The festival of the Maiuma at Antioch

I was discussing a description of a festival at Antioch by Ernest Renan last week, and following the references.  One reference remained outstanding: Renan’s abbreviated reference to “O. Müller, Antiquit. Antioch.” p.33 — and how would any reader know what this is?

After some poking around, Müller turns out to be Antiquitates Antiochenae, Gottingen, 1839.  It may be found here.  Page 33 is here, and note 6 is the reference given for the courtisans part in the festivities.

Renan refers to the festival of the “Naiouma”.  But this word is, I find, used only by Renan. Müller refers to the festival as the “Maiuma”.  The note refers back to the same ancient source as Renan; to Chrysostom, whom we quoted earlier, and who appears below.

Enquiring about the Maiuma festival — the word is Syriac — leads me to an interesting Finnish website, the Melammu Project.  This gives ancient sources for the festival, all apparently from one article, which it is useful to give here[1]:

Julian the Emperor, Misopogon 362D:
Yet every one of you (= Antiochenes) delights to spend money privately on dinners and feasts; and I know very well that many of you squandered very large sums of money on dinners during the May festival (Maiuma).

Malalas, Chronicle 284-285:
During his reign the landowners and citizens of Antioch sent a message and petitioned the emperor Commodus that by his sacred command he make over to the public treasury the revenues … in order that a varied programme of spectacles and different contests might be celebrated in the city, and that the city’s officials should not appropriate the funds but that the public treasury itself might make provision to celebrate the Olympic festival and certain other spectacles in the city of the Antiochenes for the enjoyment of the city … Likewise for celebrating the nocturnal dramatic festival, held every three years and known as Orgies, that is, the Mysteries of Dionysus and Aphrodite, that is, what is known as the Maioumas because it is celebrated in the month of May-Artemisios, he set aside a specific quantity of gold for torches, lights, and other expenses for the thirty-days festival of all-night revels.

Codex Theodosianus 15.6.1-2:
1. It has pleased Our Clemency to restore to the provincials the enjoyment of the Maiuma, provided, however, that decency and modesty and chaste manners shall be preserved (25 April 396).
2. We permit the theatrical arts to be practised, lest, by excessive restriction thereof, sadness may be produced. But we forbid that foul and indecent spectacle which under the name Maiuma a shameless license claims for its own (2 October 399).

Libanius, Orationes 41.16:
There the theatre led to many deeds contrary to the laws, and some were seized from there and held fast by a few words spoken by a few men. For the love of shouting compels (one) to be a servant in every respect and among other things to run to Daphne and to hold the festival which brings ten thousand evils to the city. For even young men (endowed) with prudence who go up there return having cast it aside. Having witnessed these things, it seems to me, a good emperor suppressed the practice, but it grew up again; and it takes place with some giving the orders, and you leading the way in helping in this felicitous (enterprise). For five days or more the procession (going up) there is seen to continue, with a lack of shame, some of which reflects on the participants, and some on you. And yet if someone were to ask you know as you come back from that varied drunkenness, to what are you devoting so much time?

John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum Homiliae 7:
For tell me, if anyone offered to introduce you into a palace, and show you the king sitting (there), would you indeed choose to see the theatre instead of these things? … And you leave this and run to the theatre to see women swimming, and nature put to open dishonour, leaving Christ sitting by the well? … But you, leaving the fountain of blood, the awful cup, go your way to the fountain of the devil, to see a harlot swim, and to endure shipwreck of the soul. For that water is a sea of lasciviousness, not drowning bodies, but working shipwreck of souls. And while she swims naked, you, as you behold, are plunged into the depths of lasciviousness. … For in the first place, through a whole night the devil takes over their souls with the expectation of it; then having shown them the expected object, he has at once bound them and made them captives … If now you are ashamed, and blush at the comparison, rise up to your nobility and flee the sea of hell and the river of fire, (I mean) the pool in the theatre … And you, when there is a question of precedence, claim to have priority over the whole world, since our city first crowned itself with the name of Christian; but in the competition of chastity, are you not ashamed to be behind the ruder cities?

John the Lydian, De Mensibus 4.76-80:
In this way (they explain) according to theology, but according to the method of enquiring into the nature and origin of things (physiology) many wish May to be water. For among the Syrians who speak (their) foreign language, still even now water is so called, so that aqueducts are called meiouri. … They call feasting ‘to do the Maiuma’, from which [we get the term] Maiuma. The festival was held in Rome in the month of May. The leading men of the city went down to the shore, to the city called Ostia, to enjoy themselves by throwing one another into the waters of the sea. And so the time of the festival of this type was called Maiuma.

Severus of Antioch, Homily 95:
But those who have gone up to Daphne in pagan fashion have had no regard for the truth, which is so terrible (and) on account of which everything moves and trembles. But in the dark moments of the night they even lit lamps of [wax] in the stadium and added incense, stealthily bringing about their own destruction; and it was certain strangers, take good note, who informed me of this while trembling and crying. Do you not see the nets of the Calumnator, and his hidden traps, which on the one hand have as a pretext the joy and pleasure at first sight and lead on the other hand to idolatry and the celebration of festivals in some ways criminal and harmful? And are you not ashamed, when we call ourselves Christians, we who were born on high for the purification which (comes) from the water and the Spirit and call ourselves children of God, to run equally to the solemnities of Satan, which we have renounced by divine baptism? For whenever you change your clothing and afterwards go up to the spactacle, dressed in a tiny linen tunic, which hides the arms but not the hands, waving about a wooden stick and with all skin shaved with a razor, so to speak – look, is it not quite clear that you have made a procession and celebrated Olympian Zeus?

Interesting to see these references, I think you will agree.

  1. [1]Greatrex, Geoffrey and John W. Watt. “One, Two or Three Feasts? The Brytae, the Maiuma and the May Festival at Edessa.” Oriens Christianus 83 (1999) 1-20.

5 thoughts on “The festival of the Maiuma at Antioch

  1. This festival is mentioned (briefly) in “Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire” edited by D. S. Potter and D. J. Mattingly; University of Michigan Press; first edition 1999; second edition 2010.

    Hazel Dodge calls it “MAIUMA” (page 260), while David Potter calls it “MAIOUMA” (page 299).

    My references are to the second edition of the book from 2010.

    Best regards,

    Torben Retboll

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