Festivals we know (almost) nothing about – Part 2

This is the second part of this post. Please refer to its introduction for details if you haven’t read it yet. As stated in the disclaimer last time: this list is in no way exhaustive, as I have taken out deme-specific festivals, festivals relating to hero-worship or political events/commemorations. Again, all information comes from Parker R., Polytheism and Society at Athens, 2005 unless stated otherwise.

The Hephaisteia
There’s a bit of speculation about this festival to Hephaestus and Athena. The festival is known from a fragmentary inscription dating of 421 BC, but it is unsure whether this is a new festival or if it’s been reorganized/revamped at this date (Parker leans for the latter option). Either way, because this is a festival to Hephaestus and Athena, we can assume that it was somewhat similar to the Prometheia, which hosted a torch-race.
The Herakleia
We know of at least 4 separate events bearing the name of Herakleia in Attica, either as genos/deme festival or as athletic festival. With this information in mind, it seems like Herakles has been widely worshipped in Attica, though the organization of such events seems to have been more local. While we know no dates about this cluster of festivals to Herakles, there is a possibility that there were two Herakleia in successive months, one in Hektombaion and one in Metageitnion.
The Kalamaia
A badly known festival to Demeter, present in at least Piraeus and Eleusis. Ionna Patera places the festival on Skirophoron 16 (only 4 days after the Skira…), but I have not seen this datation being confirmed elsewhere. Parker classifies it as of unknown date and instead theorizes it could perhaps fall in Hekatombaion. The word kalame refers to the stalk of the corn, indicating an explicit link with the harvest cycle. We know that in Eleusis, the celebration included a sacrifice and a procession.
The Kallynteria
A festival in honor of Athena which seems to be have been linked to the Plynteria: while the Plyntheria focused on the cleaning of the goddess’ image, the Kallynteria seems to have been a time to clean the temple itself in preparation for the Plynteria. The datation is also contested: Photius tells us the festival fell on Thargelion 19, but this date is shared with another festival – the Bendidea- which would be unusual. Additionally, Aristokles of Rhodes states that “the festivals of Athena” succeed the Bendidea. It is possible still that the festival could have been on Thargelion 20 or somewhere in the last third of the month.
The Metageitnia
A festival to Apollo Metageitnios that probably happened during the month of the same name (Metageitnion – August/September). We can assume it was held on the 7th day, according to the logic of the other festivals for Apollo, but we do not have any proof of this timing. The celebration is also found outside of Athens (Oblia, Miletus), which leads to believe that it probably took its origin outside of Athens and was brought over at some point.
The Maimakteria
A festival to Zeus for which the date is unknown present in the Ionic-Attic calendar. It was probably held during the month of the same name, Maimakterion (November-December). It seems to have been focused on Zeus’ role as a storm god and was probably a very old celebration that lost in importance over time. Late-autumn and early winter seems to have been particularly linked to rain and storm, as we can see from Anacreon’s fragment 19:
“In the month of Poseidon, When the clouds are fat with rain, Wild storms bring us Zeus.”
Aside from the logical practical association, the presence of a festival to Zeus on the month just before Poseidon doesn’t seem out of place.
The Nemeseia
There is contradictory information regarding this festival (or festivals). On one side, we know of an athletic festival in honour of Nemesis of Rhamnus which seems to have occurred on Hekatombaion 19 (July-August).
On another side, some sources mention a Nemeseia that was a festival of the dead. Parker suggests that this one could be a confusion with the Genesia, in which case it would be held on 5th of the month of Boedromion (Bekker, Anecd. pp. 86, 231, and 282). We know nothing of the rites and ceremonies observed in this context. There is not enough evidence to support anything.
The Niketeria
According to Proclus, the Niketeria was a festival to Athena meant to celebrate the goddess’ victory over Poseidon. This is an event for which we again have contradictory information: Plutarch tells us the opposite about this day, which he says falls on Boedromion 2, saying that it was “omitted” by the Athenians instead of celebrated.
The Pandia
The Pandia falls at the very end of the City Dionysia. It seems to have been originally a festival to Zeus, but it’s likely that it got sucked into the City Dionysia and lost importance over time.
The Prometheia
Festival to Prometheus, joined with Athena and Hephaestus. No date known, but the festival included torch races.
The Stenia
Apparently a women-only festival to Demeter & Persephone that, according to Aristophanes is “two days before the Thesmophoria, on Pyanopsion 9”. What confuses scholars about this one is the timing and its alleged purpose: Pyanopsion is an autumn month, but the festival is supposed to be about the coming up of Kore. If this was the case, it would make more sense if it was placed in spring. Erika Simon* hypothesises that the Stenia might have been the moment where the piglets were thrown in pits and then recovered during the Thesmophoria. Again, there is too little evidence to be sure of what the festival exactly entailed, especially with its close chronological proximity to the Thesmophoria.

*Simon E., Festivals of Attica: An Archaeological Commentary, 1983


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