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p282 Chthonia

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p282 of

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

CHTHONIA (χθόνια), a festival celebrated at Hermione in honour of Demeter, surnamed Chthonia. The following is the description of it given by Pausanias (II.35 § 4, &c.):— "The inhabitants of Hermione celebrate the Chthonia every year, in summer, in this manner:— They form a procession, headed by the priests and magistrates of the year, who are followed by men and women. Even for children it is customary to pay homage to the goddess by joining the procession. They wear white garments, and on their heads they have chaplets of flowers, which they call κοσμοσάνδαλοι, which, however, from their size and colour, as well as from the letters inscribed on them recording the premature death of Hyacinthus, seem to me to be hyacinths. Behind the procession there follow persons leading by strings an untamed heifer just taken from the herd, and drag it into the temple, where four old women perform the sacrifice, one of them cutting the animal's throat with a scythe. The doors of the temple, which during the sacrifice had been shut, are thrown open, and persons especially appointed for the purpose, lead in a second heifer, then a third and a fourth, all of which are sacrificed by the matrons in the manner described. A curious circumstance in this solemnity is, that all the heifers must fall on the same side on which the first fell." The splendour and rich offerings of this festival are also mentioned by Aelian (Hist. Animal. XI.4), who, however, makes no mention of the matrons of whom Pausanias speaks, but says that the sacrifice of the heifers was performed by the priestess of Demeter.

The Lacedaemonians adopted the worship of Demeter Chthonia from the Hermioneans, some of whose kinsmen had settled in Messenia (Paus. III.14 § 5); hence we may infer that they celebrated either the same festival as that of the Hermioneans or one similar to it.


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