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Glossary of Ancient Greek Religion

This glossary of Ancient Greek Religion provides definitions of terms related to Ancient Greek Religion, with links to full articles where available.

Hero of Greek mythology and literature. Son of Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite. In the Iliad, he is a Trojan leader who is very pious towards the gods.
Hero of Greek mythology and literature. Son of Atreus, brother of Menelaus, husband of Clytemnestra. In Homer, commander of the Greek expedition against Troy and a man of personal valor but easily discouraged.
1. Informal and competitive struggles and rivalries that permeated Greek life. 2. Gatherings of people, usually for formal contests in honor of a god or local hero.
Large open space used for assembly of the citizens; thus the center of a Greek city.
An Athenian festival in honor of the god Dionysus. Held annually for three days in the early spring to celebrate the end of winter and the maturing of the wine.
An Ionian festival celebrated by the phatry throughout Attica. It took place in the autumn month of Pyanopsion for three days, and its main function was to enrol new phatry members.
Dorian festival of Apollo celebrated at Sparta and elsewhere. Corresponded to the Ionian festival of Apaturia. At Sparta, the festival was celebrated monthly, on the seventh, when the Spartan assembly met.
"Impure" days of the Athenian calendar. Associated with the Plynteria, homicide trials, moonless days, and other inauspicious events. Temples were closed and major undertakings were avoided.
(also Dionysia) Any of several festivals of Dionysus, the wine god. Suppressed by the Roman senate in 186 BC. Bacchic cults included oaths of loyalty, organized funding, property and membership. In Greece, only women were admitted; in Rome, both were admitted and the festivities were held more often.
The torchbearer, and second most important priest, of the Eleusian Mysteries. He was chosen from the lineage of the Kerykes for life. He wore a headbadn with a myrtle wreath, a robe of purple, and carried torches. The appointment was considered a great honor and there was often considerable competition for the position.
(also Bacchus). God of fruitfulness, vegetation, wine and ecstasy. Son of Zeus and Semele.
Olive branch carried by singing boys at various festivals, then deposited either at the temple of Apollo or house doors. The branches were hung with symbols of agricultural abundance: figs, fruits, etc. Householders were expected to give the boys a present in return.
Important festival of games held at Eleusis (in Attica) on a grand scale every fourth year and on a lesser scale every two years. The prize was grain from the Rarian field in Eleusis, where grain was believed to have been first cultivated.
Elysian Fields
(also Elysium). Paradise inhabited by the distinguished or the good after their death. First named in Homer's Odyssey as the destiny of Menelaus.
Great Dionysia
Festival of Dionysus in Athens.
"Sacred slaves." The term can refer to slaves who are technically the property of a god and live on land owned by temples, slaves who are attached to the service of a god through a gift or civic decree, and slaves who were manumitted through a fictitious sale to a god. Occasionally it was also used by devotees of a cult to refer to themselves as "slaves of the god."
hieros gamos
("holy marriage") Specifically, a festival in Athens celebrating the marriage of Zeus and Hera and also known as Theogamia. More generally, the mythical or ritual presentation of a solemn sexual union involving at least one divine partner.
Young women who carried baskets or vessels (kana) of objects needed for the sacrificial ceremony in processions. They were required to be from a good family, unmarried, and chaste. They were dressed splendidly, their hair and garments were decked with gold and jewels, they were powdered with while barley-flour and wore a chain of figs.
Greek, "blessed." Used in Homer and possibly in rites of initiations in mystery cults.
A dirge of lamentation and praise of a deceased person, sung to a flute accompaniment by a hired mourner. Named for Nenia, the goddess of funerary lamentation.
"Temple warden." Originally, a temple official. From the late 1st cent. CE, a title for a city that held a provincial temple in the Roman Empire.
Olympian Games
Games held at Olympia once every four years in August or September in honor of Zeus. The original contest was a 200-meter sprint; horse and chariot races were added around the 8th century BCE. The prizes were crowns of wild olive. The games were abolished in 393 CE by the Christian emperor Theodosius I.
Olympian gods
The twelve gods on the Parthenon frieze: Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Poseidon and Zeus.
Attic festival celebrated early in the autumn month of Pyanopsion. Main rites were: a procession led by two young noblemen dressed as women and carrying oschoi, bunches of grapes on the branch; a race along the same course, also holding oschoi; a banquet with female "dinner-bearers" and libations accompanied by mixed cries of joy and grief.
A ritual exclamation and name for the song addressed to gods of healing (originally Paean, later Apollo and Asclepius). Paeans were sung at religious festivals, during illness or plague, before a military action, after libations, and on public occasions like the ratification of peace.
An "all-night" festival for a deity. In comedies, they are sometime the occasion of illicit sexual encounters, and Pannychis was also a common name for an upper-class prostitute.
In Classical Athens, an official theatrical presentation taking place a few days before the Great Dionysia began.
Spring festival of Apollo.
Chief deity of the Olympian pantheon, god of the sky and weather, and sender of thunderbolts and lightning.