Phallic Procession & Sacrifice

Aristophanes, Acharnanians 241–284 with Scholia

Dicaeopolis: “Speak auspiciously, speak auspiciously (euphēmeîte euphēmeîte)!¹
Let the basket-carrier (kanēphóros) walk a little in front,²
Let Xanthias hold the phallus up straight!³
Now, my daughter, set down the basket, so that we may make offerings!”

Daughter: “Mother, give me the ladle,
So that I may pour the sauce onto the flatbread!“⁴

Dicaeopolis: “It is well! O lord Dionysus (Ô Diónyse déspota),
Grant that I, who gladly conduct this procession
And sacrifice together with my household
May continue to keep the Rural Dionysia with fortune! […]

“Xanthias, you must carry the phallus erect⁵
Behind the basket-carrier!
And I shall follow, singing the phallic (song).⁶
And you, my wife, watch me from the roof! Go on!

[The phallic song:]

“Phales, companion of Bacchius⁷
And fellow reveller, roaming about at night,
You adulterer! You lover of boys (paiderasta)!⁸

“After six years (of war) I can address you,
Come among the people and sing,
After I have made a truce,
Freed from acres and battles
And the likes of (general) Lamachus.

“For how much sweeter, o Phales, Phales,
Is it to find the pretty wood-carrier stealing
From Mt Phelleus, that Thratta, Strymodorus’ slave,
To catch her round, to seize her,
To throw her down and destone her!⁹

“Phales, Phales,
If you drink with us, after the drinking-bout
In the morning, you will drink down a bowl for peace;
And I will hang up my shield on the chimney.“

[The Chorus, which is opposed to Dicaeopolis, disturbs the proceedings.]

Dicaeopolis: “By Heracles, what is this? You will knock over the pot!“¹⁰

Notes, from the Ancient Scholia

1: “Dicaeopolis says this as he is about to make sacrifice; for this was the custom.” (To speak auspiciously, in this context, meant to be silent.)

2: “At the festival of the Dionysia among the Athenians, the well-born girls would carry baskets; the baskets were made of gold, and they would place the first-fruits of all (produce) on them.”

3: “The phallus is a long (staff of) wood with leather genitalia attached at the top. And the phallus is set up for Dionysus according to some mystic reason. And the following is said about this phallus: [A man called] Pegasus took the cult statue of Dionysus from Eleutherae – Eleutherae being a city in Boeotia – and came to Attica. The Attic people did not receive the god with respect, but he did not leave them unpaid for their intent. For since the god was wrathful, a disease began to affect the genitalia of the men, and the misery was incurable. As they were in despair about this disease, which was beyond all human conceit and skill, they sent delegates to Delphi (theōroi) with haste, and when these returned, they said that the only cure would be to treat the god with every respect. Persuaded by these messages, the Athenians made phalluses, both privately and publically, and they celebrated the god with these, to serve as a reminder of their suffering. And also because the god is the cause of childbirth, because drunkenness increases lust and sexuality (aphrodisia). [… ] A phallus is a penis; and he is making fun of his slave. For Xanthias is a slave name. […] For the slaves in comedy are Xanthias, Tibius, Sosias, Davus (gr. Daos) and Getas.”

4: “The ‘flatbread’ (elatēr) is a flat, cake-like pastry. It also has its name because of this, from how it is drawn out into a flat shape with the hands.” Another scholium: “It is a flat baked good, which they would put sauce onto and then bring it to the altar. And every flat (baked good) is flatbread; they are also called sunken because of their flatness, and pelanoi in Euripides.”

5: “You who follow after the basket-carrier must hold and carry the phallus straight. But at the same time, this is a double entendre, because the phallus is in imitation of genitals. So the comic poet is making a joke, saying that he must hold his phallus erect behind the girl.”

6: “Phallic songs is what songs sung upon the phallus are called. And they are to/about Dionysus [=wine] or another crop.”

7: “The comic poet says that Phales is the companion of Dionysus, because sex follows the Dionysiac drink.”

8: “Adulterer, because those who are drunk are incited to sex. But it must be understood that these things, ‘adulterer’ and ‘lover of boys’, are not said blasphemously, but because the phallus makes people joke and laugh, just as in Homer, because of the condition of the soul (of the speaker, Ares is called) ‘Ares, Ares, plague upon mortals!’”

9: The commentary on this whole section is rather bare. The joke, such as it is, consists in describing a sexual act as something else: ‘catching a girl taking wood from my Mt Phallus estate and seizing her for a full-body search’, more or less.

10: “Dicaeopolis, being pelted with rocks by the chorus, calls on Heracles as an averter of evil (alexikakos). But it is entirely ridiculous that he does not care about his own head but worries about the pot in which was the sauce.”