Two ships passing in the night

Anthesteria has so many densely interwoven layers that different things stand out for me each year. One of them this time around was the Black Ship of Dionysos, which is mounted on a wagon and paraded through the city on Pithoigia to open the festival:

For in the month Anthesterion a trireme raised into the air is escorted into the agora which the priest of Dionysos steers like a helmsman.  (Philostratos, Lives of the Sophists 1.25.1)

In the Black Ship are contained all the blessings Dionysos dispenses to the lands and people that graciously receive him:

Hermippus in a play called Stevedores launches into a mock-Homeric hymn to Dionysus in which the god is praised as a merchant-shipper (PCG F 63): ‘Tell me now you Muses who dwell in Olympus how many good things Dionysus brings here to men in his black ship since the time he began to carry merchandise over the wine-faced sea. From Cyrene, silphium stalk and ox hide. From the Hellespont, mackerel and every sort of salted fish. From Thessaly, barley and sides of beef and the mange for the Spartans from Sitalkes, and from Perdikkas a great many ships-full of lies. The Syracusans provide pigs and cheese …’ After a lacuna the list goes on to include products that originate from cities throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, from Carthage to Phoenicia. Most modern readers fail to see the humour that such lists of food are supposed to generate. There is none really. It is mainly about sustaining the buoyancy of the audience with effervescent reminders of the festival’s blessings. […] Four Attic vases, produced at the end of the sixth century show Dionysus and satyrs riding wagons, fitted out like ships. Later antiquity’s larger and more international festival economies seem to have required the magnificence of actual wheeled ships. By contrast the images on the Attic skyphoi are very much ‘wagons’ in the shape of ships—and unlikely to be called anything other than ‘wagons’ in ancient texts. Even the Panathenaic ship was referred to as a ‘wagon’ (in Latin currus) as late as the first century AD. In the case of the Tarquinian amphora, the vehicle is mythicised as an actual ship, but incorporates features of the ritual wagon including the piper and the mysterious wicker-like object at the keel. […] Some object that Dionysus Eleuthereus did not come to Athens by ship but overland. We have to respond that the ship is a symbol, not historical reconstruction. In part it suits the Athenian Dionysus because, as we saw, he brings for his festival food and wealth from overseas. But there is something deeper. The utopic vision inspired by the Athenian carnival is one of things spontaneously appearing and spontaneously moving under the influence of Dionysus. In the first messenger speech of Euripides’ Bacchae the presence of Dionysus is revealed by the sudden appearance of springs of water, wine, milk and honey (705-11), and by the effortless coordination, energy and equilibrium of the bacchants’ movements (esp. 693, 755-8). The spontaneous springs of water, wine, milk and honey recall the αὐτόματος βίος of the Cronian Golden Age when the earth freely produced an abundance of food and drink for all men at no cost or effort. This was of course also an ideal embodied by the Dionysian festival where food and wine really were abundant and free. But effortless coordination and equilibrium are also an expression of the processional god. Dionysus sets people and things in motion, particularly in a graceful and rhythmic motion: the power of music to animate the body (even at times against one’s will) is perhaps the supreme expression of this particular aspect of the god. (Eric Csapo, The Dionysian Parade and the Poetics of Plenitude)

However, on Chytroi which closed the festival, a different ship was on people’s minds, the one that Deukalion and his wife used to escape the great deluge:

Zeus by pouring heavy rain from heaven flooded the greater part of Greece, so that all men were destroyed, except a few who fled to the high mountains in the neighborhood. It was then that the mountains in Thessalia parted, and that all the world outside the Isthmos and Peloponnese was overwhelmed. But Deukalion, floating in the chest over the sea for nine days and as many nights, drifted to Parnassos, and there, when the rain ceased, he landed and sacrificed to Zeus Phyxios (God of Escape). And Zeus sent Hermes to him and allowed him to choose what he would, and he chose to get men. And at the bidding of Zeus he took up stones and threw them over his head, and the stones which Deukalion threw became men, and the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. Hence people were called metaphorically people (laos) from laas, ‘a stone.’ (Apollodoros, Bibliotheca 1.7.2)

Note the role that Hermes plays in this myth, which is why he was honored alongside those who drowned in the flood:

Those who had survived the great deluge of Deukalion boiled pots of every kind of seed, and from this the festival gets its name. It is their custom to sacrifice to Hermes Khthonios. No one tastes the pot. The survivors did this in propitiation to Hermes on behalf of those who had died. (Theopompos, in the Scholia to Aristophanes’ Acharnians 1076)

However, those familiar with Delphic lore and the origin of the Thyiades would have extra reason to honor Deukalion and Hermes:

They say that the oldest city was founded here by Parnassos, a son of Kleodora, a Nymph. Like the other heroes, as they are called, he had two fathers; one they say was the God Poseidon, the human father being Kleopompos. After this Parnassos were named, they say, both the mountain and also the Parnassian glen. Augury from flying birds was, it is said, a discovery of Parnassos. Now this city, so the story goes on, was flooded by the rains that fell in the time of Deukalion. Such of the inhabitants as were able to escape the storm were led by the howls of wolves to safety on the top of Parnassos, being led on their way by these beasts, and on this account they called the city that they founded Lykoreia (Mountainwolf-city).

Another and different legend is current that Apollon had a son Lykoros by a Nymph, Korykia, and that after Lykoros was named the city Lykoreia, and after the Nymph the Korykian cave. It is also said that Kelaino was daughter to Hyamos, son of Lykoros, and that Delphos, from whom comes the present name of the city, was a son of Kelaino, daughter of Hyamos, by Apollon. Others maintain that Kastalios, an aboriginal, had a daughter Thyia, who was the first to be priestess of Dionysos and celebrate orgies in honor of the God. It is said that later on men called after her Thyiades all women who rave in honor of Dionysos. At any rate they hold that Delphos was a son of Apollon and Thyia. Others say that his mother was Melaina, daughter of Kephisos. (Pausanias, 10.6.1-4)

Cool, right? And something I’ve explored elsewhere in my writings on the Thyiades. But it doesn’t stop there.

Do you know why Zeus sought to destroy mankind with the storm of all storms? It was the Wolf King’s fault:

Lykaon, reigning over the Arcadians, begat by many wives fifty sons … and these exceeded all men in pride and impiety. Zeus, desirous of putting their impiety to the proof, came to them in the likeness of a day-laborer. They offered him hospitality and having slaughtered a male child of the natives, they mixed his bowels with the sacrifices, and set them before him, at the instigation of the elder brother Maenalus. But Zeus in disgust upset the table at the place which is still called Trapezus, and blasted Lykaon and his sons by thunderbolts, all but Nyktimos, the youngest; for Earth was quick enough to lay hold of the right hand of Zeus and so appease his wrath. But when Nyktimos succeeded to the kingdom, there occurred the flood in the age of Deukalion; some said that it was occasioned by the impiety of Lykaon’s sons. (Apollodoros 3.8.1-2)

Happen to know the name of that male child of the natives they butchered and tried to serve to Zeus? 

Of course you do. The child he killed was Arkas, the Starry Bear:

He is said to be the son of Jove and Callisto, whom Lycaon served at a banquet, cut up with other meat, when Jupiter came to him as a guest. For Lycaon wanted to know whether the one who had asked for his hospitality was a God or not. For this deed he was punished by no slight punishment, for Jupiter, quickly overturning the table, burned the house with a thunderbolt, and turned Lycaon himself into a wolf. But the scattered limbs of the boy he put together, and gave Arcas to a certain Aetolian to care for. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.4)

And Deukalion, too, was placed among the stars:

The constellation Aquarius or Water Bearer. Many have said he is Ganymede. Hegesianax, however, says he is Deucalion, because during his reign such quantities of water poured from the sky that the great flood resulted. (ibid 2.29)

Ganymede, as in the male double of Hebe. 

Also, did you know that some folks claim that the Wagon constellation (which is also a bear) is the same one which bears the Black Ship of Dionysos as it makes the procession through cities and the countryside.

Which brings it all full circle, like a wheel.