Rethinking the Anthesteria

I know it seems awfully early to talk about this festival, since, at least on my calendar, it won’t be before late February. The Anthesteria also happens to be one of my favorite festivals, and as much as I don’t want to change it, there’s a major issue about how to celebrate it in a modern context while keeping one of its important ritual component, that is, the opening of the jars. Which leads me to why I’m writing this post now and not next year: the bottles of this year’s harvest will be on the market next week.

I’ve already written a post about vins de primeur (aka prime wines) and their potential some time last year. This post still holds true when I say those wines are the only ones you can get that respect the idea of being of the year’s harvest. It’s the whole point of this type of wine: they’re young and meant to be drunk young instead of matured. Winemaking has changed a lot over the past 2500 years, and while it used to take 5 to 6 months in jars for the wine to be drinkable, today, a prime wine will take 2 months between harvest and commercialization, thank to a technique called carbonic maceration.

This has led me to wonder a lot about what to do. At first, my plan was to buy 2 bottles, open one on the spot and keep the other for the actual Anthesteria. However the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. If the meaning behind the opening of the jars is, in essence, a ritualised celebration of the arrival of the new wine, it makes no sense to make it wait several months and risk the integrity of the bottle itself, as our modern prime wines are best drunk before January.

The question here lies into finding the right compromise between ancient traditions and the realities of the modern world we live in. To be completely fair, I have not yet seen anyone adopt a more precise approach to celebrating the Anthesteria than opening a bottle of wine and ritually mix it, without taking into consideration the details of what type of wine or when it was produced. I’m well aware of the limitations at play here, but I still think it shows that this meaning of the Anthesteria has been lost anyway.

This last observation makes the idea of rethinking how to approach the concept of the opening of the jars more relevant, and more exactly, it makes the need of moving it to a more appropriate date more relevant. Instead of late February, the opening of the new wine can today only occur in late November (or late October in some cases). However, making this modification leaves us with the questions of how to consider the Anthesteria as a festival. Thankfully, there is more to it than the first day of celebration which can stay the same, but the first day, the Pythoigia doesn’t hold the same weight anymore as it did traditionally.

If anything, my proposition is less to modify the Anthesteria rather than to add a celebration between the Oschophoria and the Rural Dionysia to make up for the fact that nearly no one actually uses the wine of the last harvest during the Pythoigia.


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