In the midst of the serving girls belongs the priestess, the actual representative of the Goddess herself. The function of this threesome is expressly declared: the priestess of Polias has two assistants, one of them being called Trapezo ("she who brings the table") and the other Kosmo ("she who sets the table"). Of the three daughters of Cecrops, the middle one, Herse, comes to the fore less often than the first and third, Aglaurus and Pandrosus. Both of these are equated with the Goddess, the one as Athena Aglaurus, the other as Athena Pandrosus. Each possessed her own special sacred precinct: the Pandroseum lay up on the Acropolis [Text and Views: The Sanctuary of Pandrosus], leaned directly against the Erechtheum, and surrounded the sacred olive tree [Text and Views: The Sacred Olive Tree]; the Aglaureum lay below, on the north slope of the fortress [Text and Views: The Sanctuary of Aglaurus]. It was the place where Aglaurus supposedly had jumped to, in self-sacrifice according to one version, or out of insanity at having glimpsed the forbidden content of the basket according to another. Herse shared the wrongdoing and the punishment with her, while Pandrosus remained the faithful servant of the Goddess. Herse owned no particular sanctuary, yet the ceremony of the Arrephoria was associated with her name, or with what this name concealed within itself, by giving it a new interpretation or even by revising the name to Errephoria. She may be the figure in the middle who carries the essence of Athena -- not so much one of her externally active aspects as her mystery -- and for this reason had no other sanctuary than that in which the city Goddess was worshipped among mysterious cultic objects, i.e., the Erechtheum [Text and Views: The Erechtheum].
The cultic mysteries of the Erechtheum, which was the sacred precinct on which a unique building was constructed in classical times, are best compared to the mysteries of the vestal temples in Rome. Here, as there, we find the worship of a virginal and simultaneously maternal city Goddess. Here, too, we find virgins selected from among the most noble families to serve the Goddess. In this, the Roman cult distinguishes itself by rigorous consistency, while the Athenian cult comes closer to a contradictory, more concrete reality through a seeming inconsistency -- the divine Virgin has a mortal married woman for her priestess. Here, as there, we find associations to the elements: to earth, represented on the Acropolis by the Goddess Ge; to water, which came into the Erechtheum from a bitter spring and was considered to be sea-water; and most importantly to fire, which not only glowed in the eschara but also burned in an eternal lamp. And finally, here, as there, we find the cultic presence of the masculine in unmistakable forms. With Vesta it was the fascinus, the phallus, but in the sacred precinct of the Erechtheum, aside from the precisely analogous object which was a "Hermes" covered with myrtle branches, a whole series of Gods and heroes expressed the same things in different historically conditioned variations.
In the three sisters -- Aglaurus,
Herse, and Pandrosus -- and in the many forms of the divine "Man," who
was the companion of the Goddess of the Erechtheum, we have the plan of
a dramatically dynamic and yet firmly outlined mythologem, which plays
itself out on several stages at the same time. The stage of the cult must
be considered together with that of the mythological tales. The calendar
of festivals leads over onto the cosmic stage, and yet we will move on
it in a purely human way. Pallas Athena is on all stages without fully
revealing herself in any single appearance on this or that stage.
Just as people of the south [of Europe] today switch into rapid dialect when they do not want strangers to understand them, the Athenians said Arrephoroi and Arrephoria instead of Arretophoroi and Arretophoria, since even the word arreton ("unmentionable," "secret," "sacred," "horrible") betrayed more of what the maidens were carrying in the basket than was seemly for the service of the virginal Goddess. Playful variations, like Aglaurus beside Agraulus (which has a more concrete meaning) or Cecrops instead of Cercops (a word in which the serpentine tail becomes too prominent), were supposed to deceive us. And they have actually deceived the educated people and romantic souls who have taken great pleasure in the "dew sisters." The name of the second sister, Herse, does indeed actually mean "dew," but dew can be a metaphor for fertilizing semen and also for the resulting child. The masculine form of Herse would be a reference to Apollo and Zeus as divine children, who were given the epithets Hersos or Erros; in its feminine form the name intimates the receptive one and at the same time conceals this. Who would have dared raise the veil had it not been for the fact that the fate of semen is spoken of explicitly in the wedding mythologem of Athena? Pandrosus, too, seemingly had a merely poetic name ("the one completely bedewed" or "bedewing everything"), and here the bedewed olive tree and the moon, which dispenses dew, become visible in a many layered image. Wherever three mythological sisters appear, the cosmic background of the three lunar phases enters the picture, just as these played a part in Hera's three forms of manifestation.
The calendar of Athena's festivals provides some further hints. The monthly birthday of the Goddess was always the third of the month, called Tritomenis, which through a false etymology was related to Athena's epithet, Tritogeneia. During the festival of Panathenaea in the summer month of Hekatombaion, the birthday was celebrated in Athens as the new year. The Great Panathenaea was celebrated with great magnificence every fourth year. The most important day of the Panathenaea fell on the third day before the end of the month. Accordingly, late antiquarians set the birthday on the third day before the end of the month, or simply on the day of the hidden moon. This mistaken but not completely groundless opinion can be explained: the day of the new moon, the menon phthinas 'emera, being the chief day of the festival, received as much important as did the actual birthday, which was the third day after the disappearance of the moon. The most important day of the Panathenaea and the birthday were associated but were not identical. The distance between them was not supposed to be greater than the time between the disappearance and reappearance of the moon. It became larger on the calendar, however, which preferred fixed numbers. The twenty-six to twenty-eight days during which the moon appears, along with the one-and-one-half to three days during which it does not appear, had to be extended in order to make up the thirty days of the calendar month. The month could be extended either at the beginning or the end. If it were done at the beginning, the crescent of the new moon would appear on the evening of the month's third day. The birth of Athena remained connected to this day. If the month were extended at the end, the date of the moon's reappearance could occur as early as the twenty-ninth, i.e., the second day of the Panathenaea. The festival could have begun previously, on the nights of the twenty-eighth, with the dancing, singing, and noise-making of the young men and women. This is how the hidden moon was invoked in archaic times and by archaic peoples. On the evening of the second day, the crescent of the new moon would become visible in the evening sky, as though having sprung from the head of the sun, a phenomenon in which we recognize the cosmic referent in the birth of Athena. The greatest festival of Athena thus contained two cosmic situations: the time of the conjunction, the night of the new moon, which is shrouded in darkness and during which the sun and moon seemingly encounter one another, and an epiphany.
More than once already we have confronted among the aspects of the Goddess an image that reaches into the darkness. This is Aglaurus, and like her two sisters, and in them Athena herself, she appeared on several stages at the same time. On the divine stage of mythology she occupied the periodic existence of a dying and eternally rising, immortal Goddess; on the human stage of cultic legend, she appeared as servant and priestess, the sacrificed and dying one. It is self-contradictory and yet suitable to the essence of this autonomous aspect of the Goddess that Euripides speaks of the three sisters sometimes as deceased and sometimes as alive, as dancing nymphs. Pandrosus, like Pallas and Nike, is a name for the bright aspect, the aspect of epiphany. Aglaurus, on the other hand, plays a tragic role in that mystery in which Pallas appears in need of purification. There was express mention of mysteries of Aglaurus and Pandrosus. This does not refer to the Panathenaea, but to another festival in which the sinister side appeared in frankly tragic tones as the sacrificial death of a maiden, the festival of Plynteria. The cleansing of Pallas belonged to this festival. The cleansing was completed toward the end of the month of Thargelion on a dark day during which all other activities were forbidden, an apophras emera ("ominous day"). This was preceded by a brighter act, the Kallynteria, which had to do with ornamenting the maiden who was supposed to enter into the darkness. This could only have been Aglaurus, who by the ornamentation was characterized as a bride. "Agraulus," the original form of her name, means "the one spending the night in the field" and evokes the scenario of her Persephonian fate, which took place outside the fortress, presumably at the location of the Aglaureum. The playful transformation of the name -- Aglaurus, probably not unintentionally, harmonizes with the name of the Charity Aglaia -- elevates the image into a higher sphere, while that original nocturnal scenario in the field reminds us also of the fate of the Locrian maidens for whom the men of Troy lay in ambush with murderous intentions. But to whom did Agraulus fall?
The masculine is related to this aspect
of Athena in two historically consecutive manifestations. Sophocles alludes
to the oldest of the masculine partners when, imitating the form of the
name "Agraulus," he gives the three sisters, or one of them, the epithet
drakaulos. The explanations for this are varied. Was it because
Athena allowed the serpent to live with her? Or because she lived with
the double-formed Cecrops? Or was it because one of the sisters used to
spend nights with the serpent of the Acropolis and days with the Goddess?
Translated into the language of saga, this relationship was spoken of as
follows: Agraulus became the wife of Cecrops and the mother of Cecrops'
daughters, who were then also called the daughters of Agraulus. She is
associated to Cecrops in two ways: as daughter and as spouse. The dual
relationship was corrected in a pseudo-historical genealogy, where the
spouse of Cecrops was given another father, one who had been especially
invented for her. Another tale of incest comes to the fore in connection
with the name Aglaurus. According to this story, Procris, a daughter of
Erechtheus, bore a child named Aglaurus to her own father. The third instance
of it comes up in the birth mythologem of Athena herself, since she possessed
the characteristics, under the name of Metis, of a wife of Zeus. The fourth
instance is connected to Gorge, who bore Tydeus to her father Omeus. Athena,
to whom the name Gorge refers as much as does Gorgyra in the stories about
Ascalaphus, then became the maternal Protectress as much of Tydeus as of
his son Diomedes, whom we come upon in an obscure cultic connection with
Aglaurus on Cyprus. Pallas provides the fifth instance, who as father waylays
his own daughter Pallas, even if the act of incest does not succeed in
the diluted form of this mythologem. It is to the father, then, that the
daughter falls victim in this mythic region -- at least in the stories,
though not in the cult. He allows her to descend into the darkness. And
it is the daughter who offers the sacrifice: she descends into a paternal-masculine
darkness. When the last crescent disappears before the approach of the
first fully moonless night, it is the situation of the vanished Metis.
The strange image of the devoured wife of Zeus also corresponds to a purely
human situation: the binding of the daughter to the father, out of which
the patriarchal family order, as opposed to the matriarchal, could most
easily arise. The darkness here, as when Persephone is seized, is hardly
purely cosmic -- i.e., mythologically and cultically bound up with the
time of the dark moon. That to which one succumbs and falls defenselessly
always has a lethal aspect, the more so here where the masculine appears
not graciously and paternally but aggressively, like the father in the
father-daughter mythologem. This mythologem lies at the foundation of the
Athena, Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion (1952)
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Copyright ©1999 Roy George