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cult is traced into the Semitic East, the wilder and more
furious does it become, until passing through the Kory-
bantic and Kouretik phases of Asia Minor and Kret^, it
culminates in Phoenician regions in the form of Baalic
leapings on the very altar itself, accompanied with self-
wounding and mutilation,* the grim worship of those who —

With cymbal's ring
Call the grisly King,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue.

' PhoiniSy 656. • Orphik Hyrmiy lii. 7.

« Bah 1060. ' Cf. Bak. 587 et »eq. ; Soph.

' PhoiniSy 648 et eeq. Antig. 163 ; Orphik fft/mny xlvii.

* md. 784 et seq, ; cf. KyUopB, 63. « Of. Bak, 727.

» Of. Phainis, 792. » Of. 1 KmgSj xviii. ^.

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In early Hellenik history, too, the furious and orgiastic
character of the Bakchik dance is well sustained. Thus
Archilochos, cir. B.C. 700, exclaims — * I know how to
lead off the dithyramb, the beautiful strain of king
Dionysos, when my mind is struck with wine as with a
thimderbolt,'^ a singular expression, appearing to refer to
the mystic birth of the god, and to imply that as he
sprang to light amidst the thunder and lightning of Zeus,
so his cult is best sustained by the corresponding mental
fiiry and confusion produced in the heated votary by
wine. Similarly speaks Epicharmos, B.C. 500, in a Frag-
ment preserved in Athenaios — * There is not a dithyramb
if you drink water.' ^ * The dithyramb,' says Donaldson,
' originally was nothing more than a Comus, and one, too,
of the wildest and most Corybantic character. A crowd
of worshippers, under the influence of wine, danced up
to and around the blazing altar of Jupiter.'* Singing as
they danced the birth, the adventures, the sufferings, and
the glories of Dionysos, they typified the grand kosmic
circular dance-movement of material phenomena, which
is headed by their king as * the choir-leader of the fire-
breathing stars.' Far different firom these wild Dionysiak
revelries are the sterner and purer Doiik dances, the cult
of the worshippers of the Aryan Sun-god, the far-darting
king ApoUdn, who himself leads the stately choir, not
with maddened foot, but with noble and lofty steps,* the
* sort of dancing ' which * aims at preserving dignity and
fireedom/* and thus

Triumphs in victorious dance

O'er sensual folly and intemperance.

Next, as to the universal mystic nature-dance in con-

' Frag, Ixxvii. ; w/p, HI. i. 1. * Of. Horn, Hymn, Bis ApoU, 614

* Athen^ xiv. 6 ; cf. Simonides, et 8eq.
Frag, cxlvm. • * Emmeleiai/ or dances of order.

' Theatre of the Greeks, 35. Plat Law^, vii.

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nection with the kosmc^onic Dionysos, Spiritof-the-
Apparent The first passage from our philosophical poet
relating to this somewhat occult subject, is as foUows : —
' I am ashamed of the god honoured-by-many-hymns, if
around the Kastalian founts^ he by night, lying sleepless,
shall behold the torch, a spectator of the Eikads whea
the starry-feced ether of Zeus is wont to begin the choric
dance. And the Moon dances and the fifty daughters of
NSreus who are in the sea and in the eddies of the ever-
flowing rivers, celebrate in choric dance the golden-
crowned Damsel and her awfiil Mother.'^ The meaning
of the passage is, that the Chorus would be ashamed of
Dionysos if he did not duly hasten from his favourite
abode to take part in the Eleusinian Mysteries, when all
nature combined to honour Demeter the Earth-mother,
and her daughter Persephone the Damsel. The Eikads
are the Twenties, for the sixth day of the Eleusinian
Mysteries, which was dedicated to lakchos, fell on the
twentieth day of the Attik month Boedromidn, September-
October, in which the Mysteries were celebrated. Dionysos,
therefore, is supposed to be under an obligation to attend
at Eleusis on the Eikas, or twentieth day of the month.
On this sixth day of the Mysteries, which was the most
solemn of all, when at Athenai, in historic times, the
image of lakchos, torch in hand and crowned with
myrtle, was carried along the sacred road of the Kera-
meikos, or Potters' Quarter, to Eleusis, moon, stars, seas,
and streams are said to dance in honour of the Earth-
mother and her Child; and, therefore, also in honour of
their associate Dionysos, for he also is the son of D6m6ter,
of PersephonS, or of both.® The * etherial dances of the
stars Pleiads and Hyads'^ are represented as adorning
the shield of Achilleus;* and in another passage the poet

» Of. Soph. AfUiff. 1180. * Elektra, 467.

^ Ion, 1074 et sea. * Of. B, xyiiL 486 e< wy.

3 %). n. iu. 6, lU. L 3.

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speaks of * the eddyings of the stars.' ^ A doubtfiil chorus
in the Helene^ in which D6m6ter and Kybele are incor-
rectly identified, treats of the search of the former for her
lost daughter Persepbon6,and concludes — * Of much power
[i.^.j of mighty occult influence] are the all-variegated gar-^
ments of faun-skin, and the green ivy wound on the sacred
wands, and the circular shaking of the magic wheels in
the whirling ether. And the hair flowing Uke a Bakche,
for Bromios, and the nightly vigils of the goddess/ Here
we have a terrestrial representation of the etherial starry
dance ; everything turns, revolves, circles, and eddies ;
while the spotted dress and tresses flowing in honour of
Bicmysos Eurychaites, with their mystic meanings, are
&miliar incidents. The sacred wands are the stalks of
the Narthex, or Fennel-giant, in a hollow stem of which
Prometheus was said to have conveyed the spark of
heavenly fire to earth, and which was carried at the
Bakchik festivals.* The Ehomboi, or magic Wheels,
literally anything that has a spinning or circular motion,
are like the cone* among * the symbols of the Dionysiak
Mysteries.'^ Other writers, such as Maximus Tyrius, speak
of the * chorus of stars ; '* and the Pleiads, according to
Hyginus, were * thought to lead the starry chorus.'^ We
have then, in passages such as these, the idea of a circular
kosmic nature-dance, arising from a perception more or
less real of cycUc movement in surrounding phenomena.
Thus as r^ards the sun, moon, and stars, themselves, all
drcular in form, they pass across the semi-circle of the
sky, apparently moving circularly round the earth ; and
80 Professor Buskin observes, that one of the meanings
of the Dolphin in Hellenik symbolism is ' the ascending

' HeUeMy 1408. * Of. (hiMc Hymn, Frag. xm. :

« Vs. 1301-68. vide tw/ Vni. ii. Whed.

» Ot Bak. 147; vide wif. VIU. 2, • Ot Ais. Ag. 4.

Wand. ^ Poet. Astron. ii. 21.
* Sup. eec. ii. 2.

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and descending course of any of the heavenly bodies
from one sea-horizon to another — ^the dolphin's arching
rise and replunge (in a summer evening, out of calm sea,
their black backs roll round loith exactly the slow motion
of a waterwheel)^ the mystic Ehombos, * being taken as a
type of the emergence of the sun or stars from the sea
in the east, and plunging beneath in the west.'^ Again,
as r^ards the seas and rivers, the Homerik ocean-stream
into which all the rivers run, surrounds the earth as it did
the shield of Achilleus,^ which displayed a pictorial repre-
sentation of the Kosmogony. Okeanos is thus the vast
* circle of the earth,' the belt of the kosmogonic Dionysos,
without the stars even, inasmuch as they sink into it, and
when the Beaming Sun, Phaeth6n, darts

Crolden rays on the flowings of Ocean,
Wondrous the splendour appears on the surface and mixed with

Whirling around and around, in circles revolving it sparkles,
Full in the presence of God : while, beneath the breast boimd-

less, the girdle
Shows as a circle of OceaUj an infinite wonder to look at.

And, again, this cyclic phenomenal movement is
clearly connected with the circularity in the flight of time
and the recurrence of the seasons, ' seed-time and harvest,
cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night ; ' and
it was this cyclic recurrence alike of seasons and pheno-
mena which * certain philosophers ' of the present day
are fond of dignifying imder the name of ' Laws of
Nature,' which smote with such weariness upon the heart
of the aged Solomon, and made him exclaim, * the sun
ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place
whence he arose.' — (First Circle.) 'The wind goeth
toward the south, and turneth about unto the north ; it

' Queen of the Air^ i. 39. » II. xviii. 606. » Sup. 11. iii.

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whirleth about continually, and the wind retumeth again,
according to his circuits/ — (Second Circle.) * All the
rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not foil ; unto the
place whence the rivers come, thither they return again.'
— (Third Circle.) ' The thing that hath been, it is that
which shall be ; and that which is done is that which
shall be done.' — (Fourth Circle.) But this Solomonian
feeling of weariness is alike far removed fi-om the
immortal chorus of stars singing together, and from the
Dionysiak freshness of the earth, which, in comparison
with her children, abideth ever. The stars in their courses
are tireless ; and on earth the Bakchik votary, representa-
tive of the unflagging earth-life, can dance and sing the
live-long night in honour of his divinity. How exqui-
sitely Milton, in that wonderful poem named after the
impersonation of the band of Bakchik revellers, describes
this universal kosmic dance : —

We that are of purer fire.

Imitate the stany quire.
Who in their nightly watchful spheres.
Lead m swift rownd the months and years.

Observe the close connection between the natural pheno-
. mena, circles, and the time or season-circles, and how all
nature joins the mystic ritual : —

The sounds and seas, with all their finny drove,
Now to the moon in wavering morrice move ;
And, on the tawny sands and shelves.
Trip the pert fairies and the dapper elves.

The Bakchic votary must in his cult symbolise this
nature-dance, so

Come, knit hands, and beat the ground, •
In a light, fantastic roimd.

Again, to quote from modem poetry in illustration of
*the stars' concentric rings,' *Thou,' says the Morning

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Star to Lucifer, in the words of liie greatest of English
poetesses : —

Did'et sting my whed of glory IRhombos]
Along the Ood-ligbt by a qaickening touch !
Around, anrov/nd the firmameTital ocean
I ewamj expanding with delirious fire I
Around, around, around, in blind desire
To be drawn upwards to the Infinite —
Until, the motion flinging out the motion
To a keen whirl of passion and avidity,
To a (Um whirl of languor and delight,
I wound m girant orbits smooth and white

With that intense rapidity.
Around, arovmd,

I wov/nd cmd irUerwound,
While aU the cycUc heavens about me spun.
Stars, planets, suns, and moons dilated broad,
Then flashed together in a single sun.
And wound, and wound in one.
And as they wound I wound, around, around.
In a great fire I almost took for Ood.'

* Nature/ says Emerson, ' centres into balls. The eye
is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the
second; and throughout nature this primary figure is
repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the
cipher of the world. St. Augustin [following earlier
sages] described the nature of God as a circle whose
centre was everywhere and its circumference nowhere.
We are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this
first of forms.' ^ Elsewhere, when alluding to Phoenician
architecture, and especially to their circular tower-pillars
and to the circular form in which even cities, such as
Hagmatana,^ or the Phoenician settlement at Caere in
Italia, called Argylla, the Bound Town, were sometimes

» WorkB, i. 126. For illustration « Agrbatana, Herod, i. 98. Ek-

of this passage, vide inf. VIII. ii. biatana is the general Ilellenik form.

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constructed, I ventured to suggest that the mysteriouis
Eykl6pes, in illustration of whose single eye so many
ingenious theories have been offered, were, as the name
may fidrly be interpreted. Circle-builders. And as the
cyclic natiire of things appears equally in human thought
and action, according to the common saying, * history
repeats itself,' and in the material phenomena around,
80 it was most natural that man, whose inventions are
never entirely original, but always more or less imitations
of, or adaptations from, something beyond him, should
in his works strive to copy and perpetuate this * first of
forms,' and hence, probably, circular cities and temples,
and stone circles, not peculiar to one race or country, but
widely scattered through the world.^ It matters compara-
tively little who built them, and how, if we know .why
they were built and what they symbolise. The Phoe-
nidans were famous in the art of circle-building ; but it
would be most erroneous to suppose that all circular
Erections are Phoenician, for some are found in regions
where probably the Phoenician never penetrated, and it
is idle to imagine that proficiency in an art imphes its
monopoly. Yet at the same time, when we find such
erections, or their connected symbolism, in regions within
the limits of Phoenician enterprise, we have strong primd
facie evidence to connect the world-colonising nation with
the work. Thus, one of the ancient names of the
Dionysiak isle of Naxos was StrongylS the Circular, or
Kykl6pian.^ The word implies that which is tightly
pressed together, so that the angles are rounded off, and
it becomes baU-shaped like * the round world.' Of course,
the natural shape of the island suggested the name, but

' It is somewhat Mngnlar that, companying symbolism. It is no
considering the attention which is sufficient explanation of a stone-
now bestowed on * rude stone monu- circle that it was used as a burying-
ments,' the drcular character of place. Why should the dead be
many of them should not be more ouried m a circle ?
noticed in connection with its ac- ' Sup. II. i. 3.

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it may fairly be asked. Was it not this circular shape
which induced the Semitic colonists to appropriate it to
the special worship of the kosmogonic divinity, the repre-
sentative of the cyclic heavens, and of the round world ?
For, be it remembered, the Hellenes of the great ages,
like ourselves, considered the world to be round, but as
being a flat plain, ocean-circled. So we find Dikaiarchoe,
writing, cir. B.C. 3lO, a few years after the restoration of
the walls of Thebai on the old site by Kassandros ; de-
scribes the city as * circular (strongyl^) in form ' ;^ a most
interesting illustration of what was doubtless the original
shape of the city of the Phoenician Kadmos,^ which with
its seven gates and their planetary symbohsm was an
architectural representation of the Kosmogony, and as
such was the suitable abode of the kosmic Dionysos.*

But these are merely particular instances of a prin-
ciple which is that Circle-building generally was originally
an imitation of the natural circularities of the universe,
and that, therefore, the root-idea of the cult attached to
such erections is not simply solar or igneous, though these
B/re doubtless often included in it, but is more or less
kosmogonic* Circularity being thus, so to speak, an
attribute of nature, and motion being one of the principal
characteristics of surrounding materiality, we thus obtain
the idea of circular motion, which, when phenomena are
personified, and we speak anthropically, becomes Dance,
which has been defined as * the poetry of motion.' Hence
the kosmic dance of sims and seasons, stars and streams,
the dance which, as the poet says, 'the whole earth joins,' ^
the ' dancers of the heavens,' ' starry nymphs that dance
around the pole,' and the symbolic cyclic chorus dancing

' Peri tdn en Hdladi Pole&a, xii. cular edifices. The plan of the

* C£ Eur. Bak, 653. ruins of Mugheir (Rawlinson, An-
^ Inf, X. ii. dent Mom. i. 17) is an instance of a

* It is, of course, not denied that circular burying

other and special causes may have ^ Eur. Bak, 113.
occasioned tne erection of some cir-

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wildly around the altar where bums the life-heat and
divine fire of the world, or wandering wine-flushed over
hill and vale, hymning the praises of the spirit of material
existence. And this Dionysiak Chorus, like the daughters
of Nereus who dance in the sea, generally consisted of
fifty members. The kosmik dance is an illustration of
what is termed in modern philosophic language * the
rhythm of motion,'^ and in its mental phase it becomes * the
impious " dinos*' [circular dance, hence dizziness, vertigo]
and tumult in men's thoughts, which,' according to Pro-
fessor Euskin, ' have followed on .their avarice in the
present day, making them alike forsake the laws of their
ancient gods, and misapprehend or reject the true words
of their existing teachers.'^ The furious dance is well
described in the Bakcha% where the very mountain, the
wild beasts, and all nature are said to join in it.^ The
allusions in the Ciomedies of Aristophanes to the Bakchik
dance are nmnerous, and its circular character is frequently
noticed. Thus the Chorus of Mystics in the Batruchoi
exclaim, * the knee of the old men moves swiftly,'* which
is exactly illustrated in the case of Kadmos and Teiresias,*
and the dance itself is called ' the sacred circle of the
goddess,'® i,e.^ Demeter. Again, we read in reference to
the Bakchik dance, ' But come, dance with head and foot
Uke a deer, and at the same time make a noise chorus-
cheering." Here the allusion is to the Bakchik devotee
as clad in the mystic faun-skin nebris.^ So nebrizo
signifies (1) to wear a faim skin, and (2) to dance at the
Dionysiak Festivals. In the Thesmophoriazoitsai we
naturally find various notices of the Demetrian and
Dionysiak dance. ' Eise, come on hghtly with your feet

* Of. Herbert Spencer, Fir$t Prm- » Bak, 181 et $eg[,
c^dUs, part ii. cap. 10. • Bat. 441.

« Queen of the Air, i. 29. ^ Zi/sist. 1316-7.

» Bak, 726. « Vide ir^, VHL i. Nebridopevlos.

* Bat, 845.

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in a circle, join hand-in-hand, move to the rhythm of
the dance, go with swift feet. It is right that the choral
order should look about, rolling the eye in every direc-
tion,'^ i.e.^ lest there be a hidden Pentheus.^ Again, the
poet alludes to * the graceful step of the well circled [i.e.,
el^ant] dance ; '* and the Chorus exclaim, ' Sing aloud
the whole ode, and do thou thyself lead, ivy-bearing
Bakcbos, our lord, Bromios, child of Semele, delighting
in dances. And about thee resounds the clamour of
Kithairon and the mountains dark-with-leaves, thick-
shaded, and the rocky dells re-echo. And in a circle
about thee, the ivy, beautifully-leaved, floiuishes in its
curl.'* Allusion is also made to a peculiar movement
called the Diple, 'the grace of the dance;'* the term
conveys the idea of doubling, and the dancers perhaps
formed two combined circles like the figure 8. Hesychios
somewhat obscurely defines it as * the figure of a dance,
or of beating time.'^ Aristophanes, ' the constant servant
of Dionysos,'^ might have been Hndaros, had he not been

Subsection II. — The Bakcfiai.

The Bakchai of Euripides possesses a peculiar interest
and importance as being the only Dionysiak Play which
has come down to us entire, and I shall, therefore, enter
into a somewhat detailed examination of the more remark-
able passages in it. The argument is as follows : —
Dionysos, with his train of Asiatic Bakchants, arrives at
Thebai, where Pentheus, the grandson of Kadmos, rules.
The aged Kadmos and the seer Teiresias determine to
honour the new divinity, but the infatuated Pentheus,
despite their warnings, resolves to put a stop to the

1 Thes. 063 e« My. * Ibid. 982.

* Of. Paus. ii. 2. • Hesych. in voc Diple \ cf. loul.
» Thes. 068. Pol. iv. 106.

* Ibid. 986 et sen. f Platon, 8ympo$.

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Bakchik cult, and to slay the ringleader. Dionysos, in
mortal form, is brought before Pentheus, who in vain
attempts to imprison him, and like the deluded Aias,^
festens up a bull instead. In the meantime, Dionysos
shakes the earth around, and a messenger freshly arrived
from Kithairon recounts the wondrous doings of the
Bakchai, the leaders of whom are the three surviving
daughters of Kadmos, Autonoe, Agaue, and Ino. Dionysos
now persuades Pentheus to dress like a woman, and
promises to conduct him to the haunts of the Mainades.
They depart, and a messenger arrives and recounts to the
Chorus the fate of Pentheus, who is torn in pieces by the
Bakchai.^ Agaue then joyfully enters, supposing in her
madness that her son, whom she had slain, was a young
lion, and afterwards Kadmos comes on the stage with the
remains of the body of Pentheus. Agaue's reason returns,
and Kadmos explains to her the vengeance of Dionysos,
who, appearing, reveals the destiny of Kadmos, and
asserts his own divinity. The Play, which is pronounced
by some critics to be the poet's masterpiece, was finished
a few months before his death in B.C. 406, and afterwards
brought out by his son, the younger Euripides.

Verses 1-63, Introductory Prologue, spoken by Diony-
sos : the arrangement of the piece is somewhat awkward,
as is customary in the Plays of Euripedes. * I, Dionysos,
son of Zeus, whom Semele, the daughter of Kadmos,
bore, delivered by the lightning-bearing fire, am come to
this land of the Thebans. And I see the monument of
my thunderbolt-stricken mother, here near the dwellings,
and the feUen ruins of the house smoking, and the still
living flame of the fire of Zeus, the deathless insult of
Here^ against my mother.'* He praises the piety of

» Of. Soph. Aias, 51 et $eq. * Of. Vs. 244, 577 ; mppoL 558 ;

* Of. Paus. ii. 2. sup. III. i. 1.

' Cf. sabsec. iv.

I 2

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Kadmos, who has covered his daughter's shrine with vine-
leaves, and continues in what Strabo calls * a boasting
speech,' * ' having left the wealthy lands of Lydians and
Phrygians, and having come o'er the sun-stricken plains of
the Persians, and the Baktrian walls, and the dangerous
country of the Medes, and Arabia the happy, and all
Asia which lies by the salt sea, having fair-towered cities
filled with Hellenes and Barbarians mingled together,
and there having danced,^ and established my Mystic
Bites in order that I might be an evident divinity among
mortals, I have arrived at this city first of Hellenik
cities.' Euripides, at times, somewhat arbitrarily alters
the mythic legends, but he does not seem to have taken
many such liberties with the history of Dionysos, who
here appears in his accustomed character as the Wanderer.
Why is he said to wander ? Mr. C!ox remarks on this
phase of the god, ' In the Homeric Hymn the Tyrrhenian
mariners avow their intention of taking Dionysos to
Egypt, or Ethiopia, or the Hyperborean land ; and this
idea of change of abode becomes the prominent feature
in the later developments of the wandering wine-god.
When the notion was once suggested, every country, and
even every town, would naturally frame its own story of
the wonderful things done by Dionysos as he abode in
each.'^ But what parallel is there in the case? In the
Homerik Hymn strangers meet with the god in Hellenik
regions, attempt to carry him into the Outer-world, and
fail. Here, having wandered at will ^firsi over the Outer-
world, he at length arrives at Hellas. Even supposing
that the Hymn attained an almost universal popularity, why,
because it depicted a vain attempt to withdraw him from
Hellas, should he therefore be supposed to have become
the exact opposite, an actual, voluntary wanderer ? And,

* Strabo, xv. 1. ' Mytkol. of the Aryan Nations^

2 Of. subsec i. ii. 294.

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further, what is the meaning of the Hymn itself? and
why should men be represented as being desirous to carry
him away to distant' lands ? How simple is the answer
to such questions from the historical point of view. We
need not suppose, contrary to possibility and apart from
evidence, that on account of the legend of the ancient
Hymn, every town invented tales about the god's travels ;

Online LibraryRobert BrownThe great Dionysiak myth → online text (page 10 of 38)