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was the death of ritual monotony and the _dromenon_. It is not so much
the old that dies as the new that kills.
* * * * *
AEschylus himself is reported to have said that his tragedies were
"slices from the great banquet of Homer." The metaphor is not a very
pleasing one, but it expresses a truth. By Homer, AEschylus meant not
only our _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_, but the whole body of Epic or Heroic
poetry which centred round not only the Siege of Troy but the great
expedition of the _Seven Against Thebes_, and which, moreover, contained
the stories of the heroes before the siege began, and their adventures
after it was ended. It was from these heroic sagas for the most part,
though not wholly, that the _myths_ or plots of not only AEschylus but
also Sophocles and Euripides, and a host of other writers whose plays
are lost to us, are taken. The new wine that was poured into the old
bottles of the _dromena_ at the Spring Festival was the heroic saga. We
know as an historical fact, the name of the man who was mainly
responsible for this inpouring--the great democratic tyrant
Peisistratos. We must look for a moment at what Peisistratos found, and
then pass to what he did.
He found an ancient Spring _dromenon_, perhaps well-nigh effete. Without
destroying the old he contrived to introduce the new, to add to the old
plot of Summer and Winter the life-stories of heroes, and thereby arose
the drama.
Let us look first, then, at what Peisistratos found.
The April festival of Dionysos at which the great dramas were performed
was not the earliest festival of the god. Thucydides[37] expressly tells
us that on the 12th day of the month Anthesterion, that is in the quite
early spring, at the turn of our February and March, were celebrated
_the more ancient Dionysia_. It was a three-days' festival.[38] On the
first day, called "Cask-opening," the jars of new wine were broached.
Among the Boeotians the day was called not the day of Dionysos, but the
day of the Good or Wealthy Daimon. The next day was called the day of
the "Cups"--there was a contest or _agon_ of drinking. The last day was
called the "Pots," and it, too, had its "Pot-Contests." It is the
ceremonies of this day that we must notice a little in detail; for they
are very surprising. "Casks," "Cups," and "Pots," sound primitive
enough. "Casks" and "Cups" go well with the wine-god, but the "Pots"
call for explanation.
The second day of the "Cups," joyful though it sounds, was by the
Athenians counted unlucky, because on that day they believed "the ghosts
of the dead rose up." The sanctuaries were roped in, each householder
anointed his door with pitch, that the ghost who tried to enter might
catch and stick there. Further, to make assurance doubly sure, from
early dawn he chewed a bit of buckthorn, a plant of strong purgative
powers, so that, if a ghost should by evil chance go down his throat, it
should at least be promptly expelled.
For two, perhaps three, days of constant anxiety and ceaseless
precautions the ghosts fluttered about Athens. Men's hearts were full of
nameless dread, and, as we shall see, hope. At the close of the third
day the ghosts, or, as the Greeks called them, _Keres_, were bidden to
go. Some one, we do not know whom, it may be each father of a household,
pronounced the words: "Out of the door, ye Keres; it is no longer
Anthesteria," and, obedient, the Keres were gone.
But before they went there was a supper for these souls. All the
citizens cooked a _panspermia_ or "Pot-of-all-Seeds," but of this
Pot-of-all-Seeds no citizen tasted. It was made over to the spirits of
the under-world and Hermes their daimon, Hermes "Psychopompos,"
Conductor, Leader of the dead.
* * * * *
We have seen how a forest people, dependent on fruit trees and berries
for their food, will carry a maypole and imagine a tree-spirit. But a
people of agriculturists will feel and do and think quite otherwise;
they will look, not to the forest but to the earth for their returning
life and food; they will sow seeds and wait for their sprouting, as in
the gardens of Adonis. Adonis seems to have passed through the two
stages of Tree-Spirit and Seed-Spirit; his effigy was sometimes a tree
cut down, sometimes his planted "Gardens." Now seeds are many,
innumerable, and they are planted in the earth, and a people who bury
their dead know, or rather feel, that the earth is dead man's land. So,
when they prepare a pot of seeds on their All Souls' Day, it is not
really or merely as a "supper for the souls," though it may be that
kindly notion enters. The ghosts have other work to do than to eat their
supper and go. They take that supper "of all seeds," that _panspermia_,
with them down to the world below, that they may tend it and foster it
and bring it back in autumn as a pot of _all fruits_, a _pankarpia_.
"Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die."
The dead, then, as well as the living--this is for us the important
point--had their share in the _dromena_ of the "more ancient Dionysia."
These agricultural spring _dromena_ were celebrated just outside the
ancient city gates, in the _agora_, or place of assembly, on a circular
dancing-place, near to a very primitive sanctuary of Dionysos which was
opened only once in the year, at the Feast of Cups. Just outside the
gates was celebrated yet another festival of Dionysos equally primitive,
called the "Dionysia in the Fields." It had the form though not the date
of our May Day festival. Plutarch[39] thus laments over the "good old
times": "In ancient days," he says, "our fathers used to keep the feast
of Dionysos in homely, jovial fashion. There was a procession, a jar of
wine and a _branch_; then some one dragged in a goat, another followed
bringing a wicker basket of figs, and, to crown all, the phallos." It
was just a festival of the fruits of the whole earth: wine and the
basket of figs and the branch for vegetation, the goat for animal life,
the phallos for man. No thought here of the dead, it is all for the
living and his food.
* * * * *
Such sanctities even a great tyrant might not tamper with. But if you
may not upset the old you may without irreverence add the new.
Peisistratos probably cared little for, and believed less in, magical
ceremonies for the renewal of fruits, incantations of the dead. We can
scarcely picture him chewing buckthorn on the day of the "Cups," or
anointing his front door with pitch to keep out the ghosts. Very wisely
he left the Anthesteria and the kindred festival "in the fields" where
and as they were. But for his own purposes he wanted to do honour to
Dionysos, and also above all things to enlarge and improve the rites
done in the god's honour, so, leaving the old sanctuary to its fate, he
built a new temple on the south side of the Acropolis where the present
theatre now stands, and consecrated to the god a new and more splendid
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