The frieze of the Attic Calendar

Fregio generale

This frieze can be seen on the top of the wall above the main entrance of the church of Agios Eleutherios in Athens, also known as ‘Little Metropolis’, that is why this frieze is often referred to as the ‘Frieze of Little Metropolis’. This church is completely made up of fragments of ancient monuments…the main entrance, as already said, is decorated by this frieze of Pentelic marble, which shows the months of the Attic Calendar, some festivals, and the complete circle of the Zodiac. It is very important also because it attempts to put together and coordinate the lunar calendar (Attic months and festivals) and the solar calendar (the signs of the Zodiac).

It has been fully discussed by I. Svoronos, L. Deubner and E. Simon. I write here a small summary in order to help all those who are making reasearches on the Attic Calendar, as well as in behalf of those who are simply interested to discover and know better their roots…

It begins with the month Pyanepsion, which may allude to its dating to the period of Emperor Hadrian. Thus, the frieze begins with a personification of the Attic month Pyanepsion (from left to right).

Pyanepsion

He is young, wearing a chiton with short sleeves and a himation. This is a month rich in festivals, and three can easily be recognized here: the Pyanopsia are represented by a boy holding a branch on his shoulder, the Eiresione. A naked man treading on a pile of grapes and holding out a vine branch stands for the Oschophoria. A woman carrying a cista on her head stands for the Thesmophoria. Next comes the zodiac sign of Scorpio, shown without its claws because these will be used to indicate Libra further down the frieze at its end. A muffled male dancer comes next. He wears boots and his face is covered by his cloak. He may represent another festival, held towards the end of Pyanepsion, either the Apatouria or the Chalkeia.

 

Maimakterion is shown as a young man wrapped up in his cloak, for this month introduces winter. Next come the ritual ploughing and sowing: end of agricultural works. Next, the zodiacal sign of the Sagittarius.

Maimakterion

The Attic month Poseideon  wears a himation covering his chest, and boots. His long hair and luxuriant beard are unusual for a citizen, being more common to divine figures like Zeus. Period of the Winter Solstice.

 

Poseideon is accompanied by a festival personification. The festival in question is symbolized by a cock fight, which takes place over a palm branch in front of a table laden with five crowns. Three judges sit behind the table: the festival of the Rural Dionysia. Next the zodiacal sign of the Capricorn.

Poseideon

Next is Gamelion, bearded, covered by a mantle and in boots. He is followed by Dionysos as a child, carrying a thyrsos and riding a billy goat, an allusion to the Lenaia. The woman on the right may symbolize the Theogamia/Gamelia on the 27th day of the month. The block breaks off at this point, marking the end of the frieze as reused by the christians. But the original frieze would have continued, carrying the zodiac signs of Aquarius and Pisces, the personifications of the Attic months Anthesterion and Elaphebolion, and allegories of the festivals in Anthesterion.

The frieze resumes with a festival personification holding out a wreath.  A bearded man leading a goat to sacrifice may stand for the Megala Dionysia/en astei. Next is the zodiac sign of Aries- beginning of Springtime.

Elaphebolion-Mounichion

The personification of Mounichion, shown as a young man with bare chest, stands next to Artemis and Her deer, who symbolize the festival of Mounichia, on the 16th of the month. The cross obliterates the upper part of the sign of Taurus. A naked runner with a torch is visible to the right of the cross. The runner may well be associated with the torch-race at the Bendideia. He may, in fact, stand for Thargelion itself.

 

Skirophorion, represented as a young man with bare chest and crowned with fruit, comes next, followed by Gemini. The naked athlete crowning himself may stand for the foot race at the Skira.

Skirophorion

The next festival event is Dipoleia, held on the Akropolis on Skirophorion 14. It is represented by the Boutypos holding an axe over a bull. Next the zodiacal sign of Cancer. The next month is Hekatombaion, young and half-naked, who holds out a wreath and is followed by the personification of the Great Panathenaia. The Panathenaic procession is symbolized by the ship cart carrying the peplos of Athena, which was partly obliterated by a cross. The height of the summer is marked by the zodiac sign of Leo shown on top and the star Sirius below.

 

Next there is a winged woman holding out a plate of fruit, perhaps the zodiac sign of Virgo: the lack of a lunar month, let alone of any festivals, in the solar month from Leo to Virgo is surprising. It may indicate that what we have here is an intercalary month, Hekatombaion II.

Metageitnion

Metageitnion personified as a young  follows the sign of Virgo. Herakles stands next to him. His appearance here may be explained by the Herakleia festival, known as the Herakleia at Diomeia or at Kynosarges. The young woman in Attic peplos and chiton with short sleeves holding an inverted mirror  could be Kore: Eleusinia festival.

Boedromion is then represented: he is another palliatus. The personified month is accompanied by a horseman, presumably representing one of the Athenian ephebes that escorted the holy things from Eleusis to the Athenian Eleusinion. The frieze concludes with Scorpio’s claws, symbolizing Libra.

 

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