The second day of the festival consists of two main parts. The first involves the rites of the priestesses called the Gerairai, and the Basilanna of the city. The second is concerned with miasma, the tainted yet welcome presence of matricide Orestes in the city, and how the community handles such a sticky issue.
The word ‘khoes’ means ‘pitcher’ and refers to short, round wine-jugs. While the relevance of wine vessels to the second day of Anthesteria seems a little obscure, it is probably related to a hieros gamos, or sacred marriage, between Dionysos and the Basilanna. Dionysos is, of course, the God of wine, and the khoes can be taken as a metaphor for a womb.
The priestesses performed secret rites at the shrine of Dionysos Limnaios, or Dionysos of the marshes. We are not aware of any marshy areas around Athens, but there may well have been in 5th century BCE Athens. After these rites the priestesses attended to the Basilanna, the wife of the Basileus who ruled the city. We have no records of what was done by the Basilanna alone in an inner chamber of the sanctuary of Limnaios, but there is speculation that a sacred marriage took place between her and the god, either in the person of her husband, or of a priest of Dionysos. Those familiar with the myths of Theseus will recognize Ariadne, the bride of the Uniter of Attica, who helped him survive the labyrinth and was then abandoned by him on the isle of Naxos. Dionysos heard her heartbroken sobs, and fell in love with her, so her second marriage surpassed her first. The Basilanna’s union with the God reaffirms Athens’ sacred bond with Him, and represents the opening of the way as the dead walk among the living for the duration of the festival.
The myths of Theseus are not the only significant tales that resonate during Anthesteria. The story of Orestes, who killed his mother in revenge for her murder of his father, and then was pursued by the avenging Furies until his trial and exoneration in Athens, is highlighted on Khoes. Orestes’ deed was generally looked upon approvingly by his society, but nonetheless a murderer could not be allowed to approach the shrines or take part in the sacred rites while his miasma lay upon him. So the temples and shrines are closed or covered, and the libations and celebrations moved to the streets where the revels will not profane the sacred presences. The crowds cheering the Basilanna with ribald songs, and having drinking contests in honor of the God, all do so outside the sanctuaries, with the shades of the dead celebrating alongside the living.
But all is not noise and loud revels. In order to prevent the spread of miasma, all must use their own khoes, which is one of the reasons that small children are often presented with their own jugs at Anthesteria. And once the Basilanna’s rites are concluded, the drinking takes on an eerie quality as silence descends. We often find norms being inverted in Dionysian celebrations, and this is one that celebrants find particularly unnerving. Worshippers are used to praying aloud while pouring libations, making offerings and interacting with their Gods. Silent rituals take on an unusual significance.
The day concludes on this strange note, with the gloomy conclusion of Anthesteria, the Khutroi, yet to come.