Peplos scene. Block V (fragment)
from the east frieze of the Parthenon, ca. 447–433 BC.
British Museum, main floor, room 16.
Source: Wikimedia under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
On the 25th of Thargelion - possibly on the 14th / 15th of June of 2012 - at Athens and the neighbouring communities, such as in Erchia, the Plynteria (Καλλυντήρια κατ' Πλυντήρια) festival was celebrated, in honour of Athena (Phot. s. v. Kallunteria: Pint. Alcib. 34; Harpocr., Suid. s. v.) and Aglauros. A very interesting discussion of Aglauros' existence as a recipient of sacrifices at the Plynteria, see the late Sourvinou-Inwood's published study entitled Athenian Myths and Festivals; Aglauros, Erechtheus, Plynteria, Panathenaia, Dionysia, edited by Parker (OUP, 2011). I have read the book and I strongly agree with a great number of Sourvinou-Inwood's thoughts and her critical understanding of Plynteria. However, more importantly, I agree with Sourvinou-Inwood's methodological approach towards ancient Greek ritual. This methodological approach, offers a theoretical view of 'what it means' for the ancient Greece to warship as they worshipped. Our mission is to re-create in detail the 'meaning' of single elements of the ritual - not based on their symbolic existence, but  as functional variables of 'ritual nexus' that construct religious significance.

The Plynteria is situated on an apophras hemera as part of a group of apophrades hemerai (ἀποφράδες ἡμέραι), unlucky or unfortunate days (dies nefasti), on which no public business, nor any important affairs of any kind, were transacted (DARG s. v.). Therefore, the concept of purification - purification of the community through its re-connection of its autochthony and primordial core - should have been a central element of the Plynteria's 'nexus'. One of these ritual elements is hegeteria - dried fig-cake of purification - possibly offered as a meal to Athena which was deposited in the temple of Athena Skiras (Sourvinou-Inwood, 2011: 179, 192). DARG suggests that in the procession strings of figs were carried (palathe hegeteria or hegetoria which may symbolise fruitfulness, or may, as Mommsen suggests, have also a more 'mystical' connection with an ancient sacrifice of maidens, similar to that of Thargelia, in which the victims were garlanded with figs (see also Jane Ellen Harrison, 1991, p. 116). I will disagree with Mommsen and DARG explanatory entry of hegeteria and especially with the 'mystical' concept of hegeteria. On the contrary, I will agree with Sourvinou-Inwood explanation of hegeteria and the use of figs in the ritual of Plynteria as an identification of communal purification, autochthony and primordiality (Sourvinou-Inwood, 2011: 12, 140-1).

I will go further to explain why hegeteria (the fig-tree; Hesychios (Phot., Hysch. s.v.) "ἡγητηρία · παρὰ ἡγησασθαι οὖν τῆς τροφῆς κέκληται ἠγητηρία" ) was first a symbol of communal union and for that reason equals to autochthony and primordiality which automatically could have been used for purification 'ritual elements'. In Deipnosophists (B.III.c.6-18) there is a beautiful discussion on figs. Magnus suggests that “fig-tree […] was the guide to men to lead them to a more civilized life”. Athenaeus explains that was “the guide” as it was the first discovered fruit to be cultivated amongst the primordial communities. Later he signified the importance of autochthony by adding that there are many different “species of figs”; Aristophanes in his Farmers, according to Athenaeus states that you could plant all different shorts of figs, but he denies to plant the Lacedæmonian as “this kind is the fig of an enemy and a tyrant”. We read of figs from areas of Greece, Phrygia and Cyprus, which are named after their place of origin, such as the Phrygian, the Cretan, the Phibalean, the Olynthian, the Chelidonian. This is an important element of the product’s spatial recognition, that does not only is offering a statement of its quality, but, further, it signifies the important of uniqueness and differentiation of the peoples that produced it. The production, consumption and trade of figs – and of other products of such significance for the local community i.e. wine and oil – were regulated. In Athenaeus, we read a statement by Isistrus that figs were “forbidden to export out of Attica […] which grew in this country”. The term sycophant was born of the practice to accuse those illegal exporters in the courts.

The importance of autochthony and primordiality is also stated in the mythological explanation of the fig-tree (συκῆ). Pherenicus, the epic poet, called συκῆ as one of the Hamadryad Nymphs. We witnessing cults related to the existence, production and conception of the figs: in Lacedæmon worshiped Dionysus Sukites, and in Naxos, Dionysus Meilichus, as the figs have been called μείλιχα. Figs and its products that were especially produced have a symbolic meaning based on its conception by the culture of the population that consumes it. The act of planting fig-trees, trading it or excluding it from any exports, localize it by offering it a cult or use its fruits for local city-state’s cults and rituals underlines its importance for the community’s union and identity. It is extraordinary when we incorporate all these three concepts of purification, autochthony and primordiality with the ‘ritual logic’ of Plynteria: when all three are interrelated, they were signifying the ‘renewal’ and ‘rebirth’ of the community’s life and experiences.
ResearchBlogging.org
Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (2011). Athenian Myths and Festivals; Festivals and Genē Oxford Scholarship Online DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592074.003.0001

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood (2011). Athenian Myths and Festivals; Reading a Festival Nexus Oxford Scholarship Online DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592074.003.0003

Jane Ellen Harrison (1991). Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion Princeton University Press Other: 9780691015149