Day Two – Khoes, ‘Pitchers’
the Day of Swings
The second day of Anthesteria is called Khoes, meaning Pitchers. It is also called the Day of Swings. Khoes was celebrated with drinking matches, which was rewarded with a skin of more wine. This day was erotic and sensual, and ghosts were believed to wander the city.
The queen was ritually married to Dionysos, either in an inner room of the temple, only opened for this specific ritual, or in a stable. This was considered a mystery-rite, and as such we have no real details concerning it. Eliade gives us more information concerning what we do know, and speculates as to the meaning of the God’s ritual marriage.
The procession, made up of numerous participants, probably disguised, and a sacrificial bull, preceded by a flute-player and garland-bearers, made its way to the Lenaeum, the ancient sanctuary open only open on that day. There various ceremonies took place, in which the basilinna, the “queen”, that is, the wife of the king-archon, and four ladies-in-waiting took part. From this moment, the basilinna, heiress to the city’s ancient queens, was regarded as the spouse of Dionysus. She rode beside him in the cart, and a new procession, of the nuptial type, made its way to the Boucoleum, the old royal residence. Aristotle states that it is at the boucoleum (literally, “ox stable”) that the hierogamy between the god and the queen was consummated (Ath. Pol. 3. 5). The choice of the Boucoleum indicates that the taurine epiphany of Dionysus was still familiar.
Attempts have been made to interpret this union in a symbolic sense, and the god has been supposed to have been the importance of Aristotle’s testimony. The basilinna receives the god in the house of her husband, heir of kings – and Dionysus reveals himself as a king. Probably this union symbolizes the marriage of the god to the entire city, with the auspicious consequences that can be imagined. But it is an act characteristic of Dionysus, a divinity whose epiphanies are brutal and who demands that his supremacy be publicly proclaimed. We know of no other Greek cult in which a god is believed to unite himself with the queen1.
While this wedding was taking place in secret, the city was celebrating in orgiastic manner. Rude songs were sung and cakes shaped like phalluses were baked and eaten. Prostitutes and hetairae attended the celebrations, and there was much drinking and dancing.
But this day is not simply a day of fertility and partying. There is a more sombre thread woven into this day of celebration. Phanodemus tells us that when Orestes came to Athens after killing his mother Clytemnestra (on Apollo’s command, because she had killed her husband, Orestes’ father), Athens was celebrating the Anthesteria. The king wanted to receive him, but was afraid of polluting the city with the miasma Orestes had incurred. So the king had the temples locked, and the sacred objects hidden away. Each person got their own pitcher of wine, so that the pollution would not be spread by sharing. Phanodemus continues, saying “He also ordered them, when they had stopped drinking, not to put the wreaths with which they were crowned on the sacred objects, because they been under the same roof as Orestes. Rather they each one was to twine them around his own pitcher and take the wreathes to the precinct in Limnai, and then to perform the rest of the sacrifices in the sanctuary2.” And so from then on the second day of Anthesteria was known as Khoes, “Pitchers”.
The reason it is sometimes referred to as the Day of Swings is another story, one that is said to have sometimes taken place on the second day and sometimes on the third. The story goes that when Dionysos first came to Athens to give wine to the people, He was taken in by a kind farmed called Ikarios. In some versions Dionysos also fell in love with Ikarios’s daughter Erigone. In return for their hospitality, Dionysos taught the Ikarios to make wine. Ikarios held a big party, inviting all his friends and neighbors. He bought out the wine which Dionysos had taught him to make, and at first everyone loved the new drink. But when they began to get drunk and started to fall down, they thought Ikarios had poisoned them. They killed him and stuffed his body in a well. When Erigone found her father’s body, she was so grief-stricken that she hang herself on a nearby tree.
As punishment, Dionysos cursed Athens and the surrounding land of Attica with barrenness, and struck down their daughters with a madness that caused them to hang themselves, just like Erigone, whose death their fathers had caused. The Athenians sent word to the Temple of Delphi, asking the Oracle for help, to know which God they had wronged. The Pythia told the people of Attica that they needed to make amends for the death of Erigone and her father. Ikarios and Erigone were finally given a proper burial, and a festival, the Aiora, was instituted. The madness was lifted, and the land became fruitful again. During the Aiora, the young girls of the city would hang ribbons, cups and dolls from trees and let the boys push them on a swing. It can be celebrated on either Khoes or Khutroi, either day works.
H. Jeremaih Lewis has made some fascinating connections between Erigone and Arakhne. I love Spider, although I haven’t worked with her in a while. I said this before, but I *LOVE* all the different threads of Anthesteria!