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The influence of the Delphic priesthood rose and spread with the power of the Dorians. It did so, not merely because that power was an apt instrument for its propagation, but also because in Hellas at large the time was favourable. The religion of Apollo, as his Pythian interpreters set it forth, was suited to an age which had begun to reflect, but which retained a vivid faith in the older mythology. Here we are concerned with only one aspect of the Apolline cult, that which relates to blood-guiltiness. The Homeric man who has killed another may either pay a fine to the kinsfolk, or go into exile1; but in Homer there is no idea that he can be purified by a ritual. In other words, there is the notion of a debt in this respect, but hardly of a sin; of quittance, but not of absolution. It was a somewhat later stage when men began more distinctly to recognise that in cases of homicide there are kinds and degrees of moral guilt which cannot be expressed in the terms of human debtor and creditor. Clearly a man ought to do what the gods command. But what if a god tells a man to do something which most men think wrong? If the man obeys, and if his conduct is to be judged aright, the tribunal, like the instigation, must be divine. Nor is this so only when the opinion offended is that of men. A god may command a mortal to do an act by which some other god, or supernatural being, will be incensed. Suppose, for instance, that a man receives a divine mandate to slay a guilty kinsman; if he obeys, nothing can save him from angering the Erinyes, who resent every injury to kinsfolk.

For questions such as these the Pythian creed provided

Purification from bloodguilt.
an answer, or at least a mystic compromise. Apollo, the god of light, is the all-seeing arbiter of purity. A man who commits homicide displeases Apollo, who abhors every stain of blood. But Apollo can estimate the degree of guilt. And he has empowered his servants to administer rites by which, under certain conditions, a defiled person may be freed from the stain. In later days the critics of Apollo could object that he had encouraged crime by thus far alleviating its consequences. But in the age when the doctrine was first put forth, it must have been, on the whole, beneficent. It tempered the fear of capricious or vindictive deities by trust in a god who, as his priests taught, never swerved from equity, and who was always capable of clemency. At the same time it laid the unabsolved offender under a ban worse than mere out lawry, for it cut him off from the worship of the temple and of the hearth, and, indeed, from all intercourse with god-fearing men. It made his hope depend on submission to a religion representing the highest spiritual influence which ever became widely operative among the people of pagan Hellas.

The ritual of Apollo the Purifier had already a place in the Cyclic epic called the Aethiopis2, said to have been composed by Arctînus of Miletus, about 776 B.C. More than a century elapsed after that date before Lyric poetry was matured; and meanwhile the worship of the Pythian Apollo, with its ritual of purification from blood, was diffused throughout the Greek world. It was to be expected, therefore, that, when the story of Orestes began to receive lyric treatment, the influence of Delphi should be apparent. If, in avenging his father, Orestes killed Clytaemnestra as well as Aegisthus, the Pythian priesthood had a text than which they could desire none more impressive. For, according to the immemorial and general belief of Hellenes, Orestes did well to avenge Agamemnon. If, however, he slew his mother, the Erinyes were necessarily called into activity. Who, then, was to vindicate the avenger? Who was to assert, even against the Erinyes, that his deed was righteous? Who but Apollo, the supreme judge of purity? And then it was only another step to represent Apollo himself as having prescribed the vengeance. A Greek vase-painting3 portrays him in the act of doing so. The scene is in the temple at Delphi. Apollo, laurel-crowned, is sitting on the omphalos; in his left hand is a lyre; with the stem of a laurel-branch, held in his right, he is touching the sheathed sword of Orestes, who stands in a reverent attitude before him; he thus consecrates it to the work of retribution. Behind Apollo, the Pythia sits upon the tripod, holding a diadem for the brows of Orestes, when he shall have done the deed4; and near her is Pylades.

1 In Il. 9. 632—636 the payment of the fine is indicated as the ordinary course, though Il. 24. 480 f. suffices to show that cases of exile were also frequent. In Homeric society the blood-feud is in process of being extirpated by these compromises; and, further, there is already a moral pressure of public opinion on the kinsmen of the slain man to accept the payment of the fine when tendered. See Mr Leaf's paper in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. VIII. pp. 122—132.

2 The Aethiopis took up the war of Troy where the Iliad left off. It included the death of Achilles; also the contest for his arms between Ajax and Odysseus.

3 On an amphora found in South Italy (Lucania), and now in the Naples Museum. It is reproduced by Baumeister, p. 1110 (from Rochette, Mon. inéd., pl. 37), and by Michaelis in Jahn's Electra, p. 37 (cp. ib. p. vii).

4 Cp. Eur. El. 872, where Electra greets Orestes after his slaying of Aegisthus:— “στέψω τ᾽ ἀδελφοῦ κρᾶτα τοῦ νικηφόρου”.

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