Author: thehouseofvines

Orestes Mainomenos

As you go from Megalopolis to Messene, after advancing about seven stades, there stands on the left of the highway a sanctuary of Goddesses. They call the Goddesses themselves, as well as the district around the sanctuary, Maniae (Madnesses). In my view this is a surname of the Eumenides; in fact they say that it was here that madness overtook Orestes as punishment for shedding his mother’s blood. Not far from the sanctuary is a mound of earth, of no great size, surmounted by a finger made of stone; the name, indeed, of the mound is the Tomb of the Finger. Here, it is said, Orestes on losing his wits bit off one finger of one of his hands. Adjoining this place is another, called Ake (Remedies) because in it Orestes was cured of his malady. Here too there is a sanctuary for the Eumenides. The story is that, when these Goddesses were about to put Orestes out of his mind, they appeared to him black; but when he had bitten off his finger they seemed to him again to be white and he recovered his senses at the sight. So he offered a sin-offering to the black Goddesses to avert their wrath, while to the white deities he sacrificed a thank-offering. It is customary to sacrifice to the Graces also along with the Eumenides. Near to the place called Ake is another sanctuary called . . . because here Orestes cut off his hair on coming to his senses. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.34.1-3)

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When Orestes had departed in haste from the Taurians with his sister, it so happened that he contracted some disease. And when he made inquiry about the disease they say that the oracle responded that his trouble would not abate until he built a temple to Artemis in a spot such as the one among the Taurians, and there cut off his hair and named the city after it. So then Orestes, going about the country there, came to Pontus, and saw a mountain which rose steep and towering, while below along the extremities of the mountain flowed the river Iris. Orestes, therefore, supposing at that time that this was the place indicated to him by the oracle, built there a great city and the temple of Artemis, and, shearing off his hair, named after it the city which even up to the present time has been called Comana. The story goes on that after Orestes had done these things, the disease continued to be as violent as before, if not even more so. Then the man perceived that he was not satisfying the oracle by doing these things, and he again went about looking everywhere and found a certain spot in Cappadocia very closely resembling the one among the Taurians. I myself have often seen this place and admired it exceedingly, and have imagined that I was in the land of the Taurians. For this mountain resembles the other remarkably, since the Taurus is here also and the river Sarus is similar to the Euphrates there. So Orestes built in that place an imposing city and two temples, the one to Artemis and the other to his sister Iphigenia, which the Christians have made sanctuaries for themselves, without changing their structure at all. This is called even now Golden Comana, being named from the hair of Orestes, which they say he cut off there and thus escaped from his affliction. (Prokopios, History of the Wars 1.17.18-25)

The Stranger King

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Something else I’m thinking about: the assumption that the cultural institutions of the ancients were ageless and unchanging.

They weren’t.

For instance, when did the Athenians stop celebrating Anthesteria?

If memory serves, Plutarch is one of the last authors to speak of carrying out the rites; subsequently references to it tend to be in the past tense.

His observances are also very different from the evidence we have for the Classical Athenian form of the festival, which differs again from what was done in Southern Italy, and likely Ephesos and Magnesia too.

Interesting fact: Themistokles (of 300: Rise of an Empire fame) is credited with transplanting Anthesteria to the latter polis, where he was banished after successfully defending his mother-city from Persian incursion.

I bet Orestes’ Supper held some interesting resonances for him, especially considering the tragic hero’s ties to the Black Sea region. 

Of light in the darkness

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Oh, there’s more! Starry stuff, that is.

Did you catch the month-name we use for the Bakcheion calendar? (Hint: it’s here.)

That’s right – Στέφανος, the month of Flower Crowns.

As in the one Ariadne wore when she and Dionysos first celebrated Anthesteria:

As the author of the Cretica says, at the time when Liber came to Minos with the hope of lying with Ariadne he gave her this crown as a present. Delighted with it, she did not refuse the terms. It is said, too, to have been made of gold and Indian gems, and by its aid Theseus is thought to have come from the gloom of the Labyrinth to the day, for the gold and gems made a glow of light in the darkness. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.5)

Hail Dionysos Nyktelios!

Are you wandering in darkness?
Are you drowning in your shame?
Are you weary, or sick and tired
of living in the blackness of this age?
Come with me
and meet the one
who makes the night like day.
And bow before him,
and adore this king
who bears our shame.
Come with me
and meet the one
who makes the night like day.
And bow before him,
and adore this king
who bears our shame.
Come with me
and meet the one
who makes the night like day.
And bow before him,
and adore this king
who bears our shame.
Everything will change
Everything will change
Everything will change
Everything will change

a white day for slaves

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One of the reasons that Óðr has been on my mind of late is because we have entered the White Season according to the Bakcheion calendar, during which Dionysos:

acts out the role of the Magician come from a strange and distant land, bringing wonders and radical transformation in his wake. He knows the songs and ceremonies to awaken and release, and he is followed by a triumphant procession of Nymphs and Satyrs whose ecstatic revelry chases off barrenness, stagnation and malignant or at least mischievous Spirits from the land and his people.

This is the Season in which Anthesteria falls (at this point it’s only a couple weeks away! 11-13 Stephanos or 4-6 February by the common reckoning) and the overlapping feast for Erigone, the Hanged Maiden:

Nor did the morn of the Broaching of the Jars pass unheeded, nor that whereon the Pitchers of Orestes bring a white day for slaves. And when he kept the yearly festival of Ikarios’ child, thy day, Erigone, lady most sorrowful of Attic women, he invited to a banquet his familiars, and among them a stranger who was newly visiting Egypt, whither he had come on some private business. (Kallimachos, Aitia 1.1)

And the reason that made me think of Óðr is found in Hyginus’ Astronomica:

§ 2.2.1 LESSER BEAR: Aglaosthenes, who wrote the Naxica, says that she is Cynosura, one of the nurses of Jove from the number of the Idaean nymphs. He says, too, that in the city called Histoe, founded by Nicostratus and his friends, both the harbour and the greater part of the land are called Cynosura from her name. She, too, was among the Curetes who were attendants of Jove. Some say that the nymphs Helice and Cynosura were nurses of Jove, and so for gratitude were placed in the sky, both being called Bears. We call them Septentriones.

§ 2.2.2 But many have said that the Great Bear is like a wagon, and the Greeks do call it amaza. This reason has been handed down: Those who, at the beginning, observed the stars and supposed the number of stars into the several constellations, called this group not “Bear” but “Wain,” because two of the seven stars which seemed of equal size and closest together were considered oxen, and the other five were like the figure of a wagon. And so the sign which is nearest to this they wished to be called Bootes. We shall speak of him later on. Aratus, indeed, says that neither Bootes nor the Wain has these names for the reason above, but because the Bear seems, wagon-like, to wheel around the pole which is called North, and Bootes, is said to drive her. In this he seems to be considerably in error, for later, in connection with the seven stars, as Parmeniscus says, twenty-five were grouped by certain astronomers to complete the form of the Bear, not seven. And so the one that followed the wagon and was formerly called Bootes, was now called Arctophylax [Bear Watchter], and she, at the same time that Homer lived, was called Bear. About the Septentriones Homer says that she was called both Bear and Wain; nowhere does he mention that Bootes was called Arctophylax.

§ 2.4.1 BEAR-WATCHER: He is said to be Arcas, 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 him to a certain Aitolian to care for. When, grown to manhood, he was hunting in the woods, he saw his mother changed to bear form, and did not recognize her. Intent on killing her, he chased her into the temple of Jove Lycaeus, where the penalty for entering is death, according to Arcadian law. And so, since both would have to die, Jupiter, out of pity, snatched them up and put them among the stars, as I have said before. As a result, Arcas is seen following the Bear, and since he guards Arctos, he is called Arctophylax.

§ 2.4.2 Some have said that he is Icarus, father of Erigone, to whom, on account of his justice and piety, Father Liber gave wine, the vine, and the grape, so that he could show men how to plant the vine, what would grow from it, and how to use what was produced. When he had planted the vine, and by careful tending with a pruning-knife had made it flourish, a goat is said to have broken into the vineyard, and nibbled the tenderest leaves he saw there. Icarus, angered by this, took him and killed him and from his skin made a sack, and blowing it up, bound it tight, and cast it among his friends, directing them to dance around it. And so Eratosthenes says: Around the goat of Icarus they first danced.

 

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§ 2.4.3 Others say that Icarus, when he had received the wine from Father Liber, straightway put full wineskins on a wagon. For this he was called Bootes. When he showed it to the shepherds on going round through the Attic country, some of them, greedy and attracted by the new kind of drink, became stupefied, and sprawling here and there, as if half-dead, kept uttering unseemly things. The others, thinking poison had been given the shepherds by Icarus, so that he could drive their flocks into his own territory, killed him, and threw him into a well, or, as others say, buried him near a certain tree. However, when those who had fallen asleep, woke up, saying that they had never rested better, and kept asking for Icarus in order to reward him, his murderers, stirred by conscience, at once took to flight and came to the island of the Ceans. Received there as guests, they established homes for themselves.

§ 2.4.4 But when Erigone, the daughter of Icarus, moved by longing for her father, saw he did not return and was on the point of going out to hunt for him, the dog of Icarus, Maera by name, returned to her, howling as if lamenting the death of its master. It gave her no slight suspicion of murder, for the timid girl would naturally suspect her father had been killed since he had been gone so many months and days. But the dog, taking hold of her dress with its teeth, led her to the body. As soon as the girl saw it, abandoning hope, and overcome with loneliness and poverty, with many tearful lamentations she brought death on herself by hanging from the very tree beneath which her father was buried. And the dog made atonement for her death by its own life. Some say that it cast itself into the well, Anigrus by name. For this reason they repeat the story that no one afterward drank from that well. Jupiter, pitying their misfortune, represented their forms among the stars. And so many have called Icarus, Bootes, and Erigone, the Virgin, about whom we shall speak later. The dog, however, from its own name and likeness, they have called Canicula. It is called Procyon by the Greeks, because it rises before the greater Dog. Others say these were pictured among the stars by Father Liber.

§ 2.4.5 In the meantime in the district of the Athenians many girls without cause committed suicide by hanging, because Erigone, in dying, had prayed that Athenian girls should meet the same kind of death she was to suffer if the Athenians did not investigate the death of Icarus and avenge it. And so when these things happened as described, Apollo gave oracular response to them when they consulted him, saying that they should appease Erigone if they wanted to be free from the affliction. So since she hanged herself, they instituted a practice of swinging themselves on ropes with bars of wood attached, so that the one hanging could be moved by the wind. They instituted this as a solemn ceremony, and they perform it both privately and publicly, and call it aletis, aptly terming her mendicant who, unknown and lonely, sought for her father with the god. The Greeks call such people Aletides.

And to make things even more interesting, give Viking Stranger-Kings: the foreign as a source of power in Viking Age Scandinavia by Andres Minos Dobat and The Stranger King and Rock Art by Michael Rowlands a read. 

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