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p137 Arrhephoria

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p137 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ARRHEPHORIA (ἀῤῥηεφόρια), a festival which, according to the various ways in which the name is written (for we find ἐρσηφόρια or ἐῤῥηφόρια) is attributed to different deities. The first form is derived from ἄῤῥητα, and thus would indicate a festival at which mysterious things were carried about. The other name would point to Erse or Herse, a daughter of Cecrops, and whose worship was intimately connected with that of Athena. And there is, indeed, sufficient ground for believing that the festival was solemnized, in a higher sense, in honour of Athena (Etymol. Mag. s.v. Ἀῤῥηφόροι). It was held at Athens, in the month of Skirophorion. Four girls, of between seven and eleven years (ἀῤῥηφόροι, ἐρσηφόροι, ἐῤῥηφόροι: Aristoph. Lysist. 642), were selected every year by the king archon from the most distinguished families, two of whom superintended the weaving of the sacred peplus of Athena, which was begun on the last day of Pyanepsion (Suid. s.v. Χαλκεῖα); the two others had to carry the mysterious and sacred vessels of the goddess. These latter remained a whole year on the Acropolis, either in the Parthenon or some adjoining building (Harpocrat. s.v. Δειπνοφόρος: Paus. I.27 § 4); and when the festival commenced, the priestess of the goddess placed vessels upon their heads, the contents of which were neither known to them nor to the priestess. With these they descended to a natural grotto within the district of Aphrodite in the gardens. Here they deposited the sacred vessels, and carried back something else, which was covered and likewise unknown to them. After this the girls were dismissed, and others were chosen to supply their place in the acropolis. The girls wore white robes adorned with gold, which were left for the goddess; and a peculiar kind of cakes was baked for them. To cover the expenses of the festival, a peculiar liturgy was established, called ἀῤῥηφόρια. All other details concerning this festival are unknown (comp. C. F. Hermann, Lehrb. der gottesdienstl. Alterth. § 61 n9).


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