Lewis Richard Farnell.

The higher aspects of Greek religion. Lectures delivered at Oxford and in London in April and May 1911 online

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his individual soul, seeking to establish intimate
personal relations with the goddesses.^ / An elaborate
ritual of purification was prescribed whereby the
candidate was spiritually prepared for this communion.
And it has been supposed that the means of grace
included a form of sacrament, the drinking of the
sacred cup into which the personality of the goddess
might be infused by transubstantiation ; but the
evidence does not allow us to interpret this part of
the ritual with certainty." What is clear is that the
fully initiated were privileged to see holy and mystic
things, and that the revelation of these established
between the individual and the great goddesses of life
and death a close and personal tie, whereby his happi-
ness after death was assured.^ i By the time when these
great mysteries of Eleusis became pan-Hellenic, this
was probably their sole appeal to the peoples outside
Attica — namely, their promise of posthumous salva-
tion ; and the craving for this grew ever stronger in
the Hellenic world from the sixth century till the end
of paganism. The old state-cults of the high deities
possessed neither the power nor the desire to gratify
this : hence chiefly we may explain the long-abiding

1 Except perhaps the Trat? acf> eo-rta?, who may have repre-
sented the youth of the Athenian State. Fide my Cults, vol. iii.
p. l64.

2 Vide Cults, vol. iii. pp. 1 94-1 97.


influence and fascination which attached to the
Eleusinian mysteries down to the Christian period.
A kindred phenomenon is the emergence of the
Orphic brotherhoods, based on certain mystic ele-
ments in the Dionysiac worship that were ultimately
derived from Thrace. These sects were beginning to
make themselves felt as a new force in the sixth
century B.C., and in the fifth and fourth centuries
were perhaps the strongest religious influence in the
Hellenic world. Like the Eleusinia, they strongly
proclaimed the promise of posthumous happiness :
and they were even less fettered than that other
organisation by the old bonds of kinship, tribe, or
status ; for while the privileges of the Eleusinia were
lonof limited to Hellenes, and later were extended
only to Roman citizens] it appears that the Orphic
brotherhoods preached to the whole world, Greek
and barbarian, bond and free. Therefore the renown
is theirs of being the first world-religion bearing a free
message. Their means of grace were a ritual of
purification more elaborate than the Eleusinia and
fixed as a perpetual rule of life, and at times a mystic
sacrament, in which the initiated drank the blood or
devoured the body of his god. The form was savage,
but the act was pregnant of religious consequences.
Also, apart from its ritual, which may have been not
always the same in each locality, the Orphic religion
proclaimed a certain doctrine concerning the origin
of the world and of man. And of this what concerns
us most is the dogma that man is by origin half-
divine and is of the kindred of God ; that even in


this life man can attain temporarily to divine com-
munion, and that in the next world the initiated and
ceremoniously purified soul can after a further period
of purgation enter into fellowship with the deity
for ever.

We have here, then, in developed form a personal
individual religion of strong vitality. Only, looking
to its origin, we cannot regard it as belonging to pure
Hellenism. It might, indeed, with its morbid in-
sistence on ritual-purity, its egoistic craving for
personal salvation, its indifference to social morality,^
be regarded as the natural antagonist of the Hellenic
civic system and civic spirit ; and to have hastened
the decay of the old society. Plato may for this
reason among others have regarded it as dangerous.
But we must not exaggerate its influence or preva-
lence, of which we have no trustworthy statistics. It
set the fashion, indeed, for the formation of private
religious societies, which became ever more numerous
in the third and second centuries B.C. ; but though
many of these were devoted to alien deities, we find
many others consecrated to the traditional powers of
Hellas.^ They must not, therefore, generally be
regarded as hostile to the old pantheon ; but they all
indicate a change in the religious temper, a craving

1 One effort towards the moral reform of society was attributed
to Pythagoras and his disciples, but only by the late witness
lamblichus, who describes how the philosopher preached against
the sexual licence prevailing at Kroton and persuaded the men of
this city to be more faithful to their wives : De Fit. Pythag., 132.

2 Foucart, Associations Religieuses, pp. 108-109, tends to ignore


for a more personal, more individual, relation with
God. How far these free religious brotherhoods and
mystic societies directed the conduct and morality of
the members, is a question which there is no sufficient
evidence to answer definitely. We may dismiss, at
least, the occasional charges of immorality. A priori
we should suppose that where the deities were con-
ceived as righteous, merciful, and pure, as on the
whole was the case at Eleusis, the quickened and
intensified sense of fellowship between them and the
initiated would give some stimulus to a higher stan-
dard of conduct henceforth ; and there is some slight
evidence that foul action on the part of one who had
passed through the Eleusinia was considered as
specially scandalous.^ But the voice of antiquity is
generally silent concerning any claim of the Mystai
to possess a higher morality ; with the exception of a
single passage in Diodorus Siculus '^ maintaining that
those who had been initiated into the mysteries of
Samothrace became generally more righteous than
they had been before. But these rites were un-
Hellenic, or, at the best, only half-Hellenised.

Whatever view we take on this ethical question,
we must recognise that the increased tension of
religious energy and consciousness in the individual
is an important phenomenon in his mental history
and in the history of society, apart from its ethical

One result of this deeper sense of nearness to the
unseen powers is that religion becomes more inward,

1 Fide my Cults, vol. iii. p. 191. ^ 5, 49.


more concerned with the personal spirit of man than
with the external and mechanical acts of ritual
performed by the groups of worshippers. And this
change in its centre of interest can be traced in the
literature down from an early period.

One utterance often delivered by spiritual religion
is that man's good consists not in external prosperity
but in a certain inner condition of soul : the earliest
example of this idea in Greek literature is a fragment
of Hesiod,^ belonging to the poetical contest between
himself and Homer, in which the latter poet is asked,
" What of all things is the best to pray the gods for ? "
and answers, ** One should pray that one may be law-
abiding in one's soul for ever." Here is the germ of
a spiritual ethic developed by Plato, Socrates, and
the later thinkers.^

r The religious stress thus laid upon the soul evoked
much new spiritual thought of great import for our
mental history. In the higher religious theory the
idea becomes dominant that God sees the heart of
man and judges us by our thoughts and intentions as

i_ well as by our outer actions ; it receives its first
expression, so far as our record goes, in Pittakos and
Thales, for to both is attributed the same answer to
the question : " Are the gods cognisant of every sin

1 Ho7)i. el Hes. Certain., fr. 158 Rzach.
. - Cf. the prayer of Socrates, Plat., Phcedr., 279 B : Sot'i^re /xot KaXw
/ yevecrOai ravSoOev, and the sentiment attributed to Bias of Priene,
" Despise all those things that you will not need when you are
released from the body, but those things that you will need then,
discipline yourself to attain and invoke the gods to help you"
\ (Stoba?., Flor.j E. 30); vide my Evohdion of Religion, pp. 204-205.


that a man commits ? " " Yes, and of every evil

And in the fifth century this momentous idea was
secured for the popular religion through the medium
of the Delphic oracle : Herodotus '^ recounts how a
certain man, Glaukos of Sparta, with whom a large
sum of money had been deposited on trust, came to
consult the god with the audacious question whether
he might break his trust and purloin the money
without danger to himself. The prompt denuncia-
tions of the oracle reduced him to fear and repentance;
but in answer to his prayers for forgiveness, the
Pythoness sternly proclaimed that God judges us
by our thoughts, and that to tempt God even in
thought was as heinous a sin as the act which he had

To the same range of thought belongs the view
that man's soul was the more divine part of his nature,
also that the 'godhead was not so much a corporeal
personality, such as the popular religion imagined it,
as a spirit or a soul-power, the pov<; or the \ljv)(y] of the
universe.^ This conception of the deity could only
prevail in philosophic circles ; but Euripides, the poet
of all others who loved to play irresponsibly with the
current philosophy of his age, and possessed the gift
to find the memorable phrase, did his best to intro-
duce it to the people : in more than one passage he

1 Attributed to Pittakos, Diog. Laert.^ 1. 76; to Thales, id., 1.
§ 35. 2 6^ 86.

2 Thales is the earliest thinker to whom this view is attributed :
0aXr}s vovv tou Koafxav Otov Acyci, Plut.^ 881 E; cj. Arist., p. 411.


suggests not only that God may be Mind, but that
He may be identical with the mind of man — " The
mind in each one of us is God" is a fragmentary
utterance attributed to Euripides, or with less authority
to Menander.^ But a genuine and most characteristic
sentence is found in the former poet's Troades : " Oh,
thou that stayest the earth and hast thy firm throne
thereon, whosoe'er thou art, unfathomable to human
knowledge, whether thou art Zeus, or the necessity
of nature, or the mind of man, to thee I raise my
voice ! " ^ It is also noteworthy that a popular lyrist,
Melanippides, before the age of Euripides, expressed
the concept of God as an eternal spirit : " Hear me,
Father, O ! Mystery of our life, Lord of the ever-
living soul."^

Now, an inevitable corollary of this theologic
concept and this view of man's nature is that the
individual can enjoy direct communion with God,
not merely or necessarily through the ritual of sacra-
ment or magic means, but through inward sympathy
of spirit ; and the attainment of this unity with the
divinity, or the closest possible approximation to him,
begins to be held out by the leading ethical thinkers
as the ideal of a virtuous hfe ; and here we find
morality striving towards the same end as that which
the Greek mysteries professed to attain by other
means. In our record we should give precedence to
a sentiment of Charondas, the legislator of Katana
of the sixth century — if we could regard anything that

1 Vide Dind., Frag., 1007. ^ Troades, 884.

3 Clem. Alex., Strom., p. 71 6.


is attributed to him as authentic : " No unjust man ^
can have communion with God."^ A more definite 1
and more pregnant saying was attributed to Pytha-
goras, and might be rightfully claimed at least by the
Pythagorean school." To the question, " By what kind
of action do men most resemble the gods ? " he is
said to have responded, " By attaining to truth." He
is probably not alluding to simple truthfulness in our
ordinary statements, but to the possession of the
highest truths of thought and philosophy whereby we
become most like to the divine nature. For it was
as characteristic of the Greek genius to lay stress on
the intellectual, as it was for the Hebraic to lay stress
on the moral attributes of the godhead. The same
idea as that attributed to Pythagoras presents itself
frequently in the higher metaphysic of Plato, and is
accepted by the more secular Aristotle, who places
2o(/>La or metaphysical truth as the highest goal of
human effort, as the crown of all virtue, because it
brings men into nearest likeness to God. Here, as
so often, we find Greek philosophy developing on
lines that are distantly parallel to certain develop-
ments of Greek popular religion, for this, too, as has
been shown, possessed a natural sympathy with much
of the intellectual life of man.

But also moral action and the moral life were
sometimes supposed by the leading ethical teachers
to enable man to achieve divine communion. In the
Thecetetus Plato declares that the man who is most

1 Stobac., 44. 40; Meineke, vol. ii. p. 180.

2 Stobae., 11. 25; Mein., i. p. 252.



just bears the nearest likeness to God/ and again in
the Laws,^ in a passage where he emphasises the
divine nature of the soul, he proclaims immorality to
be a dishonour done to the essence of the soul.

This quickened sensitiveness of the religious
consciousness, and this belief in the attainment of
divine communion through purely spiritual methods,
were certain to engender in the more enlightened
natures a higher theory concerning prayer, sacrifice,
purification, and all external ritual. And on all these
topics Greek religious philosophy has left us some
memorable utterances and teaching. It represented
true prayer as an inward communion with the
divinity,^ rather than as a petition for external bless-
ings ; true sacrifice as the "widow's mite,"* or the
sacrifice of the righteous heart ;^ true purification,
not as the ceremonious washing of hands, but as the
inward cleansing of the soul. Already, in the earlier
part of the fifth century, Epicharmes had declared :
" Thou art pure in thy whole body if thou art pure in
soul," ^ and spiritual purity becomes regarded at last
as a positive state of blessedness. At the beginning

1 176 h. 2 727.

3 Maximus Tyrius, Dissert., 11; cf. Porphyry ap. Proclum, In
Thn., 2. 64 B ; 2. 65 ; Sallustius, De Diis et Mundo, c. l6.

4 The Antholog7iomicum of Orion (Stobaeus, Meineke, iv. p. 264)
contains a quotation from a lost play of Euripides — cu la-ff orav rts
€V(T€fSwv Ovrj Oeo2<s kolv ixiKpa Ovrj Ti;yxav€t (Twrrypta? (^' Know well that
when one sacrifices to the gods in piety, one wins salvation though
the sacrifice be little ").

5 Ova-La Twv Oewv yvoifxr] ayaOrj, Sacra Parall., Tit., ix. p. 640 ; cf.
Aristides, i. p. 753 (Dindorf).

6 Clem. Alex., Stro77i., p. 844.


of the Aureum Carmen of Hierokles, a product of
the later Pythagoreanism, we read that " God has
no fairer temple on earth than the pure soul."

As personal religion grew in intensity, the spirit of
individualism grew also, and the old religion of kin-
ship and tribe, and the morality of kin and status,
must have waned in proportionate degree. In this
there was some gain and some loss. Plato, the chief
organ of the more profound religious spirit, himself
preached, as we have seen, the social morality of the
Greek city-state ; but philosophic thought in other
circles inclined men to the celibate life ; and Euripides,
whom later individualism might claim as its apostle,
not infrequently comments querulously on the dis-
advantages of the married state ; and his cry of weak-
ness — t^tfkoj S' dya/xov9 areKvov^ re j^porojv^ — is echoed
in the younger comedy. To the same trend of thought
belongs the nobler sentiment that a good man does
not wholly depend on his " polls " for his happiness ;
Demokritos may have been the first to have given
voice to this idea : " Of a virtuous soul the whole
universe is the fatherland,"^ but none could have
ever expressed it more beautifully than Euripides :
" The whole expanse of air is open to the eagle's
flight, and every land is native soil to the noble man," ^
though when he chose he could as well champion the
narrower traditional view.

The new spirit may have helped to spread a

1 Ak. 882.

2 Stob., FLoriL, 40. ^ 7 (Meineke, vol. ii. p. 65).

3 Id., 40. § 9 (Mein., ii. p. 71).


different theory concerning slavery ; for while Aris-
totle was guilty of the view that certain barbarian
races were " by nature " designed to be enslaved to
the Hellene, the last part of the doctrine of the
American Revolution that " all men are born free and
equal " begins to be heard in the fourth century b.c. ;
a fragment of the poet Philemon, of the younger Attic
comedy, expresses the new dogma that " no one is by
nature born a slave." ^

It would be impossible within the limits of this
short sketch to trace in detail the workings of this new
spirit in the special parts of the moral domain. But
we may note in passing that while it tended to break
down the old barriers, it does not seem to have suc-
ceeded in substituting for the narrow system of civic
duties the clear ideal of humanitarian philanthropy :
nor did any Greek pre-Christian school proclaim the
general duty of active benevolence or philanthropic

Its great gain was the broadening of the religious
horizon. We seem to breathe an ampler air, and to
recognise in later Hellenism, before the clouds of
mystic theosophy troubled the sky, the main features
of our modern spiritual world.

It remains a question of difficulty how far the
humanitarian spirit of philosophic speculations on
religion and ethics influenced the mass of the people

1 Frag. 39, Meineke-Bothe., p. 771.

2 The nearest approach to such a moral idea is perhaps found in
ApoUonius of Tyana, Ep. 392, Philostrati Opera, Kayser, 1. p. 351
(" one gratifies the gods not by sacrifice, but by achieving wisdom
and by doing all the good in one's power to deserving men ").


and the popular worship and cult-ideas. Certainly
it was not confined to the narrow academic society
of the schools : it could touch the people through
Euripides and after him chiefly through Menander,
who used the new comedy as a vehicle for the ex-
pression of much that belongs to a high personal
religion — we are arrested by such lines as, " The
mind's light is to fix its gaze ever on God"^ — and
of moral judgments that occasionally anticipate the
teaching of the New Testament.

The forms of the old cults and the divine person-
alities maintain themselves with little change for
many centuries. But the new humanitarian religious
spirit was potent among the causes that led to the
extinction of Hellenic polytheism ; the people turned
with eagerness and devotion to new divinities such
as Asklepios, Cybele and Attis, and Isis, for these
came to them not as the deities of any family, or
tribe, or city, but as world-powers appealing to man-
kind and to the individual. On the other hand,
Demeter and Kore, the mother and daughter of
Eleusis, retained much of their power until the con-
quest of Christianity only because they, alone of the
Olympians, had early broken the bonds of clan and
caste and had invited the civilised world to their

Therefore as the old-world system of the free city-
state, that genial family-union of kinsmen, slowly
perished, the gods of kinship that had grown up with

^ ^(U9 icTTL TO) vw Trpos 0€6v ^Kimiv dci, Meiiiek., vol. iv. p. 356 ;

TvwfxaL MoVOCTTLXOt, 589.


it perished with the social fabric that was partly their
own creation. Apollo and Athena were too much
citizens to adapt themselves to the new order. But
we who believe that the world's culture owes an
immeasurable debt to the ancient Polls, should now
recognise that part of that debt on our rich inherit-
ance of art, morality, and thought is due to that
political religion.


P. 21. For the aboriginal character of Zeus vide Mr Cook's
articles in the Classical Review, 1903 and onwards, on " Zeus
Jupiter and the Oak.'"'

P. 24. The question of the existence of a matrilinear society
in prehistoric Greece has been critically considered in a paper
" On the Alleged Evidence for Mother-Right in Early Greece,"
by Mr H. J. Rose, in Folklore, September 1911.

P. 30, n. 4. For this curious marriage-custom vide Mr
Halliday's article in Annual of the British School, 1909-1910,
p. 215, "Note on Herodotos vi. 83 and the Hybristika."

P. 31, 1. 10. The important words are found on the second
column of the payprus. e/c tovtov 8e 6 vo/ulo^ iyevero koi
Oeoio'i KOI avOpooTTOKTi, ih., p. 5.

P. 36, 1. 1-2. " TO S' OLpa-ev 'iaTm ev So/uloi^ ael yevo<i Oewv
Trarpwcou koi tol^cov Tijuaopov.^^

P. 36, 1. 16. " XP^ ''"^^ aeiyevov^ (pvcreco^ avTexeaOai tw
iralSaq TralScov KaraXeiTrovTa ael rco Oeci) virr}p6Ta<i avO' avrov

P. 41, 1. 2. " aSiK€i yeveOXlwg Oecog, olkw kol (Tvyyevela ov
ypao-iwg eiriKOvpcog aWa voOcog irapexoixeva' aSiKcI Se rwg (pvcrei
Oewg ovcnrep iiro/uioa-aa-a ixera twv avrdg iraTepwv re Ka\ o-vyyevwv
(TuveXevcrea'Oal eTr^ koivcjovlci jS/co koi tckvcov yeveaei ra Kara


P. 46, 1. 23. " arvyyeveiav Se kgi ojULoyuicov Oecoi/ KOLvwviav
oLTraa'av ravTOv cpvcriv aijuiaTog exovcrav riiuwv rig koi crePo^evo^i
evvovg av yeveOXlovg Oeof? eig iralSoov avrov airopuv laxoi- '

P. 47, 1. 5. " TOi'9 apco Oeovg (poBeia-Ocoi', oi rcop 6p(pai'(Joi/ rrjg
eprjjuiLag alaQyiareLfi exovcri, Ka] ra irepl ravra o^v juev ukovovctl,
[iXeirovcrl re o^v, roh Se irep\ avra SiKaloiii eu/xe^ei"? eial, vejULecruxrl




lULoXia-ra au roig ei? 6p(pava kol eprjixa vPpl^ovan, irapaKara-
OriKriv etvai lULeyla-Trjv y]yovp.evoL kol lepwrarriv.''

P. 49, ]. 24. Stobseus, Florileg. (Meineke, iii. p. 74) : a/ixl3\L<TK€iv
a-n-elirov rah yui^aFft .... ttw? 6' ovxi kol elg rovg Trarpwovg
Oeovg e^aixapTavoLjjLev av kol h tov ofxoyvLOv A/a ra roLavra
-TrpaTTOvreg. In an article in the Archivfilr Religions gesMchte,
906, p. 312, on " "AwpoL BiaioOdvaroi,'''' M. Salomon Reinach
traces the idea of the immorality of abortion to Orphism ; the
evidence is indirect and somewhat frail; vide Archiv, 1909,
p. 224, where Dr Sam Wide criticises his theory.

P. 57, 1. 3. Fragment of comedy by Alexis : to?? yap opOaxi
eiSoa-i TO, Oeia /mei^ov nJir]Tp6g ovk ecmv irore.

P. 57, 1. 29. There is no reasonableness in the view that the
late cult-record of Zeus-Agamemnon proves that Agamemnon
was originally Zeus; vide Lykophron, Cassandra, 1122, and
Schol. Lykophr., 1369.

P. 79, 1. 8. " ocTTig ^o/Seirai top irarepa Kaa-xuperai ovrog

TToX/r^y? ayaOog earrai Kara \6yov, kol rovg TroXe/x/oiy? Svva.p.evog

^ - in

KaKcog iroieLv-

P. 82, n. 2. Frag. 514 : eyuo p-ev ovv ovk otS' oirwg cTKOirelv
Xpecov I rrjp evyeveiav' Tovg yap avSpeiovg (pvdiv \ Ka\ rovg
SiKalovg Twv kcvwp So^aa-juLarwv, \ kolv mo-l Sov\a)v, evyevecrrepovg
Xeyo). Frag. 515 : SovXov yap ecrOXov rovvop,' ov Sia(pO€p€ii
TToWol S'' apLeivovg etVf rwv eXevOepwv.

P. 96, 1. 16. De Fals. Legat., 115: fXijSeiuLav iroXtv rwv
'AjUL^iKTvoviSwv avda-raTOV Troiweiv mS' vSdrwv vap.aTiaiwv
eip^eiv p.y]T ev iroXejuLO) /uLr'jr ev eip-i'jvih edv Se rig ravra Trapaprj,
(TTpareva-eLV evrf toutov Ka\ rag iroXeig avaa-Ti'](jeiv.

P. 99, 1. 20. The accuser and the accused before the court
of the Areopagos must take the oath a-rdg eir\ rcov Top.Lwv
Kdirpov Ka\ Kpiov Ka\ ravpov, " standing on the severed limbs of
a boar, a ram, and a bull,'' thus putting himself into communion
with the divinity to whom these had been sacrificed and whose
spirit was in them.

P. 102, 1. 2. " o? iJiev TalSicrerai Kovpag Atog aacrov lovcrag
TOV Se jULey' covrjaav Kal t €k\vov cuxop-evoio'
og Si K dvi]vt]Tai Kal re crTepewg aTToetTr?/,
Xicra-ovTai S' apa Tal ye A/a Kpovioova Kiova-ai
Tw "kTt]v oifx eTrea-Oai, %a ^Xa(j)6elg aTroTia-iJ.'''


P. 104, 1. 19. ^' (plXiog Se KOi 'ErazpeFo? (Zevg eTrovojuLa^eraL),
on iravra'i avOpcoTrovg avvayei Kai ^ovXeraL (piXovg elvai

P. 108, n. 1. " ert imeyag ovpavw

Zey?, 09 e(popa iravra KaL Kparvvei.
ch Tov VTrepriXyrj x^Xov vejuovaa
IUL}]0' oh exOalpoiq virepaxOeo iJ.rjT eiriXdOov.''''
P. 109, 1. 21. " aXX' ecrri yap Kal 7ii]v\ orvvOaKO^ Opovcov

AiStog e-Tr' epyoig iraarL^ Kai tt/oo? crol, Trarep,
P. 142, n. 2. (Stobaeus' quotation from Bias.) '^Qi/ tou
crcojULaTO^ OLTraXXaye'ig ov Se})(Tr], eKeivwv Kara^povei iravrwv' Kai
tov ciTraXXayeh ^^Wlh "^po^ Tavra ctol aa-KovjuevM tou^ 6eov9

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Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellThe higher aspects of Greek religion. Lectures delivered at Oxford and in London in April and May 1911 → online text (page 10 of 11)