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Is the Great Dionysia Better Defined as a

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Introduction

Is the Great Dionysia Better Defined as a Religious Festival or an Opportunity for Athenian Imperial Display? The Great Dionysia, celebrated in the Greek month of Elaphebolion, was seen by all Athenians as an important religious festival. It became a vital celebration in the Athenian calendar and gained international status; many 'foreign aliens' travelled from other Attic states to witness the performances. Athenians saw it as a religious festival with rituals that needed to be followed, however, prominent politicians were able to use this to their advantage. Some ceremonies suggest a projection of imperial wealth and yet the Athenians still thought of it as religious significance. Every year the Athenian spent approximately five days celebrating the deity Dionysus. He being the god presiding over altered states the festival was quite fitting. Philochorus wrote; 'Throughout the whole performance wine was poured for them...As the chorus entered they filled their cups to drink and when the play was over while the chorus were leaving they filled up again.1' The drinking of the wine is seen as a ritual at the festival and it is unknown whether the wine was free or bought by the citizens; Philochorus implies in the previous extract that it was free-flowing for all. ...read more.

Middle

Every year three 'Choregoi' are chosen to fund the event. Together with this more wealthy citizens are chosen to fund each play and again prizes are given to those who play is best received. (In terms of costumes and training.) There was no set amount that needed to be spent; citizens were able to spend as little or as much as they wished. But by making the funding a public competition it meant more money was put into it for a wealthy choregos would want to show the rest of the city that they had sufficient property to create a marvellous play. 'I won first prize as Khoregos with a men's dithyrambic chorus at the Dionysia, spending 5000 drachmas.4' Parke likewise, suggests that the use of the liturgy could affect a career if used appropriately. 'As a shrewd politician he must have reckoned that the propaganda value of all this expenditure would repay itself later in his career.5' Nevertheless, the festival also included some pre-play performances which can be seen as simply a 'projection of self-image, such a projection of power.6' The most powerful display is the contrast between the tributes and the procession of the war orphans. ...read more.

Conclusion

in which the tribute is laid out and paraded, in an undignified nature, is simply a way to impress the allies with Athens' wealth. However when this is paralleled with the march of the war orphans, a balance is created to make the event seem more valuable. All the pre-ceremonial presentations (the tribute, the procession of war orphans, the libations of ten generals, and the announcement of the states benefactors) all contribute to the theory that the festival is a civic occasion put forward by Goldhill in his article12. He sees the Great Dionysia as a city festival, promoting civic ideology rather than a religious event. He writes; 'it was a public display of the success in military and political terms of the city. It used the state festival to glorify the state.' However, to judge the public displays of wealth, power and success and condemn them for being unreligious is questionable as they may today be considered as ways to show off but in Ancient Greece they may have been a traditional part of religious festivals. This is true of competitions; today they are not held to be religious however in fifth century Athens they were vital. 'The combination of procession, sacrifice and celebration was itself a structure typical of fifth century Athenian religious practice. ...read more.

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