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Attic cults and myths


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Most Greek states honoured most Greek gods; the differences between them are of emphasis and degree. As characteristic Athenian emphases one might mention: the extraordinary prominence of Athena, unusual even for a city‐protecting goddess; the international standing of the mysteries of Demeter and Kore (Persephone) at Eleusis; the rich development of deme religion, and the related abundance of hero‐cults; the honours acquired in the second half of the 5th cent. by Hephaestus, usually a minor figure; the modest role of Hera.

Acc. to one 5th‐cent. observer (see old oligarch), Athens had more festivals than any other Greek state; only a small selection can be mentioned here. The great show‐pieces, which attracted foreign visitors, were the Panathenaea, the City Dionysia (when tragedies and comedies were performed), and the Eleusinian mysteries. Further major landmarks of the domestic year, each lasting several days, were the Thesmophoria (Demeter and Kore), the most important women's festival; Anthesteria, the new‐wine festival; Apaturia, the phratry festival. The other ‘literary festivals’ (Lenaea, Rural Dionysia, Dionysia in Piraeus, Thargelia) were also very popular. Other traditional festivals that were widely or universally celebrated (sometimes impinging on domestic life, through the custom of preparing special food) or that affected many families from time to time were the Diasia (Zeus Meilichios), Cronia (see cronus), Pyanopsia (Apollo), and several initiatory festivals of Artemis, chief among them the Brauronia.

The most important Attic myths concerned: the conflict of Athena and Poseidon for possession of Attica; the birth from earth of the first two kings Cecrops and Erechtheus/Erichthonius, which founded symbolically the Athenians' claim to be ‘autochthonous’; the adventures of the daughters of these two kings; the arrival in Attica of Dionysus and, esp., Demeter (the latter event being the origin of the Eleusinian mysteries); the mission of Triptolemus, who distributed wheat worldwide, and above all the varied career of Theseus. A distinctive canon of four Athenian achievements was shaped in the special context of the Funeral Speech (see epitaphios) for the war‐dead: the war of Erechtheus against Eumolpus of Eleusis and his Thracian allies; the war of Theseus against the invading Amazons; succour in the cause of right given by the Athenians to the Heraclids and to the mothers of the Seven against Thebes. In contrast to these public and patriotic myths is the rich cycle attaching to the misfortunes of Cephalus and Procris.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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