In the ancient Mediterranean world there was hardly room for choice: not only was marriage destiny, but so was death. The identity of the Classical Greek world is established through the traditional sacrifices and rituals that were practiced in these times of bliss and mourning. The sacred wedding and the dramatic funeral compliment each other in character and content, for the ceremonies are both interwoven with ritual meaning and overlapping rites. Evidence for these formalities, both literary and artistic, help to provide a complete account of Greek customs in order to form the general picture of the wedding, the funeral, the parallels, the writings, and the vase paintings.
Every respectable woman in Athens became a wife if she could. There was no real alternative other than marriage. The bride and the groom prepared for the wedding by means of offerings, dedications, and sacrifices. All of these rites had a purificatory and propitiatory character. Marriage in Classical Athens is constituted by the acts of engue , ekdosis , and gamos.
Engue refers to the betrothal arranged by the kurioi , usually the fathers. It may also refer to the relationship between the guardian of the bride and the groom himself, if the groom has reached the majority age of eighteen.
This ceremony consists of a private verbal contract where the woman is transferred. The Greek marriage is composed of both transfer and transformation: a transfer is enacted in the engue and transformation is the responsibility of the woman. Many actions are symbolic of a woman's transfer to a new status. By cutting her hair, in removing the girdle which is worn since puberty, by taking a ritual bath in water drawn from a sacred spring, in shifting from childhood to adulthood and from virginity to wife hood, the bride undergoes many significant transformations. The bride is not considered a legal agent, thus her presence is not necessary at the engue where the arrangement of the dowry is settled. The dowry is designed to provide the wife with protection if her husband abandons or divorces her.
The wedding is designated by the terms ekdosis and gamos . Ekdosis is the giving away of the bride from father to husband in order to create an oikos.
The ekdosis does not render a single moment, but is a process of transfer where a variety of preliminary sacrifices are performed. The offerings presented before the wedding consist of dedications to various gods. Many offerings and sacrifices are made to divinities, especially to Artemis who is associated with menstruation, virginity and childbirth. The most frequent dedication is locks of hair. The recipients of these hair offerings are representative of virginity. The offering of hair by the bride to virgin deities might be understood as a substitute for the bride herself who is about to leave the virginal way of life. The bride's passage from childhood to maturity is marked by her dedication of a lock of hair at the shrine. On the wedding day both the bride and groom are each given a ritual bath with water brought from the Kallirroe spring. The nuptial bath is believed to induce fertility. The special vessel used for this purpose is the loutrophoros which means, "someone who carries the bath water." Among these activities the bride is assisted in adorning herself for the wedding night. At a banquet given at the family's home, the bride first appears veiled. The unveiling of the bride, anakalupteria ,
possibly took place at this celebratory feast where music and dancing play a large role in the festivities. Both the bride and groom wear a crown or garland to mark the occasion. The actual transfer of the bride from father to groom takes place at night after the bridal banquet.
The central event of the Athenian wedding is the procession in a chariot from the home of the bride to the home of the groom. The veiled bride stands in the cart as her husband mounts it in preparation for their journey. The families follow the chariot by foot, bearing gifts. In the procession the bride's mother carries torches which stressed her protective role. Traditionally, this journey took place at night, hence the figures carrying the torches to light the way. The flames of the torches and the sound of the music function against evil spirits which intend to harm the bride during the procession.
As a part of the incorporation rites, the bride eats a quince or an apple, demonstrating that her livelihood now comes from her husband. This is a way of marking her initiation into the new oikos . The fruit and nuts which the bride and groom are showered with act as agents of fertility and prosperity. Different interpretations of this action suggest that this consumption exemplifies a sympathetic guarantee of fertility. The physical union of bride and