Robert Brown.

The great Dionysiak myth online

. (page 24 of 38)
Online LibraryRobert BrownThe great Dionysiak myth → online text (page 24 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

biUty, but a concept infinitely higher and purer, nobler
far and more spiritual, and as such is pictured as a beau-
tiful maiden, stainless, innocent, and gladsome. Of all
the truth-spangled l^ends which our earUer brethren of
mankind have left us, I know of none more exquisite,
and in its sequel more august, than this. To thoughtful
minds at Eleusis or elsewhere, the mythic history must
have seemed replete with hope for the future; to the
acceptor of Christianity it will ever appear as a revelation
of the Gospel, or glad-tidings of the Invisible God, written
in indelible characters upon that worid which is His
own ; for He has not left Himself without witness, and
the rain firom heaven and the fruitful seasons that fill our
hearts with food and gladness,^ the yellow-haired Demeter
and the bright Persephone, speak to the godly of that
Zeus Hypsistos who has prepared still better Uiings for

' AcU, iv. 17.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


them that love Him. The Founder of the Christian
religion did not disdain to use the simile of the buried and
dying grain in illustration of His course and purpose, and
the greatest of His followers in that mighty exhortation
to the Church of God at Korinthos, which we still read
by every open grave in token of belief in our ultimate
triumph over all the chthonian powers of the Under-world,
uses language and illustrations which to the Korinthians,
accustomed as they were to the neighbouring ritual of
Eleusis, must have seemed at once familiar in themselves,
and yet new in a strange and splendid application. No
trace of Persephone as the Awfiil Damsel appears in the
Homerik Hymn ; even when she returns from the Under-
world her girlish delight at agjun meeting her Mother is
the most prominent feature in the representation : but, as
a matter of necessity, the bride of AXdoneus must partake
of his nature and be in harmony with his domain. The
sombre change which steals over her is felicitously ex-
pressed by a modem poetess : —

The eyelids droop with light oppressed.
And sunny wafts that round her stir.

Her cheek upon her mother's breast,
Demeter's kisses comfort her.

Calm Queen of Hades, art thou she

Who stepped so lightly on the lea,

Persephone, Persephone ?

The greater world may near the less.
And draw it thro' her weltering shade.

But not one biding trace impress
Of all the darkness that she made ;

The greater soul that draweth thee

Hath left his shadow plain to see

On thy fair face, Persephone I

And so in the Homerik Poems she becomes Hagne the
Severely-pure, Agaue the Majestic, and Epaine the Terrible,

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


and bears equal sway with her husband in the Under-
world. * She is represented,' says Mr. Gladstone, * as
ruling together with Aidonens, and by no means merely
as his wife. Introduced together with him into the l^end
of Phoenix by his father, and also by Althaia, she seems
even to be diarged in chief with the sovereignty. She
gathers the women-shades for Odysseus, and she dis-
perses them. It is she who, as he fears, may send forth
the head of Goigo should he tarry over long ; who may
have deluded him with an Eidolon or shadow in Ueu
of a substance, who endows Teiresias with the functions of
a seer. Notwithstanding the high rank of Aidoneus, as
the brother of Zeus, she is the principal, and he is the
secondary, figure in the weird scenery of the Eleventh
Odyssey.'^ ' The goddess who represents the teeming earth,'
says Donaldson, ' weds her daughter to Plutus, or Pluto,
the owner of the treasures hidden below the siuface of the
ground, either actually, as metalUc riches, or potentially,
as the germs of vegetable growth.'^ This connection
between concealed wealth and the Two Goddesses is very
clearly brought out at the close of the Hymn. ' Highly
happy is he, whomsoever of men on the earth they readily
love. For immediately they send Ploutos as a sojourner
to his noble dweUing place, who gives wealth to mortal
men.' Thus in the Hesiodik Theogony Demeter is said
to be the mother of Ploutos.* One or two other points
in the Hymn require special note. It will be observed
that Dionysos lakchos, at all events eo nomine^ does not
appear on the scene in it, although his reflection, the
nymph lakche, is found among the train of Persephone.
According to the later legend, lakchos assisted Demeter
in her search, and carried a flaming torch, kindled at

^ Juv, Mundiy 309-10.

« Theatre of the QreekSj 10; cf. Mythol of the Aryan Natiaru, u,2Q6 et
$eq. » TAoy. 969.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


Mount Aetna, and in the Temple of Demeter at Athenid
his statue, holding a torch, was placed by that of the Two
Goddesses.^ But in the Hymn it is as Helios, the Sun
who sees and knows all things, or in his solar phase, that
the god appears as the friend and assistant of the Mother.
This is interesting as showing the connection and even
identity of the ' one Helios, one Dionysos.' The treatment
of the various personages in the Hymn is thoroughly
simple and un-Semitic, but Helios is not identical with
the Aryan ApoUon, and as Mr. Gladstone has shown, is a
being of Semitic procUvities.* The introduction of Helios
Dionysos into the Eleusinian ritual will be noticed sub-

Persephone, while in the Under- world, eats of the seed
of the mystic pom^ranate, Ehoia, a name closely resem-
bling that of the Goddess-Mother Rhea. Tliis fruit, in
Hebrew Eimmon, both from its shape and the multi-
plicity of its seeds, was an emblem of the fruitful female,
while one derivation connects it also with the Linga. It
stands, therefore, anthropomorphically speaking, as a
euphemism for the reproductive powers, and in the myth
signifies that the Apparent-brightness of the world when
buried in the earth becomes associated with the repro-
ductive powers of nature, and so must share with them
their concealment in the Under-world. Thus the statue of
Here, the Matron-goddess, in her great temple near
Mykene, held a pomegranate in one hand,* and the fruit
was a usual symbol in the Mysteries.^

The rape of Persephone being viewed Euemeristically,
great difierences not unnaturally arose as to the locality
where it occurred. The author of the Argonauiika says,

1 Pans. i. 2. sanias noticed that the Arkadians

' Jiw, Mundi, 821 et seq, brought all fruits, except the pome-

' Suheec. iL graDate, into the temple of Despoina,

* Pans. ii. 17. the Mistress, an epithet qiecially

* Clem. Alex. ProtrepU, ii. 22. applied by them to Persephone (Paus.
Vide VIIL iL Pofnegranate, P&u- viiL 37).

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


on an isle in the ocean.^ Some stated she was snatched
away from a plain in Sikelia, and this version was afterwards
followed by the Eoman poets : Bakchylides placed the
scene in Krete ; Phanodemos, whose age is uncertain, and
who was the author of a work on Attik antiquities, pre-
ferred Attike. Others showed the very spot, which was
near Eleusis, and was called Kaprifikos ; but the Argeioi
stoutly contended that it was near Leme, and to prevent
mistake, marked it out by a stone inclosure.^ Hesiodos
mentions no particular locality;* nor did the writer,
whose verses were attributed to the mythic Pamphos,*
who was said to have composed the most ancient Hymns
of the Athenians.^ The Orphik Poet held, with the author
of the Homerik Hymn, that it was by the Ocean marge,
in what the latter calls the Nysian Meadow, the pleasant
abode of beauty and flowers.^

Subsection 11. — The Union of the Cults.

The origin of the Eleusinian cult is' lost in the mists of
ages : in one form or other it was doubtless coeval with
the dawn of order and civilisation. Some have argued
from the silence respecting it in the Homerik Poems that
it arose in comparatively recent times. The argument
from silence, on which far too great stress is constantly
laid, is very frequently of the slightest weight, and it
must be remembered that the Poems do not profess to
give a general history of Early Hellas, but confine them-
selves almost jealously to their own particular subjects ;
and again, that the few scattered notices of Demeter and
Persephone in them are in perfect accordance with the

' V. 1196. * Paus. ix. 31.

« Cf. Schol. Theog, 914 ; Paus. ' * Ibid. 29.

i. 38, ii. 36; Lobeck, Aglaoph. 646. « Vide tw/. VUI. i. Nyms,
' Theog, 913.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


Eleusinian l^end. Thus the latter appears to be the
unnamed child of Zeus and Demeter, whose loves are
noticed.^ The Mysteries of Eleusis, a name which signifies
* Coming/ and is said to have been given on account of
the arrival of Demeter there, having thus been estabUshed
probably for some ages, a new personage, Dionysos, was
at length introduced on the scene as the Assistant and
Associate of the Two Goddesses. No connection between
Dionysos and the more ancient divinities of Eleusis
appears in Homeros, or in the Hesiodik Theogony, but
his installation at the Mysteries had taken place con-
siderably earUer than the time of Pindaros. I have
already noticed some of the passages which introduce and
illustrate the part of Dionysos at Eleusis, which is in exact
parallel to his position by the side of Apollon at Delphoi.
Thus he is * the Associate of. bronze-rattling Demeter,' *
whom Euripides frequently, but incorrectly, treats as
being absolutely identical with Kybele. The Chorus in
the AntigonSj addressing the god, exclaimed, * Thou rulest
over the Eleusinian rites of Deo in the vales common to
all.' ^ The last word seems to imply that the ceremonies
of initiation were for the people at large, not for any par-
ticular persons or classes. Thus Herodotos says, * Every
year the Athenians celebrate this feast to the Mother and
the Daughter, and all who wish, whether they be Athe-
nians or any other Greeks, are initiated.' * The Fragment
quoted^ from the Triptolemos of Sophokles is very valuable
in this connection. Triptolemos, * the law-administering
King,' appears in the Homerik Hymn as one of those to
whom Demeter unfolded her mysteries ; and as already
noticed, his patroness gave him a winged or dragon-
drawn chariot, in which he was carried over the earth,

» 21, xiv. 326; cf. Juv. Mtmdi, » Soph. ArUig. 119-21.
261. * Herod, viii. 66.

2 Piud. Isfh. vi. 3. * Sup. IV. ii. 1.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


distributing wheat-seeds to mankind.' * I beheld,' Tripto-
lemos himself is probably the speaker, * the famed Nysa,
the abode of Bakchik fiiry, which the Ox-horned lakchos
inhabits as his best beloved retreat.' Triptolemos, in the
course of his journey ings over the earth, arrives at the
mystic Nysa, the very place whence Persephone was
snatched away, and at Nysa, of course, meets with
Dionysos, the taurik god of the East, who, it will be
observed, is called by the special name under which he
was known in the Eleusinian mysteries, lakchos. The
absolute identity of the taurik Dionysos and the ox-horned
lakchos of Nysa comes out with great clearness. A
fflngular statement of Grote on this point may here be
noticed : — ' Bacchus or Dionysos are in the Attic Trage-
dians constantly confounded with the Demetrian lacchos
originally so different — a personification of the mystic
word shouted by the Eleusinian communicants.' ^ * The
greater part of the Hellenes,' says Strabo, * attribute to
Bakchos, Apollon, Hekate, the Muses, and Demeter every-
thing connected with orgies and Bakchanalian rites,
dances, and the mysteries attendant upon initiation. They
also call Bakchos Dionysos, and the chief Daemon of the
mysteries of Demeter.' ^ So that not only * the Attic
Tragedians,' but also * the greater part of the Hellenes,
were, according to Grote, entirely in error on this simple
point. All these, many of whom had actually been
initiated, beUeved that Dionysos was an important per-
sonage at Eleusis, when in reaUty he was never worshipped
there at all. How comes it that the modern historian
knows these facts so much better than the persons who
made the history which he has recorded ? This is not a
point on which information has increased : Dionysos was
either worshipped at Eleusis, or he was not, and of this

» Hist, of Gre^e, i. 80, Note. « Strabo, x. 3.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


feet, those who took part in the ritual of the place are,
according to all laws of evidence, the best judges. But if
he was worshipped there at all, it was as lakchos. Again,
who is lakchos ? and if he were not Dionysos, how came
he to be confounded with him ? But lakchos is said to
be the personification of a mystic word, and so for that
matter is Dionysos also. Donaldson very properly alludes
to lakchos as the ' sjmonyra * of Bakdios, and explains
the name in the usual way, i,e.^ as * referring to the out-
cries attending ' the worship of the god.^ The observa-
tions of Ouvaroff on this subtle question are well worthy
of attention: — *The third Bacchus is the lacchus of
Eleusis, who seems to have been imagined only that he
might consecrate, in some degree, the alliance between
the recent worship of Bacchus and that of Ceres, to which
all the mysteries tended. lacchus is the symbol of this
association : his only destination having been already ful-
filled by his birth, the myth has remained imperfect ; it
is the most vague of all.' The sixth day of the Eleusinian
mysteries * consecrated to lacchus was the most solemn of
all. But it requires very little reflection to perceive that
this procession, subsequently so femous, was at first only
an addition, foreign to the mysteries of Eleusis. It had
not, in fact, any relation with the basis of the mysteries,
but reveals incontestably the association of the secret
worship of Bacchus to the mysteries of Ceres. Several
mythographers have endeavoured to distinguish between
Bacchus and lacchus ; but this attempt has been useless.
There is in the employment of lacchus, so distinct from the
basis of the Eleusinian Mysteries, something which rather
bespeaks a later association than a perfect identity.' ^ A
passage in the I6n of Euripides, which I have already
illustrated,^ represents Dionysos as hastening to Eleusis, in

> Theatre of the Greeks, 17.

* Essay on the Eleu9mi(m MysterieSy\i, ' Si^, R'. iii. 1.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


order to appear there on the sixth day of the mysteries as
Protagonist in the universal nature-dance in honour of the
Mother and the Daughter.^ In the Kretes, Frag. 11.,^ the
pflSce of lakchos as torch-bearer is alluded to. The
mystic imitates the life of ' the night-wandering Zagreus,'
by ' holding up torches to the Mountain-mother/ i.e.,
Kybele, who, according to Euripides, is identical with
Demeter. Thus the god in all his phases as Zagreus-
Dionysos-Iakchos is represented as the Attendant, Asso-
ciate, and chief Torch-bearer to the Great Goddesses of
Eleusis. So in the Orphik Hymn Demeter is called the
* hearth-sharer of Bromios,' ^ which, although incorrectly
expressed, aptly illustrates their connection. The writer
should have styled Dionysos the hearth-sharer of Demeter ;
he is the second, not the first. So, again, Persephone is
said to be * the Mother of Eubouleus, the Wise-counselling-
One, i.e., Dionysos,* an easy transition, as Dionysos, the
Earth-spirit, is naturally the son of all the great telluric and
chthonian goddesses. Kallimachos forcibly illustrates the
imion of their nature and cult when he says that the same
acts enrage Demeter and Dionysos,* and the mythological
itinerary of Pausanias frequently aflfords illustrations of
the close cpnnection between them. The introduction
of Dionysos to the mysteries is also illustrated in the
Batrachoi of Aristophanes, where Herakles first explains
to him the state of the initiated ; ^ and then, having
crossed the Styx, he is terrified by a dreadful spectre
called the Empousa, which was covered with bloody
pustules,^ and constantly, Proteus-like, changed its shape.^
This having disappeared, he hears the Chorus of Mystics
calling on lakchos to lead the sacred dance in the

' Of. Eur. Hd, 1301-68. * Hymn, eis Dem. 71.

« Noticed 8up. IV. iii. 5. « Bat. 164-8.

» Hymn xL 10. ' Of. Ekkie. 1066.

* Hymn xxix. 8. with xxx. 6. « Bat. 288-.306.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


meadow, torch in hand, on which the god exclaims, * I
will go with the damsels and the women where they by
night celebrate the festival of the goddess, bearing the
sacred torch.' ^ Thus was Dionysos installed as the
Dadouchos, or Torch-bearer, at the Mysteries.

Such being the connection between Dionysos and the
Goddesses of Eleusis, we have next to consider the reason
of it, why Dionysos more than any other divinity should
have been introduced into the ritual which was in itself
complete without him.^ The answer is supplied at once,
and completely, by the nature of these several personages.
The terrestrial Earth-mother and her chthonian and telluric
Daughter exactly harmonise and accord, alike and yet
how different, with Dionysos, the spirit of kosmic life.
The one idea in origin was simple, innocent, and Aryan ;
the other, although corresponding, more psychical,
involved, mysterious, and Semitic. Dionysos* appears as
a strangPT in Hellas ; his worship becomes eminently
popular, as both appealing directly to the lower nature,
and yet at the same time attempting to satisfy some of the
higher aspirations of the soul. Many of his more remark-
able and repulsive Phoenician phases become altered and
obscured ; the glowing Sun-god loses much of his fierce
heat and high dignity ; he sinks to an inferior, an assis-
tant and associate, and although his rays for a time are
partly shorn, he still bravely bears his torch, and, ere long,
again reaches high honour and mysterious dignity.
Nations are not in the habit of changing their gods that
are no gods, and so Demeter and her Daughter are not
forsaken for the brilliant stranger ; but the entrance to the

» Bat, 444-6. character' (Herodotus, iii. 217). Bo-

' Canon Rawlinson remarkd, ' Bo- chart's conjecture cannot he allowed,

chart helieves that the Phoenicians Demeter lelng a nurely Aryan apod-

introduced the worship of Oeres [De- dess. I trust I have indicated as

meter^] into Greece. Certainly the clearly as the subject allows, the

Kleusinian mysteries appear to have respective amounts of Aryan and

been thoroughly oriental in their Semitic influence at Eleusis.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


Pantheon is wide enough to admit him and many others,
and he may thus seat himself by their side. In the first
place, he is 'the son of a Kadmeian mother,' a fact
of mimistakeable significance, but afterwards, when his
general character and kosmogonico-solar afiinities are
duly appreciated, he naturally becomes the son of Perse-
phone. But he is never represented as the son of Aides,
whom I regard as a thoroughly Aryan concept, for as the
subterranean sun, and also as the chthonian earth-god, he
is himself an Aides, but, like his other self Uasar, a
Semitic Pluto. His mother Semele, as we have seen, is
but a special and peculiar phase of the Gaia-Demeter, and
he is appropriately found as an attendant upon the furious
and orgiastic Kybele, the Phrygian phase of the great
Goddess-mother of the East. Apparent fluctuations in

I the details of the myth in reality but indicate the breadth
of its basis and the unity of its primal ideas, as the Dawn
is with equal propriety the mother, sister, and bride of
the Sun, who himself may be regarded as either the son
or sire of the Day. And the root-idea is this, that alike
in Semitic and Aryan concept, there is a great Goddess-
mother, a many-breasted nurturer of heroes acd of all
things, whose glowing life-beauty is pictured in a beauti-
ful and blooming child, Persephone, or Dionysos-Antheus,
On the shores of Hellas these ideas touch, mingle, and are
united ; and it was in this attractive form, and shorn of
his savage and repulsive features, that Dionysos entered

, the shrine of Eleusis, and became the chief Daemon of
the Goddesses. Our difficulties in dealing with divinities
mainly arise from ignorance of their real nature, but when
this is once revealed it is easy to understand their mythic
harmony or opposition. The Great Dionysiak Myth is
vastly wider than that fragment of it which was crystal-
Used into tangibility at Eleusis ; but the Eleusinian union,
so far as it extends, simply typifies the harmony between


Digitized by VjOOQ IC


a group of somewhat similar concepts, all illustrating in a
pleasing and attractive form, the varied changes of the
earth-life, and a mass of human reflection, hope, and
imagination inseparably linked therewith.

Subsection HI. — The Ekusinian Ritual.

As this Section would be somewhat incomplete without
a notice of the Kitual of Eleusis, I subjoin a brief account
of the ceremony as it obtained during the most prominent
period of Hellenik history. The principal symbols con-
nected with the Mysteries are referred to separately. ^

1. The Lesser Mysteries. — The Mikra Musteria, or
Lesser Mysteries, were celebrated annually on the banks
of the Disas, close by Athenai, in the month Anthisterion
— ^February-March. They were a prior step to the
Greater Mysteries, and as such were called Prokatharsis,
or Preliminary Purification. The participants were puri-
fied by an Hydranos, or Water-priest, and sacrificed a sow,
a fitting type of the earth-Ufe and a corn-injuring animal,
to the Earth-mother. They then took an oath of secrecy,
which was administered by the Mystagogos, or Leader-of-
the-Initiated, and thereupon themselves became Mustai,
Mystics. They were then in a position to obtain the
higher initiation at the Greater Mysteries in the following
year, and also received such instruction as enabled them
to comprehend more or less the underlying significance
of the latter ceremonial. The division of the Mysteries
into Lesser and Greater seems an artificial alteration of a
comparatively late age.

2. The Greater Mysteries. — ^These, generally called
The Mysteries simply, were celebrated annually-during
the month Boedromion — September-October, the cere-
monial taking place partly at Athenai and partly at

' Vide inf. VIII. ii.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


Eleusis, and lasting nine days, the period of the unsuc-
cessful search of Demeter.^

First Day. — Agyrmos^ or The Assembling. The
Mystics met at the Temple of Demeter at Athenai, which
was called the Eleusinion, and stood a little to the east of
the Akropolis, with which there appears to have been a
subterranean communication. This temple was strongly
fortified and greatly revered, so that when at the com-
mencement of the Peloponnesian war Athenai was
crowded with all the north-western population of Attike,
in addition to the ordinary inhabitants, and nearly all
temples and shrines were used as dwelUng-places, the
Eleusinion, like the Akropolis, remained unoccupied
through reverence for its sanctity.^ Pausanias provok-
ingly tells us that he had intended to relate the particulars
about it, but was restrained from so doing by a dream.'
The reticence of earlier writers respecting the Eleusinian
Mysteries has been followed, according to what may be
called the Principle of the Pendulum, by the copious
revelations of very late, and many modem, scribes : but the
former, unfortunately, knew and would not tell ; while
the latter' did not know, but insisted on revealing, the
secrets of the Earth-mother and her attendant train.

Second Day. — The March to the Sea. The Mystics
went in procession from the Eleusinion to the sea shore,
and were there further purified by a * baptism in salt

Third Day. — The Sacrijices. These consisted chiefly
of a mullet and barley from the sacred field of Eleusis,
called Earion, where the grain was said to have been first
sown. These oblations represented the combined offer-
ings of sea and land to the Earth-mother, nurturer of
heroes. The Mystics fasted diuring the day, an act in

' Horn. JSTymn. eis Detn. 47. « Thou. ii. 17.

' Paus. i. 14,

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


itself a sacrifice to the giver of food ; for one important
principle in sacrifices is the devoting to a divinity the gift
which he is supposed peculiarly to confer; e.g. the

Online LibraryRobert BrownThe great Dionysiak myth → online text (page 24 of 38)