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Kore as Nymph, not Daughter: Persephone in a Locrian Cave
Bonnie MacLachlan University of Western Ontario
The descent and return of Kore/Persephone was commemorated in ritual at Locri Epizephyrii, where her shrine enjoyed singular prominence in antiquity, but had a focus that was markedly different from the narrative of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Western Locri was in the orbit of the Greek colonies of the West, not of Attica and the Greek mainland. Here in Magna Graecia and in Sicily the significance of the disappearance of Kore was not its effect upon the aggrieved and enraged Demeter, but the fact that it was the first step in a theogamy, a sacred marriage. The famous terracotta plaques (pinakes) that were unearthed by Paolo Orsi in the early 20th century from Persephone's shrine on the Mannella hill at Locri honour Kore as bride, and the fact that as bride she becomes Queen of the Dead. In one type of the pinakes she is shown with Hades receiving Dionysos in the Underworld, a depiction of three gods with chthonic powers. These votive plaques, representing different scenes in the narrative of Persephone's abduction, marriage and reign as Queen, together with other votive objects left at Mannella, can best be explained as proteleia, gifts left for the goddess by Locrian brides, but they honor the reality that Persephone was not only married to Hades, but in Hades, where she assumed the role of conferring (or withholding) privileges for the dead. The pinakes date from the second half of the 5th century B.C.E. In the next century we find ritual activity elsewhere in Locri--in a Cave of the Nymphs--activity that also combines nuptial with Underworld elements. Votive artifacts common to both sites clearly link both rituals, but in the later one the proteleia are informed by a much more complex array of religious, philosophical and cultural currents that flowed through the Greek West in the Hellenistic period. This paper addresses the question of the nature of the ritual that took place in the cave and explores the way in which the fundamental characteristics of nymphs in Greek thought were reflected in the experience of the
" In this respect Persephone was a nymph. who excavated it in 1940 (Le Arti. like their male companions. were sexual creatures. brought from a spring in the cave through a system of canalization. not a technical. deinai theai (Theocritus. legal. The erotic valence that surrounded nubile women generally in Greece was heightened in stories involving mythical . A large block positioned in the basin would have been submerged when it was filled with water and clearly served for part of the ritual. Inside was a basin that could be filled with water to a depth of about 2 feet. More accurately. These mythical nymphs. were sexual beings by definition. Nymphê is the Greek word for "bride. Nymphai. was large and its height over 9 feet. Id. in the countryside--the untamed areas--where they were accompanied by Pan or silens. Lore  3). or physical reality. and what particular connotations it might have had in Locri. Cult.1991). mortal and mythical. Mythical nymphai were aggressively so: nympholepts like Narcissus or Sicilian shepherds were victims of these female erotic predators. known as the Grotta Caruso." since words like nymphê or parthenos reflect a social. Myth. Niches in the walls of the cave were repositories for a wide variety of votives--prenuptial offerings and objects found in other nymphaea. it may be important to reflect upon the Greek idea of nymph. has been published in a recent monograph by Felice Costabile (I ninfei di Locri Epizefiri. The cave opening as described by Paolo Arias.43).) Greek literature is full of unmarried wood nymphs or water nymphs. however.743. nearby is a stone altar that was intended to remain above water when the basin was filled.2 women participants in this ritual. and it would make sense for ritual activity in the Mannella shrine to be continued in the Grotta Caruso. it is the Greek word for "nubile young woman. By a series of stairs the participants could descend to the water. (Penelope is called nymphê at Od. 4. The cave. young women who lived in the wild. and in Persephone-Demeter shrines. Before examining the ritual itself and the votive objects that might provide details about what activities took place in the cave. XIII. in women's tombs. 1941). as it was raised from ground level with rocks placed beneath it. as Jennifer Larson has pointed out (Greek Nymphs.
) The young Locrian women who entered the Grotta Caruso and descended the stairs may well have been enacting a ritual descent to the Underworld . being indistinguishable from maenads in many instances (see Cornelia IslerKerenyi. ritual and human. Like the Persephone-nymph depicted on the pinakes. James Redfield. in his recent book The Locrian Maidens: Love and Death in Greek Italy (2003). and it is probably safe to say that they commanded the attention of Locrian citizens generally. Greek Nymphs. Caves were not infrequently represented as entrances to the Underworld. Greek Nymphs. who frequented the Grotta Caruso. Locrian women. AA [1999. In the Hellenistic period they participated in the expanding complexity of Dionysos--god of the theater and of play. (A nymphê whose shrine was located in the Athenian agora may have been the consort of this god [Larson.4] 553-56. The essential eroticism of Greek nymphs was combined with two other important features. Locrian men may have conveyed property through marriage. of madness and ecstasy. of death and rebirth. Their nubility possessed the potential to confer nobility. not men. transmitted class and rank through the marriage bond.) Shrines honoring nymphs were frequently found in proximity to those of other chthonic gods such as Zeus Meilichios. such as those that took place at the Mannella shrine and in the Grotta Caruso. of wine and the thyrsus. but Locrian women determined the social status of their husbands. 91-96). had social consequences that went much further than providing a rite of passage for girls. one of which allows the "descent of mortals. the chthonic and the playful. and Larson. the god who offered hopes for an afterlife--and this intricate assembly of powers found its way into the symbolic expressions for the nymphs. but also surrounded the human nymphai (brides) of Locri. 13. the city's nubile young women. Prenuptial rituals. 112].3 nymphs.96-112] with its two entrances." while the other is reserved for immortals. has drawn attention to the consequences of the fact that in Locri women were foregrounded in ways we have not as yet encountered on the Greek mainland. In Greek myth and iconography nymphs also formed part of the Dionysiac thiasos. the nymphs in the cave possessed chthonic features. (We call to mind the cave in which Odysseus takes refuge [Od.
Any woman who does not go down shall sacrifice in addition what is necessary for young women. for those women whose task it was To weave the pure robe for Hera. and beloved Physadea And Hippe and Automate. to stand beside the weavers' rods Before they had sat on the sacred rock and poured your water down over their heads Was not right. like Persephone.4 where. This is the rock in the center. During the ritual activity at the Grotta. children of the daughter of Iasus (Io). around which you flow. It would find a parallel in Callimachus' Aitia 66. but only after they sit down on a rock in the fountain of the water nymph Amymone and pour sacred water over their heads. water-nymph. That the Locrian women sat on the submerged rock and poured water over themselves seems likely. Callimachus addresses Amymone and other water-nymphs: …heroines..Cyrène sous les Battiades  318). If she has not gone down. she will purify the shrine and sacrifice in addition a full-grown animal as penalty. Chamoux. was connected with marriage. Bride of Poseidon. sparkling Pelasgian maidens. The erotic and the chthonic are central to the Greek portrait of nymphs and appropriate features for prenuptial activity in Persephone-dominated Locri.72. describing an Argive practice where women weave a robe for Hera. but the sooner the better. and the . whenever she wishes at the Artemisia. That there was water accompanying this ritual is suggested by the fact that underground chambers have been found in Cyrene below water level. Prenuptial ritual bathing was common in cults dedicated to nymphs. which prescribes a katabasis to appease Artemis for the loss of virginity at marriage: A bride must go down to the nymphaeum to Artemis. they prepared themselves to encounter an underworld spouse. with seats carved into the rock and a 4th century dedication inscription to Artemis (F. hail most ancient homes of nymphs. Another parallel to the Grotta Caruso ritual may be suggested by one of the Sacred Laws of Cyrene (SEG IX. And flow. we assume that nubile young women went down the stairs and into the basin of water. like those at the Grotta Caruso. Queenly Amymone. The Cyrenean ritual.16).
Many terracotta plaques featuring three female heads were found in the Grotta. they could have functioned as korê-doll gifts to the goddess while at the same time representing the korai-nymphai who were performing rituals in the nymphaeum.280) honours Timareta. kneeling or sitting but with truncated limbs. but after she had dedicated her dolls to Artemis Limnatis: Timareta before her wedding dedicated her tambour and her lovely ball And the hair-net that held her hair. or their legs at the calves or the knees. Elsewhere in Magna Graecia and in Sicily they also turn up in the graves of young women. who wear the polos. Her dolls (korai). too. to Artemis of the Lake. a korê who died before her marriage. The nude figurines were also found in the Mannella sanctuary. The epigram makes explicit a triple identification of korai: Timareta-korê. Persephone perhaps. a korê to a korê. Often their arms have been deliberately cut off. do you place your hand over the girl Timareta And in purity may you preserve her purity. Some have holes in the truncated limbs. This trio of heads is found in nymphaea. are likely votive gifts intended for a goddess who would oversee a young girl's transition as nymphê. like dolls with articulated arms and legs that could move. These figurines have been found in women's tombs in Locri and in the area of the theater. suggesting that limbs could be added. One of the better known epigrams from the Hellenistic Anthology (AP VI. or a presiding Nymph of the Grotto. Daughter of Leto. sometimes with Pan and sometimes with Dionysiac symbols. as is fitting. in Persephone .5 votive artifacts from the Locrian cave consist of a complex array of proteleia. But nymphs are also clearly represented by the artifacts. and Persephone's presence is felt in the Grotta with the occurrence of terracotta busts like many found throughout this part of the world in Demeter/Persephone sanctuaries. and the votive doll-korai. Artemis-korê. And the clothing of the dolls. These dolls. This may provide us with a clue to understanding the role of these Grotta Caruso dolls: the polos they wear suggests that they are intended to represent a goddess-korê. including a large number of terracotta nude females.
as nymphê.4).g. and a woman who purchased a plaque with Euthymos and the nymphs could be making a thank-offering for the general security of Locrian parthenoi.6. and in tombs elsewhere in the Greek world.19). It is enhanced. Euthymos' reward for defeating the daimon was to receive as bride. but in the Grotta Caruso an unusual combination occurs: sometimes the nymphs appear with a tauromorph. It could well be that there was a general hero-cult of Euthymos in Locri in which the young women participated. a curious Locrian hero.152) and Aelian (VH VIII. and we have textual evidence that ties the Locrian one to a river. 84-85 Pf). he was also a cult-hero: when two of his statues were miraculously struck by lightning on the same day. The city had been obliged by Delphi to propitiate an earlier offence by offering to the daimon the most beautiful parthenos in the city each year. however. did the Locrian women dedicate in the Grotta these plaques with the three nymphs and Euthymos? There are no parallels for this practice. 2. As a legendary figure he was the son of the river Kaikinos. and Callimachus celebrated his successes (frr.18) that Euthymos also achieved legendary status by vanquishing a daimon that had been menacing the nearby city of Temesa. under the patronage of those sexual divinities at .. and no analogies to be found in texts from elsewhere. The iconography of this figure is consistent with portraits of Acheloos or other river gods. by the water connection of Euthymos. A statue was erected there in his honour (its inscription survives). a boxer from Locri who was victorious at Olympia three times.6 shrines. An inscription on one of the Grotta's plaques names the bull-man as Euthymos. Pindar. The narrative of the Temesian daimon fits a Locrian narrative pattern in which nubile women are preserved from danger (e. and when his long life was over he leapt into a river and disappeared. Or her focus could be the erotic connection between a hero and a parthenos. we may ask ourselves. Historical and legendary hero. But we learn from Pausanias (VI. The nuptial connection between Euthymos and the Grotta's nymphs becomes clearer. Euthymos was a historical figure. the young girl dedicated that year. then integrated their experience into this other ritual. Delphi prescribed a cult in his honour. a bull with a human face and horns. Pliny the Elder (NH VII. Why. Pyth.
but I picked myself a special ivy-wreath thanks to my tragic phlyakes. the theatrical. Not to be forgotten. precursors of the Atellana. Rhinthon. but T. The connection between a hero with water-associations and a nubile young woman under the patronage of the sexual divinities of the Grotta's spring perhaps explains it. This may help to explain one of the most curious aspects of the activities that took place in the Grotta. who was born in Syracuse but worked in Taras/Tarentum. Many of the artifacts from the cave were also found with votive deposits in the Hellenistic theater in Locri.L. Taplin makes a strong case for the sophisticated wit of the people of Southern Italy and Sicily. 128). I am Rhinthon of Syracuse. the playful aspect. grotesque face and protruding belly associated with phlyax actors depicted on South Italian vases. and transgressively so. however. with allusions to Aristophanes. Webster. a chthonic spouse. followed now by Oliver Taplin in Comic Angels (1993). fig. Rhinthon. Phlyax plays have long been assumed to be a kind of South Italian farce. would give them a better pedigree. and even meta-comic. in an epitaph that invites the passer-by to laugh loudly at his tomb (AP 7. the nymphs. Beyond the erotic and the chthonic there is a third feature of Greek nymphs. the degree of their sophistication has long been under-estimated because of the (appropriate) grotesquery of the characters.B. like the Apulian vases. such as the nude female figures wearing the polos and plaques with the three nymphs. silens and comic actors. laugh loudly. Taplin argues that. is the fact that Euthymos as a tauromorph is a dead hero. We know that Locri participated in the genre. and spare a kind word for me. I ninfei di Locri Epizefiri. I may have been one of the lesser nightingales of the Muses. and a large figure belonging to the phlyax theater (Costabile. Nymphs are playful. The Locrian poet Nossis celebrated the best-known phlyax playwright of Magna Graecia.7 the spring. But more direct theatrical elements appeared in the cave itself--masks. It has the distorted body.414) As you pass by laugh. where phlyax plays were enjoyed: with inter-textual evidence he demonstrates that these were clever parodies of the great Athenian tragedies. has earned the .
The spoudogeloion environment of the Locrian cave may be explained further by the reflection that Persephone's presence would have been felt along with that of the nymphs. subverting some of the Attic conventions. reflected in--for example--the pregnant crone figures found at Demeter/Persephone sites. There may have been actual theatrical performances in the cave: among the votive objects were miniature models of the Grotta on which curtains were carved in relief. Terracotta figurines of comic actors and musicians. A feature that merits further research is the direct connection in Southern Italy and Sicily between nymphaea and the theater. These "carnivals of women. It is very likely that his plays were performed in the theater at Locri. And directly behind the top tier of seats is a nymphaeum. and the presence of a phlyax figure in the Grotta suggests that Locrian women enjoyed the sophistication and wit he represents. explored the possibilities that came out of the grotesque.) In the Grotta Caruso the Locrian brides probably indulged in the ridiculous and the excessive with their comic votives. the voices and the laughter that echoed from the Grotta may have been anything but solemn. like the interplay between death and life. The chiaroscuro mix of the serious and the comic. argues that the ritual abuse in which Greek women engaged at Demeter/Persephone festivals like the Thesmophoria played a part in the general development of sexual humor in Greek poetry and the enjoyment of the grotesque on the comic stage. the "Street of the Tombs" that later became one of the entries to the theater." as she calls them. It is worth recalling that comic plays were written about Locrian women: the title Locrides is ascribed to both Anaxandrides and Posidippus. The largest and best-known theater in the area is of course that of Syracuse. Laurie O'Higgins. in Women and Humor in Classical Greece (2003). would be appropriate for the rituals in a nymphaeum. Aeschylus. Plato.8 reputation of expanding the genre of tragi-comedy. along with masks. As in the Grotta Caruso. or Baubo figurines. frequented by Pindar. indicate the importance of the theater to the votaries. This was situated next to the pre-existing Via dei Sepolcri. (Paolo Orsi in excavating the Mannella shrine found a Baubo figure. we have in . and Lysias.
Claudio Sestieri. I . was a Koreion. We also have water: today. In many tombs were found eggs. Morgantina.. the water still flows from a spring through the alcove of the central cave.9 Syracuse the collocation of death. the actor a torch in his right hand and an egg in his left (Gennaro Pesce. nymphplaques with three small heads. of characters from Attic tragedy and satyr plays. in the necropolis known as Contrada Diana. the pre-Greek population used these niches for burials. Akrai.E. And the collocation in various sites of votive artifacts representing Demeter/Persephone with comic figures and masks is no less striking. Returning to Locri and the women's katabasis ritual in the Hellenistic period. From tombs in the necropolis came a stunning and precious collection of terracotta masks. This is a clear collocation of the chthonic and the playful. On a Lucanian crater from the 4th century a phlyax player holds up a platter with five eggs (P. fountains and nymphaea is remarkably common in the Greek Mediterranean world: examples are found in Sicily at Agrigento. Perhaps the most impressive collection to date was unearthed on the island of Lipari.C. Tindari and Taormina. (These are described by Bernabò Brea in Menandro e il teatro Greco nelle terracotta liparese. In another Campanian crater a phlyax player converses with Dionysos. we can. 1981. a relief of Pan and a silen mask: the nymphs here were poised to play. from Middle Comedy. Even earlier. Dioniso 7  191-95). nymphs and theater. Before the construction of the Syracusan theater the niches in the rocks (some artificial and some natural) afforded places for votive deposits to the nymphs who provided fresh water.) Here. Lipari was clearly devoted to the theater in the 4th and 3rd centuries B. Eggs also appear to have been tied to the phlyax theater. and the theatrical life appears to have been continued after death. phlyax plays. The collocation of theaters with springs. Busts of Persephone were found in the Koreion together with silens. the god holds his thyrsos. off the north shore of Sicily. Segesta. When Paolo Orsi excavated the nymphaeum in 1900 he found female busts. Dioniso 7  162-65). a universal symbol of death and renewal. and New Comedy.
one which hinted at the ultimate reality he promised. phlyakes. "Hades and Dionysos are one" (fr. No direct representations of Dionysos have been found inside the Grotta. make better sense of the Grotta's conflation of the erotic. 15 DK). but his companions--silens. nymphs and likely Persephone herself--offered the participants a world like that enjoyed by his initiates. . the chthonic and the playful by seeing how Dionysos moved through the rest of this part of the world at this time. Dionysos released the soul through ecstasis and through play. He was a natural fit with the nymphs and with Persephone: as Heraclitus says.10 think.