Benjamin Ide Wheeler.

Dionysos and immortality : the Greek faith in immortality as affected by the rise of individualism online

. (page 3 of 3)
Online LibraryBenjamin Ide WheelerDionysos and immortality : the Greek faith in immortality as affected by the rise of individualism → online text (page 3 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dirges : —

"For them shineth below the strength
of the sun while in our world it is night,
and the space of crimson-flowered meadows
before their city is full of the shade of
frankincense trees, and of fruits of gold.
And some in horses, and in bodily feats, and
some in dice, and some in harp-playing
have delight ; and among them thriveth all
fair-flowered bliss ; and fragrance streameth
ever through the lovely land, as they
mingle incense of every kind upon the
altars of the gods.^

" By happy lot travel all unto an end that

Pindar 49

giveth them rest from toils. And the body
indeed is subject unto the great power of
death, but there remaineth yet alive a
shadow of the life; for this only is from
the gods ; and while the limbs stir, it sleep-
eth, but unto sleepers in dreams discover-
eth oftentimes the judgment that draweth
nigh for sorrow or for joy." ^^

Most significant here, as betraying how
fully Pindar's thought shaped itself in Dio-
nysiac or Orphic moulds, are the expressions
"this only is from the gods," and "while
the limbs stir, it sleepeth." The real ex-
istence of the soul as the divine element of
man's life is the existence freed from the
constraint of the body which dulls it and
prevents it from seeing and knowing clearly.
This is Paul's "Now we see in a mirror

Another more distinctively Orphic touch
is involved in a third fragment : " But from
whomsoever Persephone accepteth atone-
ment for an ancient woe, their souls unto
the light of the sun above she sendeth

^o Dionysos and Immortality

back again in the ninth year. And from
those souls spring noble kings, and men
swift and strong and in wisdom very great :
and through the after-time they are called
holy heroes among men." ^9

Sophocles represents his Antigone as act-
ing in this present world of transitory and
superficial law in respect for the " unwrit-
ten, irrefragable ordinances of the gods," ^^
which "not for to-day alone and for yester-
day but forever have their life, — and no
man knoweth whence they are." ^i These
laws are the laws of Hades as the great
other, outer world of the eternal, and they
govern the judgments at the bar of Dik6,
who " dwells with the nether gods." In defi-
ance of temporal law she performs the
burial rites of her brother : " Fair thing it
is for me in doing this to die ; dear shall I
lie with him my dear one, having wrought
a pious crime ; for longer is the time that I
must please the ones below than those up
here ; since there forever shall I lie." ^ In
obeying the laws of the nether kingdom

Sophocles 5/

she counts herself already its subject and
its citizen ; such she has become that she
may minister unto those of her kindred who
dwell within it. Her sister Ismene, who in
fear of the laws of the upper world has
withheld her aid, she counts as of this
world. " Thou art alive, but my soul long
since passed into death, to minister unto
those who are dead." ^^

It is in the light of this sense for a con-
tinuance of personal ties beyond the grave,
that the Attic sepulchral monuments, with
their peaceful scenes of family reunion and
association, must find their rightful interpre-
tation. It remained now for Plato, in har-
mony with this newly quickened conception
of a real personal continuance after death
and continuance in a life bearing relations
to the life on earth, to offer the first philo-
sophic argument for the immortality of the

The chirping psyches of Homer's nether
world were mere phantom apologies to a
stolid, helpless belief in continuance; the

52 Dionysos and Immortality

offerings to the dead practised among the
early non-Homeric Greeks were a tribute
to the idea of tribal and family unity. This
was all that the older faith of the Greeks
could offer.

With Dionysos, however, there came into
Greek religion and thought a new element,
an utterly new point of view. He taught
his followers to know that the inner life of
man, the soul, is of like substance with the
gods, and that it may commune with the
divine. Before the days of his revelation
there had been between the generations of
mortal men, who fell like the generations of
leaves, and the undying gods whose food
is ambrosia and whose drink nectar, a gulf
fixed deep and impassable. After his reve-
lation the soul was divine and might claim
an immortality like to that of the gods.

Dionysos had waited long in the vales of
Nysa and Parnassos, buried like the uncut
gem in crude and uncouth guise, but when
the need and desire of men sought after
him he came to help.

A Touch of Human Need 33

A human hand, lifting its grasp toward
immortality, stands a mute witness to a con-
sciousness arising in the single human soul
that it has a meaning in itself, that it has a
purpose and a mission of its own, that it
holds direct account with the heart of the
world, and of a world to whose peerage it
belongs and with whose plan and reason it
has rights and a hearing.

The faiths of men are quoted under va-
rious names and are set forth in vari-
ous articles, but we may not be confused
thereby, for men are men ; control of nature
has grown stronger and history longer since
the day when Greece first frankly and
straight looked nature and life in the face,
but man himself stays much the same, —
given the same conditions, the plain touch
of need makes all the centuries kin.

If in the throb of Dionysos' passion men
seem to gain an insight into the spiritual
harmonies of nature, and intimations of
their own potential kinship with the divine,
which cold reason and dull sense had not

^4 Dionysos and Immortality

availed to give, it was still dim, groping
vision ; but yet the face was set thither,
where, in a later day, — a day for which
Greece and Dionysos prepared, — men
learned through the Convincing Love to
know and live the eternity within them.


Note i, page 8.
J. Lippert: Die Religionen der europdischen
Culturvolker in ihrein geschichtlichen Ursprunge,
Berlin, 1881 ; E. Rohde : Psyche; Seelenculf und
Unsterblichkeitsglaube unter den Griechen, 2d ed.,
Freiburg, 1898, pp. i ff; De Coulanges: The An-
cient City, Eng. transl. pp. 28 £f.

Note 2, page 8.
It certainly is unsafe to speak of an Indo-Euro-
pean religion without making some explanation of
what may be meant by such a term, and what may
be supposed to be known or knowable concerning
such a subject. It is no longer to be assumed that
all the peoples who appear in history, possessed of
an Indo-European tongue, are necessarily in all
their make-up descendants of what is called the
Indo-European race. The presumption is against
it, and so is the ethnological evidence. There was
certainly an Indo-European language ; therefore
there was once a people who spoke it. The exten-
sion of the language through conquest — the con-

^6 Notes

quered peoples gradually accepting the language
of the conquerors — is doubtless a more important
point of view than that of its extension by migra-
tion and increase of the racial stock. The breaking
up into distinct languages must, it seems likely,
be accounted for in large measure through the
influence of the aUen tongues of the elements ab-
sorbed. The Greeks, for instance, were evidently
not of one race ; i. e., those who at the beginning
of history were speakers of Greek, were to a large
extent representatives of the primitive populations
inhabiting Greece before the Indo-European north-
men entered the land. The fair-haired, blue-eyed
people were, in the earliest times, a superior class,
distinguished from the dark-complexioned peoples
who gradually absorbed the former, so far as phy-
siological type was concerned.

The early hopes of the science of comparative
religion, as represented by Kuhn and Max Miiller,
were based on a false confidence in the methods of
comparative philology. It was expected that com-
parison of the various cults of the different Indo-
European peoples would yield a restoration of the
primitive proethnic cults, just as the comparison of
word-forms yielded a possible restoration of the
primitive Indo-European vocabulary. The result
has defeated these hopes. Comparison fails to dis-
cover any considerable number either of names of

Notes 37

deities, or of fixed outlines of divine personalities,
or of systematic forms of belief. The organization
of the different religions of the so-called Indo-
European peoples is evidently in the main their
own separate achievement. Whether this has been
brought about through the influence of the local
beliefs and cults of the absorbed populations, or
developed directly out of the materials of a primi-
tive Indo-European religion, has not yet proved
determinable, but many facts point in the direction
of the former view. When we speak, therefore,
of a proethnic Indo-European religion, we cannot
refer to a definite system of personified powers, but
only to a general attitude in character of belief
which the broadest comparison of the different re-
ligions shows to be present as a basis in all of

Note 3, page 12.
When we venture to refer to a prae-Homeric
religion, it must be understood that we are here
beyond the range of documentary evidence. In-
ferences from the known facts of later Greek re-
ligion, from the facts of other Indo-European
religions, and from the scanty and as yet imper-
fectly interpreted remains of Mycenaean civiliza-
tion constitute our only guidance. The altar-pit in
the courtyard at Tiryns, and the evidence that the

$8 Notes

Mycenaean tombs were virtually houses of the dead,
to which the altar-pits above them brought the
blood-offering and food for the departed, join with
the prior facts of Indo-European religion and the
later facts of historic Greek religion to confirm a
tolerably certain line of historical development.

Note 4, page 12.
" Wir haben hinreichenden Grund, einen Seelen-
cult, eine Verehrung des im Menschen selbst ver-
borgen lebenden, nach dessen Tode zu selbstan-
digem Dasein ausscheidenden Geisterwesens auch
in Griechenland, wie wohl iiberall auf Erden, unter
den altesten Bethatigungen der Religion zu ver-
muthen. Lange vor Homer hat der Seelencult in
den Grabgewolben zu Mykene und an anderen
Statten altester Cultur sich seine Heiligthiimer
erbaut." E. Rohde : Dz'e Religion der Griechen,
Rectoratsrede, Heidelberg, 1894. Except as this
fundamental point, established by the brilliant ar-
gument of Rohde in his Psyche^ is accepted, no in-
telligible connection between the Greek faiths of
different times and places is possible, — and what
is more, no connection of the Greek faith with the
Indo-European that lay behind it.

Note 5, page 12.
H. Oldenberg : Die Religion des Veda, pp. 543 £f.

Notes 39

Note 6, page 13.
See Odyssey X\. 220 ff.

Note 7, page 14.
Rohde {Psyche, pp. 27 ff.) connects the Ho-
meric freedom from dreamed-of ghosts with the
practice of cremation. He even attributes the
introduction of the practice to a desire to be
rid of the spirits through help of the "cleans-
ing force of fire." The primitive notion that
the spirits haunted the place where the body
remained, and hung about the body itself, would
naturally lead to the belief that the total destruc-
tion of the body would remove this lure to the
spirits and take from them the way of approach to
the homes of the living. The difficulty with
Rohde's suggestion is, however, that it takes no
account of the fact that cremation appears as an
institution so widespread among Indo-European
peoples as to demand almost certainly a place
among primitive Indo-European usages.

It may have been in vogue only among certain
tribes, or have been employed at certain times, as in
war or during absence from home, or for certain
classes, as the kings and chieftains ; no solution
of the strange problem has yet been found, but
surely we are not justified in connecting a new de-
parture in faith, such as Rohde thinks the Homeric

6o Notes

liberation from the soul-cults represents, with a
practice which is old and not new. The history of
cremation in its connection with the primitive be-
liefs concerning immortality is a subject demanding
a much more careful and comprehensive investi-
gation than has yet been accorded it. Facts in
abundance are known concerning the usages of
various times and peoples, but no principle yet dis-
covered has served to give these facts an intelli-
gent connection.

Note 8, page 1 5.
See ///^^ XXII I. 66 ff.

Note 9, page 15.
Teiresias the seer alone an exception.

Note 10, page 17.
See Odyssey XXIV. i £E.

Note ii, page 17.
See Odyssey XI. 24ff.

Note 12, page 18.
E. Rohde : Psyche; Seelencult und Unsterblich-
keitsglaube unter den Griechen, 2d ed., Freiburg,

Note 13, page 20.

See Odyssey XI. 92 ff (Teiresias to Odysseus).

Notes 6i

Note 14, page 20.
See Homerische Untersuchungen, I99ff.

Note 15, page 22.
The fundamental materials of the Homeric epic
are undoubtedly ^Eolic or North Greek in their
source. The language alone is enough to betray
this. iEolic forms of the language have been pre-
served in the midst of the prevailing Ionic where-
ever the Ionic equivalents would not suit the metri-
cal necessities. This concerns, however, only the
formation of the peculiar, half-artificial idiom which
finally became the rhapsodic fashion of speech.
The civilization to which the songs as we have them
were addressed was that of the old Ionic life of the
central coast of Asia Minor, and in the current ideas
of this civilization we must believe the setting of
the stories was moulded. Homer therefore repre-
sents preeminently the life and atmosphere of the
early Ionia in the period which antedates the rise
of extensive commerce and the sending out of the
commercial colonies. That which gave Homer so
soon in the ears of the succeeding generations the
ring of the remote and the heroic was the rapid
shifting in scene and conditions introduced by the
ninth and the eighth centuries. Life changed from
the tribal-patriarchal to the urban-commercial basis.
Coupled with this was the circumstance that the

62 Notes

memories of the old Achaean civilization which had
yielded the first materials of the stories were rapidly
dulled into remote traditions by the disappearance
of the states and the peoples that had carried the
burden of this civilization. This disappearance is
in some way connected with the emergence of the
Dorians in eastern Greece. Here we confront the
problem of the " Dorian Migrations."

Note i6, page 31.
Pindar: Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Fragm., 137.

Note 17, page 31.
Sophocles : Fragm., 719 (Dind.).

Note 18, page 32.
Plato : PhcEdo, p. 69 (transl. Jowett).

Note 19, page 32.
** Let us hasten — let us fly —
Where the lovely meadows lie;
Where the living waters flow ;
Where the roses bloom and blow.
Heirs of immortality.
Segregated, safe and pure,
Easy, sorrowless, secure ;
Since our earthly course is run,
We behold a brighter sun.

Notes 63

Holy lives — a holy vow —
Such rewards await them now."
Frere's transl. of Aristophanes, Frogs^ 448-459.

Note 20, page 33.
For a most illumining view of the influence of
the mysteries upon the early Christian ritual, see
E. Hatch : The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages
upon the Christian Church. Hibbert Lectures, 1888.
Lect. X. pp. 281 £E.

Note 21, page 41.
Sophocles : Antigone., 1143-45.

Note 22, page 41.
For the most explicit statement and discussion
of such views, see, e.g.., Leopold von Schroeder:
Pythagoras und die Inder, Leipzig, 1884; Richard
Garbe : The Connection between Indian and Greek
Philosophy. An address delivered before the
Philol. Congress at Chicago, July, 1893 {Monisiy
1894, p. 176 and following).

Note 23, page 43.

The Orphic theology has often been pronounced

un-Hellenic in character and tone. Those who

would find for it an Eastern or Egyptian origin

emphasize its supposed discord with Greek ideas.

64 Notes

Surely it would be a stranger and interloper if it
proposed to a Greek world an ethical reformation
based upon a code of morals. Nothing could have
been more un-Hellenic than that. But herein lies
the core of the misunderstanding. Orphism con-
tained no suggestion of moral reform, and its ec-
stasies no more proposed an influence upon conduct
or morals than the " blessed seasons " of a negro
revival meeting. If Orphism is non-Greek, then is
also the idealism of Plato, which in its religious
bearings is its offspring. Both are, however, pro-
foundly Greek, and only reflect the all-pervading
dualism of the popular psychology. What was new
in Orphism and in its common basis Bacchism was
the element of enthusiasm, the communion with the
divine. It was the " evangehcal " religion of Greece.
It may be cause for wonder that a religious move-
ment of such freshness and vigor should apparently
have lost itself in the marshes, and have exercised
no more definite influence upon the thought of the
after-world. To this it can first of all be said that
the real extent of its influence may easily have been
underestimated. Orphism in its organized form
passed quickly out of sight in the fifth century, but
its fundamental idea as expressed in Bacchism was
absorbed into the common thought of Greece. It
must furthermore be noticed that it came as an
infusion into Greek religion at a time when this

Notes 65

religion by reason of shifting historical conditions
was moving toward inevitable decline. Greek re-
ligion was a thing of the polis^ the city built of the
amalgamated tribes and clans. With the polis it
stood, and with the fall of the poHs as a unit of
government it fell. Its gods were chief citizens
of the polls, members honorary of the associated
guilds. When a greater world of commerce, inter-
course, manners, and ideas arose, in which the cities
came more and more, in spite of all theory to the
contrary, to be no more than nuclei of population,
the city gods and the city religions did not arise
to meet its need. Not even Olympus raised Zeus
high enough to oversee the land. The allegiance
of men gradually transferred itself from the polis to
the empire as the greater state, — even when they
knew it not, and even when the empire was scarcely
more than a vision dimly discerned through the
warring fragments of Alexander's state. This they
personified in the heroic form of Alexander, son of
Ammon, — the new Zeus; his successors became
the emperors of Rome. Through them the ideal
of a Holy Empire was transmitted to the after-
world. Through all this shifting of the scenes
Bacchism in outward form of organization could
not hold itself erect, but its spirit came ever more
and more to be the thought of the world. The im-
pulse it had awakened found to no slight extent its

66 Notes

satisfaction in Christianity ; and, on the other hand,
Paganism in its last struggle against the propa-
ganda of the Cross, when it chose its fittest armor,
chose that most like the weapons of its foe, —
Neo-Platonism, the last expression of the Dionysos

Note 24, page 44.

The essential tone of Plato's writing is admir-
ably set forth in the following statement, — a state-
ment, it should, however, be said in justice to the
author, not intended to support any such theory of
Plato's connection with Orphism and Dionysos wor-
ship as that presented in the text: "He transmits
the final outcome of Greek culture to us in no quin-
tessential distillation of abstract formulas, but in
vivid dramatic pictures that make us actual partici-
pants in the spiritual intoxication, the Bacchic re-
velry of philosophy, as Alcibiades calls it, that
accompanied the most intense, disinterested, and
fruitful outburst of intellectual activity in the an-
nals of mankind." Paul Shorey, Plato^ in Libr. of
World's Best Literature.

Note 25, page 45.
Republic^ pp. 609, 6ro, presents a form of argument
which has often been said (cf. Grote: Plato, II. p.
190) to be entirely distinct from the other Platonic

Notes 67

Note 26, page 46.
Pindar: Olymp. II. 95 ff. (transl. Myers).

Note 27, page 48.
V'mdidLX \ Fragm. Thren., I. (transl. Myers).

Note 28, page 49.
Pindar: Fragm. Thren., II. (transl. Myers).

Note 29, page 50.
Y\i\A2x\ Fragm. Thren., III. (transl. Myers).

Note 30, page 50.
Sophocles: Antigone^ 454.

Note 31, page 50.
Sophocles : Antigone, 456 £f.

Note 32, page 50.
Sophocles : Antigone, 72 £f.

Note 33, page 51.
Sophocles : Antigone, 559 £f.



Date Due

^ .- . M

U-— ^


- -►


1 3

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