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p855 Panathenaea

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp855‑857 of

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

PANATHENAEA (Παναθήναια), the greatest and most splendid of the festivals celebrated in Attica in honour of Athena, in the character of Athena Polias, or the protectress of the city. It was said to have been instituted by Erichthonius (Harpocrat. s.v. Παναθήναια; Marm. Par. Ep. 10), and its original name, until the time of Theseus, was believed to have been Athenaea; but when Theseus united all the Atticans into one body, this festival, which then became the common festival of all Atticans, was called Panathenaea (Paus. VIII.2 § 1; Plut. Thes. 24; Apollod. III.14 § 6; Hygin. Poet. Astron. II.13; Suid. s.v. Παναθήναια). According to this account it would seem as if the name of the festival were derived from that of the city; but the original name Athenae was undoubtedly derived from that of the goddess, and the subsequent appellation Panathenaea merely signifies the festival of Athena, common to or celebrated by all the Attic tribes conjointly. Panathenaea are indeed mentioned as having been celebrated previous to the reign of Theseus (Apollod. III.15; Diod. IV.60), but these writers merely transfer a name common in their own days to a time when it was not yet applicable. The Panathenaea, which, as far as the character implied in the name is concerned, must be regarded as an institution of Theseus, were celebrated once in every year (Harpocrat. Suid. s.v.). All writers who have occasion to speak of this festival agree in distinguishing two kinds of Panathenaea, the greater and the lesser, and in stating that the former was held every fourth year (πενταετηρίς),a while the latter was celebrated once in every year. Libanius (Argum. ad Demosth. Mid. p510), by mistake calls the lesser Panathenaea a τριετηρίς.

The time, when the lesser Panathenaea (which are mostly called Panathenaea, without any epithet, while the greater are generally distinguished by the adjective μεγάλα) were celebrated, is described by Proclus (ad Plat. Tim. p26, &c.) in a vague manner as following the celebration of the Bendideia; from which Meursius infers that the Panathenaea was held on the day after the Bendideia, that is, on the 20th of Thargelion. Petitus (Leg. Att. p18), on the other hand, has shown from Demosthenes (c. Timocrat. p708), that the Panathenaea must have fallen in the month of Hecatombaeon, and Corsini (Fast. Att. II.357, &c.) has further proved from the same passage of Demosthenes, that the festival must have commenced before the 20th of this month, and we may add that two probably on the 17th. Clinton (Fast. Hell. II p332, &c.) has revived the opinion of Meursius (compare H. A. Müller, Panathenaica, c3).

The great Panathenaea were, according to the unanimous accounts of the ancients, a pentaeteris, and were held in the third year of every Olympiad (Böckh, Staatsv. II p165, &c.). Proclus (ad Plat. Tim. p9) says that the great Panathenaea were held on the 28th of Hecatombaeon. This statement, however, must not lead us to suppose that the great Panathenaea only lasted for one day; but Proclus in mentioning this particular day was probably thinking of the most solemn day of the festival on which the great procession took place (Thucyd. VI.56), and which was in all probability the last day of the festival, for it is expressly stated that the festival lasted for several days (Schol. ad Eurip. Hecub. 464; Aristid. Panath. p147). We have, moreover, every reason to suppose with Böckh, that the great Panathenaea took place on the same days of the month of Hecatombaeon, on which the lesser Panathenaea were held, and that the latter were not celebrated at all in those years in which the former fell. Now if, as we have supposed, the lesser Panathenaea commenced on the 17th, and the last day of the greater festival fell on the 28th of Hecatombaeon, we may perhaps be justified in believing that the lesser as well as the greater Panathenaea lasted for twelve days, that is, from the 17th to the 28th of Hecatombaeon. This time is not too long, if we consider that the ancients themselves call the Panathenaea the longest of all festivals (Schol. ad Aristoph. Nub. 385), and if we bear in mind the great variety of games and ceremonies that took place during the season. When the distinction between the greater and lesser Panathenaea was introduced, is not certain, but the former is not mentioned before Ol. 66.3 (Thucyd. VI.56, I.20; Herod. V.56), and it may therefore be supposed that they were instituted a short time before Ol. 66, perhaps by Peisistratus, for about his time certain innovations were made in the celebration of the Panathenaea, as is mentioned below. The principal difference between the two festivals was, that the greater one was more solemn, and that on this occasion the peplus of Athena was carried to her temple in a most magnificent procession which was not held at the lesser Panathenaea.

The solemnities, games, and amusements of the Panathenaea were: rich sacrifices of bulls, foot, horse, and chariot races, gymnastic and musical contests, and the lampadephoria; rhapsodists recited the poems of Homer and other epic poets, philosophers disputed, cock-fights were exhibited, and the people indulged in a variety of other amusements and entertainments. It is, however, not to be supposed that all these solemnities and games took place at the Panathenaea from the earliest times. Gymnastic contests, horse and chariot races and sacrifices are mentioned in the legends belonging to the period anterior to the reign of Theseus (Apollod. and Diod. ll. cc.; Plut. Thes. 24). The prize in these contests was a vase with some oil from the ancient and sacred olive tree of Athena on the acropolis (Pind. Nem. X.35, &c.; Schol. ad Soph. Oed. Col. 698). A great many of such vases, called Panathenaic vases (ἀμφορεῖς Παναθηναικοί, Athen. V p199) have in late years been found in Etruria, southern Italy, Sicily, and Greece. They represent on one side the figure of Athena, and on the other the various contests and games in which these vases were given as prizes to the victors. The contests themselves have been accurately described from these vases by Ambrosch (Annal. dell' Instit. 1833 p64‑89), and the probable order in which they took place has been defined by Müller (l.c. p80, &c.).

The poems of Homer were read by rhapsodists only at the great Panathenaea (Lycurg. c. Leocrat. p161), and this custom commenced in the time of Pisistratus or of his son Hipparchus, after these poems had been collected. Afterwards the works of other epic poets also were recited on this occasion (Plat. Hipparch. p228B; Aelian, V. H. p856VIII.2). Songs in praise of Harmodius and Aristogiton appear to have been among the standing customs at the Panathenaea. Musical contests in singing and in playing the flute and the cithara were not introduced until the time of Pericles; they were held in the Odeum (Plut. Pericl. 13). The first who gained the victory in these contests was Phrynis, in Ol. 81.1 (Schol. ad Aristoph. Nub. 971; Marm. Par. Ep. 64). The prize for the victors in the musical contests was, as in the gymnastic contests, a vase, but with an additional chaplet of olive branches (Suid. s.v. Παναθήναια). Cyclic choruses and other kinds of dances were also performed at the Panathenaea (Lys. de Muner. accept. p161), and the pyrrhic dance in armour is expressly mentioned (Aristoph. Nub. 988, with the Schol.). Of the discussions of philosophers and orators at the Panathenaea we still possess two specimens, the λόγος Παναθηναικὸς of Isocrates, and that of Aristides. Herodotus is said to have recited his history to the Athenians at the Panathenaea. The management of the games and contests was entrusted to persons called ἀθλοθέται, whose number was ten, one being taken from every tribe. Their office lasted from one great Panathenaic festival to the other (Pollux, VIII.87). It was formerly believed, on the statement of Diogenes Laërtius (III.56; compare Suidas, s.v. Τετραλογία), that dramatic representations also took place at the Panathenaea, but this mistake has been clearly refuted by Böckh (Graec. Trag. Princip. p207).

The lampadephoria or torch-race of the Panathenaea has been confounded by many writers, and even by Wachsmuth (Hell. Alt. II.2 p246; II p573, 2d ed.), with that of the Bendideia. On what day it was held, and in what relation it stood to the other contests, is unknown, though it is clear that it must have taken place in the evening. It has been supposed by some writers that the lampadephoria took place only at the great Panathenaea, but this rests upon the feeble testimony of Libanius (Argum. ad Demosth. mid. p510), while all other writers who mention this lampadephoria, speak of it as a part of the Panathenaea in general, without the epithet μεγάλα, which itself is a sufficient proof that it was common to both festivals. The same is implied in a statement of the author of the Etymologicum Magnum (s.v. Κεραμεικός). The prize of the victor in the lampadephoria was probably the lampas itself, which he dedicated to Hermes (Böckh, Corp. Inscript. I n243, 250).

It is impossible to determine the exact order in which the solemnities took place. We may, however, believe that those parts which were the most ancient preceded those which were of later introduction. Another assistance in this respect are the sculptures of the Parthenon (now in the British Museum), in which a series of the solemnities of the Panathenaea is represented in the great procession. But they neither represent all the solemnities — for the lampadephoria and the gymnastic contests are not represented — nor can it be supposed that the artists should have sacrificed beauty and symmetry merely to give the solemnities in precisely the same order as they succeeded one another at the festival. In fact we see in these sculptures the flute and cithara players represented as preceding the chariots and men on horseback, though the contests in chariot and horse racing probably preceded the musical contests. But we may infer from the analogy of other great festivals that the solemnities commenced with sacrifices. The sacrifices at the Panathenaea were very munificent; for each town of Attica, as well as every colony of Athens, and, during the time of her greatness, every subject town, had to contribute to this sacrifice by sending one bull each (Schol. Aristoph. Nub. 385). The meat of the victims appears to have been distributed among the people; but before the feasting commenced, the public herald prayed for the welfare and prosperity of the republic. After the battle of Marathon the Plataeans were included in this prayer (Herod. VI.111).

The chief solemnity of the great Panathenaea was the magnificent procession to the temple of Athena Polias, which, as stated above, probably took place on the last day of the festive season. The opinion of Creuzer (SymbOl. II p810) that this procession also took place at the lesser Panathenaea, is opposed to all ancient authorities with the exception of the Scholiasts on Plato (Republ. init.) and on Aristophanes (Equit. 566), and these scholiasts are evidently in utter confusion about the whole matter. The whole of this procession is represented in the frieze of the Parthenon, the work of Phidias and his disciplines. The description and explanation of this magnificent work of art, and of the procession it represents, would lead us too far (see Stuart, Antiq. of Athens, vol. II; Leake, Topogr. of Athens, p215, &c. C. O. Müller, Ancient Art and its Rem. § 118; H. A. Müller, Panath. p98, &c.). The chief object of this procession was to carry the peplus of the goddess to her temple. It was a crocus-coloured garment for the goddess, and made by maidens, called ἐργαστῖναι (Hesych s.v.; compare Arrhephoria). In it were woven Enceladus and the giants, as they were conquered by the goddess (Eurip. Hecub. 466; Schol. ad Aristoph. Equit. 566; Suid. s.v. Πέπλος. Virg. Cir. 29, &c.; compare Plat. Euthyd. p6). Proclus (ad Plat. Tim.) says that the figures on the peplus represented the Olympic gods conquering the giants, and this indeed is the subject represented on a peplus worn by an Athena preserved in the Museum of Dresden. On one occasion in later times, when the Athenians overwhelmed Demetrius and Antigonus with their flatteries, they also decreed that their images, along with those of the gods, should be woven into the peplus (Plut. Demetr. 10). The peplus was not carried to the temple by men but was suspended from the mast of a ship (Schol. Hom. Il. V.734; Philostr. Vit. Soph. I.5, p550; compare Böckh, Graec. Trag. Princ. p193; Schol. ad Aristoph. Pax, 418); and this ship, which was at other times kept near the Areiopagus (Paus. I.29 § 1), was moved along on land, it is said, by subterraneous machines. What these machines may have been is involved in utter obscurity. The procession proceeded from the Cerameicus, near a monument called Leocorium (Thucyd. I.20), to the temple of Demeter at Eleusis, and thence along the Pelasgic wall and the temple of Apollo Pythius to the Pnyx, and thence to the acropolis, where the statue of Minerva Polias was adorned with the peplus.

In this procession nearly the whole population of Attica appears to have taken part, either on foot, on horseback, or in chariots, as may be seen in the frieze of the Parthenon. Aged men carried olive p857branches, and were called θαλλοφόροι (Etym. M. and Hesych. s.v.); young men attended, at least in earlier times, in armour (Thucyd. VI.56), and maidens who belonged to the noblest families of Athens carried baskets, whence they were called κανηφόροι (Harpocrat. s.v. Κανηφόρος; compare Thucyd. l.c.). Respecting the part which aliens took in this procession, and the duties they had to perform, see Hydriaphoria.

Men who had deserved well of the republic were rewarded with a gold crown at the great Panathenaea, and the herald had to announce the event during the gymnastic contests (Demosth. de Coron. p265; compare Meurs. Panath. p43). Prisoners also were allowed to enjoy freedom during the great Panathenaea (Ulpian, ad Demosth. c. Timocrat. p740; compare Demosth. de Fals. Leg. p394).

(Compare J. Meursii, Panathenaea, liber singularis, Lugd. Bat. 1619; C. Hoffmann, Panathenaikos, Cassel, 1835, 8vo.; H. A. Müller, Panathenaica, Bonn, 1837, 8vo.; C. O. Müller's dissertation, Quo anni tempore Panathenaea minora celebrata sint, which is reprinted in the Philological Museum, vol. II, pp227‑235.)


Thayer's Note:

a If you read just a bit of Greek and suspect a typo of some kind here, see my note to the article Augustalia, and, similarly, Mair's note on Oppian, Cyn. I.24. There may still be a slip here, since the Greeks occasionally counted as we do — but I think not; at any rate, "every fourth year (πενταετηρίς)" is what our article has.


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