Dionysiac Rites: Demosthenes’ On the Crown

In his oration, On the Crown, Demosthenes in the fourth century B.C. denigrates the life and character of his opponent Aeschines in a lengthy tirade, which includes this description of his participation in Dionysiac religious rites ( De Corona 259–260).
When you became a man, you read the scriptures to your mother while she officiated in the initiations and you helped her conduct other religious duties. During the ceremonies in the night, you would assist in furnishing the wine and dressing the participants in their fawn skins. You would rub them down with mud and corn husks and at the end of such ritual purification, you would raise them up and command them to stand and proclaim: “I have left evil behind and found a better way.” You were proud because never before had anyone uttered such holy ululations more powerfully than you.  (I can well believe, Aechines, that your religious outcries must have been magnificent, to judge from your stentorian performance as an orator.)

In the ceremonies during the day, you would lead your lovely band of revelers through the streets, crowned as they were with fennel and leaves of white poplar. As you went, you squeezed the snakes and brandished them above your heads, while dancing and shouting cries of Euoi  Saboi and Hyes Attes, Attes Hyes! You were hailed by old hags as Leader of the Chorus and Director of the Mysteries, Wearer of the Holy Ivy and Bearer of the Sacred Grain-Basket, among other titles, and you received as pay for these services delicacies such as fresh cakes and breads of various sorts.  With rewards like these, who would not truly count himself blessed by good fortune?

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