In the previous post I mentioned that there would likely have been a bunch of professing Christians in the crowd celebrating the Bacchic orgia at Antioch. Although this city is where members of the nascent Jesus-movement were first given the name Χριστιανοι (Acts 11:26) and it remained one of the strongest and most intellectually vibrant centers of Christendom in the East, the Antiochenes always had a very heterodox character and were frequently lambasted for their love of pleasure and sensuality on the one hand and their attachment to old Pagan customs, especially the Maiuma, on the other. The Maiuma was a joyous celebration of Spring and the union of Dionysos and Aphrodite, during which people would throw lavish banquets, go down to the beach, spend time at the public baths and the theater, and festoon themselves with flowers. And of course have lots and lots of sex.
Here are some quotes I’ve collected on the festival.
Codex Theodosianus 15.6.1-2
It has pleased Our Clemency to restore to the provincials the enjoyment of the Maiuma, provided, however, that decency and modesty and chaste manners shall be preserved (25 April 396).
We permit the theatrical arts to be practiced, lest, by excessive restriction thereof, sadness may be produced. But we forbid that foul and indecent spectacle which under the name Maiuma a shameless license claims for its own (2 October 399).
Diodoros Sikeleiotes, Library of History 4.6.1
Now the ancients record in their myths that Priapos was the son of Dionysos and Aphrodite and they present a plausible argument for this lineage; for men when under the influence of wine find the members of their bodies tense and inclined to the pleasures of love.
Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite
To Sea-set Kypros the moist breath of Zephyros the western wind wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Horai welcomed her joyously. They clothed her with heavenly garments: on her head they put a fine, well-wrought crown of gold, and in her pierced ears they hung ornaments of orichalc and precious gold, and adorned her with golden necklaces over her soft neck and snow-white breasts, jewels which the gold-filleted Horai wear themselves whenever they go to their father’s house to join the lovely dances of the gods. And when they had fully decked her, they brought her to the gods, who welcomed her when they saw her, giving her their hands. Each one of them prayed that he might lead her home to be his wedded wife, so greatly were they amazed at the beauty of violet-crowned Kythereia.
John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum Homiliae 7
For tell me, if anyone offered to introduce you into a palace, and show you the king sitting (there), would you indeed choose to see the theatre instead of these things? And you leave this and run to the theatre to see women swimming, and nature put to open dishonour, leaving Christ sitting by the well? But you, leaving the fountain of blood, the awful cup, go your way to the fountain of the devil, to see a harlot swim, and to endure shipwreck of the soul. For that water is a sea of lasciviousness, not drowning bodies, but working shipwreck of souls. And while she swims naked, you, as you behold, are plunged into the depths of lasciviousness. For in the first place, through a whole night the devil takes over their souls with the expectation of it; then having shown them the expected object, he has at once bound them and made them captives. If now you are ashamed, and blush at the comparison, rise up to your nobility and flee the sea of hell and the river of fire, I mean the pool in the theatre. And you, when there is a question of precedence, claim to have priority over the whole world, since our city first crowned itself with the name of Christian; but in the competition of chastity, are you not ashamed to be behind the ruder cities?
John the Lydian, De Mensibus 4.76-80
Those theologians who inquire into the nature of things wish May to be water. That is what it is called in the Syrian language and even today they call aqueducts meiouri. Also, they call feasting ‘to do the Maiuma’, from which we get the term Maiuma. The festival was held in Rome in the month of May. The leading men of the city went down to the shore and the city of Ostia to enjoy themselves by throwing one another into the waters of the sea. And so all festivals of this sort are traditionally called Maiuma.
Emperor Julian, Misopogon 362D
Yet all of you Antiochenes delights to spend money privately on dinners and feasts; and I know very well that many of you squandered very large sums of money on dinners during the Maiuma.
Ioannes Malalas, Chronicle 284-5
Likewise Commodus set aside a specific quantity of gold for torches, lights, and other expenses for the celebration of the nocturnal dramatic festival, held every three years and known as Orgies or the Mysteries of Dionysos and Aphrodite, which some call Maioumas because it is celebrated in the month of May or Artemisios.
Plutarch, Life of Antony 24
At any rate, when Antony made his entry into Ephesos, women arrayed like Bacchanals and men and boys like Satyrs and Pans, led the way before him, and the city was full of ivy and thyrsos-wands and harps and pipes and flutes, the people hailing him as Dionysos Carnivorous and Savage.
Severus of Antioch, Homily 95
But those who have gone up to Daphne in pagan fashion have had no regard for the truth, which is so terrible and on account of which everything moves and trembles. But in the dark moments of the night they even lit lamps of wax in the stadium and added incense, stealthily bringing about their own destruction; and it was certain strangers, take good note, who informed me of this while trembling and crying. Do you not see the nets of the Calumnator, and his hidden traps, which on the one hand have as a pretext the joy and pleasure at first sight and lead on the other hand to idolatry and the celebration of festivals in some ways criminal and harmful? And are you not ashamed, when we call ourselves Christians, we who were born on high for the purification which comes from the water and the Spirit and call ourselves children of God, to run equally to the solemnities of Satan, which we have renounced by divine baptism? For whenever you change your clothing and afterwards go up to the spactacle, dressed in a tiny linen tunic, which hides the arms but not the hands, waving about a wooden stick and with all skin shaved with a razor, so to speak – look, is it not quite clear that you have made the procession and participated in the celebration?
Sokrates the Rhodian, History of the Civil War Book 3 [Quoted in Athenaios, 4.29]
But Cleopatra having met Antony in Cilicia, prepared a royal entertainment, in which every dish was golden and inlaid with precious stones, wonderfully chased and embossed. And the walls were hung with cloths embroidered in gold and purple. And she had twelve triclinia laid; and invited Antony to a banquet, and desired him to bring with him whatever companions he pleased. And he being astonished at the magnificence of the sight, expressed his surprise; and she, smiling, said that she made him a present of everything which he saw, and invited him to sup with her again the next day, and to bring his friends and captains with him. And then she prepared a banquet by far more splendid than the former one, so as to make that first one appear contemptible; and again she presented to him everything that there was on the table; and she desired each of his captains to take for his own the couch on which he lay, and the goblets which were set before each couch. And when they were departing she gave to all those of the highest rank palanquins, with the slaves for palanquin bearers; and to the rest she gave horses, adorned with golden furniture: and to every one she gave Ethiopian boys, to bear torches before them. And on the fourth day she paid more than a talent for roses; and the floor of the chamber for the men was strewed a cubit deep, nets being spread over the blooms.
One thought on “Some context”
Hail Dionysus and Aphrodite!
Comments are closed.