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Greece can be wholly accounted for by the supposition that they required a lower standard, moral and spiritual, than that attained by the ordinary religion of the Greek citizen, and were consequently welcomed by the lower members of Greek society, as affording an escape from the exacting demands of the state religion. Nor can we accept as completely satisfactory the view that the ecstatic ritual merely supplied a spur and stimulus to the grosser natures, and gave them a pseudo-spiritual, sensual excitement. That this was the effect in some cases is true; but the influence of public opinion and the force of the law were quite strong enough both in Greece and Italy to purge out such depravities; and we must not form our judgment of antiquity solely by the revelations of its law courts. The majority of the private mysteries, certainly those that had the element of permanence in them, cannot have lived solely on the unhealthy tendencies of society, or have thriven for centuries on outbursts of excitement which in their nature are necessarily spasmodic and transitory. The doctrine that future happiness depended upon righteousness in this life—whatever its intrinsic value from the point of view of moral philosophy—was a great advance upon anything previously known in Greek religion ; and the extent to which it had spread in Plato's time is shown both by the alarm which it caused in his mind and by the vast amount of “Orphic” literature which it rapidly called into existence. If it be asked why then did the mysteries not effect the moral regeneration of Greece, we may suggest two reasons. First, the morality which was taught was simply the ordinary morality of Greek life: no new moral truths were revealed. On the best natures no fresh demand was made: they ex hypothesi were already living up to the highest moral standard of the time, and so for them the message had nothing new. If they were dissatisfied and uneasy, without knowing why, the mysteries could not help them : St. Clement tried them all and found all empty. In the next place, the spirit of exclusiveness was wanting from these organisations : their members were not expected to renounce the worship of the state gods. Thus those members who had been living below the ordinary standard of morality, and who were induced by participation in the mysteries to amend their lives, were liable to relapse to their old level, which was so much easier to maintain, and with which the state gods, at anyrate, had no quarrel to find.
So far from trying to sever themselves from the traditional religion, the members of the new organisations endeavoured to show the fundamental identity of the two; and they succeeded in their attempt because the two were fundamentally identical. The belief in a happy other-world was indeed something unknown to traditional Greek belief, which regarded Hades as a dismal abode, equally dreary for all men. But the rites and ceremonies which were thought essential for that closer union with God on which future bliss was conditional were not new to Greece: they were in Greece as in the Semitic area, revivals of a ritual which, though it had disappeared in most places, still lingered in old-world out-of-the-way sanctuaries, and which, because it was archaic and unfamiliar, was regarded as particularly potent. This fact is of cardinal importance for the right comprehension of the mysteries. If the new movement spread so rapidly and widely over Greece, and took such firm root everywhere, it was because, in addition to its promise of future bliss, there was nothing really foreign about its rites and ceremonies : they were absolutely in harmony with the spirit of the customary religion of Greece, for they belonged to a stage of its development which it had not yet outgrown. This is, again, the element of truth in the modern view which would see in the movement nothing but a relapse from the civilisation the Greeks had reached, and a return to semibarbarous practices which they had abandoned: the rites and cereinonies were a reversion, but the doctrine of future happiness was an advance. Finally, the fact that the movement was a revivalist movement explains both its original success and its ultimate failure as a religious movement—its success, because it was a reversion to the original sacramental character of sacrifice; its failure, because the conviction that some sacrifice external to man was necessary to the reconciliation of God and man, could not be permanently satisfied by animal sacrifice.
The archaic religious practices which were revived in and by the mysteries, though not new to Greece, were not, of course, confined to Greece; on the contrary, they are or have been world-wide, and though they belong to a particular stage of religious development, they are confined to no particular century or country. Ceremonial purification by water, which plays a large part in the mysteries, is to be found everywhere, and was known to the Homeric Greeks long before the time of the mysteries. The practice, again, of placing a person or thing in direct communication with an animal-god by wrapping the person or thing in the skin of the animal, is, as we have already seen, world-wide: it was practised by the European branch of the Aryans from prehistoric times. The crouching posture which the novice had to assume during the preliminary purification may or may not have been known to the Semites, but it was certainly part of the archaic Greek ceremony of purification known as dios kodcov.? The ceremonial use of clay is a point of sufficient importance to require rather closer examination. In the mysteries, daubing the novice with clay was part of the process by which he was cleansed and purified; and pouring water over him was another. Now, as it is not obvious at first sight how rubbing a person with mud can clean him, and as symbolism affords an easy explanation even of things which never had any symbolical meaning, some modern writers have explained that the candidate was first plastered with clay and then washed clean with water, to express symbolically and by outward act the internal and spiritual purification which he was undergoing. But, unfortunately for this explanation, the actual order of proceedings was otherwise: the novice was first soused with water, and then made clean with mud. The words of Demosthenes ? are quite explicit upon both points. The clay it was that possessed the cleansing properties; and that is what is meant by Plutarch when he speaks 3 about “cleansings unclean and purifications impure.” Hence, too, according to the teaching of the mysteries, sinners were in the next world buried in clay. -obviously to cleanse and purify them of their wickedness.
1 Daremberg et Saglis, Dict. des Antiquités, 3.V. ? Supra, p. 340.
3 De Superstitione, 12. 4 Plato, Rep. 363 C : Tous dè åvoo lovs aû kal ådlkous és anaóv Tiva KaTOPÚTTOVI LY &v Aisov; Phæd. 69 C: os av duúntos kal åréNeoTos eis Aidov dolantat, ev βορβόρα κείσεται.
Now, there are at the present day plenty of people who plaster themselves with clay. The negroes of the West Coast of Africa, when engaged in the service of a god, notify the fact by dressing in white and covering themselves with white clay if the service be of a festal character, with red if it be of a more serious kind. This reminds us of the Polynesian custom of painting things which are taboo red, the colour of blood; and, in point of fact, persons who are about to undertake some sacred function, or who are actively engaged in the service of the gods, are very generally considered taboo, and are marked off as such, in order that other people may abstain from contact with them, and that so they may neither carry pollution into the worship, nor communicate the “infection of holiness” to others. The most familiar instance of this precaution is (I submit) afforded by savage warfare: to the savage, war is a sacred function, the tribal god himself fights for his clan, the warriors are engaged in his service, as such they are taboo and dangerous, and they notify the fact by donning “war-paint.” Thus the Ethiopians who served the great king in his invasion of Greece, painted half their bodies with white clay when they were going into battle, and the other half with red. That the Greeks themselves had once followed this practice, is proved by an odd instance of its survival or rather revival in historic times. The Phocians, who were always at war with the Thessalians, and were always getting the worst of it, at last, in despair, sent to Elis for a seer (uévtis), Telliês by name, to help them; and he put them up to a device. He took six hundred of their bravest men, made them plaster themselves and their armour all over with white clay, and then sent them to make a night attack upon the foe, which they did with such success that they killed four thousand Thessalians. Now, Herodotus regards this as nothing but
a clever and somewhat humorous device on the part of the holy man: the Phocians recognised each other in the darkness by their war-paint, and the Thessalians were terrified by six hundred apparitions in white. But it seems more likely that if the Phocians sent to Elis for a seer, it was because they wanted some advice as to the way in which they might win the favour of the gods; and Telliês must have had a reputation for knowing the proper ritual to be observed in the conduct of war. Evidently, amongst the traditions stored up in his mind, one was that warriors should be prepared for battle by previous purification and by dedication to the gods. Whether Tellies was aware that the war-paint was but the outward sign that the warriors were dedicate and so taboo, or whether he regarded the daubing as part of the purificatory ceremony, there is nothing to show. But in the mysteries, by the time of Plato, the daubing, though it still did not take place until after the novice had been purified by water, and so had become fit to be dedicated, was regarded as but a second and more potent means of cleansing. In fine, if we divide the preliminary ceremonial of the mysteries into two parts, namely, (1) purification, and (2) dedication, the plastering with clay, which originally was the first stage in (2), came eventually to be regarded as the last stage in (1).
To cover the whole of the body with clay is a process which, though effectual, naturally tends to be abridged if possible. Mourners, who are highly taboo, and are bound to notify their condition in order that no one may inadvertently touch them, in various countries substitute white clothing for white clay, and either (like the West Coast negroes on festal days) only daub their faces, or dispense with the daubing altogether. In Greece, it can be shown that the mysta only daubed their faces. For the various strange acts which the mystce had to perform, reasons had to be given; and the reasons took the form of myths—the mystæ had to do the thing because once some god or hero or supernatural being did it. Hence from the myths we can sometimes gain important information as to the ritual. Now, the myth in this case is that the Titans, when about to murder the infant Bacchus, plastered their faces in order that they might not be recognised : therefore those who worshipped the mystic