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THEOXE´NIA (θεοξένια; often simply ξένια; sometimes θεοδαίσια) 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 were borrowed [LECTISTERNIUM]. 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, Schol.) were entertained; and hence κοινὴ ἑορτὴ πᾶσι τοῖς θεοῖς, 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; Pind. Ol. 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, p. 14): the history of the Potitii may be compared with it (Liv. 1.71; Diod. 4.21; SACRA 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. 1666; C. I. G. p. 1074; Schol. ad Nem. 7.68, ad Ol. 3.1).

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 = pulvinar) 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, 1. The 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) to 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 θεοῦ,--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. Hel. 1666; Pind. Ol. iii.; Bacchyl. ap. Athen. 6.400; C. I. G. 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) the 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. 1.2, 5; 6.26, 1; Athen, xi. p. 465 a). At Andros in this festival there was a miraculous contribution of wine flowing from the temple (Paus. 6.26, 3). The special name θεοδαίσια was given to these entertainments of Bacchus (Hesych.); see also the relief in Baumeister, Denkm. fig. 1849. For the tradition of Sophocles entertaining Aesculapius, see Plut. Num. 4.16; Etym. Mag. s. v. Δεξίων: cf. Paus. 10.32, 8.

(On this subject, see A. Mommsen, Delphica, pp. 94, 299-308; Baumeister, Denkm. p. 1764, and especially a dissertation by Deneken, de Theoxeniis, Berlin, 1881.)


hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Euripides, Helen, 1666
    • Euripides, Ion, 805
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.127
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.32
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.8
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.26
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.3
    • Homer, Iliad, 1.425
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 4.21
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.1
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.2
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