BECK index
Contents and Introduction

Agricultural Background and History

Triptolemus and the Spread of Agriculture
Pausanias' Descriptions of Other Demeter Cults
Dionysus and Iacchos at Eleusis
Orpheus the Classic Mystic
The Goddesses' Blessings of Nature
The Thesmophoria
Eleusis and History

Triptolemus and the Spread of Agriculture

Triptolemus, who was famed in legend and featured in statuary and art as the Eleusinian who spread Demeter’s gift to other lands, did not seem to have a significant function in the mystery rites themselves.  According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus he was featured in a tragedy by Sophocles.

What I say is supported by the testimony of Sophocles,
the tragic poet, in his drama entitled Triptolemus;
for he there represents Demeter as informing Triptolemus
how large a tract of land he would have to travel over
while sowing it with the seeds he had given him.
Roman Antiquities I, 12

Ovid wrote this:

Here she gave her fleet car to Triptolemus
and bade him scatter the seed of grain she gave,
part in the untilled earth
and part in fields that had long lain fallow....
“My country is far-famed Athens; Triptolemus, my name.
I came neither by ship over the sea, nor on foot by land;
the air opened a path for me.
I bring the gifts of Ceres,
which, if you sprinkle them over your wide field,
will give a fruitful harvest and food not wild.”
Metamorphoses V, 645-647, 652-656

Xenophon argued for peace between Athens and those to whom Triptolemus first granted Demeter’s two main gifts: the mystic rites and the grain.

The right course, indeed, would have been for us
not to take up arms against one another in the beginning,
since the tradition is that the first strangers
to whom Triptolemus, our ancestor, revealed
the mystic rites of Demeter and Kore
were Heracles, your state's founder,
and the Dioscuri, your citizens;
and further, that it was upon Peloponnesus
that he first bestowed the seed of Demeter's fruit.
Xenophon Hellenica VI, 3

Pausanias was warned in a dream from describing the sanctuary at Athens, though he did describe what pertains to Triptolemus, which could indicate that his role was not part of the secret doctrine.  He also mentioned Epimenides, a Cretan mystic of the 6th century BC.

Above the fountain are temples:
one of them is a temple of Demeter and the Maid (Kore),
in the other there is an image of Triptolemus.
I will tell the story of Triptolemus,
omitting what relates to Deiope.
Of all the Greeks it is the Argives who must dispute
the claim of the Athenians to antiquity
and to the possession of gifts of the gods,
just as among the barbarians it is the Egyptians
who dispute the claims of the Phrygians.
The story runs that when Demeter came to Argos,
Pelasgus received her in his house, and that Chrysanthis,
knowing the rape of the Maid told it to her.
They say that afterwards Trochilus, a priest of the mysteries,
fled from Argos on account of the enmity of Agenor,
and came to Attica, where he married an Eleusinian wife,
and there were born to him two sons,
Eubuleus and Triptolemus.  This is the Argive story.
But the Athenians and those who take their side
know that Triptolemus the son of Celeus
was the first who sowed cultivated grain.
However, some verses of Musaeus (if his they are)
declare Triptolemus to be a child of Ocean and Earth;
while other verses, which are attributed, in my opinion,
with just as little reason, to Orpheus,
assert that Eubuleus and Triptolemus were sons of Dysaules,
and that, as a reward for the information they gave her
about her daughter, Demeter allowed them to sow the grain.
Choerilus the Athenian, in a drama called Alope
says that Cercyon and Triptolemus were brothers,
that their mother was a daughter of Amphictyon,
but that the father of Triptolemus was Rarus,
and that the father of Cercyon was Poseidon.
I purposed to pursue the subject,
and describe all the objects that admit of description
in the sanctuary at Athens called the Eleusinium,
but I was prevented from so doing by a vision in a dream.
I will therefore turn to what
may be lawfully told to everybody.
In front of this temple, in which is the image of Triptolemus,
stands a bronze ox as in the act of being led to sacrifice;
and Epimenides the Cnosian is portrayed sitting,
of whom they say that going into the country
he entered a cave and slept, and did not awake
until forty years had come and gone,
and afterwards he made verses and purified cities,
Athens among the rest.
Pausanias Description of Greece I, 14:1-3

Pausanias' Descriptions of Other Demeter Cults

After Thelpusa the Ladon descends
to the sanctuary of Demeter in Onceum.
The Thelpusians call the goddess Fury,
and with them agrees Antimachus, the poet
who celebrated the expedition of the Argives against Thebes.
His verse runs thus:
They say that there is a seat
of Demeter Fury in that place.
Oncius, according to common fame, was a son of Apollo,
and he reigned at Onceum in the land of Thelpusa.
The goddess received the surname of Fury on this wise.
When Demeter was seeking her daughter, they say that
in her wanderings she was followed by Poseidon,
who desired to gain her favors.
So she turned herself into a mare,
and grazed with the mares of Oncius;
but Poseidon, detecting the deception,
likewise took the form of a horse, and so enjoyed Demeter.
They say that at first Demeter was wroth,
but that in time she relented
and was fain to bathe in the Ladon.
Hence the goddess received two surnames:
that of fury (Erinus) on account of her wrath,
because the Arcadians call a fit of anger erinuein;
and that of Lusia,
because she bathed (lousasthai) in the Ladon.
The images in the temple are of wood,
but the faces, hands, feet, are of Parian marble.
The image of the Fury
holds the so-called cista (sacred basket),
and in her right hand a torch:
the height of the image we guessed to be nine feet.
The Lusia appeared to be six feet high.
Some think that the image represents Themis,
and not Demeter Lusia; but this is an idle fancy,
and so I would have them know.
They say that Demeter had by Poseidon a daughter,
whose name they are not wont to divulge
to uninitiated persons,
and that he also gave birth to the horse Arion;
it was for this reason, they say,
that they gave Poseidon the surname of Hippius (‘of horses’),
and they were first of the Arcadians who did so.
Pausanias Description of Greece VIII, 25:4-7

The horse imagery has some collaboration in the words of Pindar:

... and with befitting counsel, while he tends,
not only the worship of Demeter with the ruddy feet,
and the festival of her daughter with her white horses.
Pindar Olympian Odes VI, 95

Another example from Arcadia placed Poseidon in the mythology and relied heavily on secrecy.  The significance of the pomegranate is parallel with Eleusis.

The Arcadians bring into the sanctuary
the fruits of all cultivated trees except the pomegranate.
On the right as you leave the temple
there is a mirror fitted into the wall.
Anyone who looks into this mirror
will see himself either very dimly or not at all,
but the images of the gods and the throne are clearly visible.
Beside the temple of the mistress
a little higher up on the right is what is called the Hall.
Here the Arcadians perform mysteries
and sacrifice victims to the Mistress in great abundance.
Each man sacrifices what he has got.
They do not cut the throats of the victims
as in the other sacrifices, but each man
lops off a limb of the victim, it matters not which.
This Mistress is worshipped by the Arcadians
above all the gods,
and they say she is a daughter of Poseidon and Demeter.
Mistress is her popular surname, just as the daughter
of Demeter by Zeus is surnamed the Maid.
The real name of the Maid is Proserpine, as it occurs
in the poetry of Homer and of Pamphos before him;
but the true name of the Mistress
I fear to communicate to the uninitiated.
Pausanias Description of Greece VIII, 37:7-9

The temple of this cult also was described by Pausanias.

In front of the temple is an altar to Demeter,
and another to the Mistress,
and after it one to the Great Mother.
The images of the goddesses,
namely, the mistress and Demeter, as well as the throne
on which they sit and the footstool under their feet,
are all made of a single block of stone.
None of the drapery or work about the throne is made
of a different stone, attached with iron clamps or cement:
all is of one block.
This block was not fetched from outside:
they say that, following directions given in a dream,
they found it by digging within the enclosure.
The size of each of the two images
is about that of the image of the Mother at Athens.
They are also works of Damophon.
Demeter carries a torch in her right hand,
the other hand is laid on the Mistress.
The Mistress has a scepter, and the basket, as it is called,
on her knees: she holds the basket with her right hand.
Pausanias Description of Greece VIII, 37:2-4

We find instructions given in a dream in the story of another Arcadian cult.

The other mountain, Mount Elaius,
is about thirty furlongs from Phigalia:
there is a cave there sacred to Demeter surnamed the Black.
All that the people of Thelpusa say
touching the loves of Poseidon and Demeter
is believed by the Phigalians; but the Phigalians say
that Demeter gave birth not to a horse,
but to her whom the Arcadians name the Mistress,
and they say that afterwards Demeter, wroth with Poseidon,
and mourning the rape of Proserpine, put on black raiment,
and entering this grotto tarried there in seclusion a long while.
But when all the fruits of the earth were wasting away,
and the race of man was perishing still more of hunger,
none of the other gods, it would seem,
knew where Demeter was hid;
but Pan, roving over Arcadia,
and hunting now on one mountain, now on another,
came at last to Mount Elaius and spied Demeter
and saw the plight she was in, and the garb she wore.
So Zeus learned of his from Pan,
and sent the Fates to Demeter,
and she hearkened to the Fates, and swallowed her wrath,
and abated even from her grief.
For that reason the Phigalians
say that they accounted the grotto sacred to Demeter
and set up in it an image of wood.
The image, they say, was made thus:
it was seated on a rock, and was in the likeness of a woman,
all but the head; the head and the hair were those of a horse,
and attached to the head
were figures of serpents and other wild beasts;
she was clad in a tunic that reached even to her feet;
on one of her hands was a dolphin, and on the other a dove.
Why they made the image thus is plain to any man
of ordinary sagacity who is versed in legendary lore.
They say they surnamed her Black,
because the garb the goddess wore was black.
They do not remember who made this wooden image,
nor how it caught fire.
When the old image disappeared,
the Phigalians did not give the goddess another in its stead,
and as to the festivals and sacrifices,
why they neglected most of them,
until a dearth came upon the land;
then they besought the god,
and the Pythian priestess answered them as follows:
Arcadians, Azanians, acorn-eaters, who inhabit Phigalia,
the cave where the Horse-mother Deo lay hid,
You come to learn a riddance of grievous famine,
You who alone have been nomads twice,
and twice tasted the berries wild.
‘Twas Deo stopped your pasturing,
and ‘twas Deo caused you again
To go without the cakes of herdsmen
who drag the ripe ears home.
Because she was robbed of privileges
that men of old bestowed on her and of her ancient honors,
And soon shall she make you to eat each other
and to feast on your children,
If you appease not her wrath with libations
offered of the whole people,
And if you adorn not the nook of the tunnel
with honors divine….
When the oracle was reported to them,
the Phigalians held Demeter in higher honor than before,
and in particular they induced Onatas,
the Aeginetan, son of Micon,
to make them an image of Demeter for so much.
There is a bronze Apollo at Pergamus by this Onatus,
which is one of the greatest marvels
both for size and workmanship.
So he made a bronze image for the Phigalians
guided by a painting or a copy
which he discovered of the ancient wooden image;
but he relied mainly, it is said,
on directions received in dreams.
Pausanias Description of Greece VIII, 42:1-7, 11

The next example implies that the mysteries of the Cabiri were derived from Eleusis.

However that may be, the first who reigned in this country
were Polycaon, son of Lelex, and his wife Messene.
It was to this Messene that Caucon,
son of Celaenus, son of Phylus,
brought the orgies of the Great Goddesses from Eleusis.
The Athenians say that Phylus himself was a son of Earth,
and they are supported by the hymn
which Musaeus composed on Demeter for Lycomids.
But many years after the time of Caucon
the mysteries of the Great Goddesses were raised
to higher honor by Lycus, son of Pandion;
and the place where he purified the initiated
is still named the oak-coppice of Lycus....
And that this Lycus was the son of Pandion
is shown by the verses inscribed on the statue of Methapus.
For Methapus also made some changes
in the mode of celebrating the mysteries.
Methapus was an Athenian by descent,
and he was a devisor of Mysteries and all sorts of orgies.
It was he who instituted
the mysteries of the Cabiri for the Thebans;
and he also set up in the chapel of the Lycomids
a statue inscribed with an epigram,
which contains a passage confirming what I have said:
And I purified houses of Hermes ... and paths
Of Demeter and of the first-born Maid, where they say
That Messene instituted for the Great Goddesses a rite
Which she learned from Caucon, illustrious scion of Phylus.
And I marveled how Lycus, son of Pandion,
Established all the sacred rites of Atthis in dear Andania.
Pausanias Description of Greece IV, 1:5-8

The following Arcadian cult implies the mythology of the Homeric Hymn.

At the other or western end of the colonnade
there is an enclosure sacred to the Great Goddesses.
The Great Goddesses are Demeter and the Maid,
as I have already shown in my account of Messenia.
The Maid is called Savior by the Arcadians....
With regard to the image of the Great Goddesses,
that of Demeter is of stone throughout,
but the drapery of the Savior is of wood.
The height of each is about fifteen feet.
The images ... and before them he made
small images of girls in tunics reaching to their ankles:
each of the two girls
bears on her head a basket full of flowers:
they are said to be the daughters of Damophon.
But those who put a religious interpretation on them
think that they are Athena and Artemis
gathering flowers with Proserpine.
Pausanias Description of Greece VIII, 31:1-2

Pausanias in his section on Boeotia described another Cabirian mystery cult with an origin from Demeter.

Five-and-twenty furlongs from here
you come to a grove of Cabirian Demeter and the Maid:
the initiated are allowed to enter it.
About seven furlongs from this grove
is the sanctuary of the Cabiri.
I must crave pardon of the curious
if I preserve silence as to who the Cabiri are,
and what rites are performed
in honor of them and their mother.
There is, however, nothing to prevent me disclosing
the account which the Thebans give of the origin of the rites.
They say that in this place there was once a city,
the men of which were named Cabiri;
and that Demeter made the acquaintance of Prometheus,
one of the Cabiri, and of his son Aetnaeus,
and entrusted something to their care;
but what it was he entrusted to them and what happened to it,
I thought it wrong to set down.
At all events, the mysteries are a gift of Demeter to the Cabiri.
Pausanias Description of Greece IX, 25:5-6

He added this extraordinary occurrence:

Once more, when Alexander after his victory
gave Thebes and all the land of Thebes to the flames,
some Macedonians who entered the sanctuary
of the Cabiri because it was in the enemy's country,
were destroyed by thunderbolts and lightening from heaven.
So holy has this sanctuary been from the beginning.
Pausanias Description of Greece IX, 25:10

Here is another example of divine punishment and reward:

But the most remarkable object of all
is a sanctuary of Demeter on Mount Pron.
The Hermionians say that the founders of this sanctuary were Clymenus, son of Phoroneus, and his sister Chthonia.
But the Argive story is this.
When Demeter came to Argolis,
she was hospitably received by Athera and Mysius.
However, Colontas neither opened his house to the goddess
nor paid her any other mark of respect.
But this churlish behavior
was not to the mind of his daughter Chthonia.
They each had their reward:
the house of Colontas was burnt down and he in it;
but Chthonia was brought by Demeter to Hermion
and founded the sanctuary.
However that may have been, the goddess herself
is certainly called Chthonia (‘subterranean’),
and they celebrate a festival called Chthonia
every year in summer-time.
Pausanias Description of Greece II, 35:4-5

Other mysteries taken from Eleusis were set in Arcadia:

The Pheneatians have also
a sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Eleusinian,
and they celebrate mysteries in her honor,
alleging that rites identical with those performed at Eleusis
were instituted in their land;
for Naus, they say, a grandson of Eumolpus,
came to their country in obedience to an oracle from Delphi.
Beside the sanctuary of the Eleusinian goddess is what is
called the Petroma, two great stones fitted to each other.
Every second year, when they are celebrating
what they call the Greater Mysteries they open these stones,
and taking out of them certain writings
which bear on the mysteries,
they read them in the hearing of the initiated,
and put them back in their place that same night.
I know, too, that on the weightiest matters
most of the Pheneatians swear by the Petroma.
There is a round top on it,
which contains a mask of Demeter Cidaria:
this mask the priest puts on his face at the Greater Mysteries,
and smites the Underground Folk with rods.
I suppose there is some legend to account for the custom.
The Pheneatians have a legend that
Demeter came hither on her wanderings even before Naus;
and that to those of the Pheneatians
who welcomed her hospitably
she gave all the different kinds of pulse except beans.
They have a sacred story about the bean
to show why they think it an unclean kind of pulse.
The men who received the goddess,
according to the Pheneatian legend,
were Trisaules and Damithales:
They built a temple of Demeter Thesmia (‘goddess of laws’)
under Mount Cyllene, and instituted in her honor
the mysteries which they still celebrate.
Pausanias Description of Greece VIII, 15:1-4

Dionysus and Iacchos at Eleusis

Strabo summarizes many different rites this way:

Now most of the Greeks assigned to Dionysus,
Apollo, Hecate, the Muses, and above all to Demeter,
everything of an orgiastic or Bacchic or choral nature,
as well as the mystic element in initiations;
and they give the name “Iacchus” not only to Dionysus
but also to the leader-in-chief of the mysteries,
who is the genius of Demeter.
And branch-bearing, choral dancing, and initiations
are common elements in the worship of these gods.
As for the Muses and Apollo,
the Muses preside over the choruses,
whereas Apollo presides both over these
and the rites of divination.
But all educated men, and especially the musician,
are ministers of the Muses; and both these and those
who have to do with divination are ministers of Apollo;
and the initiated and torch-bearers and hierophants,
of Demeter; and the Sileni and Satyri and Bacchae,
and also the Lenae and Thyiae and Mimallones and Naides
and Nymphae and the beings called Tityri, of Dionysus.
Strabo Geography X, 3:10

Pindar indicates the introduction of Dionysus to Demeter in relation to music or perhaps his well known function of dancing.

Was it haply, when you did bring into being
Dionysus of the flowing locks,
who is enthroned beside Demeter of the clashing cymbals?
Pindar Isthmian VII, 3-5

In Sophocles’ Antigone the chorus calls upon Dionysus as he who welcomes the initiates to Eleusis.

O you of many names, glory of the Cadmeian bride,
offspring of loud-thundering Zeus!
you who watches over famed Italia,
and reigns, where all guests are welcomed,
in the sheltered plain of Eleusinian Deo! O Bacchus.
Sophocles Antigone 1115-1120

Pausanias gave this description:

Hard by is a temple of Demeter
with images of the goddess, her daughter,
and Iacchus, who is holding a torch.
An inscription in Attic letters on the wall declares that
they are works of Praxiteles.
Pausanias Description of Greece I, 2:4

Diodorus Siculus related the original Dionysus as the son of Persephone herself.

This god (Dionysus) was born in Crete,
men say, of Zeus and Persephone,
and Orpheus has handed down the tradition
in the initiatory rites that he was torn in pieces by the Titans.
Diodorus Siculus V, 75

Orpheus the Classic Mystic

It is impossible to conclude how significant an influence Orphism had on Eleusis for there is no solid evidence for it or against it. Pausanias wrote this of the renowned mystic:
In my opinion Orpheus was a man
who surpassed his predecessors in the beauty of his poetry,
and attained great power
because he was believed to have discovered mystic rites,
purifications for wicked deeds, remedies for diseases,
and modes of averting the wrath of the gods....
But some say that Orpheus was struck dead by the god
with a thunderbolt on account of certain revelations
which he had made to men at the mysteries.
Pausanias Description of Greece IX, 30:4-5

The varieties of mystical experience hymned by Orpheus often are related to Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysus (translated by Romans to Ceres, Proserpine, and Bacchus respectively) and refer to mystic rites or Telete, which means the celebration of the Mysteries from teleo, to make perfect. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 320)  Although not necessarily used in the Eleusinian Mysteries, these hymns give one the feeling of a comparable mysticism. We have already given “To Proserpine,” “To Pluto,” and “To Ceres,” from Taylor’s Mystical Hymns of Orpheus, and all of the following refer directly to Bacchus, Demeter (Ceres), or Persephone (Proserpine); the first is complete, the rest selections. These were sung by devoted mystics to their gods.
It is impossible to conclude how significant an influence Orphism had on Eleusis for there is no solid evidence for it or against it. Pausanias wrote this of the renowned mystic:
In my opinion Orpheus was a man
who surpassed his predecessors in the beauty of his poetry,
and attained great power
because he was believed to have discovered mystic rites,
purifications for wicked deeds, remedies for diseases,
and modes of averting the wrath of the gods....
But some say that Orpheus was struck dead by the god
with a thunderbolt on account of certain revelations
which he had made to men at the mysteries.
Pausanias Description of Greece IX, 30:4-5

The varieties of mystical experience hymned by Orpheus often are related to Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysus (translated by Romans to Ceres, Proserpine, and Bacchus respectively) and refer to mystic rites or Telete, which means the celebration of the Mysteries from teleo, to make perfect. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 320)  Although not necessarily used in the Eleusinian Mysteries, these hymns give one the feeling of a comparable mysticism. We have already given “To Proserpine,” “To Pluto,” and “To Ceres,” from Taylor’s Mystical Hymns of Orpheus, and all of the following refer directly to Bacchus, Demeter (Ceres), or Persephone (Proserpine); the first is complete, the rest selections. These were sung by devoted mystics to their gods.
To Amphietus Bacchus
Terrestrial Dionysus, hear my pray’r,
Rise vigilant with Nymphs of lovely hair:
Great Amphietus Bacchus, annual God,
Who laid asleep in Proserpine’s abode,
Her sacred seat, didst lull to drowsy rest
The rites triennial and the sacred feast;
Which rous’d again by thee, in graceful ring,
Thy nurses round thee mystic anthems sing;
When briskly dancing with rejoicing pow’rs,
Thou mov'st in concert with the circling hours,
Come blessed, fruitful, horned, and divine,
And on this sacred Telete propitious shine;
Accept the pious incense and the pray’r,
And make prolific holy fruits thy care.

To Bacchus
Of Jove and Proserpine occultly born
In beds ineffable; all-bless’d pow’r,
Whom with triennial off’rings men adore.
Immortal daemon, hear my suppliant voice,
Give me in blameless plenty to rejoice;
And listen gracious to my mystic pray’r,
Surrounded with thy choir of nurses fair,

To the Nereids
Give plenteous wealth, and bless our mystic rites;
For you at first disclosed the rites divine,
Of holy Bacchus and of Proserpine,

To the Nymphs
With Bacchus and with Ceres hear my pray’r,
And to mankind abundant favor bear;
Propitious listen to your suppliant’s voice,
Come, and benignant in these rites rejoice;
Give plenteous seasons and sufficient wealth,
And pour in lasting streams, continued health.

To Semele
Whom Proserpine permits to view the light,
And visit mortals from the realms of night.
Constant attending on the sacred rites,
And feast triennial, which thy soul delights;
When thy son’s wondrous birth mankind relate
And secrets pure and holy celebrate.
Now I invoke thee, great Cadmean queen,
To bless thy mystics, lenient and serene.

To Adonis
Descended from the secret bed divine
Of Pluto’s queen, the fair-hair’d Proserpine.
’Tis thine to sink in Tartarus profound,
And shine again thro’ heav’ns illustrious round
Come, timely pow’r, with providential care,
And to thy mystics earth’s productions bear.

To the Curetes
Fam’d deities the guards of Proserpine,
Preserving rites mysterious and divine:

To the Seasons
Invested with a veil of shining dew,
A flow’ry veil delightful to the view:
Attending Proserpine, when back from night
The Fates and Graces lead her up to light;
When in a band harmonious they advance,
And joyful round her form the solemn dance.
With Ceres triumphing, and Jove divine,
Propitious come, and on our incense shine;
Give earth a store of blameless fruits to bear,
And make these novel mystics’ life your care.

To Nereus
Great daemon, source of all, whose pow’r can make
The sacred basis of blest Ceres shake,...
Send to thy mystics necessary wealth,
With gentle peace, and ever tranquil health.

To Love
Of all that Ceres' fertile realms contains,
By which th’all parent Goddess life sustains,
Or dismal Tartarus is doom’d to keep,
Widely extended, or the sounding deep;
For thee all Nature’s various realms obey,
Who rul’st alone, with universal sway.
Come, blessed pow’r, regard these mystic fires,
And far avert unlawful mad desires.

To Corybas
By thee transmuted, Ceres’ body pure
Became a dragon’s savage and obscure.
Avert thy anger, hear me when I pray,
And, by fix’d fate, drive fancy’s fears away.
More selections refer to mystic rites.
Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus

To Orpheus the whole cosmos is alive and divine.

To the Sun
Propitious on these mystic labors shine,
And bless thy suppliants with a life divine.

To the Moon
Shine on these sacred rites with prosp’rous rays,
And pleas’d accept thy suppliants’ mystic praise.

To the Stars
These sacred rites regard with conscious rays,
And end our works devoted to your praise.

To Latona
Hear me, O queen, and fav’rbly attend,
And to this Telete divine afford a pleasing end.

To the Daemon
O holy blessed  father, hear my pray’r,
Disperse the seed of life-consuming care,
With fav’ring mind the sacred rites attend,
And grant to life a glorious blessed end.

To the Muse
Commanding queens, who lead to sacred light
The intellect refin’d from Error’s night;
And to mankind each holy rite disclose,
For mystic knowledge from your nature flows....
Come, venerable, various pow’rs divine,
With fav’ring aspect on your mystics shine;
Bring glorious, ardent, lovely, fam’d desire,
And warm my bosom with your sacred fire.

To Aurora
For all the culture of our life is thine.
Come, blessed pow’r and to these rites incline:
Thy holy light increase, and unconfin’d
Diffuse its radiance on thy mystics’ mind

To Themis
Honor’d by all, of form divinely bright,
Majestic virgin, wand’ring in the night.
Mankind from thee first learnt perfective rites,
And Bacchus’ nightly choirs thy soul delights;
For the God’s honors to disclose is thine,
And holy mysteries and rites divine.
Be present Goddess, to my pray’r inclin'd,
And bless thy Telete with fav’ring mind.

To Death
Hear me, O Death, whose empire unconfin’d
Extends to mortal tribes of ev’ry kind.
On thee the portion of our time depends,
Whose absence lengthens life, whose presence ends.
Thy sleep perpetual bursts the vivid folds
By which the soul attracting body holds.

To Mnemosyne or the Goddess of Memory
The consort I invoke of Jove divine,
Source of the holy, sweetly speaking Nine;
Free from th’oblivion of the fallen mind,
By whom the soul with intellect is join’d.
Reason’s increase and thought to thee belong,
All-powerful, pleasant, vigilant and strong.
’Tis thine to waken from lethargic rest
All thoughts deposited within the breast;
And naught neglecting, vig’rous to excite
The mental eye from dark oblivion’s night
Come, blessed pow’r, thy mystics’ mem’ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe’s fetters break.

To Heaven
Propitious on a novel mystic shine,
And crown his wishes with a life divine.
Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus

The Goddesses' Blessings of Nature

In Shakespeare’s Tempest, Prospero invokes Ceres to bless the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda.  Ceres sings:

Earth’s increase, foison plenty,
Barn and garners never empty,
Vines with clust’ring bunches growing,
Plants with goodly burthen bowing:
Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest
Scarcity and want shall shun you;
Ceres’ blessing so is on you.
Shakespeare Tempest IV, I, 110-117

Diodorus Siculus:

The earth, again, they looked upon as a kind of vessel
which holds all growing things
and so gave it the name “mother;”
and in like manner the Greeks also call it Demeter,
the word having been slightly changed in the course of time;
for in olden time they called her Ge Meter (Earth Mother),
to which Orpheus bears witness when he speaks of
“Earth the Mother of all, Demeter giver of wealth.”
Diodorus Siculus I, 12

Socrates defined her.

Demeter is who gives food like a mother.
Plato Cratylus 404c

In his Golden Bough James George Frazer emphasized the nature aspects of the deities.  He collected the following epithets for Demeter which he found in relation to her agricultural function: “Wheat-lover,” “She of the Corn,” “Sheaf-bearer,” “She of the Threshing-floor,” “She of the Winnowing-fan,” “Nurse of the Corn-ears,” “Crowned with “Ears of Corn,” “She of the Seed,” “She of the Green Fruits,” “Heavy with Summer fruits,” “Fruit-bearer,” “She of the Great Loaf,” and “She of the Great Barley Loaf.” (Spirits of the Corn Vol. 1, p. 110-117) Porphyry explained kore  (maiden) as being the feminine form of koros  (sprout).

Athenaeus gave us a beautiful fragment from a non-extant play of Aeschylus, showing Love to be the essential factor behind Demeter’s nurturing:
Again, the most august Aeschylus, in his Danaids,
introduces Aphrodite herself saying:
“The chaste heaven loves to violate the earth,
and love lays hold on earth to join in wedlock.
The rain from the streaming heaven falls down
and impregnates the earth;
and she brings forth her mortals
the pasturage of sheep and Demeter’s sustenance;
and the ripe season for the trees
is perfected by the watery union.
Of all this I am the cause.”
Athenaeus The Deipnosophists XIII, 600b

In art Persephone sometimes appears rising out of the earth as the personification of the young grain sprouting in the spring. A coin of Lampsacus of the 4th century CE is a good example and is described by Percy Gardner in Types of Greek Coins. Nilsson in his Greek Folk Religion (p. 53-54) explains the Corn Maiden emerging from the ground surrounded by three satyrs dancing who strike the ground with their hammers as a common practice of smashing the clods of earth after plowing which is done before the grain sprouts.

Diodorus Siculus gives this allegorical interpretation of Dionysus, Zeus, and Demeter:

Furthermore, the early men have given Dionysus
the name of “Dimetor” (twice-born),
reckoning it as a single and first birth
when the plant is set in the ground and begins to grow,
and as a second birth
when it becomes laden with fruit and ripens its clusters,
the god, therefore, being considered as having been
born once from the earth and again from the vine.
And though the writers of myths have handed down
the account of a third birth as well, at which as they say
the sons of Gaia tore to pieces the god,
who was a son of Zeus and Demeter, and boiled him,
but his members were brought together again by Demeter,
and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time;
such accounts as this
they trace back to certain causes found in nature.
For he is considered to be the son of Zeus and Demeter,
they hold, by reason of the fact that
the vine gets its growth both from the earth and from rain
and so bears as its fruit the wine
which is pressed out from the clusters of grapes;
and the statement that he was torn to pieces,
while yet a youth, by the “earth-born”
signifies the harvesting of the fruit by the laborers,
and the boiling of his members has been worked into a myth
by reason of the fact that most men
boil the wine and then mix it,
thereby improving its natural aroma and quality.
Again, the account of his members,
which the “earth-born” treated with despite,
being brought together again and restored
to their former natural state, shows forth that the vine,
which has been stripped of its fruit
and pruned at the yearly seasons, is restored by the earth
to the high level of fruitfulness which it had before.
For, in general, the ancient poets and writers of myths
spoke of Demeter as Ge Meter (Earth Mother).
And with these stories the teachings agree
which are set forth in the Orphic poems
and are introduced into their rites,
but it is not lawful to recount them in detail to the uninitiated.
Diodorus Siculus III, 62:5-8

Diodorus Siculus has more on the agricultural deities Demeter and the second of three Dionysuses he distinguished in his Library of History.

And in general, the myths relate that the gods
who receive the greatest approval at the hands
of human beings are those who excelled in their benefactions
by reason of their discovery of good things,
namely, Dionysus and Demeter, the former
because he was the discoverer of the most pleasing drink,
the latter because she gave to the race of men
the most excellent of the dry foods.
Some writers of myths, however, relate that
there was a second Dionysus who was much earlier in time
than the one we have just mentioned.
For according to them there was born of Zeus and Persephone
a Dionysus who is called by some Sabazius
and whose birth and sacrifices and honors
are celebrated at night and in secret
because of the disgrace
resulting from the intercourse of the sexes.
They state also that he excelled in sagacity
and was the first to attempt the yoking of oxen
and by their aid to effect the sowing of the seed,
this being the reason
why they also represent him as wearing a horn.
Diodorus Siculus IV, 3-4

The second Dionysus, the writers of myth relate,
was born to Zeus by Persephone,
though some say it was Demeter.
He is represented by them
as the first man to have yoked oxen to the plough,
human beings before that time
having prepared the ground by hand.
Many other things also, which are useful for agriculture,
were skillfully devised by him,
whereby the masses were relieved of their great distress;
and in return for this those whom he had benefited
accorded to him honors and sacrifices
like those offered to the gods, since all men were eager,
because of the magnitude of his service to them,
to accord to him immortality.
And as a special symbol and token
the painters and sculptors represented him with horns,
at the same time making manifest thereby
the other nature of Dionysus
and also showing forth the magnitude of the service
which he had devised for the farmers
by his invention of the plough.
Diodorus Siculus III, 64

Writing about the Egyptians in his Isis and Osiris, Plutarch describes the feelings behind primitive farming and how they could easily lead to an analogy with death.

The season of the year also gives us a suspicion
that this gloominess is brought about because of
the disappearance from our sight of the crops and fruits
that people in days of old did not regard as gods,
but as necessary and important contributions of the gods
toward the avoidance of a savage and a bestial life.
At the time of year when they saw some of the fruit
vanishing and disappearing completely from the tree,
while they themselves were sowing others
in a mean and poverty-stricken fashion still,
scraping away the earth with their hands
and again replacing it, committing the seed to the ground
with uncertain expectation of their ever appearing again
or coming to fruition they did many things
like persons at a funeral in mourning for their dead.
Plutarch Isis and Osiris 70

Frazer describes how the anxieties of the ancient Greek farmer in regard to whether they were released through a festival of supplication to Demeter.  The festival called Proeroia sends the first fruits of the harvest to Athens to avoid famine. (Spirits of the Corn  Vol. 1, p. 51)

Hesiod in his Works and Days of the 9th century BC indicates how much the blessings of Demeter meant to the farmer of those ancient times.

Little concern has he with quarrels and courts
who has not a year’s victuals laid up betimes,
even that which the earth bears, Demeter’s grain.
Hesiod Works and Days 31

But do you at any rate, always remembering my charge,
work, high-born Perses, that Hunger may hate you,
and venerable Demeter richly crowned
may love you and fill your barn with food.
Hesiod Works and Days 328-331

Pray to Zeus of the Earth and to pure Demeter
to make Demeter’s holy grain sound and heavy,
when first you begin ploughing,
when you hold in your hand the end of the plough-tail
and bring down your stock on the backs of the oxen
as they draw on the pole-bar by the yoke-straps.
Hesiod Works and Days 465-469

In the same ancient work, Hesiod gives instructions on how to consult the stars to determine when to plow and harvest.

When the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas,
are rising, begin your harvest,
and your ploughing when they are going to set.
Forty nights and days they are hidden and appear again
as the year moves round,
when first you sharpen your sickle.
This is the law of the plains,
and of those who live near the sea,
and who inhabit rich country,
the glens and dingles far from the tossing sea,
strip to sow and strip to plough and strip to reap,
if you wish to get in all Demeter’s fruits in due season,
and that each kind may grow in its season.
Hesiod Works and Days 383-393

Set your slaves to winnow Demeter’s holy grain,
when strong Orion first appears,
on a smooth threshing-floor in an airy place….
But when the Pleiades and Hyades and strong Orion
begin to set, then remember to plough in season:
and so the completed year will fitly pass beneath the earth.
Hesiod Works and Days 597-599, 614-617

The Pleiades are near the end of Taurus, and Orion covers the end of Taurus and the beginning of Gemini.  Thus the sun passed through them in Hesiod’s time during May.  While the sun was passing their portion of the zodiac they would not be visible, but shortly thereafter they would be seen just before sunrise.  In this way the Pleiades would indicate harvest and Orion threshing.  They would be setting just before sunrise at the opposite time of the year in November, the time for plowing in the Aegean climate.
Euripides’ extant tragedy The Suppliants is set at Eleusis and begins with these supplications of Aethra:

O Demeter, guardian of this Eleusinian land,
and you servants of the goddess who attend her sanctuary,
grant happiness to me and my son Theseus,
to the city of Athens and the country of Pittheus....
Now it chanced, that I had left my house and come
to offer sacrifice on behalf of the earth’s crop at this shrine,
where first the fruitful corn
showed its bristling shocks above the soil.
And here at the holy altar of the twain goddesses,
Demeter and her daughter,
I wait, holding these sprays of foliage, a bond that binds not,
in compassion for these childless mothers,
hoary with age, and from reverence for the sacred fillets.
Euripides The Suppliants 1-4, 30-35

Ovid pleaded for the bull which serves man well, giving over the useless pig for sacrifice. As far as we know the trend at Eleusis was in this direction.

You attendants, with tucked up robes,
take the knives away from the ox; let the ox plough;
sacrifice the lazy sow.
The ax should never smite the neck that fits the yoke;
let him live and often labor in the hard soil.
Ovid Fasti IV, 409-416

Finally he gives us the sentiment of kind gods.

Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure.
Ovid Fasti IV, 407-408

The Thesmophoria

Herodotus gave this cryptic account:

On this lake it is that the Egyptians represent by night
his sufferings whose name I refrain from mentioning,
and this representation they call their Mysteries.
I know well the whole course of the proceedings
in these ceremonies, but they shall not pass my lips.
So too, with regard to the mysteries of Demeter,
which the Greek term “the Thesmophoria,”
I know them, but I shall not mention them,
except so far as may be done without impiety.
The daughters of Danaus brought these rites from Egypt,
and taught them to the Pelasgic women of the Peloponnese.
Afterward, when the inhabitants of the peninsula were driven
from their homes by the Dorians, the rites perished.
Only in Arcadia, where the natives remained
and were not compelled to migrate,
their observance continued.
Herodotus The History II, 171

Both Hesiod and Homer briefly mentioned a grain ritual on a threshing floor.

Look about you very carefully and throw out
Demeter’s holy grain upon the well-rolled threshing floor
on the seventh of the mid-month.
Hesiod Works and Days 805-807

As the breezes sport with the chaff
upon some goodly threshing floor, when men are winnowing—
while yellow Demeter blows with the wind
to sift the chaff from the grain,
and the chaff-heaps grow whiter and whiter.
Homer Iliad V, 499-502

The Stemia on the 7th of Pyanepsion, the month after Boedromion, was the last festival before the Thesmophoria when the women ate the pomegranate seeds. This probably had to do with the mother’s visit to her daughter in the underworld. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 149-150) The sexual symbolism of the pomegranate finds elaboration in Athenaeus’ discussion of mylloi.

Heracleides of Syracuse in his work On Institutions
says that in Syracuse,
on the Day of Consummation at the Thesmophoria,
cakes of sesame and honey were molded
in the shape of the female pudenda,
and were called throughout the whole of Sicily mylloi
and were carried about in honor of the goddesses.
Athenaeus The Deipnosophists XIV, 646f

Nilsson recounts how in a fertility ritual connected to the Thesmophoria during the threshing pigs were thrown into subterranean hollows, and the putrefied remains were brought back up at the autumn Thesmophoria festival of sowing, laid on altars, and mixed with seed corn as a fertility charm.  The swine was the animal sacred to Demeter, and pigs were sacrificed prior to initiation.  Figures of swine are found at Eleusis. (Greek Folk Religion p. 49)  Pausanias also relates this ritual to Demeter and Persephone.

When you have crossed the Asopus
and are just ten furlongs from the city
you come to the ruins of Potniae.
Amongst them is a grove of Demeter and the Maid.
The images at the river which flows past Potniae
they name the goddesses.
At a stated time they perform certain customary ceremonies:
in particular they throw sucking pigs
into what they call the hallsy,
and they say that at the same time next year
those pigs appear at Dodona.
Pausanias Description of Greece IX, 8:1

Eleusis and History

So strongly did the Eleusinian Mysteries underlie Greek culture, that every year a peace was declared for their celebration, the truce lasting throughout the Greek world for 55 days. O marvelous power of the goddesses who can bring peace to mankind! Even in certain cases involving foreigners who obeyed no Greek traditions they seemed to exert a force in war when the sanctity of Eleusis was imperiled.  Once the Persians had burned the sanctuary at Eleusis; supernatural forces prevented the same fate again, aiding the Greeks at Salamis to the most crucial victory in their history.  Plutarch relates how Aristides thoughtfully consulted the gods before the battle.

Tisamenus, the Elean, had prophesied to Pausanias
and all the Greeks, and foretold them victory
if they made no attempt upon the enemy,
but stood on their defense.
But Aristides sending to Delphi, the god answered that
the Athenians should overcome their enemies
in case they made supplication to Zeus and Hera of Cithaeron,
Pan and the nymphs Shragitides, and sacrificed to the heroes
Androcrates, Leucon, Pisander, Damocrates,
Hypsion, Actaeon, and Polyidus;
and if they fought within their own territories
in the plain of Demeter Eleusinia and Persephone....
But the plain of Demeter Eleusinia,
and the offer of victory to the Athenians,
if they fought on their own territories, recalled them again,
and transferred the war into the country of Attica.
In this juncture, Arimnestus, who commanded the Plataeans,
dreamed that Zeus, the Savior,
asked him what the Greeks had resolved upon;
and that he answered, “Tomorrow, my Lord,
we march our army to Eleusis,
and there give the barbarians battle
according to the directions of the oracle of Apollo.”
Plutarch Aristides 12

Herodotus gives two accounts of the mystical events before and during the battle which took place on the same day as the Mysteries were due to be celebrated (around September 23 on our calendar) in the year 480 BC.

The following is a tale which was told
by Dicaeus, the son of Theocydes, an  Athenian,
who was at this time in exile
and had gained a good report among the Medes.
He declared that after the army of Xerxes had,
in the absence of the Athenians, wasted Attica,
he chanced to be with Demaratus, the Lacedaemonian
in the Thriasian plain, and that while there,
he saw a cloud of dust advancing from Eleusis,
such as a host of thirty thousand men might raise.
As he and his companion were wondering who the men,
from whom the dust arose, could possibly be,
a sound of voices reached his ear, and he thought that
he recognized the mystic hymn to Bacchus.
Now Demaratus was unacquainted with the rites of Eleusis,
and so he inquired of Dicaeus what the voices were saying.
Dicaeus made answer—“O Demaratus! beyond a doubt
some mighty calamity is about to befall the king’s army!
For it is manifest, inasmuch as Attica
is deserted by its inhabitants,
that the sound which we have heard is an unearthly one
and is now upon its way from Eleusis
to aid the Athenians and their confederates.
If it descends upon the Peloponnese,
danger will threaten the king himself and his land army—
if it moves towards the ships at Salamis,
’twill go hard but the king’s fleet there suffers destruction.
Every year the Athenians celebrate this feast
to the Mother and the Daughter; and all who wish,
whether they be Athenians or any other Greeks, are initiated.
The sound you hear is the Bacchic song,
which is wont to be sung at that festival.”
“Hush now,” rejoined the other;
“and see you tell no man of this matter.
For if thy words be brought to the king’s ear,
you will assuredly lose your head because of them;
neither I nor any man living can save you.
Hold your peace therefore.
The gods will see to the king’s army.”
Thus Demaratus counseled him;
and they looked, and saw the dust,
from which the sound arose, become a cloud,
and the cloud rise up into the air and sail away to Salamis,
making for the station of the Grecian fleet.
Then they knew it was the fleet of Xerxes
which would suffer destruction.
Such was the tale told by Dicaeus the son of Theocydes;
and he appealed for its truth
to Demaratus and other eye-witnesses.
Herodotus The History VIII, 65

The Persians, as soon as they were put to flight
by the Lacedaemonians, ran hastily away,
without preserving any order,
and took refuge in their own camp, within the wooden defense
which they had raised in the Theban territory.
It is a marvel to me how it came to pass, that although
the battle was fought quite close to the grove of Demeter,
yet not a single Persian appears to have died
on the sacred soil, nor even to have set foot upon it,
while round about the precinct, in the unconsecrated ground,
great numbers perished.
I imagine—if it is lawful, in matters which concern the gods,
to imagine anything—that the goddess herself kept them out,
because they had burned her dwelling at Eleusis.
Such, then, was the issue of this battle.
Herodotus The History IX, 65

Plutarch also records how Themistocles who was in love with the same woman as Aristides, managed to carry off the battle foreseen by the oracle.

It is reported that, in the middle of the fight,
a great flame rose into the air above the city of Eleusis,
and that sounds and voices were heard
through all the Thriasian plain, as far as the sea,
sounding like a number of men
accompanying and escorting the mystic Iacchus,
and that a mist seemed to form and rise from the place
from whence the sounds came,
and, passing forward, fell upon the galleys.
Others believed that they saw apparitions,
in the shape of armed men, reaching out their hands
from the island of Aegina before Grecian galleys;
and supposed they were the Aeacidae,
whom they had invoked to their aid before the battle.
The first man that took a ship was Lycomedes the Athenian,
captain of the galley, who cut down its ensign,
and dedicated it to Apollo the Laurel-crowned.
And as the Persians fought in a narrow arm of the sea,
and could bring but part of their fleet to fight,
and fell foul of one another, the Greeks thus equaled them
in strength and fought with them
till the evening forced them back, and obtained,
as says Simonides, that noble and famous victory,
than which neither amongst the Greek nor barbarians
was ever known more glorious exploit on the seas;
by the joint valor, indeed, and zeal of all who fought,
but by the wisdom and sagacity of Themistocles.
Plutarch Themistocles 15

Throughout these descriptions we find that Iacchus is significant in the celebration. A more unfortunate event is described in Plutarch’s Life of Phocion on the celebrations’ last day in Athens.

The resentment felt upon it was heightened
by the time it happened in, for the garrison was brought in
on the twentieth of the month of Boedromion
just at the time of the great festival,
when they carry forth Iacchus with solemn pomp
from the city to Eleusis;
so that the solemnity being disturbed,
many began to call to mind instances, both ancient
and modern, of divine interventions and intimations.
For in old time upon the occasions of their happiest successes,
the presence of the shapes and voices
of the mystic ceremonies had been vouchsafed to them,
striking terror and amazement into their enemies;
but now, at the very season of their celebration,
the gods themselves stood witnesses
of the saddest oppressions of Greece,
the most holy time being profaned,
and their greatest jubilee made
the unlucky date of their most extreme calamity....
While a candidate for initiation was washing a young pig
in the haven of Cantharus, a shark seized him,
bit off all his lower parts up to the belly and devoured them,
by which the god gave them manifestly to understand,
that having lost the lower town and seacoast,
they should keep only the upper city.
Plutarch Phocion 28

The Eleusinian Mysteries added greatly to the prestige of Athens.  Isocrates stated how the Delphic oracle supported Athens’ claims to the first-fruits of other cities.

For most of the Hellenic cities,
in memory of our ancient services,
send us each year the first-fruits of the harvest,
and those who neglect to do so have often been admonished
by the Pythian priestess to pay us our due portion
of their crops and to observe in relation to our city
the customs of their fathers.
Isocrates Panegyricus 31

For the Greeks the performance of the mysteries was the time when the goddesses personally visited them.  Athenaeus described the arrival of the hero Demetrius during the celebration of the Greater Mysteries this way:

For the highest and dearest of the gods
are come to our city.
Hither, indeed, the time has brought together
Demeter and Demetrius.
She comes to celebrate the solemn mysteries of the Daughter.
Athenaeus The Deipnosophists VI, 253d

Immediately after his victory at Actium, Augustus was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries. In 20 BC he returned to Greece and ordered that the Mysteries be celebrated out of season so that the Brahman ambassador of King Poros of India could be admitted.  However, the Brahman after witnessing the secret walked into the fire as a public demonstration of his lack of fear of death.  (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 100-101)
Even after almost 2,000 years of annual celebration, the Eleusinian Mysteries seemed to have maintained their purity and potency, for Zosimos’ account of Emperor Valentinian’s attempt to end them in 364 CE brought a refusal from the proconsul of Greece, Praetextatus, who declared that this ban would make the life of the Greeks unlivable because they hold the whole human race together, indicating that they still stood as the foundation of Greek religion and the unity of Hellenic peoples. This Hierophant ordered that the sacred Mysteries be celebrated according to the ancient tradition in disobedience of the Emperor’s edict.


Whenever light descends to form and color, shadows appear.  So the sacred must protect itself from profanation here below. The Greeks recognizing the exceptional value of the rites guarded then carefully. Silence preserved the spiritual which speech might offend. The Eleusinian Mysteries are one of the most widely spread, best kept secrets in history.

And since they knew that in matters pertaining to the gods
the city would be most enraged if any man
should be shown to be violating the Mysteries.
Isocrates The Team of Horses 6

Isocrates had expressed a common sentiment, also employed by one of Lucian’s characters.

If I see some initiate of the Mysteries giving away
the secret ritual and going through the dances in public,
and I get angry and show him up,
are you going to consider me the wrongdoer?
Lucian The Fisherman 33

Callimachus hinted that the ability to hold one’s tongue is prerequisite to initiation.

It is a great blessing for you
that you have not seen the rites of the dread goddess,
or else you would have spewed up their story too.
Callimachus Aetia 75

Aristotle touched on the same theme and also mentioned the case of Aeschylus who was born at Eleusis and might have lost his life for the information he gave out in one of his lost plays, except that they could not prove that he had ever been initiated.

But of what he is doing a man might be ignorant,
as for instance people say, ‘It slipped out of their mouths
as they were speaking,’
or ‘They did not know it was a secret,’
as Aeschylus said of the mysteries.
Aristotle Nicomachaean Ethics III, I, 17

Alcibiades, whose rowdy behavior is depicted in Plato’s Symposium, is the most famous, or infamous, profaner of the mysteries, and he actually mocked them through vulgar initiation. Andocides told how he was brought to trial on the eve of a major military expedition.

The Assembly had met to give audience
to Nicias, Lamachus, and Alcibiades,
the generals about to leave with the Sicilian expedition--
in fact, Lamachus’ flag-ship was already lying off-shore--
when suddenly Pythonicus rose before the people and cried:
“Countrymen, you are sending forth this mighty host
in all its array upon a perilous enterprise.
Yet your commander, Alcibiades,
has been holding celebrations of the mysteries
in a private house, and others with him; I will prove it.
Grant immunity to him whom I indicate, and a non-initiate,
a slave belonging to someone here present,
shall describe the Mysteries to you.
You can punish me as you will, if that is not the truth.”
Andocides On the Mysteries 11-12

Plutarch in his Life of Alcibiades gives the results of the case, adding an interesting anecdote showing the spirituality of one of the priestesses.

“Thessalus, the son of Cimon, of the township of Lacia,
lays information that Alcibiades, the son of Clinias
of the township of the Scambonidae, has committed a crime
against the goddess Demeter and Persephone,
by representing in derision the holy mysteries,
and showing them to his companions in his own house.
Where, being habited in such robes
as are used by the chief priest, Polytion the torch-bearer,
and Theodorus, of the township of Phegaea, the herald;
and saluted the rest of his company as Initiates and Novices,
all which was done contrary
to the laws and institutions of the Eulmolpidae,
and the heralds and priests of the temple at Eleusis.”
He was condemned as contumacious
upon his not appearing, his property confiscated,
and it was decreed that
all the priests and priestesses should solemnly curse him.
But one of them, Theano, the daughter of Menon,
of the township of Agraule,
is said to have opposed that part of the decree,
saying that her holy office obliged her to make prayers,
but not execrations.
Plutarch Alcibiades 34

Demosthenes in his oration Against Neaera used the case of a hierophant who favored a certain woman, as an example of the strictness of Athenian law.

It is worth your while, men of Athens, to consider this also--
that you punished Archias, who had been hierophant,
when he was convicted in court of impiety and of offering
sacrifice contrary to the rites handed down by our fathers.
Among the charges brought against him was,
that at the feast of the harvest he sacrificed on the altar
in the court at Eleusis
a victim brought by the courtesan Sinope,
although it was not lawful to offer victims on that day,
and the sacrifice was not his to perform, but the priestess’!
It is, then, a monstrous thing that a man
who was of the race of the Eumolpidae,
born of honorable ancestors and a citizen of Athens,
should be punished for having transgressed
one of your established customs;
and the pleadings of his relatives and friends did not save him,
nor the public services
which he and his ancestors had rendered to the city;
no, nor yet his office of hierophant;
but you punished him, because he was judged to be guilty.
Demosthenes Against Neaera 116-117

Isocrates is not correct in condemning foreigners outright as knowledge of Greek was the only requirement for initiation; murderers were prohibited unless purified by the priests.

And at the celebration of the Mysteries,
the Eumolpidae and the Kerykes,
because of our hatred of the Persians,
give solemn warning to the other barbarians also,
even as to men guilty of murder,
that they are forever banned from the sacred rites.
Isocrates Panegyricus 157

Pausanias told the story of an Eleusinian martyr.

On the road from Athens to Eleusis,
which the Athenians called the Sacred Way,
there is the tomb of Anthemocritus.
He was the victim of a most foul crime
perpetuated by the Megarians;
for when he came as a herald to forbid them
to encroach on the sacred land, they slew him.
And the wrath of the two goddesses abides upon them
for that deed to this day;
for they were the only Greek people
whom even the Emperor Hadrian could not make to thrive.
Pausanias Description of Greece I, 36:3

Livy related an unfortunate accident of the year 201 BC which led to war.

Now the Athenians had undertaken the war against Philip
for no sufficient reason, since they retained nothing
of their ancient greatness except their spirit.
Two young men from Acarnania,
during the celebration of the mysteries at Eleusis,
though not initiated, had entered the temple of Ceres,
ignorant that they were committing sacrilege,
and merely following the crowd.
Their words easily betrayed them,
since they asked foolish questions, and though it was clear
that they had come in openly and by mistake
they were put to death
as if they had committed some heinous crime.
The Acarnanians reported
this revolting and unfriendly act to Philip
and prevailed upon him to send them Macedonian aid
and permit them to attack Athens.
Livy History of Rome XXI, xiv, 6-10

Horace even feared the company of a violator of the sacred mysteries.

There is a sure reward for trusty silence, too.
I will forbid the man
who has divulged the sacred rites of mystic Ceres,
to abide beneath the same roof
or to unmoor with me the fragile bark.
Horace Odes III, ii

Copyright © 1996, 2020 by Sanderson Beck

DIVINE MOTHER & the Veil of Death: Eleusiian Mysteries has been published.
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Contents and Introduction
Eleusis and the Goddesses
Agricultural Background and History
Mysteries Preliminaries

BECK index