Kallynteria and Plynteria

by Melissa

Kallynteria (24 Thargelion) is the small festival of “Sweeping Out,” and it is on this day (most likely the 24th, but the date is uncertain) that women swept out the temple of Athena in Athens, and probably Her eternal flame was refilled and relit by the priestesses.  The lamp of this flame was a golden vessel wrought in the late fifth century by Kallimachos, a distinguished Athenian sculptor and metalworker, and it was big enough to hold enough oil to burn day and night for the whole year (Parke, p. 152).

The next day was Plynteria (25 Thargelion), the festival for washing (plynteria hiera) the ancient statue of Athena Polias (Guardian of the City), a custom which continued into the fifth century BCE even after the huge gold statue by Pheidias had become the primary agalma (cult image) on the Acropolis.  The day was considered unlucky because the Goddess was “otherwise occupied” and might not be able to protect her city.  In fact, the other sanctuaries of Athens were closed on this day (Parke, p. 152-4).  The women of the Praxiergidai, an Athenian family traditionally entrusted with dressing the agalma, removed the peplos (robe) and jewelry from the ancient wooden image, which was then wrapped and carried in a procession to the sea at Phaleron even though the trip to the sea was a journey of several miles, as sponging it in the temple was insufficient and no Attic rivers would have carried enough water in May for the purpose.  Also, the purifying effects of salty sea water were well-known (as per the Eleusinian Mysteries).  The procession was led by a woman carrying a basket of fig pastries, for the fig was believed to be the first cultivated food.  Mounted epheboi (young men) escorted the (covered) image in the fourth century BCE.  It was brought to the shore where it was bathed by two girls, the loutrides (Bathers).  Most likely, the Goddess’s dress, the peplos, was cleaned at the same time by a special priestess. That evening the Goddess was returned to the temple in a torchlight procession and was clothed with the clean peplos and adorned with Her jewels (Parke, p. 152-4).

The ancient statue was of human size or less, carved of olive wood, and probably showed the Goddess seated without weapons. She wore a tall, golden stephani (crown) and She may have had a Gorgoneion (Medusa head) on her breast.

Perhaps you can do your spring cleaning on this day, taking special care to dust and tidy altars in the house.


Parke, H.W., Festivals of the Athenians, 1977