"Lenaia vases" is the traditional title given to a group of some seventy fifth-century Attic vases, black- and red-figure. These vases have in common that they show a cult-image of Dionysos, consisting of a mask or masks on a column, in combination with the conventional Attic imagery of the revelling ecstatic female worshippers usually called "maenads." The vases are important and their meaning much debated because they seem to hold out the promise of providing otherwise unavailable information about historical bacchic religion. There is no consensus on the character of the historical information of these scenes. In an older view the imagery records the appearance of enacted ritual; in a newer view, the imagery "discusses," in a fashion analogous to language, concepts about Dionysiac religion. This paper proposes a reinterpretation of a coherent subset of the "Lenaia vases," based on a linguistic reading of the imagery. This subset consists of twenty-eight red-figure stamnoi, a group that has traditionally been the focus of studies of the "Lenaia vases." I analyze the vases as describing, in conventional visual terms of reference, a rite of theoxenia celebrated by ecstatic female worshippers. The imagery says that these worshippers perform a thysia, offer Dionysos a banquet of meat and wine, and celebrate a symposion and komos. It also comments on the practice of such rituals by women, saying that they derive honor from these actions. These rituals find parallels in historical evidence for Dionysiac theoxenia and banquets; the scenes thus may provide additional evidence that Dionysiac celebrations took this form. The scenes, however, are not about the historical enactment of such rituals, and still less a visual record of such enactments. Rather, their message, conveyed by the interweaving of mythical and social references, is that for the worshipper of Dionysos the worlds of myth and of the polis are one.
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