Sources for Agrionia

Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 2.2-3.1
Proitos had daughters, Lysippe, Iphinoe, and Iphianassa, by Stheneboea. When these damsels were grown up, they went mad, according to Hesiod, because they would not accept the rites of Dionysos, but according to Akusilaos, because they disparaged the wooden image of Hera. In their madness they roamed over the whole Argive land, and afterwards, passing through Arcadia and the Peloponnese, they ran through the desert in the most disorderly fashion. But Melampos, son of Amythaon by Idomene, daughter of Abas, being a seer and the first to devise the cure by means of drugs and purifications, promised to cure the maidens if he should receive the third part of the sovereignty. When Proitos refused to pay so high a fee for the cure, the maidens raved more than ever, and besides that, the other women raved with them; for they also abandoned their houses, destroyed their own children, and flocked to the desert. Not until the evil had reached a very high pitch did Proitos consent to pay the stipulated fee, and Melampos promised to effect a cure whenever his brother Bias should receive just so much land as himself. Fearing that, if the cure were delayed, yet more would be demanded of him, Proitos agreed to let the physician proceed on these terms. So Melampos, taking with him the most stalwart of the young men, chased the women in a bevy from the mountains to Sicyon with shouts and a sort of frenzied dance. In the pursuit Iphinoe, the eldest of the daughters, expired; but the others were lucky enough to be purified and so to recover their wits. Proitos gave them in marriage to Melampos and Bias, and afterwards begat a son, Megapenthes.

Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 2.37
After Dionysos had demonstrated to the Thebans that he was a God, he went to Argos where again he drove the women mad when the people did not pay him honour, and up in the mountains the women fed on the flesh of the babies suckling at their breasts.

Scholiast on Clement of Alexandria’s Protrepticus 12.119.1
For the initiates of the mysteries of Dionysos ate raw flesh, doing this rite in commemoration of the dismemberment that Dionysos suffered at the hands of the maenads.

Hesychius s.v. Agrania
A festival in Argos for one of the daughters of Proitos.

Hesychius s.v. Agriania
A festival of the dead among the Argives and contests in Thebes.

Fragment of the Melampodia preserved in the Suidas
Because of their hideous wantonness they lost their tender beauty…

Fragment of the Melampodia preserved in Athenaios’ Deipnosophistai 2.40
For pleasant it is at a feast and rich banquet to tell delightful tales, when men have had enough of feasting …

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.1-54; 389-415
But Alcithoë, daughter of Minyas, will not celebrate the Bacchic rites, in acceptance of the God. She is rash enough to deny that Bacchus is the son of Jupiter, and her sisters share in her impiety.

The priest had ordered the observation of the festival, asking for all female servants to be released from work, they and their mistresses to drape animal skins across their breasts, free their headbands, wreathe their hair, and carry an ivy-twined thyrsus in their hand. And he prophesied that the God’s rage would be fierce if he was angered. The young women and mothers obey, leaving their baskets and looms, and their unfinished tasks, and burn incense, calling on Bacchus, on Bromius, ‘the noisy one’, Lyaeus, ‘deliverer from care’, on the child of the lightning, the twice-born, the son of two mothers, and adding to these calls Nyseus, ‘he of Heliconian Nysa’, Thyoneus, ‘the unshorn’ who is Semele’s son, Lenaeus, the planter of joy-giving vines, Nyctelius, ‘the nightcomer’, father Eleleus, of the howls, Iacchus, of the shouts, and Euhan, of the cries, and all of the other names you have, Liber, among the peoples of Greece.

Unfading youth is yours, you boy eternal, you, the most beautiful sight in the depths of the morning and evening sky, your face like a virgin’s when you stand before us without your horns. The Orient calls you its conqueror, as far as darkest India, dipped in the remote Ganges. You, the revered one, punished Pentheus, and Lycurgus, king of Thrace, who carried the double-headed axe, and you sent the Tyrrhenians into the waves. You yoke together two lynxes with bright reins decorating their necks, Bacchantes and Satyrs follow you, and that drunken old man, Silenus, who supports his stumbling body with his staff, and clings precariously to his bent-backed mule. Wherever you go the shouts of youths ring out, and the chorus of female voices, hands beating on tambourines, the clash of cymbals, and the shrill piping of the flute.

The Ismenides pray to Bacchus ‘Be satisfied with us, be gentle’ and they celebrate the rites ordained. Only the daughters of Minyas remain inside, disturbing the festival, with the untimely arts of Minerva, drawing out strands of wool, twisting the threads with their fingers, or staying at their looms, and plying their servants with work. Then one of them, Arsippe, speaks, spinning the thread lightly with her thumb. ‘While the others are leaving their work, and thronging to this false religion, let us, restrained by Pallas, a truer Goddess, lighten the useful work of our hands, and take turns in recalling a story to our idle minds, so that the time will not seem so long! Her sisters are pleased with this, and beg her to begin first. She wondered which of many she should tell (since she knew very many), and hesitated whether to tell about you, Babylonian Dercetis, who, as the Syrians of Palestine believe, with altered shape, your lower limbs covered with scales, swam in the waters, or how your daughter, assuming wings, lived her earliest years out among the white dovecotes. Or how a Naiad, with incantations, and all too powerful herbs, changed the bodies of youths into dumb fishes, until the same thing happened to her. Or how the mulberry tree that bore white berries now bears dark red ones, from the stain of blood. This one pleases her. She begins to spin this tale, which is not yet well known, as she spins her woollen thread.


The story was finished, and the daughters of Minyas still pressed on with their work, spurning the God and profaning his festival, when suddenly harsh sounds sprang up from unseen drums, pipes with curved horns sounded, and cymbals clashed. Saffron and myrrh perfumed the air, and unbelievably their looms began to grow like greenwood, the cloth they were weaving put out leaves of hanging ivy, part altered to vines, and what were once threads changed into tendrils: vine shoots came out of the warp, and clusters of dark-coloured grapes took on the splendour of the purple fabric.

Now the day was past, and the time had come when you could not say that it was light or darkness, but a borderland of light and uncertain night. Suddenly the ceiling shook, the oil lamps seemed to brighten, and the house to shine with glowing fires, and fill with the howling of fierce creatures’ deceptive phantoms. Quickly the sisters hide in the smoke-filled house, and, in various places, shun the flames and light. While they seek the shadows, a thin membrane stretches over their slender limbs, and delicate wings enfold their arms. The darkness prevents them knowing how they have lost their former shape. They do not rise on soft plumage, but lift themselves on semi-transparent wings, and trying to speak emit the tiniest squeak, as befits their bodies, and tell their grief in faint shrieks. They frequent rafters, rather than woods, and, hating the light, they fly at night, and derive their name, ‘vespertiliones’, from ‘vesper’, the evening.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.322
Who has not heard of the lakes of Aethiopia: how those who drink of them go raving mad or fall in a deep sleep, most wonderful in heaviness. Whoever quenches thirst from the Clitorian spring will hate all wine, and soberly secure great pleasure from pure water. Either that spring has a power the opposite of wine-heat, or perhaps as natives tell us, after the famed son of Amythaon by his charms and herbs, delivered from their base insanity the stricken Proetides, he threw the rest of his mind healing herbs into the spring, where hatred of all wine has since remained. Unlike in nature flows another stream of the country, called Lyncestius: everyone who drinks of it, even with most temperate care, will reel, as if he had drunk unmixed wine.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.44.5
In Aegosthena is a sanctuary of Melampos, son of Amythaon, and a small figure of a man carved upon a slab. To Melampos they sacrifice and hold a festival every year. They say that he divines neither by dreams nor in any other way. Here is something else that I heard in Erenea, a village of the Megarians. Autonoe, daughter of Kadmos, left Thebes to live here owing to her great grief at the death of Aktaion, the manner of which is told in legend, and at the general misfortune of her father’s house. The tomb of Autonoe is in this village.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.7.7-8
Within the market-place is a sanctuary of Persuasion; this too has no image. The worship of Persuasion was established among them for the following reason. When Apollon and Artemis had killed Pytho they came to Aigialeia to obtain purification. Dread coming upon them at the place now named Fear, they turned aside to Karmanor in Crete, and the people of Aigialeia were smitten by a plague. When the seers bade them propitiate Apollon and Artemis, they sent seven boys and seven maidens as suppliants to the river Sythas. They say that the deities, persuaded by these, came to what was then the citadel, and the place that they reached first is the sanctuary of Persuasion. Conformable with this story is the ceremony they perform at the present day; the children go to the Sythas at the feast of Apollon, and having brought, as they pretend, the deities to the sanctuary of Persuasion, they say that they take them back again to the temple of Apollon. The temple stands in the modern market-place, and was originally, it is said, made by Proitos, because in this place his daughters recovered from their madness.

Pausanias, Description Greece 2.18.4
The Argives are the only Greeks that I know of who have been divided into three kingdoms. For in the reign of Anaxagoras, son of Argeus, son of Megapenthes, the women were smitten with madness, and straying from their homes they roamed about the country, until Melampos the son of Amythaon cured them of the plague on condition that he himself and his brother Bias had a share of the kingdom equal to that of Anaxagoras. Now descended from Bias five men, Neleids on their mother’s side, occupied the throne for four generations down to Cyanippus, son of Aegialeus, and descended from Melampos six men in six generations down to Amphilochus, son of Amphiaraos.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.32.4
Beside the entrance to the sanctuary of Dionysos is the grave of Astycratea and Manto. They were daughters of Polyidos, son of Koiranos, son of Abas, son of Melampos, who came to Megara to purify Alkathous when he had killed his son Kallipolis. Polyidos also built the sanctuary of Dionysos, and dedicated a wooden image that in our day is covered up except the face, which alone is exposed. By the side of it is a Satyr of Parian marble made by Praxiteles. This Dionysos they call Patrous (Paternal); but the image of another, that they surname Dasyllios, they say was dedicated by Euchenor, son of Koiranos, son of Polyidos.

Pausanias, Description Greece 5.5.10
Some Greeks say that Chiron, others that Pylenor, another Centaur, when shot by Heracles fled wounded to this river and washed his hurt in it, and that it was the hydra’s poison which gave the Anigros its nasty smell. Others again attribute the quality of the river to Melampos the son of Amythaon, who threw into it the means he used to purify the daughters of Proitos.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.18.8-7
Above Nonacris are the Aroanian Mountains, in which is a cave. To this cave, legend says, the daughters of Proitos fled when struck with madness; Melampos by secret sacrifices and purifications brought them down to a place called Lusi. Most of the Aroanian mountain belongs to Phenios, but Lusi is on the borders of Kleitor. They say that Lusi was once a city, and Agesilas was proclaimed as a man of Lusi when victor in the horse-race at the eleventh Pythian festival held by the Amphictyons; but when I was there not even ruins of Lusi remained. Well, the daughters of Proitos were brought down by Melampos to Lusi, and healed of their madness in a sanctuary of Artemis. Wherefore this Artemis is called Hemerasia (She who soothes) by the Kleitorians.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.23.1
In Alea at Arkadia there is a temple of Dionysos with an image. In honor of Dionysos they celebrate every other year a festival called Skiereia, and at this festival, in obedience to a response from Delphoi, women are flogged.

Plutarch, Greek Questions 38
They relate that the daughters of Minyas, Leukippe and Arsinoe and Alkathoe, becoming insane, conceived a craving for human flesh, and drew lots for their children. The lot fell upon Leukippe to contribute her son Hippasos to be torn to pieces, and their husbands, who put on ill-favoured garments for very grief and sorrow, were called ‘Grimy’ (Psoloeis); but the Minyads themselves were called ‘Oleiae,’ that is to say, ‘Murderesses.’ And even today the people of Orchomenos give this name to the women descended from this family; and every year, at the festival of Agrionia, there takes place a flight and pursuit of them by the priest of Dionysos with sword in hand. Any one of them that he catches he may kill, and in my time the priest Zoïlos killed one of them. But this resulted in no benefit for the people of Orchomenos; but Zoïlos fell sick from some slight sore and, when the wound had festered for a long time, he died. The people of Orchomenos also found themselves involved in some suits for damages and adverse judgements; wherefore they transferred the priesthood from Zoïlos’s family and chose the best man from all the citizens to fill the office.

Plutarch, Life of M. Antonios 24.4
At any rate, when he entered Ephesos, women arrayed as bakchai, men and boys as satyrs and Pans, led the way, the city was full of ivy and thyrsos-wands and harps and pipes and flutes, while they invoked him as Dionysos the ‘Giver of Joy’ (Charidotes) and ‘Gentle’ (Meilichios); for he was indeed such to some, but to most, he was the ‘Eater of Raw Flesh’ (Omestes) and the ‘Wild’ (Agrionios)’.

Plutarch, Roman Questions 112
Did they regard the ivy as an unfruitful plant, useless to man, and feeble, and because of its weakness needing other plants to support it, but by its shade and the sight of its greenness fascinating to most people? And did they therefore think that it should not be uselessly grown in their homes nor be allowed to twine about in a futile way, contributing nothing, since it is injurious to the plants forming its support? Or is it because it cleaves to the ground? Wherefore it is excluded from the ritual of the Olympian Gods, nor can any ivy be seen in the temple of Hera at Athens, or in the temple of Aphrodite at Thebes; but it has its place in the Agrionia and the Nyktelia, the rites of which are for the most part performed at night. Or was this also a symbolic prohibition of Bacchic revels and orgies? For women possessed by Bacchic frenzies rush straightway for ivy and tear it to pieces, clutching it in their hands and biting it with their teeth; so that not altogether without plausibility are they who assert that ivy, possessing as it does an exciting and distracting breath of madness, deranges persons and agitates them, and in general brings on a wineless drunkenness and joyousness in those that are precariously disposed towards spiritual exaltation.

Probus on Vergil, Eclogue 6.48
The daughters of Proitos, because they had scorned the divinity, were overcome with madness, such that they believed they had been turned into cows, and left Argos their own country. Afterwards they were cured by Melampos, the son of Amythaon.

Strabo, Geography 8.3.19
At the base of these mountains, on the seaboard, are two caves. One is the cave of the Nymphai called Anigriades … For near the cave of the nymphs called Anigriades is a spring which makes the region that lies below it swampy and marshy. The greater part of the water is received by the Anigros, a river so deep and so sluggish that it forms a marsh; and since the region is muddy, it emits an offensive odor for a distance of twenty stadia, and makes the fish unfit to eat. In the mythical accounts, however, this is attributed by some writers to the fact that certain of the centaurs here washed off the poison they got from the Hydra, and by others to the fact that Melampos used these cleansing waters for the purification of the Proitides. The bathing-water from here cures leprosy, elephantiasis, and scabies. It is said, also, that the Alpheios was so named from its being a cure for leprosy.