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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Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellThe higher aspects of Greek religion. Lectures delivered at Oxford and in London in April and May 1911 → online text (page 4 of 11)
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which is being infringed, thus establishing a com-

1 Vide Wissowa, Religion und Kultiis der Rbiner, p. 187 ; Plutarch,
Fit. Rom., 22.


munion of sentiment between himself and the god.
It is this that gives to many of the Greek divine
titles their singular force, and to the study of them
its importance for the comprehension of the inner
religious feeling. Thus, we can understand a strange
phrase in the Chocphoroi of J^^schylus,^ where Orestes
appeals to Zeus against the murderers of his father :
" When will Zeus ' Amphithales ' bring down his
hand and rive their heads ? " '' Amphithales " is only
used in Attic Greek for the child who has both
parents alive. Zeus protects the rights of such
children, and to mark his sympathetic relation to
them is himself called " Amphithales," and it is by
this title that he will be invoked to avenge the child
whose father has been wrongfully slain. ^

The popular ethic of Greece, of which the Attic
tragedians, comedians, and orators are at times the
true exponents, followed closely the leading of Greek
religion in respect of its theory of family duty. The
commandment, " Honour thy father and thy mother,"
was as strongly maintained in Hellas as in Israel.
According to Xenokrates, certain laws, supposed to
have been promulgated by the agrarian hero Trip-
tolemos, were proclaimed in his own time at Eleusis,
such as " to honour one's parents, to make to the
deities an acceptable offering of fruits, not to injure
animals."^ Another echo of the religious ethic of
the earlier periods of Greek society is preserved

1 1. 394-S96.

2 Vide my article in the Classical Quarterly, 19^0, p. 186.

3 Vide Cults, iii. 1 89.


by Pindar, who narrates how Cheiron, the good
centaur and trainer of heroes, gave such counsel to
Achilles when he was leaving his father as, " Honour
first of all Zeus, the lord of the loud-voiced thunder,
and never amerce thy parents throughout their
destined life of the honour due."^ As for the higher
ethic of the philosophic schools, its affinity or affilia-
tion to the religion is a question of much labour and
complexity, which I have only space to consider
summarily and partially in regard to certain moral
particulars. Plato, the most religious of the great
philosophers, while indebted to Orphism for part of
his ethical and psychical system, is inspired by the
higher ideas of the contemporary polytheism in some
of his moral reflections, especially in regard to his
theory of family duties. This is most prominent in
his Laws, the dullest and worst written of all his
treatises, but perhaps the most valuable for the
reflection it gives of the moral and religious world
of his time. One or two passages may be selected
from this work that are of interest for the present
topic. In the fifth book he asserts his conviction
that *' he who honours and reveres the tie of kinship
and the whole fellowship of the deities of kinship
which is engendered by community of blood, will be
likely to have the birth-gods propitious for the rear-
ing of his own family." The Oeol oixoyvioi and the
deol TeveOXiOL mentioned here, and the moral ideas
that they stand for, are drawn directly from the
religion of the people, and they are here made the

1 Pi^dh., 6. 22.


basis for a sermon on the text, " Maxima debetur
pueris reverentia." ^ In the eleventh book he discusses
the duties of the State towards orphans, and the
moral reflections have again a marked religious colour : ^
" Let them fear the gods above, who are quick to
regard the loneliness of the orphan . . . and are
kindly to those who deal justly by them, but full of
indignation against those who outrage the orphan and
the desolate, for the gods regard the orphan as the
greatest and holiest of trusts." The passage expresses
not only the philosopher's individual belief, but also
the deep popular sentiment of pity for children which
had its roots in the family religion. It is to be noted
that at Athens orphans were under the special care of
"the archon." We can estimate the moral advance
made by the later period, when we remember the
words that Homer puts into the mouth of Andro-
mache concerning the hardships and insults that
the orphan who has lost his father must expect to

1 p. 729 C. 2 p. 927 A. 3 11^ 22. 495-500.



The duty of children to parents is that part of
family morality which was most emphasised in the
ancient communities, and at Athens certain cases of
the neglect of it were punishable by law ; according
to Xenophon,^ by exclusion from office on the
religious ground that a man who was guilty could
not righteously perform the sacrifices on the city's
behalf. And Plato, following again the lines of
actual contemporary law and religion, gives to this
duty an exalted place in his ethical-religious system.
A striking passage in the Laws,^ too long to quote,
may be briefly summarised : Neither God nor man
could countenance neglect of parents ; the aged
parent in the house should be regarded as of more
honour and power than the statue of the divinity ; the
curse of the parent is more powerful than any other
to win the hearing of the gods, so also is the blessing
which he invokes on his children ; and God himself

1 Mernor., 2. The legal duty towards one's yoi/et? was extended
even to the nurse and her mother and father, the term yovels being
applied to them also ; cf. Isaios, Or., 8, § 32.

2 p. 930 E-932 A.



rejoices in the honour that the children show the
father or mother or father's father.

The fifth-century hterature generally is eloquent
on the same theme. Xenophon, in the chapter from
which the above citation is drawn, makes Socrates
treat ingratitude to the mother as a religious offence.
Euripides, in the Herahleidai^ declares that he who
reverences his parents is " dear to the gods both in
life and after death " ; the latter part of the phrase
may allude to the doctrine of posthumous rewards
and punishments which was specially invoked by
the later Orphic and Pythagorean writers as a sanction
for this particular duty, or it may possibly refer to
the belief in reunion after death with the ancestral
spirits of the family, the same belief which helps to
inspire Antigone with fortitude to face death for her
brother's sake.

Many of the passages collected by Stobfpus in his
Florilegmm on this particular moral point are culled
from the later Pythagorean literature, and it is in-
teresting to see how closely they follow the leading
of Plato and the traditions of old Hellenic religion ;
and this is the case even when we should least expect
it, namely, when Musonius, contributing a new moral
idea to the world, protests against the prevalent
custom of limiting the number of children, by ex-
posure of infants or by procuring abortion or by other
artificial methods such as were sanctioned by Plato
and Aristotle ; his protest is based, not as we might

1 The verses are quoted by Stobaeus, Florileg., 78. 2 (Meineke,
iii. 81), as from the Herakleidai, but they do not occur in our text.



expect on any Orphic ideal of purity or of the sacred-
ness of all life, but on the ground that such actions
injure the State and are therefore a wrong to a man's
own clan and a sin against his family-gods and Zeus
the god of kinship ; still, as in earlier times, the
appeal is heard to the deol TrarpcooL and Zeus 'O/xdyi^to?.
Christianity adopted this moral protest ; but, having
at first little sympathy with the point of view of the
old political religion, based it on religious grounds
that were wholly different.

Finally Plutarch, a man of varied religious lore
and experienced in many alien creeds and systems,
remained true to much of the tradition of the old
civic religion of Hellas and expresses on this point
the old Hellenic teaching : " Those who have fellow-
ship with us in Zeus 'O/x-dyz^co? are they whom we
invite to our weddings and birthday feasts " ; and
again, "Zeus TevdOXio^; executes the parent's curse." ^

The last citation is an illustration from the end of
paganism of that doctrine which was strongly alive
in the Homeric period, which retained its hold on
the later centuries, and to which many passages in
Greek tragedy and the striking passage quoted above
from Plato's Laws bear witness, namely, that the
parent's right derives much of its religious sanction
from the parent's curse. Questions of the ultimate
origin of religious and moral concepts do not directly
concern the present inquiry ; but here a problem of
origin may be touched upon, for we have reason to
beUeve that the belief in a mystic power attaching to

1 P. 679 D. Qiicest Cojiviv., 5. 5 ; p. 766 C. Amator.


the curse has played a considerable part in the
shaping of some morality and law, and was part of
the source of the sanctity that attached to the
parent's claim. The primary basis of the parent's
authority was no doubt secular, human, " natural "
as we say ; but we know that in many societies it has
been aided by religion. We are interested to dis-
cover how in early Hellenic society it came to attract
this strong religious sentiment. Did this come to
pass through the influence of the immemorial rever-
ence for Zeus the father, radiating upon the relations
of the human family, so that the father might appear
to the children as a human Zeus ? This is vague and
fanciful, and we may find more precise causes at
work. The father might acquire sacrosanct auth-
ority in more than one way. As the family priest
he officiated at the altar of Zeus 'E/o/ceto?, and, as
those who are in closest rappoi^t with an altar ac-
quire religious prestige and virtue, therefore a certain
afflatus from Zeus could penetrate the father ; also,
if injured, he could appeal to the family god by the
sympathetic and spell-name of " the father," a name
by which he could establish religious contact between
himself and Zeus Ylarrjp or Darpwo?. But, what was
of most avail, he possessed in the highest degree the
terrible power of the curse. Now, in its earliest form
the curse belongs to magic rather than to religion —
that is, it may exercise its blighting effect automa-
tically without the aid of a personal god or spirit.^

1 Gidipus, in the (Ed. Colon, of Sophocles, 1. 1375, appeals to his
former curses to come to his aid as a-vfxfxaxoL.


And it appears to have retained something of this
automatic power in the imagination of the Greek
communities, who, however, were obhged to associate
it exphcitly or impUcitly with their behef in gods.^
It differs from pure prayer, in so far as the curse is
an ebulhtion of personal destructive will-power,
which, when directed upon a divinity, might be
imagined to constrain him against his will, or at
least to arouse his reluctant and sleeping power.
Shakespeare's words about curses —

" 1 will not think but they ascend the sky,
And there awake God's gentle-sleeping peace " ^ —

contain a thought that was deadly earnest for the
old world. Only, the Hellenic mind in the time of
Homer, and generally in the later period, imagined
them rather as descending into the earth and
awakening the Earth-powers — the nether Zeus, Per-
sephone, and the Erinyes — who are in some degree
the embodiments of the curse ; for this reason Althaia
in Homer's story smites on the ground with her
hands when she wishes to arouse the curse-powers
against her son. Now, it was natural to suppose that
the elder had the stronger potency for cursing,
because generally he would have the stronger
" virtue " or will-force ; hence we see the psychologic
basis of Homer's pregnant phrase, '' The Erinyes ever
follow the lead of the elder-born,"^ and in pro-
portion as the elder is set in authority, he acquires

1 The fact that in the commination formulae of Teos no deity is
directly mentioned is no reason for supposing that none were
present in the mind of the cursers ; vide supra, p. 7.

2 Richard the Third, Act i. Sc. iii. ^ //., 15. 204.


more " virtue " — what anthropology now calls *' mana "
— and more power to curse.

We see, then, that the curse is a non-moral agency,
just as the blessing of Isaac is a non-moral automatic
force. And it only comes into the higher view of
Cxreek religion because it undoubtedly helped to
establish the sanctity of the parent, from which the
domestic morality drew its nourishment. The curse
might indeed be a real hindrance to morality ; and
in some of the old Greek legends its activity may be
called immoral, as were the curses on CEdipus, on
the sons of CEdipus, and on Hippolytos, however
much Greek tragedy might try to moralise them.^
Higher religion, in fact, cannot by any shift find per-
manent place for the curse ; but early society could
make gpod use of it for its law and ethics. At last
the parent's curse might be more or less moralised,
and the higher moral sense could be reconciled to
its power by the conviction that no natural parent
would exercise it without grave cause. The whole
commination system would gain in righteousness by
transference from the nether deities to the divinities of
heaven ; and, occasionally, in regard to certain particu-
lars this transference may have been attempted by the
Greek imagination, and the righteous curse of the
parents was taken up and executed by Plutarch's Zeus
TevedkLos or Plato's high God. Yet the curse could
never divest itself of the shadow of the infernal world,
and modern society is inclined to leave it there.

1 In the Euripidean legend, Poseidon was oblioed to fulfil the
curse on Hippolytos, though he must have known his innocence.


Finally, we may trace the influence of this domestic
religion in one other institution of the old Greek
society, the institution of slavery. Throughout
the periods of its history, from the Homeric down-
ward, we are struck with the comparatively kind
treatment, often cordial and affectionate, which was
meted out to the slave ; and Hellenic households
were in this respect honourably distinguished from
the Roman. In the Homeric world the slave had
indeed no rights, and might be casually killed by his
master or mistress. But in Athens, by the fifth
century, and probably in other states of Greece, the
life and even the honour of the slave were safeguarded
to some extent by law.^ The affectionate tempera-
ment and warm susceptibilities of the Hellene must
be reckoned with as causes here, but it is fairly
certain that religion also did good work in this

When the terrors and the power of the ghost- world
had come to perturb the Greek imagination, as they
did in the post- Homeric period, it was natural to
believe that even a murdered slave might give rise to
a vengeful and dangerous ghost, and this would give
the whole community a motive for protecting his life
by law ; this surmise is strengthened by the clear
evidence that purification from bloodshed was en-
joined upon the slayer of a slave, for the fear of
ghosts is deeply involved in these purifications.^ At

1 Eur., Hec, 291 ; Isocr., Or., 18. 52 {cf. Schol. ^schin., 2. 87),
the slayer of a slave tried in the court em IXaAXaStu).

2 Cf, Antiph., 6. 87 ; Plat., Laivs, 865, c. d.


all events, we may believe that the domestic religion
of the household did much to ameliorate his lot ; for
we know that he shared in the domestic rites, stand-
ing with the other members of the family round
the altar of Zeus and partaking of the lustral water
with them.^ Thus, he was included within the area
of the influence of Zeus 'E/j/celo?,'^ and a certain vague
religious sense would withhold the average house-
holder from brutal maltreatment of him ; and at the
worst he had, like any stranger, a refuge at the altar
of Zeus 'I/ceo-to?, the suppliant god.^ The Homeric
slave, such as the pious Eumaios, performs certain
family rites in the absence of his master. And later
we find that the slave as a member of the family
could frequent most of the pubhc temples, except a
few that were specially closed to him ; certain others
were even the exclusive privilege of slaves, when they
enshrined cults that were taken over from a con-
quered population. We have fairly clear evidence
that at Athens a Hellenic slave could even be initi-
ated into the Eleusinian mysteries ; for a fragment
of a comic poet contains the words of a slave who
remembers with gratitude his master's kindnesses
towards him : '• Who taught me my letters and got
me initiated into the sacred mysteries." *

1 .Esch., Ag., 1037.

2 It is noted by Isaios, Or., 8, § l6, as an example of extreme
punctiliousness, that a certain householder did not admit his slaves
to the worship of Zeus Kri^crtos.

3 As Euripides says : " The beast of the wild has the rock for
his refuge, the slave has the altars of the gods," Supp!., 267.

^ Meineke, Fras. Comic. Grcec, vol. iii. p. 626.


Under the later empire a kindlier sentiment
towards slaves might be inculcated by a world-
religion that proclaimed the idea of human brother-
hood. In the older civic societies, so far as religion
could ameliorate his lot, it was rather the narrow
religion of the family or the circle of kindred into
which he was admitted as a humble dependant.
But at one important point the religion of the State
came to his aid, in assisting him to procure his own
manumission. The slave who had saved his own
price out of his allowance — and this was often
possible — could lodge that sum in the temple of the
chief god ; the priests would use that money to
purchase him from his master or mistress in the god's
name ; the god would then set him free and guar-
antee his freedom henceforth.^ This does not mean
that the religion proclaimed any ideal of human
liberty ; the process, which was very common at
Delphi, is merely an example of an ingenious applica-
tion of the mechanism of ritual and temple-law.

The records and citations given above are suffi-
cient for illustration of the closeness with which the
family-cults were interlaced with the family morality
in the old Hellenic societies. But all the records
are inadequate to express the depth and intensity of
that family sentiment which these cults helped to
engender, and of which the system of family duties
was an outcome. Probably no people has ever felt
with greater fervour the sacredness of the bond be-
tween brother and sister, parent and child, the rever-

^ Fide my Cults, iv. 177-179.


ence due to the mother no less than to the father.
A poet of the early fourth century wrote : " For
those who have true knowledge of things divine, there
is nothing greater than the mother " ; ^ the problem
of the Antigone, a tragedy unique in the world's
literature, is based on the duty of sister to brother
and on the cult of Zeus the kinsman.

A full account of my present theme would demand
some notice of the practices and rites connected with
the cult or tendance of the ancestral spirit or de-
parted member of the family, and the influence of
these on household morality and sentiment as well
as on higher religion. But this question demands
a separate treatise. Those who study the facts with
care will probably be inclined to rate that influence
highly. They may arrive at the conviction that the
meal round the family tomb, where the kinsmen join
in fellowship with each other and with the dead, was
one of the strongest religious bonds of family union ;
also *' that the feeling of the divinity of ancestors
quickened and intensified the feeling of the ancestral-
paternal character of the high god." ^ Zeus himself
becomes narpwos in the literal sense of '' the divine
ancestor " ; or the human ancestor is merged in the
high god, as we hear of Zeus- Agamemnon, Poseidon-

The vitality of this religion of the family, assailed
as it was by the later ethics and philosophy of in-
dividualism, remained till the extinction of paganism ;

^ Stob., Florileg., 79. 13.

- Hibberl Jour?i., I909, p. 428.


and its moral tradition survived that extinction both
in the Greek and Roman world, and has become a
heritage for modern civilisation which will be main-
tained or discarded according to our destiny.

It remains to survey the higher manifestations of
this religion of kindred in the wider organisations
of "gens," tribe, and city.

Of most Greek communities it is true to say that
the city was regarded as a corporation arising from
an aggregation of tribes, that the tribes contained
narrower subdivisions into clans, and that the family
was a unit of the clan. The ordinary classical student
is familiar with the classification into tribes, phratries,
or subdivisions of the tribes, yivr^, or the clans whose
grouping constitutes a phratry. The many complex
historical and constitutional questions that arise about
these social arrangements do not concern us here, or
they only interest us because we find that religion
played the same integrating and consecrating part in
respect of these as we have seen it play in regard to the
smaller organism of the family. Again, we find that
in these wider, as in the narrower, circles, the religious
bond is cemented by the idea of kinship whether real
or imaginary. As regards the Attic yeVo9 we may
believe that the tie of kinship, though regarded by the
later writers as conventional only, was in early days
real in some degree : the members were called, even
in the later period, ofioydkaKTe^, " those who had been
suckled at the same breast " ; and these associations,
when we come to know of them, have only a social-
religious character, and their bond is the common


cult of their supposed ancestor, usually a hero but
sometimes a god.^ And of the other clans that we
hear of in other parts of the Greek world the names
are usually formed patronymically from some hero's
name and suggest the same type of gentile cult.
We find, too, that in Attica certain cults of the high
gods of the State had been taken over from the family
tradition of certain yivr), who retain the privilege of
selecting their own members as priests for the whole
city. In fact, so deeply interwoven was the ideal of
kinship with the highest religion of Hellas that those
were preferred for priests who could claim direct
descent from the deity or hero whom they served ;
for in some inscriptions the priest boasts of his lineal
connection with the god. This phenomenon in the
Hellenic religion is parallel to the claim of apostolic
descent in the Christian.

The larger group of the ^parpia, the association of
the " phratores," a system which was not confined to
the Ionic States and had descended from the pre-
Homeric period, was obviously artificial, yet was no
less insistent on the theory of kinship or descent from
a common ancestor as its bond of union. The Ionic
name Apatouria, the gathering of the " Apatores," or
those ''who had the same father," points to this; as
also does the fact that some of the Attic phratries
had their own special cult of the Tritopatores, *' the
great-grandfathers " ; and we find that the " phratores "

1 It may be that the Attic yej/eVta was a funeral feast consecrated
to the ancestral spirits of the yivr], Herod., 4. 26 ; Bekker's Anecdota,
86. 20.


of the elan ealled Eumeleidai at Naples worshipped
Eumelos as their " ancestral god."^

Furthermore, the idea of kinship was forcibly
applied to groups of which the principle of grouping
was obviously non-consanguineous but purely local
or geographical. Even the Attic denies have their
eponymous ancestors, worshipped with a cult of the
gentile type ; this is true also of the ten Attic tribes,
all named from mythic heroic ancestors, whose
statues stood near the council-chamber ; and we have
one illustration at least of their intimate association
with the most ancient family religion, an inscription
on an altar showing the common cult of Akamas, the
hero-ancestor of the Akamantid tribe, with Zeus
" Herkeios," the god of the household-garth.-

More interesting still is the religious history of such
transparent fictions as the names of heroes and heroines
who personify a mere geographical area, such as

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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 4 of 11)