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and as the avenger of perjury. Now the earth-spirit or the
animate earth would naturally be one of the most frequently
invoked of such witnesses, for she is always near at hand and
could not be escaped from. With her would be often coupled
for the same reasons such powers as the sky and the sun.
And, in fact, although on any solemn occasion the Greek
could swear by each and any of his divinities, and, in fact,
invoke his whole Pantheon for some public and weighty
pledge, yet the most current formula of the public oath, when
a treaty was to be ratified, or an alliance cemented, was the
invocation of Zeus, Helios, and Ge^ And doubtless one of
the earliest forms of oath-taking was some kind of primitive
communion, whereby both parties place themselves in sacred
contact with some divine force. Thus, in Mexico, the oath
formula invoked the Sun and our *Lady Earth,' and was
accompanied by the form of the sacramental eating of earth ^
Among the people of the African Gold Coast ^ the person
who wishes to swear by a divinity * usually takes something
to eat or drink which appertains to the deity, who is then
prepared to visit a breach of faith with punishment ' : being
supposed to be in the food and drink, he will make the man's
body swell if he commits perjury •. The offer to swear over
the Sacrament has occasionally occurred in Christian com-
munities. Or again, there need be no sacramental communion,
or the establishment of a human and divine contact, in the

' Vide Attthrpp, Jcurtu 1902, p. 464. the Cold Coast, p. 196; for instances of

^ They are also inToked as witnesses the sacramental form of oath-taking

«f solenm private transactions, such as videChantepiedelaSaassaye,^«/</Y^;a*

emancipation of slaves, R. 10. s^schuhie, i, p. 211.

* Sahagon (Jourdanet et Simeon, * The same idea is found in LXX,
p. 195). Num. V. 27.

* Vide Ellis, Tii-sptaking Peoples of

B %

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ceremony of the oath, but only a mimetic act of ritual : the
formula may be such as * as I do to this beast or this stone or
piece of metal, so may God do to me, if . . .* This is allied
to sympathetic magic, but still like the other form implies the
presence of some conscious divinity or demoniac power ; while
there is no such implication in the simplest animistic form of
oath-taking which is a kind of ordeal : * May this crumb
choke me if . . /

This slight digression is relevant^ to the question we start
with : how docs Homer conceive of Gaia ? The question is
not so simple as it seems. It is evident that he sometimes
regarded her from the same point of view as the later culti-
vated Greek or the modem civilized man, as a great physical
entity, living in some sense, but not personal nor fraught
with such a life as man's. On the other hand, in the ritualistic
passages quoted from his poems above, she is evidently a real
divine power ; and we may doubt whether there underlies
them merely the vague and formless conception of the whole
earth as animate and conscious. There may have been in
Greece, as elsewhere, some period of fluid animism that had
not yet deposited those concrete personalities of divinities,
to whom the world of nature with its phenomena ser\'cs
merely as a residence, a shell, or * environment * : the
Arcadian worship of thunder, pure and simple, may be an
instance of that amorphous form of religious consciousness.
But Homer's imagination works in a mould so precise and
anthropomorphic that we must believe the Gaia to whom
his warriors sacrificed and whom they invoked in their
oaths to have been something more than a mere potency,
a vague and inchoate perception of early animistic belief.
But is she for him the clearly defined and anthropomor-
phic personality that we find in the beautiful type of the
later developed art ? He nowhere makes it appear that she
was. No doubt the ritual of sacrifice and the ceremony of
oath-taking assist the anthropomorphic process, but in them-
selves they do not reveal it as perfected and complete •. The

• Vide Schnxder, Real-Lexikon^ s.v, cation of personal deities in the oath-
£i(i: he docs not believe that the invo- ceremony is Indo-Gennanic ; but that

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Arcadians at Phencus swore by their n^rpwfia, an erection of
stones » ; and sacrifice existed in Greece, as elsewhere, before
the deity assumed clear human shape and character. The
ritual, as Homer narrates it, does not decisively answer the
important question. The black lamb is promised to Gaia,
and she would be supposed to receive its blood that was shed
upon the earth ; but we are not told what the manner of the
sacrifice was, but only that Priam took the bodies of the
victims back to Troy. Some kind of sacrament, whereby the
warriors arc placed in religious rapport with divine powers, is
probably implied in the ritualistic act of cutting off the hair
from the heads of the animals and giving a lock of it to each
of the chiefs to hold ^. But such an act by no means shows
that Gaia was realized by the imagination in form as concrete
and personal as Zeus and Athena. In the ceremony of the
oath taken by Agamemnon, the boar is the animal sacrificed,
and in the later history of Greek ritual we find him the
peculiar victim of the earth-deities and the chthonian powers :
but here he is not said to have been offered ; but when the
oath has been sworn over him, he is slain and cast into the
sea, perhaps as a mimetic acting of the curse.

In the instances just examined, Gaia is invoked in company
with Zeus, Helios, the Rivers, and the Erinyes ; and we cannot
say that all the figures in this group are palpable and concrete
forms of anthropomorphic religion ; still less could we say this
of the trinity in the Odyssey, Gaia, Ouranos, and Styx, which
Cal)rpso invokes in her oath to Odysseus.

Nor does Homer anywhere expressly ascribe to Gaia any
kind of personal activity. She must have been supposed to
be operative in some way in avenging the broken oath, but

the primiliTe Aryan oath was taken over haps to the same kind ; vide Demeter,
some object which we should caU in- R. 205^
animate, but was supposed to work out * Vide Demeter, R. 235.
a curse on the perjured, such as the stone ^ //. 5. 273-375* It is noteworthy that
in the Roman oath (Polyb. 3. 25, 6), the Antilochus is asked by Menelaos to
ring and the ship*s board in the Norse touch hb horses and swear by Poseidon
oath. The oath administered by the that he was innocent of evil intent, //.
wife of the king-archon to the Gerarai at 23. 5S4 ; we may suppose that by touch-
Athens, 4f iroroTs (? « over the sacred ing the horses he puts himself into com-
bread-baskets), belonged originally per- munion with Poseidon Hippios.

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those to whom this function is specially attached — * the two
who punish below the earth the ghosts of the perjured after
death * — are Hades and Persephone, forms more concrete than
*• f Gaia. And it is these two, not Gaia, whom Altheia calls upon

to avenge her against her own son, * while many a time she
smote the all-nourishing earth with her hands*.*

In fact, where Gaia in Homer is animistically conceived,
and not purely a material body, we may interpret her rather
as the impalpable earth-spirit than asja goddess in the Hellenic
sense. She is not a creative principle in his theory of the
cosmos, nor a potent agency in human affairs. But Homer
cannot always be taken as the exponent of average con-
temporary religion.

In the Hesiodic poems she has far more vitality and personal
character. She assists in the evolution of the divine world
and plays a part in the struggles of the divine dynasties. She
is even the nurse of Zeus, according to a legend which seems
to have reached Hesiod from Crete ^, and which harmonized
with a prevailing popular conception, soon to be examined, of
Ge KovpoTp6<f)os.

The conception of her is more glowing and vivid still in the
fragment of an Homeric hymn^. The rhapsodist sings of her
as the spouse of Ouranos, the Mother of the Gods, as the
all-nourishing power that supports all life in the air and water
and on the earth, the deity through whose bounty men's
homes are blessed with children and rich stock, and at the
close he proffers the same prayer to her as the poet made to
Demeter at the end of the Demeter-hymn, that in return for
his song she will grant him plenteous store to gladden his
soul. Part of this may be * rhapsodical ' and conventional ;
but probably he came nearer to the popular feeling than did
Homer in this matter : nevertheless the rational materialistic
idea glimmers through ^

As regards the dramatists""'*, there are a few passj^s in
Aeschylus and Euripides that illustrate the popular view of
Ge ' : in the Persae piacular offerings are recommended to Ge

• //. 9. 568.

^ Much the same may be said of the well-knowa lines of Solon ^*.

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and the spirits of the departed ; and Ge, Hermes, and the King
of the shades are invoked as holy powers of the world below,
and are prayed to send up the spirit of Darius for his people's
guidance. In the Choephoroe Electra, in her prayer to Aga-
memnon (L 148), includes her witli other powers as an avenger
of wrong. The oath which Medea dictates to Aegeus is in the
name of * the broad floor of earth, and the sun my father's
father.' But other passages are, perhaps, of more importance
as a clue to the true feelings of the poets. The beautiful frag-
ment of the Danaides^ concerning the sacred marriage of
heaven and earth, expresses in figurative phrase what a great
modem poet might feel and express : Ouranos and Gaia are
not cult-figures here, but names of natural processes and
cosmic powers, which the poet exults to contemplate; the
divine personage directing the genial processes of creation
is not Gaia, but Aphrodite. The striking passage preser\ed
from the Chrysippus of Euripides is full of new pantheistic
and partly materialistic, partly scientific, conceptions : the
divine Aether is addressed as the parent-source of men and
gods, * but the earth receiving the moist drops of warm rain
bears the race of mortals, brings forth food and the tribes of
beasts : wherefore rightly she has been deemed the All-mother ;
and the creatures made of earth pass back into earth again.'
The well-known lines of Sophocles in the Antigone^ referring
to the tilling of the ground, * Earth, the supreme divinity, the
immortal and unwearied one, he wears away,' reveal a curious
mixture of the popular personal religion and the modem
materialistic idea. But the latter never wholly triumphed;
and in the latter days of paganism Plutarch can still say ^^
• the name of Ge is dear and precious to every Hellene, and it
is our tradition to honour her like any other god.* 'The
earth,' says Porphyry, *is the common household hearth of
gods and men, and as we recline upon her we should all sing
in her praise and love her as our nurse and mother".'

It remains to examine the actual cults, which the literature
sometimes follows, sometimes transcends. The catalogue of
local worships of which record remains is scanty, and only
some of them are worth special comment. The tones of

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a very old religion are heard in the Dodonaean liturgy, men-
tioned in the chapter on Zeus : ' Zeus was and is and will be,
hail great Zeus : earth brings forth fruits, wherefore call on
mother earth •/ We may assume that at Dodona a primitive
worship of the earth-goddess was at one time associated with
the Aryan sky-god. Whether it survived till the time of
Pausanias we cannot say. Elsewhere in North Greece the
cult of Gala has left but very few traces. We hear of her
temple on the shore at Byzantiuni) which suggests that it
existed at Megara before the departure of the colonists '*. In
Aetolia an interesting formula has been preserved in an
inscription relating to the enfranchisement of a slave: the
master takes Zeus, Earth, and the Sun to witness that * she is
made free and equal to the citizens in accordance with the laws
of the Aetolians ' *^. At Thebes ^^ a fifth-century inscription,
according to a convincing restoration, attests the existence of
a temple of Tola Maxatpa T€\€<r<r<^o/)os, and the titles designate
her as the goddess of abundance who ripens the crops **. The
only other cult-epithet that marked her character as the fruit-
bearing goddess is Kap7ro<^opos, by which she was honoured at
Cyzicos^" ; although, wherever her cult survived at all, we should
expect this aspect of her to have been the most salient But
there were other important ideas that naturally adhered to the
earth-power, whether male or female, in Greek imagination.
The earth is the abode of the dead, therefore the earth-deity
has power over the ghostly world : the shapes of dreams, that
often foreshadowed the future, were supposed to ascend from
the world below, therefore the earth-deity might acquire an
oracular function, especially through the process of incubation,
in which the consultant slept in a holy shrine with his ear upon
the ground. That such conceptions attached to Gala is shown
by the records of her cults at Delphi, Athens, and Aegae.



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A recently discovered inscription speaks of a temple of Ge at
Delphi" ; and we are told by Plutarch (Apollo, R. 114) that
her temple at Delphi stood on the south of Apollo's near the
water of Castalia, and it may be that Mnaseas of Patrae was
referring to this, in his collection of Delphic inscriptions, when
he mentioned the Upbv Eipvar^pvov ". Certainly the * broad-
bosomed one' is a designation most apt for Ge ; it had already
occurred to Hesiod *, or was derived by him from contemporary
cult; and it was actually given her in her worship at the
Achaean Ac^e-^. These arc the only records of the later
Delphic cult ; but a number of well-attested legends shed a light
on the pre-Apolline period in the history of the oracle, when
the earth-goddess was in possession of the sacred spot. The
priestess in the Envtcnides proffered her first prayers to * Gaia
the first prophetess,' who was the earliest occupant of the
oracle, and who bequeathed her supremacy to her daughter
Themis ^ And Euripides*' preserves the interesting myth
that the eai*th, jealous for her daughter's sake of Apollo's usur-
pation, sent up dreams for the guidance of mortal men in their
cities, and thus thwarted the Apolline method of divination :
whereupon the young god appealed to Zeus, who forbade
henceforth the dream-oracle at Delphi. The story illustrates
the conflict between two different periods and processes of
Delphic iiavTiKTi^ and this point will be noted later in the
chapter on Apollo. It accords with the history of the oracle
that Pausanias has preserved \ which he derived from a poem
attributed to Musaeos : the earliest oracular powers at Delphi
were Ge and Poseidon, Ge's inheritance afterwards passing to
Themis. This account was alluded to by Apollodorus^ and
other writers, and we can regard it as accepted in the main by
the Greek world.

As regards Gaia, we also can accept it. It is confirmed by
certain features in the ritual of the later Delphic divination,
and also by the story of Python. In the account of Apollo's
victory given in the Homeric hymn*", the Delphian snake is

• Theog, 117. ^ Apollo, R. Ii8.

^ Apollo, R. X12. * Ai)ollo, R. 116.

« Apollo, R. 113. ^ Ad Apoll, 300.

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feminine, as we should expect the incarnation of the earth-
goddess to be ; but it appears that in an early fragment of
Delphic oracular verse Python was represented as a robber
of Pamassiis, slain by Apollo, yet possessing in some sense
a sacred character, as the god had to be purified from the stain
of his slaughter by * Cretan men V Hyginus has preserved the
legend that before the days of Apollo, Python was wont to
give oracles on Parnassus ; we hear also that his bones were
placed in a cauldron and guarded in the Pythion ^, and that
some kind of worship or religious drama was performed in his
honour down to late times. And Plutarch*' informs us that
a funeral ode, set to the flute, was composed to commemorate
him by the younger Olympus. We can understand and
interpret these curious records, when we remember that the
serpent was the familiar animal, sometimes the actual embodi-
ment, of the earth-deity **, and was often regarded as the incar-
nation of the departed spirit, and as a sacred and mystic
animal in Greek religion. It was not only at Delphi that the
snake was associated with a chthonian system of prophecy : in
the shrine of Trophonios at Lebadea there was a prophetic
snake that had to be propitiated with offerings of honey cakes';
and it is very probable that Ge herself was one of the aborigi-
nal powers of the Trophonion, and only became supplanted by
her young ' double ' the nymph Hercyna, whose badge is the
snake ^. A unique system of divination by means of sacred
serpents survived in Epirus, if we may trust a narrative in
Aelian, which cannot have been wholly baseless K The same
animal was found in some of the shrines of Asclepios, where
a medical divination was practised by means of incubation, and
the tame serpent was supposed to creep by night to the sleeper
and whisper remedies into his ear. It seems, then, that Aelian
was justified in his statement, Ihiov ^if rdv hpaniovrtAv ical ^ jiar-
TiKTi ^ and that we may venture to believe that the famous
story of Apollo and Python reflects a very important event in

• Apollo, R. III. • Apollo, R. 115.

•> ApoUo, R. 115. ' Vide Demeter, R. 42*.

« ApoUo, R. 115; cL ib. 264'. « Vide ApoUo, R. 190.

* Cf. Herod, i. 78 TfX/njaa^f; ... ^ KaU An, n. 16.

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the religious histor>' of Delphi, and not, as used to be supposed,
a meteoric conflict of storm, thunder-cloud, and sunshine.

It was rare to find Gala prophesying in her own person.
There was a tradition, which Pausanias records, that she had
once possessed a prophetic seat at Olympia, near her altar of
a,shes that was called o raloj-**. No doubt her worship goes
back to very primitive times in that region, as the fact of the
altar bearing the name of the deity suggests an early stage of
religious thought and ritual* ; and she may have been associ-
ated with Zeus at Olympia as at Dodona, for in both places he
bore the oracular character that was so rarely attached to him.

The prophetic power belonged also to Gc Eipvaripvos of
Aegae ^^ and the epithet alone would suggest an original
affinity between the Delphic and the Achaean cult ^*. From
Pausanias and Pliny we gather an interesting record of the
method of divination at Aegae : the former does not connect
the shrine with prophccj-, but declares that the image of the
earth-goddess was very ancient, and that the ministration was
in the hands of a woman, upon whom a severe rule of chastity
was imposed '^ : if there were several candidates for the office,
their fitness was tested by a draught of bull's blood. Pliny
supplements the account and makes it more intelligible,
telling us that the priestess drank a draught of bull's blood
before she descended into the cave to prophesy. Now the bull
is one of the animals specially sacred to the earth-deity and to
the divinities of agriculture ; and as ecstatic divination always
implied demoniac or divine possession, the aspirant to this
supernatural power could attain to the necessary communion
with the deity by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of
the animal of sacrifice. We have an exact parallel in the

* Cf. the altar dTvias, and Apollo necessary, and that this was relaxed in

'ATvcfvf: this partial identification of favour of elderly married women or

the altar and the god may descend from widows ; we find elsewhere in Greece

the period of pillar-worship, the pillar the same relaxation of an older and more

being at once the altar and the temporary ascetic mle, and for the same motive:

home of the divinity. it was thought better to ensure chastity

^ If she was not a maid, she must after the priestess entered on her office

never have had intercourse with more than to demand chastity pre%-ious to her

than one man. We may believe that in\'cstiture.
ncconling to the older mle a virgin was

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worship of Apollo Pythios at Argos: the priestess there also
was inspired by a drink of bull's blood. We may naturally
conjecture that the same ritual was once a part of the worship
of the prophetic earth-mother at Delphi, and that it was taken
over by Apollo and brought thence to Argos.

But Pausanias' account is probably true as well. The
draught may have worked not merely as a means of inspira-
tion, but as a test for deciding between competitors for the
priesthood ; for the magic liquor might be supposed to pro-
duce dangerous or at least tell-tale results in those who in
respect of chastity or for some other reason were unfit for the
sacred office.

Finally, we may suspect the existence in early times of a
ri}y iiavrtlov at Patrae —, where a statue of the earth-goddess
stood in the sacred grove of Demcter, by the side of images of
the mother and the daughter \ Outside was a sacred well
where a curious water-divination was practised for the purpose
of prognosticating the course of maladies. A mirror was let
down until the rim touched the surface of the water: after
sacrifice * to the goddess,' the consultant gazed into the mirror
and saw the form of his sick friend as one either dead or living.
This ceremony was, no doubt, older than the organized Greek
polytheism, and belongs to a water-magic that is connected
with sacred wells, and has been universal in Europe. But it
seems likely that at Patrae the ritual became consecrated to
the earth-goddess or earth-spirit, and may have been after-
wards taken over by her younger sister Demeten Similarly,
in the Plutonium at Acharaca, near Tralles, we hear of a system
of incubation for the healing of diseases specially connected
with the cult of the chthonian powers \

It was through her prophetic character that Ge acquired the
cult- appellative ©^/its, which was attached to her at Athens ^* ^,
and, unless the old legends deceive us, at Delphi also. That
this was intended to designate her as a goddess of righteous-
ness in general is very improbable ; for it is not likely that the
figure of Gaia, always half materialistic, could be the centre

* Demclcr, R. 258. *» Vide Dcmetcr, R. 124.

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around which such high ethical ideas could cluster. We know
of a more special use of Oiyn^, as applied to the oracular
response': and it is in this sense that we should interpret the
cult-title of Ge-Thcmis at Delphi and Athens, and we thus
understand why the altar of Themis at Olympia stood near to
the * Vaios ^.*

I have already suggested ^ that Themis, as a personality in
Greek religion, was originally an emanation from Ge; and
here may be a fitting place to develop and substantiate
a theory which does not seem to have been systematically
examined, still less definitely accepted or rejected hitherto.
One reason for accepting it is the improbability of the only
other conceivable theory, that Themis began her religious
career as the mere personification of the abstract idea of
righteousness. Such personified abstractions are doubtless
early in the religious thought of the Greeks as of other races.
But the careful study of these in Greek cult and literature
leads to the conviction that only those became prominent and
of a certain vitality in the popular religion which had emanated
originally from concrete personal deities : as Peitho emanated
from Aphrodite, Nike from Athena, Nemesis — if the view-
maintained in a former chapter be correct — from some Attic
divinity akin to the earth-goddess. Now Themis, in the earliest
literature, is a very concrete figfure, a living and active power
in the Titanic and Olympian world. In the pre-Homeric days,
we may admit, the Hellenes may have been capable of personi-
fying righteousness ; but it would be against all analogy that
they should attach to her such very palpable and personal
myths. And many of these bring her into close connexion
with Gaia: thus, according to Hesiod, the infant Zeus was
entrusted to the nurture of Gaia, but, according to * Musaeos,'
to Themis ^, and this affinity between the two goddesses is

Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellThe cults of the Greek states → online text (page 2 of 40)