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 p384  Daphnephoria

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p384 of

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

DAPHNEPHO′RIA (δαφνηφορία), a festival celebrated every ninth year at Thebes in honour of Apollo, surnamed Ismenius or Galaxius. Its name was derived from the laurel branches (δάφναι) which were carried by those who took part in its celebration. A full account of the festival is given by Proclus (Chrestomath. p11). At one time all the Aeolians of Arne and the adjacent districts, at the command of an oracle, laid siege to Thebes, which was at the same time attacked by the Pelasgians, and ravaged the neighbouring country. But when the day came on which both parties had to celebrate a festival of Apollo, a truce was concluded, and on the day of the festival they went with laurel-boughs to the temple of the god. But Polematas, the general of the Boeotians, had a vision in which he saw a young man who presented to him a complete suit of armour, and who made him vow to institute a festival, to be celebrated every ninth year, in honour of Apollo, at which the Thebans, with laurel-boughs in their hands, were to go to his temple. When, on the third day after this vision, both parties again were engaged in close combat, Polematas gained the victory. He now fulfilled his promise, and walked himself to the temple of Apollo in the manner prescribed by the being he had seen in his vision. And ever since that time, continues Proclus, this custom has been strictly observed. Respecting the mode of celebration, he adds:— At the daphnephoria they adorn a piece of olive wood with garlands of laurel and various flowers; on the top of it a brazen globe is placed, from which smaller ones are suspended; purple garlands, smaller than those at the top, are attached to the middle part of the wood, and the lowest part is covered with a crocus-coloured envelope. By the globe on the top they indicate the sun, which is identical with Apollo; the globe immediately below the first, represents the moon; and the small suspending globes are symbols of the stars. The number of garlands being 365, indicates the course of the year. At the head of the procession walked a youth, whose father and mother must be living. This youth was, according to Pausanias (IX.10, § 4), chosen priest of Apollo every year, and called δαφνηφόρος: he was always of a handsome figure and strong, and taken from the most distinguished families of Thebes. Immediately before this youthful priest walked his nearest kinsman, who bore the adorned piece of olive-wood, which was called κωπώ. The priest followed, bearing in his hand a laurel-branch, with dishevelled and floating hair, wearing a golden crown on his head, a magnificent robe which reached down to his feet (ποδήρης), and a kind of shoes called Ἰφικράτιδες, from the general, Iphicrates, who had first introduced them. Behind the priest there followed a choir of maidens with boughs in their hands and singing hymns. In this manner the procession went to the temple of Apollo Ismenius or Galaxius. It would seem from Pausanias that all the boys of the town wore laurel garlands on this occasion, and that it was customary for the sons of wealthy parents to dedicate to the god brazen tripods, a considerable number of which were seen in the temple by Pausanias himself. Among them was one which was said to have been dedicated by Amphitryon, at the time when Heracles was daphnephorus. This last circumstance shows that the daphnephoria, whatever changes may have been subsequently introduced, was a very ancient festival.

There was a great similarity between this festival and a solemn rite observed by the Delphians, who sent every ninth year a sacred boy to Tempe. This boy went on the sacred road (Plut. Quaest. Gr. 12), and returned home as laurel-bearer (δαφνηφόρος) amidst the joyful songs of choruses of maidens. This solemnity was observed in commemoration of the purification of Apollo at the altar in Tempe, whither he had fled after killing the Python, and was held in the month of Thargelion (probably on the seventh day). It is a very probable conjecture of Müller (Dor. II.8 § 4) that the Boeotian daphnephoria took place in the same month and on the same day on which the Delphian boy broke the purifying laurel-boughs in Tempe.

The Athenians seem likewise to have celebrated a festival of the same nature, but the only mention we have of it is in Proclus (ap. Photium, p987), who says that the Athenians honoured the seventh day as sacred to Apollo, that they carried laurel-boughs and adorned the basket (κάνεον, see Canephoros) with garlands, and sang hymns to the god. Respecting the astronomical character of the daphnephoria see Müller, Orchom. p215, 2d edit.; and Creuzer, Symbol. und Mythol. II p160.

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