Dedicating your toys to Artemis

I gave a talk at my daughters' school a few months ago, and much fun it was.  They were studying ancient Greece, so I was a fairly natural  addition to the curriculum.  I waffled on for an hour about things that I thought would interest the girls.  I talked about hairstyles, how children dressed (it was the previous post that reminded me of this), about schools and how kids took part in the festivals and how girls went to the sanctuary at Brauron.  Then I mentioned in passing that ancient Greek girls, before they married, were required to dedicate all their toys to the goddess Artemis.

Fifteen minutes later, I was still fielding questions as the girls desperately looked for ways around this evil rule.

They were shocked.

The dedication is obviously a coming-of-age ritual.  A maiden puts away her childish things before she becomes a wife.  Or more accurately, it worked like this:

When a girl was born she was a kore, which means maiden.  When she's betrothed she becomes a nymphe, and nymphe she remains until motherhood, when she became a gyne.

It's not quite the same as the maid, the mother, and the crone that's commonly found in neo-pagan beliefs.  But kore-nymphe-gyne was the true progression that the Greeks used, and the dividing lines are marriage and motherhood.  The dedication of the toys was part of the transformation.  The girl went to the temple, no doubt with her family, where in a ceremony she placed her toys somewhere within the temple, then she left without them; no longer a girl, but a young woman.

Based on the persistence of the girls I spoke to, I have no doubt there was more than one favourite doll that went missing at age 13, that magically reappeared at age 16.  There were probably some other brilliant schemes to save toys.  But in general the girls seem to have followed the rules.  There are a few surviving dedications which we can read today.  The clearest I know of is this one:
Timareta, the daughter of Timaretus, before her wedding, has dedicated to you, Artemis of the Lake, her tambourine and her pretty ball, and the net that kept up her hair, and her dolls too, and their dresses; a virgin's gift, as is fit, to a virgin goddess. 


Sarah W said...

I read this to my eight-year old.

Her jaw dropped. "We don't do that any more, do we?"

I was tempted to say yes, just to see what would happen . . .

Yamile said...

This is fascinating! I'll share this with my son, who has been completely obsessed with everything Greek and Roman for about two years now :-)

Gary Corby said...

That's hilarious, Sarah. Sadly this wouldn't work on my girls. They never believe anything I say anyway.

Yamile, I'll do one for boys next. He'll be horrified.

Caroline Lawrence said...

What a fabulous post, Gary! I mention renunciation of dolls etc before marriage in my Roman Mysteries series (and in one case renunciation of men to follow Diana) but have never brought it up at a school visit before. I might try it out today! I'll let you know how it goes down.

P.S. Thanks to Irene Hahn for bringing this to my attention! :-)

Gary Corby said...

Hi Caroline! I'd love to know the reaction. Better take the smelling salts just in case.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Love this! Also, Timareta's spare list reminds us of how materialistic our culture has become. Our kids have SO many toys and things in comparison!

Gary Corby said...

Hi Vicky! Yes, I thought that too as I copied it.

Any temple where modern kids dedicated their toys would need an adjoining warehouse.