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libations


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Ritual pouring of water, wine, oil, milk, or honey in honour of gods, heroes, or the dead. Libations are an act of surrender, preceding human participation in meals and other acts. They mark beginnings and endings, such as mornings and evenings; at the symposium, the group pours threefold libations to Zeus and the Olympians (see olympian gods), to the heroes, and to Zeus Teleios, ‘the Fulfiller’. Dionysus ‘himself’ (i.e. wine) is poured to gain divine favour. Libations express blanket propitiation when associated with the unknown and new: having arrived in Colchis, the Argonauts pour a libation of ‘honey and pure wine to Earth (Gaia) and the gods of the land and to the souls of dead heroes’, asking for aid and a welcome (Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica). The term spondē, usually associated with wine, refers also to the cry of invocation and to the solemn act it accompanies, such as the signing of truces. In iconography sacrificial acts may end with a libation over the fire on the altar (see sacrifice). Common is the ‘departure of the hoplite’, where a woman is seen to the right, holding a libation vessel; the scene affirms the link between the group, the gods, the house, and the act. Sponde is controlled: libation is poured from a wine‐jug into a shallow bowl, then onto an altar or the ground. Choai, ‘total libations’, often wineless, are characterized by greater quantities, esp. for the dead, and for gods of the Underworld.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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