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Page 4

Athenian Marriage Rites

 

    However, thus runs public custom. At about fifteen the girl must leave her mother's fostering care and enter the house of the stranger. The wedding is, of course, a great ceremony; and here, if nowhere else, Athenian women can surely prepare, flutter, and ordain to their heart's content. After the somewhat stiff and formal betrothal before witnesses (necessary to give legal effect to the marriage), the actual wedding will probably take place,—perhaps in a few days, perhaps with a longer wait till the favorite marriage month Gamelion [January].[4] Then on a lucky night of the full moon the bride, having, no doubt tearfully, dedicated to Artemis her childish toys, will be decked in her finest and will come down, all veiled, into her father's torchlit aula, swarming now with guests. Here will be at last that strange master of her fate, the bridegroom and his best man (paranymphos). Her father will offer sacrifice (probably a lamb), and after the sacrifice everybody will feast on the flesh of the victim; and also share a large flat cake of pounded sesame seeds roasted and mixed with honey. As the evening advances the wedding car will be outside the door. The mother hands the bride over to the groom, who leads her to the chariot, and he and the groomsman sit down, one on either side, while with torches and song the friends to with the car in jovial procession to the house of the young husband.

    "Ho, Hymen! Ho, Hymen! Hymenæous! Io!"

    So rings the refrain of the marriage song; and all the doorways and street corners are crowded with onlookers to shout fair wishes and good-natured raillery.

    At the groom's house there is a volley of confetti to greet the happy pair. The bride stops before the threshold to eat a quince.[5] There is another feast,—possibly riotous fun and hard drinking. At last the bride is led, still veiled, to the perfumed and flower-hung marriage chamber. The doors close behind the married pair. Their friends sing a merry rollicking catch outside, the Epithalamium. The great day has ended. The Athenian girl has experienced the chief transition of her life.

 

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