Thursday, July 23, 2009


The Maiuma was a festival that existed in a number of cities, but Antioch, as was typical, managed to turn a mere religious event into something very special. Antiochenes had a touch of the Gatsby about their party-going.

Chrysostom spoke on the subject on the Maiuma: "For tell me, if anyone offered to introduce you into a palace, and show you the king sitting (there), would you indeed choose to see the theatre instead of these things? … And you leave this and run to the theatre to see women swimming, and nature put to open dishonour, leaving Christ sitting by the well? … But you, leaving the fountain of blood, the awful cup, go your way to the fountain of the devil, to see a harlot swim, and to endure shipwreck of the soul. For that water is a sea of lasciviousness, not drowning bodies, but working shipwreck of souls. And while she swims naked, you, as you behold, are plunged into the depths of lasciviousness. … For in the first place, through a whole night the devil takes over their souls with the expectation of it; then having shown them the expected object, he has at once bound them and made them captives … If now you are ashamed, and blush at the comparison, rise up to your nobility and flee the sea of hell and the river of fire, (I mean) the pool in the theatre … And you, when there is a question of precedence, claim to have priority over the whole world, since our city first crowned itself with the name of Christian; but in the competition of chastity, are you not ashamed to be behind the ruder cities?"

Bouchier (quoting Malalas) reports that Commodus funded a number of building programs and also " "... the triennial nocturnal festival of Bacchus and Aphrodite called the Maiuma. For the lamps and candles with which the city was illuminated on the latter occasion certain revenues were set aside."

George Soane in his book on ancient festivals notes: "This festival was celebrated with much splendour, banquets and in offerings, as we are told by the Emperor Julian, in his satirical address, the Misopogon, to the people of Antioch, and in time it appears to have degenerated so deeply into licentiousness that it was suppressed, so far as laws could suppress it, in the reign of Constantine, together with the feasts of Pan and Bacchus. Under the united rule of Arcadius and Honorius, it was restored, though with caution, the imperial mandate declaring, " clementiae nostrae placuit ut Maiumae provincialibus laetitia reddatur ; ita tamen ut servetur honestas, et verecundia castis moribus perseveret." Imp. Cod. lib. xi. tit. 45.

The admonition, however, in regard to decency and sobriety, does not seem to have produced any very desirable effect upon the minds of the people, for in the same reign it was once more forbidden on the plea of licentiousness by a rescript to the prefect Aurelian, which is still extant in the Theodosian Code, (lib. xv. tit. vi.) It is, however, plain, that though the Maiuma might be condemned by the edicts of emperors and the fulminations of saints (i.e. Chrysostom), it persisted."

Gerald Rendall claims that Libanius declared that the essence of the Maiuma was ' not to abstain from any kind of abomination.'
It is suggested that the theatre unearthed at Daphne was inundatable so that the aquatic frolics that accompanied the Maiuma could be presented there. Some have suggested that the representation of a boating basin in the Megalopsychia Mosiac represents, possibly, the theatre at Daphne in its flooded state. 
The worship of Adonis was also of great importance in Antioch. The festival associated with the commemoration (and seeming resurrection) of Adonis was called the Adonies. No evidence of a temple complex or sanctuary has been found but that is not surprising as Adonis was not a god himself but one of the favorites of Aphrodite. The festival though seems to have taken to the streets of the city. It consisted, perversely, of weeping and wailing rather than whooping it up. The main participants were women, an interesting antecedent to the public displays of mass grief that are still a feature in the Middle East. 
Sir James Frazer in his book "The Golden Bough" (1922) refers to some of the festivities: "One of the earliest seats of the worship of the new god (i.e. Christianity) was Antioch, and at Antioch, as we have seen, the death of the old god (i.e. Adonis) was annually celebrated with great solemnity. A circumstance which attended the entrance of Julian into the city at the time of the Adonis festival may perhaps throw some light on the date of its celebration. When the emperor drew near to the city he was received with public prayers as if he had been a god, and he marvelled at the voices of a great multitude who cried that the Star of Salvation had dawned upon them in the East. This may doubtless have been no more than a fulsome compliment paid by an obsequious Oriental crowd to the Roman emperor. But it is also possible that the rising of a bright star regularly gave the signal for the festival, and that as chance would have it the star emerged above the rim of the eastern horizon at the very moment of the emperor’s approach. The coincidence, if it happened, could hardly fail to strike the imagination of a superstitious and excited multitude, who might thereupon hail the great man as the deity whose coming was announced by the sign in the heavens. Or the emperor may have mistaken for a greeting to himself the shouts which were addressed to the star. Now Astarte, the divine mistress of Adonis, was identified with the planet Venus, and her changes from a morning to an evening star were carefully noted by the Babylonian astronomers, who drew omens from her alternate appearance and disappearance. Hence we may conjecture that the festival of Adonis was regularly timed to coincide with the appearance of Venus as the Morning or Evening Star. But the star which the people of Antioch saluted at the festival was seen in the East; therefore, if it was indeed Venus, it can only have been the Morning Star". 
The most important source on this event is Jean-Francois Vieslet of the University of Louvain in Belgium. His chapter "Les Adonies d'Antioche au IV siecle apres J.C." in his thesis "Les fastes d'Antioche et le crepuscule du paganisme. Analyse des fetes paiennes d'Antioche au IVe s. ap. J.C." was submitted in 2004-5. The chapter in question is available here. His study covers the whole gamut of the Adonis festival, its origins, its manifestations (including the use of dolls to represent Adonis and the growing of mini-gardens in pots that were then cast into the ocean), the historical record and the way in which the festival was "celebrated" in Antioch.  

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