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VANNUS (λίκνον), a winnowing fan, i. e. a broad basket, into which the corn mixed with chaff was received after threshing, and was then thrown up into the wind so as to disperse the chaff and leave the grain (Col. R. R. 2.21; Verg. G. 3.134). The same process was performed by the (probably) more primitive wooden shovel (πτύον, pala lignea), an implement with a long handle and broad blade, sufficiently like an oar to account for the passage in the Odyssey where the oar is mistaken for the ἀθηρήλοιγος (Od. 11.128; PALA). The expression “mystica vannus Iacchi” in Verg. G. 1.166 shows that the shape of the basket winnowing fan and the Bacchic λίκνον (whence the title Διόνυσος λικνίτης) was the same.

The infant Dionysus in the λίκνον. (From a terra-cotta in the British Museum.)

The suggestion of Mr. Andrew Lang (Custom and Myth, p. 36), that the mystica vannus was a magic method of raising the wind, like the whirling of the turbo or rhombus [TURBO], though ingenious and attractive, must, we think, be rejected. The λίκνα μυστικὰ are mentioned by Plutarch (Plut. Alex. 2) as being covered with ivy, and containing serpents which belonged to the cult of Dionysus. It is probable that sometimes a figure of the infant Dionysus was actually placed in it, though the representation in the antefixa engraved above may only indicate that he was regarded as spiritually present in the processions. We see here the infant god carried in a λίκνον or vannus by two figures, a Satyr bearing a thyrsus and a Maenad bearing a torch, both wearing skins [NEBRIS]. Some have wished to trace a symbolism of purification by fire and air [cf. OSCILLA], but we have little doubt that the simpler explanation of the mystic vannus is true. Plutarch speaks of the “Awakening of Dionysus” (ὅταν αἱ Θυιάδες ἐγείρωσι τὸν Λικνίτην, Is. et Os. 35; cf. ἀμφιετῆ καλέω Βάκχον--ἐγρόμενον κούραις ἅμα νύμφαις εὐπλοκάμοισιν, Orph. Hymn. 53), which belonged to the Delphic winter month Δᾳδοφόριος. The swinging of the basket cradle by the nymphs, who were the nurses of Dionysus, represented the call upon the god of springing vegetation to awake. In winter he is an infant sleeping, as the vegetation sleeps; by spring-time he is to wake and gain his full strength: hence the appropriateness of the corn basket being also the cradle of the god. The idea is illustrated by the German superstition of “waking the corn” described by Mannhardt (Wald-und Feld-Kulte, 1.534): perhaps also by the “corn-baby” (see Frazer, Golden Bough, 2.23). The scene on the terra-cotta shows doubtless what the procession of the λικνοφορία at Delphi and elsewhere represented: the λικνοφόροι (Dem. de Cor. p. 313.260) bore a cradle in which was either the infant god himself or his attributes, the sacred serpents, &c. (See further on this subject Lobeck, Aglaoph. 700; Roscher, Lexicon der Gr. und Röm. Myth. pp. 1042 f.; Baumeister, Denkm. p. 850.)

[J.Y] [G.E.M]

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