Benjamin Ide Wheeler.

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DEC 13 1899



BL 795 .15 W5 1899a
Wheeler, Benjamin Ide, 1854

Dionysos and immortality

STnfferfioU IcctttreBi on ^mmoxtaiitjp.


George A. Gordon, D. D. i6mo, ^i.oo. 1897.
HUMAN IMMORTALITY: Two supposed Objections

to the Doctrine. By Professor William James.

i6mo, $1.00. 1898.

in Immortality as affected by the rise of Individualism.

By President Benjamin Ide Wheeler. i6mo, ^i.oo.


Boston and New York.













Extract from the will of Miss Caroline Haskell Ingersoll^

■who died in Keene, County of Cheshire, New

Hampshire, Jan. sb, i8gj.

First. In carrying out the wishes of my late
beloved father, George Goldthwait Ingersoll, as
declared by him in his last will and testament, I
give and bequeath to Harvard University in Cam-
bridge, Mass., where my late father was graduated,
and which he always held in love and honor, the
sum of Five thousand dollars ($5,000) as a fund for
the establishment of a Lectureship on a plan some-
what similar to that of the Dudleian lecture, that is
— one lecture to be delivered each year, on any con-
venient day between the last day of May and the
first day of December, on this subject, "the Im-
mortality of Man," said lecture not to form a part
of the usual college course, nor to be delivered by
any Professor or Tutor as part of his usual routine
of instruction, though any such Professor or Tutor
may be appointed to such service. The choice of
said lecturer is not to be limited to any one religious
denomination, nor to any one profession, but may
be that of either clergyman or layman, the appoint-
ment to take place at least six months before the
delivery of said lecture. The above sum to be
safely invested and three fourths of the annual in-
terest thereof to be paid to the lecturer for his
services and the remaining fourth to be expended
in the pubhshment and gratuitous distribution of
the lecture, a copy of which is always to be fur-
nished by the lecturer for such purpose. The same
lecture to be named and known as " the Ingersoll
lecture on the Immortality of Man."


^O people has ever possessed a reli-
gion more delicately responsive to
its moods than the people of ancient
Greece. This they owed in large measure
to the absence of an ecclesiastical organiza-
tion. The Greek instinctively abhorred all
mechanism, for mechanism, as guaranteeing
like and constant output to like time and
like material, ignored free personality, —
and this free personality was to the Greek
the one recognized source of all creative
movement. Least of all did he need the
ecclesiastical machine. There was no
priestly hierarchy either for Greece as a
whole or for single cantons ; not even
among priests of the same cult in different
cantons was there organized cooperation.
Some popular shrine or oracle might win
more than local prestige and secure the

4 Dionysos and Immortality

protection and support of various neighbor-
ing states, but there the drift toward central-
ization and organization found its limit.

At no time did there exist an organized
authority which could formulate standards
of faith or dictate the usages of religious
etiquette. Ritual, seeking that which in
matter and manner was believed to be well
pleasing to the gods, followed the traditions
of the individual shrines, and there were no
better theologians than the poets. Dogmas
there were none. In contrast with the
religious experience of a land like India,
Greece stands at the extreme. There re-
ligion was imposed as a system from with-
out, here it sprang as a social and civic
impulse from within.

This fundamental characteristic endows
the study of Greek religious thought at
once with singular charm and with singular
difficulty. We know on the one hand that
if we can penetrate through the thick-tangled
meshes of mythology and ritual to the un-
spoken faiths lying behind, we shall find

The Greek Religion 5

them hard by the life conditions and the
views of life which were their source. On
the other hand, as no authority essayed
to formulate what Greeks should believe, so
no contemporary was moved to state in con-
nected form, nor presumably even to think,
what they did believe.

Research has spent itself in following the
shifting forms of the mythology through
glade, and fen, and grotto, until they prove
themselves most mere will-o'-the-wisps, —
light-winged fancies, whether of poets who
write, or of poets who dream and write not.
Sometimes they are mirror flashes from the
ritual thrown upon the valley mist, some-
times they are dim ghosts of a storied past,
sometimes they are shadowy images of na-
ture and her signs, but seldom are they
trusty guides into the land of reality. Other
guides we must follow if we would come to
a knowledge of the plain faith by which men
stayed their lives, measured their duty, esti-
mated the meaning of life's beginning and
life's end.

6 Dionysos and Immortality

I propose in what follows to speak of one
phase of this plain, inner faith among the
Greeks, the belief in the life after death,
and, lest I wander too far afield, to speak
in particular of the marvelous quickening
and development which that belief under-
went during one most significant epoch in
the national life. It is in its readjustment
to changed conditions of life and new views
of the world that a people's faith best be-
trays whither its face is really set. That
which conditions it then becomes the back-
ground against which we measure it.

In undertaking this task we do not shut
our eyes to the fact that in Old Greece
there were, as now, many men and many
minds, — that there was diversity in the
beliefs of different tribes and districts, that
there were strongly marked strata of intelli-
gence or culture, that survivals from earlier
horizons of belief, be it through the forms
of ritual or through the revered texts of the
national epic, continually intruded them-
selves to confuse the bearings in the new,

Primitive Dualism 7

but still there is a law in things human that
that which holds itself below the attacks of
systematic reason tends toward homogeneity
and unity, — and Greece in the period with
which we deal had not yet fallen ill of phi-

As part of the common stock of primitive
human thought the Greek inherited the nat-
ural consciousness for being as absolute, as
unbounded by non-being. To forget is the
one gate of annulment. The common hu-
man belief in the shadowy second-self, re-
vealed, it may well be, in the experiences
of sleep and dreams, swoons and ecstasies,
was also his belief, and to him man was body
and soul.

When a man dies, the soul issues forth
from the body to seek other residence. And
not man's life alone is thus dual ; all life, of
beast, of tree, of the river current, of the
fountain, of the wind and the storm-cloud, is
made up of body and soul. For the primitive
Greek as for the primitive man, there was
no other way in which to think of life.

8 Dionysos and Immortality

Even philosophy when it made its first at-
tempts began in terms of this same simple
dualism which dominated all thought, and
the apxTj, water, air, or fire, which Thales,
Anaximenes, and Herakleitos inquired after,
was conceived in the analogy of the \l/vxQ ;
it was the world-soul.

If we are to believe, as it seems likely we
must, that the religion of primitive man^
received its character in the struggle to
conciliate and be at peace with soul-life
dwelling and wandering in his environment,
then we can say that the primitive Greek
religion, or, if we dare use the term, the
Indo-European religion,^ had made so much
advance upon this, that it had introduced
certain classifications, a certain system and
order, certain limitations into the chaos of
soul-dreads and soul-worships. It had de-
veloped the family, the greater family or
clan, and the tribe as definite organizations
existing for the purpose, or held together by
the usage, of caring for the souls of an-
cestors, the family the nearer, the tribe the

Soul-Worship and Nature-Worship g

remoter. It had restricted the care for
spirits resident in natural (Ejects mostly to
specific cults and shrines, and through gen-
eralization upon natural objects and pheno-
mena had obtained certain types of the so-
called, " nature-gods." Nature-gods as such,
however, there were none.

Between soul-worship and nature-worship,
at least from the point of view of Greek re-
ligion, no sharp line of demarcation is to be
drawn. The primitive belief in the residence
of souls in natural objects colored all the
later developments of the theogony, and
the great gods, the ** nature-gods," carried
up with them from their origin the sem-
blances of ancestor-gods, and as such always
had the character of persons, members of
the community, first citizens of tribe or

Thus Hermes, who always bears in his
character suggestions of the phenomena of
the wind, and develops attributes determined
by the impression which these phenomena
make upon the minds of men, is a fellow-

10 Dionysos and Immortality

citizen, an honorary member of the state-
guild, an embodiment of the purpose and
meaning of society and the state. Respect
for him is a constituent part of loyalty ; im-
piety toward him and his kind is treason,
and treason has no other definition than

After the analogies of ancestor-worship
kings traced their descent back to these
gods, who were thus joined by the geneal-
ogies to the fate and fabric of the state.
The gods, too, were related among them-
selves, and their organization into a bond
of relationship gave color to the instinct of
unity among the diverse tribes who owned
them as kin. One of them bore, indeed,
from Indo-European times, the title of
''father" (Zev Trarep, Jupitcr), and he re-
mained in his character as father the per-
sonal sponsor for Hellenic unity.

All the observances of the ritual took
their form from the primitive usages of
feeding and entertaining souls. The feast
for the dead, at which in the inner circle of

Festival and Sacrifice 1 1

the family the soul of the departed was es-
teemed the guest of honor, differed in sub-
stance no whit from the great sacrifices
which the state offered its great gods. The
funeral games for Patroklos were of the
same significance as those offered for en-
tertainment of Zeus in the plain of Olympia.
Throughout the whole life and practice
of Greek religion the festivals retained the
scantly disguised form of entertainments in
honor of the gods as "first citizens" of
the state, the tribe, or the association. The
sacrifices were feasts at which the god and
his entertainers dined together and partook
of the same food, if not of the same life.
The priests were the specialists in divine
etiquette who knew what portions and what
manners were pleasing to the personages
who were the guests of honor. The games
were an entertainment offered to the guests
which were as certainly believed to be grati-
fying to their sight as a review of troops
or a deer-hunt to a modern European

12 Dionysos and Immortality

To return now to our characterization of
primitive, i. e., prae-Homeric Greek religion,^
we know that it maintained a system of
offerings to the souls of the departed, and
that these offerings were made at the graves
where the souls were believed to linger, or
to which on occasions they were wont to
return. They were offerings of food, in
which the offering of blood played a promi-
nent part, and were intended to appease
and conciliate the souls * and prevent the
baneful intrusion of their wrath into the
life of living men.

A belief in a place beneath the earth, a
deep cavernous abode where all the souls
were assembled, not for punishment or
blessing, but simply for residence, was a
part of the earliest faith, apparently derived
from prae-Greek, probably Indo-European
faith. The Vedic idea of a residence for
the fathers in the heaven above the earth
is, as Oldenberg^ has made almost cer-
tain, a substitute for an earlier belief in an
abode beneath the earth. In the Indo-

Cultus of the Dead i^

Iranian beliefs which lie behind the sepa-
rate Indian and Iranian religions the dead
were, as he seems to have demonstrated,
conceived of as residing in the earth, and
in conformity to this view the cult of the
dead was originally celebrated. To induce
the soul to retire into this common abode
of the dead and there find contented rest
is apparently the supreme aim and purpose
of the rites of the grave among the early
Hindoos as among the early Greeks.

In marked contrast now with this early
faith and practice, which we have thus far
been considering, the religion represented
in the Homeric poems discovers an almost
complete atrophy of the cultus of the dead.
Once *'the life-energy had left the white
bones " ^ and the funeral pyre with its
"stout force of gleaming fire o'ermas-
tered " flesh and bones, then the psyche
" flitting off like a dream is flown " to the
" asphodel moors " beyond the river.

There it tarries in a shadowy existence
without memory or will, and without in-

14 Dionysos and Immortality

terest in the affairs of men, or power to
intrude itself into them. The recurring
observances at the tomb had ceased. The
feeding of souls and all the rites of soul-
worship had been discontinued, for, after
the soul had once been led by Hermes the
guide down " the dank ways " and under
**the misty gloom," it never retraced the
path nor crossed the river again. Some
strange wind of skepticism, some cold, clear
tramontana of spiritual agnosticism, whose
source and meaning we may never know,
had purged of ghosts the air of Homer's
worldJ Proper burial was the one condi-
tion of purgation. So much at least lin-
gered of the old.

As Achilles slept in the night after slay-
ing Hector, the psyche of Patroklos, still
free to wander about, while the body re-
mained unburied, still possessed of reason
and will, came and stood above Achilles'
head, *' altogether like to his very self, in
stature, fair eyes, and voice, and like in the
raiment he wore ; " and spoke to him thus :

The Souls in Hades 75

" So thou dost sleep, Achilles, but me thou
hast forgotten. Not when I lived wast thou
remiss, but now that I am dead. Make
haste and bury me, that I may pass the
gates of Hades. The spirits keep me wide
aloof, these phantoms of the weary dead,
nor suffer me to join with them beyond the
river, and vainly do I roam around the wide-
doored house of Hades. Nay, give me, I
entreat of thee, thy hand, for nevermore
shall I come back from Hades' land, when
ye have paid me once my due of fire ; and
nevermore among the living shall we sit
without the circle of our comrades and
there take counsel with each other." ^

The psyches, like vain shadows, "strength-
less heads of the dead," reft of thQpkre7teSy
the organs of will and emotion,^ flitted hither
and thither without plan or purpose or hope.
Thus at the close of Achilles' vision : " So
spake he, and stretched out his hands but
grasped him not, for vapor-like the spirit
vanished into the ground with squeaking,
gibbering cry. And in marvel sprung up

1 6 Dionysos and Immortality

Achilles, and smiting his hands together
uttered the word of woe, Ay me, verily then
there is in the dwellings of Hades a spirit,
a phantom, hnlphreiies it hath not at all."

And so after Odysseus has slain the suit-
ors : " Cyllenian Hermes summoned to-
gether the shades of the suitors; and he
held in his hands the wand that is golden
and fair, wherewith he closes to sleep the
eyes of whomsoever he will, while others
he wakens from sleep. Therewith he
started them forth and led them along,
while they followed on with squeaking,
gibbering cry. And just as when bats fly
chirping about in the depth of some mon-
strous cave, and one has fallen from the
cluster on the rock, and they cling fast
one to the other, so they went on and
chirped as they went, but Hermes the
helper went on leading them down the
dank ways, past the streams of Oceanus,
past the White Rock, along by the gates
of the Sun, past the parish of Dreams, till
they come to the asphodel moor, where

Odysseus and the Psyches 77

the spirits have their abode, the phantoms
of way-worn men." ^^

The psyches are furthermore repre-
sented as without memory or the power of
recognition, and in the Nekyia it is only
through drinking the sacrificial blood from
Odysseus' trench that these are restored to
them. 11 " And I drew my sharp blade from
my thigh and therewith dug a pit as much
as a cubit this way and that. Around it I
poured my libation for all the departed, first
with the milk and the honey, then with
sweet wine, and thirdly with water ; and
over it barley-meal white I strewed."

Then the shades flocked about the
trench, but Odysseus kept them off with
his sword, waiting to catch sight of the seer
Teiresias, who was the prime object of his
search. Among them he saw the psyche
of his mother ; " and I wept at sight of her
and pitied her in my heart, but even so,
sore grieved as I was I suffered her not to
draw nigh to the blood, till I first had in-
quired of Teiresias."

1 8 Dionysos and Immortality

Finally, after Odysseus had found the
seer and talked with him, he asks him how
he may bring his mother to recognize her
son : *' I see the spirit here of my departed
mother; silent she sits beside the blood,
but has not ventured to look into the face
of her son nor speak with him. Pray tell
me, master, how she may know it is I. So
I spoke, and straightway he gave me his
answer: *An easy saying will I tell thee
and fix it in thy heart : whomsoever of those
who are dead and gone thou lettest draw
nigh to the blood, he will speak the word
of truth ; whom thou dost begrudge it, he
will go back to his place.' So saying, the
spirit entered the house of Hades, the
spirit of great Teiresias, who had told the
decrees of the gods. But I kept my place
on the spot, till my mother came near and
drank the dark blood. Straightway she
knew me."

It is to Rohde and his famous book
"Psyche"^ we owe it — a book which I
cannot help thinking has in other regards

The Hades of Homer ig

set many simple things awry — that this
service of blood has been recognized as
a reminiscence or survival from a horizon
of faith that has passed away. It lingered
with other rites in the ceremonies of burial
as mere form divorced from the earlier faith,
which alone gave it meaning and which alone
can give it now interpretation. It is a part
of the old cult of souls, the feeding of the

It was no cheerful place, this land of
Hades where the shades abode. Slimy and
wet were its paths, where the gloomy black
poplar and willows grew, misty and murky
was its air. The '' asphodel moor " whither
the souls were led by guide Hermes was
not the green pastures. The pale, ghastly
asphodel, blooming from its unsightly stem,
haunts in the upper world, we know, the
barren lands, and that was the part it
played below. "Son of Laertes, seed of
Zeus, Odysseus of many wiles, what seekest
thou now, wretched man ? Why hast thou
left the light of the sun to come here and

20 Dionysos and Immortality

look on the dead and see this joyless
place? "13

Once, and once only, in Homer there is an
allusion to the Elysian Fields where Rha-
damanthys dwells, and where Menelaos,
another kinsman of Zeus, will find a place
of rest, " where is no snow, and no wintry
storm, nor ever the torrent of rains, but
ever the light-breathing zephyrs Oceanus
sends from the west with cooling for men."
But this, like the later refuge in the blessed
islands, is only for here and there one of
the great ones of this earth, such as are
really of the kin of gods, and it was indeed,
as such, a reminiscence of the old hero-
worship, now for a time in abeyance, but to
revive again in a reinvigorated Hellas.

For men after the flesh, the future life
offers prospect neither of bliss nor of punish-
ment. The passage, Odyssey XI. 566-631,
which tells of the punishments of Tityos,
Tantalos, Sisyphos, has been unmistakably
identified by Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1* as
the product of a much later period, the

The Homeric Despair 21

times of Solon and Peisistratos, and infused
with a spirit and with ideas for which Ho-
meric life had no place.

For Homer's men, there was no hope for
a future life in which action and personality
were continued with values derived and
transplanted from the world of sunlight
and sense. Hades was a dreary land of
banishment, where there was no trial or joy,
nothing to risk and nothing to achieve.
All this belonged to the life under the
blessed sunlight, and when that closed, the
mission of personality was at an end. The
earlier faith had found its solace in the con-
tinuation of personal life through the family
and the tribe, as symbolized in the continued
sacrifices for the dead. Homeric thought
while living still under the shadow of the
tribal idea had lost in large measure its
consolation, and could content itself only
with recognition of the harsh inevitable.

Homer stands at the end, not the be-
ginning of an order of life, civilization, and
thought. His voice is the swan's song

22 Dionysos and Immortality

of an order that like all, both men and
communities, which have lost, before or
since, the power to trust and hope, was
going down the ways of death. It told
the tales of a mighty world whose record
is left in the walls and art and treasure
of Mykenai, Tiryns, Orchomenos, and told
them in a guise of thought and speech
peculiar to the old Ionian ^^ tribal aristo-
cracy, itself doomed, in its materialism and
its lifeless adherence, to the forms without
the spirit of the old, to extinction and death.
Between Homer and the new Hellenic life,
that found its centre in the Athens of Pei-
sistratos and Perikles, there is a deep gulf
fixed, and across it come only the words of
Homer and the thud of the rhapsode's foot.
But it is this gulf which made Homer's
words the message from another world,
and transformed the lays to a sacred book.
In the period between 750 and 600 b. c.
Greece passed through a change that made
it new from the foundations. It was the
period of the transition from mediaeval to

The National Awakening 2^

classical Greece. The phenomenally rapid
colonial expansion of the century from 750
to 650 B. c. marks the occasion, and to a
large extent the cause. Within this cen-
tury, prosperous mercantile colonies were
formed along the coasts of the Euxine, the
iEgean, the Mediterranean from Kolchis
and the Crimea at the east to Cumae and
Marseilles on the west. Through the con-
trast with peoples of other race and tongue,
the Greek people of many tribes and cities
awoke to a consciousness of national unity,
and the Greater Greece was born, named
with the new name Hellas.

Trade with the colonies, and through
the colonies with distant inland popula-
tions, burst into sudden vigor. Everywhere
the Phoenician trader yielded to the Greek.
Industries rapidly developed to supply the
demands of trade. The smith, the cutler,
the potter, the weaver, the dyer, the wheel-
wright, the shoemaker, and the shipbuilder,
all were spurred to their utmost to supply
the demands of the new export trade.

24 Dionysos and Immortality

The demand for labor brought in the
slave, a new element. Thus far Greece had
known only the serf. Wealth poured into
the land, luxury increased, the demands of
life became greater and more diversified.
The coinage of money, just begun, rapidly
extended. Barter and local exchanges gave
way to the money standard. Prices were
no longer fixed by local conditions, but the
remotest villages became part of the eco-
nomic world at large.

Men flocked from the farms and pastures
into the cities. The new wealth came often
into the hands of others than the old no-
bility. Timocracy for a time displaced
aristocracy. The new population of the
mercantile and manufacturing centres, con-

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Online LibraryBenjamin Ide WheelerDionysos and immortality : the Greek faith in immortality as affected by the rise of individualism → online text (page 1 of 3)