Dionysia: Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, the Original Greek Carnival.

Greek Carnival Let the good times roll.
Greek Carnival
Let the good times roll.

Happy days are here again, it’s Greek Carnival, a whole three weeks of it, when Greeks go all out, for the last time, (Don't believe the last time bit, this is Greece!) before the sober forty days of Lent.

Masquerade parties, parades and merriment, I won’t go into all that, as I have told you all about it before, here.

Ancient Greek Masks
Ancient Greek Masks

Greek Carnival, “Apokries” (without meat), takes in twenty two days and three Sundays.

 The first Sunday is the prodigal son, the second Sunday; Carnival minor and the third Sunday; Carnival major.

The first week of Greek Carnival begins with the opening of the “Triodion Book”; The Three Holy Sacraments, the liturgical book used by the Greek Orthodox Church, explaining the details for the fasting period before Easter, and for the weeks leading up to the fast.

The second week is “Kreatini” week; you are allowed to eat as much meat as you like, all day and every day, if the fancy takes you, even on the traditional fast days of Wednesday and Friday.

Bear with me, we're nearly at week three!

Thursday, of the second week is “Tsiknopempti”, Smokey Thursday, the official start to the celebrations, the first masquerade parties take place, tavernas and restaurants are overflowing, and the dish of the day is meat, grilled, barbecued or roasted, the smokey air is enough to make your mouth water.(And your eyes!)

Tsiknopempti" Smokey Thursday All the meat you can eat
"Tsiknopempti" Smokey Thursday
All the meat you can eat.
The Sunday after smokey Thursday, is meat Sunday, no more meat allowed now until Easter Sunday.

The third week of Greek Carnival is “Tirini”, cheese week, or white week, as only dairy, fish and eggs, are allowed, ends on Cheese Sunday.

Fromage Forte Photo by David Lebovitz
Fromage Forte
Photo by David Lebovitz
An old wives tail, states women should not wash their hair during cheese week, or they will go white!

Cheese Sunday is also the day of the great carnival, the last day before lent begins.

No church weddings are allowed after Cheese Sunday, until after Easter, it’s not advised to get hitched on this day, as it will result in an unhappy marriage.

Guess what?

I was married on this day, still going strong after thirty seven years, it’s been happy, mostly!

Greek Carnival Still celebrating Dionysus, God of wine.
Greek Carnival
Still celebrating Dionysus, God of wine.
“Kathara Deftera”, clean Monday, the first day of Lent (Sarakosti), a Bank Holiday in Greece, and the beginning of spring, families eat out, or take picnics to the countryside and fly kites, the “Koulouma”.

 I don’t know the significance of this kite-flying, I looked and looked and found a myriad of different explanations, so, it seems nobody else knows either.

Koulouma. Flying kites on Clean Monday.  Painting by Notis Xanthi
Flying kites on Clean Monday.
 Painting by Notis Xanthi
Clean Monday, so called, as to make a clean start, means eating the traditional Clean Monday fare; shellfish, octopus, beans, “Taramosalata”( Fish-roe dip), unleavened bread;”Lagana”, and “Halva” (Semolina pudding).

That’s it now, until Easter Sunday, no meat, no poultry, no fish, no dairy, no oil.

Maybe it’s just as well; you need to lose those five kilos you put on through gorging over the previous three weeks!

Clean Monday offerings
Clean Monday offerings
More or less all you can eat now, until Easter Sunday.
My family doesn’t fast, well MGG (My Greek God) pretends to, and if my mother-in-law is within earshot, he definitely fasts!

Have you got all that?

I don’t blame you if you haven’t, I’ve been in Greece for forty years, and it still confuses me.

The Greek Orthodox Church, rather try to play down the shenanigans of Greek Carnival, all this bawdiness is not seemly, so, just where did Greek Carnival originate?

As with many Christian celebrations, Saint Valentine's Day is just one example, Greek Carnival was an ancient pagan celebration, the heathens may have allowed themselves to become Christians, but no way were they about to give up their festivities.

The priests of the day, unable to persuade the newly-converted to forego their jollies, simply changed the name, and dedicated the celebration, to some other Christian occasion.

In this way, “The Dionysia”, became “Apokries”, Greek Carnival.

Dedication to Bacchus (Dionysus) Sir lawrence Alma Tadema
Dedication to Bacchus (Dionysus)
Sir lawrence Alma Tadema 
“The Dionysia”, also known as “The Great Dionysia”, “The Dionysia Mysteries”, or “City Dionysia”, were festivals, dating back to the fifth century BC, dedicated to Dionysus (Latin-Bacchus), God of wine, theater, fertility and ecstasy.

Dionysus in Bacchus  by Caravaggio
Dionysus in Bacchus
by Caravaggio 
“The Dionysia” were held in the spring, after the last stages of the fermentation of wine, just after the winter solstice.

It was a celebration of rebirth, of the earth awakening after winter, the first leaves appearing on the vine.

“The Dionysia”, the most important Athenian  Festival of the year, were celebrated all over Greece; the main attraction though, was Athens.

 Thousands of people made their way to the big city, for this six-day event, six days of  "Let it all hang out", literally, six days of wine, women and song, a reenactment of wild parties, thrown all those years ago.

Back in the day, Dionysus, with the looks any Greek God would have been proud of, had his cult of followers, who eagerly awaited this yearly blow out, which is exactly what it was.

Frans van den Wyngaerde (Flemish, 1614-1679)   The Dream of Silenus, etching, with touches of engraving,
Frans van den Wyngaerde (Flemish, 1614-1679)
 The Dream of Silenus, etching, with touches of engraving,
The females, “Maenads” (The word comes from the Greek maenades, meaning mad or demented) wild, drunk women, dressed as Ariadne, wife of Dionysus, with animal skins draped over their shoulders, carrying a “Thyrus”, a rod topped with a pine cone, and his male devotees, satyrs, men with goat-like features, in a permanent state of arousal, gathered together in the woods, for what can only be dubbed as a rave party!

The Honourable John Maler Collier OBE RP ROI (27 January 1850 – 11 April 1934) “Maenads”
The Honourable John Maler Collier OBE RP ROI (27 January 1850 – 11 April 1934)
The copious amounts of wine knocked back, trance-inducing music, strange herbs ingested, and wild singing and dancing; all produced a state of complete abandon, a total lack of inhibition.

Auguste Leroux
Auguste Leroux

 Baby, this was the original sex, drugs and rock and roll!

Well, they do say the Greeks invented everything!

The six day “Dionysia”, later, in the fifth century, was no less eagerly awaited.

 On the first day; a huge wooden statue of Dionysus was borne aloft, through the inebriated crowds, to the theater of Dionysus, at the foot of the Acropolis, escorted by men dressed as satyrs, disguised by masks, the women following, wildly dancing, heads thrown back in ecstasy.

Here at the theater, a contest was held, three playwrights were to submit three tragedies and one satire (comedy), three days were allotted, one for each playwright, the judges being one from each of the ten political tribes of Athens.

Present-day remains of the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, Athens
Present-day remains of the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, Athens

This contest was rather like a “Greece has got talent”, reality show of today, and produced some of the most famous playwrights of ancient Greece:

 Aeschylus,The Oresteia, Persians. Seven against Thebes. Suppliants. Prometheus Bound.

  Sophocles, Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Electra.

  Euripides Ten Plays.

and Aristophanes  Lysistrata, Clouds, Wasps, Birds, all took part.

I can certainly understand why early Christian priests were not enamored with these pagan shenanigans, and replaced it with Greek carnival.

  Unless I’ve been missing out on something, the description of the “Dionysia”, reminds me more of the less reputable holiday resorts of the Greek islands, where, according to foreign tourists, anything goes, rather than the Greek Carnival!

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