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The Great Festivals of Athens

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Page 9

The Great Panathenaic Procession

 

    Then for the last time let us visit Athens, at the fête which in its major form comes only once in four years. It is the 28th of Metageitniön (August), and the eighth day of the Greater Panathenæa, the most notable of all Athenian festivals. By it is celebrated the union of all Attica by Theseus, as one happy united country under the benign sway of might Athena,—an ever fortunate union, which saved the land from the sorrowful feuds of hostile hamlets such as have plagued so many Hellenic countries. On the earlier days of the feast there have been musical contests and gymnastic games much after the manner of the Olympic games, although the contestants have been drawn from Attica only. There has been a public recital of Homer. Before a great audience probably at the Pnyx or the Theater a rhapsodist of noble presence—clad in purple and with a golden crown—has made the Trojan War live again, as with his well-trained voice he held the multitude spellbound by the music of the stately hexameters.

    Now we are at the eighth day. All Athens will march in its glory to the Acropolis, to bear to the shrine of Athena the sacred "peplos"—a robe specially woven by the noble women of Athens to adorn the image of the guardian goddess.[15] The houses have opened; the wives, maids, and mothers of gentle family have come forth to march in the procession, all elegantly wreathed and clad in their best, bearing the sacred vessels and other proper offerings. The daughter of the "metics," the resident foreigners, go as attendants of honor with them. The young men and the old, the priests, the civil magistrates, the generals, all have their places. Proudest of all are the wealthy and high-born youths of the cavalry, who now dash to and fro in their clattering pride. The procession is formed in the outer Ceramicus. Amid cheers, chants, chorals, and incense smoke it sweeps through the Agora, and slowly mounts the Acropolis. Center of all the marchers is the glittering peplos, raised like a sail upon a wheeled barge of state—"the ship of Athena." Upon the Acropolis, while the old peplos is piously withdrawn from the image and the new one substituted, there is a prodigious sacrifice. A might flame roars heavenward from the "great altar"; while enough bullocks[16] and kine[17] have been slaughtered to enable every citizen—however poor—to bear away a goodly mess of roasted meat that night.

 

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