We are coming upon another festival celebrated in ancient Athens: the Niketeria. Surviving sources date the festival to the third of Boudromion, and it was in honor of one of the most important events in Athens' history: its naming and tutelage by Athena.

Many of us know there was a contest between Poseidon and Athena over who would rule the growing city of Athens (in the name it had before being called 'Athens'), and it is clear who won that contest. The earliest reference to this event we still have access to is from the fourth century BC by Plato, but it does not quite have the poetic touch Ovid's account has. For that reason, I will give the account of Ovid, and build from there. From the Metamorphoses, (trans. Melville):

"The rock of Mavors [Ares] in Cecrops' citadel is Pallas' [Athena's] picture [in her weaving contest with Arakhne] and that old dispute about he name of Athens. Twelve great gods, Jove [Zeus] in their midst, sit there on lofty thrones, grave and august, each pictured with his own familiar features: Jove [Zeus] in regal grace, the Sea-God [Poseidon] standing, striking the rough rock with his tall trident, and the wounded rock gushing sea-brine, his proof to clinch his claim. Herself she gives a shield, she gives a spear sharp-tipped, she gives a helmet for her head; the aegis guards her breast, and from the earth struck by her spear, she shows an olive tree, springing pale-green with berries on the boughs; the gods admire; and Victoria [Nike] ends the work." [6. 70]

Ancient Hellenic Neoplatonist philosopher Proklos (Πρόκλος) in 'On the Timaeus of Plato' speaks of this event as well, and notes that there is still a festival held to commemorate this event in his time (between 412 and 485 AD)

 "Farther still, the victories of Minerva are celebrated by the Athenians, and there is a festival sacred to the Goddess, in consequence of her having vanquished Neptune, and from the genesiurgic being subdued by the intellectual order, and those that inhabit this region betaking themselves to a life according to intellect, after the procurement of necessaries. For Neptune presides over generation; but Minerva is the inspective guardian of an intellectual life." [p. 153]

When this was celebrated, Proklos does not mention, but Plutarch does. One of these is in the Quaestiones Convivales, from the Moralia. Here, he answers the question: 'What is Signified by the Fable About the Defeat of Neptune? And Also, Why Do the Athenians Omit the Second Day of the Month Boedromion?'.

"While all were making a disturbance, Menephylus, a Peripatetic philosopher, addressing Hylas: You see, he said, how this investigation is no foolery nor insolence. But leave now, my dear fellow, that obstinate Ajax, whose name is ill-omened, as Sophocles says, and side with Poseidon, whom you yourself are wont to tell has often been overcome, once by Athene here, in Delphi by Apollo, in Argos by Here, in Aegina by Zeus, in Naxos by Bacchus, yet in his misfortunes has always been mild and amiable. Here at least he shares a temple in common with Athene, in which there is an altar dedicated to Lethe. And Hylas, as if he had become better tempered: One thing has escaped you, Menephylus, that we have given up the second day of September [Boudromion], not on account of the moon, but because on that day the gods seemed to have contended for the country." [Book 9, question 5]

Because of this, the official view of Elaion is that the festival of Niketeria--'Victory'--was celebrated not on the second of Boudromion as many modern researchers say, but on the third. The second day, after all, was no longer a part of the month. The question remains why the victory of one Goddess over one God was commemorated at all, and there is no adequate ancient explination. None of the surviving works mention why and how the festival was celebrated. All we know is that it was noted--it might not even have been a true festival at all. We believe that by omitting the second day, the defeat of Poseidon was omitted, so as not to anger Him. A day later--in a somewhat unrelated fashion to Poseidon's defeat--there was a (possibly somewhat subdued) celebration of the victory of Athena, with sacrifices to Athena, Niké, and perhaps even Poseidon for the many wonderful gifts They had provided--and would hopefully continue to provide--for the city of Athens.

We will hold a subdued PAT ritual in honour of the Niketeria at 10 AM EDT on September 5th. Will you be joining us? The ritual can be found here and you can join the community here.