by Chris edited by Melissa
“Eiresione bears figs and fat bread,
honey in a cup and oil to be wiped off,
and a cup of unmixed wine, so that, getting drunk, she may go to sleep”
(ancient eiresione chant translated by Melissa G.)
(7 Pyanepsion) The Pyanepsia, an ancient festival probably with origins as far back as Mycenaean times, was associated with Apollo and Theseus, the founder-hero of Athens, and to some extent with Helios and the goddesses of the seasons collectively known as the Horai. In Archaic and Classical Times the festival centered around a panspermia, a mixture of beans, wheat and other seeds and grains. Isidorus and Porphory both regarded beans as one of mankind’s first and most primitive foods (see references below). The appropriate activity at the feast was the telling of legends, probably of Theseus and related myths.
The explanation for this panspermia is found in the myths and legends associated with Theseus. The story told was that it was on this day that Theseus, who had just returned from slaying the Minotaur, wished to pay his vows to Apollo. The youths who had returned with him pooled and boiled what was left of their provisions to provide a feast and an offering to Apollo for bringing them safely from Delos to Attica (Plutarch, Theseus, 22.4).
Another practice at this festival is the carrying of eiresiones throughout the city by boys, who chanted the eiresione song above as they traveled from house to house. Plutarch described the eiresione as “a bough of olive wreathed with wool, such as Theseus used at the time of his supplication, and laden with all sorts of fruit-offerings, to signify that scarcity was at an end” (Theseus, 22.5). Parke says that it bore pastry shapes of harps, cups, vine branches and other things, as well. The revelers apparently expected a gift from each house they visited (76). By the Classical Period an eiresione was hung over most every door in Athens and enjoyed its particular position year-round, being replaced at the Pyanepsia and the Thargelia.
See also the Oskhophoria.
Observing Pyanepsia today:
This is another harvest festival but has several features that were particular to Athens: the panspermia meal and offering, the retelling of the legends of Theseus and the carrying of the eiresione. First, you will want to prepare a panspermia for your feast and ritual.
Some of this panspermia should be placed on the altar and, if possible, burned for the God. If not, share it with nature afterwards. At the feast, serve the panspermia with rich bread and wine. Avoid meat. During the meal, after hymns to Apollo, read Plutarch’s Life of Theseus.
Create an eiresione. Ideally, use an olive or laurel branch. If this is not available, Russian olive or bare branches to which you attach olive-shaped leaves would be appropriate. Another good choice would be a branch from a local fruit tree. Wind the branches with strands of white or purple wool, preferably not spun. Attach pastry shapes and fruits of all kinds, especially figs. Create a tune to suit the eiresione verse (see pronunciation guide below). Provide your guests with small gifts.
What was hung on the Eiresione no doubt depended on the wealth of particular worshippers; we hear of white wool and purple wool, vessels of wine, figs, strings of acorns, cakes; nothing in the way of natural produce came amiss. The Eiresione once fixed over the door remained there, a charm against pestilence and famine, till the next year; then it was changed for a new one.
The Eiresiône Song
from Plutarch, Life of Theseus, 22.5:
eiresiônê suka pherei kai pionas artous
kai meli en kotulêi kai elaion apopsêsasthai
kai kulik’ euzôron, hôs an methuousa katheudêi.
Modern Greek pronunciation:
(Capitalized syllables are emphasized according to the poetic meter)
EE-re-see-ON-NE SEE-ka fe-RE KE PEE-on-as AR-tous
KE me-lee EN ko-tee-LEE ke e-LE-on a-POP-SEE-SAS-the
KE kee-leek EF-ZO-RON, OS AN me-thee-OU-sa ka-THEV-dee.
Pausanias has the song:
All good things,
Figs and fat cakes to eat,
Soft oil and honey sweet,
And brimming wine-cup deep
That she may drink and sleep.
Campbell, Drew, Old Stones, New Temples: Ancient Greek Paganism Reborn, (USA, Xlibris, 2000)
Harrison, Jane Ellen, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, (Princeton University Press, 1903) (chapter 3 is a good read on the subject)
Parke, H.W., Festivals of the Athenians, (Thames and Hudson Ltd, Lond, 1977)
Porphory (translator: Taylor), On Abstinence from Animal Foods
Plutarch (translator: Scott-Kilvert), Makers of Rome: Nine Lives, (Penguin Classics, 1965)
Plato (translator: Gallop), Phaedo (Oxford University Press, 1999)