Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.11.37

Benedetto Bravo, Pannychis e simposio: Feste private notturne di donne e uomini nei testi letterari e nel culto, con uno studio iconografico di Françoise Frontisi-Ducroux.   Pisa and Rome:  Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 1997.  Pp. 140, 7 pls.  ISBN 88-8147-007-1.  

Reviewed by Edward Kadletz, Ball State University (
Word count: 1134 words

This small book deals with an interesting topic and manages to squeeze some suggestive points out of very scanty evidence. But since its results are speculative in the extreme, in the end it unfortunately adds very little to the few facts previously known.

In his Antiquitates Romanae (2.19), Dionysius of Halicarnassus mentioned, among several aberrant religious practices of the Greeks that the Romans had rightly done away with, all-night festivals held in sacred precincts by men and women together. The word translated as "all-night festivals" is διαραννυχισμούς, apparently a hapax, and the aberration is the mixing together of men and women, who were normally severely segregated from each other in Greek society. Bravo gives evidence showing that ῥαννυχίς, the stem of Dionysius' coinage, can also mean a dance by females at an all-night festival, and interprets διαραννυχισμούς as referring to such dances. The purpose of his monograph is to find references in Greek literature to this practically unknown religious observance.

For his first piece of evidence, Bravo examines some sections of Menander's Dyskolos, in which a private festival similar to that mentioned by Dionysius takes place. The parallel is not exact, as Bravo admits. The festivities in the play are not planned, but are rather a spontaneous celebration of the betrothals of four young people, a celebration that brings together the members, male and female, of the new extended family that these unions will create. Also, this party takes place in a sanctuary only by accident. But Bravo contends that these occurrences and the subsequent description of the merrymaking are meant to call up in the audience the memory, common to many of them, of such all-night festivals. Menander's detailed description of the festivities also allows Bravo to expand his definition of the festival: it combined dancing by the women with a concurrent symposion held by the men.

Bravo then continues his search for references to such a festival with a fragmentary poem by Kritias (88 B1 D.-K.). Kritias praises Anakreon for writing beautiful, immortal poems whose popularity will live "as long as the slave shall carry around, in cups, the wine mixed with water, distributing the toasts from left to right, and as long as female choruses shall busy themselves with the sacred dances of the pannychis, and as long as the plastinx, daughter of bronze, shall sit on high, on the extreme tip of the kottabos, exposed to the drops of Bromios." The last reference is to the famous kottabos, a game played at symposia in which the drinkers tossed the dregs of their wine at a bowl. Bravo convincingly argues against interpretations of this passage advanced by Wilamowitz, Bowra, and others, who stressed the fact that Anakreon was famous for his erotic poetry and argued that these lines of Kritias refer to such erotic poetry, to be sung perhaps by hetairai. Bravo, instead, argues that Kritias refers to songs sung and danced to by maidens at a pannychis that was performed together with a symposion of the male members of the same family.

He then proposes to find two such poems written by Anakreon for female choruses to sing at a pannychis/symposion. Here, however, wishful thinking seems to get the better of reason. His first example (fr. 63 Gent.) is very fragmentary, and its only connection to the question Bravo is dealing with is the word ῥάννυχος. Bravo starts from this clue and, through a series of close textual readings and clever emendations, fills in the rest of the poem. He tries to show that it is a poem sung by a chorus of women, but not hetairai, at a pannychis. He then ties it to another fragment of Anakreion (fr. 62 Gent.), to introduce the needed symposion. This poem is even more fragmentary, but Bravo emends it until he has a poem dealing with a pannychis/symposion that was part of the celebrations in honor of Dionysos at the Anthesteria. This is very clever work, but, without corroborating evidence, it is not convincing.

The centerpiece of the book is a long discussion of a fragmentary poem of the third century B.C. (P. Berol. 13270) from Elephantine. This poem has been taken to be a set of skolia, riddles meant to be recited at a symposion, while three words written in the left margin of the manuscript supposedly give the answers to the three riddles. Bravo goes through every interpretation of this poem that has been published and convincingly argues that they are all wrong. The words in the margin are not answers to riddles, but editorial corrections and comments. He then continues with his own very detailed reading of the poem. But, as before, while many of his ideas are thought-provoking, his conclusion remains speculative in the extreme. The fragment begins:

. . . .]ΑΙ ΘΥΓΑΤ . .[

and the third line contains a mention of a temenos of Bromios. Bravo manages to wring from these few facts and the traces of letters he thinks he saw at a viewing of the original papyrus (locked in a glass case, a fact that precluded very close inspection) the belief that the daughter who seems to be mentioned is the child of Semachos, who entertained Dionysos in his home on the god's first arrival in Athens, which occurred during the reign of Amphiktyon according to two late works on chronology. A further close investigation of various sources, including Phanodemos and Philochoros, leads Bravo to the conclusion that the poem as a whole was a dithyramb meant to be sung at the Anthesteria. It is difficult to give an adequate description of Bravo's complex method in a short review, but suffice it to say that, despite his editorial rigor, he will convince few scholars.

He ends his study with a discussion of some fragments of Kallimachos. His methods and conclusions are the same. He combines mere mentions of a pannychis and a symposion into evidence for the combination of these two rituals into one whole, though he must admit that this was not held in honor of Dionysos, as the rituals suggested by his other evidence seemed to be.

An addendum to Bravo's study contains an equally unconvincing brief examination of a few Lenaian vases by Françoise Frontisi-Ducroux, a member of the Centre Louis Gernet. She very cautiously suggests that some of these images may refer to the type of ritual that Bravo investigates in the main part of the book. Not one of her examples, however, actually shows women dancing and men drinking at the same time.

It is a pleasure to observe Bravo's masterly attempts to find evidence for this otherwise unexampled ritual; his manipulations of the texts are ingenious. In the end, however, almost all his evidence exists only in the lacunae of the texts, and his book remains suggestive, but unconvincing.

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