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NAMING THE WEAPON-DANCE: CONTEXTS AND AETIOLOGIES OF THE PYRRHICHE.



Discussing the dances which are to be practised in the ideal city, the Athenian
stranger in Plato's Laws suggests that good subjects for imitation are offered by the
weapon dances (: . v`.c vc.,..c) of the Kouretes in Crete, and by those of the
Dioskouroi in Sparta. He is obviously referring to examples personally known to his
interlocutors in the dialogue, as is made clear by the third example, taken from his own
experience, and concerning Athena's own dance in armour
1
. No specific name is given
for any of these weapon dances. lu,,. j appears later in the dialogue, and is used in the
context of a general distinction of all dances between bad ones and good ones, the latter
divided into war-dances and peaceful dances: "Of these the war dance, which is quite
unlike the peaceful kind, would rightly ( ,-.,) be named vu,,. j. It imitates elusions of
all sorts of blows and missiles by springing aside or giving way, or jumping upwards or
crouching down; and also the opposite movements which tend to postures (cj cc) of
action, and imitate archery and the hurling of javelins, and all sort of blows" (Leg. VII
815ab).
The description here given by the Athenian/Plato is frequently cited as a faithful
recording of the actual movements performed by pyrrhicists. But in fact, this is a very
generic description; vu,,. j and emmeleia serve here as general categories
2
. This ties in
well with the fact that the Athenian/Plato does not use specific terms even where he
might have, in the preceding allusion to Cretan, Lacedaemonian and Athenian dances.
But why does he say that the name pyrrhiche is appropriate ( ,-.,) for armed dances
3
,
exactly as emmeleia is for peaceful dances? He insists very much on this point (cf. also
v,: v. : -c. c ,. in Leg. 816b).
The name vu,,. j (scil. ,jc.,) has been used throughout antiquity to cover dances
performed in quite different contexts. The term appears relatively late: apart from its
possible but not certain presence in Archilochos (where it would have referred to
the dance of Neoptolemos over the body of his dead enemy Eurypylos), and from its
possible - but again not certain presence in the tragedian Phrynichos, the first
attestation is in Euripides' Andromache, where it describes, in the speech of the
messenger, the terrible fight of Neoptolemos at Delphi
4
. The connection with

1
Plato Leg. VII 796bc. On Plato's anthropology of dancing cf. Lonsdale 1993, 21-43; on Greek
dances, Fitton 1973 and Lonsdale 1993. In this paper I shall make use of material for the most part
already gathered and discussed in Ceccarelli 1998 in order to reach some more general conclusions about
the naming of the pyrrhic dance and about its relation with specific gods and goddesses. For helpful
suggestions I am indebted to the participants in the conference, as well as to Denys Knoepfler, Anna
Magnetto, Ian Rutherford and Richard Seaford.
2
Cf. Moutsopoulos 1959, 139 and 144: "Le genre c:.. comprend plusieurs dances pacifiques
groupes autour de l'emmlie, danse religieuse pacifique par excellence, ainsi que plusieurs danses
guerrires, dont l'une, la pyrrhique, a prvalu au point que son nom soit devenu le nom spcifique de
l'espce entire des danses guerrires". See also id., 98-158 for a general discussion of dance in Plato.
3
According to England 1921, vol. II, 300, Plato's insistence on the "proper" use of the term might be
due to the fact that the term vu,,.j, as we learn from Athen. XIV 629f, was also used for a ,:`.c
,jc.,; the explanation doesn't seem very convincing.
4
Arch. fr. 304 West= Hesych. v 4464 vu,,..:..; Phrynichos: cf. Ael. vh III 8 and Suda f 762 + 765
(defended in Ceccarelli 1998, 38-41); Euripides: Andr. 1135.
2
Neoptolemos, playing on the other name of Achilles' son, Pyrrhos, crops up quite
frequently, especially in late sources, but already in Aristotle
5
; the hero's dance bears
the marks of a transition ritual, with a strong accent on funerary implications. A look at
the performance contexts of the pyrrhic dance allows a clearer perspective on what
ancient authors meant when they talked of the vu,,. j.
In Athens, the vu,,. j was danced at the Panathenaia; the aetiology linked the dance
to Athena's victory over the Giants (this was the aition of the whole festival as well), or
to her slaying of the Gorgon
6
. The dance was performed, probably in the agora, by
citizens divided into three age-groups, paides, ageneioi and andres; no trace of a tribal
subdivision is to be found. At the margins of Attica, in Halai Araphenides, pyrrhichistai
performed for Artemis I shall come back to this. A vu,,. j might have featured also
in the festival of the Apatouria: the duel between Xanthos and Melanthos, which
constitutes one of the aitia for the Apatouria festival, should be connected to a weapon-
dance, and a referent for the name vu,,. j might lie in the name of the heroes
concerned (the Red and the Black ones)
7
. Weapon dances in a Dionysiac context appear
on Attic vases already in the sixth century; lastly, four Attic vases of the end of the
sixth century show a weapon-dance accompanying burials
8
.
The weapon-dance appears thus in Athens linked to Athena, to Artemis and to
Dionysos; it is performed in a context of rites of passage (death, Apatouria) as well as
in the context of a new year festival, the Panathenaia. From the point of view of the
iconography it seems that we are in front of one specific and identical dance, but only in
the case of the Panathenaia and only starting with the end of the fifth century can
we be sure that the dance was designated as vu,,. j.
As for the other gods mentioned by Plato in connection with war dances, the
Dioskouroi are traditionally linked with the Kastoreion melos, the song to whose
accompaniment Spartans advanced in battle, rather than with the vu,,. j. According to
Epicharmos, Athena accompanied on the aulos their enoplios dancing; the dance might
have been defined a pyrrhic already by Epicharmos, as it is in Ailios Aristides, but the

5
Arist. fr. 534, 1 Gigon = 519 Rose = schol. Pind. Pyth. II 127, and Arist. fr. 534, 3 Gigon = M.
Sacerdos, GrLat VI 497, 16 - 498, 3 Keil; on Neoptolemos and the pyrrhic, cf. Borthwick 1967.
6
Panathenaia: Lys. 21, 1-4; IG II
2
2311, 71-81; choregic monuments IG II
2
3025, IG II
2
3026, and
SEG XXIII, 1968, 103. Giants: Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. VII 72, 7. Gorgon: POxy 2783 (= Eupolis Aiges fr.
18 K.-A. and Cratinus fr. 433 K.-A.) with Borthwick 1970. An analysis of the material relating to the
pyrrhic in Athens in Ceccarelli 1998, 27-89. For all I know, Athens is the only place where a pyrrhic is
danced for Athena, even though her warlike connotations are present in other localities; Hdt. IV 180, 2
mentions a ritual combat at the yearly festival in honour of Athena of young Libyan girls, where those
who die in the fight are said to have been false parthenoi; he adds that it is for a local goddess, "the same
that we call Athena".
7
On the relationship between the duel and the Apatouria see Vidal-Naquet 1968 (=1992, 119-147,
esp. 124-131); the more cautious approach of Lambert 1994, 144-152; and Ceccarelli 1998, 39-42 and
193-194.
8
Three one-handled kantharoi (ABV 346/7, ABV 347/8, and MuM Aukt. 56 = Ceccarelli 1998 n. 62,
pl. VI); and a cup by Euphronios (Euphronios peintre Athnes, Paris 1990, n 34, Ceccarelli 1998 n. 58,
pl. VII). In addition, a number of images on Attic vases show that a weapon-dance which may be
identified with the vu,,.j was danced at symposia as well, not just by men but also by women (for this
we have the additional evidence of Xen. Anab. VI 1, 12, who calls the dance a vu,,.j). Cf. Poursat
1968, Goulaki-Voutira 1996, Ceccarelli 1998, 60-67 and 70-72.
3
text doesn't allow certainty on this point
9
. And the learned scholion to Pindar's Pythian
II, 127 (citing the Laconian writer Sosibios) seems to distinguish quite clearly between
dances of the Dioskouroi on the one side, and Cretan dances, among which the pyrrhic,
on the other. If Sosibios - or for that matter, Aristoxenos - had known of a connection
between the Dioskouroi and the vu,,. j, one expects that they would have mentioned it,
rather than resorting, as for example Aristoxenos does, to "a Laconian named
Pyrrhichos" in order to defend the Spartan origin of the dance
10
.
Actually, there are in Sparta a number of religious contexts in which armed dances
will have played a rle, but these are never said to be vu,,. c.. On the other hand, we
are never given a definite context for the pyrrhic dance at Sparta, apart from the
profane, gymnic one underlined by the later sources; it is thus practically impossible to
give indications on its real place and importance in Spartan life, even if weapon dances
certainly had an important role in the agoge
11
.
The connection of the Kouretes with the vu,,. j presents a similar case: the island
was renowned for its military dances
12
, but again in most cases it seems more correct to
speak generically of "weapon dances" rather than of "pyrrhic dance". Thus Callimachos
(H. I, 52-54) calls the dance of the Kouretes around Zeus a v,u `.,. Only starting from
the IV century BC, with Ephoros, the Cretan weapon dances are assimilated to the
vu,,. j and, very interestingly, with a wording that implies the consciousness of a two-
step evolution
13
. In Ephoros these weapon-dances appear merely as a gymnic exercise,
that is, they are victims of the same 'rationalization' in which the Spartan agoge
incurred. However, the Hymn to the Great Kouros of Palaikastro allows us to have an
idea of the performance context of these dances and of their meaning. On a general
level, the hymn insists on the idea of fertility (of the cities, fields, animals etc.); any
warlike thematic is absent. Who are the dancers? On the mythical level, they identify
themselves with the Kouretes. On the level of ritual, the presence in the hymn of

9
Athen. IV 184f = Epich. fr. 75 K.: -c. j. A-j.c. : jc.. |v.c,, :. Mucc., :vcu`jcc.
., A.c-u,., . :.v`..; cf. also schol. Pind. Pyth. II 127; and Ael. Arist. Ath. 37, 22 K.(=2 D):
A.c-u,. uv cuj vu,,..uc...
10
Athen. XIV 630 ef; Sosibios, FGrHist 595 F 23, with Jacoby's Kommentar; Aristox. fr. 103
Wehrli; Ceccarelli 1998, 99-103.
11
On the 'laicization' of the agoge see Brelich 1969, 128-129; for the pyrrhic, cf. Athen. XIV 631a,
citing Aristoxenos (end of IV BC) but probably here depending on Aristocles (ca. 110 BC): "The
pyrrhiche however no longer survives among other Greeks, and coincidently with its decline the wars
stopped. But among the Spartans alone it still persists as a preparatory drill for war; further, all males in
Sparta, from five years of age on, learn thoroughly how to dance the pyrrhic, vc,c .., :
Ac-:c...., .c:.:. v,,u.ccc ucc u v`:u :-c.-c.uc. : vc.:, :. j vc,j cv
v:.: :.. vu,,..:..". For the persistency of this view cf. Philostr. Gymn. 19.
12
Hom. Il. XVI 617-619; cf. Athen. V 181b. Other sources attributing to the Cretan Kouretes the
invention of armed dances: Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. VII 72, schol. Pind. Pyth. II 127, Luc. Salt. 8 (but he
speaks of a generic weapon dance, not of the pyrrhic, one moreover performed with a sword and not with
a spear). Athen. XIV 629c counts also the epikredios and the orsites as Cretan weapon dances; Pollux IV
99 attributes the invention of the weapon dances pyrrhiche and telesias to two Cretan dancers,
respectively Pyrrhichos and Telesias.
13
FGrHist 70 F 147-149 (cf. Strabo X 4, 16, 480-481 C, and Nic. Dam. FGrHist 90 F 103aa): cc-:..
: -c. ;.-j -c. :.v`.. ,jc:., j. -cc:.;c. |u,jc, v,.., uc:,. : -c<. .>
l<u,,.><. .> -c. cu.c;c.c j. -`j-:.cc. cv cuu vu,,.j.. Cf. also Plin. NH VII 204:
Saltationem armatam Curetes docuere, pyrrichen Pyrrus, utramque in Creta, schol. Pind. Pyth. II 127,
and Eust. Hom. Il. (XVI 617) 1078, 19-25.
4
elements common to the oath of the ephebes of Itanos speaks for an identification of the
dancers with these ephebes: the dance would mark their integration in the community
14
.
Two more gods, not mentioned in this connection by Plato, have strong links with
the pyrrhic dance: Artemis and Dionysos. In both cases, no aetiologies linking the
dance to them are known, nor can the denomination of the dance be easily explained
through some of their characteristics.
Performances of pyrrhics for Artemis are found in a relatively large part of the
Greek world, from Attica to Euboea to the Megarid, and possibly to Sparta.
An Attic pyxis of around 440 BC shows a young girl (dressed with a camisole and
shorts, equipped with helmet, shield and spear) dancing in front of an altar sited before
a statue of Artemis
15
. The connection between Artemis and the pyrrhic dance hinted at
by the image is given a context by a deme decree of the third quarter of the fourth
century BC from Halai Araphenides (SEG XXXIV103), in which a demesman is
honoured for his choregia of the pyrrhicists (male ones here); these pyrrhicists will have
performed at Halai in the context of the festival of the Tauropolia
16
, whose principal
deity is Artemis Tauropolos.
The pyrrhic was danced on the other side of the Euripos, at the Artemisia of
Amarynthos near Eretria, as is shown by two honorary decrees from Eretria of the first
century BC. It must have been important, since the honours given to the gymnasiarchs
are to be announced at the Dionysia during the procession for Dionysos, and in the agon
of the pyrrhic at the Artemisia
17
. The latter took place, according to IG XII 9, 189 (a
decree concerning the aggrandizement of the festival through the introduction of
musical competitions, dated to around 341/40), at the end of the month Anthesterion.
Nothing is known about the age, the number, the gender even of the performers in the
agon of the pyrrhic dance; but some indications come from an unluckily very
fragmentary inscription, the contract between Chairephanes and the Eretrians for the
reclaiming of the land in Ptechai (IG XII 9, 191), dated to the last quarter of the fourth
century BC. Pyrrhicists are mentioned in the part of the stele (A ll. 42-59) where the

14
Thus Perlman 1995, with a detailed analysis of the parallels between the hymn (IC III 2. 2, cf. SEG
XXVIII 751) and the oath of the ephebes in Itanos (IC III 4. 8); cf. Lonsdale 1993, 165.
15
Pyxis Naples M.N. 81908 (H 3010), cf. Poursat 1968, pl. 54, 55; L. Kahil, LIMC s.v. Artemis, n
113; Ceccarelli 1998, 75-76 and pl. XXIII; Miller 1999, 244-246 and fig. 24-25, who sees this image in
the context of female transvestism.
16
This is a reasonable inference from the wording of the decree it is independently made by Brul
1987, 312, Knoepfler 1988, 387 and now Pardani 1992-1998, 57-59 (but see contra Hollinshead 1979,
79). The aetiology of the cult of Artemis at Halai given in Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris, with its
emphasis on a ritual shedding of blood, might be pertinent for a weapon dance, if not specifically for a
pyrrhic; more details in Ceccarelli 1998, 82-87 (where however the decree from Halai is erroneously
indicated as SEG XXXIV 101). For the date of SEG XXXIV 103 see Tracy 1995, 120-128 (between 330
and 314). A honorary decree from Halai, dated to the archonship of Nikomachos, 341/340 B.C. (Pardani
1992-1998; cf. J. Papadimitriou, Praktika 1957, 45-47; Hollinshead 1979, 81-82; Brul 1987, 310),
shows that there were also local Dionysia. The choregoi are honoured with a crown of leafs (Pardani
1992-1998, l. 9-11, and 57-58, where she advances the hypothesis that the crown of leafs may be due to
financial difficulties of the deme); this might be used as evidence that the pyrrhic competition at the
Tauropolia was more important, since only a few years later a choregos of the pyrrhicists is honoured
with a golden crown worth 500 drachmae.
17
IG XII 9, 236, ll. 44-46: c.c,,:u:c-c. : c, .c, A..uc.., :, :. j / cu.:`:.c. u
A..ucu j vvj, -c. A,:.c... / . c,... j, vu,,.j, (and IG XII suppl. 553, same text), and IG
XII 9, 237, ll. 21-23 (on which see SEG XL, 759).
5
two contractors (Chairephanes and the Eretrians) define the oaths that each has to give
to the other part, as well as the fines to be paid in case of trespassing. The Eretrians are
divided into two groups, to which correspond the different lists of names appended to
the stele: on the one side, all the citizens, who must take the oath under the
responsibility of the probouloi; on the other, the ephebes, who will take their oath under
the responsibility of the strategoi (ll. 42-47)
18
. The text of the oath is then given (ll. 48-
56), and then a clause specifying the atimia and the loss of all property (to be sacred to
Artemis Amarysia) against whoever might propose decrees going against the present
agreement (ll. 56-57). This general clause is followed by a specific one: [. . : ]
vu,,..c. . c . ., u.. vc[,c3c. .j. ., .c:. ] / [ ,cc, . :,c, j. A,: ]..
j. Ac,uc.c. (ll. 58-59), "if anyone of the pyrrhicists infringe on any of these
regulations, he shall be liable to Artemis Amarysia"
19
.
Who are these pyrrhicists? Clearly they are part of the citizen body; according to
Ziebarth's restoration, they enjoy a privileged status, since they do not incur atimia or
the complete loss of property. Two explanations are possible: either they form a special
group, possibly relatively permanent, like the hippeis in Sparta, the heniochoi and the
parabatai in Thebes, the three hundred logades in Athens, the kleinoi in Crete; or, as
suggested in 1891 by Dareste, Haussoullier and Reinach, they might be a subdivision of
the ephebes
20
. In favour of the latter is the partitive at l. 47: c|.c,,c :.. : -c. . .|
: j 3.. u, cc.c, : . c: `:. (meaning that some of the ephebes have sworn, but
not all of them). A division of the ephebate in two years is attested for Athens by the
Athenaion Politeia (42, 3-5); there, according to Pollux (VIII 105), the ephebes in their
second year were called v:,. v`.. The Eretrian pyrrhicists might be ephebes in their
second year
21
; but the reverse might be also possible, that is, the pyrrhichistai might be
ephebes in their first year, when still training in the gymnasium: not having yet sworn,
they would not be submitted to the same heavy fine as the others.
Another Euboean inscription, a dedication from the sanctuary of Artemis Proseoa
near cape Artemision dated to the IV-III century B.C., may refer to a vu,,. j performed

18
ll. 42-43: [cc. :. v| / `.c, v]c.c, \c.,:c.:. :. Av``.., Ac.j,u; and l. 44:
:;,-|u... : -c. . c,cj,. -cc :, u, :j3u,..., to be compared with ll. 46-47: c.c,,c:..
: -c / . u, cc.c, c|.c,,c:.. : -c. ..| :j3.. u, cc.c, :. c:`:.... For a general
treatment of IG XII 9 191 cf. Fantasia 1999, 100-107; I owe helpful suggestions to D. Knoepfler. Cf. also
SEG XXX 1094, and SEG XXXVIII 876, and, for the political and territorial organization of Eretria,.
Knoepfler 1997 and Gehrke 1988, in part. 15-20 and 38-42.
19
The lacuna is quite long (about 30 letters), there is definitely room for more than just the indication
of a sum. The punishment must be different from the one expressed in the preceding clause, since that
one required a genitive (.:,c :c|. j, A,:., j, Ac,uc.c,) while here we have a dative (hence
Ziebarth's restorations).
20
So Dareste, Haussoullier, Reinach 1891, 156-157 n. 3. The institution of the ephebate in Eretria is
dated post 340, while our inscription is the terminus ante; the Athenian institution would have served as a
model, cf. Chankowski 1993. For the groups mentioned, cf. Pritchett 1974, 221-224; Vidal-Naquet 1992
[1989], 239-42; for kryptoi at Athens, cf. Knoepfler 1993, and for basilikoi kynegoi in Macedonia,
Hatzopoulos 1994, 92-110.
21
According to Cairns 1986, 154, the relationships between ephebes of the two years listed on the list
IG XII suppl. 555 (dated little after 304 a.C.) indicate "a two-years structure of some sort in the ephebate
at Eretria".
6
in honor of Artemis agrotera at Histiaea
22
; the epiclese would point to the wild aspect
of the goddess, to her link with the margins.
An inscription dated between 67 and 59 BC from Pagai in the Megarid (IG VII 90 +
Wilhelm 1907) attests for this region the performance of pyrrhics, most likely in the
context of the festival of the Soteria (the name is restored, cf. ll. 15 and 46-47). We do
not know exactly to which god the Soteria were here dedicated, but Wilhelm was very
likely right in inferring from the mention in Pausanias of a statue of Artemis Soteira in
Pagai that the Soteria were dedicated to Artemis. It is certain that the pyrrhic was
performed every year by paides
23
, very likely in the theatre
24
, and that it was an
important event.
With this, clear attestations of pyrrhics danced for Artemis end. At Sparta, the
pyrrhic may have been danced in honor of Artemis Orthia - but there is no evidence for
this. As I said, even though the ancient sources insist that the pyrrhic dance originated
in Sparta (to the point of explaining the name of the dance as deriving from that of its
inventor, a Spartan called Pyrrhichos), it is impossible to point at a precisely defined
context for its performance in Sparta
25
.
The Laconian place-name Pyrrhichos also attracted traditions related to the dance,
but it is difficult to say how ancient these may have been. Besides the aetiologies
collected by Pausanias (name deriving from that of Pyrrhos the son of Achilles, or from
that of one of the Kouretes, or from that of a Silen from Maleas famous for his dances:
the first two eponyms share in other traditions the fact of having invented the pyrrhic
dance)
26
, extremely interesting is the presence in Pyrrhichos of a sanctuary of Artemis
Astrateia and Apollo Amazonios, containing very ancient wood statues of these gods,
dedicated by the Amazons of the Thermodon (Paus. III 25, 3); according to

22
IG XII 9 1190: c. vu,,.j. c-`.[. vel . -----/ [vc],-:.. c[,,]:,c[.]. The sanctuary of Artemis
Proseoa (depending from Histiaea) would have been the religious centre of northern Euboea, just as the
Amarysion and Eretria served southern Euboea. The epigram from Histiaea SEG XXXIII 716, a
dedication to a 'Latoides' mentioning a victory in a dance dating from around 460-450 BC, has been
interpreted by the editor, Cairns 1983, as a dedication to Artemis for a victory in the pyrrhic (contra see
Hansen 1984, who thinks that the epigram is for Apollo). It would still however be possible to think that
victors in the pyrrhic at the Artemisia of Amarynthos made the dedications once back in Histiaea, putting
them up in the local temple of Artemis. More in Ceccarelli 1998, 93-94.
23
paides: ll. 14-18: c,..[. / :] c.. vu,,.c. :[v. c ] -uc.c .. [.j,... :v.j c]c c.
,c,.c. [j / ]:., -:`.[, :.,] u, .cc-c[`u, -c. . -.-c,.]cc. -c. . cu`j / ]c. .,
..., c[vc.]ccc.., ., : [vc.c.. ., :v.`:`:,|:.., ., c. vu,.c. / :],c,jc: :`c.. `[:u-].
:v. vc.c [. ,.. . :c.]-c.cc. .`c.-,. / v., : cuu, :v[:]:;c :3u-u[jc: : c
A,:.]. -c. . A.... Yearly rhythm: l. 27-30: [v``c ]-. : j c,... c.. c, vu,,.c, .c
c:.[.,:. / c-c. c -..c v,c,c[c vc],.. [:.] . [cu].:,.. :vc.,.`c ,cc, A`:;c.,j [c, /
.`.c, .c-c.c, -c[. :.-]: v[c,c,jc], v., cv u -u .. ,jc.. u[.. / c,jc. c
vu,,.c -c- [:-cc]. :..cu. ...
24
On the first day of the -uc.c Soteles sent in wine for everyone for the :.v.., and on the second
day, while the paides, having gone to the theatre, were competing, he offered a glykismos ( :. : c
::,c c:,c .. vc... :.cv,:u-:... :., / | -:c,. -c.| c,..:|..., :,`u-.c: vc.c,, ll. 23-
26; cf. Schmitt Pantel 1992, 347, and 391-401). Moreover, the citizens honor Soteles and his descendants
with the proedria when there is a pyrrhic, ll. 44-45, which again seems to imply a performance in the
theatre.
25
The possibilities for a pyrrhic performance at the ceremonies for Artemis Orthia, those for the
Dioskouroi, the Hyakinthia, the Gymnopaidia, the Karneia are reviewed in Ceccarelli 1998, 99-108.
Laconian Pyrrhichos: Aristox. fr. 103 W. = Athen. XIV 630 ef.
26
Paus. III 25, 1-3. For the dancing Silen Pausanias adduces Pindar fr. 156 S.-M.; cf. also Pollux IV
104. In this case we might think of a dionysiac vu,,.j.
7
Callimachos, in Ephesos the Amazons danced a prylis, a weapon-dance, for Artemis
27
.
Archaic xoana are frequently mentioned by Pausanias; these are particularly interesting,
since they can be compared to the wooden statue of the Tauropolos in Halai, where the
pyrrhic was danced, of Brauron, and of Artemis Orthia in Sparta
28
. Moreover, the statue
of Artemis Soteira in Pagai was a copy of one in Megara; and at Megara there were also
an heroon of Iphigenia and an Artemis temple dedicated by Agamemnon (Paus. I 43,
1). Pyrrhichos might thus join (both through Pyrrhos and through Artemis) in the 'net'
of sanctuaries linked to Artemis and to the Trojan war where the pyrrhic is present; this
must however remain speculation.
Caution is here all the more important since the historical (diachronic, or possibly
specifically genetic) relationship between these cults is not clear. The pyrrhic danced in
Pagai, for example, might be the result of Eretrian influence (according to Diog. Laert.
II 18, 2, the philosopher Menedemos, who more than once was v, 3u`, in Eretria,
served as ,u ,, in Megara), and thus be a relatively recent feature in the festival. In its
turn, the Eretrian pyrrhic might be an adaptation from the Athenian pyrrhic (possibly in
the context of the Eretrian institution of the ephebate, modelled on the Athenian one).
Why a pyrrhic dance for Artemis? What are the characteristics of precisely this
Artemis? Her epiclese Tauropolos, "Mistress of the bulls", has been interpreted by Graf
in connection with 'Kriegerbnde', groups of warriors
29
; the Soteira may be associated
with the Tauropolos, since an altar with dedication to Soteira has been found in
Failaka/Ikaros in the Arabic gulf - and the island owed its name to the local cult of a
goddess, identified by the Greek explorers with the Artemis Tauropolos of Aegean
Ikaros
30
. As for Artemis Amarysia, she is normally interpreted as a goddess presiding
over transition rituals, in analogy with the cults at Brauron, Halai, and with that of
Artemis Orthia in Sparta
31
.
Let's now turn to Dionysos. Athenaeus pretends that the dionysiake pyrrhiche is the
result of an evolution - actually, a degradation. But Attic vases of the end of the sixth
and beginning of the fifth century show satyrs dancing the vu,,. j, and the weapon
dance may have had a place in festivals dedicated to Dionysos. The one certain thing is

27
H. III, 237-247. Two Attic vases, the skyphos Berlin 3766 and the lekythos Paestum T 689
(respectively n 56, pl. XX and n 70, pl. XXI in Ceccarelli 1998) present Amazons dancing a weapon
dance (a pyrrhic?); probably Amazons are depicted also on the lekythos from a private collection, Para
291 (n 57, pl. XIX in Ceccarelli 1998). A probably armed (but also lascive) dance, the apokinos, was
mentioned in a comedy of a fifth century author, The Amazons (Cephisodorus fr. 1-2 K.-A.), cf. Athen.
XIV 629cd.
28
On the link between these cults of Artemis see Graf 1985, 411-417. In the case of Athens, it is
important to underline that Artemis Tauropolos seems to have been represented in the Brauronion
enclosure on the Acropolis (Paus. I 23, 7). We have thus, at least in Attica, a clear polarity
margins/center.
29
Graf 1985, 415, noting that the Tauropolos of Amphipolis - an Athenian colony - was the goddess
of the Macedonian army; wonders whether the colonists might have brought her from Halai. There are
some interferences between Artemis and Athena concerning this epiclese: schol. Ar. Lys. 447 (where a
Tauropolos is mentioned) connects the epithet to Artemis, but also to Athena, citing Xenomedes of Keos
(FGrHist 442 F 2): u. j . A,:.. :-c`u.. :c. : -c. j. A-j.c. u. -c`uc.., .,
:.jj, .c,:. ; cf. also Suda s.v., mentioning an Athena Taurobolos, in Andros, interestingly, in
connection with the sacrifice of a bull by the Atreidai. For interferences between epicleses in general cf.
Brul 1998, in part. 30 for the goddesses Tauropoloi.
30
Strabo XIV 1, 19; cf. Robert 1933 and Papalas 1983.
31
Cf. Novaro 1996, with bibliography.
8
that around 200 B.C. a pyrrhic of the kyklia is attested at the Dionysia of Cos, at the
place which would have been that of the dithyramb; the performance of the vu,,. j in
lieu of the dithyramb is also attested, at about the same moment, in Teos; and two
honorary decrees from Kolophon specify that the honours must be announced at the
Dionysia during the performance of the vu,,. j
32
.
Is this situation merely the result of an evolution of both dithyramb and vu,,. j? But
what could have brought about such a situation? Dionysos is, albeit in late sources,
associated with the invention of the pyrrhic; but the sixth century Attic vases with a
dionysiac weapon-dance show that the association was much earlier
33
. Actually, the
satyric dance c. -...., was considered as very similar to the pyrrhic: both were
characterized by their speed
34
(Athen. XIV 630d). What is here interesting is the
possibility of an association between Artemis and Dionysos on what appear as
'pyrrhichic sites' (thus at least at Halai and at Brauron; at Eretria, where the honors are
to be announced at the Artemisia in the agon of the vu,,. j, and at the Dionysia, during
the pompe for Dionysos). This might be paralleled in Athens as well, substituting
Athena for Artemis
35
.
What emerges from this picture may be summarized under the following headings:
A. Concerning the term vu,,. j:
1. Clearly, starting at the latest with the IV century BC, the name vu,,. j imposes
itself and is used to define all sorts of : . v`.. ,jc:.,. Athenaeus has a remarkably
long list of local dances all lost to us, however, since their names only are preserved
by Athenaeus himself, Pollux and Hesychius
36
. One of the reasons for this situation
might be sought in the process whereby the term pyrrhiche came to subsume all kinds
of local weapon dances. The iconography as well shows that the different strands are, at
the latest at the end of the IV century BC, merging: thus the iconography of an
Athenian pyrrhicist on the basis dedicated by Xenocles around 330 BC is about the
same as that typical of the Kouretes
37
. In their turn, there is no difference between the

32
Aristocles? in Athen. XIV 631ab (and cf. Slater 1993, who thinks that the pyrrhic became
dionysiac after Alexander's conquest of the East was equated with the triumph of Dionysos over India).
Attic vases: ARV 133/10; Para 323, 3bis; ABV 522/20; ABV 531/4; Athens MN 19761. For Cos cf. M.
Segre, Iscrizioni di Cos, ED 52 and ED 234 (and the discussion in Ceccarelli 1995); for Teos, CIG 3089
and 3090, and Ceccarelli 1998, 134-135.
33
Literary sources: Nonnos of Panopolis, Dionys. XIII 35-40; XIV 33-34; XXVIII 292-297; schol. T
in Hom. Il. XVI 617a; Eust. Hom. Il. (XVI 617) 1078, 22-44; cf. also the war dances performed for
Dionysos at Smyrna, Ael. Arist. XVII 6 K. and XXI 4 K. Attic iconography: cf. supra n. 32. Moreover, I
have tried to show (in Ceccarelli 1998, 70-72) that at the end of the fifth century there is an almost
seamless iconographic transformation of female pyrrhic dances into female dionysiac dances (with the
tympanon substituting the shield). Such formal continuity is bound to reflect something of the historical
situation.
34
Athen. XIV 630d, and the discussion in Ceccarelli 1998, 213-215.
35
Association Artemis-Dionysos: Jeanmaire 1951, 212-214 and 216-218; Brelich 1969, 277-278;
Burkert 1985, 222-223. Athens: Seaford 1994, 248-249 and Sourvinou-Inwood 1994 have pointed to the
existence of structural echoes between Panathenaia on one side and city-Dionysia on the other. One may
add that Athena's gigantomachy is, at Athens, paralleled (at least on the imagery of Attic black and red
figure vases) by Dionysos' gigantomachy (cf. Vian 1952, 83-90, and Lissarrague 1987).
36
Athen. XIV 629-631; Poll. Onom. IV 99-104; cf. Latte 1913, 1-16, and Restani 1988.
37
Xenokles basis, Athens, Acropolis Museum 6465, dated around 330, IG II 3026; for the Kouretes
one may compare the (much later: I B.C./ I a.D.) Campana plate London, British Museum D 501 (but
also the earlier altar of Dionysos in Kos, and generally LIMC s.v.). Conversely, on a relief from Potidaea
dated around 338-330 (Stephanidou 1973) with remains of a Kouretike trias, the iconography of the
9
dances of the armed Kouretes around Zeus, and those of the Korybantes around
Dionysos
38
. This parallels what we have seen happening in Plato, where all weapon
dances are put on the same level and covered by the v,: v., 'convenient', definition of
"pyrrhics".
2. An analysis contrasting the way in which the syntagm vu,,. j ,jc., is used with
what happens for other dances (as for example the sikinnis and the emmeleia) shows
that the pyrrhiche has a somewhat peculiar status. On the one hand it is, just as the
others, classified as a feature specific of a lyric (or dramatic) genre
39
. It is in my opinion
certain that a pyrrhichic choreography could be and actually was used in performances
of dithyrambs, epinicians and drama. But, on the other hand, the vu,,. j is the only
dance to stand "per se" in inscriptions that is, it is conceived as a kind of genre, as a
category in itself, to the point of displacing the dithyramb when, in the already
mentioned list of victors at the Dionysia of Cos, we see besides the familiar heading for
tragedy and comedy also the indication of the victor "in the pyrrhic of the cyclic
choruses", -u-`... c. vu,,. c..
B. Concerning the weapon dances in general:
The contexts enumerated until now have some aspects in common, but there are a
number of differences in the details:
1. A first point concerns the modalities of the performance. The Kouretes' dance was
performed with shields and swords, while in Athens pyrrhicists are shown on vase-
paintings with a shield and a spear (sometimes a sword as well, but always worn at the
belt, never held in hand). This is not a small difference: it actually implies two different
kinds of dance. With a short stick, like a sword, one can strike one's own shield or that
of another dancer, producing noise; but if the dancer is equipped with a shield and a
(long) spear, the same effect won't be reached
40
. The choreography, possibly the
rhythm, and very likely the meaning of the dance as well, will have had to be different.
2. A second point concerns the distinction between urban and extraurban
localization, and more generally the meaning of the dance. Palaikastro, Halai
Haraphenides and Amarynthos are extraurban sanctuaries, located at the margins and
thus particularly apt for transition rituals: here, we do not have evidence for more than
one age-group. On the other hand, the pyrrhic of the Panathenaia was danced for the
Poliad goddess, probably in the agora and by representatives of all age-classes. Thus,
we have to assume some difference in the functions and in the meaning of the dance.

Koures to the left is very near to that of the pyrrhicists of the Atarbos base, Athens Acropolis Museum
1338, IG II 3025, dated to 366/65. Cf. Ceccarelli 1998, 153-156 and 228.
38
Cf. Eur. Bacch. 120-134, where the Kouretes' dances around Zeus and the Korybantes' invention of
'a ring covered in stretched hide' (the tympanon - but the Korybantes usually bear a shield, and anyway
there is no great difference, from the point of view of the appearance, between a light shield and a
tympanon) are mentioned side by side.
39
Thus in Aristoxenos (in Athen. XIV 630c-e, = fr. 103 Wehrli; cf. also frr. 104 to 108) we find three
c-j..-c. ,jc:., (tragic, the emmeleia; comic, the kordax; and satyric, the sikinnis), to which
correspond three `u,.-c. ,jc:.,, the vu,,.j, the ,u.vc..-j and the uv,jc.-j. This classification
is imposed from the outside and does not correspond to any reality; but even if it is clearly artificial in its
neat divisions, it shows that the dances would have been classified according to the poetic genre. See on
this Barker 1984, 289; Koller 1954, 162-173; and Wehrli 1967, 80-82.
40
Cf. the anthropological parallels in Sachs 1966 [1933], 143-146.
10
In Crete, where the dancers are ephebes ritually reenacting the Kouretes' dance
around Zeus, the accent may have been put on the fertility implied by the continued
growth of the community, through the integration in it of its youths. As for Eretria,
neither the inscriptions nor literary texts give clear indications on the meaning of the
performance there. But if ephebes were prominent in it, we may think that in this case
too their integration in the community was at stake. And since the reference in Strabo
(X 1, 10, 448C) to the very ancient military procession conducted yearly for Artemis
Amarysia underlines the military aspect of the goddess, it is probably of an integration
into a community of warriors that we have to think first. On the other hand, in the
context of the Panathenaia, and danced probably in the agora by three age-groups (and
thus by representatives of all age-classes), the pyrrhic is likely to have signified,
through the ritual reenactment of Athena's victory over the Giants, the reinstatement of
a global order.
3. I would like to make here a suggestion concerning otherness and ritual
reenactment. In the case of weapon dances, the fact of wearing a helmet means that up
to a point the identity of the dancer is obscured, that he wears a mask. Without wanting
to push this too much (because obviously every warrior, once he has put on a helmet, is
going to wear this 'mask'), one can at least say that it ties in well with the `uccc, the
excess which takes over warriors in many stories that might be read as aetiologies of the
pyrrhic
41
and also with the marginal status through which the youths must go before
they learn control and can be reintegrated. The wearing of a panoply transforms
Neoptolemos into a ,,,, v`.j, (Eur. Andr. 1123), the vu,,. ., vu , itself is ,,,,
(Anon. Ambros., in Studemund Anecdota I 222, 4-11). Some of the aetiologies of the
pyrrhic imply a visual trick, a distortion of view, a kind of invisibility; thus for the
killing of the Gorgon, which functions as one of the aitia for Athena's dance; thus for
the story of the Apatouria duel. The dance of the pyrrhic might be seen as a ritually
controlled reenactment of the otherness which takes over the warrior at the moment of
the battle.
4. The last point concerns the gods involved and once more, the ,- j, of the
name vu,,. j. Because of the concern of all communities with their proper
continuation, and so with the birth, growth, transition to adulthood and lastly death of
their members, it is not surprising to find more or less similar weapon dances all over
the Greek world. And because every polis built through its specific cults a specific
pantheon, a system into which different gods took place, complementing or excluding
others, because of this it is not surprising to find that a similar function may be assumed
in different places by different gods, according to the shape of the local pantheon.
There is however a permanent tension between the local pantheons and the Hellenic
pantheon of the epic poems and of the Panhellenic cults. I would suggest that the
,-j, of the term pyrrhiche may be found inter alia in the fact that it cannot be

41
On the ambivalence of the warriors, oscillating between order and disorder, positivity and
destructive violence, see Vidal-Naquet 1989, 249-251, and in relation with the pyrrhic dance, Ceccarelli
1998, 187-192; for the Indo-European warrior, Sergent 1995, 282-306.
11
directly etymologically linked to any of the gods presiding over a festival in which
a vu,,. j was performed. Many other names are locally marked: the Kastoreion would
have immediately led to the Dioskouroi; in the case of Athena, the link with the weapon
dance was given by the paretymological play lc``c, vc ``:.., as Plato well knew
(Cratyl. 406d-407a). In both cases there is no possibility of a 'structural' link with the
vu,,. j; and the same goes for Artemis and Dionysos. A community would have had to
refer to a person called Pyrrhichos, in order to appropriate the dance as the Spartans
did, as the Cretans did, for this was the only possibility.
We are thus left with a Panhellenic name, one moreover that goes back to the red
violence, as destructive as fire, of the Indo-European warrior an extremely ambivalent
character; and with a Panhellenic hero, Neoptolemos, the young warrior par excellence,
himself a very ambivalent character, who through his other name, lu ,,,, has a direct
connection with the dance, as underlined by the late tradition. It is the connection with
Neoptolemos, through his connection with Delphi himself a Panhellenic figure, which
made vu,,. j the 'right' (Panhellenic) name for war-dances.
Paola Ceccarelli
Universit dell'Aquila

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