Page 0495



degree; and finally admitted to the third or highest rank, in which he was enrolled with

the epoptoe, or "beholders"-for such were allowed to behold the unveiled myths of the

national religion.

The two principal mysteries of Greece were those celebrated at Eleusis and at Samothrace.

The latter place was a small island in the AEgean, on which from the earliest times a

society had flourished whose aim was to interpret and illustrate the secrets of nature.

What these secrets were, and by what ceremonies they were interpreted, have never been

ascertained-so thick and carefully drawn was the curtain between the "initiated" and the

outer world of vulgar sense. More famous far were the mysteries known as Eleusinian. These

were celebrated at the city of Eleusis, in Attica. The society was in great repute, and

many of the most distinguished Athenians were proud to be numbered among the epoptoe.

Here, too, the secrecy was profound. Only this much is known, that the mysteries of

nature-especially those appertaining to life-were sought to be unveiled to the senses and

perceptions of men by the rites of the celebrants. The two deities honored within the veil

were Demeter, the great Earth-mother, and Dionysus, the wine-god. Eleusis was the seat of

one of the most celebrated of the Greek myths-that in which Demeter, after searching long

by land and sea, at last learned that her lost daughter Persephone (1) had been married to

Hades, the dark specter of the under world, and that she was now his queen in the realms

below. Here the mother procured her daughter's return to life and joy-at least for a

season. The myth became the basis of the mystery which the initiated were to explain and

illustrate with their rites-the mystery of the varying and beautiful processes of life.

In the months of August and September of each year, after the harvests had been gathered,

a period of twelve days was set apart for the celebration of the great feast known as the

Eleusinia. Athens abandoned herself to the occasion. Strangers came from all parts of

Greece to be present at the anniversary. First the candidates and initiates prepared

themselves by bathing in the sea, by fasting and sacrifice. Then for five days offerings

were made to Demeter and Dionysus; and on the sixth was the great procession, in which the

ancient statue of Dionysus, garlanded with flowers and bearing a torch in his hand, was

brought with loud acclaim and laughter and song from Athens to Eleusis. It was always

arranged that the procession should not reach its destination until nightfall. The image

of the god was borne after dark into a great building, where the mysteries were

celebrated, and here under the flickering glare of torches were began the awful ceremonies

which occupied the remainder of the festival. Before the close of the mysterious

proceedings Persephone was welcomed back to earth, and then hilarity and banqueting

succeeded to the previous despondency and gloom.

The proper feast of Dionysus was wilder and more extravagant in character than that of

Demeter. As sometimes celebrated, it was an orgy in which the participants abandoned

themselves to frantic excesses. At the Dionysia in Athens it was regarded as a duty in

those who took part in the exercises to become drunken. Everyone crowned himself with ivy

and flowers, and offered to him whom he met a cup of wine. The image of Bacchus was borne

about in processions, and a wild crew of Satyrs, Bacchantes, and Pans rushed madly along,

piping and shouting till the day became an uproar and the night hideous.

The great local religious festival of the Athenians was called the Panathenoea. It was

celebrated every fourth year in honor of Pallas Athene, the patron goddess of the city. On

the return of the anniversary Athens was crowded with strangers. Hither came a throng of

poets, musicians, artists, gymnasts, showmen, mountebanks-every type of humanity known to

the world of the Greeks. It was a time of excitement, of competition, of the exhibition of

skill in achievement and strength. __________________________________ 1 Persephone

represents Life. In the summer she rejoices in leaf and bud and flower. But in winter

Pluto takes her under the earth. She is seen no more. She is queen of the dark abodes in

the Land of Gloom. With the sunshine of spring she returns and gladdens her mother, Earth.