The ancient Greek Anthesteria and Dionysus, the god of wine, are being celebrated at an art exhibition inspired by the three-day festival of ancient Athens.
Greek artist Stephania Psarros invites you to immerse yourself in the Dionysian world of Anthesteria, the flower and wine festival held in ancient Athens in honor of the god of wine.
The exhibition will be open from 6pm to 10pm on Thursday, November 23rd to December 9th at the Tales in Tiles art gallery, located in Koukaki in Athens. Through a total of twenty-six art works on black or off-white paper adorned with gold leaf or wine-colored ink, Stephania Psarros seeks the magic of Anthesteria. The artwork contains the words of prayer to Dionysus.
The Anthesteria, loosely translated as blossoming rites, was a three-day flower festival in ancient Athens in honor of Dionysus. It was held annually in the ancient Greek month of Anthesterion (late February to early March by our calendar) , when flowers began to blossom. The seeds were planted during the winter equinox, and the flowers appeared during the spring festival, while the fruit was ready by the summer equinox.
The journey of the flower and its blossoming symbolizes the soul and purpose of the festival, which was to help souls in transition, including those moving from one life to the next.
Since the Anthesteria commemorated Dionysus, wine flowed abundantly, and revelers opened the long-awaited ceramic vessels of wine.
Among the works in Stephania Psarros’ Anthesteria art exhibition, floating eyes representing souls passing from one life to another can be seen, as can plants in the form of Satyrs and prayers to Dionysus. In this realm, the lotus flower is especially significant. It was said to emerge from the muddy waters of Elos, where the festival took place, to expose its mysterious existence and purity. The flower also symbolizes human consciousness.
Stephania Psarros was born in London in 1987. She now lives and works in Athens and is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has exhibited her works at Blender Gallery, Glyfada, Red Gallery, Chania, Crete, and Truman Brewery in London among other places.
Anthesteria in Ancient Athens and Ionia
Anthesteria (plural of Anthesterion) was a three-day festival celebrating the spring, new wine, and the dead. It took place in Anthesterion, as the month of February was referred to at the time, from the eleventh through the thirteenth day of the month. At the beginning of the holiday, Athenians would crown children who were three years old with wreaths of the first flowers of the year.
Each day was fondly named for the kind of vessel that typified the day’s activity: Pithoigia for jar-opening, Choes for jugs, and Chytroi for pots.
Anthesteria was also celebrated in the city-states of Ionia at the time as well as on the Aegean islands and coast of Anatolia.
The Three-Day Celebration of Anthesteria
The first day, Pithoigia (Opening of the Jars), was dedicated to opening the new jars of wine, pouring libations to Dionysus, praying, and then drinking. The wine was always diluted with water as was purportedly advised by the god.
The wine was drawn from the large clay “jars” sunk in the ground for fermentation. It was transported in skins or amphorae to households throughout the countryside and city and was also taken to public buildings. Dionysus was thus joyously and ceremoniously welcomed, and his effigy was paraded through the streets in a wagon fitted out like a ship, as if he had just arrived from overseas.
Festival-goers dressed as satyrs joined Dionysus on the wagon and played pipes. The procession went its merry way to the city center and the quarters of the chief magistrate, whose title had previously been passed down. There, the wife of the magistrate was presented to the god in a symbolic “meeting and marriage.”
The Second Day of the Anthesteria
On the second day, Choes (singular chous) drinking contests were staged in the city center and households. Upon the sounding of a trumpet, each contestant sought to drain his own chous, a three-liter jug of pure wine. Young boys would also drink wine from a miniature chous honoring Dionysus.
At day’s end, people still had not finished their wine, so they would carry what remained to the sanctuary of Dionysus in an area of springs beside the river Ilisos, called “the Marshes.” The wine was collected and poured over the head of a young male goat, which was then sacrificed to the god. Sacrifice in its various forms had the effect of reinforcing some part of nature with the vigor of animals.
On the third day of Chytroi, devotion was paid to the souls of the dead and Hermes Cthonios, who, like Dionysus, could freely move in the worlds of gods and humans alike. Pots of food were made, typically filled with legume and grain stews with various types of fruits. These were given as sacred offerings to Hermes and the legions of the Undead, bidding them to return to Hades and go away.
Throughout this time, theaters were closed, as if to indicate the departure of the god of theater, Dionysus.
Dionysus, the God of Resurrection
Other than being the god of wine and theater celebrated during the Anthesteria, Dionysus was also the god of resurrection. There are two myths regarding the death and resurrection of Dionysus, son of Zeus and the mortal Semele.