National Geographic : 1944 Mar
An Athenian Wedding Party T HE NARROW streets of ancient SAthens, where the houses clus tered against the north slope of the Acropolis, must often have witnessed scenes such as this-a wedding party come from the banquet at the house of the bride's parents and on the threshold of the new home the parents of the bridegroom standing to wel come the newly married pair. Almost invariably marriages were arranged by the parents, sometimes with the aid of an intermediary. Close attention was paid to the mar riage settlement and to the arrange ments for the dowry, or its return in case of the death or divorce of the wife. The old Homeric custom of ob taining a wife by means of rich gifts was no longer in use during the his toric period. Marriages were con tracted strictly between citizens' families, and almost always between families of the same station of impor tance. Occasionally, however, the state provided.dowries for the daugh ters of impoverished citizens who had rendered signal service to the city. The legal part of a marriage con sisted actually in the betrothal. The wedding ceremonies, although they had a religious significance, were not actually religious in the sense that the presence of a priest was necessary. The marriage gods were invoked at the wedding banquet, and libations poured and sacrifices made to them. The flesh from the sacrificed ani mals probably furnished a goodly part of the feast. In the hope that the marriage should be marred by no bitterness, the gall of the animals was discarded and not burnt with the other entrails. It was customary for the bride, and for the bridegroom as well, to bathe on the morning of the ceremony in water specially brought for the pur pose from certain particularly sacred fountains. The legal part of the ceremony, or the sacrifices, probably took place in the morning, and the feast fol lowed. This occasion was one of the few on which men and women out side of the intimate circle of the family ate together. By the time the feast was ended, darkness was falling, and the proces sion started off for the house which the couple were to occupy. Except in the poorest class of wedding, the bride rode in a chariot drawn by oxen or horses. She was seated between her husband and his best man. She was attended by a bridesmaid, and her mother followed bearing torches symbolic of the marriage rite. Others of the party followed, sing ing and playing on flutes and lyres. In Athens it was a peculiar custom for a young boy, whose parents must be alive, to go around bearing a bas ket of cakes and singing, "I fled from misfortune, I found a better lot." At the door of the new home stood the father and mother of the bride groom, the mother also carrying torches. All sorts of sweetmeats were showered on the nuptial pair, and the youths and maidens sang an epitha lamium. There was much laughing and joking before the well-wishers finally went away and left the newly married couple in peace. On the fol lowing day they returned with the couple's relatives, who came to pay visits and offer congratulations to the new husband and his wife. The festivities ended with a ban quet given by the bridegroom, or by his father, but this time the women were not included.