Thesmophoria: Feminine Consciousness in Ancient Greece

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Top Image: Thesmophoria by Francis Davis Millet, 1894-1897 (Public Domain)

Thesmophoria: Feminine Consciousness in Ancient Greece

In the most highly anticipated religious festival of the year, women came from far and wide to gather in their cities to celebrate the Thesmophoria, the oldest and most widespread of all ancient Greek religious festivals. Comprising as many as 50 cities; it spanned from Sicily in the west to Asia Minor in the east; from Macedonia in the north to North Africa in the south. Scholars believe that its expansive nature within the Greek world is testament to its prehistoric origins. Primarily a fertility cult, the Thesmophoria ushered in the sowing season and was one of a series of fertility cults devoted to human as well as crop fertility. In Athens, it was celebrated in the month of Pyanopsion (October-November) on the 11th through the 13th in the area known as the Pnyx—a prominent hill where the general assembly of the polis met. On the second and most sacred day of the Thesmophoria, there was a cessation of certain civic functions reflecting men’s reverence for the feminine cult.

Aspasia on the Pnyx by H. Holiday (1888) (Public Domain)

Aspasia on the Pnyx by H. Holiday (1888) (Public Domain)

Greek Citizen Wives

Why was a women’s fertility festival in hyper-patriarchal ancient Greece, given such prominence in greater society? After all, in ancient Greece women’s place was on the margins of society, away from the public sphere. Could the strict demarcation of gender roles actually serve to empower women in ancient Greece?  The disciples of the Thesmophoria formed an identity around the cult, which served to promote a feminine consciousness, uncommon in the androcentric dominion of ancient Greece. Against the backdrop of extreme misogyny, men developed an esteem for the Thesmophoria.


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