Some notes I’ve collected on abortion and Dionysos

I know that I’ve come across a couple more sources in the course of my studies not mentioned here, but that was before the shift in my views took place and I didn’t bother keeping records. I’m presenting this information to explain, not to persuade. I’m not trying to change anyone’s minds.

ISmyrna 728 (LSAM 84; SEG XIV.752)

… son of Menandros, the revealer of the god (theophantēs), set this up…  All you (?) … who enter the sanctuary and shrines of Bromios (“Thunderer”) should refrain from the exposure of new–born infants for forty days, so that blood guilt does not ensue.  Likewise refrain from contact with a woman’s miscarriage (or: abortion) for the same number of days.  Now if death and fate descends on someone in the household, perform the rites outside the gateway of the household after one–third of the month (i.e. ten days), and if some defilement comes from other households, stay away three days after encountering a decaying corpse.  (10) Nor should those wearing black clothing approach the altars of the Lord, nor should anyone lay hands on sacred offerings not yet sacrificed, nor … bring (?) … an egg into the Bacchic festivities, especially during the banquets, nor offer a heart on the sacred altars … also abstain from mint, which Demeter scattered (?) … most hateful root of beans from … make a proclamation about the Titans to the initiates (mystai) … and it is not lawful to rattle the reeds … thrown, by whom the initiates … sacrifices … nor carry …

[. . . .]της Μενάνδρου ὁ θεοφάντης ἀνέθηκεν. | [πάν]τ̣ες ὅσοι τέμενος Βρομίου ναούς τε περᾶτε, | τ̣εσσαράκοντα μὲν ἤματα ἀπ’ ἐχθέσεως (ἐκθέσεως) πεφύλαχθε | νηπιάχοιο βρέφους, μὴ δὴ μήνειμα γένηται, || ἔκτρωσίν τε γυναικὸς ὁμοίως ἤματα τόσσα· | ἢν δέ τιν’ οἰκείων θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα καλύψῃ, | εἴργεσθαι μηνὸς τρίτατον μέρος ἐκ προπύλοιο· | ἢν δ’ ἂρ’ ἀπ’ ἀλλοτρίων οἴκων τι μίασμα γένηται, | ἠελίους τρισσοὺς μεῖναι νέκυος φθιμένοιο, || μηδὲ μελανφάρους προσίναι βωμοῖσι ἄνακ̣τ̣[ος, —] | μηδ’ ἀθύτοις θυσίαις ἱερῶν ἐπὶ χῖρας ἰάλ[λειν, —] | μηδ’ ἐν Βακχείοις ᾠὸν ποτὶ δαῖτα τ[ίθεσθαι (?) —] | καὶ κραδίην καρποῦν ἱεροῖς βωμοῖς̣ [— — — —] | ἡδεόσμου τ’ ἀπέχεσθαι, ὃν Δη̣μ̣[ήτηρ ἀμάθυνεν (?)·] || ἐχθροτάτην ῥίζαν κυάμων ἐκ σπέ̣[— — — —] | Τειτάνων προλέγειν μύσταις̣ [— — — — — ] | καὶ καλάμοισι κροτεῖν οὐ θέσ̣[μιον εἶναι — —] | ἤμασιν, οἷς μύσται θυσί̣[ας — — — — —] | [μηδ]ὲ̣ φορ̣ε̣ῖν Σ̣Υ̣ (?) [— — — — — — — —]

Translation by Philip P. Harland

ISmyrna 728 (LSAM 84; SEG XIV.752)

_____tes, the son of Menander, the theophant, has dedicated (this): All those who set foot in the temenos and temples of Bromios, be careful to wait 40 days after the exposure of a newborn baby, so that divine wrath may not be aroused; likewise so many days after a woman’s abortion (or miscarriage). But if fateful death cover any relative, be excluded from the propylon a third part of a month; but if a pollution comes from other people’s families, wait three suns after the corpse perishes. Do not go near the altars of the lord if you are wearing black clothing; nor lay hands on sacrifices of sacrificial victims not to be offered (or: unoffered sacrifices of sacrificial victims), nor even set (?) an egg as a meal in the Bakcheia, and it is not lawful to burn heart on the sacred altars, and stay away from mint, which (?) …………. which is the most hateful root from the seed of beans …….. proclaim to the mystai (about) the Titans …….. and it is not lawful for them to make rattling noises with reeds, on the days, on which the mystai ……. sacrifices …….. and do not wear (?) ……….

Translation by Susan Guettel Cole


For exposure of a child, forty days. A lex sacra from Ptolemais requires 14 days in some cases and may have required 40 days in others; LSCG Suppl. 119, first century B.C. (the text is corrupt). Nilsson attributes the requirement at Smyrna to the concern for children in Bacchic cults. Cameron, CR 46 (1932) 109-10, argues that in spite of the widespread practice of exposure of unwanted children in antiquity, a special concern for children who died shortly after birth appears as early as Plato, and suggests that this was an Orphic concern. A child who died too soon [1a)/wroS1]1 was assigned a special place of suffering in the underworld (Verg. Aen. 6.426; Plut. De Gen.Soc. 590f; Luc. Kat. 5; Tert. De Anima 55). Exposure of children was also a concern of one branch of the Stoics (Mus. Ruf. 15). The divinity for whom the text from Ptolemais was inscribed is not known, and it is therefore impossible to conclude that a concern for an exposed child was a feature of Bacchic cult. Children seem to have played an important role in Dionysiac cult in the Imperial period. They appear often in representations of Dionysaic cult activity; see F. Matz, DIONUSIAKH TELETH [1Wiesbaden 1963]1 pl. 8.1, the initiation of a young boy. Dionysiac motifs decorate the sarcophagoi of children who died young; see F. Matz, Die dionysischen Sarkophage (Berlin 1968-75) nos. 16, 78, 156, 199-202, 214, 230, 236. Dionysiac themes, howver, appear infrequently in the epitaphs for children who died young; see A-M. Vé.rilhac, PAIDES AWROI (ATHENS 1978) I nos. 47, 79, 80, 190, 196.

For a miscarriage or abortion, 40 days. Greek vocabulary does not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary abortion; see J. and L. Robert, BE 1955.189. A waiting period of forty days after miscarriage or abortion is customary in other cults; see E. Nardi, Eranion in honorem G. S. Maridakis I (Athens 1963) 432-85 and Studi in onore di Edoardo Volterra I (Milan 1971) 141-48; R. Parker, Miasma (Oxford 1983) 354-56. In addition to the inscription from Ptolemais (which gives 40 days for miscarrage or abortion), cf. LSCG Suppl. 54 (Delos), 91 (Lindos); LSCG 55 (Laurion), 139 (Lindos). LSCG 171 (Isthmos) gives a ten day waiting period; BCH 102 (1978) 325 (Megalopolis) gives 44 days. LSCG 124 (Eresos) requires a waiting period of 40 days in the case of a stillbirth. Forty days at Smyrna, therefore, is not excessive.

The wearing of white was a requirement in some Orphic or Pythagorean groups; see Hdt. 2.81; Eur. Cret. 79 (Austin); Diog. Laert. 8.19; Iamb. VP 100, 149, 155.

Pythagoreans did not eat the heart of any animal. According to Aulus Gellius (4.11), Plutarch (fr. 122 Sandbach) attributed this fact to Aristotle (frag. 194 Rose; see also Plut. Quaes. Conv. 635c; cf. Porph. VP 42 (=DK 58 C 6: mh\ kardi/an e)sqi/ein). The Pythagoreans did not eat heart because they believed that the heart was the source of life and strength (Clem. Al. Str. 2.17.2, 2.22.5; see M. Tierney, Mé.langes E. Boisacq [Brussels 1935] 317-21; W. Burkert, Weisheit und Wissenschaft [Nüaut.rnberg 1962] 166-67=Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism [Cambridge MA 1972] 180-85). Such a restriction could be operative here. It is almost certain that the restriction here is explained by the myth of the dismemberment of Dionysos by the Titans, where Athena preserves the heart of Dionysos (Firm. Mat. De Err. Prof. Relig. 6 p.15,2 Ziegler=Kern, OF 214). The myth, in its essentials, may be as old as the fifth century B.C. (Pind. frag. 133; cf. W. Burkert, Homo Necans, 225 n.43.). The Titans themselves are .cm this is the american ed mentioned in this inscription (see line 16); for reservations about this connection, however, see Henrichs, Lollianos, 70 n.6. M. Tierney, CQ 16 (1922) 77-88, argues that the Gurob papyrus (=Kern, OF 31) describes a sacrifice of a ram and goat to Dionysos Zagreus, where the heart was not eaten, but taken away, reading in line 3 [kar]dioforeiaS1 teleth/n and arguing on the basis of Clem. Al. Protr. 2.22, that kardi/ai were part of the secret objects in the Dionysiac cista mystica.

Cf. OP. Hal. 3.488-97: kli/nato d) ei)S1 eu)nh\n *)Ai+dwne/oS1: a)ll) o(\te kou/rhn &bar; Persefo/nhn h(/rpacen a)p) Ai)tnai/oio pa/goio, &bar; dh\ to/te min kla/zousan u(perfia/loiS1 e)pe/essi,&bar; zh/lw| margai/nousan a)ta/sqala, mhni/sasa &bar; Dhmh/thr a)ma/qunen e)pembai/nousa pedi/loiS1:&bar;…poi/h d) ou)tidanh\ kai) e)pw/numoS1 e)/kqore gai/hS1. Ovid knew the story of Minthe, daughter of Peitho, changed by Persephone into a plant (Met 10.728-30; cf. schol. Nic. Alex. 374; Lobeck, Aglaophamus (1829) II 833-34). .cm this is Nicander, Alexipharmaca- Demeter and Persephone find Minthe an abominable rival, but Demeter herself once accepted a drink made with mint, barley and water. This mint was pennyroyal [1blh/xwn or glh/xwn: glh/xwni terei/nh|, Hymn. Hom. 2.209). For the medicinal uses of blh/xwn/glh/xwn, see A. Delatte, Le cycé.on (Paris 1955) 726 (BAB:Ecit. 40 [1954]).

There were various forms of mint, some beneficial, others harmful. An Orphic poem explains why kala/minqoS1, a wild form of h(du/osmon, once “a great and fruitful (fere/karpon]1 plant upon the earth” became a plant sterile and without fruit (a)/karpon]1: Demeter, in her grief changed its nature (Etym. Gud. s.v. mi/nqh; Kern, OF 44). The mythical character Minthe and the plant she represents seem to be associated with the cult of Demeter. Strabo gives the myth of Persephone and Minthe as aetiology for the mountain named for Minthe, located in the area of Pylos, near a temenos of Hades and a grove of Demeter; Strab. 8.3.14, 344c.

The issue here, however, is why such a plant should have meaning for Dionysiac cult. The Orphic poet, who explains the transformation of wild mint from fruitful to barren is perhaps the clue. Dionysos, like Demeter is a god of plant and human fertility. Like Demeter he is known by the epithet Karpofo/roS1; see SEG 19.481-83, 24.1122, 1124; For Kallika/rpoS1, see below nos. &oma (Mopsuestia), &qma, &rma (Aigeai). For Poluka/rpoS1, see IGBR I&S’&sub2;. 195.1-2, apparatus (Odessos). For Eu)ka/rpoS1, see IGBR:Ecit. I&S’&sub2;. 351 (Messambria). Dionysos is associated with forces that make the earth and humans fruitful. For his epithet Fleu/S1, “one who makes to swell or teem with abundance,” see IEphesos 902, 1257, 1270, 1595 (=nos. &nga., &sga., &qga., &rga.); IErythrai 207 (=no. ifa.); IPriene 174 (=no.pha.). For a discussion of the meaning of the epithet, see no. nga. (Ephesos), on lines 6-7. For these characteristics as especially characteristic of Dionysos in Ionia and Ionian colonies on the Black Sea, see N. Ehrhardt, Milet und seine Kolonien (Frankfurt 1983) 169-70. Dionysos himself is described by Fere/karpoS1 (Hymn. Orph. 50.10), the same epithet used by the Orphic poet to describe mint before Demeter’s attack made it sterile. It is Dionysos’ power as a god of fertility that would be directly threatened by a plant associated with sterility. It is important to note that Dionysos was thought to have influence not only on the fertility of the earth, but on the potency and fertility of humans, males in particular. This aspect of Dionysiac frenzy is best represented in cult by the Phallephoria, the processions at the Dionysia where reprentations of the phallos were carried around the theater. This aspect of Dionysos is not restricted to fertility rituals, but seems to have been part of the worship of Dionysos as god of the theater. For evidence from Delos for the celebration of the phallephoria as part of the Dionysia, see P. Bruneau, Recherches sur les cultes de Dé.los (Paris 1970) 312-321, texts dating from 304 to 169 B.C.; see no.tta, Delos). For Dionysos as the god of the fallhfo/ria, see Herter, RE XXXVIII (1938) 1673-81. When Dioscorides describes the negative effects of a surfeit of mint on the sexual capacity of the male, he describes a reaction that would threaten the role of Dionysos as a god of male potency and sexual activity. It is this aspect of Dionysiac fertility that the prohibition against mint at Smyrna must have been designed to protect.

CGRN 144 (SB I 3451; AGRW 16232)

Those entering into the … temple (?) … are to be pure in accordance with the following: from death of one’s own family member or … of another (?) … on the 7th day; from death at child–birth, having taken part in a miscarriage (or: abortion), on the 40th day; from having given birth and nursed, on the … xth day; and if it is exposed, on the 14th day; from having sex with a woman on the 2nd day, and the same holds for women having sex with men; responsibility for a miscarriage (or: abortion) on the 40th day, … on account of encountering death (?) … ; and giving birth and nursing on the … xth day; and if the infant is exposed on the 14th day; from a woman’s monthly period on the 7th day; … the woman from (?) having sex with a man on the 2nd day; and from contact with (?) myrtle on the 2nd day.

τοὺς εἰσιόντας εἰς τὸ̣ [ἱερὸν] ǀ ἁγνεύειν κατὰ ὑποκε̣[ίμενα]· ǀ ἀπὸ πάθους ἰδίου καὶ [ἀλλοτρίου] ǀ ἡμέρας ζʹ, ἀπ̣’ ἀπαλλ[αγῇ ἡ γο]ǀǀ[ν]ή, ἐκτρωσμοῦ συν[ελθόντος, μʹ]. ǀ τετοκυαίας καὶ τρεφούσης ․ʹ· ǀ καὶ ἐὰν ἐχθῇ ιδʹ· τοὺς δὲ ἄ[νδρας] ǀ [ἀ]πὸ γυναικὸς βʹ, τὰς δὲ γ[υναῖκας] ǀ ἀκολούθως τοῖς ἀνδρά[σιν· τὴν μὲν αἰτί]ǀǀαν ἐκτρωσμοῦ μʹ, [ἀπαλλαγῆς ἔνεκα]· ǀ τὴν δὲ τεκοῦσαν καὶ τρέ̣[φουσαν ․ʹ]· ǀ [ἐ]ὰν δὲ ἐχθῇ τὸ βρέφος [ιδʹ]· ǀ ἀπὸ καταμηνίων ζʹ· [τὰς δὲ γυναῖκας ἀπ’] ǀ ἀνδρὸς βʹ, μυρσίνην δὲ [βʹ].

Translation by Philip P. Harland


Regulations for Entry into a Temple (I BCE)

Ptolemais Hermiou (Upper Egypt)

Although no association is mentioned here, this regulation for entrance sheds light on similar temple-regulations connected to associations, such as the Dionysiac initiates at Smyrna (see GRA 140 = ISmyrna 728).

NGSL 7 (CGRN 155)

Monument (stelē) of Isis and Sarapis.  May the god bring good fortune.  This is a holy temple of Isis, Sarapis, and Anubis.  Anyone who wants to sacrifice may enter into the temple, being purified from childbirth on the 9th day, from miscarriage (or: abortion) on the 44th day, from menstruation on the 7th day, from contact with death on the 7th day, (10) from goat or lamb meat on the 3rd day, from other meats (or: foods) on the same day after washing from head to foot, from sexual intercourse on the same day after washing… (remaining four lines largely lost).

Translation by: Philip P. Harland

στάλα Ἴσιος Σαράπιος. ǀ Θεός, τύχα ἀγαθά. ἱερὸν ἅγιον Ἴσιος ǀ Σαράπιος Ἀνούβιος. vac. εἰσπορεύεσǀθαι εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν τὸν βουλόμενον ǀǀ θύειν καθαρίζοντα ἀπὸ μὲν ǀ λέχ[ο]υς ἐναταίαν, ἀπὸ δὲ διǀαφθέρματος vac. τεσσαράκοντα ǀ καὶ τέσσαρας ἁμέρας, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶ[ν] ǀ φυσικῶν ἑβδομαίαν, ἀπὸ φό[ν]ου ǀǀ ἑπτὰ ἁμέρας, ἀπὸ δὲ αἰγέου καὶ ǀ προβατέου τριταῖον, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ǀ λοιπῶν βρωμάτων ἐκ κεφαλᾶς ǀ λουσάμενον αὐθημερί. ἀπὸ δὲ ǀ ἀφροδισίων αὐθημερί vac. λουσάǀǀμενον, ἀπὸ ΠΑΘΙΝ[—]ΙΑΜΕΙΙΓΑΝ ǀ ΜΟΑΝ αὐθημερὶ λουσἀμε[ν]ον Υǀ[— — —]νεσθαι ΜΗΔΕΜ[— — —] ǀ [— — —] εἰσπορεύεσθα[ι — — —] ǀ [— — —]ΜΕΩΝΠΟ[— — —] ǀǀ [— — —]ΣΘΕ[— — —].

Translation by Philip P. Harland


Regulations of the Temple of Isis, Sarapis, and Anubis (200 BCE)

Megalopolis (Peloponnesos)

Slab of limestone found in 1975 700 metres northeast of the theatre at Megalopolis (64 x 54.5-57.2 x 14.0-15.4 cm). Now in Megalopolis archaeological museum (inv. 133; see Lupu in NGSL 7). There is no mention of an association in the inscription but we do know (from the Delos evidence) that sanctuaries for Egyptian deities could be frequented by such groups. Other regulations for entry into sanctuaries for other deities do mention groups of initiates, including the sanctuary for Bromios at Smyrna (see ISmyrna 728 on this site).