Heat and Lust: Hesiod’s Midsummer Festival Scene Revisited

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3. The Threshing

Petropoulos heat-lust chap3 figure
Threshing in Greece. (Photograph by the author.)

Ever eager to store their grain before the onset of the late μελτέμι, the farmer and his family stow the grain and chaff in sacks. The chaff is transported to an underground facility (ἀχερώνας) and stored as winter feed for the animals. The grain is stored in the bam, at home or in an underground facility sealed with a large stone slab (πῶμα). A sack or two of grain then goes to the warden (ἀγροφύλακας) who keeps watch over the farmer’s fields. Cases of grain theft are reported in the more recent ethnographic sources, and the Byzantine legal codes clearly suggest that the raiding of a neighbor’s grain supply (even before storage) has long been a thriving practice for many.

Lastly, we may note the practice of offering the first bread baked of the new crop. In most regions the first bread of the year is offered to the farmer’s beasts of burden on the principle that they have helped to bring about the harvest and threshing. Each family shares a second loaf, leaving a piece at the village fountain. This piece, they believe, will cause good luck to “flow” at home as plentifully as the fountain’s waters. Coans deposit the first bread by the central κρήνη, or fountain, so as to ensure that their future bread supply will be as unlimited as the water supply. Another loaf is fed to the household’s colts as a guarantee of good luck and a third loaf is shared by each family.

Now, at the end of the harvest/threshing season, farmers offer the cicada what he has demanded since June—a portion of the wheat crop at the village fountain.


[ back ] 1. Hesiod prescribes that threshing should commence at the heliacal rising of Betelgeuse (Orion), which is about June 20: see West, p. 309 on WD 598.

[ back ] 2. The aloni is located on a windward site and is made of either dried mud or stone slabs.

[ back ] 3. Iliad 10.351-353 notes that mules are more efficient than oxen because they plow faster and cover greater expanses; but oxen are stronger and therefore probably better suited to transporting bundles of wheat. Further on the merits of beasts of burden in ch. 5 below.

[ back ] 4. Halstead and Jones 1989. 44.

[ back ] 5. On this divine regulator of heat, thunder, wind, and rain, and his “transitional” feast, consult Loukatos 1981. especially 87-90.

[ back ] 6. Loukatos 1981. 96-98.

[ back ] 7. For more on the affinities of St. Elias with the event of winnowing, see Nagy 1990b. 214.

[ back ] 8. Cf. Iliad 5.499-501; Hesiod specifically mentions winnowing: cf. WD 599, 805-808, and discussion in ch. 6.

[ back ] 9. Recorded by Kizlaris 1938-1948.405; cf. chs. 1 and 5.