Classical Athens was a time of great superstition, participation of cult activities, and interesting ideas. From Eleusinian mysteries to the Panathenaea, classical Athens was sprouting in festivals and cultic worship. The cult of Dionysus at Athens was no exception. Dionysus was the god of wine, theater and rebirth among other things. Some people, scholars and non-scholars alike, believe him to be the last of the Olympian gods, though he is mentioned in Linear B with other Olympic deities. He received state cult, and evidence of his worship and importance to Greek society and religion was prominent throughout all of classical Athens. Dionysus was significant and the classical Greek world ...view middle of the document...
Much of this occurred in what was presumably the most important part of the theater save the main stage, namely the orchestra. As Gebhard states in her article, Wilhelm Dörpfeld’s archaeological projects helped us uncover the physical nature of the Athenian orchestra. From here, much of the singing and dancing that was significant in Athenian plays was performed here. Actors had to fully engulf themselves into the role they were playing, in order that they may receive the cathartic effect given to them by Dionysus himself. While these aspects of theater are part of the actual play Bacchae, it has given us insight into the set-up of theater, the stage and some religious practices. From all this, it is obvious that honoring Dionysus through theater was important to invoke his favor. Since he has always been attributed to merriment and pleasure, it is not surprising that theater would be connected to the religious worship of Dionysus.
In the month of Gamelion and on the twelfth day , corresponding to our December/January, theatrical competitions were held in honor and worship of Dionysus in the form of the Lenaia. Unlike the later Great Dionysia, the Lenaia was only open to citizens. There was a short procession to initiate the Lenaia, and it began with an invocation of Dionysus, followed by his symbolic entrance with his nymhs. Athenians competing engaged in both comedic and tragic plays, with five competitors in comedy plays, and two in tragedies, along with dithyrambic melodies. In addition, secret competitions (arrheton) were held near the temple of Dionysus outside of the city in the marshes, which were directed by the Dionysian Gerairai. While our knowledge of the Lenaia may not be as comprehensive as some of the other Dionysian festivals, its importance is nonetheless highly important. Gamelion started what some scholars referred to as the time of the Lord of Souls (Dionysus) or the Dionysian Season, a time that was unquestionably sacred to the Athenian calendar. Moreover, the Lenaia was a time of birth, specifically Dionysus’s. This was the most important part of the Lenaia. The dithyrambic songs were centered around birth, and the birth of Dionysus and his genesis as the Child of Wonder. Clearly Dionysus’s reverence was palpable, as he was honored as a god of birth, and as will be discussed in the Anthesteria, a god of rebirth and renewal.
Jon Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion, (Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010), 58.
The existence of the lesser/rustic Dionysia is recognized, but does not directly tie to Athenian worship of Dionysus, rather it relates to surrounding allied communities, so its relevance is little.
Helene Foley, "The Masque of Dionysus," Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), 110 (1980): 107.
Elizabeth Gebhard, "The Form of the Orchestra in the Early Greek Theater," Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical...