WHILE most of the worships common to all Greece had in Attica also a local habitation and a name, the spirit of the people there in combination with the facts of their history brought some forms of religion into prominence, whilst others sank into the background. Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Poseidon, Demeter, Dionysus, are more celebrated in Athenian literature than Hera, Aphrodite, Ares, Hephaestus, Pan, Herakles, the Dioscuri. It is true that the divinities most worshipped at Athens are also prominent elsewhere, but it is at first sight remarkable that Hera, so great a goddess in Argolis, in Samos, and at Plataea, so active in the Iliad, should be rarely mentioned amongst Athenian deities; that Ares should have so little recognition from a warlike people, and that Castor and Polydeuces the patrons of mariners should be so little thought of by a seafaring population. Some remarks on each of these points may help to clear the ground. In Laconia and the south of Peloponnesus the ‘brothers of Helen’ were generally acknowledged as the sailor's friends, having been probably identified in pre-Dorian times with some objects of Phoenician worship. Though they had a shrine in Attica they do not figure prominently amongst Athenian gods. They were not gods of the Ionian-Attic stock. The Athenians, when they became a naval power, continued the worship of Poseidon, who had an ancient seat on the Acropolis, and had assured to them the mastery of their own seaboard. If they looked for a more human patron, had they not Theseus, who had led the expedition to Crete commemorated in the annual mission to Delos, and who tended in Athenian worship to supplant the universal Hellenic reverence for Herakles, although in Attica, especially at Marathon, the cult of Herakles also had been rooted from very early times?
Except in connection with the jurisdiction of the Areopagus, and as included in the oath of the Ephebi, Ares was but little worshipped at Athens. Indeed, there were but few centres in Hellas, excepting Thebes and Sparta, where this deity, generally more feared than loved, was much at home. His presence on the Areopagus was associated first with the legendary invasion of the Amazons, who had sacrificed to him (with some barbarian rite), and secondly, with the avenger of blood, whose direct appeal was naturally to the god of battle, i.e. to ordeal by combat, until the law of vengeance came to be tempered with equity, through the intervention of Apollo and Athena. There is here an obvious progress of religious thought, which may partly explain the general fact that not Ares the aggressor, but Athena the defender, is the Athenian god of war. To the predominance of Athena may also be assigned, perhaps, the absence of any public worship of the great goddess Hera, who reigned over the whole land of Argolis and had such time-honoured worship there and in the island of Samos. The position of her temples in rural districts, as in the territory of Plataea, and her early association with herds of kine, suggest that she was rather a pastoral than a civic deity, whereas Athena is before all things the protectress of the city. But although Attica could boast of no great temple to Hera, yet as the goddess of married life and of motherhood she was much thought of, especially by women; yet the oath ‘by Hera,’ which is put by Plato into the mouth of Socrates and others, does not occur in Aristophanes, or in any Attic writer of the fifth century.
Pan, too, (Πάων the feeder) was a deity rather of the country than of the town, and as such had been ignored by the Athenians, or rather not formally recognised amongst the deities that gathered round the Acropolis. But after the fight in the open field at Marathon and the ‘panic’ fear that seized the Persian enemies on that wild coast, the people found a place for him in a grotto to the north of the Acropolis.
Hephaestus was believed in from very early times, and in one sense, in his union with Mother Earth, was regarded as the author of the Athenian race, but he was chiefly worshipped as a culture deity in combination with Prometheus and Athena.
The worship of Aphrodite Pandemos could not be absent from a system of polytheism, in which every power that ever dominates mankind must have a place, but at Athens this ritual was believed to have been imported from abroad by Phaedra, the sister of Ariadne and the unfaithful wife of Theseus. In earlier times Aphrodite Urania had been worshipped, at Colias, for example, rather as a great nature power, associated with the Graces and the Nymphs, than as the goddess of love.
The worship of Zeus at Athens had some peculiarities derived from an immemorial antiquity. We have seen how Zeus Hellenios, an epithet derived originally from Thessaly, where Hellas was a local name, and celebrated in Aegina, became after the Persian wars a type of the union of all Hellenes against the barbarian. In Attica Zeus retained much of his original nature as the god of the sky, who now smiles on men and their works propitiously, now thunders and lightens as the god of storms; who sends rain or fair bright weather as it pleases him; and he was accordingly worshipped on the height of the Acropolis, with bloodless offerings at the festival of the Diasia in the spring of the year. But he had other attributes and other functions. Zeus Teleios, the god of consummation, had a priest of the family of Buzugae at Athens; he was primarily the lord of consecrating rites, especially the marriage rite which completes the family, but to the pious mind of an Athenian, without losing this association, he became the author and disposer who determines all events and accomplishes faithful prayers according to his will. Zeus Herkeios, god of the enclosure, was, in a general sense, the protector of every home; but at Athens he had a special sanctuary in the Erechtheum, where his altar with its perpetual flame kept the Athenians in mind of that ancient sovereignty which had descended from their early kings and was now vested in the sovereign people. It was the hearth of the state, the embodiment of the goddess Hestia. There Zeus was specially known as Zeus Polieus, the protector of the city. So with an infinity of titles he presided over various other functions, public and private: over the council, the assembly, the family, the phratry, the dues of hospitality, of friendship, and of comradeship, combining the attributes of a universal and particular providence; but it is remarkable that while he had many altars, where his worship was associated with that of other deities, he had only one great temple, instituted not by any popular government, but by the Pisistratidae, and left unfinished until Athens was in her decline. This was the temple of Zeus Olympius, to the south-east of the Acropolis. Pisistratus may have chosen to strengthen his own sovereignty by the worship of the supreme god, or he may have sought to impress upon his countrymen the dignity of the pan-Hellenic Zeus upheld by Homer, in preference to the traditional local deity. But after the expulsion of the tyrants, the popular imagination clung to their ancient Zeus upon the northward cliff, who was associated more intimately with their daily life. And in this character, instead of building temples to him, they preferred to worship him after their ancient wont under the open sky and in connection with other gods who were nearer to mankind. They thought of him now as the saviour, now as the bringer on of fate, in a somewhat distant way, but paid their more direct and familiar worship to those of the kindred of Zeus who acted as his vice-gerents in human affairs, above all to Apollo and Athena.
When Athens first rose into importance, the worship of the Pythian Apollo had long been universal throughout Hellas. And though we have seen reason to suspect that the religion early established at Delphi had at one time been reinforced by a Phoenician influence, yet like the Apollo worship everywhere it had been thoroughly penetrated with the Greek spirit. The ideas of citizenship, of nationality, and patriotism entered into it with a refining and elevating power; and the purely Aryan notion of the solidarity of the household in its successive generations was also potent therein. While Athens remained as one of a loose confederacy of Hellenic states acknowledging the primacy of Sparta, she, like the rest, looked with implicit faith for guidance to the oracular son of Zeus, whose shrine was at the centre of the world. Whatever may have been the wisdom and spiritual insight of the Delphic priesthood, there can be no doubt that the simple confiding belief in the god of Delphi had on the whole a wholesome and strengthening effect upon the Athenian mind. Not that it is to be supposed that all Athenian notions concerning this universal Hellenic deity were borrowed from the Delphic teaching, but their conception of him in some aspects was certainly coloured by it. When they claimed him as Patrôos, the author of the Ionian race, this mythological invention was due to their desire for a close relationship with the divine being to whom they looked up with a more than filial awe; and the legend sought and found its confirmation in Delphic tradition. Again, Apollo Delphinios, who purged the commonweal from the guilt of blood, was by the Athenians themselves associated with Apollo Delphicus, and the sense of blood-guiltiness as needing purgation through blood was, if not originally taught, at least greatly deepened by the influence of the Delphic priesthood. Apollo Pythius was worshipped at more than one site in Attica, and although the title may have primarily signified merely the oracular god, yet in historic times it was inevitable that by Pythius should be understood the Pythian, that is to say the Delphic Apollo.
For the rest, in Attica, as elsewhere, Apollo was, first, the averter of evil, especially from house and home; secondly, the healer (παιών) both in the literal and also in the figurative sense of the remover of annoyance or disease. His altar as Λύκειος, προστάτης, προστατήριος (protector or defender) stood before the chief doorway of all the more important houses. Thus Apollo was in a manner omnipresent at Athens. And if he ever seemed to be absent, was he not named Βοηδρόμιος, ‘runner to the rescue,’ on whom pious hearts might call in moments of distress? Nor had he relinquished his more primitive attributes as a nature power: presiding over flocks and fruits of the earth, perhaps no other, in his earliest conception, than the sun-god of spring.
Delphi, though the most important, was not the only centre of Apolline worship. Another was Delos, whose priests declared that their little island was the birthplace of Apollo. His festival had been a rendezvous for the islanders and the Ionian states on the Asiatic seaboard from very early times; and had been frequented even by the Euboeans of Carystos and the Dorians of Calymna and Cos. Hence, when Athens and Sparta began to stand apart, and the conservative tendencies (or the Dorian sympathies) of the Delphic priesthood inclined them to support the leadership of Sparta, the Delian rather than the Delphic Apollo came to be revered at Athens. Even the Persians under Datis and Artaphernes had respected Delos, and it seemed a capital stroke of policy for the Athenians, when they were now the leaders of the Greeks against the barbarian, to make Delos the centre of their new confederacy, which they thus brought under the protection and patronage of the Delian god of light and strength.
Before passing on to Athena, it is natural to speak here of Artemis, who in the Delian legend was the sister of Apollo. At Athens she was less a civic than a domestic deity, associated with the chief events in the lives of women—with puberty, marriage, childbirth, and the care of children. Her worship had taken firm hold in country places before it was introduced into the city. Hence in the rites performed in her honour there were traces of her earlier character as the huntress: goats were sacrificed to her, and the rite of initiation, by which young girls were consecrated to her service, was fancifully associated with her Arcadian favourite, the bear. Folklorists find in this a survival of animal-worship, supposing the ἄρκτευσις, the name for the rite of initiation, to have been a sort of bear-dance, derived from ἄΡκτος a ‘bear’ But may there not be something in the suggestion of Lobeck that ἄΡκτος as applied to one of these young catechumens may have been originally derived from ἄρχεσθαι, to begin? The word once chosen would soon come to be identified with the animal whom the goddess loved.
Artemis, like her brother, has a twofold aspect as preserver and destroyer; the cruel Artemis of Brauron was much feared—and reminiscences of human sacrifice hung round her. One would be glad to think that these were not native offshoots of Greek religion, but had adhered to it from some barbaric source. That she was a ‘lioness to women,’ as Homer sang, was still confirmed by every death in child-bed, and she was feared accordingly. Thus as associated with Hecate, originally another name for the moon goddess, and as the sister of the far-darter, she was torch-bearer to Persephone, and was often represented as holding up a flaming torch in either hand. It may not be too fanciful to find some reminiscence of this, her first nature, in the bright shafts with which in the chorus of Sophocles she darts throughout the Lycian hills. As the Delian legend gained more hold of Athens, the position of Artemis, the sister to Apollo, and daughter of Latona, became more clearly denned. But her chief function still remained, as the maiden goddess who presided over childbirth, and altogether as the patroness of women. Yet on one great occasion she was acknowledged also as the preserver and destroyer of men. A third part of the spoils at Marathon was devoted to her, because of Artemisium, and the Polemarch offered to her annually on the sixth of Boedromion (September), a season sacred to Apollo, five hundred goats.
Athena is the central figure in Athenian religion, identified in the most intimate manner with civic and national life: the protectress, guide, enlightener, instructor, of her people. She retained from early times, when Attica was inhabited village-wise, her function of presiding over the culture of the olive. The sacred olives by the Cephisus, between Colonus and the Academy, were perhaps an earlier symbol of this than the never-dying plant in the Erechtheum. Both carry us back to the dawn of history, for already in the Iliad she is established in the house of Erechtheus, and in the catalogue of the ships the myth determining her connection with that god or hero is complete. Like Artemis a virgin goddess, she is the helper not of women but of men, who regarded her with a sort of chivalrous loyalty. As, under the influence of Solon and of Pisistratus after him, the commonwealth grew and strengthened, the great ideas of law and justice, of self-devoted patriotism, of order and discipline, clustered more and more closely about the person of Athena. She had her warlike and her peaceful aspect; but the warlike was for the enemies of Athens, the peaceful was for the loyal citizens. Thus she is at once πολιάς the goddess of the Citadel, πρόμα7ος defender of the faithful, έργάνη the patroness of industry, βονλαία guide in counsel, άρχηγέτις beginner of every work, and is identified with Θέμις goddess of law, ϓγίεα goddess of health, and, at least after the defeat of Persia, with Νίκη goddess of victory.
The worship of Athena in Attica is also modified through her connection with other native deities. Although a virgin herself—an attribute probably more accentuated in later times as symbolising an unconquered land, she watched with motherly care over the infancy of Erichthonios, the child of earth from whom the Athenians came. His serpent form appears on early stone reliefs discovered on the Acropolis. In early legend he is identified with Erechtheus, an earth deity whose worship symbolised the Athenians' belief in their autochthonous origin. Of this son of the soil, Hephaestus the fire god is accounted sire. Thus Athena is associated with Hephaestus, not only as presiding over all artistic work, but in the authorship of that prime master-work, the creation of man. The serpent that lived on the Acropolis, and is constantly represented on early monuments as accompanying Athena, preserved some early association of her worship with that of the earth, as in the case of Athena Itonia in Boeotia.
The close relationship of Athena and Poseidon has been thought to symbolise the fusion of the primeval Attic with the Ionian race, who are represented in the legends as coming into Attica when driven out of Achaia by the Dorian invasion. The mythical contest between the giver of the olive and the giver of the horse, the war between Athens and Eleusis, and other indications of a conflict finally reconciled by the supremacy of Athena point at least in some such direction. But in historic times (and not at Athens only) both powers are happily conjoined: Athena defending her people by land, Poseidon maintaining their sea power (although at Salamis it was Athena who reproached the Greeks for backing water)—while both together were the patrons of the Athenian knighthood, who on the hill of Colonus had an altar to Poseidon Hippios and Athena Hippia. Athena was also associated with Ares in the sanctuary of the Areopagus.
In all these combinations the worship of Athena had a civilising, humanising, and rationalising influence. The capricious cruelty of Ares was changed into deliberate severity, directed by the spirit of patriotism against the enemies who threatened Athens from without, or those professing friends within her borders who disturbed her peace. The warlike spirit of the Athenians had the love of country for its inspiring motive. It is not wonderful that the Attic type of Athena on works of art obtained a fulness of significance and an air of bounteous dignity not equally perceptible in the virgin-goddess elsewhere. Athena Nike, bareheaded, with her helmet and a pomegranate in either hand, already looked upon her citizens with an air of benignity very different from the stern maiden scarcely less repellent than Medusa's self, who in the metope of Selinus is assisting Perseus in slaying the Gorgon. And in the form of the Palladium, presiding over the court for homicide, she tempered with mercy even the severity of Apolline ritual.
Poseidon, the earth-shaker, without losing all his terrors, became in league with Athena a true and faithful benefactor, the giver of the steed, whom the knighthood worshipped side by side with her, the lord of seacraft and of the sea—giving victory to the navies of Athens, partly through their own prowess and partly by his rage against the invader. He was from early times bound up with the soil of Attica, and, in fact, identified with Erechtheus the favourite of Athena. Thus Poseidon was honoured and feared by land as well as by sea. Theseus, the peculiarly Attic hero, was his son.
There is little to be said here about Hermes, although, as the panic caused by the mutilation of the Hermae proved, he was a very popular god: chiefly in two capacities, as the guardian of boundaries, and as the conductor of the souls of the departed, and thus associated with funeral ceremonies and the continuity of family life. As guardian of the boundary he had probably gained fresh popularity under Solon, and we know from the ‘Hipparchus’ attributed to Plato that the images of him which the aristocratic youth defaced had in many cases been set up by Pisistratus. As conductor of souls, and in his association with domestic worships, his presence fills a large place in tragedy.
Pericles in Thucydides, when praising Athens in his funeral speech, says with reference to feast days, ‘we have not forgotten to provide for our weary spirits many relaxations from toil: we have regular games and sacrifices throughout the year…and the delight which we feel in all these things helps to banish melancholy.’ That may seem to modern readers to be a light way of speaking of religious services and to imply that the Athenians were irreligious; and it is possible that a priest of the Eteo-Butadae or the Buzygae would have spoken with more solemnity; for a shade of sadness had been superinduced over the simple enjoyment which in early times accompanied all religious acts. In many of the festivals, the Diasia, in honour of Zeus Meilichios (the ancient god of piacular atonement), the Plynteria, the Thargelia, the Thesmophoria and others, there was at least one day of fasting and of gloom. The fear of the gods had to be acknowledged before men could come into their presence. But it is not the less true that joyousness was the most prominent feature of all these celebrations. I do not speak now of the Eleusinia, nor of the Dionysia, which will be considered hereafter, but of the worship of those deities who were emphatically gods of the city. On every such occasion, even if the individual citizen did not feel a joy, he would be bound to feign it, for he was assisting at the rite which showed forth the living presence of the god. The feast which followed the sacrifice was an auspicious act of communion with the divine, and the games in which the Greek delighted were the more prized by him because they were known to be well pleasing to the great power, whose heart was gladdened, not only by the steam of the burnt sacrifice, or the perfect forms of the creatures that were offered to him, but also by the human perfections of those who were chosen to do him honour. The rounded limbs of the youths moving in procession, and of the maidens bearing vessels of offering, the trained strength of wrestlers, the skill of musicians, the still higher accomplishments of the poet—all these were brought into play, and native enjoyment of them was enhanced by the glad consciousness of offering to heaven from gifts which heaven had bestowed. Hence it was that as Athenian life—especially after the war with Persia—became more and more enriched, ennobled and refined, the festivals came to be more and more adorned and beautified, until what had once been a simple ceremony lasting half a day overflowed its pristine limits so as to occupy several days. The simple foot race was not enough: there must be races of all lengths on foot and on horseback, with and without chariots, besides wrestling, boxing, and the Pancratium—this last being a combination of several athletic contests. The mere recitation of Homer was not enough: it must be extended and organised, and there must be lyric contests also. The times of festival had been appointed in connection with the seasons and the operations of agriculture, and were studiously retained so far as the chief days were concerned. But as town life increased and country life diminished in importance, the direct association with seed time, harvest, vintage, and the like, became less prominent. Features which had once been accidental grew to be essential, and partly obscured the original significance of the rite.
Of the feast-days, then, which as Pericles says succeeded one another in a bright unbroken chain throughout the year, I select for description two only, of which it happens that a tolerably full account remains: the Thargelia or spring festival of Apollo, and the great festival of Athena, in August, between harvest and vintage—the Panathenaea.The Thargelia was celebrated on the seventh day of the month Thargelion, that is about May 25, reputed to be the birthday of Apollo. By that time in Greece the summer is fully come. It was a sacred season not only in Athens, but at Miletus, and in Delos and others of the Cyclades. It coincided with the ripening of the first ears of grain, of which an offering was made to the god. The two aspects of geniality and severity belonging to the Apolline worship are markedly apparent here. For on the eve of the festival, in order that the city might be pure from sin, it was an order of the state that two of the lowest of the people should be driven beyond the boundaries, and thrown into the sea. This act was accompanied with music of the flute. It is not certain that they were always put to death, though this probably happened in great emergencies, but the custom was clearly the survival of some expiatory rite of human sacrifice, characteristic of a time—perhaps, also, of a race—long past. Meanwhile a milder sacrifice, that of a horned sheep, was performed in honour of Demeter Euchloôs, goddess of the green herb; no doubt by way of thanksgiving, for without the green blade the full corn in the ear could never be. After these rites performed, the public conscience was ‘as noonday clear’ for the festival of the ensuing day, when besides the offering of the first-fruits to Apollo, and some celebration of Artemis his twin-sister, special thank-offerings were made to Helios and the Hours.
These ceremonies were not all. After the feast come ‘the adornments of the feast,’ the lyre and song, in which Apollo was known to take especial delight. This festival was the occasion of a lyrical contest of high importance. Crowns of honour were also given to distinguished citizens, and in families the formality of adoption was performed by preference on this auspicious day. Thus domestic solemnities were associated with public thanksgiving, and with the joy of festival. For the worship of Apollo and Artemis together was one in which the grace of domestic purity held a conspicuous place. One would gladly know more of the details of such a celebration, but its very familiarity accounts for the scantiness of the record. One picturesque circumstance belonging both to this and to the corresponding autumn feast of the Pyanepsia was a procession of young boys carrying olive-branches wreathed with wool, the tokens of supplication, which they afterwards hung at the doorways of private houses as if to say ‘Peace be to this house.’ Some part of the first-fruits was attached to each. The boys sang a carol, preserved by Plutarch in his ‘Life of Theseus.’ The form which he gives belongs rather to the autumn celebration:
These holy branches carry figs and cakes,
And honey in a cup, oil for the limbs,
And heartening wine that sends all care to sleep.
Apollo was thus worshipped as the god of healing and of pestilence, of fruitfulness and blight, the purger of the city and the home, and also as the bright cheerful patron of song.
The month that followed, Thargelion, was the time of harvest; then came Hecatombaeon, nearly answering to August, in the interval between harvest and vintage-time. This was the high tide of festival at Athens. It was now that Cronos and Rhea, father and mother of the gods, were approached with bloodless offerings in the Cronia festival, bringing to men's minds the memories of the golden age. And it was in this month that time was found to celebrate the great event of the union of all Attica under the presidency of Athens in a festival (ξυνοίκια) that could have had no place in the primeval calendar. This was followed by the Panathenaea, the most splendid of Athenian pageants, which once in four years or, as the Greeks counted, every fifth year, was celebrated on a scale of extraordinary magnificence. Pisistratus has the credit of having given to this occasion a richness of adornment which without him it could hardly have attained.
When once this festival had become associated in men's minds with the glory of Athens, it was a point of honour with the Athenian democracy to maintain it at the height, or even to develop it further. The central point, round which all else was grouped, was the sacrifice of a hundred kine to Athena Polias, as a birthday offering. This was the Hecatomb, which gave its name to the month Hecatombaeon. And that she might appear in a manner worthy of the occasion, her statue, before which the altar stood, must be adorned with a new robe on which certain women appointed for the purpose had blazoned in embroidery the achievements of the goddess, especially in repelling the assaults of the giants upon Olympus. The solemn washing of the robe, the Plynteria—a day of gloom—had preceded the whole festival. The robe was doubtless originally intended for the cult statue in the Erechtheum, and it may be that this, and not the great image in the Parthenon, continued to be thus adorned. The bringing of the offering, and the carrying of the robe, to be placed in the hand of Athena's minister, were the most essential features of the great procession which was represented in the time of Pericles on the frieze of the Parthenon.
But in historic times these ceremonies were not all. Choice specimens of Athenian knighthood followed upon horseback, curbing their fiery steeds to the slow pace of the kine; a dignified train of elders bore olive-branches in token of supplication; young men brought wine for the libations in great amphorae on their shoulders; others carried butchers' trays to receive the choice pieces of the victims which were to be distributed amongst the various demes; maidens bore the sacred vessels, jugs and goblets, to be used in offering, while others carried on their heads baskets of meal and grain, all for sacrificial purposes. Besides the horsemen, there were chariots with armed warriors and charioteers. All these had been selected by competition. Musicians playing on the lyre and flute accompanied the sacrifice. So great and various a procession could not be kept in rank without the help of officers especially appointed to marshal them. All these may be seen to this day upon the wonderful Panathenaic frieze, where also are represented the magnates of the city, and the quiet assembly of the gods, Zeus and Athena in the midst, looking graciously upon the offerings of the people. There also remain elaborate inscriptions, some of the fifth, but mostly of the fourth century, which help to illustrate the ceremony as it existed then. Special magistrates were appointed to assist the priests in ordering the sacred rites. One part of their duty was to superintend the distribution of the portions of beef to the heads of the different tribes for the banquet which followed; in accordance with the primeval custom that all worshippers should eat of the sacrifice. This banquet took place in several centres, the members of each tribe feasting together. There were also special functionaries for the buying of kine. One heifer of distinguished beauty was to be selected for Athena Nike, goddess of victory. It appears from the frieze that there were also sheep amongst the victims. To whom these were offered is uncertain, possibly to Erechtheus, but more probably to Pandrosos, the genius of fruitfulness, whose worship was subordinate to that of Athena. The marshal-ling of the procession was entrusted to the Demarchs or parish magistrates, who each arrayed his deme in the Cerameicus among the tombs of distinguished citizens, and conducted them through the city and round the Acropolis to the Propylaea, from whence they ascended and passed along the northern side of the Parthenon in due order to the east end, where they took their stand until the sacrifices were accomplished, thence returnng to the place of the banquet. According to some accounts, the procession made a detour to Eleusis along the Sacred Way.
So much for the ceremonial part of the festival which occupied the 28th day of the month, and was preceded by a vigil or night festival, and a preliminary offering to Athena Hygieia as the goddess of health. But at the greater Panathenaea there had been already several days of organised gaiety, all consciously associated with the worship of the goddess, and calculated to do her honour. There was first the musical contest in the Odeum, commencing with the recitations of epic poetry, which had been introduced and set in order by Pisistratus (or according to others by Solon). Next came a competition in lyric song for which a golden or gilded olive-crown was the prize; then a flute competition, then one for playing the lyre, in both of which there were separate prizes for men and boys. All this must have occupied more than one day. The gymnastic contest followed, with separate prizes for grown men, youths, and boys, in footraces, wrestling, boxing, and in all combined. The prizes for these feats and also for the fluteplayer were amphorae filled with oil from the sacred olive trees, the Panathenaic vases, of which so many specimens have been happily preserved, and whose decoration forms an epoch in Athenian art. And it is not a little remarkable that foreigners from Argos and even from Cos were admitted to the competition. For these contests also more than one day seems to be required. Then came the equestrian contest, chariot racing and horse racing of various kinds. Some of these events were for all comers, and they occupied the greater part of a day. One purpose in all these competitions was to decide the choice of persons who should take part in the final procession—those whom Heaven had thus favoured would naturally be pleasing to the goddess—but there was furthermore a special choice of individuals from each tribe by magistrates appointed for the purpose. The choice was called Euandria. These preliminaries were concluded with a dance in armour called the Pyrrhic dance, which again was separately performed by boys and youths and men; the armour consisting of a shield and helmet. The night festival began on the evening of the twenty-seventh, with a torch race followed by auspicious cries on the part of the priestesses of Athena, expressing the joy of harvest and thanksgiving for Athena's birth. There were also chants by choruses of men. Hence, other officers besides those hitherto mentioned were required, such as the arrangers of the games, one from each tribe, the superintendents of the torch race called gymnasiarchs, and others.
The Panathenaea taken as a whole may be said to place the religious characteristics of the Athenian in the clearest light. One cannot but observe the atmosphere of purity, of genial serenity, and of ordered grace and harmony which surrounded it. The joy of festival was a religious gladness in realising the immediate presence of the gods, who had done such great things for Athens, and on whose continued favour depended the well-being of the state. Nothing mean or imperfect must be brought into their presence. Not only must the kine for the hecatomb be without blemish, but the persons young and old accompanying the sacrifice or carrying the vessels for ministration must be of the highest type of Hellenic manhood or womanhood. The boys and maidens, for example, must be children of parents who are in full life. Such festivals could not but accentuate the conscious unity of the Athenian people. No doubt, in the earliest times, there had been sacrifices to Athena in the several villages, probably at the same season, but each under the separate management of the local demarch. Now all the denies were organised into one procession, accompanying one great sacrifice on the commanding height of the Acropolis, the ancient seat of Erechtheus and Athena. The Athenian spirit had beautified, ennobled and enlarged what might otherwise have been a mere scene of butchery.
The preparation of the garment and the bringing of it to the temple already indicated that Pallas delighted in something else besides the blood of heifers. The altar was decorated in such a way as to hide any part of the performance that was necessarily unseemly, such as the breaking up of the victims, from the public view. Then the prayers and chants which from of old accompanied the sacrifice were now developed into the occasion of a lyric contest, occupying many hours and giving the poets and musicians a subject for their labours during the preceding years. Not only was the procession glorified by the presence of the knights on horseback, the chariots, the armed warriors, and the rest, but in order that only the best might appear before the goddess, these also were selected through competitions, which gave a noble opportunity for the exercise of manly accomplishments of strength and skill. Thus art of every kind was vivified by having its root in religion, and yet was allowed a free development into which all that was essentially human became absorbed. From the rhapsode who recited Homer to listening crowds, to the young boys dancing the Pyrrhic with shield and helmet, or the torchrunners in the night festival, all were stimulated to do their very best, and the crown which they received in recompense was rendered more delightful by being the gift of Athena, whose honour they upheld. Beneath this perfect blossom of Athenian life, ideas were germinating which were destined to have their course in after ages, but they were latent in the form of feeling, until they were drawn out by the poets and thinkers of a succeeding time. The duty of defending one's country, of struggling for the right, of maintaining power by equity, and liberty by well-ordered discipline, could not but occur to the reflective mind, that in the earlier part of the fifth century either witnessed or took part in the Panathenaic ritual.
We have seen that at some public festivals, as at the Dipolia, there were bloodless offerings (like the Hebrew meat-offering), as of cakes and honey, or of the first fruits, or frankincense, or of a mere libation. Such innocent oblations were frequent in the religion of the home, which continued side by side with that of the city. The harmonious co-existence of state ceremonials, local worships, and the religion of the hearth, not rivalling each other but blending in one complex and harmonious system, was the peculiar happiness of the Athenian. His loyalty to the state did not diminish his affection for his ancient neighbourhood, nor his sense of obligation to those of his own house. Although at the chief festivals the various districts of Attica might seem to have become absorbed in the whole community, every deme or district also retained its own peculiar worship, which circumstances brought into prominence from time to time. Thus Athena and Poseidon were worshipped specially at Colonus, as well as on the Acropolis, and although the Eleusinian Demeter had a sacred place under the central rock, close to the Areopagus, she retained her full honours at Eleusis in the time of festival. The Eumenides, or Dread Powers, were alike revered at Colonus and on the Areopagus. The great Dionysia did not supplant the ancient observances in honour of Dionysus at Icaria and Salamis.
Still more inseparable from the district was the local hero, whose reputed tomb was not forsaken. The worship of ancestors, from which hero-worship was derived, had never been discontinued on the Hellenic mainland. In the time following the migrations, the increasing religiousness before spoken of, the causes of which are but vaguely known, fastened on these local worships and developed them. The rifted rocks so common in Boeotia were supposed to be inhabited by powers once human, which had passed from the upper air but still lived on beneath the ground, and in some cases, as in that of Trophonius or Amphiaraos, might be consulted by men in their extremity who descended thither, and saw them in a dream. Something like this appears in Attica also, where the resting place of Oedipus, whither he has passed mysteriously, was the security of Athenian victory over Thebes. But that fear of ghosts which oppressed other parts of Hellas, where wicked ‘heroes’ or disembodied spirits were known to rise out of their graves at night and devastate a region till they were propitiated or exorcised, pressed but lightly on the Athenian mind. The Attic heroes were of the nobler order, going forth to battle in great emergencies to defend their people, and extending protection to the men of their tribe so long as they were fed with sacrifice at stated times.
There are many indications of the great number of such buried lives which dominated Athenian soil. Some of these have been already mentioned; the most striking evidence of their importance, perhaps, is that in the time of Cleisthenes ten heroes were selected from a hundred names submitted to the Delphic oracle to be acknowledged as the protectors of the ten tribes. That such worship was fully alive in the fifth century appears from the fact that it was thought worth while, on the morning of Salamis, to send to Aegina for the Aeacidae. The sense of close neighbourhood and of blood-relationship between the members of the same phratry was maintained by the annual feast of the Apaturia, celebrated in October towards the beginning of winter time, by every phratry in common, and also by every household apart. The chief ceremony was that of placing fresh faggots upon the hearth, so renewing the sacredness of home, and honouring Hephaestus, the fellow workman of Athena, and author of the Attic race, and also Prometheus the giver of fire. The word Apaturia signifies a festival of common parentage, and if we speculate on the transition from patriarchal to village life, we may suppose that this general feast day took the place of that on which each family had severally worshipped its own ancestors. The celebration was not peculiar to Athens, but was shared by other members of the Ionian race.
The prominence naturally given to public life in all Hellenic records tends to throw into the shade the life of the family, which was not less real; each household was bound together by ties of affection, which sometimes proved stronger than death. Great families doubtless still retained their private altars, on which offerings were made on special days. A welcome light has been thrown upon this subject by the discovery of the graves in the Cerameicus, the chief public burial place. These tombs were adorned with sculptured reliefs of pathetic interest, which, although the groups from their very simplicity are often enigmatical, attest the depth and tenderness of feeling with which the survivors sought to perpetuate the forms of the departed. Here the moderation and simplicity of the Attic spirit is strikingly exemplified. The unmeasured pomp of ancient funeral ceremonies, having something of an oriental cast, with formal lamentations, of which reminiscences appear in the plays of Aeschylus, had been restrained, by the legislation of Solon; the superstitious rites which had survived from an earlier time, in which the chief anxiety of the living was to prevent the spirits of the dead from coming back again ‘as ghosts to trouble joy,’ had been forbidden, and only the weaker sort of women were inclined to them. No such anxiety appears amongst these sculptured stones.
The representations of the dead on monuments in all ages are principally of four kinds. The departed friend is represented (1) either as a divine being of more than mortal stature, receiving tribute from his puny descendants, who walk beneath; or (2) in form and habit as he lived, perpetuating the impression that is cherished by surviving memory; or (3) as at the moment of death, with some indication of the circumstances of that never-to-be-forgotten hour; or once more (4) symbolically, as if asleep. All these modes of representation may be found amongst Hellenic monuments, but the second is that which characterises the early fifth century in Attica. The most valuable example of the first-named motive, indicating a time when the worship of ancestors was in the fullest life, has been preserved in a monument found at Sparta, and now in the Sabouroff collection. The departed parents are enthroned like gods, with the smile familiar to early statuary, and redundant locks falling on their shoulders. Before their knees appear their offspring, of Lilliputian stature, approaching them with reverence, and carrying one a cock for sacrifice, and one a lotus flower. Behind the seated figures is a great writhing snake, symbolising the good demon or spirit of the world below, who has them in his keeping. Primitive customs, especially in regard to sepulture, were retained longer in Laconia than elsewhere. (See the account, in Herodotus vi. 58, of what happened on the death of every Spartan king.)
In passing from this monument to the stelae of the Cerameicus, we find a remarkable change. There is no exaggeration in them, no fear of ghosts, hardly even the oppressive sense of awe, much rather the desire that ‘the dead should still be near us at our side,’ with ‘every lovely organ of their life’ in undecaying freshness,—their lightest fancies gratified, the warmth of welcome never cooling. The figures stand before us as in the fulness of life, with their names and nothing more inscribed above them. In a few instances, in the space above or beneath the group, some symbol of their occupation appears, and the name of the father or of the deme is sometimes added. The variety as well as the simplicity of the grouping is very striking, and even at the risk of rash conjecture one is tempted to read between the lines. One recurring type is that of an aged patriarch gazing wistfully upon a youthful figure unclothed and in the prime of manhood. It is natural to suppose that the father has died of sorrow for the untimely death of his son. A still more frequent motive is the grasping of hands. This has been variously interpreted. Is it welcome, or farewell, or simply the record of a true attachment? In some groups at least there is a name above either figure, indicating that both are buried there. Else if the standing figure only were going upon the long journey, why has the one who remains seated her name written above her in the place of tombs? Is it that the youthful person so full of a kind of tranquil awe is being received there by a mother or father or another relative who has gone before? Another frequently recurring type is that of the lady who is looking out her jewels, while a maiden holds the casket. Yet another grouping represents the mother who has died in childbirth; she sits listlessly playing with some ornament while she gazes at the child that is held in the arms of a nurse who stands before her. In these latter instances no names appear for the subsidiary figures. Or a youth is represented with some favourite animal, as a dog or rabbit in his hand, or at his side; a child at his mother's knee often reaches his hand to take a bird that is held out to him. In one family group a little dog is much in evidence: he jumps up and fawns upon a young boy whose father places a hand upon his head. Some modifications appear towards the end of the fifth century, the time of the restoration of the democracy. There is no longer the absolute simplicity of remembrance; short inscriptions are added, indicating the status of the deceased, or additional symbols, as the figure of a siren or a lyre. One of the most beautiful of all the monuments is that of Dexilaos, a young knight who died in the Corinthian war, 394 B.C. It is an equestrian group in high relief, and in a very noble style, in which the youth appears in the act of spearing his adversary and riding over him. ‘He died at Corinth in the archonship of Teisander: he was one of the five horsemen’ What incident of the battle is thus alluded to, we can no longer guess, but it was no doubt at the time not less famous than the charge of the six hundred at Balaklava. In others the dead person is represented as fainting, with head reclined, perhaps indicating the suddenness of the death. Here comes in the third of the motives enumerated above. In another strange group of an uncertain period, Charon in his boat is represented as intruding on several persons at a feast, and laying his bony hand upon the shoulder of one of them (cp. the fresco of Orcagna at Pisa). The nearest approach to the fourth category above mentioned is the very interesting stele on which in low relief is the prow of a trireme, with the mark of the water-line, and on the deck of the vessel a man's figure seated in profound slumber, with his shield and helmet laid behind him. He is voyaging no doubt to the islands of the blest, in that deep repose, ‘most like to death,’ which overcame Odysseus as the Phaeacian ship was wafting him to his home. He may have been a trierarch or general, killed in some naval battle. Last, and belonging mostly to a later time, are the very frequent representations of the funeral feast in which the dead person appears at his own banquet amongst his friends.
This evidence of monuments helps to realise for us the unity of the household, and in considering Athenian life one should bear in mind the influence which domestic piety must have had on the young, who saw the heads of their families, worshipping their special gods and heroes. These were by no means always the same, for Athens from early times had been hospitable to gods as well as to men: witness the Gephyraei who had their own peculiar worship of the sorrowing Demeter, and the family of Isagoras who sacrificed to the Carian Zeus.
Asclepius is one of those forms in Greek mythology that fluctuate between the divine and human. In Homer he appears as the father of Machaon and Podaleirios, the leeches of the camp, and is inferred to be a man of noble strain, like the other god-descended chieftains. He is said to have been taught by Chiron, the godlike centaur, who was also the teacher of Achilles, and his sons are leaders of the Thessalians from Trikka. But this need not prevent our supposing that in yet earlier times he had divine honours on the Greek mainland.
The original seat of the worship of Asclepius seems to have been this same Trikka in Thessaly, where, like Amphiaraos and Trophonios, he was believed to have his habitation underground, and was consulted as an oracular power who gave intimations in dreams. The god of Thessaly was carried bythe emigrants whom the Dorians displaced to their new seats in Epidaurus, Cos, and elsewhere. He had hitherto been more allied to Zeus than to Apollo, and his function had not been limited to that of healing. But the Ionian Apolline worship grew and spread and absorbed the elder worships into itself, drawing them into the light of day; thus Asclepius became a son of Apollo; but his divine honours were not universally recognised until in the Hesiodic poetry, much influenced by the Delphic priesthood, his legend was humanised and took the shape which remained more or less fixed in literature, In historic times at least his power was associated, even at Trikka his original seat, with that of Phoebus, who, according to the legend which became established at a comparatively early time, was his father by the nymph Corônis. The epithet of Apollo in this connection is Maleates, a word of doubtful origin. In Messenia and Arcadia there were other legends which connected the family with Poseidon.
It was probably from Epidaurus that the Asclepian worship found its way to Attica. There are other indications, for example in the legend of Theseus, of religious intercourse between Attica and the opposite shore, where Calauria, the modern Poros, had been the centre of an important amphictiony. The worship of Asclepius, the authentic son of Apollo, supplanted that of many local gods of healing to whom the people had been accustomed to bring their sick, amongst others Alkon, the god of succour, of whom Sophocles was priest.1 Such ancient divinities now took the rank of subordinate ministers.
Athena herself, as we have seen, was worshipped on great occasions as the goddess of health, but this was in a large sense, less intimately affecting individual and family life. The Asclepian cult was established in Attica from the middle of the fifth century and was the most popular of all minor Hellenic worships; its vogue went on increasing with the centuries until, in the schools of Cos and Epidaurus, it became systematised into a genuine art of healing. The physicians there, and seemingly at Athens too, were formed into a guild or brotherhood, professing to be the descendants of the god, and in their practice combined in various degrees a mystical enthusiasm with scientific observation, relying more on diet than on drugs and charms. Of the innumerable cures attributed to the influence of Asclepius many may have been fanciful, and many what in modern times would have been called examples of faith-healing; but in the school of Cos, at any rate, which late in the fifth century produced Hippocrates (while the literary glories of that splendid island race were reserved for Alexandrian times) there was a most genuine and sincere endeavour to ascertain through science, in a religious spirit, the best and surest means of probing and alleviating human ills. The feeling at first prompted by the belief that disease was a divine visitation was modified but not extinguished by the discovery that all bodily affections were equally natural and equally divine. (See above, p. 165.) There was also amongst the Coan communities much disinterested devotion to the service of humanity, comparable to that which has created the modern hospitals; this appears from the inscriptions which record noble examples of individual public spirit. The scene at Epidaurus, where the precincts of the temple enclosing the sacred snake, which represented the good genius of the earth, were continually surrounded with anxious groups of those who brought their sick for healing, must have resembled nothing so much as the modern festival at Tenos, where the Virgin works miraculous cures, or the sacred place at Lourdes.
From the form of medical oath which was in use in the fourth century, and perhaps much earlier, it appears that the descendants of Asclepius adopted others into their brotherhood. The Asclepiadae had the exclusive right to practise medicine amongst the Athenians as well as at Epidaurus and in Cos.
The school of Croton, which flourished at a still earlier time, and of which Democedes was a brilliant example, may have owed their skill in part to a separate tradition, derived perhaps from Cyrene, or ultimately from Egypt.
The Asclepius-cult at Athens betrays the signs of a recent worship: first, in the fluctuation of certain details in the legend of the god; e.g. his relationship to Epione, Aegle, and Hygieia, whether as husband or father, and secondly in his being surrounded with such clearly allegorical beings as Akeso and Iaso, spirits of healing, and Telesphorus, the perfecter of cures. On the other hand the doubtful derivation of the name is indicative of an early origin. The snake is his constant symbol as the good genius of earth, indicating the Chthonian nature of the god. The victim sacrificed to him was a cock, the bird of dawn, an immigrant from the east, probably because of his association with the sun-god. The words of Socrates to Crito just before his death: ‘We owe a cock to Asclepius, be sure to pay it,’ have given rise to various comments. Some think he would not leave his comrades without showing them that he still observed the religion of his countrymen; others treat the saying as symbolic of thanksgiving for recovery from the long disease of life in a mystical Pythagorean sense; or again, as symbolising the hope of an awakening. May not the message have meant more simply that the god of health is regarded as the author of Euthanasia, or painless death, the safe transition from this world to another? May not Socrates have prayed for this as Cassandra did, or rather, had he not prayed for it in ‘Phaedo’ 117 B.C.; and would not Crito receive comfort from the assurance that the prayer was heard? Neither of the other two suggestions seems in accordance with perfect art; compare Soph. ‘Oed. Col.’ and the dirge in ‘Cymbeline’ (‘Quiet consummation have’).
Asclepius was one of those deities who obtained a site for his temple not within the circle of the Acropolis, but just beneath it, outside tho containing wall. Not far from this, and similarly situated, was the temple of Aphrodite Pandemos, said to have been founded by Phaedra during her passion for Hippolytus. Aphrodite in both her characters, as Urania and Pandemos, had probably a source in Phoenician religion, as it spread from Cyprus to Cythera and elsewhere. But in the earliest times the Athenians had retained a severe and stern conception of the great nature-goddess, who shaped the tree and flower, gave produce to the herd, and in her dealings with mankind conferred or withheld the charms of which she was the sole mistress. Her worship was not yet associated with the mere indulgence of sexual licence. But after the Persian war, through increasing intercourse with maritime populations, such as that of Troezen, where a distinctly Tyrian influence had long prevailed, a different and lower spirit appears to have sprung up, of which the establishment of the temple by the Propylaea gives visible proof. The string-course of marble pigeons still visible upon that site attests the relationship of this Troezenian goddess to her of Paphos, whose symbol was always the dove. But at Paphos itself, where, as Mr. Hogarth tells us, the worship of the Virgin to this day retains some features of the Aphrodisiac cult, it is hard to say what aboriginal or Achaean superstition may have survived under the Phoenician rite. The retention of the ‘Cypriote’ syllabary and the rarity of Semitic inscriptions in the island are facts hard to reconcile with the sole prevalence of a Phoenician influence. The way in which the more refined Athenians regarded the votaries of this religion which had appeared in their midst may be inferred not only from the conduct of Hippolytus in Euripides, who, as Mr. Grote remarks, refused to worship her ‘because she was a very bad goddess,’ but from the words of the Platonic Socrates in the ‘Phaedrus’ (he is referring to his former speech describing the harm which may accrue from an intemperate love)—‘would not any one who was of a generous and noble nature and who loved or ever had loved a nature like his own, when he heard us speaking of the petty causes of lovers' jealousies and of their exceeding animosities, and the injuries which they do to their beloved, have imagined that our ideas of love were taken from some haunt of sailors in which good manners were unknown?’ See also the speech of Pausanias in the ‘Symposium,’ asserting that there are two loves as there are two Aphrodites—‘the love who is the offspring of the common Aphrodite (Pandemos) is essentially common, being such as the meaner sort of men feel…and is of the body rather than of the soul.’ Polytheism could not but acknowledge all powers that sway humanity, nor omit one whose potency is so evident as that of sexual desire, but it by no means acknowledged all powers as of equal worth. Nor, while allowing some practices which long experience and a series of high examples have led the modern world to discountenance and to forbid, did it therefore view them with respect, or include them in its ideal of human virtue.
The question whether there existed an organised tolerance of vice at Athens is not quite a simple one. In the time of the Orators and of Plato it is evident that public morals were considerably relaxed, and a poet of the new comedy, Philemon, who wrote after the loss of Athenian freedom, had the hardihood to assert that Solon, because of the difficulty of restraining youth, had instituted regular provision for licentiousness. I refuse to accept this on the authority of a comic poet, although a comparatively serious writer in the following age (Nikander of Colophon) seems to have taken him literally. Such literalism has been a fruitful cause of mistakes in history. It is certain, however, that at Corinth, early in the fifth century, an institution of the kind was founded by a certain Xenophon, and that Pindar was not too fastidious to write a hymn on the occasion. In this he showed a very different spirit from that of Aeschylus, who described with deep and true feeling the misery of the poor captive women in the sack of a city. I see no reason to doubt the assertion of Isocrates (‘Areopagitica,’ § 48) that in the later fifth century there had crept in a corruption of manners in private life unknown to previous generations. The example of the said Xenophon only shows that Corinthian laxity began early under Phoenician influences, and that the ‘silver sound’ of Pindaric verse was responsive to the chink of coin. It is observable that in Athens, as in modern Europe, those who pandered to men's vices were mostly aliens or outcasts from the state.
During the same period, as the number of foreign residents increased, many strange worships were introduced at Athens, and in some instances at least sites were accorded to them by the state, not, indeed, within the charmed circle of the Acropolis, nor in its immediate neighbourhood, as in the case of Aphrodite Pandemos and Asclepius, but in the outer precincts of the city, and more particularly in the Piraeus, where men of foreign nationalities, even when partly naturalised, chiefly made their abode. Thus it was at the Piraeus that Socrates, having witnessed the inaugurating festival of the Thracian goddess Bendis, went home to the house of Polemarchus, the resident foreigner, which the Thirty Tyrants afterwards despoiled. And it appears from inscriptions that land was granted in the same district for the specially Tyrian worship of Aphrodite, that is of Astarte—hence, perhaps, Plato's allusion to the haunts of sailors. That amongst the sworn votaries of some of these foreign cults native Athenians of eccentric tendencies were counted is no doubt true, but the number of such persons was probably insignificant compared to the mass of Athenian citizens. The admission of these foreign worships not only shows the pliability of polytheism, except where fanaticism had been aroused through panic, but their influence also indicates the fact that the formalities of the national religion had failed to satisfy the religious cravings of the people. The innovations in mythology, which began with Stesichorus, and the growth of the orgiastic worships presently to be described belong to the same tendency, characteristic of a stage in the evolution of religion which has been well described by Professor Menzies in a recent work. He points out two causes which tend to counteract the completeness and permanence of national religions: the one that tribal and family traditions persist side by side with the national worship which might be thought to have absorbed them; the other, that in the mental evolution of the race individual minds outgrow the forms which were an adequate expression of religious feeling at an earlier stage and have become fixed through the increasing influence of the priesthood. At Athens both these causes were at work and helped each other, while the fixity of public ritual was less rigid than elsewhere, because of the plastic nature of Attic genius and the indefiniteness of local traditions.
Sophocles is believed to have written a hieratic ode or hymn in honour of Asclepius.