top of page
  • Writer's pictureMar de Afetos

ARKTEIA: THE RITE OF PASSAGE IN ANCIENT GREECE


This post is the theoretical part behind the tale "Farewell Letter to Artemis". The aim is to combine theory with creativity to address such an important, subjective, imprecise and complex theme in our society: the ritual of passage.


Campbell (1970) described the four functions of mythology: cosmological, sociological, mystical and psychological. In these frameworks, the ceremony of passage would act as a form of awareness of their role in society, of another level of human consciousness, and a welcome to a new life stage, respectively.


Through their cosmological and sociological function, the myths organised the prevailing social orders, like:


  • the changes of the seasons,

  • the times of transcending morals, and

  • the time the child becomes"individual".


Although this type of ritualisation has been more and more indefinite nowadays in our culture, "Farewell Letter to Artemis" will tell an adolescent's story about finishing her ceremony of passage in ancient Greece.


Artemis is the goddess responsible for the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood, responsible for making the "wild girl" into a real citizen in the Greek community. Artemis is the sister of Apollo, daughter of Zeus and Leto. The Slayer, the Runner of the Woods, the Wild, the Sagittarius. Representing otherness, she is also the Young Maiden, the eternal virgin who, after a day of hunting, coordinates the choir of teenagers in Olympus who in the future will become her companions: Nymphs.


According to Vernant (1985), many Greeks knew her as Xéne - a foreign goddess - whose people had welcomed and changed according to their culture. In any case, Artemis still represents the wild goddess and, especially, of hunting. She lives in the woods: the border between the wild and the cultivated.


Hunting represents the threshold between the wild and the civilised world, very important for the education of young people and the Greek community. The Greek gods were ambivalent: irradiated e kóre, hunter and protector of animals, wild goddess, Artemis does not represent savagery because there is responsibility in the hunting, and the goddess is responsible for announcing the barbarity and blaming the offenders.


Artemis is also Curótrofa, according to Vernant (1985):


"Artemis is the Curótrofa par excellence. It takes care of all the shoots, the animals and the humans, whether male or female. Its function is to nourish them, to make them grow and mature until they become fully adult" (Vernant, p. 21). [1]

Simultaneously, as the goddess hunts, kills and represents the wild side, she is also the protector of animals, children, and adolescents. She accompanies young people to adulthood, granting them rituals of passage. Making Artemis protect young people and at the same time, kill them, leading them to become Greek citizens.


Even rejecting loving contacts and being a virgin goddess, Artemis is also the goddess of childbirth. She won the title after being the midwife of her twin brother. The act of giving birth symbolises, mythically, the long maturation of women, and the Slayer not only conducts this moment but also takes care of the newborn's development. In war, she is present guiding and saving, summoned when some conflict puts the warriors at risk of survival or when the level of brutality exceeds.


The rituals of passage exercised by the Greek girls, arkteia, will be demonstrated throughout the story. This ritual, unlike the coureion, the boys' tradition, does not have a public and political function, yet it prepares these girls for an essential social role in ancient Greece, motherhood.


Although the arkteia is studied mostly through the paintings of vases, archaeologists have also found typical female offerings near the temple of Artemis, such as jewels, mirrors, weaving instruments and menarche cloths.


In the temple of the goddess was where the ritual took place. For this, the girls wore a saffron-coloured dress, crocottes - bear garments - and imitated the animal. They also performed dances, sacrifices and libations. The girls lived the wild side, slept during the day and stayed awake at night, could run naked or in short clothes, lived the freedom that would not be possible when they left their ready for marriage.


The time of arkteia was crucial for the protection and care of the girls' virginity assisted by Artemis, which in that century had a great representation because only virgin women were able to marry.


Some researchers claim that the rite took place between the ages of five and nine and that the children spent only one year in the sanctuary of Artemis. The vessels do not inform the ages. However, one can see from the designs that biological development distinguishes between having breasts and others not. The older ones did not stay long after the menarche.


Florezano (2000), has a similar theory about the age at the beginning of the arkteia. Nevertheless, states that it ended at the first menstruation, and could then be for more than a year. Arcthea was the beginning of the transition period, then it was ripening, and later they would be ready to marry and have their children.


REFERENCE LIST:

1970, Campbell, J. Mitos, sonhos e religião.

2000, Florezino, M.B, Nascer, Viver e Morrer na Grécia Antiga.

1985, Vernant, J. P, a Morte dos Olhos.

[1] Free translating of “Ártemis é a Curótrofa por excelência. Ela cuida de todos os rebentos, dos animais e dos humanos, sejam machos ou fêmeas. Sua função é nutri-los, fazê-los crescer e amadurecer até que se tornem plenamente adultos” (Vernant, p. 21).

126 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page