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p621 Hyacinthia

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp621‑622 of

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

HYACI′NTHIA (Ὑακίνθια), a great national festival, celebrated every year at Amyclae by the Amyclaeans and Spartans. The ancient writers who mention this festival do not agree in the name of the divinity in whose honour it was held: some say that it was the Amyclaean or the Carneian Apollo, others that it was the Amyclaean hero, Hyacinthus: a third and more probable statement assigns the festival to the Amyclaean Apollo and Hyacinthus together. This Amyclaean Apollo, however, with whom Hyacinthus was assimilated in later times, must not be confounded with Apollo, the national divinity of the Dorians (Müller, Orchom. p327, Dor. II.8 § 15). The festival was called after the youthful hero Hyacinthus, who evidently derived his name from the flower hyacinth (the emblem of death among the ancient Greeks), and whom Apollo accidentally struck dead with a quoit. The Hyacinthia lasted for three days, and began on the longest day of the Spartan month Hecatombeus (the Attic Hecatombaeon, Hesych. s.v. Ἑκατομβεύς: Manso, Sparta, III.2 p201), at the time when the tender flowers oppressed by the heat of the sun, drooped their languid heads. On the first and last day of the Hyacinthia sacrifices were offered to the dead, and the death of Hyacinthus was lamented. During these two days nobody wore any garlands at the repasts, nor took bread, but only cakes and similar things, and no paeans were sung in praise of Apollo; and when the solemn repasts were over, every body went home in the greatest quiet and order. This serious and melancholy character was foreign to all the other festivals of Apollo. The second day, however, was wholly spent in public rejoicings and amusements. Amyclae was visited by numbers of strangers (πανήγυρις ἀξιόλογος καὶ μεγάλη), and boys played the cithara or sang to the accompaniment of flute, and celebrated in anapaestic metres the praise of Apollo, while others, in splendid attire, performed a horse-race in the theatre. This horse-race is probably the ἀγών mentioned by Strabo (VI p278). After this race there followed a number of choruses of youths p622conducted by a χοροποιός (Xen. Agesil. 2.17), in which some of their national songs (ἐπιχώρια ποιήματα) were sung. During the songs of these choruses dancers performed some of the ancient and simple movements with the accompaniment of the flute and the song. The Spartan and Amyclaean maidens, after this, riding in chariots made of wicker-work (κάναθρα), and splendidly adorned, performed a beautiful procession. Numerous sacrifices were also offered on this day, and the citizens kept open house for their friends and relations; and even slaves were allowed to enjoy themselves (Didymus, ap. Athen. IV p139). One of the favourite meals on this occasion was called κοπίς, and is described by Molpis (ap. Athen. IV p140) as consisting of cake, bread, meat, raw herbs, broth, figs, dessert, and the seeds of lupine. Some ancient writers, when speaking of the Hyacinthia, apply to the whole festival such epithets as can only be used in regard to the second day; for instance, when they call it a merry or joyful solemnity. Macrobius (Saturn. I.11) states that the Amyclaeans wore chaplets of ivy at the Hyacinthia, which can only be true if it be understood of the second day. The incorrectness of these writers is however in some degree excused by the fact, that the second day formed the principal part of the festive season, as appears from the description of Didymus, and as may also be inferred from Xenophon (Hellen. IV.5 § 11; compare Agesil. 2.17), who makes the paean the principal part of the Hyacinthia. The great importance attached to this festival by the Amyclaeans and Lacedaemonians is seen from the fact, that the Amyclaeans, even when they had taken the field against an enemy, always returned home on the approach of the season of the Hyacinthia, that they might not be obliged to neglect its celebration (Xen. Hellen. IV.5 § 11; Paus. III.10 § 1), and that the Lacedaemonians on one occasion concluded a truce of forty days with the town of Eira, merely to be able to return home and celebrate the national festival (Paus. IV.19 § 3); and that in a treaty with Sparta, B.C. 421, the Athenians, in order to show their good-will towards Sparta, promised every year to attend the celebration of the Hyacinthia (Thucyd. V.23).


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