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Ancients' feasts, games and rituals (4)
Pythia (Pythian Games)
Pythia. The Pythian games were held at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, and celebrated the god's victory over Python the dragon. Originally, these were music competitions and included a lyre and a flute contest. In the 8th Pythian Games a guitar contest was added in the programme while during the Hellenistic period the encomium and the pantomime were included. The so-called "circular" (or dithyrambic) and the dramat_c contests of comedy and drama art_sts probably appeared in the 4th century BC. In around 582 BC, after the First Sacred War, Delphi was liberated from the control of the city-state of Kirra by the Amphyctiony (twelve cities that were in the neighborhood of Demeter's sanctuary in Thermopylae), which then reorganized the festival and added athletic contests to the programme of the festival.
At that time, "naked" events (stade, diaulos, dolichos, wrestling, boxing, pankration, pentathlon and messengers-trumpeters race) and equestrian events (tethrippon, which was a four-horse chariot, synoris, which was a chariot pulled by a pair of horses and a synoris for foals) were added to the programme of the games. The Pythian games took place every four years and a wreath of laurel was given to the winners.
This text is cited June 2005 from the Foundation of the Hellenic World URL below, which contains images.
Pythia (ta Puthia). The Pythian Games. Next to the Olympic Games, the most important of the
four Greek national festivals. From B.C. 586 they were held on the Crissaean Plain
below Delphi (originally called Pytho). They took place once in four years, in
the third year of each Olympiad, in the Delphic month Bucatius, corresponding
to a part of our middle of August. Before this time (B.C. 586) there used to take
place at Delphi itself, once in eight years, a great festival in honour of Apollo,
the traditional founder (Athen. xv. p. 701), in which the minstrels vied with
one another in singing, to the accompaniment of the cithara, a paean in praise
of the god, under the direction of the Delphic priests. After the first Sacred
War, when the Crissaean Plain became the property of the priesthood, the Amphictyones
introduced festivals once in four years, at which gymnastic contests and foot-races
took place, as well as the customary musical contest. This contest also was further
developed. Besides minstrels who sang to the cithara, players on the flute, and
singers to accompaniment of the flute, took part in it, the lastnamed, however,
for a short time only. The gymnastic and athletic contests, which were nearly
the same as those held at Olympia, yielded in significance to the musical ceremonies,
and of those the Pythian nomos was the most important. It was a composition for
the flute, worked out on a prescribed scheme, and celebrating the battle of Apollo
with the dragon Python, and his triumph. At first the prize for the victor was
of some substantial value, but at the second festival it took the form of a wreath
from the sacred bay tree in the Vale of Tempe. The victor also received, as in
the other contests, a palm-branch. The judges were chosen by the Amphictyones.
The Pythian, like the Olympic, Games were probably not discontinued till about
A.D. 394. Minor Pythian Games were celebrated in other parts of the Greek world--e.
g. at Ancyra in Galatia, at Aphrodisias in Caria, at Carthage, Delos, Miletus,
Perinthus, Sicyon, etc.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
(Pythian Games): As for the contests at Delphi, there was one in early times between citharoedes, who sang a paean in honor of the god; it was instituted by the Delphians. But after the Crisaean war, in the time of Eurylochus, the Amphictyons instituted equestrian and gymnastic contests in which the prize was a crown, and called them Pythian Games. And to the citharoedes they added both fluteplayers and citharists who played without singing, who were to render a certain melody which is called the Pythian Nome. There are five parts of it: angkrousis, ampeira, katakeleusmos, iambi and dactyli, and syringes. Now the melody was composed by Timosthenes, the admiral of the second Ptolemy, who also compiled The Harbours, a work in ten books; and through this melody he means to celebrate the contest between Apollo and the dragon, setting forth the prelude as anakrousis, the first onset of the contest as ampeira, the contest itself as katakeleusmos, the triumph following the victory as iambus and dactylus, the rhythms being in two measures, one of which, the dactyl, is appropriate to hymns of praise, whereas the other, the iamb, is suited to reproaches (compare the word "iambize"), and the expiration of the dragon as syringes, since with syringes players imitated the dragon as breathing its last in hissings.
This extract is from: The Geography of Strabo (ed. H. L. Jones, 1924), Cambridge. Harvard University Press. Cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
- Perseus: Strabo, Geography
Pythia (puthia), one of the four great national festivals of the Greeks. It was
celebrated in the neighbourhood of Delphi, anciently, and always by Herodotus,
called Pytho, in honour of Apollo, Artemis, and Leto. The place of this solemnity
was the Crissaean plain, which for this purpose contained a hippodromus or race-course
(Paus. x. 37, § 4), a stadium of 1000 feet in length (Censorin de Die Nat. 13),
and a theatre, in which the musical contests took place (Lucian, adv. Indoct.
9). A gymnasium, prytaneum, and other buildings of this kind, probably existed
here, as at Olympia, although they are not mentioned. Once the Pythian games were
held at Athens, on the advice of Demetrius Poliorcetes (Ol. 122. 3; see Plut.
Demetr. 40; Corsini, Fast. Att. iv. p. 77), because the Aetolians were in possession
of the passes around Delphi.
The Pythian games were, according to most legends, instituted by Apollo
himself (Athen. xv. p. 701; Schol. Argum. ad Pind. Pyth.); other traditions referred
them to ancient heroes, such as Amphictyon, Adrastus, Diomedes, and others. They
were originally, perhaps, nothing more than a religious panegyris, occasioned
by the oracle of Delphi, and the sacred games are said to have been at first only
a musical contest, which consisted in singing a hymn to the honour of the Pythian
god with the accompaniment of the cithara (Paus. x. 7, § 2; Strab. ix. p. 421).
Some of the poets, however, and mythographers represent even the gods and the
early heroes as engaged in gymnastic and equestrian contests at the Pythian games.
But such statements, numerous as they are, can prove nothing; they are anachronisms
in which late writers were fond of indulging. The description of the Pythian games
in which Sophocles, in the Electra, makes Orestes take part, belongs to this class.
The Pythian games must, on account of the celebrity of the Delphic oracle, have
become a national festival for all the Greeks at a very early period; and when
Solon fixed pecuniary rewards for those Athenians who were victors in the great
national festivals, the Pythian agon was undoubtedly included in the number, though
it is not expressly mentioned (Diog. Laert. i. 55).
Whether gymnastic contests had been performed at the Pythian games
previous to Ol. 47, is uncertain. Boeckh supposes that these two kinds of games
had been connected at the Pythia from early times, but that afterwards the gymnastic
games were neglected; but, however this may be, it is certain that about Ol. 47
they did not exist at Delphi. Down to Ol. 48 the Delphians themselves had been
the agonothetae at the Pythian games; but in the third year of this Olympiad,
when after the Crissaean war the Amphictyons took the management under their care,
they naturally became the agonothetae (Strab. ix. p. 421; Paus. x. 7, § 3). Some
of the ancients date the institution of the Pythian games from this time (Phot.
Cod. p. 533, ed. Bekker), and others say that henceforth they were called Pythian
games. Owing to their being under the management of the Amphictyons, they are
sometimes called Amphiktuonika athla (Heliod. Aeth. iv. 1). From Ol. 48. 3, the
Pythiads were occasionally used as an era, and the first celebration under the
Amphictyons was the first Pythiad. Pausanias expressly states that in this year
the original musical contest in kitharoidia was extended by the addition of auloidia,
i. e. singing with the accompaniment of the flute, and by that of flute-playing
alone. Strabo in speaking of these innovations does not mention the auloidia,
but states that the contest of cithara-players (kitharistai) was added, while
Pausanias assigns the introduction of this contest to the eighth Pythiad. One
of the musical contests at the Pythian games in which only flute and cithara-players
took part, was the socalled nomos Puthikos, which, at least in subsequent times,
consisted of five parts, viz. anakrousis, ampeira, katakeleusmos, iamboi kai daktuloi,
and suringes. The whole of this nomos was a musical description of the fight of
Apollo with the dragon and of his victory over the monster (Strabo). A somewhat
different account of the parts of this nomos is given by the Scholiast on Pindar
(Argum. ad Pyth.) and by Pollux (iv. 79, 81, 84).
Besides these innovations in the musical contests which were made
in the first Pythiad, such gymnastic and equestrian games as were then customary
at Olympia were either revived at Delphi or introduced for the first time. The
chariot-race with four horses was not introduced till the second Pythiad (Paus.
x. 7, § 3). Some games on the other hand were adopted which had not yet been practised
at Olympia, viz. the dolichos and the diaulos for boys. In the first Pythiad the
victors received chremata as their prize, but in the second a chaplet was established
as the reward for the victors (Paus. and Schol. ad Pind.). The Scholiasts on Pindar
reckon the first Pythiad from this introduction of the chaplet, and their system
has been followed by most modern chronologers, though Pausanias expressly assigns
this institution to the second Pythiad. (See Clinton, F. H. p. 195; Krause, Die
Pyth. Nem., &c. p. 21, &c.) The auloidia, which was introduced in the first Pythiad,
was omitted at the second and ever after, as only elegies and threnoi had been
sung to the flute, which were thought too melancholy for this solemnity. The tethrippos,
or chariotrace with four horses, however, was added in the same Pythiad. In the
eighth Pythiad (Ol. 55. 3) the contest in playing the cithara without singing
was introduced; in Pythiad 23 the footrace in arms was added; in Pythiad 48 the
chariot-race with two full-grown horses (sunoridos dromos) was performed for the
first time; in Pythiad 53 the chariot-race with four foals was introduced. In
Pythiad 61 the pancratium for boys, in Pythiad 63 the horse-race with foals, and
in Pythiad 69 the chariot-race with two foals were introduced (Paus.). Various
musical contests were also added in the course of time; and contests in tragedy
as well as in other kinds of poetry, and in recitations of historical compositions,
are expressly mentioned (Philostr. Vit. Soph. ii. 27, 2; Plunt. Sympos. ii. 4).
Works of art, as paintings and sculptures, were exhibited to the assembled Greeks,
and prizes were awarded to those who had produced the finest work (Plin. xxxv.
§ 35). The musical and artistic contests were at all times the most prominent
feature of the Pythian games, and in this respect they even excelled the Olympic
Previous to Ol. 48 the Pythian games had been an ennaeteris, that
is, they had been celebrated at the end of every eighth year; but in Ol. 48. 3,
they became, like the Olympia, a penteteris, i. e. they were held at the end of
every fourth year, and a Pythiad therefore, ever since the time that it was used
as an era, comprehended a space of four years, commencing with the third year
of every Olympiad (Paus. l. c.; Diod. xv. 60; compare Clinton, F. H. p. 195).
Others have, in opposition to direct statements, inferred from Thucydides (iv.
117, v. 1) that the Pythian games were held towards the end of the second year
of every Olympiad. Respecting this controversy, see Krause, l. c. p. 29, &c. As
for the season of the Pythian games, they were in all probability held in the
spring, and most writers believe that it was in the month of Bysius, which is
supposed to be the same as the Attic Munychion. Boeckh (ad Corp. Inscript. n.
1688), however, has shown that the games took place in the month of Bucatius,
which followed after the month of Bysius, and that this month must be considered
as the same as the Attic Munychion. The festival was probably timed to coincide
with the spring meetings of the Amphictyons at Delphi (Aeschin. c. Ctes. § 254).
The games lasted for several days, as is expressly mentioned by Sophocles (Elect.
690, &c.), but we do not know how many. When ancient writers speak of the day
of the Pythian agon, they are probably thinking of the musical agon alone, which
was the most important part of the games, and probably took place on the 7th of
Bucatius. It is quite impossible to conceive that all the numerous games should
have taken place on one day.
The concourse of strangers at the season of this panegyris must have
been very great, as undoubtedly all the Greeks were allowed to attend. The states
belonging to the amphictyony of Delphi had to send their theori in the month of
Bysius, some time before the commencement of the festival itself (Boeckh, Corp.
Inscr.). The theories sent by the Athenians were always particularly brilliant
(Schol. ad Aristoph. Av. 1585). As regards sacrifices, processions, and other
solemnities, it may be presumed that they resembled in a great measure those of
Olympia. A splendid, though probably in some degree fictitious, description of
a theoria of Thessalians may be read in Heliodorus (Aeth. ii. 34).
As to the order in which the various games were performed, scarcely
anything is known, with the exception of some allusions in Pindar and a few remarks
of Plutarch. The latter (Symp. ii. 4; comp. Philostr. Apoll. Tyan. vi. 10) says
that the musical contests preceded the gymnastic contests, and from Sophocles
it is clear that the gymnastic contests preceded the horse and chariot races.
Every game, moreover, which was performed by men and by boys, was always, as at
Olympia, first performed by the latter (Plut. Symp. ii. 5).
We have stated above that, down to Ol. 48, the Delphians had the management
of the Pythian games; but of the manner in which they were conducted previous
to that time nothing is known. When they came under the care of the Amphictyons,
especial persons were appointed for the purpose of conducting the games and of
acting as judges. They were called Epimeletai (Plut. Symp. ii. 4, vii. 5), and
answered to the Olympian Hellanodicae. Their number is unknown. There must, however,
have been at least three: one for the musical, gymnastic, and equestrian contests
respectively (Krause, l. c. p. 44). In later times it was decreed by the Amphictyons
that king Philip with the Thessalians and Boeotians should undertake the management
of the games (Diod. xvi. 60), but Krause thinks this was a purely honorary office,
the real work of presiding remaining in the hands of the Amphictyons; and afterwards,
even under the Roman emperors, the Amphictyons again appear in the possession
of this privilege (Philostr. Vit. Soph. ii. 27). The epimeletai had to maintain
peace and order, and were assisted by mastigophoroi, who executed any punishment
at their command, and thus answered to the Olympian alutai (Luc. adv. Indoct.
The prize given to the victors in the Pythian games was from the time
of the second Pythiad a laurel chaplet (to phuton tes daphnes); so that they then
became an agon stephanites, while before they had been an agon chrematites. The
laurel sprays of which the chaplet was composed were brought by boys whose parents
were both alive (paides amphithaleis) from the Vale of TempS, accompanied on the
way by a fluteplayer (Plut. peri mous. c. 14). (Paus. x. 7, § 3; Schol. in Argum.
ad Pind. Pyth.) In addition to this chaplet, the victor here, as at Olympia, received
the symbolic palm-branch, and was allowed to have his own statue erected in the
Crissaean plain. (Plut. Symp. viii. 4; Paus. vi. 15, § 3, 17, § 1; Justin. xxiv.
7, 10.) That sometimes apples were presented to victors in the great Pythian games
as prizes is clear from many passages in later writers. (Cf. Luc. Anach. 9, 10,
13, 16; Liban. Eloqu. Rom. t. ii. 716 R.; Paus. vi. 9, 1; Schol. Pind. Pyth. Arg.
p. 298 B.)
The time when the Pythian games ceased to be solemnised is not certain,
but they probably lasted as long as the Olympic games, i. e. down to A.D. 394.
In A.D. 191 a celebration of the Pythia is mentioned by Philostratus (Vit. Soph.
ii. 27), and in the time of the Emperor Julian they still continued to be held,
as is manifest from his own words (Jul. Epist. pro Argiv. p. 35 a).
Pythian games of less importance were celebrated in a great many other
places where the worship of Apollo was introduced; and the games of Delphi are
sometimes distinguished from these lesser Pythia by the addition of the words
en Delphois. But as by far the greater number of the lesser Pythia are not mentioned
in the extant ancient writers, and are only known from coins or inscriptions,
we shall only give a list of the places where they were held:--Ancyra in Galatia,
Aphrodisias in Caria, Antiochia, [p. 530] Carthaea in the island of Ceos (Athen.
x. pp. 456, 467), Carthage (Tertull. Scorp. 6), Cibyra in Phrygia, Delos (Dionys.
Perieg. 527), Emisa in Syria, Hierapolis in Phrygia, Magnesia, Megara (Schol.
ad Pind. Nem. v. 84, Ol. xiii. 155; Philostr. Vit. Soph. i. 3), Miletus, Neapolis
in Italy, Nicaea in Bithynia, Nicomedia, Pergamus in Mysia, Perge in Pamphylia,
Perinthus on the Propontis, Philippopolis in Thrace, Side in Pamphylia, Sicyon
(Pind. Ol. xiii. 105, with the Schol.; Nem. ix. 51), Taba in Caria, Thessalonice
in Macedonia, in Thrace, Thyatira, and Tralles in Lydia, Tripolis on the Maeander
in Caria. (Krause, Die Pythien, Nemeen und Isthmien, pp. 1-106.)
This text is from: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin)