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theoxenia


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(‘theoxeny’), in myth and cult the entertaining of a god or gods by humans, usually at a meal. In Homer, the gods are said to ‘meet’ or be present at a sacrifice; more specifically, at Odyssey 17. 485–8 they roam the earth in disguise, testing the moral qualities of mortals. This is the germ of the typical theoxeny myth, in which a deity is given—or refused—hospitality, and after an epiphany effects a reward or punishment. ‘Failed’ theoxenies are exemplified by the story of Pentheus, while successful ones form an aetiology for very many cults, esp. of Demeter and Dionysus. In this pattern the host is often worshipped as a hero (see hero‐cult), having been instructed by the deity and thus become the cult's first priest or the introducer of a new technique such as viticulture (see culture‐bringers). The reception of Demeter at Eleusis, narrated in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, has elements of both success and failure. But perhaps the best‐known literary version, probably deriving ultimately from local sources, is the story of Baucis and Philemon.

In ancient usage, the term theoxenia is confined to cult, while as a festival name it indicates a specific type of worship in which a table is spread and a banqueting couch laid out for the divine guest or guests. The meal is commonly shared by the worshippers, thus contrasting with normal sacrifice, which distinguishes human from divine portions. One of the best‐known examples was the Theoxenia of Delphi, which attracted delegates from all over Greece as well as numerous gods, among whom Apollo was predominant. A parallel ritual, partly influenced by Greek custom, is the Roman lectisternium.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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