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fused of merchants, tradesmen, manufactur-
ers, and laborers, sundered from their old so-
cial and political ties, could no longer respect
the traditional usages and classifications of
tribal aristocratic institutions, which in the
undisturbed life of the home and the vil-
lage had never been questioned.



New Legal and Political Conditions 25

The old law and the old methods of ad-
ministering justice no longer suffice. The
new conditions demand one law for all,
nobleman and laborer, and a court main-
tained by the state, and they demand that
the caprice of the judge shall be limited by
definite written statutes. Hence appear at
this time all over Greece the great codifiers,
Zaleukos the Locrian, Charondas of Ka-
tana, Pheidon of Corinth, Pittakos of Mity-
lene, Dracon, then Solon, in Athens.

In the political life,too, the old sacks would
not do for the new wine. The old ruling
class admits to its ranks here and there the
holders of the new wealth and so com-
promises with the new situation, but the
tiers itat, the demos, pushes for a hearing,
and the assembly (or ekklesid) gradually
asserts its claim to be the state. In the
rapid shifting of conditions political and
economic, it was the peasant and the coun-
try squire who suffered most, but as is al-
ways the case when economic and social
dislodgments such as this occur in the his-



26 Dionysos and Immortality

tory of a people, discontent muttered on
every hand. Discontent and joy are both
the legitimate children of opportunity.

The breaking of the traditional moulds
in which the old tribal life was set had re-
leased the individual from bondage to the
destiny of that group into which he was
born, and given him the opportunity, and
thrown upon him the responsibility of a
man. He became the bearer of his own
destiny. With the rise of individualism,
culture, thought, literature, institutions, and
life hastened in widely branching differen-
tiation to assume the many-sided type that
sets the Greece of the sixth and following
centuries in such marked contrast to the
plain naive monotony of its earlier days ;
for Greece had then passed out of child-
hood into the years of discretion and man-
hood.

The rapid change of attitude which had
thus passed over the Greek people in re-
spect to the world of. politics, of society, of
justice, of economics, could not fail to seek



Individualism in Religion 2y

its expression in terms of the greater world
of ultimate destiny and purpose. The in-
dividualism which had received in the marts
equal opportunity, and had demanded of the
courts equal justice, and was demanding of
the state equal hearing, and which in life
carried the burden of its own responsibility,
could no longer be satisfied before the
oracles of religion with a destiny that in
arbitrary violence robbed personality of its
fulfillment or merged its fate and its hope
in the fate of the clan or the race.

The period with which we have been
dealing marked the rise, and the following
or skth century the full development, of
the Greek faith in personal immortality.
From the seventh century on, new elements
and new states, Corinth and ^gina, Megara
and Sparta and Thebes, later Athens, came
to the front in Greek affairs.

The civilization localized in the eastern
hem of Greek life, that which Homer repre-
sents, and which bears the name of Ionian,
burned itself out with luxury and material-



28 Dionysos and Immortality

ism in the exuberance of its precocious
bloom. From the sturdy mountain peoples
of central Hellas, who had thus far re-
mained in the background, and in their iso-
lation from the culture of the ^gean had
preserved the old standards of simplicity
and the old usages of religion, came a fresh
infusion of Hellenic blood, new aggressive
vigor, and above all a sturdier faith. It was
preeminently the Dorian elements which
lent to this second wave of the Greek tide
its strength and mass. As it advanced
into eastern Greece, it took on the color
of the Eastern culture, but its life-strength
was the primitive old Greek spirit.

Everywhere the old simplicity of the
earlier Greek religion revived and became
the standard; indeed, with these peoples
themselves it had never flagged nor failed.
Soul-worship in all its various forms, offer-
ings for the dead, the household gods, the
gods of clans, institutions like the pryta-
neion table as a feast with the gods of the
state, hero-worship, the worship of cave



The New Quest of Faith 29

spirits and mountain spirits, consultation of
spirits and oracles, in all these and many
other forms emerged, and emerged not
from long sleep, but from long concealment.
While the old soul-worship offered a soil
upon which a new vision and assurance of
the mission and fate of the soul beyond the
grave might arise, it could not in itself
afford that vision or satisfy the newborn
craving of men. It dealt only with the re-
lations of the living to the dead, not with
those of the living to their own future
estate. Men wanted some knowledge of
what they were themselves to be and do in
the other life, and not merely to be occu-
pied with conciliating the attitude of the
spirits toward this life. That they should
live after death, this they knew ; no form
of Greek faith had ever implied or taught
anything else ; no Greek of the folk had
ever thought anything else ; but how they
were to live, that was what the individual in
his consciousness of a personality possess-
ing worth, meaning, and responsibility, de-



^o Dionysos and Immortality

sired to know. To this desire the Mys-
teries of Eleusis gave answer first.

In the isolation of the Thriasian plain
had been maintained at Eleusis, time out of
mind, the peculiar cult of the earth-goddess
Demeter. Something had invested its
strange rites with an unusual sanctity, but
still its repute, like the membership in its
guild, remained until near the end of the
seventh century well-nigh restricted to the
immediate locality. It was a local institu-
tion, owned and controlled by a few great
families of the parish.

After the union of Eleusis and Attika,
however, and the reception of the cult
under the protection and guarantee of the
state, an entirely new and larger career
was opened, especially when Peisistratos,
as the tribune of the people, reformed and
broadened the organization of the worship
so as to open it to universal use and make
it worthy of the state.

So it became, in contrast to the cults of
phratry and clan, in which membership



Eleusis J I

was determined by birth, an eminently
democratic and popular association. No
one was excluded, whatever his city or tribe.
Citizens and metics, men and women,
slaves and children, all were admitted. It
was as individuals that they came to be
cleansed, and to gain the assurances of
future blessing, which the mysteries had to
give, and so no wonder that it was the
sixth century, the century of the awakened
individualism, in which the mysteries ac-
quired their unique popularity.

No one of the thousands initiated to
the rites has ever betrayed their much de-
bated secret. But they must, we can be
certain, have offered something which an-
swered to the quest of the times. " Blessed
is he," says Pindar, ^^ " who having seen
these rites goeth under the earth. He
knoweth the end of life, he knoweth too its
god-disposed beginning." So Sophocles : "
"Thrice happy they among mortals who
depart into Hades after their eyes have
seen these rites ; yea, for them alone is



jj2 Dionysos and Immortality

there a life ; for other men all there is
ill;" and Plato in the Ph^do:!^ "The
founders of the mysteries would appear to
have had a real meaning, and were not talk-
ing nonsense, when they intimated in a
figure long ago, that he who passes un-
sanctified and uninitiated into the world
below will lie in a slough, but that he who
arrives there after initiation and purifica-
tion will dwell with the gods," and in the
Frogs Aristophanes lightens the gloom of
the nether world with the song of the in-
itiates, ^^ who now dance in veritable flow-
ery fields, — the song ending with the
words : " We alone have the sun and its
gladsome light, we who have taken the
sacred vow, and have lived a life in the
fear of god toward stranger and toward
friend."

The testimony of all antiquity to the in-
spiring and uplifting influence of the mys-
teries is impressively unanimous. No voice
is raised in criticism. Wherein lay their
influence and convincing power we can



The Mysteries 5^

only surmise from the sum of allusion. It
certainly was not conveyed through doc-
trine or creed, argument or exhortation,
but rather through some form of drama in
which the loss and the resurrection of Per-
sephone was the central event, and which
like the Christian drama of the mass,2o
quickening the dormant faith, offered to
the beholder some suggestion of a definite
state and condition of future existence. No
one seems to have questioned the validity
or authority of the assurance that the in-
itiated, and they alone, should find peace.
They who saw knew, and they who knew
must needs attain. It was no question of
authority. They believed gladly, because
constrained by their yearning to believe.
The faith and its authority were within
themselves.

Among the reforms of the Eleusinian
worship, which in the sixth century virtu-
ally made the cult anew, and gave it its
universally human form, and which all tend
to attach themselves to the sponsorship of



^4 Dionysos and Immortality

Peisistratos, there is one which is almost
certainly his work, and which apparently
more than any other thing served to give
the Mysteries their distinctive character.
This was the introduction of the youth
lakchos and his worship into the family
and bond of Demeter and Persephone.
Most frequently the shifting myths repre-
sent him as son of Zeus and Persephone,
rescued from the slaughter of the Titans to
a new resurrection life. Sometimes he is
a son of Demeter, sometimes of Dionysos,
again he seems merely a shadow of Diony-
sos himself, but whatever he was, certain
it is that his character and spirit was entirely
the product of the Dionysos worship as
shapen into the mystic forms of the Orphic
theology. He was unmistakably the child
Dionysos permanently separated and differ-
entiated out of the whole story of Dionysos
and made a distinct type by himself. Deme-
ter searching in the darkness for her child
that was lost — symbol of the seed-corn
buried in the earth, offered a ready analogy



Dionysos-Iakchos 55

to the fostering love and care with which
the Maenad nurses tended the babe of Nysa,
— the springing vegetation of the new be-
ginning year. Though it has been ques-
tioned — I think on insufficient grounds —
that the legend of Demeter and Persephone
has its source in the alternate disappearance
and reappearance of the grain, it cannot be
doubted that it came to be interpreted
in connection with that phenomenon and
received much of its character from the
analogy. In the cult of Dionysos-Iakchos,
however, resided from the beginning a direct
meaning for the experience of the individ-
ual human life, and it was through this
type of lakchos that the mystery of Per-
sephone's return was given its relation and
application to the resurrection hope of hu-
manity. The mysteries, in other words,
were made what they were by the ingraft-
ing of the Dionysos spirit.

The rise of Dionysos worship is the most
important single phenomenon in the history
of Greek religion. Unknown to the loni-



^6 Dlonysos and Immortality

ans of Homer's day except as a local or a
stranger's worship, and having no place
within the Olympian circle, it arose from
its obscurity, and coming out from the
mountains and from the villages of pea-
sants, with the fresh flood of life that the
seventh century brought into eastern
Greece, it swept into city and state as the
Salvation Army of the tiers etaty and in de-
fiance of all the opposition of the staid con-
servatives and of the aristocrats, who, cling-
ing to the old local and private worships,
would hear nothing of Demeter or Diony-
sos, it forced its way into public and official
recognition preeminently in Attika, domi-
nated the popular interest, infused a new
life into the dead formalism of religion,
quickened and energized the entire intel-
lectual and spiritual life of Greece to the
very finger tips. It was the religion of
enthusiasm.

Its primitive form we know in outline
from the practices observed among the
Thracians, who like their brother Phrygi-



Genesis of Dionysos Worship 57

ans were distinguished as its devotees, and
through whom indirectly the worship may
well have found introduction into Greece,
but usages and a belief in general analo-
gous, and resting upon the same general
attitude toward nature, are found widely
scattered among European peoples.

A primitive belief that regards the life
and death of vegetation after the analogies
of human life, attributes the withering
winter and the revival of spring to the de-
parture and return, or the slumbering and
reawakening, of the psyches or spirits whose
reunion with matter all life consists. The
spirits or daimones of the vegetation which
has slumbered through the winter must
needs be wakened or recalled in spring.
In the wild dances and cries of those who
act the life of the spirits they wish to re-
call, the bacchanal ecstasies have probably
their root; the blood of the torn victim
which the maenad scatters over the ground
is then a reminiscence of the blood which
feeds the spirits and brings them to con-



^8 Dlonysos and Immortality

sciousness and activity ; the maenad who
devours the raw flesh and drinks the blood
is herself inspired to the ecstasy which re-
presents the revived and restored life ; the
satyrs who followed in the thiasos of Diony-
sos are in their first signification, if this all
be true, mere embodiments of the daimones
of vegetation conceived in the form of the
victim through whose death they come to
life, and following in the train of their lord
Dionysos himself, who is Zagreus, the first-
fruits of the resurrection. The limitation of
his festivals to the period between the winter
solstice, as the primitive Christmas, and the
vernal equinox, as the primitive Easter, and
his occupation of the Delphic shrine during
the winter months while Apollo withdrew,
would also conform to this explanation of
the cult as involving the nurture and revival
of the vegetation spirits.

But whether this be or be not the native
source of the bacchanal rites, certain it is
that their central feature from the earliest
obtainable evidence is the ** ecstasy " of the



Genesis of Dionysos Worship ^g

orgia. In many different forms among
people of various civilization there appear
ever and anon these practices whereby with
different means the body is benumbed or
otherwise brought into apparent subjection
and annulment in order that the soul may
wander in realms other than those of its
every-day experience, and commune with
spirits outside of and above the known.
The reiterated cadences of music, the rhythm
of the dance, the repetition of words, con-
tinued swaying or whirling of the body, the
influences of narcotics or stimulants, are all
used to produce in most various types, from
that of the Indian medicine man to that of
the Mahomedan dervish, these superpersonal
states whereby one thinks to lose himself in
union with the spirit world.

Though profoundly tempered from its
primitive crudity in the atmosphere of
Greece, and particularly in the sobering
atmosphere of Attika, the holy madness of
the Dionysos revels was in genesis and in
spirit one and the same with them all.



40 Dionysos and Immortality

Except as we appreciate this, we cannot
understand the various outgrowths and in-
fluences of the Dionysiac religion, nor indeed
that religion itself.

Even the drama, choicest of its products,
and impersonation, upon which it depends
for its existence, arise out of the Dionysiac
effort to break loose from one life and
live another. That which was at the be-
ginning the charm of the drama, and has
been, so far as it is true to itself, ever since,
is its power to release those who behold it
for a little while from the burden and in-
thrallment of the commonplace, workaday
life, and bathe their wearied souls in dreams.

This is the very heart of Dionysos, and
this, too, is his claim to control of the fruit
of the vine. But his relation to the vine
is no more than an incident. His mission
is to lift men out of themselves and by bring-
ing them into communion and association
with that above and without them, to which
they are unwittingly akin,and which is nobler,
higher, and purer than they, to purge and



77?^ Orphic Theology 41

renew them. He is the god of the cleans-
ing in the ideal. As such Thebes, sunk in
her pollution, calls upon him by the lips of
the Sophoclean chorus to " come with cleans-
ing foot over the slopes of Parnassos or over
the moaning strait." 21

His faith lay hard by the gate of mys-
ticism, and men entered abundantly in. In
Southern Italy, Sicily, and Attika, there
arose during the sixth century the strange
apparition of the Orphic theology. With
its doctrine of the body as a prison house
and of the soul as akin to God, of the long
toil of liberation, and the devious way to
reunion with its own, and the ** wheel of
births," it is a strange phenomenon indeed,
and has tempted men to dream of some
mysterious channel of Eastern influence,
connecting, despite chronology, even with
Buddha, which should explain this and
Pythagoras as well.22 But sharp as the
contrast is with the traditional mood of Hel-
lenic faith, both Orphism and Pythagoras
are the products unmistakably and directly



42 Dionysos and Immortality

of Dionysos. The Orphic religion is merely
a speculative theology of the Dionysiac
faith, confused with weird fancies and
popular superstition, and cast in poetic
mould, — that and nothing more.

Between the essential Pantheism of In-
dian thought and the mystical Idealism
involved in that feature of Greek thought
we are now discussing, there was in reality
no highway. To the one the All is the
god ; the visible world of material is his
unfolding ; there is from it no escape ; weal
is found in submission and accord. To the
other the material things of sense are the
soul's ball and chain; the divine has cre-
ated them, but is not in them and they are
not of him ; weal is found in liberation and
flight. The Dionysiac *' way of salvation "
is the way of liberation and cleansing. The
soul is in essence divine. Because of its
sin it is shut off in the world of body
and matter. The body is a prison.

Now and again in ecstatic vision the god-
born soul escapes from its duress, realizes



The Uplifting Power of the New Insight 4^

its higher being and mission, and revels in
communion with its own. How to be rid
forever of the ball and chain, how to
turn the brief vision into a continuous life —
that is the Dionysiac problem of salvation.
Death will not accomplish it. Through
the long circuit of births the soul must toil
on, freeing itself more and more from the
dross, until at the distant goal, "rescued
from misery it breathes free at last."

In the recipe for cleansing and liberation,
mortification of the body and moral asceti-
cism found small place, or none at all. The
question of morals ^3 was for that matter in
no wise involved. It was, if we may so term
it, a metaphysical salvation, not a moral one,
that men were seeking. The means of res-
cue, too, which was proposed, was positive,
not negative, — the expulsive power of the
new insight, we might name it, or better,
the tiplif ting power of the new insight.

The force and influence of this new de-
parture in the life of Greece did not exhaust
itself in religious fervors. It laid hold upon



44 Dionysos and Immortality

all the thought of men and gave shape even
to the forming moulds of philosophic re-
flection. Without Dionysos and Orphism
there could have been, for instance, no
Plato. Plato's philosophy builds on a faith,
and that faith is Dionysism. Everywhere
in his thinking 2* religion gleams through
the thin gauze of philosophic form, and ex-
cept his system be understood as a religion
and as a part of the history of Greek re-
ligion, it yields no self-consistent interpre-
tation, and is not intelligible either in its
whence or whither. The things many and
various he has to tell about the Ideas refuse
to take orderly place and position in a doc-
trine of logical realism such as metaphysics
teaches, but are satisfied all in a doctrine
of spirituality and the higher life, such as
poetry and religion can preach.

The universe which Plato feels is in sub-
stance the universe which the Dionysos en-
thusiasms presuppose. There is a world of
the outward and material, ever shifting, un-
steady, perishable, behind it is a world of



Plato's Religion 4^

the unchanging norm, the essential pur-
pose, the supreme reahty. To the former
belongs the body, to the latter by nature
and source the soul. This mortal life is an
entanglement of the soul in the meshes of
the material. Still, through the perverting
and obscuring medium of that which enfolds
it the soul catches glimpses of the true,
and gathers intimations of its own kinship
with the ideal and the abiding. All the
Platonic arguments for the immortality of
the soul, in the Phaedrus, in the Republic,^
in the Phaedo, diverse as they seem, unite
as being merely various ways or devices
for setting forth a central faith whose first
inspiration had come from the Dionysos cult.
The influence of Eleusis and of Dionysos
covers all the latter day of Hellenic life,
but peculiarly strong is it written upon
the thought and in the literature of the
closing years of the sixth century and of
the greater portions of the fifth. The sixth
century marked a period of genuine reli-
gious revival, — not a revival merely of ob*



46 Dionysos and Immortality

servances and rites, but a stirring of the
personal interest in matters of faith and
personal destiny that approaches the devel-
opment of what we know as personal re-
ligion. We miss, to be sure, from our point
of view, the firm outlines of a formulated
theologic faith concerning personal relation
to the eternal, such as we are wont to iden-
tify with personal religion ; but men were
thinking in terms of individual responsi-
bility, and forms of theology distinct from
the state and tribal types were emerging
and were preparing the way for the ration-
alism of which Euripides stands in litera-
ture as the early exponent.

Expressions concerning the life after
death, however much they might cling to
the traditional moulds of the old-time, or to
what we may call the Homeric, faith regard-
ing the geography of Hades, showed, as
contrasted with the Homeric view, a radi-
cal change in the conception of the life
itself. Thus Pindar : 26

"Victory setteth free the essayer from



Pindar 4J

the struggle's griefs, yea, and the wealth
that a noble nature hath made glorious
bringeth power for this and that, putting
into the heart of man a deep and eager
mood, a star far seen, a light wherein a
man shall trust, if but the holder thereof
knoweth the things that shall be, how that
of all who die the guilty souls pay penalty,
for all the sins sinned in this realm of Zeus
One judgeth under earth, pronouncing sen-
tence by unloved constraint.

" But evenly ever in sunlight night and
day an unlaborious life the good receive,
neither with violent hand vex they the
earth nor the waters of the sea, in that new
world ; but with the honored of the gods,
whosoever had pleasure in keeping of oaths,
they possess a tearless life ; but the other
part suffer pain too dire to look upon.

"Then whosoever have been of good cour-
age to the abiding steadfast thrice on
either side of death, and have refrained
their souls from all iniquity, travel the road
of Zeus unto the tower of Kronos ; there



^8 Dionysos and Immortality

around the islands of the blest the ocean
breezes blow, and golden flowers are glow-
ing, some from the land on trees of splen-
dor, and some the water feedeth, with
wreaths whereof they entwine their hands :
So ordereth Rhadamanthos' just decree,
whom at his own right hand hath ever the
father Kronos, husband of Rhea, throned
above all worlds."

Similarly in the following fragments of


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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 2 of 3)