(Maya, this needs a little more editing but was ready to be done with it! Enjoy.)
Goddesses love skinny-dipping.
Isn’t that a great way to start a conversation about ritual bathing? Get a group of goddesses out in the woods and the next thing you know they are stripping off the clothes and leaping into a refreshing pool; Hera at Canathus,[i] Artemis at the Bath of Actaeon,[ii] bloody Daphne in the River Ladon, [iii] gray-eyed Athena in the Baths of Pallas (Callimachus), Callisto and huntress Diana “in a deep fountain of cool water",[iv] the Muses washing their tender skin (Theogony 5), and Demeter famously abstaining from bathing for nine days. (HH) Some goddesses had specific ritual baths like;
“The ritual bath Aphrodite shared with the two other Korai, Athene and Hera. Callimachus devotes a Hymn to the Bath of Pallas. ‘Pallas in her austerity, even when she contends for the prize of beauty, rejects the mirror and gold ornaments and mingled unguents; but, because she is maiden goddess, year by year she must renew her virginity by the bath in the river Inachus. The renewal of virginity is no fancy. Pausanias saw at Naiiplia a spring called Canathus and the Argives told him that every year Hera bathed in it and became a virgin.’”[v]
But male gods not so much.
I can only find two examples of male deities taking a bath. “Apollo cleansed himself in the River Peneus after the murder of the Python.”[vi] And the god (erotes) Hermaphroditus had a really bad experience when he went skinny-dipping one time. (Ovid, Met 4.373) and when he got out of the water
“cried, his voice unmanned, ‘Dear father [Hermes] and dear mother [Aphrodite], both of whose names I bear, grant me, your child, that whoso in these waters bathes a man emerge half woman, weakened instantly.’”
I would like to compare two different periodic positive ritual baths. Compare Hera’s re-virgination to Apollo’s re-purification;
1) According to Pausanias; "In Nauplia . . . is a spring called Canathus. Here, say the Argives, Hera bathes every year and recovers her maidenhood.” The Samians have a slightly different version involving a surrogate, but we will get to that later.
2) The Thessalian’s say that in the River Peneus in the Vale of the Tempe, Apollo-Pythius, having slain (the Python) with his arrows, was by Zeus’ command purified. Apollo’s surrogates returned every eight or nine years to reenact the ritual.
Hera and Apollo return to the place of their birth for this rejuvenating ritual bath.
1) Several parts of Greece also claimed the honor of being Hera’s birthplace; among them are two, Argos and Samos, which were the principal seats of her worship.[vii] According to Homer (Il. xiv. 201), she was brought up by Oceanus and Tethys,
2) On the other hand most traditions agree in describing Delos as the place that Leto finally gave birth to her children after a long search for a safe place.[viii]
However there is a little something wrong with the accounts of their births.
1) “Baby” Hera came into this world twice; once at birth from her mother Rhea and again born from the stomach of her cannibal father Cronus.[ix] Hesiod does not say where Hera was actually born nor where Cronus “brought up again his offspring”. So maybe
a). on the shores of the Inachus in a spring called Canathus or maybe
b). as “The Samians hold that the goddess was born in the island by the side of the river Imbrasos." [x]
2) Delos was eventually Apollo’s nativity, but maybe that’s not where he was destined to be born;
“(Leto] stretched forth both her arms and spake in vain: ‘Ye Thessalian Nymphs, offspring of a River [Peneus], tell your sire to hush his great stream. Entwine your hands about his beard and entreat him that the children of Zeus be born in his waters...Then shedding tears, Peneus answered her...Here am I! What needeth more? Do thou but call upon Eileithyia (goddess of birth).” (Callimachus, Hymn 4 to Delos)
Oaths and promises were exchanged between the river god and the daughter of Coeus. Jenny Strauss-Clay in The Politics of Olympus, 1989, declares that the declarations of the gods are “once and always”. By that logic Apollo’s birthplace must in some way be the Vale of the Tempe.
So it comes to this;
Every year Hera or her surrogate must return to the place of her birth. Apollo every Great Year to his place of birth wash in the river there and be re-purified or rejuvenated. Now as to the ritual baths themselves;
1) Hera’s Baths;
a. Visiting Pausanias again; “a spring called Canathus where, so say the Argives, Hera bathes every year and, by so doing, becomes a maiden; it is this story which is of the secrets connected with the rites which they perform to Hera." So it doesn’t look like there is much to learn here)[xi].
b. Joan V. O’Brien gives information on the ritual bath of Hera. She sees it as a wide-ranging annual event at many Heraia co-located with water. She describes Hera’s ritual bath at Samos as “The annual procession of her cult statue to the banks of the Imbrasus, its bath in the river and its binding to the lugos tree.”[xii] The statue in question was originally represented by a rough-hewn piece of ancient wood. The accompanying nude revelers would wear only wreathes of lugos, "The bathing of a statue of a goddess is a commemorative re-enactment of the bath which the goddess took herself.”[xiii]
2) As to Apollo’s bath let me summarize Frazer.[xiv] Every eight years at Delphi a model of the Python’s palace is erected (presumably from laurel branches). A lad representing Apollo shots an arrow into the “lordly palace”, after which the palace is torched. After slaying the dragon the boy leads other youths to the Vale of the Tempe and is purified in the Peneus
Romances are associated with these stories;
1) O’Brien theorizes that prior to being summoned to Olympus by Hesiod and Homer, Hera was the local goddess on Samos and wedded wife of the river-god Imbrasus. (Interestingly, Susan A. Stephens[xv] lists “Chesia” as a Samian epithet for Hera. Atsma reports that the Samian Nymph Chesias bore a son to Imbrasus named Ocyrhoe.)
2) Famously, Apollo fell in love with Daphne, daughter of Peneus and nymph of the laurel tree.[xvi] She did not return his affection and there is no speculation as to their wedding. There is a story about another suitor of Daphne’s, named Leucippus. (Elsewhere another Leucippus is confounded with Apollo as possible father of the Leucippides, spouses of the Discouri.) This Leucippus disguised himself as a girl and followed Daphne and her fellow nymphs into the woods. Naturally the goddesses decided to go skinny-dipping. Things didn’t go well for him.
Each deity or their surrogate returns to the place of their “birth” on a river bank for a ritual bath and rejuvenation of some sort on a regular basis. There is a tree and a little romance in each story. In no account do we hear specific details (or God forbid) “see” the deity actually skinny-dipping. Which according to Pausanias might be part of a mystery.
[i] Pau. 2.38.2
[ii] Pau 9.2.3
[iii] Pau 8.20.2
[iv] Ovid, Fasti 2. 155ff
[v] Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, JANE ELLEN HARRISON, pg. 311. With no intended offense to Harrison, all the references I find to the Baths of Aphrodite are scholarly asides or the subject of tourist guides, ancient and modern.
[vi] Aelian Var Hist III.1
[vii] Strab. p. 413; Paus. vii. 4. § 7; Apollon. Rhod. i. 187,
[viii] Callim. Hymn. in Apoll.init. 59, in Del. 206, 261; Aeschyl. Eum. 9; Herod. ii. 170.)
[ix] Theogony 453 ff
[x] pausanias 7. 4. 4).
[xi] I will note the river-god Kaanthos, slain by Apollo. (Pausanias, 9. 10. 4-5) That would make him a chthonic river-god perfect for mysteries. On the other hand bodies of water without genus locii are usually named for someone that drowne in them.
[xii] Transformation of Hera, page 59)
[xiii] G. W. Elderkin, "Aphrodite and Athena in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes" Classical Philology 35.4 (October 1940, pp. 387-396) p. 395.j
[xiv] Frazer’s commentary on Pausanias 7.7. (His references are Plutarch,( Quaest.Gaec12 & Dedecta Orac. 15,) and Aelian Var.His3.1
[xv] Callimachus: The Hymns
[xvi] Hyginus, Fabulae 203