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initiation


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Includes the set of rituals which transforms girls and boys into adults. (See also eleusis; mystery cults.) In Greece, these rituals were the combined product of the Indo‐European heritage and indigenous traditions. In historical times full rituals can be found only in Sparta and Crete. The Greeks had no term for initiation, but various cities used the term agoge, lit. ‘the leading (of a horse)’, and related words. This view reflects itself not only in Archaic poetry, where boys and girls are often addressed as foals and fillies, but also in mythological naming: youths connected with initiation regularly have names with the element hippos (`horse'). Youths were seen as wild animals, that had to be domesticated before entering adult society.

Regarding girls, our best information comes from Sparta, where their ‘education’ prepared them for motherhood through physical exercises and dancing in choruses. Aristocratic girls had to pass through a lesbian relationship (see homosexuality) to mark the contrast with their final destination, marriage; a similar custom existed on Lesbos, where Sappho instructed aristocratic girls. Stress was laid on enhancing the girls' beauty: sometimes, a beauty contest concluded the girls' initiation. See brauron. See also rites of passage.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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