Horns of a Dilemma: festival of woolliness or festival of the women of the wine-press?

As I mentioned above I’ve always found it deeply problematic when people derive the name of Lenaia from the wine-press, because none of our sources — visual or literary — show any involvement of the wine-press in this festival. Like most people I assumed it came from Λῆναι, the priestesses of Dionysos Lenaios, who in the words of Miriam Valdés Guía:

are habitually associated with the Lenaia, which included, according to this testimonium, a procession in Ephesus dedicated to the God accompanied by the hymn to the phallus, and it also records that ‘Hades is the same as Dionysos, in whose honour they go mad (μαίνονται) and ‘celebrate the Lenaia’ or ‘become lenai’ (ληναΐζουσιν). This latter phrase provides, in our view, very valuable information about the archaic festival in Ephesus. Firstly the reference to Dionysos, identifed with Hades, indicates the God’s contact with death in the festival; secondly the verb ληναΐζω may refer to the presence and importance of the women celebrating Dionysos in the festival, possibly with ‘ecstatic’ dancing and singing, if the verb is translated as ‘becoming lenai’ (Heraclitus uses it as a synonym for βακχεύουσι), as the scholia indicate. In fact, in another fragment, also recorded by Clement, Heraclitus alludes, amongst other groups traditionally associated with the cult of Dionysos (and the night), to the Λῆναι. The scholium ad loc. equates ληναΐζω with βακχεύουσιν, and the lenai with the Bacchants; and in a gloss of Hesychius the lenai are also equated with the Bacchants. In later literature the lenai are the maenads of Dionysos. Theocritus (Idyll. 26), for example, refers to the bacchants Agave, Ino and Autonoe as lenai or bacchai, and speaks of their rites at ‘the 12 altars.’ In a third-century BCE inscription found in Halicarnassus, Dionysos ‘leads’ the bacchants (θοᾶν ληναγέ – τα Βακχᾶν). The fragment of Heraclitus referred to above appears to indicate both the important part played by women who ‘become Λῆναι,’ at least in Ephesus in the Archaic period, and Dionysos’ link with death in this ancient festival shared with the Ionians. We think that the Λῆναι have and/or had a major role in the Athenian festival, in awakening, invoking or calling the God from death. This rite, in the Archaic era, should be understood in the context of the agrarian cycle, even when the festival is celebrated in the month Gamelion (January-February), barren from the agricultural point of view. It may be one of the rites that contribute to propitiating the awakening of nature, and in this particular case, that specifically associated with the God: vines and the production of wine, the element with which Dionysos himself tends to be identified – as Natale Spineto has said – from the time of Homer and throughout the Archaic period. This was not the time of the grape harvest, but it was, as this author points out, that when the vines were pruned (which could be evoked by the ‘violent act’ of crushing in the wine press),and the first opening of the πίθοι. (Redefining Dionysos in Athens from the Written Sources: The Lenaia, Iacchos and Attic Women)

The accent for ληνός (wine-press) falls at the end with omicron while the accent for Λῆναι (Dionysiac women) falls at the beginning with eta. You know another word where that happens?

λῆνος • (lênos) (genitive λήνεος) n, third declension
1.wool
2.(in the plural) fleece

Which would then make this the festival of woolliness. That’s certainly more in keeping with the time of year than a wine-press festival, especially in light of Hesiod’s remark:

Avoid the month Lenaeon, wretched days, all of them fit to skin an ox, and the frosts which are cruel when Boreas blows over the earth. He blows across horse-breeding Thrace upon the wide sea and stirs it up, while earth and the forest howl. On many a high-leafed oak and thick pine he falls and brings them to the bounteous earth in mountain glens: then all the immense wood roars and the beasts shudder and put their tails between their legs, even those whose hide is covered with fur; for with his bitter blast he blows even through them, although they are shaggy-breasted. He goes even through an ox’s hide; it does not stop him. Also he blows through the goat’s fine hair. But through the fleeces of sheep, because their wool is abundant, the keen wind Boreas pierces not at all; but it makes the old man curved as a wheel. And it does not blow through the tender maiden who stays indoors with her dear mother, unlearned as yet in the works of golden Aphrodite, and who washes her soft body and anoints herself with oil and lies down in an inner room within the house, on a winter’s day when the Boneless One gnaws his foot in his fireless house and wretched home; for the sun shows him no pastures to make for, but goes to and fro over the land and city of dusky men, and shines more sluggishly upon the whole race of the Hellenes. Then the horned and unhorned denizens of the wood, with teeth chattering pitifully, flee through the copses and glades, and all, as they seek shelter, have this one care, to gain thick coverts or some hollow rock. Then, like the Three-legged One whose back is broken and whose head looks down upon the ground, like him, I say, they wander to escape the white snow. (Works and Days 504-535)

In fact, Hesiod specifically mentions wool in this context.

Interestingly, wool and weaving are also prominent themes in the play Lysistrata, which Aristophanes debuted during Lenaia:

Women will untangle the mess of the state that men have made, just as they untangle threads while weaving. This way and that still the spool we keep passing, till it is finally clear. So to untangle the War and its errors, ambassadors out on all sides we will send. This way and that, here, there and round about–soon you will find that the War has an end. Well, first as we wash dirty wool so’s to cleanse it, so with a pitiless zeal we will scrub through the whole city for all greasy fellows; burrs too, the parasites, off we will rub. That verminous plague of insensate place-seekers soon between thumb and forefinger we’ll crack. All who inside Athens’ walls have their dwelling into one great common basket we’ll pack. Disenfranchised or citizens, allies or aliens, pell-mell the lot of them in we will squeeze. Till they discover humanity’s meaning…. As for disjointed and far colonies, them you must never from this time imagine as scattered about just like lost hanks of wool. Each portion we’ll take and wind in to this centre, inward to Athens each loyalty pull, till from the vast heap where all’s piled together at last can be woven a strong Cloak of State.

The invocation of Dionysos as Iakchos is very interesting and suggests that the association of the latter with the distaff in Magna Graecia may not be random at all. Note as well the epithet Πλουτοδότης and the involvement of the Eleusinian officials.

This is especially significant in light of a passage contained in the excerpt from Hesiod I quoted just a bit ago, which I will separate for emphasis:

But through the fleeces of sheep, because their wool is abundant, the keen wind Boreas pierces not at all; but it makes the old man curved as a wheel. And it does not blow through the tender maiden who stays indoors with her dear mother, unlearned as yet in the works of golden Aphrodite, and who washes her soft body and anoints herself with oil and lies down in an inner room within the house, on a winter’s day when the Boneless One gnaws his foot in his fireless house and wretched home; for the sun shows him no pastures to make for, but goes to and fro over the land and city of dusky men, and shines more sluggishly upon the whole race of the Hellenes.

Which calls to mind the Orphic myth of Persephone’s web:

Orpheus says that the vivific cause of partible natures (i.e. Persephone), while she remained on high, weaving the order of celestials, was a nymph, as being undefiled; and in consequence of this connected with Zeus and abiding in her appropriate manners; but that, proceeding from her proper habitation, she left her webs unfinished, was ravished; having been ravished, was married; and that being married, she generated in order that she might animate things which have an adventitious life. For the unfinished state of her web indicates, I think, that the universe is imperfect or unfinished, as far as to perpetual animals (i.e., the universe would be imperfect if nothing inferior to the celestial Gods was produced). Hence Plato says the single creator calls on the many creators to weave together the mortal and immortal natures; after a manner reminding us, that the addition of the mortal genera is the perfection of the textorial life of the universe, and also exciting our recollection of the divine Orphic fable, and affording us interpretative causes of the unfinished webs of Persephone. (Proklos, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus)

And the sparagmos of bull-horned Zagreus:

Demeter hid her daughter in a cave in Sicily to escape her many suitors. Ah, maiden Persephoneia! You could not find how to escape your mating! No, a dragon was your mate, when Zeus changed his face and came, rolling in many a loving coil through the dark to the corner of the maiden’s chamber, and shaking his hairy chaps he lulled to sleep as he crept the eyes of those creatures of his own shape who guarded the door. He licked the girl’s form gently with wooing lips. By this marriage with the heavenly dragon, the womb of Persephone swelled with living fruit, and she bore Zagreus the horned baby, who by himself climbed upon the heavenly throne of Zeus and brandished lightning in his little hand, and newly born, lifted and carried thunderbolts in his tender fingers for Zeus meant him to be king of the universe. But he did not hold the throne of Zeus for long. By the fierce resentment of implacable Hera, the Titanes cunningly smeared their round faces with disguising chalk (titanos), and while he contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror they destroyed him with an infernal knife. There where his limbs had been cut piecemeal by the Titan steel, the end of his life was the beginning of a new life as Dionysos. He appeared in another shape, and changed into many forms: now young like crafty Kronides shaking the aegis-cape, now as ancient Kronos heavy-kneed, pouring rain. Sometimes he was a curiously formed baby, sometimes like a mad youth with the flower of the first down marking his rounded chin with black. Again, a mimic lion he uttered a horrible roar in furious rage from a wild snarling throat, as he lifted a neck shadowed by a thick mane, marking his body on both sides with the self-striking whip of a tail which flickered about over his hairy back. Next, he left the shape of a lion’s looks and let out a ringing neigh, now like an unbroken horse that lifts his neck on high to shake out the imperious tooth of the bit, and rubbing, whitened his cheek with hoary foam. Sometimes he poured out a whistling hiss from his mouth, a curling horned serpent covered with scales, darting out his tongue from his gaping throat, and leaping upon the grim head of some Titan encircled his neck in snaky spiral coils. Then he left the shape of the restless crawler and became a tiger with gay stripes on his body; or again like a bull emitting a counterfeit roar from his mouth he butted the Titanes with sharp horn. So he fought for his life, until Hera with jealous throat bellowed harshly through the air–that heavy-resentful step-mother! And the gates of Olympos rattled in echo to her jealous throat from high heaven. Then the bold bull collapsed: the murderers each eager for his turn with the knife chopt piecemeal the bull-shaped Dionysos. (Dionysiaka 6.155 ff)

Note that among the toys used by the Titans to ensnare him is λῆνος:

And the useless symbols of this mystic rite it will not be useless to exhibit for condemnation. These are dice, ball, hoop, apples, top, looking-glass, tuft of wool.

On this passage from Clement of Alexandria a scholiast writes:

Lenaizontas – a rustic song sung at the wine trough, which even itself has to do with the dismemberment of Dionysos. Clement has put very well and gracefully the bit about “binding up with ivy”, at the same time showing the fact that the Lenaian festivals are dedicated to Dionysos and also how as drunken mischief these things have been clapped together by tipsy and drunken people. (Scholiast to Protrepticus 1.2.2 p. 297.4)

Note the binding up in association with Lenaia; makes one wonder if there’s a connection between Lenai and Klodones:

In the reign of Argaeus king of Macedonia, the Taulantii under their king Galaurus made an incursion into Macedonia. Argaeus, whose force was very small, directed the Macedonian young women, as the enemy advanced, to show themselves from mount Ereboea. They accordingly did so; and in a numerous body they poured down from the mountain, their faces covered by wreaths, and brandishing their thyrsi instead of spears. Galaurus, intimidated by the numbers of those, whom instead of women he supposed to be men, sounded a retreat; whereupon the Taulantii, throwing away their weapons, and whatever else might retard their escape, abandoned themselves to a precipitate flight. Argaeus, having thus obtained a victory without the hazard of a battle, erected a temple to Dionysus Pseudanor; and ordered the priestesses of the God, who were before called Klodones by the Macedonians, to ever afterwards be distinguished by the title of Mimallones. (Polyaenus, Stratagems 4.1)

And of course there is another concurrence of these two terms.

In the opening of the Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine Jesus is described as follows:

Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands one like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. (1.12-19)

While a little later on we find:

And the angel thrust his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress. (14.19–20)

Which links back to the Herakleitos quote, because circles.

Furthermore, as Thomas Taylor remarks:

And as to the fleece of wool, this is a symbol of laceration, or distribution of intellect, or Dionysus, into matter; for the verb σπαραττω, sparatto, dilanio, which is used in the relation of the Bacchic discerption, signifies to tear in pieces like wool: and hence Isidorus derives the Latin word lana, wool, from laniando, as vellus from vellendo. Nor must it pass unobserved, that λῆνος, in Greek, signifies wool, and ληνὸς, a wine-press. And, indeed, the pressing of grapes is as evident a symbol of dispersion as the tearing of wool; and this circumstance was doubtless one principal reason why grapes were consecrated to Bacchus: for a grape, previous to its pressure, aptly represents that which is collected into one; and when it is pressed into juice, it no less aptly represents the diffusion of that which was before collected and entire. (A Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries pgs 210-211)


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