Thesmophoria


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Thesmophoria

Type of Holiday: Ancient
Date of Observation: October
Where Celebrated: Greece
Symbols and Customs: Pigs

ORIGINS

The Greek religion flourished in the ancient Greek city-states and surrounding areas between the eighth and fourth centuries B . C . E . The city-state of Athens was the center of ancient Greek civilization, and major ceremonies took place there. Within Athens, the Acropolis was the religious center, consisting of temples dedicated to the gods and goddesses. However, smaller sanctuaries to the gods and goddesses also existed throughout the region.

Ancient Greek religion pervaded every aspect of life, and there was no concept of a separation between sacred and secular observances. Thus, ancient Greek festivals were religious occasions. Ritual and sacrifice, athletic games, dramatic performances, and feasting were all elements of festivals.

The ancient Greek festival known as the Thesmophoria was observed only by women for three days in October (some say between the eleventh and the thirteenth; others say between the fourteenth and the sixteenth), at a time of year when the ground was being prepared for the autumn sowing of crops. It was held in honor of the corn goddess and earth mother Demeter, who was sometimes referred to as Thesmophorus. According to Greek mythology, Demeter's daughter Kore, the corn maiden, was gathering flowers near Eleusis one day when she was abducted by Pluto, god of the underworld, and taken away to his subterranean kingdom. By lowering PIGS into chasms in the earth, the women chosen to participate in the rituals of the Thesmophoria commemorated the abduction of Kore.

In Athens and other Greek cities, women dressed in white robes and observed a period of strict chastity for several days before and during the ceremony. They would strew their beds with herbs that were supposed to ward off venereal diseases and sit on the ground to promote the fertility of the corn that had just been sown. Although the festival itself was taken very seriously, it was not uncommon for the women to joke among themselves, as if in doing so they could cheer up the goddess Demeter, who suffered greatly over the loss of her daughter.

Scholars believe that the Thesmophoria can be traced back to an even more ancient festival that celebrated the bringing up of the corn from the underground silos in which it was stored after being threshed in June. During the four months when the grain was concealed in the earth, the fields were barren and parched by the sun. It wasn't until the winter rains began in October that they could be plowed and sown again, so this was an appropriate time to hold a festival celebrating the earth's fertility. The Romans had a similar festival in honor of Ceres, called the Cerealia.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Pigs

Pigs were considered sacred to Demeter because, according to legend, when the earth opened up and Pluto emerged in his chariot to abduct Kore, the herdsman Eubouleus and his pigs were swallowed up as well. To commemorate this event, pigs were let down into caves or clefts in the earth, together with cakes and the branches of pine trees. Each year at the Thesmophoria, women who had undergone special purification rituals for the purpose went down into these underground chasms and brought up the putrefied remains of the pigs that had been thrown in there the previous year. The rotted flesh was placed on altars and mixed with seed-corn, which was then sown in the fields as a kind of magical fertilizer to ensure a good crop.

The pigs are not only symbolic of Kore, the corn maiden, but of the corn itself, which was at one time stored in underground silos. Bringing the pig-flesh up out of the earth symbolizes the return of the earth's fertility at the beginning of the winter rainy season.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. James, E.O. Seasonal Feasts and Festivals. 1961. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993. Lemprière, John. Lemprière's Classical Dictionary of Proper Names Mentioned in Ancient Authors. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 1984. Scullard, H.H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Thesmophoria

Late October or early November; three days during ancient Greek month of Pyanopsion
Thesmophoria was an ancient Greek festival held in honor of Demeter Thesmophoros, the goddess of the harvest and fertility and the protectress of marriage; it is unclear whether this festival was named after the goddess or vice versa. It was celebrated by women, perhaps only married women, and lasted three days, between the 11th and the 13th (some say between the 14th and the 16th) of the month of Pyanopsion (which fell between October and November), at the time of the autumn sowing of the new crops.
According to Greek mythology, Demeter's daughter, Kore, was gathering flowers near Eleusis one day when she was abducted by Pluto, god of the underworld, and taken away to his subterranean kingdom. By lowering pigs into chasms in the earth, the women commemorated the abduction of Kore. Some of the women had to enter the underground chambers themselves and bring up the putrefied remains of the pigs that had been cast there the year before. The rotten flesh was placed on altars and mixed with seed corn, which was then sown in the fields as a kind of magical fertilizer to ensure a good crop. The women fasted on the second day, and on the third they celebrated the magic of fertility in the animal as well as the plant kingdoms.
In Athens and other Greek cities, the women who celebrated the Thesmophoria dressed in white robes and observed a period of strict chastity for several days before and during the ceremony. They would strew their beds with herbs that were supposed to ward off venereal diseases and sit on the ground to promote the fertility of the corn that had just been sown. Although the festival itself was taken very seriously, it was not uncommon for the women to joke among themselves, as if in doing so they could cheer the goddess Demeter, who suffered greatly over the loss of her daughter.
The Romans had a similar festival in honor of Ceres, called the Cerealia.
SOURCES:
AtticFest-1981, p. 70
ClassDict-1984, p. 625
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 867, 870, 1108
EncyRel-1987, vol. 14, p. 481
NewCentClassHandbk-1962, p. 1086
OxClassDict-1970, p. 1062
SeasFeast-1961, p. 135
References in periodicals archive ?
Vague parallels to the Nell passage are provided by John Lyly and by passages in Wasps, Peace and Women at the Thesmophoria festival, but one has to turn to Rabelais and Lysistrata for examples of fully-fledged 'anatomical-geographical' bawdy.
Chapter four explains that women were considered full citizens when it came to religious rites such as the Thesmophoria, which celebrated fertility.
Harrison characterizes the Thesmophoria as a "primitive" pre-Olympian festival in honor of Demeter in which women participated in a sympathetic magical ritual intended to ensure a good crop and human offspring (Prolegomena 120-24).
Pausanias 4, 17, 1 tells the story of Aristomenes of Messenia who saw the Thesmophoria and its women overpowered him with sacrificial knives, roasting skewers, and torches.
Kalliparthena thesmoforia" (plural) means an Athenian thesmophoria festival celebrated first of all by virgins.
The Thesmophoria commemorated the third of the year when Demeter abstained from her role of goddess of the harvest and growth; spending the harsh summer months of Greece, when vegetation dies and lacks rain, in mourning for her daughter who was in the realm of the underworld.
Some festivals--Arrhephoria, Arkteia, Thesmophoria, Adonia--come up repeatedly in the book, as their various facets pertain to Goff's categories of discussion.
The various festivals promoted communal solidarity and identity (93-105): the Panathenaia (94-95), the City Dionysia (95-96), the Carneia (96), the Thesmophoria, Adonia and Agrionia (96-98), the rural Dionysia (99).
The Thesmophorion in Central Athens and the Celebration of the Thesmophoria I in Attica," in The Role of Religion in the Early Greek Polis.
The ancient Greeks, thriving in Mediterranean countries in the centuries after the Egyptians, held their harvest festival, called Thesmophoria.
In a similar vein, O' Higgins (Chapter 8) addresses the public genre of cultic joking and mockery during Thesmophoria, a fall sowing festival in which only women took part.
The festival of death and fertility, the Greek Thesmophoria evokes an erotic plot in the story 125.