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THESEIA (θησεῖα). The festival in honour of Theseus dates from Cimon, who, in obedience to an oracle from Delphi (for the historical and political significance, see Grote, Hist. 5.413 ff.), brought the bones of Theseus from Scyros and buried them in the spot upon which the Theseum was built. From this act date the annual ἐπιτάφια, or funeral rites in honour of national heroes and of all who died in battle for Athens, including in war-time a funeral oration over the dead [cf. FUNUS Vol. I. p. 887 b]. It is true that we hear of ἐπιτάφια earlier than this in memory of those slain at Marathon and Plataea (Diod. 11.33; Dionys. A. R. 5.17); but these, like many other funeral rites and games in various times and places, were celebrated on the spots where the battles were fought. The Epitaphia at Athens, with the sacrifices, feasts, and orations belonging to them, should not be placed earlier than 469 B.C., and we may assume Cimon or one of his contemporaries to be τὸν λόγον προσθείς (Thuc. 2.35: Curtius here is to be followed rather than Grote). The ceremonies of the ἐπιτάφια were conducted by the Polemarch (Poll. 6.91; ARCHON Vol. I. p. 168), but the oration was made by some man specially chosen for the occasion (Thuc. 1.34).

The whole Theseus-festival comprised on different days of the month Pyanepsion several distinct ceremonies, which have been elsewhere particularly described, partly representing the story of Theseus, partly the funeral rites which had become connected with his festival. The word θησεῖα may be used generally of the whole (Aristoph. Pl. 621), but it is usual to find the separate ceremonies mentioned under their own name, and where we find θησεῖα alone it. commonly refers to the offering and banquet on 8th Pyanepsion and the games of the following day: the phrase θησεῖα καὶ ἐπιτάφια, which is often found in inscriptions (see Heortol. p. 282), means that day of the Theseus.festival on which the ἐπιτάφια took place.

The Calendar of the whole festival may be thus described (following the arrangement of A. Mommsen):--

Pyanepsion VI., the κυβερνήσια or steersman's festival; to commemorate the return of Theseus, celebrated at Phalerum, where there were shrines (ἡρῷα) of Nausithous and Phaeax, the κυβερνήτης and πρωρεὺς of the expedition (Plut. Thes. 17). (In those years when there was occasion of a public funeral for citizens slain in battle, their bones “lay in state” on Pyanepsion V. and VI.)

Pyanepsion VII., the day of PYANEPSIA: the ἕψησις τῶν ὀσπρίων having begun with the evening of the 6th ( = the beginning of P. VII.), the feasting on this food belonged to the whole of the day. In the morning of this day took place the OSCHOPHORIA: in the afternoon the ἐπιτάφια (and in time of war the oration over [p. 2.829]the dead. The sacrifice for the slain Amazons seems to have been on this day, πρὸ τῶν θησεῖων, Plut. Thes. 27). [For details see OSCHOPHORIA;

Pyanepsion VIII. On the evening of the 7th ( = the beginning of P. VIII.) took place the offering and banquet in honour of Theseus, and a torch-race for the ἐπιτάφια: in the day, gymnastic contests (cf. Gel. 15.20, 3).

Pyanepsion IX. Equestrian exercises, processions, and contests. To these last two days belonged especially the name θήσεια. (For a fuller discussion, see A. Mommsen, Heortologie, pp. 269-287; and, for the history of the vaseillustration, Harrison, Mythology and Monuments, pp. xcviii.-cxlviii.)


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Aristophanes, Plutus, 621
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.33
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.34
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.35
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 15.20
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 15.3
    • Plutarch, Theseus, 17
    • Plutarch, Theseus, 27
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