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form of a dadouchos, who may be the mortal priest or some
heroic personage, but is not recognizably any god : then comes
a group which is unmistakable, the mother-goddess throned
and sceptred, and wearing a low kalathos on her head, richly

* I see no sufficient reason for ' omphalic ' altar of stones piled up in

M. Sroronos* view, op. cit. p. 292, dcc.» front of him proves nothing, bat merely

that this 'Hensinian' omphalos indi- suggests that this form of altar may

cates the dY^Xoorof trcrpa which he have been common at Athens in chtho-

woold place in Agrai, i:/A.^rf^. 1894, nlan cnlts : something like a small

p. 133 : the relief found in the bed omphalos is seen by the side of As-

of the Ilissos — not far from this district clepios in a statuette from Epidauros,

—representing a probably chthonian Eph, Arch, 1885, Uiv, 2, no. 9.
divinity receiving sacrifice with a rough

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draped, and raising her hand as if in lively converse with the
daughter-goddess who stands at her left resting her elbow on
a column and holding a torch in her right hand. She is lightly-
clad, and her shoulders and breast are bare. Between them,
looking up at Demeter, is a little boy bearing a large cornu-
copia, who has been called lacchos, but is now generally
admitted to be Ploutos. In the right corner is the draped
figure of a female of mature form, sitting on an omphalos-
shaped stone in a meditative attitude with her elbow on her
knee and her hand raised to her chin, gazing at Demeter. She
has been variously named, but there is no interpretation that
carries conviction ; she may be a local personification such as
Eleusis, or an abstraction such as Tclete, the genius of the
mysteries. And we can form an opinion of the whole scene
without deciding who she really is. The subject is evidently
the initiation of Heracles, at which Dionysos is present taking
no part but that of the sympathetic spectator. The style is
the purest Attic, the forms are nobly conceived and finely out-
lined, a stately religious pageant is impressively shown. The
artist has used none of the conventional methods for indicating

We wish to know the locality, for this will decide the ques-
tion whether it is the greater or the lesser initiation that we
are witnessing. But we must first consider the other work,
the representation on the Pourtales vase, of which the subject
is to some extent identical and the allusion to the Eleusinia is
equally clear (PI. XIX). Again we see the group of the seated
mother and the daughter standing by her side in the centre, one
of the many free variations of a well-known Eleusinian type ;
and their drapery conforms more to the conventional ideal here
than was the case on the former vase, nor is Kore's upper body
bared, but only clad in a diaphanous robe: again we sec
the catechumen Heracles with mystic faggot and club
approaching from the left, while Triptolemos is here seated
quietly in his serpent-car on the lower right in animated con-
versation with Demeter. But in this scene Heracles is not the
only heroic candidate for initiation ; on right and left above
are two boyish figures, crowned and bearing the same emblem

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as Heracles in their hands, whom by the star above the head
of one we recognize for the Dioscuri ; and each Is being led
by two male figures whom it is sufficient for the present pur-
pose to call ' dadouchoi ' merely. The vase is in the British
Museum, and belongs still to a good period, though the style
IS laxer than that of the last.

But here the locality is marked by a background of pillars
that indicate one or perhaps two temples. And the question
now arises, is the scene laid at Eleusis or Agrai ? We hear
indeed of no temple at Agrai in which we can be sure that the
smaller mysteries were enacted : perhaps the metroon there
was the scene of them or some special sacred building. But
this is unimportant, for the vase-painter's conscience would be
sure to leave him free to throw in a pillar or two. Triptolemos'
presence inclines us to think of Eleusis rather than Agrai,
especially in considering the scene on the Pourtales vase where
he appears to be very much at home. But on the Kertsch pelike
he is hovering in the air as one who might be arriving from a
distance ; and no vase-painter would be likely to have scruples
about bringing Triptolemos into the . scene of the lesser
mysteries, if he wanted a convenient figure to fill up a space.
As for Dionysos, his connexion with Agrai may have been
more intimate than with Eleusis, but he was sufficiently at
home at either place to appear as the interested spectator at
either mystery. Nor can we gather any certain inference from
the presence of Aphrodite with Eros ; if we were sure that the
scene was laid at Agrai we might suppose that the vase-
painter was mindful of the temple of* Aphrodite in the gardens'
in that vicinity: and those who imagine that the lesser
mysteries were entirely captured by Orphism may see in the
Eros on the vase the mystic life-power prominent in Orphic
cosmogony. But this little Eros is charmingly playful and
seems quite innocent of * Orphism ' or any * mysticism.' And
Aphrodite sits with her arms muffled in her mantle as if she
had no part in these mysteries. Nor should one impute too
much theological learning and consistency to vase-painters ; we
know how they loved accessory figures, and Aphrodite and
Eros are among the most popular and appear in many scenes,

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and probably without any mythologlc or ' hieratic ' justifica-
tion. We shall discover her again on another Eleusinian vase
to be considered soon.

Nor ought we to base any large theories on the presence of
the boy-Ploutos, a most natural accessory figure, serving also
as a balance to the boy-Eros : at most we may only believe
that he alludes to that side of the mysteries which looked to
agrarian prosperity. His figure is poetical-allegorical merely,
not, as far as we can discover, mystjc : nor can we say that he
belonged to Agrai rather than to Eleusis *.

But it is commonly supposed that Heracles was initiated
only at Agrai, and that therefore our vase-scenes represent the
lesser mysteries. But the myth that these latter were founded
specially in his honour is found only in quite late sources '^^^^^ -^'* ;
and it may have arisen from his worship in the adjacent deme
of Kynosarges. There is no indication that it was prevalent
in the fifth and fourth century, the period with which we are
now concerned. When Euripides mentions the initiation there
is no reason for supposing that he is not thinking of Eleusis ;
while there are reaspns for supposing that Xenophon, who
deals seriously with the myth, is thinking of the great
mysteries and of an initiation thorough and complete. As for
the Dioscuri, no author associates them with Agrai : we are
merely told that by adoption as Attic citizens and at their own
demand they were initiated into the mysteries ^•*.

But the most weighty argument against the commonly
accepted opinion concerning these vases appears to have
escaped the attention of archaeologists. The pinax ofNan-
nion, if it teaches anything, teaches us that the lesser mysteries
belonged to Kore and that Demeter does not even need to
come to them. But in these two scenes of the initiation of

* Strnbe, Bildsrkreis von Eleusis, i. 14, 4 — from the confusion of the

p. 47, &C., closely connects the mysteries Eleosinion in Athens with a mystery-

of Agrai with Ploutos, Epimenides, and temple in Agrai. We do not know

Crete : the prophet comes to Attica that Plontos was ever a real figure in

and makes the Cretan Ploatos the comer* Cretan religion ; nor does Aristophanes

stone of the little mysteries : one wonders in his comedy associate him with Agrai

why. Strobe's dream arises from a mis- or with any mysteries,
understanding of a text in Pausanias

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Heracles, Demeter is the seated, central, and imposing person-
age, Kore stands by her as a subordinate; we must then
abandon the evidence of the Nannion pinax, or we must place
the scene on the Pourtales and Kertsch vases at Eleusis. It
is a vice of interpretation to impute too much hieratic meaning
or theological learning to vase-painters ; but we may believe
that they knew the relative positions of Demeter and the
daughter in the greater and lesser mysteries, and that when
they wished to distinguish the two ceremonies— as they need
not often have wished — they could only do so in the way we
have observed ; and that they would use the same accessory
figures for both scenes.

The tablet of Nannion remains then as the only certain
representation of the initiation at Agrai.

Usually it is permissible to suppose, and even to hope,
that the vase -painter was not trammelled by the limitations
of locality. He might wish to give an ideal picture of
the holy mysteries, and his imagination could people the
scene with deities summoned perhaps from Agrai and the
vicinities of the Athenian Eleusinion and the Eleusinian
Telesterion, or from regions still further aloof. There-
fore Aphrodite and even Zeus might be present in a
* sacred conversazione' at Eleusis. And this is perhaps the
best description that has been given of the beautiful but
baffling relief picture on the hydria from Cumae now in
St. Petersburg (PI. XVH). It would serve no purpose here to
discuss the various and elaborate theories put forth about its
meaning • : as all attempts to extract from it a definite Upb^
\6yoi appear hopelessly unconvincing. It is truer probably
to say that the artist had no profound meaning to express,
no sacred drama in his mind to depict, but merely wished to
gfroup the beloved Eleusinian goddesses with various fiiendly
and interested divinities who are enjoying a refined conver-
sation in couples, while torch-bearers, the mystic branches**,

* These are tabulated by Svoronos, the offerings of the mystae^ and that

op. dt. p. 404. the ears are visible : I can find no other

^ Strube, BUderh'eisy p. 39, main- representation of corn-stalks in Greek

tains that these branches are corn-stalks, art at all like these bnndles.

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and the piacular pig suffice to create a mystic atmosphere.
We wish to recognize the divinities, and in most cases we can ;
but some escape us, and even the sex of two is doubtful, nor
is there universal agreement that all the figures are divine and
that no mortal could be admitted into the group ; for might
not some of the sacred functionaries of the state-mystery be
supposed to enjoy the divine intercourse? At least we
discover the usual Eleusinian group of the Mother seated in
the centre conversing with the Daughter who stands holding
a torch by her side ; and on her left Dionysos in somewhat
unusual attire but revealed by the thyrsos, the ivy crown, and
surely by the tripod behind him, the prize at Athens of the
Dionysiac contests in music *. He is talking earnestly with
Triptolemos. Then on the right we see Athena seated on her
native rock and wearing a helmet, but no aegis, and turning
to talk with the sacred personage who carries the pig for
sacrifice. As for his name, we shall never convince each other
about it ; one might venture to conjecture * lacchos,' as this
youthful form of Dionysos belongs specially to Athens, and
this youth wears, not the ordinary myrtle-crown of the viystae,
but a garland of ivy, and he might stand for the ideal catechu-
men who proceeded from Athena's city to Eleusis. But would
an Attic painter in the fifth or fourth century bring Dionysos
and lacchos as two separate personages into the same picture ^ ?
The literary evidence inclines us to believe that he would not.
As regards the female figures seated at each extremity of the
scene, there is no harm in regarding the one on the extreme
left as Artemis, who was worshipped both at Agrai and
Eleusis, the other on the right, a veiled matronly and stately

* Svoronos — op. cit. p. 404, &c — is elsewhere— that the same personage is

right in maintaining this as against often represented more than once in

those who see in the figure the UpoKrjpv^ : the same scene under different aspects

this latter interpretation entirely £uls to — has some few analogies in iu favour,

explain the tripod : Svoronos well such as the marriage-scene in the

compares the long-robed youthful pyxis of Eretria; bat it is agamst

Bacchus on the Attic tripod published the usual practice of the Greek art of

in ^<t JahreshefU Oesterr, Arch, Inst, the best age, and he applies it some-

2. Taf. 5. what recklessly : vide P. Gardner,

^ Svoronos* principle of vase-in- Grammar of Creel: Art, p. 205.
terpretotion which he adopts here and

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form, as Aphrodite, who appeared on the former vase in the
Eleusinian circle.

So far as these monuments have carried us, we are no nearer
than before to understanding the real hptaiitva or drama of the
mysteries. But other vases have been supposed to reveal or
at least allude to part of a mystic action. It is too often for-
gotten by archaeologists, as well as amateurs, and therefore
cannot be too often insisted on, that no Attic vase-painter
would dare to depict the holy drama of Agrai or Eleusis by
means of any scene that bore any recognizable resemblance to
the reality; if he did so, his artistic career might be brief.
And probably no foreign painter would venture either ; for if
his own conscience was callous, the public conscience was
sensitive enough. Therefore the utmost we can expect to
discover are guarded and distant allusions to something that
may have really entered into the mystic and esoteric ritual.
And when the art-record is of this kind, interpretation is always

The hydria from Capua, sometimes called the Tyskiewickz
vase*, is one of those that has been supposed to reveal to us
something of the content of the mysteries (PI. XX). It is
a beautiful monument of the Attic art of the early fourth
century : and the type of the central group, the seated Demeter
and the daughter standing by her with the torches, is derived
from Eleusis, and therefore we may assume at least an Eleu-
sinian atmosphere for the scene. And one other figure at
least is recognizable ; the stately young god holding the
thyrsos and seated on a stone or mound of the * omphalos '
shape must be Dionysos; and Kore, descending as it seems
from some higher place, moves towards him with her torches
as with a solemn gesture of greeting. As regards the other
figures, neither their forms nor attributes throw any light on
the scene. There is a rough replica of this representation on
the hydria from Crete mentioned above, of undoubted Attic
export; on which the central group reappears with little differ-
ence, except that Dionysos is not sitting on the * omphalos,' but
rather strangely above it. For the interpretation of the picture,

* Figured in Mon, d, Insi, 12. 34; Coll. Tyskicivickz, PI. 10.

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the omphalos — if it is really meant for one^-does not help us.
It has no resemblance to the famous one at Delphi, therefore
we need not think of Delphi at all ; and we have seen that in
all probability there were * omphaloi ' in Attica, perhaps one in
the vicinity of Agrai, one perhaps at Eleusis. The most elabo-
rate and ingenious interpretation of these two vases has been
recently propounded by M. Svoronos*, who holds that the
Up69 yojLtoy of Kore and Dionysos is here depicted, which he
thinks took place on the twelfth pf Anthesterion, and with
which the lesser mysteries were in some way connected ; and
he places the scene in the temple of Dionysos iv Aliwai^, and
regards the rest of the figures as representative of the temples
in the vicinity. We might be tempted to accept this expla-
nation, if there was otherwise any record of such a sacred
marriage at Athens ; but there is none, and these vases cannot
be said to fill up the gap in the evidence. For the scene
depicted * looks not like a marriage ' : Kore may be merely
greeting Dionysos as a visitor at Agrai, or Dionysos-Iacchos
at Eleusis ; and the vases illustrate for us nothing more with
clearness than the hospitable relations between the god and
the goddesses ^

The only remaining monuments that need be noticed here
as bearing on the central Eleusinian question are those that
have been supposed to reveal the mystic birth or the nativity
of a holy child as an inner part of the mystery. But before
considering the evidence in any detail, a cautious sceptic might
maintain that if a holy birth was really enacted in the Tcleste-
rion or Anaktoron, for that very reason it would not be painted
on vases ; and conversely, if we do find scenes on vases that

* Op. cit p. 450, &c. : his iaterpreta- near the Eleutinion at Athens (Pans. i.

tion of this, as of other vases, rests on 14. 4), and that she is holding not

the principle that the vase-painters a tambonrine as is nsoally supposed

often aimed at giving a sketch-map of but a shield.

the locality by means of certain personal ^ The only example I can find of

forms: I cannot feel sure about his the marriage of Kore and Dionysos

principle or regard his topographical represented in art is the gem of Roman

exposition as convincing ; but his most period published by Millin, Go/, Myth,

ingenious suggestion is worth notice, PL 48, no. 276 — Kore and Dionysos in

that the half-draped female seated up a chariot drawn by Centaurs, Eros

on the left is E^irXcia, whose shrine was accompanying.

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look like the birth of a divine child at Eleusis, we may use these
as evidence — not of what was acted in the mysteries — but of
what was not acted in them, at least as an essential part of the
mystic ritual.

The first to consider very briefly is the well-known picture
on the other side of the Kertsch pelike (PL XXI a). Perhaps no
vase-representation has been more minutely discussed than this,
or with such diversity of opinions. It has been interpreted as
the birth of Erichthonios, though it differs markedly and in
some essential points from the known representations of that
story : it has been ingeniously explained by Professor Robert
as the birth of Dionysos, who is just being taken from the
cleansing waters of Dirke, a version which explains much of
the scene, but scarcely the central prominence of Athena and
Nike. If either of these two interpretations were correct, the
subject would not necessarily concern the Eleusinian question.
And in fact the only reasons a priori for considering this side
of the vase at all among the monuments of the Eleusinian
religion, are the analogy of the subject on the obverse, and,
secondly, the undoubted presence on the reverse side of the two
great goddesses in the left upper comer, the one seated and
the other standing according to the convention of the Eleu-
sinian group-type. We should suppose then the subject to be
one in which Eleusis and Athens as represented by Athena are
equally interested. The latter goddess seems to be standing
behind Hermes — there can be no doubt about him, although
he wears an unusually shaped petasos like a modern cocked-
hat — and to be protecting him, while Victory flies behind and
above her pointing downwards. But Hermes, though remem-
bered in the preliminary sacrifice, has nothing to do with the
mysteries themselves ; and what divine birth was there that
could be regarded as a victory for Athens ? In the midst of
all this doubt one may well question whether the vase is
* mystic * at all. And the only really consistent and in some
respects satisfactory attempt to interpret it in direct reference
to the mysteries has been recently made by M. Svoronos *, who
boldly challenges what may be called the orthodox view. He

» Op. cit. p. 342.

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254 CREEK RELIGION- [ch.ip.

maintains that there is no holy infant in the picture at all ; that
the resemblance of the object which Hermes is receiving to
a swaddled bambino is illusory, the part of it that seems like
the outline of a human head being merely due to a flaw on the
surface of the vase. Certainly if this is so, there is nothing in
the rest of the outline of the thing wrapped up in the fawn-skin
to suggest a human or divine baby at all : whether this is so
can only be decided by a minute examination of the vase in
St. Petersburg. But what else savej a new-born child could be
thus presented, as brought up from the earth and sustained in
the arms of the earth-goddess or one of her kind and received
into the hands of Hermes ? Could it be the sacred Upri, as
IM. Svoronos suggestsor insists rather, which before the beginning
of the great mysteries were brought from Eleusis to Athens
under the escort of the ephebi, and which are here represented
as being brought by Eleusis herself from the cavern below the
shrine of Plouton where they were kept throughout the year,
as received by Hermes the tutelary and representative deity
of the ephebi, and as safeguarded by Athena who guarantees
victory if any enemy in the country should disturb the sacred
journey? The other personages are brought into line with this
theory: the pair above on the left are the two goddesses of
Eleusis who watch the Upa depart : the female with the tam-
bourine stands for 'Hxw, personifying the station on the sacred
way to which this name was given : the deities above, whom
every one has hitherto called Zeus and Hera, are really Ascle-
pios and the Demeter of the Eleusinion in the city ; for Ascle-
pios is specially interested in this procession, in so far as the
Upa or sacred relics, after they have been lodged in the city,
will be taken on his day, the Epidauria, from the Athenian
Eleusinion past his temple to Agrai, he himself accompany-
ing ; and M. Svoronos actually finds this unrecorded visit of
Asclepios with the Upi to Agrai on an Attic relief from the
bed of the IHssos* showing Asclepios leading Demeter,
followed by Athena and Nike, who carries the relics in two
little round pots.
This theory is skilful, and in spite of many detailed points

' Eph^ Arch, 1894, n*V. 8 a.

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hi] monuments OF DEMETER 255

which are not likely to command assent, may win general
acceptance, though it does not seem at present to have attracted
much attention ; one of the most important by-issues is the
question about Asclepios, which will be dealt with below*.
But even if M. Svoronos were right in his identification of this
figure, we need not follow him in his theories about the pro-
cession of the Upa from the Asclepieion to Agrai. The
literary record is absolutely silent about all this, and no art-
monument is likely to speak to us so articulately as to fill up
the void in our knowledge left by this silence.

Looking, however, at the main theory and admitting its
allurements, we must bear in mind that part of the substruc-
ture essential to it is a mere hypothesis : for we are nowhere
told that those Upa were kept in an underground vault, or
brought along covered up in a fawn-skin. And if that fawn-
skin which we see in the picture or the small round pots which
we see in the relief really contain them, they must have been
unimpressive and disappointing little objects, and they could
scarcely have included images of the deities, as we saw some
reason to surmise that they did. We may grant that this subject,
the procession of the Up<£, was a legitimate one for art : every
one knew about it and could witness the procession ; it could
be painted without impiety. Yet the painter was treading on
very dangerous ground in dealing with them ; and we might
suppose that he would hardly like to represent them in this
somewhat easy way, covered merely in a fawn-skin that shows
the outlines of them, but that he would be tempted to enshroud
them from the eye more completely, would bury them for
instance in a mystic chest

Therefore the last word has perhaps not yet been uttered
about this interesting Eleusinian monument.

But we seem further off than ever from the discovery of that
holy Eleusinian babe called Brimos or lacchos that is supposed
by some to have been made manifest at the most awful moment
of the mystery.

The last monument that need be questioned here, for it has
been thought to prove and to illustrate the mystic birth at

Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellThe cults of the Greek states → online text (page 25 of 40)