Piety begins in the home.



While reading Aelian’s Historical Miscellany I came across this passage which gives us a truly unique glimpse into the domestic cultus of a public priest of Dionysos. Not only do we find a shared family altar, but even his young children know how to make proper and just offerings. Bolded for emphasis. 

There was a man from Mytilene called Makareus, who was a priest of Dionysos. Though to all appearances a mild and reasonable person, he was the most unscrupulous of men. When a visitor arrived and deposited with him a quantity of gold, Makareus dug a hole in a corner of the temple and buried the gold. Later the visitor came to ask for its return. Makareus took him in as if about to hand it back, murdered him and dug up the gold, putting the visitor’s body in its place. He thought that in this way he could escape divine as well as human attention. But matters did not turn out that way. How so? A short time elapsed, and the biennial festival of the God took place. He made opulent sacrifices. While he was occupied with the Bacchic celebrations his two sons were left at home. Imitating their father’s sacrificial ritual they approached the family altar while the offerings were still burning. The younger exposed his neck, the elder found a knife lying unused and killed his brother as a sacrificial offering. Members of the household who witnessed this raised a cry of horror. Hearing the shouts their mother jumped up, and seeing that one son was dead, while the other still held the blood-stained knife, she snatched from the altar the half-burnt log and with this killed her son. The news reached Makareus. He left the ceremony with the utmost haste and anxiety, burst into the home, and killed his own wife with the thyrsos he was carrying. The outrageous acts became generally known; Makareus was arrested and tortured; he confessed to what he had done in the temple, and during the ordeal he expired. The victim of his injustice received public honours and burial at the demand of the God. So Makareus paid no contemptible penalty, as the poets have it, with his own life, that of his wife and furthermore those of his sons. (13.2)

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