particularly in the island of Cyprus. Her most ancient temple was at Paphos, which was built by Aërias or Cinyras, in whose family the priestly dignity was hereditary (Tacit. Hist. II.3, Annal. III.62; Maxim. Tyr. Serm. 83).

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 14. 6 :
"Aphrodite Ourania (Heavenly); the first men to establish her cult were the Assyrians, after the Assyrians the Paphians of Kypros and the Phoinikians who live at Askalon in Palestine; the Phoinikians taught her worship to the people of Kythera."

Tiziano, The Worship of Venus

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 23. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"In Kythera [off the coast of Lakedaimonia] is . . . the sanctuary of Aphrodite Ourania (the Heavenly ) is most holy, and it is the most ancient of all the sanctuaries of Aphrodite among the Greeks. The goddess herself is represented by an armed image of wood."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 16. 3 :
"At Thebes [in Boiotia] are three wooden images of Aphrodite, so very ancient that they are actually said to be votive offerings of [the mythical queen] Harmonia, and the story is that they were made out of the wooden figure-heads on the ships of Kadmos. They call the first Ourania (Heavenly), the second Pandemos (Common), and the third Apostrophia (Rejecter). Harmoina gave to Aphrodite the surname of Ourania (Heavenly) to signify a love pure and free from bodily lust; that of Pandemos (Common), to denote sexual intercourse; the third, that of Apostrophia (Rejecter), that mankind might reject unlawful passion and sinful acts. For Harmonia knew of many crimes already perpetrated not only among foreigners but even by Greeks, similar to those attributed later by legend to the mother of Adonis, to Phaidra, the daughter of Minos, and to the Thrakian Tereus."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 14. 6 :
"Aphrodite Ourania (Heavenly); the first men to establish her cult were the Assyrians, after the Assyrians the Paphians of Kypros and the Phoinikians who live at Askalon in Palestine; the Phoinikians taught her worship to the people of Kythera."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The Knidians hold Aphrodite in very great honor, and they have sanctuaries of the goddess; the oldest is to her as Doritis (Bountiful ), the next in age as Akraia (Of the Height), while the newest is to the Aphrodite called Knidia by men generally, but Euploia (Fair Voyage) by the Knidians themselves."


Pindar, Eulogies Fragment 122 (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Guest-loving girls [courtesans and prostitutes]! Servants of Peitho (Suasion) in wealthy Korinthos! Ye that burn the golden tears of fresh frankincense, full often soaring upward in your souls unto Aphrodite."

Herodotus, Histories 1. 199 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life . . . There is a custom like this in some parts of Kypros."

Strabo, Geography 8. 6. 20 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The temple of Aphrodite [in Korinthos (Corinth)] was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves, prostitutes, whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these women that the city was crowded with people."

Strabo, Geography 12. 4. 36 :
"Korinthos, there, on account of the multitude of courtesans, who were sacred to Aphrodite, outsiders resorted in great numbers and kept holiday. And the merchants and soldiers who went there squandered all their money so that the following proverb arose in reference to them: 'Not for every man is the voyage to Korinthos."

John Waterhouse, The Slave

Strabo, Geography 12. 4. 36 :
"[In] Korinthos (Corinth), there, on account of the multitude of prostitutes, who were sacred to Aphrodite, outsiders resorted in great numbers and kept holiday."

Strabo, Geography 6. 2. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Eryx [in Sikelia (Sicily), Italia], a lofty hill, is also inhabited. It has a temple of Aphrodite that is held in exceptional honor, and in early times was full of female temple-slaves, who had been dedicated in fulfillment of vows not only by the people of Sikelia but also by many people from abroad; but at the present time, just as the settlement itself, so the temple is in want of men, and the multitude of temple-slaves has disappeared.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 220 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The obscene Propoetides [of Kypros] had dared to deny Venus' [Aphrodite's] divinity. For that the goddess’ rage, it’s said, made them the first strumpets to prostitute their bodies' charms."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 243 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Venus’ [Aphrodite’s] [festival] day came, the holiest festival all Cyprus celebrates; incense rose high and heifers, with their wide horns gilded, fell beneath the blade that struck their snowy necks."

 John William Godward, An Offering to Venus

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 3. 95f - 96a (trans. Gullick) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"As a matter of fact Kallimakhos [Greek poet C3rd B.C.] (or Zenodotos), in Historical Notes, testifies that the pig is sacrificed to Aphrodite, in these words : `The people of Argos sacrifice swine to Aphrodite and the festival is called Hysteria (Feast of Swine).'"

Aelian, On Animals 10. 50 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"I have heard it said that in Eryx, where of course the famous temple of Aphrodite is (the pigeons there and their peculiarities I mentioned earlier on), there is a store of gold, and immense store of silver, necklaces, and finger-rings of great price; and that dread of the goddess renders them safe from robbers and untouched; and that men in ancient times always regarded the aforesaid goddess and her treasures with veneration and awe. But I learn that Hamilkar the Carthaginian looted these objects, melted down the silver and gold, and then distributed an infamous largesse to his troops. And for these deeds he suffered the most painful and grievous torments and was punished with crucifixion, while all his accomplices and partners in that unholy sacrilege died violent and terrible deaths. And his native land which till then was so prosperous and which was reputed enviable above most lands, after these sacred objects had been imported, was reduced to slavery . . .

On every day throughout the whole year the people of Eryx and strangers too sacrifice to the goddess. And the largest of the altars is in the open air, and upon it many sacrifices are offered, and all day long and into the night the fire is kept burning. The dawn begins to brighten, and still the altar shows no trace of embers, no ashes, no fragments of half-burnt logs, but is covered with dew and fresh grass which comes up again every night. And the sacrificial victims from every herd come up and stand beside the altar of their own accord; it is the goddess in the first place who leads them on, and in the second place it is the ability to pay, and the wish, on the part of the sacrificer. At any rate should you desire to sacrifice a sheep, lo and behold, there is a sheep standing at the altar, and you must begin the ceremonial washing. But if you are a man of substance and wish to sacrifice one cow or even more than one, then the herdsman will not mulct you by charging too much, nor will you disappoint him, for the goddess sees that the sale-prices are just, and if you pay fairly you will win her favour. If however you want to buy at a cheaper rate than is proper, you will pay down your money in vain--the animal departs and you are unable to sacrifice.

So much then for this peculiarity of animals at Eryx in addition to those which I have mentioned earlier on."

   Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Between Venus and Bacchus

Suidas s.v. Aphrodite (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Aphrodite [Venus] : They sculpt the statue of her holding a comb, since a pestilential itch once afflicted the womenfolk of the Romans, and when they all shaved themselves, their combs became useless to them; they prayed to Aphrodite to regrow their hair and honored her with a statue [of her] holding a comb and having a beard; because she had both male and female parts. For they say she was the overseer of every birth, and they say she was a man from her loins up and a woman down below. But they also sculpt her on horseback, because Aeneas, her son, sailed off to the west and after this rode on horseback, and honoured his mother with this sort of statue.

Strabo, Geography 5. 3. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Near Ardea [a settlement of the Rutuli in Italia] there is a temple of Aphrodite [i.e. Venus], where the Latinoi hold religious festivals. But the places were devastated by the Samnitai; and although only traces of cities are left, those traces have become famous because of the sojourn which Aeneas made there and because of those sacred rites which, it is said, have been handed down from those times."

In in Greek/Roman mythology Aeneas (meaning "to praise") was a  Trojan hero,  the son of the prince Anchises  and the goddess Aphrodite. His father was the second cousin of King Priam of Troy, making Aeneas Priam's second cousin, once removed. He is a character in Greek mythology and is mentioned in Homer's Iliad,  and receives full treatment in Roman mythology as the legendary founder of what would become Ancient Rome, most extensively in  Virgil's Aeneid.
 Aeneas defeats Turnus, by Luca Giordano, 1634–1705. The  genius of Aeneas is shown ascendant, looking into the light of the future, while that of Turnus is setting, shrouded in darkness.


Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 6. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Now the ancients record in their myths that Priapos was the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite and they present a plausible argument for this lineage; for men when under the influence of wine find the members of their bodies tense and inclined to the pleasures of love."

In Greek mythology Priapus or Priapos  was a minor rustic fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia. Priapus is marked by his absurdly oversized, permanent erection, which gave rise to the medical term  priapism.  He became a popular figure in Roman erotic art and  latin literature,  and is the subject of the often humorously obscene collection of verse called the  Priapea.

Fresco of Priapus, House of the Vettii, Pompeii

Priapus was described as the son of  Aphrodite by Dionysus,  or the son of Dionysus and Chione. perhaps as the father or son of Hermes. and the son of  Zeus or Pan, depending on the source. Priapus joined Pan and the satyrs  as a spirit of fertility and growth, though he was perennially frustrated by his impotence. Originally worshipped by Greek colonists in Lampsacus in Asia Minor, the cult of Priapus spread to mainland Greece and eventually to Italy during the 3rd century BC

In later antiquity, his worship meant little more than a cult of sophisticated pornography.
His sacrificial animal was the ass,  but agricultural offerings (such as fruit, flowers, vegetables and fish) were also very common.

Suidas s.v. Priapos (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Priapos: was conceived from Zeus and Aphrodite; but Hera in a jealous rage laid hands by a certain trickery on the belly of Aphrodite and readied a shapeless and ugly and over-meaty babe to be born. His mother flung it onto a mountain; a shepherd raised it up. He had genitals [rising up] above his butt."

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1. 30b (trans. Gullick) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to C3rd A.D.) :
"Among the people of Lampsakos, Priepos who is the same as Dionysos, is held in honour and has the by-name Dionysos as well as Thriambos and Dithyrambos."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2. 622 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Lampsacus whose dwellers no triennial festival of Bacchus nor Phrygian madness bids gather in secret caverns, but their own god [Priapos] hales them to Venus [Aphrodite]. High over the city they see his altars and the carvings of his towering shrine."

 Gallo-Roman  bronze statuette of Priapus or Genii Cucullati  discovered in Picardy,  northern France, made in two parts, with the top section concealing a giant phallus.

Statues of Priapus were often hung with signs bearing epigrams,  collected in Priapeia (treated below), which threatened sexual assults towards transgressors of the boundaries that he protected:
Percidere, puer, moneo; futuere, puella;
barbatum furem tertia poena manet.
Femina si furtum faciet mihi virve puerve,
haec cunnum, caput hic praebeat, ille nates.
Per medios ibit pueros mediasque puellas
mentula, barbatis non nisi summa petet.
I warn you, boy, you will be screwed; girl, you will be fucked;
a third penalty awaits the bearded thief.
If a woman steals from me, or a man, or a boy,
let the first give me her cunt, the second his head, the third his buttocks.
My dick will go through the middle of boys and the middle of girls,
but with bearded men it will aim only for the top.

 Envocation to Priapus: 19th Century Engraving of a purpoted Bas-Relief from Pompeii

 Francisco de Goya, The Sacrifice to Priapus

Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on February 13 through 15 to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed februa, an earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name.

The name Lupercalia was believed in antiquity to evince some connection with the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia (from Ancient Greek: λύκοςlukos, "wolf", Latin lupus) and the worship of Lycaean Pan,  assumed to be a Greek equivalent to Faunus, as instituted by Evander.

In Roman mythology, Lupercus is a  god sometimes identified with the Roman god Faunus,  who is the Roman equivalent of the  Greek god Pan.

The festival began with the  sacrifice by the Luperci (or the flamen dialis - high priests of Jupiter) of two male goats and a dog. Next two young patrician Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with  wool soaked in milk,  after which they were expected to smile and laugh.

The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the victims, which were called februa, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.

Ovid, Fasti 5. 79 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The exile Evander came from Arcadia to Latin fields, and ferried his gods here. Where Rome is now, the world’s head, were trees and grassland, a few cattle, an occasional hut . . . He taught the tribes man sacred rites, but firstly those of horned Faunus [Pan] and the wing-foot god [Hermes]. The Luperci in loincloths serve you, half-goat Faunus, when their hide-strips purify the packed streets."

 Sacrifice to god pan Bernardino Luini

 Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan

 Bacchanal before a Statue of Pan Nicolas Poussin

Guillaume Seignac - Fuanesse

 Lord Frederick Leighton,Study

Daphnephoria, a festival held every ninth year at  Thebes in Boeotia in honor of  Apollo ismenius or galaxius.

It consisted of a procession in which the chief figure was a boy of good family and noble appearance, whose father and mother must be alive. Immediately in front of this boy, who was called Daphnephoros ( laurel bearer), walked one of his nearest relatives, carrying an  olive branch hung with laurel and flowers and having on the upper end a bronze ball from which hung several smaller balls. Another smaller ball was placed on the middle of the branch or pole (which was called a κώπω), which was then twined round with purple ribbons, and at the lower end with saffron ribbons. These balls were said to indicate the sun, stars and moon, while the ribbons referred to the days of the year, being 365 in number.

The Daphnephoros, wearing a golden crown, or a wreath of laurel, richly dressed and partly holding the pole, was followed by a chorus of maidens carrying suppliant branches and singing a hymn to the god. The Daphnephoros dedicated a bronze tripod  in the temple of Apollo, and  Pausanias (ix. 10.4) mentions the tripod dedicated there by Amphitryon when his son Heracles had been Daphnephoros. The festival is described by  Proclus,  quoted by Photis in his Bibliotheca, codex 239.

  Frederic Leighton - Daphnephoria

Lord Frederick Leighton, study II


Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 19. 1 :
"Close to the temple of Zeus Olympios [in Athens] is a statue of the Apollo Pythios. There is further a sanctuary of Apollo surnamed Delphinios (Of the Dolphins). The story has it that when the temple was finished with the exception of the roof Theseus arrived in the city, a stranger as yet to everybody. When he came to the temple of the Delphinian, wearing a tunic that reached to his feet and with his hair neatly plaited, those who were building the roof mockingly inquired what a marriageable virgin was doing wandering about by herself. The only answer that Theseus made was to loose, it is said, the oxen from the cart hard by, and to throw them higher than the roof of the temple they were building." 

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 21. 3 :
"At the top of the theater [of Athens] is a cave in the rocks under the Acropolis. This also has a tripod over it, wherein are [statues of] Apollo and Artemis slaying the children of Niobe."


Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 30. 1 :
"There are three temples close together [in the main town of the island of Aigina], one of Apollo, one of Artemis, and a third of Dionysus. Apollo has a naked wooden image of native workmanship."


Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 10. 2 :
"The inner room [of the sanctuary of Asklepios at Sikyon] is given over to the Apollon Karneios; into it none may enter except the priests."


Aelian, On Animals 11. 2 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The people of Epeiros and all strangers sojourning there, beside any other sacrifice to Apollo, on one day in the year hold their chief festival in his honor with solemnity and great pomp. There is a grove dedicated to the god, and round about it a precinct, and in the enclosure are Drakones (Serpents), and these self-same Serpents are the pets of the god. Now the priestess, who is a virgin, enters unaccompanied, bringing food for the Serpents. And the people of Epeiros maintain that the Drakones are sprung from the Python at Delphi. If, as the priestess approaches, they look graciously upon her and take the food with eagerness, it is agreed that they are indicating a year of prosperity and of freedom from sickness. If however they scare her and refuse the pleasant food she offers, then the Serpents are foretelling the reverse of the above, and that is what the people of Epeiros expect."

Herodotus, Histories 1. 92 :
"There are many offerings of [the historic Lydian king] Kroisos in Hellas . . . There is a golden tripod at Thebes in Boiotia, which he dedicated to Apollo Ismenios."

Herodotus, Histories 5. 59. 6 :
"I have myself seen Kadmean writing in the temple of Apollon Ismenios at Thebes of Boeotia engraved on certain tripods and for the most part looking like Ionian letters. On one of the tripods there is this inscription : `Amphitryon dedicated me from the spoils of Teleboai.' This would date from about the time of [the mythical Theban king] Laios the son of Labdakos, grandson of Polydoros and great-grandson of Kadmos. 

A second tripod says, in hexameter verse : `Skaios the boxer, victorious in the contest, gave me to Apollon, the archer god, a lovely offering.' Skaios the son of Hippokoon, if he is indeed the dedicator and not another of the same name, would have lived at the time of Oidipos son of Laios.

The third tripod says, in hexameter verse again : `Laodamas, while he reigned, dedicated this cauldron to Apollo, the sure of aim, as a lovely offering.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 11. 7 - 12. 1 :
"Beyond the Chastiser stone [of Thebes, Boiotia] is an altar of Apollo surnamed Spodios (God of Ashes); it is made out of the ashes of the victims. The customary mode of divination here is from voices (Kledones), which is used by the Smyrnaians, to my knowledge, more than by any other Greeks . . . The Thebans in ancient days used to sacrifice bulls to Apollo Spodios (of the Ashes). Once when the festival was being held, the hour of the sacrifice was near but those sent to fetch the bull had not arrived. And so, as a wagon happened to be near by, they sacrificed to the god one of the oxen, and ever since it has been the custom to sacrifice working oxen."

A sacrificial tripod is a three-legged piece of religious furniture used for offerings or other ritual procedures. As a seat or stand, the tripod is the most stable furniture construction for uneven ground, hence its use is universal and ancient. It is particularly associated with Apollo and the Delphic oracle  in ancient Greece, and the word "tripod" comes from the Greek meaning "three-footed."

 Apollo and Heracles  struggle for the Delphic tripod  c. 520 BC)

 An ancient Greek coin c. 330-300 BC. Laureate head of Apollo (left) and ornate tripod (right).

 Delphic tripod 330 BC

 Winged  Victory bearing a tripod (Wall painting,  Pompeii, 64 AD)

 Medea and the Peliades around a tripod (1828 relief after a 5th-century BC

The most famous tripod of ancient Greece was the  Delphic tripod from which the  Pythian priestess took her seat to deliver the oracles of the deity. The seat was formed by a circular slab on the top of the tripod, on which a branch of  laurel was deposited when it was unoccupied by the priestess. In this sense, by Classical times the tripod was sacred to Apollo. The mytheme of Heracles contesting with Apollo for the tripod appears in vase-paintings older than the oldest written literature. The oracle originally may have been related to the primal deity, the Earth.

John William Godward - The Delphic Oracle

   John Maler Collier,Priestess of Delphi

Another well-known tripod in Delphi was the Plataean Tripod;  it was made from a tenth part of the spoils taken from the Persian army after the Battle of Plataea. This consisted of a golden basin, supported by a bronze sperpent with three heads (or three serpents intertwined), with a list of the states that had taken part in the war inscribed on the coils of the serpent. The golden bowl was carried off by the Phocians during the Third Sacred War (356–346 BC); the stand was removed by the emperor  Constantine to Constantinople in 324, where in modern Istambul it still can be seen in the hippodrome, the Atmeydanı, although in damaged condition: the heads of the serpents have disappeared, however one is now on display at the nearby Istanbul Archaeology Museums. The inscription, however, has been restored almost entirely. Such tripods usually had three ears (rings which served as handles) and frequently had a central upright as support in addition to the three legs.

 The Serpent Column It is part of an ancient Greek sacrificial tripod, originally in  Delphi and relocated to Constantinople by Constantine I the Great in 324.

 Ottoman miniature from the  Surname-i-Vehbi, showing the Column with the three serpent heads, in a celebration at the Hippodrome in 1582

 Image of a procession in the Hippodrome of Constantinople,  showing the cloth-weavers in front of the Sultan

Image of a procession of beggars in the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Ottoman miniature from the Surname-i-Vehbi.


 A festival celebrated in honor of Zeus on the Lycaean Mount in Arcadia. In the sacred enclosure on its highest peak, where, according to popular belief, no object cast a shadow, there was an altar of heaped-up earth, and before it two columns with gilt eagles on top of them, looking to the east. At the festivals, probably celebrated every ninth year, the priests, who alone were allowed to enter the precincts, offered mysterious sacrifices to the god, including a human sacrifice. These were said to have been instituted by Lycaon (q.v.), and were kept up till the second century A.D. The man who had been chosen by lot to perform the sacrifice was afterwards compelled to flee, and wandered about for nine years; like Lycaon, in the shape of a wolf, so the people believed. In the tenth he was allowed to return and regained his human form—i. e. the taint was removed. Besides the festival there were also athletic contests.

Thomas Couture - The Romans of the Decadence

 Frederick Richard Pickersgill - Flight of the Pagan Deities