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Carian A(door)nment? The Anthesteria, Carians, and Ionian Identity

Emily Wilson

University of Chicago

The Anthesteria was a curious three-day festival held in early spring in Athens and greater Ionia to celebrate the uncorking of the new wine, which was marked by an amalgamation of traditions and odd events.   For example, young children received wreaths, drinking parties were conducted in silence, a hieros gamos was performed between the wife of the archon basileos and Dionysos, there was swinging by young girls, new wine was brought and presented to Dionysus of the Marshes, and a meal was offered to Hermes of the Underworld (Parker).

One puzzling aspect of this festival is a proverb, related by Zenobius, that was purportedly uttered on day two of this festival and ordered the Carians to leave because the Anthesteria was over (θυράζε Κᾶρες, οὐκ ἔτ' Ἀνθεστήρια).  This seemingly out-of-context phrase has caused a great deal of consternation, even among the ancients, with Hesychius changing it to the ghostly Κῆρες.  Scholars who do not accept Hesychius’ emendation generally suggest that the Κᾶρες refers to the large number of Carian slaves present in Attica or the Carian ancestors that once inhabited Attika (Robertson).  Scholars who take the view of Hesychius, on the other hand, argue that the proverb reflects the belief that ghosts and spirits roamed the city and surrounding countryside (Burkert, Parke).  Neither explanation is particularly satisfying, however, and the former does not explain why the Carians would be singled out of the entire slave body of Athens for expulsion.

This paper argues for a new interpretation of this proverb, one that sees this phrase as a holdover from the formation of Ionian identity in Western Anatolia in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.  In particular, it highlights the trope of Carian expulsion found widely within in the foundation myths of the Ionian poleis of Western Anatolia (See Paus. 7.3.7, Pherec. F 3 F 155, and Hdt. 1.146 for Carian origins at Miletus; Str. 14.1.21 and Pherec. F 3 F 155 for Carians at Ephesus, Myus, and the Mykale; Paus. 7.3.2-3 for Colophon; and Str. 7.7.2 for all of Ionia).  The fact that this trope of Carian violence and expulsion appears to be a common theme among the foundation myths of most of the Ionian cities suggests that it was part of the formation process of the Ionian identity in the Archaic period, when this region was setting itself apart from the neighboring regions (MacSweeney, Herda, Crielaard).  The Carians, so closely intertwined with the Ionians (via mercenary activity and trade for example) were likely the people that the Ionians most specifically had to differentiate themselves from.  A myth of the expulsion of the Carians, therefore, likely arose in Ionia so that the Ionians could define themselves partly in opposition to their neighbors.

It is important that this proverb was uttered at the end of the second day, which also saw Dionysus arrive from the sea, be welcomed to Attica by a festive procession, and then take part in a hieros gamos to the basilinna.  This sequence of events parallels the foundation stories told in Ionia that record the arrival of the Ionian colonists and their subsequent settling of the land and expulsion of the original Carian inhabitants.  Indeed, Herodotus gives an example of the Ionian colonizers marrying the Carian women at Miletus that precisely parallels the actions of Dionysus and the basilinna (1.146).

Since this proverb, therefore, appears to be a holdover of the identity formation process that took place in Archaic Ionia, it makes sense that it was incorporated within the Athenian Anthesteria.  The Anthesteria was an appropriate religious venue for this proverb because every spectrum of the community was represented in this festival, and its very purpose– to celebrate the drinking and consecrating of new wine - celebrated a medium that helped knit together the entire community.

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Ethnicity and Identity

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