often simply ξένια;
) were sacred feasts provided for gods or
heroes, at which the deities were usually regarded as the guests; but
sometimes as the hosts, inviting certain mortals to partake. From these
Greek feasts the Roman lectisternia
We must guard against the idea that the Delphic Theoxenia was the original
feast of this kind. Not to speak of other nations where similar observances
are found, we have early indications of them among the Greeks. Such was the
banquet in Homer (Hom. Il. 1.425
), at which
the gods (θεοὶ δώδεκα,
entertained; and hence κοινὴ ἑορτὴ πᾶσι τοῖς
which is the explanation of θεοξένια
in Hesychius, may be taken to mean that it included
the twelve Olympian deities; a meaning, however, which must be greatly
extended. There can be no doubt moreover that the cult of special gods or
heroes was from a very early time preserved in certain families or tribes,
who thereupon set apart a table on certain occasions, such as birthdays (cf.
Eur. Ion 805
) or times of success and
victory, in their honour (see Hdt. 6.127
iii.; Plat. Lys.
p. 205 D). This
family observance is attested not only by mention in Greek writers, but also
by inscribed votive tablets (see Deneken, de Theoxeniis,
14): the history of the Potitii may be compared with it (Liv. 1.71
; Diod. 4.21
p. 578 a
). The entertainment is commonly spoken of merely as ξένια,
which word may be used of public as well
as private theoxenia (compare Eur. Hel.
; C. I. G.
p. 1074; Schol. ad
7.68, ad Ol.
From the gentile or family cult probably arose the more public or national
theoxenia, among which should be specially noted the Delphic Theoxenia,
which gave the name to the Delphic month Theoxenios (March-April). This was
probably, as A. Mommsen remarks, an ancient festival, existing before the
time when Apollo reigned at Delphi; and Zeus was originally the chief of the
divine guests, for which reason this month was sacred to Zeus (Delphica,
p. 87). In historical times Apollo and
Latona were specially honoured at this Delphic feast. In this, as in other
similar ceremonies, the gods seem to have been supposed to feast; not all at
one table, but at several tables, singly or in pairs: a couch (στρώμνη
spread with cushions was placed by each table. It does not appear to have
been necessary in Greek custom to place the statue of the deity on his or
her couch, as was done in the Roman lectisternium, though that this was
sometimes (perhaps, as Deneken says, frequently) done, appears from V. Max. 2.2
god or goddess was imagined
to be present on the
allotted couch, and in vase-pictures this spiritual presence is indicated by
some representation of the deity, as in the picture of a στρώμνη
for the Dioscuri, shown on page 16 of
this volume. Athenaeus (ix. p. 372 a) mentions a curious custom that the
Delphians offered leeks (γηθυλλίδες
Latona at this festival, and that the offerer of the largest leek received a
portion of the feast from the table of Latona. (For various explanations of
this custom, see Delphica,
p. 301: Deneken
regards it as a sort of prize for agriculture.) The favour of Apollo to
Pindar was shown by a special invitation to his table, the inspired priest
crying Πίνδαρος ἴτω ἐπὶ δεῖπνον τοῦ
--an honour which was continued for his descendants, and, as
it appears, not on this festival only. The Delphian priests were ex officio
guests with the gods on this day, as
representing the mortal participants [compare PARASITI
But it would be an error to suppose that Apollo was the deity most commonly
so honoured. Not to mention a similar entertainment of Zeus Soter and of
Pluto at Athens (Athen. 6.239
Kohler in Herm.
6.7; Deneken, p. 4), and of Bacchus and
Aesculapius (see below), it must be observed that the favourite divine
guests in Greece were deified heroes, probably because they had more
frequently traditional ties of hospitality with certain families, as well as
because they formed a link between gods and men. Hence it is that we often
find [p. 2.828]
gods and men. Hence it is that we often find
Heracles feasted by mortals, and that by far the commonest divine guests
were the Dioscuri: indeed some writers appear (erroneously, as it seems to
us) to make the cult of the Dioscuri the origin of Theoxenia. This
entertainment of the Dioscuri was widespread, particularly of course in
Doric states, Sparta, Agrigentum, &c. (Eur.
; Pind. Ol.
iii.; Bacchyl. ap. Athen. 6.400
; C. I.
2.2338, 2374); but also at Athens in the Prytaneum (Athen., 4.137
e). For the representation in works of art, see the vase-painting alluded to
above, and also a relief at Paris from Larissa (cf. Newton, Trans. of
Royal Soc. of Lit.,
ser. 2, vol. ix. p. 436 ff.;
Fröhner, Vases Grecques de Cameiros
). The latter, by
its figure of Victory, shows that one motive for the entertainment was the
idea that the Twins gave aid in battle, as at Regillus; and this is borne
out by a passage in Polyaenus (Strat.
6.1), where Jason of
Pherae professes to entertain (ξενίζει
Dioscuri, on the ground that they had given him victory (cf. Diod. 8.32
). For notice of votive tablets
commemorating these theoxenia, see Deneken, pp. 15-24. Next to the Dioscuri,
perhaps Bacchus was more often the entertained or entertainer at mortal
feasts than any other divine being (cf. Paus.
; Athen, xi. p. 465 a). At Andros in this
festival there was a miraculous contribution of wine flowing from the temple
The special name θεοδαίσια
was given to
these entertainments of Bacchus (Hesych.); see also the relief in
fig. 1849. For the tradition of Sophocles
entertaining Aesculapius, see Plut. Num.
; Etym. Mag.
s. v. Δεξίων
: cf. Paus. 10.32
(On this subject, see A. Mommsen, Delphica,
94, 299-308; Baumeister, Denkm.
p. 1764, and especially a
dissertation by Deneken, de Theoxeniis,