), 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,
), 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
). The expression
“mystica vannus Iacchi” in Verg.
shows that the shape of the basket winnowing fan and the
(whence the title Διόνυσος λικνίτης
) was the same.
The infant Dionysus in the λίκνον. (From a terra-cotta in the British
The suggestion of Mr. Andrew Lang (Custom and Myth,
that the mystica
vannus was a magic method of
raising the wind, like the whirling of the turbo
], though ingenious and
attractive, must, we think, be rejected. The λίκνα
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
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
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,
2.23). The scene on the terra-cotta shows
doubtless what the procession of the λικνοφορία
at Delphi and elsewhere represented: the λικνοφόροι
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,