). A title chiefly applied to a festival
held by the Athenians in the autumn, in honour of Demeter, Persephoné, and Iacchus,
consisting of sacrifices, processions, and certain mystical ceremonies. It was one of the most
important festivals of Greece.
The mythical origin of the Eleusinia is contained in the Homeric hymn to Demeter, which
tells how Persephoné, while gathering flowers, was, with the connivance of Zeus,
carried off by the god of the lower world, Hades or Polydegmon (the great receiver); and how
her mother Demeter, daughter of Rhea, searching distractedly for her child, is advised by
Hecaté to consult Helios, who sees all things; and how Helios in pity tells her
that Zeus has granted to Hades to carry off her daughter to be his wife. Forthwith Demeter
changes herself into an old woman; and as she wanders forth disconsolate through the world she
comes to Eleusis, and sits down on the cheerless stone by a well. The daughters of Celeus, the
king of Eleusis, come to the well to draw water. They bring her to their home, where Metanira,
wife of Celeus, gives her the latest born child, Demophoön, to nurse. But Demeter is
still bowed down with grief; she sits dignified but silent in her room, till the jests and
raillery of Iambé, the servant-maid, at last make her smile. She consents to take
food and drink, but will have no wine, only a mixture (κυκεών
) of water with barley-meal and mint. Days go on, and the child
Demophoön thrives beyond what mortal child was wont, for a goddess was his nurse; she
used to anoint him daily with ambrosia and place him in the fire by night. But a little more
time and the child would have been immortal, when one night Metanira saw the nurse place him
in the fire and cried aloud with terror. Then the anger of Demeter blazed forth, and the aged
nurse transformed herself into the goddess, told who she was, what she had intended to do, and
how that the little faith of the mother had robbed the child of immortality, and finally bade
the people of Eleusis to erect a temple for her on the hill above the fountain, when she
herself would prescribe the services they must perform in order to gain her favour. They did
so, and Demeter dwelt there, shunning all association with the other gods who had been parties
to the carrying off of her daughter. For a year Demeter dwelt there—a year of want,
for nothing grew; and the human race would have perished, had not Zeus agreed that
Persephoné should return. Gladly did Persephoné obey the summons of
Hermes; but Hades persuaded her to eat a pomegranate seed before she left, and that prevented
her staying away from him for a whole year. So Persephoné returns, and great is the
joy of mother and daughter, in which the faithful Hecaté sympathizes. Rhea is then
sent down by Zeus to her daughter and effects the reconciliation. The corn comes up in
abundance in the Rarian plain; Demeter returns to Olympus to dwell with the gods, and
prescribes to Celeus and to his sons Triptolemus, Diocles, and Eumolpus the solemnities and
divine services that were in future time to be paid her; and hence the famous Eleusinian
Mysteries were a direct appointment of the great goddess Demeter herself.
Such was the story of the origin of the mysteries; but how the mysteries came to be Athenian
depends on another story, which concerns the union of Eleusis with Athens. Erechtheus warred
with the Eleusinians (Pausan. i. 38, 3), who were helped by one Eumolpus, a Thracian, son of
Poseidon (Apollod. iii.14.4
) and founder of the mysteries
). The difficulties connected with the exact birthplace and
genealogical position of Eumolpus (see Roscher, Lexikon der Mythol.
) we may pass over, remembering that he is, according to this legend,
a foreigner (De Exsilio
, p. 607, 10). Eleusis was conquered, and to the
Athenians fell the political headship, but to the family of Eumolpus and the daughters of the
Eleusinian king Celeus was assigned the highpriesthood (ἱεροφαντία
) of the Eleusinian worship. The other family which held a priesthood
in the mysteries, the Kerykes, were said to have been descended from Keryx, the son of
Eumolpus; though the family itself considered its ancestors to have been Hermes and Aglauros,
daughter of Erechtheus, and so genuine Athenians (Pausan. i. 38, 3).
Mysteries were celebrated in honour of Demeter, Persephoné, and Dionysus in Asia
Minor (e. g. at Cyzicus); in Egypt on Lake Mareotis (Strab. xvii.
p. 800); in Sicily at Gela and elsewhere (Herod.vii. 153
; Diod. Sic.v. 77
); in Boeotia at Plataea (Herod.ix.
62Herod., 65Herod., 101
many parts of Arcadia (Pausan. ii. 14, 1; viii. 15, 1); and in Messenia at Andania (Pausan.
iv. 1, 5). But the most splendid and important of all the Eleusinia were those of Attica,
which may be regarded as having consisted of two parts:
- 1. the Lesser Mysteries at Agrae,
- 2. the Greater Mysteries at Eleusis.
1. The Lesser Mysteries at Agrae (τὰ ἐν Ἀγραις).
These were held in the spring at Agrae, a place on the Ilissus, southeast of the Acropolis.
Initiation of Heracles. (Vase from Panticapaeum.)
There is no doubt that they were held in the month Anthesterion, when there were the
first signs of returning vegetation just after field-work began (C. I. G.
1.20). The exact date cannot be fixed, but Mommsen's suggestion is most probable, that the
chief day was the 20th, the same day of the month as the Greater Mysteries were held on in
Boedromion, to which the Lesser Mysteries had many points of similarity, even in matters
connected with the calendar—e. g. the same length of the mystery truce (C.
71). Mommsen supposes that the 19th was a day of preparation, and the 20th and
21st the special mystery days. These Lesser Mysteries were considered as a prelude to the
Greater (Schol. on Plut.
845), being on a much smaller scale; but initiation
in the Lesser was generally required before the candidate could present himself for
initiation into the Greater (Plat. Gorg.
C). The mysteries at Agrae consisted probably to a large extent of purifications,
for which the water of the Ilissus was much used (Polyaen.v.
). They were held more especially in honour of Persephoné, called
Pherrephatta here, than of Demeter (Schol. on Plut.
845). It appears that the
carrying off of Persephoné was the most important representation in these
mysteries. Again we hear that at Agrae the fate of Dionysus was pourtrayed (μίμημα τῶν περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον
, Steph. Byzant. s. v. Ἄγραι
). The death of Dionysus-Zagreus took place on the 13th of
Anthesterion, the day on which the festival of the Chytri was held (see Dionysia
); so perhaps on the ninth day after, the 21st
(for funeral rites on the ninth day after death, the ἔνατα
225), the funeral ceremony may have been held and his violent
death related in a drama. A great many, especially strangers, were initiated into these
mysteries who did not proceed to initiation into the regular Eleusinia; the legend, too, said
it was for the purpose of initiating Heracles, who was a stranger and
according to the primitive regulations could not be initiated into the Eleusinia, that these
Lesser Mysteries were established (Schol. on Plut.
The Greater Mysteries at Eleusis
Two days are fixed by definite evidence—viz. the 16th Boëdromion for the
; De Glor. Ath.
and the 20th for the Iacchus day (Plut. Cam.
, Plut. Phoc. 28
). The fixing of
other days depends on conjecture, but can be determined with a considerable degree of
certainty. A month before the middle of Boëdromion—i. e. the middle of
used to announce the
mystery truce to the neighbouring States (Fals. Leg.
133), so as to give the
strangers time to make all arrangements necessary for a visit to Athens. During the latter
portion of this month the votary who intended to be initiated used to betake himself to some
private man who had gone through all the grades of initiation, was examined by him as to his
freedom from sin, received instruction as to what purifications and offerings were necessary
to gain the favour of the goddesses, and submitted the actual offerings for his inspection
and approval. This instructor was the μυσταγωγός
certified to the Hierophant the fitness of the applicant and introduced him, this proceeding
being apparently called σύστασις
. Sincere devotees appear to
have fasted for nine days (cf. HH Hymn. Dem. 47
from the 13th to the 21st—i. e. ate nothing during the day, taking whatever food
they did take between sunset and sunrise, like the Mahomedans during Ramadan; and votaries
generally appear to have abstained from domestic birds, fish, pomegranates, apples, and beans
(Porphyr. Abst. iv. 16
). On the 15th of
Boëdromion the formal assemblage (ἀγυρμός
s. v.) was held of those citizens and strangers who intended to take part in the
mysteries—though this assemblage does not appear to have been absolutely essential,
at least in late times (C. I. G.
523). At the beginning of the 16th, in the
evening (the day is reckoned from sunset to sunset), Chabrias's distribution of wine to the
people in honour of his victory at Naxos used to take place (Plut.
); and the next morning began the first formal act of the
festival—viz. the πρόρρησις
or Ἅλαδε μύσται
. A proclamation was made by the Archon Basileus
) and by the Hierophant and Daduchus in the Stoa
Poecilé (Schol. on Ran.
369), for the departure of all strangers
and all murderers; and then the order for purification given, “Ye mystae, to the
sea!” The “sea” was sometimes the Piraeus (Plut. Phoc. 28
), though probably only in time of
Attica being occupied by enemies; but generally the Ῥειτοί
, two salt streams on the Sacred Road, one dedicated to Demeter, the
other to Coré, which contained fish that the priests alone were allowed to eat
(Pausan. i. 38, 1; Hesych. s. v.). The next day, the 17th, sacrifices (ἱερεῖα
) were offered for the safety of the State by the Archon Basileus and the
in the Eleusinium at Athens; and at all these
sacrifices the θεωροί
of foreign States seem to have taken
part (Eurip. Suppl.
173). The night of the 18th may have been spent by the
very devout in sleeping in the Temple of Aesculapius, southwest of the Acropolis, or in the
Iaccheum (Boeckh on C. I. G.
481), also called the Temple of Demeter. It was
just where the road from the Piraeus entered Athens (Pausan. i. 2, 4). The early
morning of that day till about 9 a.m. was devoted to ordinary
business, as we find decrees issued bearing that date (Mommsen, pp. 95, 225, 226). After this
hour the Epidauria was celebrated in the Temple of Demeter or Iacchus and in the Temple of
Aesculapius. It was, as has been seen, a supplementary sacrifice for those who came late, and
legend said it was instituted for the sake of Aesculapius, who himself came late for the
mysteries. Doubtless, however, the thought really lay in this, that Aesculapius was supposed
by his wondrous skill to have raised again Iacchus from the dead, and the festival probably
was incorporated in the Eleusinia when the worship of Epidaurus became connected with that of
Athens (Herod.v. 82
). Meanwhile there were being brought from
Eleusis certain religious objects—playthings, it was said, of the child Iacchus
), top (στρόβιλος
), ball (σφαῖρα
), apples (μῆλα
), tambourine (ῥόμβος
), fleece (πόκος
), fan (λίκνον
), and such like, as is
learned from Clement of Alexandria (Protrept.
p. 15, ed. Potter; cf. Lobeck,
701, 702). Phalli were perhaps also carried among these mystical
objects (see Phallus
); but we must remember that
the statue of Iacchus, as we shall see, which was carried in procession to Eleusis on the
19th, was not kept at Eleusis during the year, but at Athens, having been brought back some
day shortly after the conclusion of the mysteries; for there was no Iaccheum at Eleusis
(Mommsen, p. 253). The Athenian Ephebi met this convoy at the Temple of Echo (evidence from
inscriptions in Mommsen, p. 252), and conveyed it to Athens by nightfall. In the early
morning of the 19th, there were occasionally decrees passed. In the forenoon the Iacchus
procession started from the Eleusinium and proceeded to the Iaccheum, where they got the
statue of Iacchus; perhaps then definitely organized the procession in the building assigned
for that purpose (Pausan. i. 2, 4); and then passing through the Ceramicus (Schol. on
399) left Athens by the Sacred Gate (Plut.
), priests and people crowned with myrtle and ivy, the rich
ladies till the time of the orator Lycurgus riding in carriages (Schol. on
). The statue of Iacchus was probably that of a fair
child crowned with myrtle and holding a torch, hence called φωσφόρος
in Aristophanes (Ran.
342). There were many ceremonies to
be performed as the procession passed along the Sacred Way to Eleusis— ceremonies
which had to be given up during the Peloponnesian War, while Attica was invaded by the
34). One section of the procession repaired to the
Cephissus and took baths therein, another to the bath by Anemocritus's statue near the tomb
of Scirus the soothsayer, who came from Dodona to Eleusis to assist the Eleusinians in the
war against Erechtheus and was slain. The Phytalidae sacrificed to Phytalus in Laciadae,
where lay a temple to the Mourning (Ἀχέα
) Demeter, and to
Coré, with whose worship that of Athené and Poseidon was joined
(Pausan. i. 37, 2). At the palace of Crocon, the Croconidae perhaps bound small bands of
saffron thread round the right wrist and right foot of each mystes (cf. Phot. s. v. κροκοῦν
), which was considered as a protection from the evil eye.
Occasionally during the procession the majority of those who took part in it indulged in
flouts and gibes at one another, a proceeding called γεφυρισμός
, the origin of which title is unknown, but is
generally associated with the bridge over the Cephissus (Strab.ix.
). Chants in honour of Iacchus were sung constantly during the procession, which
swelled louder as when, near midnight, Iacchus arrived at Eleusis amid the blaze of torches
(Oed. Col. 1045
). That the procession did not
arrive till late at night is plain from the splendid chorus in the Ion
foll.), which sings of the torches and of the moon and stars dancing in heaven at the sight.
The journey from Athens to Eleusis is really only four hours long, but the various ceremonies
performed during the course of the procession extended it to three or four times its normal
length. On the next morning certain sacrifices were performed, consisting probably in part of
swine, to Demeter (Schol. on Aristoph. Pax,
). An inscription in Mommsen, p. 257, orders sacrifices to be made by the ἱεροποιοί
to Hermes Enagonius, the Graces, Artemis, and certain
heroes, Telesidromus and Triptolemus. It is not known what these sacrifices were at Eleusis;
at Andania they were, besides others, a sheep to Persephoné and a sow to Demeter.
In later times the Ephebi made supplementary sacrifices of cattle. The bulls were brought
unbound to the altar, and the Ephebi struggled with them to hold them as they were being
The 22d and 23d were the μυστηριώτιδες ἡμέραι
, and the
ceremonies celebrated thereon were παννυχίδες
. During the
evening of the 22d was probably what was called λαμπάδων
, which consisted of a symbol of search after Coré with torches
Inst. i. 21
), performed principally by and for the less highly
initiated, who conducted the search crowned with myrtle, wearing a fawn-skin, and holding a
wand, the mystagogues of the several initiates taking part in the search —the whole
proceeding being perhaps an interlude in the story of Demeter and Coré, which
appears to have been represented in the temple on this night. After it, came with much
ceremonial the partaking of the κυκεών
, a mixture of mint,
barley-meal, and water. This was a cardinal feature in the ceremony, being, if we may so say,
a participation in the Eleusinian sacrament. It was in remembrance of Demeter being refreshed
after her long wandering and fruitless search. Thereafter followed what was called the
παράδοσις τῶν ἱερῶν
(Suidas, s. v.): certain relics and
amulets were given to the votary to touch or kiss or even taste, the votary repeating, as the
priest tendered him the objects with a regular question (Arnob. Adv. Gentes
v. 26), a formula (σύνθημα
), given by Clement of Alexandria
p. 18). It appears that some kind of memento of this ceremony was
given by the priest to the votaries, which a sincere believer used to keep in a linen cloth (
p. 140). The actual ἱερὰ
themselves were kept in a chest (τελέτης ἐγκύμονα μυστίδα
, Nonnus, Dionys.
ix. 127) bound with purple ribbons, and
consisted among others of sesame cakes of particular shapes, pomegranates, salt, ferules,
ivy, poppy-seeds, quinces, etc. (Protrept.
p. 19): the uninitiated were not
allowed to see these “even from the housetop” (Callim. Hymn to
Not very different appear to have been the ceremonies of the 23d. There were many
wand-bearers but few bacchants, as the superintendents of the mysteries used to say (Plato,
C), and it was for these latter, the more highly
initiated mystae of at least a year's standing, generally called ἐπόπται
, that the ceremonies of the 23d were held, and they were the highest
and greatest. Here, too, was probably a παράδοσις τῶν
, the sacramental words used in receiving which being ἐκ τυμπάνου ἔφαγον, ἐκ κυμβάλου ἔπιον, ἐκερνοφόρησα, ὑπὸ τὸν παστὸν
. All this undoubtedly points to the Phrygian worship of Sabazius, which
was introduced by the Orphics into the Eleusinian mysteries. On the afternoon of the 23d was
held that portion of the feast which was called πλημοχόαι
(Athen. x. p. 496) or πλημοχόη
), a sacrifice to the dead. The πλημοχόη
was a broad-bottomed earthen jar, and two such were used in the ceremony, one filled with
wine and the other with water, the contents of the one thrown to the east and of the other to
the west, while mystic words (ὕε κύε
) were spoken. This
sacrifice formed a fitting conclusion to the mysteries in the special sense, the μυστηριώτιδες ἡμέραι
. It ended with a χαίρετε
to the dead, which conclusion was called προχαιρητήρια
(Harpocr. 161, 9).
The next morning, the 24th, occurred perhaps the βαλλητύς
also called τύπται
, a sort of sham fight, enjoined, it
seems, in the Homeric hymn (267 foll.). There was a similar contest, called λιθοβολία
, at the festival of Damia and Auxesia at Troezen (cf.
Pausan. ii. 32, 2). On this same morning and afternoon were the ἀγῶνες σταδιακοί
. They were called Eleusinia or Demetria, and the prize was
some barley grown on the Rarian Plain (Schol. on Ol.
ix. 150, 166). There is
no reason to suppose that these games were not annual (see Hermann, Gottesd.
55, 39). In early times these games probably lasted two days; but in later
times, on the 25th, the theatrical representations of the Διονύσου
were held, and we have some inscriptions referring to the sacrifices
offered by this guild. As time went on, the 26th and 27th appear to have been devoted to such
theatrical exhibitions (Rangabé, 813, 6), held perhaps for the purpose of keeping
the visitors in the country. The people do not appear to have returned to Athens in a regular
procession, though Lenormant thinks they did, and that the γεφυρισμός
and the πλημοχόη
were incidents in
that return journey. The mystery truce lasted till the middle of Pyanepsion (C. I.
3. The Priests and Priestesses
) The most important priest was the Hierophant
). In lists of the Eleusinian priests he is
put first (C. I. G.
184, 190). He was nominated for life (Pausan. ii. 14, 1)
from the Eleusinian family of the Eumolpidae, and was generally an elderly man and bound to a
life of strict chastity. There was only one Hierophant at a time, and his name was never
mentioned (Lucian, Lexiph.
10), though in late inscriptions we find the Roman
gentile name but not the praenomen or the cognomen given (C. I. G.
principal duty was, clothed in an Oriental style, with a long robe and a turban (στρόφιον
), as his name indicates, to show and explain the sacred
symbols and figures—perhaps in a kind of chant or recitative, as he was required to
have a good voice (cf. Alcib.
22; Epictet. iii. 21.16). (b
) The Daduchus
torch-bearer was inferior to the Hierophant, and of the same rank with the Keryx (C.
185, compared with 188). Originally he was descended from the Eleusinian
Triptolemus (Xen. Hell. vi. 3, 6
); but about
B.C. 380 this family died out, and the Lycomidae, the family to which
Themistocles belonged, which celebrated a local worship of Demeter at Phlyae full of Orphic
doctrines and ceremonies, succeeded to the daduchia (see Boeckh on C. I. G.
p. 441 f.). It is uncertain whether the name of the Daduchus was sacred. His head-dress was
Oriental, as we may infer from a Persian soldier mistaking a Daduchus for a king (Plut. Arist. 5
). His main duty was to hold the
torch at the sacrifices, as his name indicates; but he shared with the Hierophant several
functions, reciting portions of the ritual, taking part in certain purifications in the
, and even in the exhibition of the mysteries (
Suid. s. v. δᾳδουχεῖ
). For these two priests, the
Hierophant and the Daduchus, who had to be men of tried sanctity, there was a regular
consecration on their entering office. It was the τέλος τῆς
, and was called ἀνάδεσις καὶ στεμμάτων
, because the sign of it consisted in placing on the head of the new
priest the diadem of purple and the wreath of myrtle which they wore permanently. (c
) The Keryx
). According to Eleusinian tradition, the
Kerykes traced their origin back to Keryx, a younger son of Eumolpus; but they themselves
considered their ancestors to be Hermes and one of the daughters of
Cecrops—Aglauros according to Pausanias (i. 38, 3), Pandrosos according to Pollux
(viii. 103). His duties were chiefly to proclaim silence at the sacrifices (Poll.iv. 91
) The Epibomios
(ὁ ἐπὶ βωμῷ
). In early times he was certainly a priest
(C. I. G.
71 a, 39); he is generally mentioned in connection with the other
three priests, but not always. No family laid especial claim to this priesthood. His name, as
well as that of the Keryx, was probably not sacred. The four Eleusinian priests were among
those who were maintained in the Prytaneum—were ἀείσιτοι
, as they were called (C. I. G.
183 foll.). (e
) The Hierophantis
). There was originally only one at a time; she belonged to Demeter
(C. I. G.
434, 2), and her name was sacred; but a new one was added when
Hadrian's wife Sabina was deified as the younger Demeter (ib. 435, 1073)
Perhaps at this
Eleusinian Priest. (Vase from Kertch; Gerhard, |
Ges. Abh., taf.
time or afterwards the priestesses came to be multiplied. (See the Schol. on Oed. Col. 683
). They lived a life of perfect chastity
during their tenure of office, though they might have been married previously. It is
uncertain to what family the original Hierophantis of Demeter belonged; that of the younger
belonged to a branch of the Lycomidae. The duties of the Hierophantis corresponded to those
of the Hierophant. Pollux (i. 14) appears to call these priestesses προφάντιδες
, and perhaps they were also called μέλισσαι
(Hesych. s. v.). (f) Female torch-bearer
(C. I. G. 1535
). She was not
hieronymous, but eponymous. These priestesses belonged to the family of the Phillidae.
Their duties corresponded in all probability with those of the Epibomius. (h
) The Spondophori
sent out to the adjoining country a month before the ceremony to announce the truce for the
mysteries (Fals. Leg.
133). They belonged to the families of the Eudanemi and
Kerykes. (i) Minor offices:
- 1. φαιδρύντης τοῖν θεοῖν (Inscr. in Mommsen, p.
227), perhaps belonging to the Eleusinium of the city.
- 2. ὑδρανός, whom Hesychius describes as ἁγνίστης τῶν Ἐλευσινίων. He probably superintended the
- 3. ἰακχαγωγός and κουροτρόφος, female nurses attending on the child Iacchus (Poll.i. 35).
- 4. Perhaps the same may be said of the δαειρῖτις, but
it is very uncertain. It is known that Persephoné was originally called Daeira
in the Eleusinian worship.
- 5. ἱεραύλης (ib. 184, c. 18) was probably the head
of the ὑμνῳδοί and ὑμνητρίδες (Poll.i. 35), a sort of choir.
- 6. Who the παναγεῖς and the πυρφόροι were, beyond what can be inferred from their names, cannot be
determined. Lenormant says the παναγεῖς were intermediate
between the ministers and the initiates. Though not strictly a priest, yet as exercising an
important function in the mysteries, (j) the mystagogi (μυσταγωγοί) may be mentioned here. They
had to be men who had passed through all the grades of initiation. They were probably under
the cognizance of the State, in a manner licensed. Prior to presenting himself for
initiation, each votary had to place himself under the guidance of one of these
mystagogues, and get instruction from him as to the various purifications and ceremonies he
was to perform. It was only by the carelessness of mystagogues that unworthy applicants
ever got admission to the mysteries. After due examination, if the mystagogue was
satisfied, he presented the applicant or returned his name to the Archon Basileus or his
assistants. This was called σύστασις. If a mystagogue
could not say what purificatory sacrifices were required for a special candidate, recourse
was had to (k) an Exegetes (Ἐξηγήτης), who appears to have been elected by the people from the
Eumolpidae or Kerykes, and whose business it was to decide such difficult cases and
generally to give responsa on eleusinian ecclesiastical law. There
were many books of the mysteries (cf. Lenormant, Contemp. Rev. xxxvii. 871)
which were intended to have been strictly kept from the uninitiated, and which appear to
have contained not only what ritual was to be performed in various cases, but also,
perhaps, the allegorical and symbolical interpretations of some of the myths. Cf. Galen,
viii. 181, ed. Kuhn; Lobeck, Aglaoph. 194.
The priests of the mysteries, especially the Eumolpidae, appear to have had a special
ecclesiastical court (ἱερὰ γερουσία
) for trying offences
of impiety, in connection with the festival, which court they conducted according to
unwritten laws of immemorial antiquity (in Andoc.
10). To prosecute before
this court was called δικάζεσθαι πρὸς Εὐμολπίδας
punishments, according to Caillemer (D. and S. , s. v. Asebeia
), were strictly
religious—exclusion from the mysteries, deprivation of title of initiate, and such
like. The curse and excommunication were most solemn—priests and priestesses,
turning to the west, uttered the words of imprecation and shook their garments ([Lys.]
51). It may be that this court was the only tribunal for cases of
what we may call heterodoxy, impiety consisting in the performance of
rites contrary to the traditional one and to that held by the priests; while other kinds of
procedure, superadded to the religious investigation and condemnation, were adopted in
accordance with ordinary criminal law in cases of impiety, which consisted of disorder and
vulgar profanity. These charges were brought before the Senate of Five Hundred sitting in the
Eleusinium of the city on the day after the mysteries (De Myst.
penalty was death (Thuc.vi. 61
fin.) or banishment (Andoc. 15
), with confiscation of goods (C. I. A.
277), for profanation of the mysteries. The accuser, if he did not get the fifth part of the
votes, suffered a kind of ἀτιμία
）—i. e. was deprived of the right to enter the temples and fined
the usual 1000 drachmas. Many shrank from themselves bringing the accusation, and used to
inform the Archon Basileus of the profanation they had observed, and if he thought it serious
he made the accusation officially.
4. Civil Functionaries connected with the Festival
The chief civil superintendence of the festival was intrusted to the Archon Basileus, who
was assisted by four ἐπιμεληταί
, elected by the people, two
from the people generally and one each from the families of the Eumolpidae and Kerykes
Harpocr. p. 118). The Archon generally appears to have
appointed an assistant (πάρεδρος
). The duties of the Archon
and his assistant were to sacrifice and pray for the prosperity of the people, both at Athens
and Eleusis, and to have general police supervision over the whole solemnity (c.
4). The ἐπιμεληταί
had also such duties as
looking after the sacrifices, testing the offerings of the votaries, classifying and
marshalling the different grades of initiates, managing certain moneys, etc., as may be
inferred from the similar duties attaching to the officials of this name at Andania. As to
the finances of the festival generally, according to C. I. G.
71 a, 29, three
had the administration of them.
5. The Initiates
Originally only Athenians were admitted; legend said that Heracles and the Dioscuri (Plut. Thes. 33
) had to be adopted prior to
initiation; but later all Greek-speaking people who were not murderers were admissible to be
initiated (Isocr. Paneg.
42). Barbarians were excluded (Lucian,
); but it was not at all necessary to be an Athenian citizen.
vol. i. p. 257, Jebb), and even perhaps slaves (Theophilus,
, vol. ii. p. 473, Kock), were admissible. Children were
admitted to the first grade only; but among the children brought to Eleusis one was picked
out for special initiation, and “to appease the divinity by a more exact
performance” of the ceremonies required (Porphyr.
Abst. iv. 5
). The boy or girl had to be an Athenian of high birth
204), perhaps of the special family of the Lycomidae,
Eumolpidae, or the like; and was probably initiated standing on the steps of the altar, while
the rest stood afar off. The parents of the child had to make extensive offerings and pay a
large fee. Originally admission was free for all initiates; but by virtue of a law passed by
the orator Aristogiton, each initiate paid a fee to the public treasury (Lenormant,
, xxxviii. p. 123).
The ordinary proceeding was for the initiate to receive his first introduction as a child
and afterwards the higher grades as a man. The whole cycle of the mysteries was a trieteris
, and could be gone through in two years; even the Homeric
hymn extends the whole legend beyond a year; and when the Orphic theology blended
IacchusZagreus into the story, the regular course of two years came to be adopted. There is a
high probability that the first-year votaries at Eleusis viewed a drama representing the
usual story of Demeter and Coré, while the second-year votaries were shown the
whole legend of Zagreus; and as to the whole course of the actual mysteries, there is a
possibility that the following arrangement was that adopted, though it must be remembered
that it is little more than conjecture and given for what it is worth:
) First Spring at Agrae—the votaries mourn for
Coré ravished by Hades.
) First Autumn at Eleusis—mourning with Demeter for the
loss of her daughter, and exhibition of the ordinary legend.
) Second Spring at Agrae—the murder of Zagreus and his
heart being given to Coré (who here seems to take the place of Semelé),
and conception of Iacchus.
) Second Autumn at Eleusis—rebirth of Iacchus, who is
carried in procession to Demeter at Eleusis, and there the votaries sympathize in the joy of
the earth-goddess, who once more has her child and grandchild about her.
That there were different grades of initiates hardly needs proof: the μύσται
were those who had received any degree of initiation, the ἐπόπται
votaries. Suidas (s. v. ἐπόπται
) says so explicitly. (Cf.
Harpocr. s. v. ἐπωπτευκότων
, and Plut. Demetr. 26.
) There were mystic ceremonies for both these
classes of initiates, one on each of the two days, 22d and 23d. While any one introduced by a
mystagogue could get admission to the ceremonies of the first year, the μύησις
, the ἐπόπτεια
could only be seen by those who got a ticket from the δᾳδοῦχος
. A ticket of that kind has been discovered marked ΔΑΔ
, with the symbols
of an ear of corn and a poppy. What those ceremonies were is the most important and
interesting point in our subject, but the seal of silence which was laid on the votaries has
not been broken. This secrecy was most strenuously enjoined and most rigorously enforced, as
we have seen. The prosecution of Alcibiades for holding a travesty of the mysteries in his
own house and Andocides's speech on the subject are well known. Aeschylus is said to have
divulged the mysteries in styling Artemis a daughter of Demeter (Herod.ii. 156
; Pausan. viii. 37, 6) and in other matters (Aristot.
Nic. Eth. iii. 1, 17
), and to have only barely escaped death. Diagoras
of Melos (Diod.xiii. 6
) was banished from Athens and a price set
on his head for having divulged the mysteries. It was the prevailing belief of antiquity that
he who was guilty of divulging the mysteries was sure to bring down divine vengeance on
himself and those associated with him (Hor. Carm.
iii. 2, 26
6. The Ceremonies in the Temple
They were performed in the temple of the two goddesses at Eleusis, a building reckoned one
of the greatest masterpieces of the Periclean Age. Ictinus superintended the whole. Coroebus
built the lower story, with four rows of columns which divided the interior space. On his
death Metagenes took up the work and added an upper story, and Xenocles built a cupola roof
with an opening (ὄπαιον
) in the middle
for the light (Pericl.
13; Vitruv. vii. Pref. 16, 17). The dimensions of the
whole building were 223 feet by 179, the measurement of the cella being 175 feet by 179. The
temple had no pillars in the façade till the architect Philon, in the time of
Demetrius of Phalerum, built a pronaos with twelve pillars. The temple stood inside a large
enclosure, which was approached by a propylaeum, there being yet another propylaeum leading
to the temple. Inside this enclosure Lenormant has fixed the position of the ἀγέλαστος πέτρα
, where Demeter was said to have rested in her
wanderings, as the rock where the great statue of Demeter Achea, now at Cambridge,
stood—i. e. on the axis of the first propylaeum close to a well, which he also
identifies as Callichorum. (See the Πρακτικὰ τῆς Ἀρχαιολογικῆς
for 1883, and M. Blavette in Bulletin de Correspondance
, viii. , pp. 254 foll.). The temple of Ictinus, though
built on the site of an older and smaller one, must be distinguished from the most ancient
temple which stood more to the north, occupying a platform which overlooked the well
Callichorum and the ἀγέλαστος πέτρα
, exactly on the spot
where the Homeric hymn (273
) orders it to be built. The great
temple of Ictinus was called by the ancients μυστικὸς σηκός
), and the inner portion τελεστήριον
(cf. Lobeck, Aglaoph.
The ceremony was doubtless dramatic. “Deo and Coré,” says
Clement of Alexandria (Protrept.
p. 12), “have become a mystic
drama. Eleusis illustrates by the light of the torches of the Daduchus the carrying off of
Coré, the wandering journeys and grief of Deo.” The ceremony, then, was
dramatic. Aelius Aristides (Eleus.
i. 256) asks, “Where else do the
recitals of the narratives chant forth greater marvels, or does the ceremonial (τὰ δρώμενα
) involve a greater affrightment (ἔκπληξιν
), or does the spectacle match more fully what the ear
hears?” The drama consisted of δρώμενα
, the former being much the more important, for the
ancient religious worship addressed itself more to the eye than to the ear. There were hymns
and chants (Pausan. ix. 27, 2), speeches and exhortations (ῥήσεις,
), recitals of myths (μύθων φῆμαι
and wailings for the loss of Persephoné (Proclus on Polit.
There were kinds of dancing or rhythmical movements by those performing the ceremony (Lucian,
15), clashing of cymbals (Vell. i. 4, 1
sudden changes from light to darkness (Dio Chrys. xii. 387), “toilsome wanderings
and dangerous passages through the gloom, but the end is not yet, and then before the end all
kinds of terror, shivering and quaking, sweating and amazement, when suddenly a wondrous
light flashes forth to the worshipper, and pure regions and meadows receive him: there are
chants, voices, and dances, solemn words and holy images; and amongst these the votary now
perfected is freed at last and is released, he wanders to and fro with a crown on his head,
joining in the worship and in the company of pure and holy men; and he sees the uninitiated
and unpurified crowd of the living in the thick mire and mist, trampling one another
down, and huddled together, abiding ever in evils through fear of death and disbelief in the
good things yonder” ( Themist. in Serm.
cxx. 26). Lucian
22) represents a man having entered Hades and got into the dark
asking his companion if what was represented at Eleusis was not like this. Claudian's
description (De Rapt. Proserp.
init.) is sufficiently terrible; and amidst
that rhetoric Lenormant fancies he can infer that the votaries, waiting anxiously outside the
building, saw the glimmer of the lighted interior through the ὄπαιον
: then was heard the noise of the preparations for the play, the doors
were thrown open, and the Daduchus appeared with torches in his hands, and the statue of
Demeter was seen in gorgeous vestments and brilliantly lighted up. It is more probable that
the whole performance took place inside the temple. But that figures of the gods were
introduced is certain, which flitted noiselessly (ἀψοφητί
Themist. Or. xvi. 224
, ed. Dind.) across
the stage; but the images were incomplete, not simple but overcharged with strange
Plan of the Temple Enclosure at Eleusis. A, outer peribolos; a a,
inner peribolos; B, greater propylaea; C, lesser
propylaea; D, Great Temple of the Mysteries, with portico of Philon
(183 ft. X 37 1/2 ft.), and |
Telesterion, or interior of the temple (178 ft.
X 170 ft.), with eight rows of seats, partly hewn out of the rock.
they were ever in motion and represented in a dim and murky light. To be more
precise, the mystic drama of Demeter and Coré was unfolded to the mystae, the
first-year initiates; but the epoptae were shown a representation of what Clement calls
“the mysteries of the dragon,” which is the story of Zeus uniting himself
with Persephoné (called Brimo: cf. Philosophumena
, viii. p. 115,
ed. Miller) in the form of a serpent, and the whole tale of Iacchus-Zagreus was probably told
(Clem. Alex. Protrept.
pp. 13-15; Tatian, Or. ad Graecos
, 13 [9
ed. Migne]; and Lenormant, p. 426). There was shown to the epoptae a representation,
symbolical probably of creation, in which we hear (Euseb. Praep. Evang.
12) that the Hierophant used to assume the part of the Creator, the Daduchus that of the sun,
the altar-priest that of the moon, and the Hierokeryx that of Hermes. Again, “the
last, the most solemn, and the most wonderful act of the ἐποψία
” was shown—the ear of corn cut in perfect stillness;
the blade of corn symbolized, we are told, the great and perfect ray of light issuing from
the Inexpressible One, whatever that means, or rather, perhaps, it was the symbol of life,
the cutting down being death.
This may lead us to what is to be said in conclusion on the moral and religious import of
the mysteries. If we choose to regard them in a cold, un-religious way, we can say that they
were a somewhat melodramatic performance, splendid no doubt, full of what Lobeck calls
), but a mere theatrical display. That there
were connections between the mysteries and the theatre (the Hierophants are said to have
borrowed costume from the dramas of Aeschylus, Athen. i. p. 22, if the reverse is not rather
the case) need not surprise us; and that modern archæologists profess to find in
the temple of Eleusis evidences of machinery by which the spectacle was worked (Preller in
Pauly, iii. 89; Lenormant, p. 415) is only natural; for there undoubtedly was a spectacle, a
religious spectacle. But anything moral or religious may be made ridiculous if one chooses to
regard it from the lower plane of the intellect alone, and does not take into account the
subjective condition of the moral worker or the religious worshipper. The universal voice of
the great names of pagan antiquity, from the Homeric hymn down to the writers of the late
Roman Empire, attest to the wonderfully soothing effect the mysteries had on the religious
emotions, and what glad hopes they inspired of good fortune in the world to come.
, says Cicero (De Leg.
ii. 14, 36), cum laetitia vivendi rationem accepimus, sed etiam cum spe meliore moriendi.
object aimed at was rather, not that the initiate should be taught anything that would appeal
merely to his intellect, but should be moved and have his higher impulses stirred.
“The light of the sun is bright for the initiated alone,” sing the chorus
of mystae in the Ranae
). Not but
that there were many scenes and symbols of a somewhat coarse nature—phallic rites,
, such as those represented by the Hierophant
and Hierophantis, which portrayed perhaps the unions of Zeus and Demeter, Zeus and
Persephoné, and which entered into the higher worship, but which are probably
grossly exaggerated by the Christian writers, who did not take into consideration their
symbolical meaning. The truths, however, which these and other symbolical performances
contained were known only to the Hierophant, and explained by him to those whom he thought
fit to hear them. Even the ἐπόπται
only knew part of the
mystic secrets, γνῶναί τι τῶν ἀπορρήτων
p. 121). The multitude of worshippers took it all on faith,
but, as Mahaffy finely remarks, “even the coarsest features were hallowed and
ennobled by the spirit of the celebrants, whose reverence blinded their eyes while it lifted
up their hearts.”
The Eleusinian Mysteries lasted for more than five centuries after Greece became a Roman
province. As late as the time of the emperor Julian they still enjoyed a considerable portion
of their primeval sanctity, and were held in the highest esteem by the Neo-Platonic
philosophers. The edict of Valentinian and Valens against secret worships did not extend to
the Eleusinia, the prefect of Achaea, Pretextatus, having represented that the life of the
Greeks would be barren and comfortless without the mysteries. The Hierophant who initiated
Maximus and Eunapius in the fourth century was the last Eumolpid. Subsequently Mithraic
worship was blended with the Eleusinian; but the mysteries did not finally perish till
the destruction of Eleusis by Alaric in his invasion of Greece, A.D. 396.
For further discussion on the mysteries, see Cabeiria
. The principal works to consult on the Eleusinia are: St. Croix,
Récherches sur les Mystères;
, iv. 33 foll.; Lobeck, Aglaophamus
, especially pp. 3-
228; K. O. Müller, Kleine Schriften
, ii. 242-311 (a reprint of his
article “Eleusinia” in Ersch and Grüber); Petersen in Ersch and
Grüber, xxviii. 219 foll., especially 252-269, in the second volume of the article
“Griechenland”; id. Der Geheime Gottesdienst;
Mémoires sur les Mystères de Ceres et de Proserpine
the Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscr.
xxi.; Preller in
Pauly, art. “Eleusinia,” and “Griechische
Mythologie,” i. 643-653; id. Mythologie (1873-75)
Hermann, Gottesdienstliche Alterthümer
. 35, 55; Maury,
Religions de la Grèce
, ii. pp. 297-381; Schömann,
, ii. 380-402; August Mommsen,
Heortologie der Athener
, 62-75, 222-269; Baumeister,
, s. vv. “Eleusinia” and
“Eleusis”; Lenormant, Monographie de la Voie
Sacrée Éleusinienne (1864)
, and “The
Eleusinian Mysteries” in the Contemporary Review
, xxxvii. and
xxxviii. (May, July, and September, 1880)
; and Sauppe, Die
Mysterieninschrift von Andania.