Lexicon Entry

εἰρεσῐώνη, , (εἶρος) branch of olive or laurel wound round with wool and hung with fruits, dedicated to Apollo and borne about by singing boys at the Πυανόψια and Θαργήλια, while offerings were made to Helios and the Hours, and afterwards hung up at the house-door. 2. the song itself. II. crown hung up in honour of the dead. 2. generally, wreath; cf. εἰρυσιώνη. [1]

Origins of the Word

Eiræsióhni (Eiresione; Gr. Εἰρεσιώνη, ΕΙΡΕΣΙΩΝΗ) The word Eiræsióhni has several suggested derivations; it may come from the verb æróh (ero; Gr. ἐρῶ), “I ask” or “I say," denoting a supplication to Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It may also be related to the word ǽrion (erion; Gr. ἔριον) meaning "wool," because pieces of wool were tied to the Eiræsióhni. The etymologist Pierre Chantraine suggests a connection with an obscure epithet of Apóllohn, Ερέσιος, this being a reference to the oracular shrine at Æræsós (Eresos; Gr. Ερεσός) on the island of Lǽsvos (Lesbos; Gr. Λέσβος. Robert Beekes, the Dutch linguistic expert, mentions a variant of the word, "εἰρυσιώνη (Delos Ia), folk-etymological reshaping after ειρύομαι 'protect'." [2]

The Eiræsióhni and the Pyanǽpsia

The Eiræsióhni is a ceremonial branch of olive wrapped in woolen cloth. It is said that the great Athenian Írohs (Hero; Gr. Ἥρως) Thiséfs (Theseus; Gr. Θησεύς) made a vow to Apóllohn while holding the Eiræsióhni before embarking on his journey to battle with the Minóhtavros (Minotaur; Gr. Μῑνώταυρος), a fearsome creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Thiséfs succeeded in slaying the beast. The Eiræsióhni in this mythology can be seen as representing the Minóhtavros, which itself symbolizes Nous (Gr. Νοῦς), the mind, which Thiséfs conquered by destroying the creature.

The Pyanǽpsia (Pyanepsia; Gr. Πυανέψια) festival celebrates this mythology. As a part of the festivities, the Eiræsióhni was carried by an amphithalís (amphithales; Gr. ἀμφιθαλής) boy, that is, a lad who had both parents still living; this child ceremoniously brought the decorated bough to the temple of Apóllohn to be fastened to its door.

More branches were carried by all the children as they walked the by-ways going from home to home in hopes of receiving presents. They sang a song which has been preserved by Ploutarkhos (Plutarch; Gr. Πλούταρχος) in his essay on Thiséfs [3]:

Εἰρεσιώνη σῦκα φέρει καὶ πίονας ἄρτους

καὶ μέλι ἐν κοτύλῃ καὶ ἔλαιον ἀποψήσασθαι

καὶ κύλικ᾽ εὔζωρον, ὡς ἂν μεθύουσα καθεύδῃ.

"Eiresione bring figs, and Eiresione bring loaves;

Bring us honey in pints, and oil to rub on our bodies,

And a strong flagon of wine, for all to go mellow to bed on." [4]

Ploutarkhos remarks in this same section of the essay that the use of the Eiræsióhni at the Pyanǽpsial is in imitation of the bough used by Thiséfs when he originally supplicated Apóllohn before embarking on his ordeal with the Minóhtavros, making the Eiræsióhni a type of ikætiría (iketeria; Gr. ἱκετηρία), the olive branch of a suppliant.

The Eiræsióhni at Other Festivals

Ploutarkhos also remarks that some people have said that the ceremony of the Eiræsióhni may have been used by the Athenians in memory of the Irakleidai (Heracleidae; Gr. Ἡρακλεῖδαι). He is likely referring to when the Irakleidai, after the death of Iraklís (Herakles or Hercules; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς) went to Athens with branches as suppliants to obtain refuge and escape the tyrant Evrysthéfs(Eurystheus; Gr. Εὐρυσθεύς) who persecuted their father and assigned to him the Twelve Labors. Whether this be the reason for the Athenian practice or not, it is known that the Eiræsióhni has been used at festivals other than the Pyanǽpsia, particularly mentioned is the Tharyília (Thargelia; Gr. Θαργήλια), the birthday of Apóllohn, and of his sister Ártæmis (Artemis; Gr. Ἄρτεμις) the day before [5], with some implication of a first-fruits offering. Porphýrios (Porphyry; Gr. Πορφύριος) seems to be alluding to the Eiræsióhni when he speaks of a festival in Athens in honor of Ílios (Helios the Sun; Gr. Ἥλιος) and the Órai (Horae or the Seasons; Gr. Ὧραι) in his text on the abstention from eating meat [6].

The Eiræsióhni Today

To make the Eiræsióhni, cut a branch of olive perhaps fifteen or so inches long (38 cm). If olive is not available, use a branch of laurel. If you do not have either of these, use a branch of any available tree, preferably with evergreen leaves but not needles. Do not remove the leaves because in times of trouble, they may be burnt as an offering to Apóllohn for protection. The Eiræsióhni is traditionally decorated with deep red (or purple [porphýra; Gr. πορφύρα]) and white wool; the red represents the kozmogonic fire and the white symbolizes the purity of Apóllohn and the high levels of deification. It is also traditional to affix figs, candies, tiny bottles of olive-oil, wine, or honey to the branch; they represent the end of want or famine and hopes of a time of plenty. Woolen yarn or strips of woolen cloth may be used. Wrap the branch first with the white yarn, covering it all over between the leaves, and then use the red yarn, allowing the white to show in stripes. The figs and candies etc. can also be attached with the yarn; when you eat these, snip them off near the object with a scissors but leave the yarn attached as a decoration. Alternately, you can leave the main branch unadorned and simply tie the figs and candies to it with the colored yarn. If you have a larger Eiræsióhni, it may be mounted, like a Christmas tree, in a place of honor for a couple weeks after the festival, after which it is placed above the door of ones home as a protection. If making the Eiræsióhni at the Pyanǽpsia, the old branch may be taken down from the previous year and burned out-of-doors as part of the festivities.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.


[1] Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, p. 490, left column, edited for simplicity.

[2] Etymological dictionary of Greek Vol. 1 by Robert Beekes with the assistance of Lucien van Beek, 2009; from the Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, Brill (Leiden, Boston), p. 390.

[3] 22.5.

[4] Ploutarkhos Parallel Lives; Theseus 22.5; trans. John Dryden, 1683; found here in the 1992 Modern Library Edition, Random House, New York NY USA, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans: Plutarch Vol. I, p. 13.

[5] Schol. ad Ar. Plut. 1054.

[6] 2.7.

The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).

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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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