Festivals we know (almost) nothing about – Part 1

Once in a while, it’s good to remember that none of our calendars are complete. This is much more obvious with non-Attic/Athenian calendars, and anyone who decides to jump into attempting to reconstruct the cultic calendar of Delphi, Delos, Sparta, Argos etc. will know exactly what I mean, as they are painfully fragmentary (not to mention the ones that are completely lost).

Because of the contrast between the fairly well-preserved Athenian calendar and the others, we often forget that Athenian calendar we know about is only “well-preserved” but by no means complete.

Back in January, I decided to make an user-friendly calendar and I had to make several choices about how to keep it simple. One of those choices was to get rid of obscure festivals, especially when their date or content is unknown or highly speculative.

The downside of my project is that it further solidifies this illusion of completeness. This is why I’m making this post: here’s the list of Athenian festivals we know by name that haven’t made it into my calendar for the reasons mentioned above. Emphasis on “know by name”, because there’s probably a few we completely lost as well. This list likely isn’t going to be exhaustive either (took out deme-specific festivals, hero worship, battle commemoration festivals etc. + I probably forgot stuff).

Note 1: This will be cut in parts of 10 festivals because there’s really a lot.

Note 2: The aim isn’t to tell people to add all of those holy days and festivals to their calendar, that would be way too much for a single person. Rather, this list is meant as inspiration for worshippers, especially those who have relationships with less widely worshipped deities.

The Adonia

Date unknown but probably happened in the summer. We actually have decent information on this one, aside from the date issue. It was primarily a festival for women. A few days before the festival, they would go plant young sprouts of lettuce and other garden plants and cereals on the rooftops. The sprouts, being left out in the sun, would quickly die, which was meant to represent the tragic short-life of Adonis. On the day of the festival, the women would come back on the roof to cry and mourn the death of Adonis.

For a complete study and contextualization of this festival, see “The Athenian Adonia in Context: The Adonis Festival as Cultural Practice” by Laurialan Reitzammer.

The Aiora

A swinging festival of unknown date, though there is debate about it being part of the Anthesteria. The Aiora was probably connected to the death of Erigone.

The Amarysia

Pausanias is our only source of a cult to Artemis Amarysia in Athens (Description of Greece 1. 31. 5):

Amarynthus is a town in Euboea, the inhabitants of which worship Amarysia, while the festival of Amarysia which the Athenians celebrate is no less splendid than the Euboean. The name of the goddess, I think, came to Athmonia in this fashion and the Colaenis in Myrrhinus is called after Colaenus.

We have no further information for this cult in Athens specifically.

The Anthesphoria

This one is tricky to fit in the list, because we have very little proof this was ever celebrated in Athens, and most of our sources on the festival trace back to Sicily, even though there are indications it was held in other parts of the Greek world. It was a festival of the flowers focusing around Persephone and Demeter. It was probably held in early spring, if we take into consideration the common stem between Anthesphoria and Anthesterion (anthes = flower), the Attic month of February-March, which alludes to the abundance of flowers during this time of the year.

For a more complete post on this festival, see verdantlyviolet ‘s breakdown. For a study, see “Hera’s Lettuce Women and the Peculiar Uses of Flowers, Fruit and Vegetables in Ancient Greek Festivals for Women” by Lucinda Guzman (Master’s thesis)

The Arrhephoria

Festival held in honour of Athena and Pandrosus, date unknown but it seems to have been linked to the Acropolis.

The Asklepieia

Probably a set of two festivals to Asklepios, one occuring in winter (between the Lenaia and the City Dionysia, so roughly between January and March/April) and another roughly six months later, between the Eleusinia and the Thesea. At this point, it is believed that the latter actually is known under the name of Epidauria, which was celebrated on Boedromion 17 or 18 (around September). Whereas the first festival would fit with an observance to Asklepios known to happen on Elaphebolion 8. It was probably at those two festivals that doctors would make their sacrifices to the god.

The Diisoteria

Two dates are known for this festival to Zeus Soter and Athena Soteria, as there are indications this festival has been changed over the centuries. The original date was Skirophorion 30, the last day of this month (somewhere between June and July, most likely – which also happens to be New Year’s eve for the Attic calendar). According to R. Parker, the date was moved in the 4th century BC to be earlier in the month, before Skirophorion 11. A decree from the 2nd century BC indicates Asklepios and Hygieia were also added to the list of recipients.

The Elaphebolia

Festival to Artemis, probably in the month of the same name (Elaphebolion – March/April). We can assume it was held on the 6th day, but we have no certainty. The preparation of ‘deer’ cakes (probably in private houses?) attested by Athenaeus is all that we can be sure of.

The Galaxia

Festival in honor of Cybele, the Mother of the Gods. No date known. For the occasion was offered a golden bowl with ‘galaxias’, a mixture of barley flour and milk.

The Genesia

Festival celebrating the dead, most likely dead parents. It was held on Boedromion 5 (late August – early September). Details are blurry, it’s possible this was mostly a private, familial celebration. If there was a public rite distinct from private commemorations, we do not know where it was held.

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Unless stated otherwise, most of the information is taken from Parker R., Polytheism and Society at Athens, 2005

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