Tuesday, January 26, 2021



Pausanias 9.10.4 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
The following custom is still to my knowledge observed in Thebes. A boy of good family, handsome and strong, is made priest of the Ismenian Apollo for a year. His title is Laurel-bearer, for these boys wear wreaths of laurel leaves. I am not clear whether it is the custom for all boys who have worn the laurel to dedicate a bronze tripod to the god; but I think it is not the rule for all of them to do so, for I did not see many of these votive offerings here. But the wealthier boys certainly dedicate them. Most remarkable for its age and for the renown of him who dedicated it, is a tripod dedicated by Amphitryo for Hercules who wore the laurel.
Frazer ad loc.:
The festival of the Laurel-bearing (Daphnephoria) is more fully described by Proclus (quoted by Photius, Bibliotheca, p. 321, ed. Bekker). He says: "They cover a staff of olive-wood with laurels and many-coloured flowers, and on the top of the staff is fitted a bronze globe, and from it they suspend smaller globes. To the middle of the staff they attach <a globe> smaller than the one at the top, and purple fillets; the lowest part of the staff they swathe in a saffron pall. The globe at the top is meant to signify the Sun, with which they connect Apollo; the globe beneath it signifies the moon, and the small globes, which are fastened on, signify the stars. The fillets symbolise the course of the year, and they make 365 of them. The procession of the Laurel-bearing is headed by a boy, whose parents are both alive. His nearest kinsman bears the wreathed staff, which they call Kopo. The Laurel-bearer himself follows grasping the laurel, his hair streaming down; he wears a golden crown and is clad in a bright-hued garment that reaches to his feet, and he is shod with the shoes called Iphicratides. A choir of virgins follows him holding boughs in token of supplication and singing hymns. The procession of the Laurel-bearing is escorted to the sanctuary of the Ismenian and Galaxian (Chalazian?) Apollo." Proclus describes the Laurel-bearing (Daphnephoria) as a Boeotian festival, and from an inscription (C.I.G. No. 1595; C.I.G.G.S. 1. No. 3407) we learn that at Chaeronea Apollo was worshipped under the title of Laurel-bearer (see note on ix.40.5). The festival, Proclus tells us, took place every eighth or, as the Greeks expressed it, every ninth year; in other words, seven years elapsed between two successive celebrations. Thus the period of the festival was the same as that of the Delphic festival at which a boy, whose parents were both alive, fetched the laurel from the sacred laurel-tree at Tempe. The two festivals may have been closely alike. The Delphic festival was explained as an imitation of the slaughter of the Python by Apollo and the subsequent purification of the god, the purification having apparently consisted in a year's servitude and the wearing of the laurel. The resemblance between the two festivals would be still greater if we supposed that the Laurel-bearing at Thebes commemorated the slaughter of the dragon by Cadmus and the subsequent purification of the slayer by servitude and the wearing of the laurel. But though Cadmus was said to have served Ares eight years for slaying the dragon (see note on § 1), there seems to be no direct evidence to connect that legend with the festival of the Laurel-bearing. Still the eight years of Cadmus's servitude, compared with the octennial period of the festival, seem to indicate a connexion between the legend and the festival. The traditional origin of the festival, according to Proclus, was this. The Aeolians of Arne abandoned that city at the bidding of an oracle and laid siege to Thebes, which was held by Pelasgians. It happened that both sides desired to celebrate a festival of Apollo; so they made a truce and cut laurels, the Aeolians on Mount Helicon and the Pelasgians at the Black River, and they brought these laurels to Apollo. But Polematas, the Boeotian leader, dreamed that a young man gave him a suit of armour and commanded that they should offer prayers to Apollo every ninth (eighth) year, wearing the laurel. Two days afterwards Polematas attacked and conquered the enemy; so he performed in person the ceremony of the Laurel-bearing, and the custom was observed from that time forth. The description and explanation which Proclus gives of the Laurel-bearing are repeated verbally by a scholiast on Clement of Alexandria (Protrept. i. § 10, p. 9, ed. Potter).

As to the festival, see also Böckh's Pindar, Explicationes, p. 590; K.O. Müller, Orchomenos und die Minyer2, p. 215 sq.; id., Dorier,2 I. pp. 236 sq., 333 ; Hermann, Gottesdienstliche Alterthümer,2 § 63, 28; Schömann, Griech. Alterthümer,3 2. P. 463 sq.; C. Bötticher, Baumkultus der Hellenen, p. 386 sqq. ; Preller, Griechische Mythologie,4 I. p. 288, note 1.

The procession of the Laurel-bearing is the subject of a fine painting by the late Lord Leighton.
Frederic Leighton, Daphnephoria

Pindar, fragment 1 (paean perhaps composed for the Daphnephoria; tr. G.S. Conway):
Before reaching the painful [threshold] of old age,
a man should shade his soul
with cheerfulness, free of anger
in due measure
and see to the resources of his house.

Ié ié, now the year that brings all to fulfilment
and the seasons, daughters of Themis,
have come to the horse-driving city of Thebes
to bring a banquet for Apollo, lover of garlands.
May he crown the people
with flowers of good government.

πρὶν ὀδυνηρὰ γήραος σ̣[χεδὸν μ]ολεῖν
πρίν τις εὐθυμίᾳ σκιαζέτω
νόημ᾿ ἄκοτον ἐπὶ μέτρα, ἀδών
δύναμιν οἰκόθετον.

ἰ]ὴ ἰή, νῦν ὁ παντελὴς Ἐνιαυτός        5
Ὧρα[ί] τε Θεμίγονοι
πλάξ]ιππον ἄστυ Θήβας ἐπῆλθον
Ἀπόλ]λωνι δαῖτα φιλησιστέφανον ἄγοντες·
Παιὰ]ν δὲ λαῶν γενεὰν δαρὸν ἐρέπτοι
σαό]φρόνος ἄνθεσιν εὐνομίας.       10
On the festival see Albert Schachter, Cults of Boiotia, vol. 1: Acheloos to Hera (London: University of London, Institute of Classical Studies, 1981), pp. 83-85.

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