Εν ταις ΤΕΛΕΤΑΙΣ καθαρσεις ηγουνται και περιρραντηρια και αγνισμοι, α των εν απορρητοις δρωμενων, και της του θειου μετουσιας γυμνασματα εισιν.—Procli MS. Com. in Plat. Alcib. I.
As there is nothing more celebrated than the mysteries of the ancients, so there is perhaps nothing which has hitherto been less solidly known. Of the truth of this observation, the liberal reader will, I persuade myself, be fully convinced from an attentive perusal of the following sheets; in which the secret meaning of the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries is unfolded, from authority the most respectable, and from a philosophy of all others the most venerable and august. The authority, indeed, is principally derived from manuscript writings, which are of course in the possession of but a few; but its respectability is no more lessened by its concealment, than the value of a diamond when secluded from the light. And as to the philosophy, by whose assistance these mysteries are developed, it is coeval with the universe itself; and however its continuity may be broken by opposing systems, it will make its appearance at different periods of time, as long as the sun himself shall continue to illuminate the world. It has, indeed, and may hereafter, be violently assaulted by delusive opinions; but the opposition will be just as imbecil as that of the waves of the sea against a temple built on a rock, which majestically pours them back,
Broken and vanquished foaming to the main.
Dr.Warburton, in his Divine Legation of Moses, has ingeniously proved, that the sixth book of Virgil’s Æneid represents some of the shows of the Eleusinian Mysteries; but, at the same time, has miserably failed in attempting to unfold their latent meaning, and obscure, though important, end. By the assistance, however, of the Platonic philosophy, I have been enabled to correct his errors, and to vindicate the wisdom of antiquity from his malevolent and ignorant aspersions, by a genuine account of this sublime institution; of which the following observations are designed as a comprehensive view.
In the first place, then, I shall present the reader with two remarkable authorities, and these perfectly demonstrative, in support of the assertion, that a part of the shows consisted in a representation of the infernal regions; authorities which, though of the last consequence, were unknown to Dr. Warburton himself. The first of these is from no less a person than the immortal Pindar, in a fragment preserved by Clemens Alexandrinus in Stromat. Lib. 3.
“αλλα και Πινδαρος περι των εν Ελευσινι μυστηρων λεγων επιφερει. Ολβιος, οστις ιδων εκεινα κοινα εις υποχθονια, οιδεν μεν βιον τελευταν, οιδεν δε διος δοτον αρχαν.”
i.e. “But Pindar, speaking of the Eleusinian Mysteries, says, blessed is he who, on seeing those common concerns under the earth, knows both the end of life and the given empire of Jupiter.”
The other of these is from Proclus in his commentary on Plato’s Politics, p. 372, who, speaking concerning the sacerdotal and symbolical mythology, observes, that from this mythology Plato himself establishes many of his own peculiar dogmata,
“since in the Phædo he venerates, with a becoming silence, the assertion delivered in the arcane discourses, that men are placed in body as in a certain prison, secured by a guard, and testifies, according to the mystic ceremonies, the different allotments of pure and impure souls in Hades, their habits, and the triple path arising from their essences; and this according to paternal and sacred institutions; all which are full of a symbolical theory, and of the poetical descriptions concerning the ascent and descent of souls, of dionysiacal signs, the punishments of the Titans, the trivia and wanderings in Hades, and every thing of a similar kind.”
Δηλοι δε εν φαιδωνι τον τε εν απορρητοις λεγομενον, ως εν τινι φρουρᾳ εσμεν οι ανθρωποι, σιγη τη πρεπουση σεβων, και τας τελετας μερτυρομενος των διαφορων ληξεων της ψυχης κεκαθαρμενης τε και ακαθαρτου εις αδου απιουσης, και τας τε σχεσεις αυ, και τας τριοδους απο των ουσιων και των πατρικων θεσμων τεκμαιρομενος. α δη της συμωολικης απαντα θεωριας εστι μεστα, και των παρα τοις ποιηταις θρυλλουμενων ανοδων τε και καθοδων, των τε διονυσιακων συνθηματων, και των τιτανικων αμαρτηματων λεγομενων, και των εν αδου τριοδων, και της πλανης, και των τοιουτων απαντων.
Having premised thus much, I now proceed to prove that the shows of the lesser mysteries were designed by the ancient theologists, their founders, to signify occultly the condition of the impure soul invested with a terrene body, and merged in a material nature: or, in other words, to signify that such a soul in the present life might be said to die, as far as it is possible for soul to die; and that on the dissolution of the present body, while in a state of impurity, it would experience a death still more durable and profound. That the soul, indeed, till purified by philosophy, suffers death through its union with body, was obvious to the philologist Macrobius, who, not penetrating the secret depth of the ancients, concluded from hence that they signified nothing more than the present body, by their descriptions of the infernal abodes. But this is manifestly absurd; since it is universally agreed, that all the ancient theological poets and philosophers inculcated the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments in the most full and decisive terms; at the same time occultly intimating that the death of the soul was nothing more than a profound union with the ruinous bonds of the body. Indeed if these wise men believed in a future state of retribution, and at the same time considered a connection with body as the death of the soul, it necessarily follows, that the soul’s punishment and subsistence hereafter is nothing more than a continuation of its state at present, and a transmigration, as it were, from sleep to sleep, and from dream to dream. But let us attend to the assertions of these divine men concerning the soul’s conjunction with a material nature. And to begin with the obscure and profound Heraclitus, speaking of souls unembodied: “We live,” says he, “their death, and we die their life.” Ζωμεν τον εκεινων θανατον, τεθνηκαμεν δε τον εκεινων βιον. And Empedocles, blaming generation, beautifully says of her:
The species changing with destruction dread,
She makes the living pass into the dead.
Εκ μεν γαρ ζωων ετιθει νεκρα, ειδε αμειβων.
And again, lamenting his connexion with this corporeal world, he pathetically exclaims:
For this I weep, for this indulge my woe,
That e’er my soul such novel realms should know.
Κλαυσα τε και κωκυσα, ιδων ασυνηθεα χωρον.
Plato, too, it is well known, considered the body as the sepulchre of the soul; and in the Cratylus consents with the doctrine of Orpheus, that the soul is punished through its union with body. This was likewise the opinion of the celebrated Pythagorean, Philolaus, as is evident from the following remarkable passage in the Doric dialect, preserved by Clemens Alexandrinus in Stromat. lib. 3. p. 413.
Μαρτυρεονται δε και οι παλαιοι θεολογοι τε και μαντεις, ως δια τινας τιμωριας, α ψυχα τω σωματι συνεζευκται, και καθαπερ εν σωματι τουτω τεθαπται.
i.e. “The ancient theologists and priests also testify, that the soul is united with body for the sake of suffering punishment; and that it is buried in body as in a sepulchre.”
And lastly, Pythagoras himself confirms the above sentiments, when beautifully observes, according to Clemens in the same bool “that whatever we seee when awake, is death and when asleep, a dream.” θανατος εστιν, οκοσα εγερθεντες ορεομεν’ οκοσα δε ευδοντες, υπνος.
But that the mysteries occultly signified this sublime truth, that the soul by being merged in matter resides among the dead both here and hereafter, though it follows by a necessary consequence from the preceding observations, yet it is indisputably confirmed, by the testimony of the great and truly divine Plotinus, in Ennead I. lib. 8. p. 80.
“When the soul,” says he, “has descended into generation she participates of evil, and profoundly rushes into the region of dissimilitude, to be entirely merged in which, is nothing more than to fall into dark mire.”
And again, soon after:
“The soul therefore dies through vice, as much as it is possible for the soul to die: and the death of the soul is, while merged, or baptized, as it were, in the present body, to descend into matter, and he filled with its impurity, and after departing from this body, to lye absorbed in its filth till it returns to a superior condition, and elevates its eye from the overwhelming mire. For to be plunged in matter, is to descend into Hades, and there fall asleep.”1
Γινομενῳ δε η μεταληψις αυτου. Γινεται γαρ πανταπασιν εν τω της ανομοιοτητος τοπω, ενθα ους εις αυτην εις βορβορον ακοτεινον εσται πεσων.—αποθνησκει ουν, ως ψυχε αν θανοι’ και ο θανατος αυτη, και ετι τω σωματι βεβαπτισμενη, εν υλη εστι καταδυναι, και πλησθηναι αυτης. και εξελθουσης εκει κεισθαι, εως αναδραμη και αφελη τως την οψιν εκ του βορβορου. και τουτο εστι το εν αδου ελθοντα επικαταδαρθειν.
Here the reader may observe that the obscure doctrine of the mysteries mentioned by Plato in the Phædo, that the unpurified soul in a future state lies merged in mire, is beautifully explained; at the same time that our assertion concerning their secret meaning is no less solidly confirmed. In a similar manner the same divine philosopher, in his book on the beautiful, Ennead. I. lib. 6. explains the fable of Narcissus as an emblem of one who rushes to the contemplation of sensible forms as if they were perfect realities, when at the same time they are nothing more than like beautiful images appearing in water, fallacieus and vain.
“Hence,” says he, “as Narcissus, by catching at the shadow, merged himself in the stream and disappeared, so he who is captivated by beautiful bodies, and does not depart from their embrace, is precipitated, not with his body, but with his soul, into a darkness profound and horrid to intellect, through which becoming blind both here and in Haden, he converses with nothing but shadows.”
Τον αυτον δη τροπον ο εχομενος των καλων σωματων, και μη αφιεις, ου τω σωματι, τη δε ψυχη καταδυσεται, εις σκοτεινα και ατερπητω νω βαθη, ενθα τυφλος εν αδου μενων, και ενταυθα κακει σκιαις συνεστι.
And what still farther confirms our exposition is, that matter was considered of the Egyptians as a certain mire or mud.
“The Egyptians,” saya Simplicius, in Arist. Phys. p. 50, “called matter, (which they symbolically denominated water,) the dregs or sediment of the first life; matter being, as it were, a certain mire of mud.”
Διο και Αιγυπτιοι την της πρωτης ζωης, ην υδωρ συμβολικως εκαλουν, υποσταθμην την υλην ελεγον, οιον ιλυν τινα ουσαν.
So that from all that has been said we may safely conclude with Ficinus, whose words are as express to our purpose as possible.
“Lastly,” says he, “that I may comprehend the opinion of the ancient theologists, on the state of the soul after death, in a few words: they considered, as we have elsewhere asserted, things divine as the only realities, and that all others were only the images and shadows of truth. Hence they asserted that prudent men, who earnestly employed themselves in divine concerns, were above all others in a vigilant state. But that imprudent men, who pursued objects of a different nature, being laid asleep, as it were, were only engaged in the delusions of dreams: and that if they happened to die in this sleep, before they were roused, they would be afflicted with similar and still sharper visions in a future state. And that as be who in this life pursued realities, would, after death, enjoy the highest truth, so he who was conversant with fallacies, would hereafter be tormented with fallacies and delusions in the extreme: as the one would be delighted with true objects of enjoyment, so the other would be tormented with delusive semblances of reality.”
“Denique ut priscorum theologorum sententiam de statu animæ post mortem paucis comprehendam; sola divina (ut aitas diximus) arbitrantur res veras existere, reliqua esse rerum verarum imagines atque umbras. Ideo prudentes homines, qui divinis incumbunt, præ ceteris vigilare. Imprudentes autem qui sectantur alia, insomniis omnino quasi dormientes illudi, ac si in hoc somno priusquam expergefacti fuerint moriantur similibus post discessum et acrioribus visconibus angi. Et sicut eum qui in vita veris incubuit; post mortem summa veritate potiri, sic eum qui falsa sectatus est, fatlacia extrema torqueri, ut ille rebus veris oblectetur, hie falsis vexetur simulachris.” (Ficin. de immortal. anim. lib. 18. p. 411.)
But notwithstanding this important truth was obscurely shown by the lesser mysteries, we must not suppose that it was generally known even to the initiated themselves: for as people of almost all descriptions were admitted to these rites, it would have been a ridiculous prostitution to disclose to the multitude a theory so abstracted and sublime. It was sufficient to instruct these in the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, and in the means of returning to the principles from which they originally fell; for this last piece of information was, according to Plato in the Phædo, the ultimate design of the mysteries; and the former is necessarily inferred from the present discourse. Hence the reason why it was obvious to none but the Pythagoric and Platonic philosophers, who derived their theology from Orpheus himself, the original founder of these sacred institutions; and why we meet with no information in this particular in any writer prior to Plotinus; as he was the first who, having penetrated the profound wisdom of antiquity, delivered it to posterity without the concealments of mystic symbols and fabulous narrations.
Hence too, I think, we may infer, with the greatest probability, that this recondite meaning of the mysteries was not known even to Virgil himself, who has so elegantly described their external form; for notwithstanding the traces of Platonism which are to be found in the Æneid, nothing of any great depth occurs throughout the whole, except what a superficial reading of Plato and the shows of the mysteries might easily afford. But this is not perceived by the moderns, who, entirely unskilled themselves in Platonism, and fascinated by the charms of his poetry, imagine him to be deeply knowing in a subject with which he was most likely but slightly acquainted. This opinion is still farther strengthened, by considering that the doctrine delivered in his Eclogues is perfectly Epicurean, which was the fashionable philosophy of the Augustan age; and that there is no trace of Platonism in any other part of his works but the present book, which, in consequence of its containing a representation of the mysteries, was necessarily obliged to display some of the principal tenets of this philosophy, so far as they illustrated and made a part of these mystic exhibitions. However, on the supposition that this book presents us with a faithful view of some part of these sacred rites, and this accompanied with the utmost elegance, harmony, and purity of versification, it ought to be considered as an invaluable relic of antiquity, and a precious monument of venerable mysticism, recondite wisdom, and theological information. This will be sufficiently evident from what has been already delivered, by considering some of the beautiful descriptions of this book in their natural order; at the same time that the descriptions themselves will corroborate the present elucidations.
In the first place, then, when he says,
———facilis descensus Averno.
Noctes atque dies patet atri janua ditis;
Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras,
Hoc opus, hic labor est. Pauci quos æquus amavit
Jupiter, aut ardens evexit ad æthera virtus,
Dis geniti potuere. Tenent media omnia silvæ,
Cocytusque sinu labens, circumvenit atro.
Is it not obvious, from the preceding explanation, that by Avernus in this place, and the dark gates of Pluto, we must understand a corporeal nature, the descent into which is indeed at all times obvious and easy, but to recall our steps, and ascend into the upper regions, or, in other words, to separate the soul from the body by the cathartic virtues, is indeed a mighty work, and a laborious task? For a few only, the favourites of heaven, that is, born with the true philosophic genius, and whom ardent virtue has elevated to divine contemplations, have been enabled to accomplish the arduous design. But when he says that all the middle regions are covered with woods, this too plainly intimates a material nature; the word silva, as is well known, being used by ancient writers to signify matter, and implies nothing more than that the passage leading to the barathrum of body, i.e. into profound darkness and oblivion, is through the medium of a material nature: and this medium is surrounded by the black bosom of Cocytus, that is, by bitter weeping and lamentations, the necessary consequence of the soul’s union with a nature entirely foreign to her own. So that the poet in this particular perfectly corresponds with Empedocles in the line we have cited above, where he exclaims, alluding to this union,
For this I weep, for this indulge my woe,
That e’er my soul such novel realms should know.
In the next place, when he thus describes the cave, through which Æneas descended to the infernal regions:
Spelunca alta fuit, vastoque immanis hiatu,
Scrupea, tuta lacu nigro, nemorumque tenebris;
Quam super haud ullæ poterant impune volantes
Tendere iter pennis; talis sese halitus atris
Faucibus effundens supera ad convexa ferebat;
Unde locum Graii dixerunt nomine Aornum.
Does it not afford a beautiful representation of a corporeal nature, of which a cave, defended with a black lake, and dark woods, is an obvious emblem? For it occultly reminds us of the ever-flowing and obscure condition of such a nature, which may be said
To roll incessant with impetuous speed,
Like some dark river, into Matter’s sea.
Nor is it with less propriety denominated Aornus, i.e. destitute of birds, or a winged nature; for on account of its native sluggishness and inactivity, and its merged condition, being situated in the extremity of things, it is perfectly debile and languid, incapable of ascending into the regions of reality, and exchanging its obscure and degraded station for one every way splendid and divine. The propriety too of sacrificing, previous to his entrance, to Night and Earth, is obvious, as these are proper emblems of a corporeal nature.
In the verses which immediately follow,
Ecce autem, primi sub limina solis et ortus,
Sub pedibus mugire solum, et juga cæpta movere
Silvarum, visaque canes ululare per umbram,
We may perceive an evident allusion to the earthquakes, etc. attending the descent of the soul into body, mentioned by Plato in the tenth book of his republic; since the lapse of the soul, as we shall see more fully hereafter, was one of the important truths which these mysteries were intended to reveal. And the howling dogs are symbols of material dæmons, who are thus denominated by the magic oracles of Zoroaster, on account of their ferocious and malevolent dispositions, ever baneful to the felicity of the human soul. And hence matter herself is represented by Synesius in his first hymn, with great propriety and beauty, as barking at the soul with devouring rage: for thus he sings, addressing himself to the Deity:
Μακαρ ος τις βορον υλας
Προφυγων υλαγμα, και γας
Αναδυς, αλματι κουρω
Ιχνος ες θεον τιταινει.
Which may be thus paraphrased :
Blessed! thrice blessed! who, with winged speed,
From Hyle’s dread voracious barking flies,
And, leaving Earth’s obscurity behind,
By a light leap, directs his steps to thee.
And that material dæmons actually appeared to the initiated previous to the lucid visions of the gods themselves, is evident from the following passage of Proclus in his MS. Commentary on the first Alcibiades:
εν ταις αγιοταταις των τελετων προ της θεου παρουσιας δαιμονων χθονιων εκβολαι προφαινονται, και απο των αχραντων αγαθων εις την υλην προκαλουμεναι,
i.e. “In the most holy of the mysteries, before the presence of the god, certain terrestrial dæmons are hurled forth, which call the attention from undefiled advantages to matter.”
And Pletho, on the Oracles, expressly asserts, that these spectres appeared in the shape of dogs.
After this, Æneas is described as proceeding to the infernal regions, through profound night and darkness:
Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram,
Perque domos Ditis vacuas, et inania regna.
Quale per incertam hinam sub luce maligna
Est iter in silvis: ubi cælum condidit umbra
Jupiter, et rebus nox abstulit atra colorem.
And this with the greatest propriety; for the mysteries, as is well known, were celebrated by night: and in the Republic of Plato, as cited above, souls are described as falling into generation at midnight; this period being peculiarly accommodated to the darkness and oblivion of a corporeal nature; and to this circumstance the nocturnal celebration of the mysteries doubtless alluded.
In the next place, the following beautiful description presents itself to our view:
Vestibulum ante ipsum, primisque in faucibus orei
Luctus, et ultrices posuere cubilia curæ
Pallentesque habitant morbi, tristisque senectus,
Et metus, et male suada fames, ac turpis egestas;
Terribiles visu formæ; Lethumque Laborque:
Tum consanguineus Lethi sopor, et mala mentis
Gaudia, mortiferumque adverso in limine bellum,
Ferreique Eumenidum thalami, et discordia demens,
Vipereum crinem vittis innexa cruentis.
In medio ramos annosaque brachia pandit
Ulmus opaca ingens: quam sedem somnia vulgo
Vana tenere ferunt, foliisque sub omnibus hærent.
Multaque præterea variarum monstra ferarum:
Centauri in foribus stabulant, Scyllæque biformes,
Et Centumgeminus Briareus, ac bellua Lernæ,
Horrendum stridens, flammisque armata Chimæra,
Gorgones, Harpyiæque, et forma tricorporis umbræ.
And surely it is impossible to draw a more lively picture of the maladies with which a material nature is connected; of the soul’s dormant condition through its union with body; and of the various mental diseases to which, through such a conjunction, it becomes unavoidably subject; for this description contains a threefold division; representing, in the first place, the external evils with which this material region is replete; in the second place, intimating that the life of the soul when merged in body is nothing but a dream; and, in the third place, under the disguise of omniform and terrific monsters, exhibiting the various vices of our irrational part. Hence Empedocles, in perfect conformity with the first part of this description, calls this material abode, or the realms of generation,—ατερπεα χωρον,2 a “joyless region,”
Where slaughter, rage, and countless ills reside;
Ενθα φονο; τε κοτος τε και αλλων εθγεα κηρων,
and into which those who fall,
Through Ate’s meads and dreadful darkness stray.
—— ανα λειμωνα τε και σκοτος ηλασκουσιν.
And hence he justly says of such a soul, that
She flies from deity and heav’nly light,
To serve mad discord in the realms of night.
———— φυγας θεοθεν, και αλητης,
Νεικεἴ μαινομενω πισυνος.
Where too you may observe that the discordia demens of Virgil is an exact translation of the νεικεἴ μαινομενω of Empedocles.
In the lines too which immediately succeed, the sorrows and mournful miseries attending the soul’s union with a material nature, are beautifully described,
Hinc Yia, Tartarei quæ fert Acherontis ad undas;
Turbidus hic cæno vastaque voragine gurges
Æstuat, atque omnem Cocyto eructat arenam.
And when Charon calls out to Æneas to desist from entering any farther, and tells him,
Here to reside delusive shades delight;
For nought dwells here but sleep and drowsy night.
Umbrarum hic locus est, Somni Noctisque soporæ.
Nothing can more aptly express the condition of the dark regions of body, into which the soul, when descending, meets with nothing but shadows and drowsy night: and by persisting in her ruinous course, is at length lulled into profound sleep, and becomes a true inhabitant of the phantom abodes of the dead.
Æneas having now passed over the Stygian lake, meets with the three-headed monster Cerberus, the guardian of these infernal abodes:
Tandem trans fluvium incolumis vatemque virumque
Informi limo glaucaque exponit in ulva;
Cerberus hæc ingens latratu regna trifauci
Personat, adverso recubans immanis in antro.
Where by Cerberus we must understand the discriminative part of the soul, of which a dog, on account of its sagacity, is an emblem; and the three heads signify the triple distinction of this part, into the intellective, dianoëtic, and doxastic,3 powers.—With respect to the three kinds of persons described as situated on the borders of the infernal realms, the poet doubtless intended by this enumeration to represent to us the three most remarkable characters, who, though not apparently deserving of punishment, are yet each of them similarly merged in matter, and consequently require a similar degree of purification. The persons described are, as is well known, first, the souls of infants snatched away by untimely ends; secondly, such as are condemned to death unjustly; and thirdly, those who, weary of their lives, become guilty of suicide. And with respect to the first of these, or infants, their connection with a material nature is obvious. The second sort, too, who are condemned to death unjustly, must be supposed to represent the souls of men who, though innocent of one crime for which they were wrongfully punished, have, notwithstanding, been guilty of many crimes, for which they are receiving proper chastisement in Hades, i.e. through a profound union with a material nature. And the third sort, or suicides, though apparently separated from body, have only exchanged one place for another of a similar nature; since a conduct of this kind, according to the arcana of divine philosophy, instead of separating the soul from body only restores it to a condition perfectly correspondent to its former inclinations and habits, lamentations and woes. But if we examine this affair more profoundly, we shall find that these three characters are justly placed in the same situation, because the reason of punishment is in each equally obscure. For is it not a just matter of doubt, why the souls of infants should be punished? And is it not equally dubious and wonderful why those who have been unjustly condemned to death in one period of existence should be punished in another? And as to suicides, Plato in his Phædo says, that the prohibition of this crime in the απορρητα is a profound doctrine, and not easy to be understood, Indeed the true cause why the two first of these characters are in Hades, can only be obtained from regarding a prior state of existence, in surveying which, the latent justice of punishment will be manifestly revealed; the apparent inconsistencies in the administration of providence fully reconciled; and the doubts concerning the wisdom of its proceedings entirely dissolved. And as to the last of these or suicides, since the reason of their punishment, and why an action of this kind is in general highly atrocious, is extremely mystical and obscure, the following solution of this difficulty will, no doubt, be gratefully received by the Platonic reader, as the whole of it is no where else to be found but in manuscript. Olympiodorus, then, a most learned and excellent commentator on Plato, in his commentary on that part of the Phædo where Plato speaks of the prohibition of suicide in the απορρητα, observes as follows:
“The argument,” says he, “which Plato employs in this place against suicide is derived from the Orphic mythology, in which four kingdoms are celebrated: the first of Heaven, whom Saturn assaulted, cutting off the genitals of his father. But after Saturn, Jupiter succeeded to the government of the world, having hurled his father into Tartarus. And after Jupiter, Bacchus rose to light, who, according to report, was, through the stratagems of Juno, torn in pieces by the Titans, by whom he was surrounded, and who afterwards tasted his flesh: but Jupiter enraged at the deed, hurled his thunder at the guilty offenders and consumed them to ashes. Hence a certain matter being formed from the vapour of the smoke ascending from their burning bodies, out of this mankind were produced. It is unlawful therefore to destroy ourselves, not as the words of Plato seem to import, because we are in body, as in a prison, secured by a guard; (for this is evident, and Plato would not have called such an assertion arcane) but because our body is Dionysiacal, or the property of Bacchus: for we are a part of this god, since we are composed from the vapours of the Titans who tasted his flesh. Socrates, therefore, fearful of disclosing the arcane part of this narration, adds nothing more of the fable but that we are placed as in a certain prison secured by a guard; but the interpreters relate the fable openly.”
Και εστι το μυθικον επιχειρημα τοιουτον. Παρα τω Ορφει τεσσαρες βασιλειαι παραδιδονται. Πρωτη μεν, η του Ουρανου, ην ο Κρονος διεδεξατο, εκτεμων τα αιδοια του πατρος. Μετα δη τον Κρονον, ο Ζευς εβασιλευσεν καταταρταρωσας τον πατερα. Ειτα τον Δια διεδεξατο ο Διονυσος, ον φασι κατ’ επιβουλην της Ηρας τους περι αυτου Τιτανας σπαραττειν, και των σαρκων αυτου απογευεσθαι. Και τουτους οργισθεις ο Ζευς εκεραυνωσε, και εκ της αιθαλης των ατμων των αναδοθεντων εξ αυτων, υλης γενομενης γενεσθαι τους ανθρωπους. Ου δει ουν εξαγαγειν ημας εαυτους, ουχ οτι ως δοκει λεγειν η λεξις, διοτι εν τινι δεσμω εσμεν τω σωματι’ τουτο γαρ δηλον εστι, και ουκ αν τουτο απορρητον ελεγς, αλλ’ οτι ου δει εξαγαγειν ημας εαυτους ως του σωματος ημων διονυσιακου οντος’ μερος γαρ αυτου εσμεν, ειγε εκ της αιθαλης των τιτανων συγκειμεθα γευσαμενων των σαρκων τουτου. Ο μεν ουν σωκρατης εργω το απορρητον δεικνυς, του μυθου ουδεν πλεον προστιθησι του ως εν τινι φρουρα εσμεν. Οι δε εξηγηται τον μυθον προστιθεασιν εξωθεν.
After this he beautifully observes,
“That these four governments obscurely signify the different gradations of virtues, according to which our soul contains the symbols of all the virtues, both theoretical and cathartical, political and ethical; for it either energizes according to the theoretic virtues, the paradigm of which is the government of heaven, that we may begin from on high; and on this account heaven receives its denomination παρα του τα ανω οραν, from beholding the things above; or it lives cathartically, the exemplar of which is the Saturnian kingdom; and on this account Saturn is denominated, from being a pure intellect, through a survey of himself; and hence he is said to devour his own offspring, signifying the conversion of himself to himself: or it energizes according to the politic virtues, the symbol of which is the government of Jupiter; and hence Jupiter is the Demiurgus, so called from operating about secondary natures: or the soul energizes according to both the ethical and physical virtues, the symbol of which is the kingdom of Bacchus; and on this account he is fabled to be torn in pieces by the Titans, because the virtues do not follow, but are separated from, each other.”
Αινυτσονται (lege αινιττονται) δε τους διαφερους βαθμους των αρετων καθ’ ας η ημετερα ψυχη συμβολα εχουσα πασων των αρετων, των τε θεωρητικων, και καθαρτικων, και πολιτικων, και ηθικων. Η γαρ κατα τας θεωρητικας ενεργει ων παραδειγμα η του ουρανου βασιλεια, ινα αναθεν αρξαμεθα, διο και ουρανος ειρηται παρα του τα ανω ορᾳν. Η καθαρτικως ζη, ης παραδειγμα η κρονεια βασιλεια, διο και κρονος ειρηται οιον ο κορονους τις ων δια το εαυτον οραν. Διο και καταπινειν τα οικεια γεννηματα λεγεται, ως αυτος προς εαυτον επιστρεφων. Η κατα τας πολιτικας ων συμβολον η του διος βασιλεια, διο και δημιουργος ο ζευς, ως περι τα δευτερα ενεργων. Η κατα τας ηθικας και φυσικας αρετας, ων συμβολον, η του διονυσου βασιλεια, διο και σπαραττεται, διοτι ουκ αντακολουθουσιν αλληλαις αι αρεται.
And thus far Olympiodorus; in which passages it is necessary to observe, that as the Titans are the ultimate artificers of things, and the most proximate to their fabrications, men are said to be composed from their fragments, because the human soul has a partial life capable of proceeding to the most extreme division united with its proper nature. And while the soul is in a state of servitude to the body, she lives confined, as it were, in bonds, through the dominion of this Titanical life. We may observe farther concerning these shows of the lesser mysteries, that as they were intended to represent the condition of the soul while subservient to the body, we shall find that a liberation from this servitude, through the cathartic virtues, was what the wisdom of the ancients intended to signify by the descent of Hercules, Ulysses, etc., into Hades, and their speedy return from its dark abodes.
“Hence,” says Proclus in Plat. Polit. p. 382. “Hercules being purified by sacred initiations, and enjoying undefiled fruits, obtained at length a perfect establishment among the gods:”
that is, well knowing the dreadful condition of his soul while in captivity to a corporeal nature, and purifying himself according to the cathartic virtues, of which certain purifications in the mystic ceremonies were symbolic, he at length fled from the bondage of matter, and ascended beyond the reach of her hands. On this account, it is said of him, that
He dragg’d the three-mouth’d dog to upper day;
intimating that by temperance, continence, and the other virtues, he drew upwards the intellective, dianoetic, and doxastic part of the soul. And as to Theseus, who is represented as suffering eternal punishment in Hades, we must consider him too as an allegorical character, of which Proclus, in the above-cited admirable work, p. 384, gives the following beautiful explanation:
“Theseus and Pirithous,” says he, “are fabled to have ravished Helen, and descended to the infernal regions, i.e. were lovers both of intelligible and visible beauty; afterwards one of these, (Theseus) on account of his magnanimity, was liberated by Hercules from Hades; but the other (Pirithous) remained there, because he could not sustain the arduous altitude of divine contemplation.”
This account, indeed, of Theseus, can by no means be reconciled with Virgil’s:
——— sedet, æternumque sedebit,
Nor do I see how Virgil can be reconciled with himself, who, a little before this, represents him as liberated from Hades. The conjecture therefore of Hyginus is most probable, that Virgil in this particular committed an oversight, which, had he lived, he would doubtless have detected, and amended. This is at least much more probable than the opinion of Dr. Warburton, that Theseus was a living character, who once entered into the Eleusinian mysteries by force, for which he was imprisoned upon earth, and afterwards damned in the infernal realms. For if this was the case, why is not Hercules also represented as in punishment? and this with much greater reason, since he actually dragged Cerberus from Hades; whereas the fabulous descent of Theseus was attended with no real, but only intentional mischief—Not to mention that Virgil appears to be the only writer of antiquity who condemns this hero to an eternity of pain.
Nor is the secret meaning of the fables concerning the punishment of impure souls less beautiful and profound, as the following extract from the manuscript commentary of Olympiodorus on the Gorgias of Plato will abundantly affirm:
“Ulysses,” says he, “descending into Hades, saw, among others, Sysiphus, and Titius, and Tantalus: and Titius he saw lying on the earth, and a vulture devouring his liver; the liver signifying that he lived solely according to the desiderative part of his nature, and through this was indeed internally prudent; but earth signifying the terrestrial condition of his prudence. But Sysiphus, living under the dominion of ambition and anger, was employed in continually rolling a stone up an eminence, because it perpetually descended again; its descent implying the vicious government of himself; and his rolling the stone, the hard, refractory, and, as it were, rebounding condition of his life. And, lastly, he saw Tantalus extended by the side of a lake, and that there was a tree before him, with abundance of fruit on its branches, which he desired to gather, but it vanished from his view; and this indeed indicates, that he lived under the dominion of the phantasy; but his hanging over the lake, and in vain attempting to drink, implies the elusive, humid, and rapidly-gliding condition of such a life.”
Ο Οδυσσευς κατελθων εις αδου, οιδε τον σισυφον, και τον τιτουν, και τανταλον. Και τον μεν τιτουν, επι της γης ειδε κειμενον, και οτι το ηπαρ αυτου ησθιεν γυψ. Το μεν ουν ηπαρ σημαινει οτι κατα το επιθυμητικον μερος εζησε, και δια τουτο εσω φροντιζετο. Η δε γη σημαινει το χθονιον αυτου φρονημα. Ο δε σισυφος, κατα το φιλοτιμον, και θυμοειδες ζησας εκυλιε τον λιθον, και παλιν κατεφερεν, επιειδε περι αυτα καταρρει, ο κακως πολιτευομενος. Λιθον δε εκυλιε, δια το σκληρον, και αντιτυπον της αυτου ζωης. Τον δε τανταλον ειδεν εν λιμν (lege λιμνη) και οτι εν δενδροις ησαν οπωραι, και ηθελε τρυγαν, και αφανεις αγινοντο αι οπωραι. Τουτο δε σημαινει την κατα φαντασιαν ζωην. Αυτη δε σημαιωει το ολισθηρον, και διυγρον, και θαττονα ποπαυομενον.
So that according to the wisdom of the ancients, and the most sublime philosophy, the misery which a soul endures in the present life, when giving itself up to the dominion of the irrational part, is nothing more than the commencement, as it were, of that torment which it will experience hereafter: a torment the same in kind though different in degree, as it will be much more dreadful, vehement, and extended. And by the above specimen, the reader may perceive how infinitely superior the explanation which the Platonic philosophy affords of these fables is to the frigid and trifling interpretation of Bacon and other modern mythologists; who are able indeed to point out their correspondence to something in the natural or moral world, because such is the wonderful connection of things, that all things sympathize with all, but are at the same time ignorant that these fables were composed by men divinely wise, who framed them after the model of the highest originals, from the contemplation of real and permanent being, and not from regarding the delusive and fluctuation objects of sense. This, indeed, will be evident to every ingenuous mind, from reflecting that these wise men universally considered Hades as commencing in the present life, (as we have already abundantly proved) and that, consequently, sense is nothing more than the energy of the dormant soul, and a perception, as it were, of the delusions of dreams. In consequence of this, it is absurd in the highest degree to imagine that such men would compose fables from the contemplation of shadows only, without regarding the splendid originals from which these dark phantoms were produced;—not to mention that their harmonizing so much more perfectly with intellectual explications is an indisputable proof that they were derived from an intellectual source.
And thus much for the shows of the lesser mysteries, or the first part of these sacred institutions, which was properly denominated τελετη and μυησις, as containing certain perfective rites and appearances, and the tradition of sacred doctrine, previously necessary to the inspection of the most splendid visions, or εποπτεια. For thus the gradation of the mysteries is disposed by Proclus in Theol. Plat. lib. 4. p. 220.
“The perfective part,” says he, “precedes initiation, and initiation precedes inspection.”
Προηγειται γαρ, η μεν τελετη της μυησεως, αυτη δε της εποπτειας.
At the same time it is proper to observe, that the whole business of initiation was distributed into five parts, as we are informed by Theo of Smyrna, in Mathemat. p. 18, who thus elegantly compares philosophy to these mystic rites:
“Again,” says he, “philosophy may be called the initiation into true sacred ceremonies, and the tradition of genuine mysteries; for there are five parts of initiation: the first of which is previous purgation; for neither are the mysteries communicated to all who are willing to receice them; but there are certain characters who are prevented by the voice of the crier, such as those who possess impure hands and an inarticulate voice: since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the mysteries should first be refined by certain purgations: but after pugation, the tradition of the sacred rites succeeds. The third part it denominated inspection. And the fourth, which is the end and design of inspection, is the binding of the head and fixing the crowns; so that the initiated may, by this means, be enabled to communicate to others the sacred rites in which he has been instructed; whether after this he becomes a torch-bearer, or an interpreter of the mysteries, or sustains some other part of the sacerdotal office. But the fifth, which is produced from all these, is friendship with divinity, and the enjoyment of that felicity which arises from intimate converse with the gods. Similar to this is the tradition of political reasons; for, in the first place, a certain purgation precedes, or an exercise in convenient mathematical disciplines from early youth. For thus Empedocles asserts, that it is necessary to be purified from sordid concerns, by drawing from five fountains, with a vessel of indissoluble brass: but Plato, that purification is to be derived from the five mathematical disciplines, viz. from arithmetic, geometry, stereometry, music, and astronomy; but the philosophical tradition of theorems, logical, political, and physical, is similar to initiation. But he (that is, Plato) denominates εποπτεια, or inspection, an occupation about intelligibles, true beings, and ideas. But he considers the binding of the head, and coronation, as analogous to the power which any one receives from his instructors, of leading others to the same contemplation. And the fifth gradation is, the most perfect felicity arising from hence, and, according to Plato, an assimilation to divinity, as far as is possible to mankind.”
But though εποπτεια, or inspection, principally characterized the greater mysteries, yet this was likewise accompanied with μθησις, or initiation, as will be evident in the course of this inquiry.
But let us now proceed to the doctrine of the greater mysteries: and here I shall endeavour to prove, that as the shows of the lesser mysteries occultly signified the miseries of the soul while in subjection to body, so those of the greater obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions, the felicity of the soul both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature, and constantly elevated to the realities of intellectual vision. Hence, as the ultimate design of the mysteries, according to Plato, was to lead us back to the principles from which we descended, that is, to a perfect enjoyment of intellectual good, the tradition of these principles was doubtless one part of the doctrine contained in the απορρητα, or secret discourses; and the different purifications exhibited in these rites, in conjunction with initiation and inspection, were symbols of the gradation of virtues requisite to this reascent of the soul. And hence too, if this be the case, a representation of the descent of the soul must certainly form no inconsiderable part of these mystic shows; all which the following observations will, I doubt not, abundantly evince.
In the first place, then, that the shows of the greater mysteries occultly signified the felicity of the soul both here and hereafter, when separated from the contagion of body, is evident from what has been demonstrated in the former part of this discourse: for if he who in the present life is in subjection to his irrational part is truly in Hades, he who is superior to its dominion is likewise an inhabitant of a place totally different from Hades. If Hades therefore is the region of punishment and misery, the purified soul must reside in the regions of bliss; cathartically, indeed, and theoretically, in the present life, and ενθεαστικως, or according to a deific energy, in the next. This being admitted, let us proceed to consider the description which Virgil gives us of these fortunate abodes, and the latent signification which it contains. Æneas and his guide, then, having passed through Hades, and seen Tartarus, or the utmost profundity of a material nature, at a distance, advance to the Elysian fields:
Devenere lucos lætos, et amœna vireta
Fortunatorum nemorum, sedesque beatas.
Largior hie campos æther et lumine vestit
Purpureo; solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.
Now the secret meaning of these joyful places is thus beautifully unfolded by Olympiodorus in his MS. Commentary on the Gorgias of Plato.
“It is necessary to know,” says he, “that the fortunate islands are said to be raised above the sea; and hence a condition of being transcending this corporeal life and generation, is denominated the islands of the blessed; but these are the same with the Elysian fields. And on this account Hercules is reported to have accomplished his last labor in the Hesperian regions; signifying by this, that having vanquished an obscure and terrestrial life, he afterwards lived in open day, that is, in truth and resplendent light.”
Δει δε ειδεναι οτι αι νησοι υπερκυπτουσι της θαλασσης ανωτερω ουσαι. Την ουν πολιτειαν την υπερκυψασαν του βιου και της γενησεως, μακαρων νησους καλουσι. Ταυτον δε εστι και το ηλυσιον πεδιον. Δια τοι τουτο και ο ηρακλης τελευταιον αθλον εν τοις εσπεριοις μερεσιν εποιησατο, αντι κατηγανισατο τον σκοτεινον και χθονιον βιον, και λοιπον εν ημερα, ο εστιν εν αληθεια και φωτι εζη.
So that he who in the present state vanquishes as much as possible a corporeal life, through the exercise of the cathartic virtues, passes in reality into the fortunate islands of the soul, and lives surrounded with the bright splendors of truth and wisdom proceeding from the sun of good.
But when the poet, in describing the employments of the blessed, says,
Pars in gramineis exercent membra palæstris;
Contendunt ludo, et fulva luctantur arena:
Para pedibus plaudunt choreas, et carmina dicunt.
Neo non Threicius longa cum veste sacerdos
Obloquitur numeris septem discrimina vocum:
Jamque eadem digitis, jam pectine pulsat eburno.
Hic genus antiquum Teucri, pulcherrima proles,
Magnanimi heroes, nati melioribus annis,
Husque, Assaracusque, et Trojæ Dardanus auctor.
Arma procul, currusque virum miratur inanis.
Stant terra defixæ hastæ, passimque soluti
Per campum pascuntur equi. Quæ gratia curruum
Armorumque fuit vivis, quæ cura nitentis
Pascere equos, eadem sequitur tellure repostos.
Conspicit, ecce alios, dextra lævaque per herbam
Vescentis, lætumque choro Pæana canentis,
Inter odoratum lauri nemus: unde superne
Plurimus Eridani per silvam volvitur amnis.
This must not be understood as if the soul in the regions of felicity retained any affection for material concerns, or was engaged in the trifling pursuits of a corporeal life; but that when separated from generation, she is constantly engaged in intellectual employments; either in exercising the divine contests of the most exalted wisdom; in forming the responsive dance of refined imaginations; in tuning the sacred lyre of mystic piety to strains of deific fury and ineffable delight; in giving free scope to the splendid and winged powers of the soul; or in nourishing the intellect with the substantial banquets of intelligible food. Nor is it without reason that the river Eridanus is represented as flowing through these delightful abodes; and is at the same time denominated plurimus, because a great part of it was absorbed in the earth without emerging from thence: for a river is the symbol of life, and consequently signifies in this place the nature of an intellectual life, proceeding from on high, that is, from divinity itself, and gliding with prolific energy through the occult and profound recesses of the soul.
But when, in the following lines, he says,
Nulli certa domus. Lucis habitamus opacis,
Riparumque toros, et prata recentis rivis
By the blessed being confined to no particular habitation, the liberal condition of their existence is plainly implied; since they are entirely free from all material restraint, and purified from all inclination to the dark and cold tenement of body. The shady groves are symbols of the soul’s retiring to the depth of her essence, and there, by a divinely solitary energy, establishing herself in the ineffable principle of things. And the meadows are symbols of that prolific power of the gods through which all the variety of reasons, animals, and forms was produced, and which is here the refreshing pasture and retreat of the liberated soul.
But that the tradition of the principles from which the soul descended formed a part of the sacred mysteries is evident from Virgil; and that this was accompanied with a vision of these principles or gods, is no less certain, from the testimony of Plato, Apuleius, and Proclus. The first part of this assertion is evinced by the following beautiful lines:
Principio cœlum ac terras, camposque liquentes
Lucentemque globum lunæ, Titamaque astra
Spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus
Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.
Inde hominum pecudumque genus, vitæque volantum,
Et quæ marmoreo fert monstra sub æquore pontus.
Igneus est ollis vigor, et cœlestis origo
Seminibus, quantum non noxia corpora tardant,
Terrenique hebetant artus, moribundaque membra.
Hinc metuunt cupiuntque: dolent, gaudentque: neque auras
Despiciunt clausæ tenebris et carcere cæco.
For the sources of the soul’s existence are also the principles from which it fell; and these, as we may learn from the Timæus of Plato, are Jupiter, or the Demiurgus, the mundane soul, and the junior or mundane gods.—Now, of these, the mundane intellect, which, according to the ancient theology, is Bacchus, is principally celebrated by the poet, and this because the soul is particularly distributed into generation Dionysiacally, as is evident from the preceding extracts from Olympiodorus; and is still more abundantly confirmed by the following curious passage from the same author, in his comment on the Phædo of Plato.
“The soul,” says he, “descends Corically, or after the manner of Proserpine, into generation, but is distributed into generation Dionysiacally; and she is bound in body Prometheically, and Titanically: she frees herself therefore from its bonds by exercising the strength of Hercules; but she is collected into one through the assistance of Apollo and the Saviour Minerva, by philosophizing in a manner truly cathartic.”
Οτι κορικως μεν εις γενεσιν κατεισιν ή ψυχη. Διονυσιακως δε μεριζεται υπο της γενεσεως. Προμηθειως δε και τιτανικως, εγκαταδειται τω σωματι. Λυει μεν ουν εαυτην ηρακλειως ισχυσασα. Συναιρει δε δι’ απολλωνος και της σωτηρας αθηνας, καθαρτικως τω οντι φιλοσοφουσα.
The poet, however intimates the other causes of the soul’s existence, when he says,
Igneus est ollis vigor, et cœlestis origo
which evidently alludes to the sowing of souls into generation, mentioned in the Timæus. And from hence the reader will easily perceive the extreme ridiculousness of Dr. Warburton’s system, that the grand secret of the mysteries consisted in exposing the errors of Polytheism, and in teaching the doctrine of the unity, or the existence of one deity alone. For he might as well have said, that the great secret consisted in teaching a man how, by writing notes on the works of a poet, he might become a bishop! But it is by no means wonderful that men who have not the smallest conception of the true nature of the gods; who have persuaded themselves that they were only dead men deified; and who measure the understandings of the ancients by their own, should be led to fabricate a system so improbable and absurd.
But that this tradition was accompanied with a vision of the causes from which the soul descended, is evident from the express testimony, in the first place, of Apuleius, who thus describes his initiation into the mysteries.
“Accessi confinium mortis; et calcato Proserpine limine, per omnia vectus elementa remeavi. Nocte media vidi solem candido coruscantem lumine, deos inferos et deos superos. Accessi coram, et adoravi de proximo.”4
That is, “I approached the confines of death; and treading on the threshold of Proserpine, and being carried through all the elements, I came back again to my pristine situation. In the depths of midnight I saw the sun glittering with a splendid light, together with the infernal and supernal gods : and to these divinities approaching near, I paid the tribute of devout adoration.”
And this is no less evidently implied by Plato in the Phædrus, who thus describes the felicity of the virtuous soul prior to its descent, in a beautiful allusion to the arcane visions of the mysteries.
Καλλας δε τοτε ην ιδειν λαμπρον, οτε συν ευδαιμονι χορω μακαριαν οψιν τε και θεαν επομενοι μετα μεν διος ημεις, αλλοι δε μετ’ αλλου θεων, ειδον τε και ετελουντο τελετων ην θεμις λεγειν μακαριωτατην’ ην οργιαζομεν ολοκληραι μεν αυτοι οντες, και απαθεις κακων οσα ημας εν υστερω χρονω υπεμενεν. Ολοκληρα δε και απλα και ατρεμη και ευδαιμονα φασματα μυουμενοι τε και εποπτευοντες εν αυγη καθαρα καθαροι οντες και ασημαντοι τουτου ο νυν δη σωμα περιφεροντες ονομαζομεν οστρεου τροπον δεδεσμευμενοι.
That is, “But it was then lawful to survey the most splendid beauty, when we obtained, together with that blessed choir, this happy vision and contemplation. And we indeed enjoyed this blessed spectacle together with Jupiter; but others in conjunction with some other god; at the same time being initiated in those mysteries, which it is lawful to call the most blessed of all mysteries. And these divine Orgies were celebrated by us, while we possessed the proper integrity of our nature, and were freed from the molestations of evil which awaited us in a succeeding period of time. Likewise, in consequence of this divine initiation, we became spectators of entire, simple, immoveable, and blessed visions, resident in a pure light; and were ourselves pure and immaculate, and liberated from this surrounding vestment, which we denominate body, and to which we are now bound like an oyster to its shell.”
Upon this beautiful passage Proclus observes, in Theol. Plat. lib. 4, p. 193,
“That initiation and inspection are symbols of ineffable silence, and of union with mystical natures, through intelligible visions.”
Και γαρ η μυκσις, και η εποπτεια, της αρρητου σιγης εστι συμβολον, και της προς τα μυστικα δια των νοητων φασματων ενωσεως.
Now, from all this, it may be inferred, that the most sublime part of εποπτεια or inspection, consisted in beholding the gods themselves invested with a resplendent light; and that this was symbolical of those transporting visions, which the virtuous soul will constantly enjoy in a future state; and of which it is able to gain some ravishing glimpses, even while connected with the cumbrous vestment of body.
But that this was actually the case, is evident from the following unequivocal testimony of Proclus in Plat. Repub. p. 380.
Εν απασι ταις τελεταις και τοις μυστηριοις, οι θεοι πολλας μεν εαυτων προτεινουσι μορφας, πολλα δε σχηματα εξαλλαττοντες φωνονται’ και τοτε μεν ατθπωτον αθτων προβεβληται φως, τοτε δε εις ανθρωπειον μορφην εσχηματισμενον, τοτε δε εις αλλοιον τυπον προεληλυθως.
i.e. “In all initiations and mysteries, the gods exhibit many forms of themselves, and appear in a variety of shapes: and sometimes, indeed, an unfigured light of themselves is hurled forth to the view; sometimes this light is figured according to a human form, and sometimes it proceeds into a different shape.”
This doctrine, too, of divine appearances, in the mysteries, is clearly confirmed by Plotinus, Ennead. i. lib. 6. p. 55, and Ennead. 9. lib. 9. p. 700. And, in short, that magical evocation formed a part of the sacerdotal office in the mysteries, and that this was universally believed by all antiquity, long before the æra of the latter Platonists, is plain from the testimony of Hippocrates, or at least Democritus, in his Treatise de Morbo Sacro. p. 86, fol. For speaking of those who attempt to cure this disease by magic, he observes:
ει γαρ σεληνην τε καθαιρειν, και ηλιον αφανιζειν, ψειμωνα τε και ευδιην ποιειν, και ομβρους και αυχμους, και θαλασσαν αφηνον και γην, και τ’ αλλα τα τοιουτο τροπα παντα επιδεχονται επιστασθαι, ειτε και εκ ΤΕΛΕΤΩΝ, ειτε και εξ αλλης τινος γνωμης η μελετης φασιν οιοι τε ειναι οι ταυτα επιτηδευοιτες δυδεβεειν εμοι γε δοκεουσι. κ. λ.
i.e. “For if they profess themselves able to draw down the moon, to obscure the sun, to produce stormy and pleasant weather, as likewise showers of rain, and heats, and to render the sea and the earth barren, and to accomplish every thing else of this kind; whether they derive this knowledge from the’ Mysteries, or from some other institution or meditation, they appear to me to be impious, from the study of such concerns.”
From all which it is easy to see, how egregiously Dr. Warburton was mistaken, when, in p. 231 of his Divine Legation, he asserts,
“that the light beheld in the mysteries, was nothing more than an illuminated image which the priests had thoroughly purified.”
But he is likewise no less mistaken, in transferring the injunction given in one of the magic oracles of Zoroaster, to the business of the Eleusinian mysteries, and in perverting the meaning of the Oracle’s admonition. For thus the Oracle speaks:
Μη φυσεως καλεσης αυτοπτον αγαλμα,
Ου γαρ χρη κεινους δε βλεπειν πριν σωμα τελεσθη.
“Invoke not the self-conspicuous image of nature, for you must not behold these things before your body has received the purification necessary to initiation.”
Upon which he observes,
“that the self-conspicuous image was only a diffusive shining light, as the name partly declares.”5
But this is a piece of gross ignorance, from which he might have been freed by an attentive perusal of Proclus on the Timæus of Plato: for in these truly divine commentaries we learn,
“that the moon is the cause of nature to mortals, and the self-conspicuous image of fontal nature.”
Σεληνη μεν αιτια τοις θνητοις της φυσεως, το αυτοπτον αγαλμα ουσα της πηγαιας φυσεως. in Tim. p. 260.
If the reader is desirous of knowing what we are to understand by the fontal nature of which the moon is the image, let him attend to the following information, derived from a long and deep study of the ancient theology: for from hence I have learned, that there are many divine fountains contained in the essence of the demiurgus of the world; and that among these there are three of a very distinguished rank, viz. the fountain of souls, or Juno, the fountain of virtues, or Minerva, and the fountain of nature, or Diana. This last fountain too immediately depends on the vivific goddess Rhea; and was assumed by the Demiurgus among the rest, as necessary to the prolific production of himself. And this information will enable us besides to explain the meaning of the following passages in Apuleius, which, from not being understood, have induced the moderns to believe that Apuleius acknowledged but one deity alone. The first of these passages is in the beginning of the eleventh book of his Metamorphosis, in which the divinity of the moon is represented as addressing him in this sublime manner:
“En adsum tuis commota, Luci, precibus, rerum Natura parens, elementorum omnium domina, seculorum progenies initialis, summa numinum, regina Manium, prima cœlitum, Deorum Dearumque facies uniformis: quæ cœli luminosa culmina, maris salubria flamina, inferorum deplorata silentia nutibus meis dispenso: cujus numen unicum, multiformi specie, ritu vario, nomine multijugo totus veneratur orbis. Me primigenii Phryges Pessinunticam nominant Deûm matrem. Hinc Autochthones Attici Cecropiam Minervam; illinc fluctuantes Cyprii Paphiam Venerem: Cretes sagittiferi Dictynnam Dianam: Siculi trilingues Stygiam Proserpinam; Eleusinii vetustam Deam Cererem; Junonem alii, alii Bellonam, alii Hecaten, Rhamnusiam alii. Et qui nascentis dei Solis inchoantibus radiis illustrantur, Æthiopes, Arriique, priscaque doctrina pollentes Ægyptii cærimoniis me prorsus propriis percolentes appellant vero nomine reginam Isidcm.”
That is, “Behold, Lucius, moved with thy supplications, I am present; I, who am Nature, the parent of things, queen of all the elements, initial progenitor of ages, the greatest of divinities, queen of departed spirits, the first of the celestials, and the uniform appearance of gods and goddesses: who rule by my nod the luminous heights of the heavens, the salubrious breezes of the sea, and the deplorable silences of the infernal regions; and whose divinity, in itself but one, is venerated by all the earth, according to a multiform shape, various rites, and different appellations.—Hence the primitive Phrygians call me Pessinuntica, the mother of the gods; the native Athenians, Cecropian Minerva; the floating Cyprians, Paphian Venus; the arrow-bearing Cretans, Dictynnian Diana; the three-tongued Sicilians, Stygian Proserpine; and the inhabitants of Eleusis, the ancient goddess Ceres. Some again have invoked me as Juno, others as Bellona, others as Hecate, and others as Rhamnusia: and those who are enlightened by the emerging rays of the rising sun, the Æthiopians, Ariians, and Ægyptians, powerful in ancient learning, who reverence my divinity with ceremonies perfectly proper, call me by a true appellation queen Isis.”
And, again in another place of the same book, he says of the moon:
“Te Superi colunt, observant Inferi: tu rotas orbem, luminas Solem, regis mundum, calcas Tartarum. Tibi respondent sidera, gaudent numina, redeunt tempora, serviunt elementa, etc.”
That is, “The supernal gods reverence thee, and those in the realms beneath attentively observe thy nod. Thou rollest the heavens round the steady poles, dost illuminate the sun, govern the world, and tread on the dark realms of Tartarus. The stars move responsive to thy command, the gods rejoice in thy divinity, the hours and seasons return by thy appointment, and the elements reverence thy decree.”
For all this easily follows, if we consider it as addressed to the fontal deity of nature, subsisting in the Demiurgus, and which is the exemplar of that nature which flourishes in the lunar orb, and throughout the material world, and from which the deity itself of the moon originally proceeds. Hence, as this fountain immediately depends on the vivific goddess Rhea, the reason is obvious, why it was formerly worshiped as the mother of the gods: and as all the mundane are contained in the super-mundane gods, the other appellations are to be considered as names of the several mundane divinities produced by this fountain, and in whose essence they are likewise contained.
But to proceed with our inquiry, I shall, in the next place, prove that the different purifications exhibited in these rites, in conjunction with initiation and inspection, were symbols of the gradation of virtues requisite to the reascent of the soul. And the first part, indeed, of this proposition respecting the purifications, immediately follows from the testimony of Plato in the passage already adduced, in which he asserts, that the ultimate design of the mysteries was to lead us back to the principles from which we originally fell. For if the mysteries were symbolical, as is universally acknowledged, this must likewise be true of the purifications as a part of the mysteries; and as inward purity, of which the external is symbolical, can only be obtained by the exercise of the virtues, it evidently follows, that the purifications were symbols of the purifying moral virtues. And the latter part of the proposition may be easily inferred, from the passage already cited from the Phædrus of Plato, in which he compares initiation and inspection to the blessed vision of intelligible natures; an employment which can alone belong to the energies of contemplative virtue. But the whole of this is rendered indisputable by the following remarkable testimony of Olympiodorus, in his excellent MS. Commentary on the Phædo of Plato.
“In the sacred rites,” says he, “popular purifications are in the first place brought forth, and after these such as are more arcane. But in the third place, collections of various things into one are received; after which follows inspection. The ethical and political virtues therefore are analogous to the apparent (or popular) purifications. But such of the cathartic virtues as banish all external impressions, correspond to the more occult purifications. The theoretical energies about intelligibles, are analogous to the collections; but the contraction of these energies into an indivisible nature, corresponds to initiation. And the simple self-inspection of simple forms, is analogous to epoptic vision.”
Οτι εν τοις ιεροις ηγουντο μεν αι πανδημοι καθαρσεις. Ειτα επι ταυταις απορρητοτεραι’ μετα δε ταυτας συστασεις παρελαμβανοντο, και επι ταυταις μυησεις’ εν τελει δε εποπτειαι. Αναλογουσι τοινυν αι μεν ηθικαι και πολιτικαι αρεται, τοις εμφανεσι καθαρμοις. Αι δε καθαρτικαι οσαι αποσκευαζονται παντα τα εκτος τοις απορρητοτεροις. Αι δε περι τα ναητα θεωρητικαι τε ενεργειαι ταις συστασεσιν. Αι δε τουτων συναιρεσεις εις το αμεριστον ταις μυησεσιν. Αι δε απλαι των απλων ειδων αυτοψιαι ταις εποπτιαις.
And here I cannot refrain from noticing, with indignation mingled with pity, the ignorance and aρrogance of modern critics, who pretend that this distribution of the virtues is entirely the invention of the latter Platonists, and without any foundation in the writings of Plato. And among the supporters of such ignorance, I am sorry to find Fabricius, in his prolegomena to the life of Proclus. For nothing can be more obvious to every reader of Plato, than that in his Laws he treats of the political virtues; in his Phædo, and seventh book of the Republic, of the cathartic; and in his Theætetus, of the contemplative and sublimer virtues. This observation is indeed so obvious, in the Phæedo, with respect to the cathartic virtues, that no one but a verbal critic could read this dialogue and be insensible to its truth: for Socrates in the very beginning expressly asserts, that it is the business of philosophers to study to die, and to be themselves dead,6 and yet at the same time reprobates suicide. What then can such a death mean but philosophical death? And what is this but the true exercise of the cathartic virtues? But these poor men read only superficially, or for the sake of displaying some critical acumen in verbal emendations; and yet with such despicable preparations for philosophical discussion, they have the impudence to oppose their puerile conceptions to the decisions of men of elevated genius and profound investigation, who, happily freed from the danger and drudgery of learning any foreign language, directed all their attention without restraint to the acquisition of the most exalted truth.
It only now remains that we prove, in the last place, that a representation of the descent of the soul formed no inconsiderable part of these mystic shows. This indeed is doubtless occultly insinuated by Virgil, when speaking of the souls of the blessed in Elysium, he adds,
Has omnes, ubi mille rotam vulvêre per annos,
Lethæum ad fluvium deus evocat agmine magno:
Scilicet immemores supera ut convexa revisant,
Rursus et incipiant in corpora velle reverti.
But openly by Apuleius, in the following prayer which Psyche addresses to Ceres:
Per ego te frugiferam tuam dextram istam deprecor, per lætificas messium cærimonias, per tacita sacra cistarum, et per famulorum tuorum draconum pinnata curricula, et glebæ Siculæ sulcamina, et currum rapacem, et terram tenacem, et illuminarum Proserpinæ nuptiarum demeacula, et cætera, quæ silentio tegit Eleusis, Atticæ sacrarium; miserandæ Psyches animæ, supplicis tuæ, subsiste.
That is, “I beseech thee, by thy fruit-bearing right hand, by the joyful ceremonies of thy harvests, by the occult sacred concerns of thy cistæ, and by the winged car of thy attending dragons, and the furrows of the Sicilian soil, and the rapacious chariot, and the dark descending ceremonies attending the marriage of Proserpine, and the ascending rites which accompanied the luminous invention of thy daughter, and by other arcana which Eleusis the Attic sanctuary conceals in profound silence, relieve the sorrows of thy wretched supplicant Psyche.”
For the rape of Proserpine signifies the descent of the soul, as is evident from the passage previously adduced from Olympiodorus, in which he says the soul descends Corically; and this is confirmed by the authority of the philosopher Sallust, who, in his book de Diis et Mundo, p. 251, observes,
“That the rape of Proserpine is fabled to have taken place about the opposite equinoctial; and by this the descent of souls is implied.”
Περι γουν την εναντιαν ισημεριαν η της Κορης αρπαγη μυθολογειται γενεσθαι, ο δη καθοδος εστι των ψυχων.
And as the rape of Proserpine was exhibited in the shows of the mysteries, as is clear from Apuleius, it indisputably follows, that this represented the descent of the soul, and its union with the dark tenement of body. Indeed if the ascent and descent of the soul, and its condition while connected with a material nature, were represented in the shows of the mysteries, it is evident that this was implied by the rape of Proserpine. And the former part of this assertion is manifest from Apuleius, when describing his initiation, he says, in the passage already adduced,
“I approached the confines of death, and treading on the threshold of Proserpine, and being carried through all the elements, I came back again to my pristine situation.”
And as to the latter part, it has been amply proved, from the highest authority, in the first division of this discourse.
Nor must the reader be disturbed on finding that, according to Porphyry, as cited by Eusebius,7 the fable of Proserpine alludes to seed placed in the ground; for this is likewise true of the fable, considered according to its material explanation. But it will be proper on this occasion to rise a little higher, and consider the various species of fables, according to their philosophical distribution; since by this means the present subject will receive an additional elucidation, and the wisdom of the ancient authors of fables will be vindicated from the unjust aspersions of ignorant declaimers. I shall present the reader, therefore, with the following interesting division of fables, from the elegant book of the Platonic philosopher Sallust, on the gods and the universe.
“Of fables,” says he, “some are theological, others physical, others animastic, (or relating to soul) others material, and lastly, others mixed from these.—Fables are theological which employ nothing corporeal, but speculate the very essences of the gods; such as the fable which asserts that Saturn devoured his children: for it insinuates nothing more than the nature of an intellectual god; since every intellect returns into itself. But we speculate fables physically when we speak concerning the energies of the gods about the world; as when considering Saturn the same as time, and calling the parts of time the children of the universe, we assert that the children are devoured by their parent. But we employ fables in an animastic mode, when we contemplate the energies of soul; because the intellections of our souls, though by a discursive energy they run into other things, yet abide in their parents. Lastly, fables are material, such as the Egyptians ignorantly employ, considering and calling corporeal natures divinities: such as Iris, earth, Osiris, humidity, Typhon, heat: or, again, denominating Saturn, water, Adonis, fruits, and Bacchus, wine. And, indeed, to assert that these are dedicated to the gods, in the same manner as herbs, stones, and animals, is the part of wise men; but to call them gods is alone the province of fools and mad men; unless we speak in the same manner as when, from established custom, we call the orb of the sun and its rays the sun itself. But we may perceive the mixed kind of fables, as well in many other particulars, as when they relate, that Discord, at a banquet of the gods, threw a golden apple, and that a dispute about it arising among the goddesses, they were sent by Jupiter to take the judgment of Paris, who, charmed with the beauty of Venus, gave her the apple in preference to the rest. For in this fable the banquet denotes the supermundane powers of the gods; and on this account they subsist in conjunction with each other: but the golden apple denotes the world, which, on account of its composition from contrary natures, is not improperly said to be thrown by Discord, or strife. But again, since different gifts are imparted to the world by different gods, they appear to contest with each other for the apple. And a soul living according to sense, (for this is Paris) not perceiving other powers in the universe, asserts that the apple is alone the beauty of Venus. But of these species of fables, such as are theological belong to philosophers; the physical and animastic to poets; but the mixt to initiatory rites; (τελεταις) since the intention of all mystic ceremonies is to conjoin us with the world and the gods.”
Thus far the excellent Sallust. Whence it is evident, that the fable of Proserpine, as belonging to the mysteries, is properly of a mixed nature, or composed of all the four species of fables, the Theological, physical, animastic, and material. But in order to understand this divine fable, it is requisite to know, that according to the arcana of the ancient Theology, the Coric order, (or the order belonging to Proserpine) is two-fold, one part of which is supermundane, subsisting with Jupiter, or the Demiurgus, and together with him establishing one artificer of divisible natures; but the other is mundane, in which Proserpine is said,to be ravished by Pluto, and to animate the extremities of the universe.
“Hence,” says Proclus, “according to the rumor of Theologists, who delivered to us the most holy Eleusinian. mysteries, Proserpine abides on high, in those dwellings of her mother which she prepared for her in inaccessible places, exempt from the sensible world. But she likewise dwells beneath with Pluto, administering terrestrial concerns, governing the recesses of the earth, supplying life to the extremities of the universe, and imparting soul to beings which are of themselves inanimate and dead.”
Και γαρ η των θεολογων φημη, των τας αγιωτατας ημιν εν Ελευσινι τελετας παραδεδωκοτων, ανω, μεν αυτην εν τοις μητρος οικοις μενειν φησιν, ους η μητηρ αυτη κατεσκευαζεν εν αβατοις εξηρημενους του παντος. Κατω δε μετα πλουτωνος των χθονιων επαρχειν, και τους γης μυχους επιτροπευειν, και ζωην επορεγειν τοις εσχατοις του παντος, και ψυχης μεταδιδοναι τοις παρ’ εαυτων αψυχοις, και νεκροις. Prod. in Theol. Plat. p. 371.
Hence we may easily perceive that this fable is truly of the mixed kind, one part of which relates to the supermundane establishment of the secondary cause of life, and the other to the procession of life and soul to the extremity of things. Let us therefore more attentively consider the fable, in that part of it which is symbolical of the descent of souls; in order to which, it will be requisite to premise an abridgement of the arcane discourse, respecting the wanderings of Ceres, as preserved by Minutius Felix.
“Proserpine,” says he, “the daughter of Ceres by Jupiter, as she was gathering tender flowers, in the new spring, was ravished from her delightful abodes by Pluto; and being carried from thence through thick woods, and over a length of sea, was brought by Pluto into a cavern, the residence of departed spirits, over whom she afterwards ruled with absolute sway. But Ceres, upon discovering the loss of her daughter, with lighted torches and begirt with a serpent, wandered over the whole earth for the purpose of finding her till she came to Eleusina; there she found her daughter, and discovered to the Eleusinians the plantation of corn.”
Now in this fable Ceres represents the evolution of that self-inspective part of our nature which we properly denominate intellect, (or its being unfolded from its quiet and collected subsistence in the intelligible world;) and Proserpine that vital, self-moving, and animating part which we call soul. But lest this analogy of unfolded intellect to Ceres should seem ridiculous to the reader, unacquainted with the Orphic theology, it is necessary to inform him that this goddess, from her intimate union with Rhea, in conjunction with whom she produced Jupiter, is evidently of a Saturnian and zoogonic, or intellectual and vivific rank; and hence, as we are informed by the philosopher Sallust, among the mundane divinities she is the deity of the planet Saturn.8 So that in consequence of this, our intellect in a descending state must aptly symbolize with the divinity of Ceres; but Pluto signifies the whole of a material nature; since the empire of this god, according to Pythagoras, commences downwards from the Galaxy or milky way. And the cavern signifies the entrance, as it were, into the profundities of such a nature, which is accomplished by the soul’s union with this terrestrial body. But in order to understand perfectly the secret meaning of the other part of this fable, it will be necessary to give a more explicit detail of the particulars attending the rape, from the beautiful poem of Claudian on this subject. From this elegant performance, therefore, we learn that Ceres, who was afraid lest some violence should be offered to Proserpine, on account of her inimitable beauty, conveyed her privately to Sicily, and concealed her in a house built on purpose by the Cyclops, while she herself directs her course to the temple of Cybele, the mother of the Gods. Here, then, we see the first cause of the soul’s descent, viz. her desertion of a life wholly according to intellect, which is occultly signified by the separation of Proserpine from Ceres. Afterwards, we are told that Jupiter instructs Venus to go to this abode, and betray Proserpine from her retirement, that Pluto may be enabled to carry her away; and to prevent any suspicion in the virgin’s mind, he commands Diana and Pallas to bear her company. The three goddesses arriving, find Proserpine at work on a scarf for her mother; in which she had embroidered the primitive chaos, and the formation of the world. Now by Venus in this part of the narration we must understand desire, which, even in the celestial regions, (for such is the residence of Proserpine till she is ravished by Pluto) begins silently and fraudulently to creep into the recesses of the soul. By Minerva we must conceive the rational power of the soul, and by Diana, nature, or the merely natural and vegetable part of our composition; both which are now ensnared through the allurements of desire. And lastly, the web in which Proserpine had displayed all the fair variety of the material world, beautifully represents the commencement of the fantastic energies through which the soul becomes ensnared with the beauty of imaginative forms.—But let us for a while attend to the poet’s elegant description of her employment and abode:
Devenere locum, Cereris quo tecta nitebant
Cyclopum firmata manu. Stant ardua ferro
Mœnia; ferrati postes: immensaque nectit
Claustra chalybs. Nullum tanto sudore Pyracmon,
Nec Steropes, construxit opus: nec talibus unquam
Spiravere notis animæ: nec flumine tanto
Incoctum maduit lassa fornace metallum.
Atria vestit ebur: trabibus solidatur aenis
Culmen, et in celsas surgunt electra columnas.
Ipsa domum tenero mulcens Proserpina cantu
Irrita texebat redituræ munera matri.
Hic elementorum seriem sedesque paternas
Insignibat acu: veterem qua lege tumultum
Discrevit natura parens, et semina justis
Discessere locis: quidquid leve fertur in altum:
In medium graviora cadunt: incanduit æther:
Egit flamma polum: fluxit mare: terra pependit.
Nec color unus inest. Stellas accendit in auro,
Ostro fundit aquas, attollit litora gemmis,
Filaque mentitos jam jam cælantia fluctus
Arte tument. Credas illidi cautibus algam,
Et raucum bibulis inserpere murmur arenis.
Addit quinque plagas: mediam subtemine rubro
Obsessam fervore notat: squalebat adustus
Limes, et assiduo sitiebant stamina sole.
Vitales utrimque duas; quas mitis oberrat
Temperies habitanda viris. Tum fine supremo
Torpentes traxit geminas, brumaque perenni
Fædat, et æterno contristat frigore telas.
Nec non et patrui pingit sacraria Ditis,
Fatalesque sibi manes. Nec defuit omen.
Præscia nam subitis maduerunt fletibus ora.
After this, Proserpine, forgetful of her parent’s commands, is represented venturing from her retreat, through the fraudulent persuasions of Venus:
Impulit Ionios præmisso lumine fluctus
Nundum pura dies: tremulis vibrant in undis
Ardor, et errantes ludunt per cærula flammæ.
Jamque audax animi, fidæque oblita parentis,
Fraude Dionæa riguos Proserpina saltus
(Sic Parcæ voluere) petit.———
And this with the greatest propriety: for oblivion necessarily follows a remission of intellectual energy, and is as necessarily attended with the allurements of desire. Nor is her dress less symbolical of the soul’s acting in such a state, principally according to the energies of imagination and nature. For thus her garments are beautifully described by the poet:
Quas inter Cereris proles, nunc gloria matris,
Mox dolor, æquali tendit per gramina passu,
Nec membris nec honore minor; potuitque videri
Pallas, si clipeum, si ferret spicula, Phœbe.
Collectæ tereti nodantur jaspide vestes.
Pectinis ingenio nunquam felicior arti
Contigit eventus. Nullæ sic consona telæ
Fila, nec in tantum veri duxere figuram.
Hic Hyperionio Solem de semine nasci
Fecerat, et pariter, sed forma dispare lunam,
Auroræ noetisque duces. Cunabula Tethys
Præbet, et infantes gremio solatur anhelos,
Cæruleusque sinus roseis radiatur alumnis.
lnvalidum dextro portat Titana lacerto
Noadum luce gravem, nec pubescentibus alte
Cristatum radiis: primo clementior ævo
Fingitur, et tenerum vagitu despuit ignem.
Læva parte soror vitrei libamina potat
Uberis, et parvo signatur tempora cornu.
In which description the sun represents the phantasy, and the moon nature, as is well known to every tyro in the Platonic philosophy. They are likewise, with great propriety, described in their infantine state: for these energies do not arrive to perfection previous to the soul’s merging into the dark receptacle of matter. After this we behold her issuing on the plain with Minerva and Diana, and attended by a beauteous train of nymphs, who are evident symbols of generation, as is largely proved by Porphyry de Antr. Nymph.; and are, therefore, the proper companions of the soul about to fall into its fluctuating realms.
But the design of Proserpine, in venturing from her retreat, is beautifully significant of her approaching descent: for she rambles from home for the purpose of gathering flowers; and this in a lawn replete with the most enchanting variety, and exhaling the most delicious odours. A manifest image this of the soul’s energizing principally according to the natural life, and of her becoming effeminated and ensnared through the delusive attractions of sensible form. Minerva, too, or the rational power in this case, gives herself wholly to the dangerous employment, and abandons the proper characteristics of her nature for the destructive revels of desire.
All which is thus described with the utmost elegance by the poet:
Forma loci superat flores: curvata tumore
Parvo planities, et mollibus edita clivis
Creverat in collem. Vivo de pumice fontes
Roscida mobilibus lambebant gramina rivis.
Silvaque torrentes ramorum frigore soles
Temperat, et medio brumam sibi vindicat æstu.
Apta fretis abies, bellis accommoda cornus,
Quercus amica Jovi, tumulos tectura cupressus,
Ilex plena favis, venturi præscia laurus.
Fluctuat hic denso crispata cacumine buxus,
Hic ederæ serpunt, hic pampinus induit ulmos.
Haud procul inde lacus (Pergum dixere Sicani)
Panditur, et nemorum frondoso margine cinctus
Vicinis pallescit aquis; admittit in altum
Cernentes oculos, et late pervius humor
Ducit inoffensos liquido sub gurgite visus,
Imaque perspicui prodit secreta profundi.
Hue elapsa cohors gaudent per florea rura
Hortatur Cytherea, legant. Nunc ite, sorores,
Dum matutinis præsudat solibus aër;
Dum meus humectat flaventes Lucifer agros,
Rotanti prævectus equo. Sic fata, doloris
Carpit signa sui. Varios tum cætera saltus
Invasere cohors. Credas examina fundi
Hyblæum raptura thymum, cum cerea reges
Castra movent, fagique cava demissus ab alvo
Mellifer electis exercitus obstrepit herbis.
Pratorum spoliatur honos. Hæc lilia fuscis
Intexit violis; hanc mollis amaracus ornat:
Hæc graditur stellata rosis; hæc alba ligustris.
Te quoque flebilibus mœrens, Hyacinthe, figuris,
Narcissumque metunt, nuoc inclita germina veris,
Prestantes olim pueros. Tu natus Amyclis;
Huoc Helicon genuit. Te disci perculit error;
Hunc fontis decepit amor. Te fronte retusa
Deluis, hunc fracta Cephissus arundine luget.
Æstuat ante alias avido fervore legendi
Frugiferæ spes una Deæ. Nunc vimine texto
Ridentes calathos spoliis agrestibus implet;
Nunc sociat flores, seseque ignara coronat,
Augurium fatale tori. Quin ipsa tubarum
Armorumque potens, dextram qua fortia turbat
Agmina; qua stabiles portas et mœnia vellit,
Jam levibus laxat studiis, hastamque reponit,
Insolitisque docet galeam mitescere sertis.
Ferratus lascivit apex, horrorque recessit
Manius, et cristæ pacato fulgure vernant.
Nec quæ Parthenium canibus scrutatur odorem,
Aspernata choros, libertatemque comarum
Injecta tantum voluit frenare corona.
But there is a circumstance relative to the narcissus which must not be passed over in silence, I mean its being, according to Ovid, the metamorphosis of a youth who fell a victim to the love of his own corporeal form; the secret meaning of which most admirably accords with the rape of Proserpine, which, according to Homer, in his hymn to Ceres, was the immediate consequence of her gathering this wonderful flower. For by Narcissus falling in love with his shadow appearing in the limpid stream we may behold a beautiful representation of a soul vehemently gazing on the flowing condition of a material body, and in consequence of this, becoming enamoured with a corporeal life, which is nothing more than the delusive image of the true man, or rational and immortal soul. Hence, by an immoderate attachment to this unsubstantial mockery and gliding semblance of the real soul, such an one becomes, at length, wholly changed, as far as is possible to his nature, into a plantal condition of being, into a beautiful but transient flower, that is, into a corporeal life, or a life totally consisting in the mere energies of nature. Proserpine, therefore, or the soul, at the very instant of her descent into matter, is, with the utmost propriety, represented as eagerly engaged in plucking this fatal flower; for her energies at this period are entirely conversant with a life divided about the fluctuating condition of body.
After this, Pluto, forcing his passage through the earth, seizes on Proserpine, and carries her away with him, notwithstanding the resistance of Minerva and Diana, who are forbid by Jupiter (who in this place signifies fate) to attempt her deliverance: where by the resistance of Minerva and Diana no more is signified than that the lapse of the soul into a material nature is contrary to the genuine wish and proper condition, as well of the corporeal life depending on her essence, as of her true and rational nature: well, therefore, may the soul, in such a situation, pathetically exclaim with Proserpine:
O male dilecti flores, despectaque matris
Cousilia: O Veneris deprensæ serius artes!
But, according to Minutius Felix, Proserpine was carried by Pluto through thick woods, and over a length of sea, and brought into a cavern, the residence of the dead: where by woods a material nature is plainly implied, as we have already observed in the first part of this discourse; and where the reader may likewise observe the agreement of the description in this particular with that of Virgil in the descent of his hero. For in the words,
———tenent media omnia silvæ
Cocytusqur, sinuque labens circumvenit atro.
The woods are expressly mentioned; and the ocean has an evident agreement with Cocytus, signifying the flowing condition of a material nature, and the sorrows attending its connection with the soul.
Pluto, then, having hurried Proserpine into the infernal regions, i.e. the soul having sunk into the profundities of a material nature, a description of her marriage next succeeds, or of her union with the dark tenement of body:
Jam suus inferno processerat Hesperus orbi,
Ducitur in thalamum virgo. Stat pronuba juxta
Stellantes Nox picta sinus, tangensque cubile
Omina perpetuo genitalia federe sancit.
In which Night is with great beauty and propriety introduced standing by the nuptial couch, and confirming the oblivious league. For the soul through her union with a material body becomes familiar with darkness, and subject to the empire of night; in consequence of which she dwells wholly with delusive phantoms, and till she breaks her fetters is deprived of the perception of that which is real and true.
In the next place, we are presented with the following beautiful and pathetic description of Proserpine appearing in a dream to Ceres, and bewailing her captive and miserable condition:
Sed tunc ipsa, sui jam non ambagibus ullis
Nuntia, materno facies ingesta sopori.
Namque videbatur tenebroso obtecta recessu
Caiceris, et sævis Proserpina vincta catenis,
Non qualem roseis nuper convallitms Ætnæ
Suspexere Deæ. Squalebat pulcrior auro
Cæsaries, et nox oculorum infecerat ignes.
Exhaustusque gelu pallet rubor. Ille superbi
Flammeus oris honos, ct non cessura pruiuis
Membra colorantur picei caligine regni.
Ergo hanc ut dubio vix tandem agnoscere visu
Evaluit: cujus tot pœnæ criminis? inquit.
Unde hæc informis macies? Cui tanta facultas
In me sævitiæ est? Rigidi cur vincula ferri
Vix aptanda feris molles meruere lacerti?
Tu, mea tu proles? An vana fallimur umbra?
For such indeed is the wretched situation of the soul when profoundly merged in a corporeal nature: so that she not only becomes captive and fettered, but loses all her original splendor; is defiled with the impurity of matter; and the piercing vigor of her rational sight is blunted and dimm’d through the thick darkness of a material night. Where, too, the reader may observe how Proserpine, being represented as confined in the dark recess of a prison, and bound with fetters, confirms the explanation of the fable here given as symbolical of the descent of the soul; for such, as we have already largely proved, is the condition of the soul from its union with body, according to the uniform testimony of the most ancient philosophers and priests.
After this, the wanderings of Ceres for the discovery of Proserpine commence; in which she is described, by Minutius Felix, begirt with a serpent, and bearing two lighted torches in her hands; but by Claudian, instead of being girt with a serpent, she commences her search by night in a car drawn by dragons. But the meaning of the allegory is the same in each; for both a serpent and a dragon are emblems of a divisible life, subject to transitions, with which, in this case, our intellectual part becomes connected: since as these animals put off their skins, and become young again, so the divisible life of the soul, falling into generation, is rejuvenized in its subsequent progression. But what emblem can more beautifully represent the evolutions and processions of an intellectual nature into the regions of sense than the wanderings of Ceres by the light of torches through the darkness of night, and her continuing the pursuit till she proceeds into the depths of Hades itself? For the intellectual part of the soul, when it verges towards body, enkindles, indeed, a light in its dark receptacle, but becomes itself situated in obscurity: and, as Proclus somewhere divinely observes, the mortal nature by this means participates of intellect, but the intellectual part becomes obnoxious to death. The tears and lamentations too, of Ceres, in her course, are symbolical both of the providential energies of intellect about a mortal nature, and the miseries with which such energies are (with respect to partial souls like ours) attended. Nor is it without reason that Jacchus, or Bacchus, is celebrated by Orpheus as the companion of her search: for Bacchus is the evident symbol of the partial energies of intellect, and its distribution into the obscure and lamentable dominions of sense.
But our explanation will receive additional strength, from considering that these sacred rites occupied the space of nine days in their celebration; and this, doubtless, because, according to Homer in his hymn to Ceres, this goddess did not discover the residence of her daughter till the expiration of that period. For the soul, in falling from her original and divine abode in the heavens, passes through eight spheres, viz. the inerratic sphere, and the seven planets, assuming a different body, and employing different energies in each; and becomes connected with the sublunary world and a terrene body, as the ninth, and most abject gradation of her descent. Hence the first day of initiation into these mystic rites was called αλυρμον, i.e. according to Hesychius, εκκλησιαν, et παν το αλειρομενον, an assembly, and every thing collecting together: and this with the greatest propriety; for, according to Pythagoras, the people of dreams are souls collected together in the Galaxy. Δημος δε ονειρων κατα Πυθαλοραν αι ψυχαι, ας συναλεσθαι φησιν εις τον γαλαξιαν.9 And from this part of the heavens souls first begin to descend. After this, the soul falls from the tropic of Cancer into the planet Saturn; and to this the second day of initiation was consecrated, which they called Αλαδε μυσται, because, says Meursius, on that day the cryer was accustomed to admonish the mystics to betake themselves to the sea. Now the meaning of this will be easily understood, by considering that, according to the arcana of the ancient theology, as may be learned from Proclus;10 the whole planetary system is under the dominion of Neptune; and this too is confirmed by Martianus Capella, who describes the several planets as so many streams. Hence when the soul falls into the planet Saturn, which Capella compares to a river voluminous, sluggish, and cold, she then first merges herself into fluctuating matter, though purer than that of a sublunary nature, and of which water is an ancient and significant symbol. Besides the sea is an emblem of purity, as is evident from the Orphic hymn to Ocean, in which that deity is called θεων αγνισμα μεγιστον, i.e. greatest purifier οf the gods: and Saturn, as we have already observed, is pure intellect. And what still more confirms this observation is, that Pythagoras, as we are informed by Porphyry, in his life of that philosopher; symbolically called the sea a tear of Saturn. But the eighth day of initiation, which is symbolical of the soul’s falling into the lunar orb, was celebrated by the mystics with repeated initiation and second sacred rites; because the soul in this situation is about to bid adieu to every thing of a celestial nature; to sink into a perfect oblivion of her divine origin and pristine felicity; and to rush profoundly into the region of dissimilitude, ignorance, and error. And lastly, on the ninth day, when the soul falls into the sublunary world and becomes united with a terrestrial body, a libation was performed, such as is usual in sacred rites. Here the mystics, filling two earthen vessels of broad and spacious bottoms, which were called πλφμοχοαι and κοτυλισκοι, the former of these words denoting vessels of a conical shape, and the latter small bowls or cups sacred to Bacchus, they placed one towards the east, and the other towards the west. And the first of these was doubtless, according to the interpretation of Proclus, sacred to the earth, and symbolical of the soul’s proceeding from an orbicular figure, or divine form, into a conical defluxion and terrene situation; but the other was sacred to the soul, and symbolical of its celestial origin; since our intellect is the legitimate progeny of Bacchus. And this too was occultly signified by the position of the earthen vessels; for, according to a mundane distribution of the divinities, the eastern centre of the universe, which is analogous to fire, belongs to Jupiter, who likewise governs the inerratic sphere; and the western to Pluto, who governs the earth, because the west is allied to earth on account of its dark and nocturnal nature.11
Again, according to Clemens Alexandrinus, the following confession was made by the new mystic in these sacred rites, in answer to the interrogations of the Hierophant:
“I have fasted; but I have drank a miscellaneous potion; and having done this, I have taken out of the Cista, and placed what I have taken out into the Calathus; and alternately I have taken out of the Calathus and put into the Cista.”
Κᾳστι το συνθημα Ελευσινιων μυστηριων’ ενηστωσα’ επιον τον κυκεωνα’ ελαβον εκ κιστης, εργασαμενος απεθεμην εις καλαθον, και εκ καλαθου εις κιστην.
But as this pertains to a circumstance attending the wanderings of Ceres, which formed the most mystic part of the ceremonies, it is necessary to adduce the following arcane narration, summarily collected from the writings of Amobius:
“The goddess Ceres, when searching through the earth for her daughter, in the course of her wanderings arrived at the boundaries of Eleusia, in the Attic region, a place which was then inhabited by a people called Αυτοχθονες, or descended from the earth, whose names were as follow: Baubo and Triptolemus; Dysaules, a goat herd; Eubulus, a keeper of swine; and Eumolpus, a shepherd, from whom the race of the Eumolpidæ descended, and the illustrious name of Cecropidæ was derived; and who afterwards flourished as bearers of the caduceus, hierophants, and cryers belonging to the sacred rites. Baubo, therefore, who was of the female sex, received Ceres, wearied with complicated evils, as her guest, and endeavoured to soothe her sorrows by obsequious and flattering attendance. For this purpose she entreated her to pay attention to the refreshment of her body, and placed before her a miscellaneous potion to assuage the vehemence of her thirst. But the sorrowful goddess was averse from her solicitations, and rejected the friendly officiousness of the hospitable dame. The matron, however, who was not easily repulsed, still continued her entreaties, which were as obstinately resisted by Ceres, who persevered in her refusal with unshaken constancy and invincible rigour. But when Baubo had thus often extened her endeavours to appease the sorrows of Ceres, but without any effect, she, at length, changed her arts, and determined to try if she could not exhilarate by prodigies, a mind which she was not able to allure by serious attempts. For this purpose she freed from concealment that part of her body through which the female sex produces children, and derives the appellation of woman. This she caused to assume a purer appearance, and a smoothness such as is found in the private parts of a stripling child. She then returns to the afflicted goddess, and, in the midst of those attempts which are usually employed to alleviate distress, she uncovers herself, and exhibits her secret parts; upon which the goddess fixed her eyes, and was delighted with the novel method of mitigating the anguish of sorrow; and afterwards, becoming cheerful through laughter, she assuages the ardour of her thirst with the miscellaneous potion which she had before despised.”
Thus far Amobius; and the same narration is epitomised by Clemens Alexandrinus, who is very indignant at the indecency, as he conceives, in the story, and in its composing the arcana of the Eleusinian rites. Indeed as he considered the fable literally, and as designed to promote indecency and lust, we cannot wonder at his ill-timed and malevolent abuse. But the fact is, this narration belonged to the απορρητα, or arcane discourses; on account of its mystical meaning, and to prevent it from becoming the object of ignorant declamation, licentious perversion, and impious contempt; for the purity and excellence of these institutions is perpetually acknowledged even by Dr. Warburton himself, who, in this instance, has dispersed, for a moment, the mists of delusion and intolerant zeal. Besides, as Iamblichus beautifully observes, (de Mysteriis) “exhibitions of this kind in the mysteries were designed to free us from licentious passions, by gratifying the sight, and at the same time vanquishing desire, through the awful sanctity with which these rites were accompanied:
“for,” says he, “the proper way of freeing ourselves from the passions is, first, to indulge them with moderation, by which means they become satisfied; listen, as it were, to persuasion, and may thus be entirely removed.”
This doctrine is indeed so rational, that it can never be objected to by any but quacks in philosophy and religion. For as he is nothing more than a quack in medicine who endeavours to remove a latent bodily disease before he has called it forth externally, and by this means diminished its fury; so he is nothing more than a pretender in philosophy who attempts to remove the passions by violence, instead of moderate compliance and gentle persuasion.
But, to return from this digression, the following appears to be the secret meaning of this mystic discourse:—The matron Baubo may be considered as a symbol of that passive, effeminate, and corporeal life through which the soul becomes united with this terrene body, and through which being at first ensnared, it descended, and, as it were, was born into the realms of generation, passing, by this means, from mature perfection, splendour, and reality, into infancy, darkness, and error. Ceres, therefore, or the intellectual part of the soul, in the course of her wanderings, that is, of her evolutions and processions into matter, is at length captivated with the arts of Baubo, or a corporeal life, and forgets her sorrows, that is, imbibes oblivion of her wretched state in the mingled potion which she prepares; the miscellaneous liquor being an obvious symbol of such a life, mixed and impure, and, on this account, obnoxious to corruption and death; since every thing pure and unmixed is incorruptible and divine. And here it is necessary to caution the reader from imagining, that because, according to the fable, the wanderings of Ceres commence after the rape of Proserpine, hence intellect descends posterior to the soul, and in a separate manner: for nothing more is meant by this circumstance than that intellect, from the superior excellence of its nature, has a causal, though not a temporal, priority to soul and that on this account a defection and revolt commences indeed from soul, and afterwards takes place in intellect, yet not so as that the former descends without the inseparable attendance of the latter.
From this explanation, then, of the fable, we may easily perceive the meaning of the mystic confession, I have fasted, but I have, drank a miscellaneous potion, etc. for by the former part of the assertion, no more is meant than that intellect, previous to its imbibing oblivion, through the fraudulent arts of a corporeal life, abstains from all material concerns, and does not mingle itself (as far as its nature is capable of such abasement) with even the necessary delights of the body. And as to the latter part, it doubtless alludes to the descent of Proserpine to Hades, and her re-ascent to the abodes of her mother Ceres: that is, to the circulations of soul, and her alternately falling into generation, and ascending from thence into the intelligible world, and becoming perfectly converted to her divine and intellectual part. For the Cista contained the most arcane symbols of the mysteries, into which it was unlawful for the profane to look; and whatever were its contents, we learn from the hymn of Callimachus to Ceres, that they were formed from gold, which, from its incorruptibility, is an evident symbol of an immaterial nature. And as to the Calathus, this, as we are told by Claudian, was filled with spoliis agrestibus, the spoils or fruits of the field, which are manifest symbols of a life corporeal and terrene. So that the mystic, by confessing that he had taken from the Cista and placed what he had taken into the Calathus, and the contrary, occultly acknowledged the descent of his soul from a condition of being wholly immterial and immortal into one material and mortal; and that, on the contrary, by living according to the purity which the mysteries inculcated, he should re-ascend to that perfection of his nature, from which he had unhappily fallen.
It only now remains that we consider the last part of this fabulous narration, or arcane discourse, in which it is said, that after the goddess Ceres, on arriving at Eleusina, had discovered her daughter, she instructed the Eleusinians in the plantation of corn: or, according to Claudian, the search of Ceres for her daughter, through the goddess discovering the art of tillage as she went, proved the occasion of a universal benefit to mankind. Now the secret meaning of this will be obvious, by considering that the descent of intellect into the realms of generation, becomes, indeed, the greatest benefit and ornament which a material nature is capable of receiving: for without the participation of intellect in the lowest regions of matter, nothing but irrational soul and a brutal life would subsist in its dark and fluctuating abode. As the art of tillage, therefore, and particularly the plantation of corn, becomes the greatest possible benefit to our sensible life, no symbol can more aptly represent the unparallelled advantages arising from the evolution and procession of intellect into a corporeal life, than the good resulting from agriculture and corn: for whatever of horrid and dismal can be conceived in night, supposing it to be perpetually destitute of the friendly illuminations of the moon and stars, such, and infinitely more dreadful, would be the condition of an earthly nature, if deprived of the beneficent irradiations and supervening ornaments of an intellectual life.
And thus much for an explanation of the Eleusinian mysteries, or the history of Ceres and Proserpine; in which it must be remembered, that as this fable, according to the excellent observation of Sallust already adduced, is of the mixed kind, though the descent of the soul was doubtless principally alluded to by these sacred rites, yet they likewise occultly signified, agreeable to the nature of the fable, the procession of divinity into the sublunary world. But when we view the fable in this part of its meaning, we must be careful not to confound the nature of a partial intellect like ours with one universal and divine; for as every thing subsisting about the gods is deified, intellect in the highest degree, and next to this soul, hence wanderings and ravishments, lamentations and tears, can here only signify the participations and providential energies of these about inferior natures; and this in such a manner as not to derogate from the dignity, or impair the perfection, of the divine participated essence. I only add, that the preceding exposition will enable us to perceive the meaning and beauty of the following representation of the rape of Proserpine, from the Heliacan tables of Hieronymus Aleander, as delivered by Kircher in his Obeliscus Pamphilius, p. 227. For here, first of all, we behold Ceres in a car drawn by two dragons, and afterwards, Diana and Minerva, with an inverted calathus at their feet, and pointing out to Ceres, Proserpine, who is hurried away by Pluto in his car, and is in the attitude of one struggling to be free. In the next place, Hercules is represented with his club, in the attitude of one opposing the violence of Pluto: and last of all, Jupiter is represented extending his hand, as if willing to assist Proserpine in escaping from the embraces of Pluto. I shall therefore conclude this section with the following remarkable passage from Plutarch, which will not only confirm, but be itself corroborated by the preceding exposition.
Οτι μεν ουν η παλαια φυσιολογια, και παρ‘ Ελλησι και Βαρβαροις, λογος ην φυσικος ελκεκαλυμμενος μυθοις, τα πολλα δι‘ αινιγματων και υπονοιων επικρυφος, και μυστηριωδης θεολογια. Τα τε λαλουμενα των σιγωμενων σαφεστερα τοις πολλοις εχοντα‘ Και τα σιγωμενα των λαλουμενων υποπτοτερα. Δηλον εστι, pergit, εν τοις Ορφικοις επεσι, και τοις Αιγυπτιακοις και Φρυγιοις λογοις. Μαλιστα δε οι περι τας τελετας οργιασμοι, και τα δρωμενα συμβολικως εν ταις ἱερουργιαις, την των παλαιων εμφαινει διανοιαν.
i.e. “That the ancient physiology, therefore, as well of the Greeks as the Barbarians, was nothing else than a physical discourse involved in fables, concealing many things through ænigmas and conjectures, and among the rest a mystic theology, in which the things spoken were clearer to the multitude than those delivered in silence, and the things delivered in silence were more subject to conjecture than what was spoken, is manifest from the Orphic verses, and the Egyptian and Phrygian discourses. But the orgies of initiations, and the symbolical operations of sacred rites especially, exhibit the conception of the ancients.”
On the Mysteries of Bacchus
The Dionysiacal sacred rites instituted by Orpheus, depended on the following arcane narration, part of which has been already related in the preceding section, and the rest may be found in a variety of authors.
“Dionysus, or Bacchus, while he was yet a boy, was engaged by the Titans, through the stratagems of Juno, in a variety of sports, with which that period of life is so vehemently allured; and among the rest, he was particularly captivated with beholding his image in a mirror; during his admiration of which, he was miserably torn in pieces by the Titans; who, not content with this cruelty, first boiled his members in water, and afterwards roasted them by the fire. But while they were tasting his flesh thus dressed, Jupiter, roused by the odor, and perceiving the cruelty of the deed, hurled his thunder at the Titans; but committed his members to Apollo, the brother of Bacchus, that they might be properly interred. And this being performed, Dionysus (whose heart during his laceration was snatched away by Pallas and preserved), by a new regeneration again emerged, and being restored to his pristine life and integrity, he afterwards filled up the number of the gods. But in the mean time, from the exhalations formed from the ashes of the burning bodies of the Titans, mankind were produced.”
Now, in order to understand properly the secret meaning of this narration, it is necessary to repeat the observation already made in the preceding section, “that all fables belonging to mystic ceremonies are of the mixed kind:” and consequently the present fable, as well as that of Proserpine, must in one part have reference to the gods, and in the other to the human soul, as the following exposition will abundantly evince:
In the first place, then, by Dionysus, or Bacchus, according to the highest establishment of this deity, we must understand the diety participated by the intellect of the mundane soul; for there are various processions of this god, or Bacchuses, derived from his essence. But by the Titans we must understand the mundane gods, of whom Bacchus is the summit: by Jupiter, the Demiurgus, or artificer of the universe: by Apollo, the deity of the Sun, who has both a mundane and super-mundane establishment, and by whom the universe is bound in symmetry and consent, through splendid reasons and harmonizing power: and, lastly, by Minerva we must understand that fontal, intellectual, ruling, and providential deity, who guards and preserves all middle lives in an immutable condition, through intelligence and a self-energizing life, and by this means sustains them from the depredations of matter. Again, by the puerile state of Bacchus at the period of his laceration, the flourishing condition of an intellectual nature is implied; since, according to the Orphic theology, souls, while under the government of Saturn, who is pure intellect, instead of proceeding, as now, from youth to age, advance in a retrograde progression from age to youth. The arts employed by the Titans, in order to ensnare Dionysius, are symbolical of those apparent and divisible energies of the mundane gods, through which the participated intellect of Bacchus becomes, as it were, torn in pieces: and by the mirror we must understand, in the language of Proclus, the inaptitude of the universe to receive the plenitude of intellectual perfection; but the symbolical meaning of his laceration, through the stratagems of Juno, and the consequent punishment of the Titans, is thus beautifully unfolded by Olympiodorus, in his MS. Commentary on the Phædo of Plato:
“The form,” says he, “of that which is universal is pluckt off, torn in pieces, and scattered into generation; and Dionysus is the monad of the Titans. But his laceration is said to take place through the stratagems of Juno, because this goddess is the inspective guardian of motion and progression; and on this account, in the Iliad, she perpetually rouses and excites Jupiter to providential energies about secondary concerns; and, in another respect, Dionysus is the inspective guardian of generation, because he presides over life and death; for he is the guardian of life because of generation, but of death because wine produces an enthusiastic energy: and we become more enthusiastic at the period of dissolution, as Proclus evinces agreeably to Homer; for he became prophetic at the time of his death. They likewise assert, that tragedy and comedy are referred to Dionysus: comedy, indeed, because this is the play or joke of life; but tragedy on account of the passions and death, which it represents. Comedians, therefore, do not properly denominate tragedians, as if they were not Dionysiacal; asserting, at the same time, that nothing tragical belongs to Dyonysius. But Jupiter hurled his thunder at the Titans; the thunder signifying a conversion on high: for fire naturally ascends; and hence Jupiter, by this means, converts the Titans to himself.”
Σπαραττεται δε το καθολου ειδος εν τῃ γενεσει, μονας δε τιτανων ο διονυσος.——Κατ’ επιβουλην δε της ηρας διοτι κινησεως εφορος η θεος και προοδου. Διο και συνεχως εν τῃ ιλιασι εξανιστησιν αυτη, και διεγορει τον δια εις προνοιαν των δευτερων. Και γενεσεως αλλως εφορος εστιν ο διονυσος, διοτι και ζωης και τελευτης. Ζωης μεν γαρ εφορος, επειδη και της γενεσεως, τελευτης δε διοτι ενθουσιαν ο οινος ποιει. Και περι την τελευτην δε ενθουσιαστικωτεροι γινομεθα, ως δηλοι ο παρ’ Ομηρῳ προκλος, μαντικος γεγονως περι την τελευτην‘ και την τραγωδιαν, και την κωμωδιαν ανεισθαι φασι τῳ διονυσῳ. Την μεν κωμωδιαν παιγνιον ουσαν του βιου’ την δε τραγωδιαν δια τα παθη, και την τελευτην. ουκ αρα καλως οι κωμικοι τοις τραγικοις εγκαλουσιν, ως μη διονυσιακοις ουσιν, λεγοντες οτι ουδεν ταυταπρος τον διονυσον. Κεραννοι δε τουτοις ο ζευς, του κεραννου δηλουντος την επιστροφεν‘ πυρ γαρ επι τα ανω κινουμενα. Επιστρεφει ουν αυτους προς εαυτον.
But by the members of Dionysus being first boiled in water by the Titans, and afterward roasted by the fire, the procession or distribution of intellect into matter, and its subsequent conversion from thence, is evidently implied: for water was considered by the Egyptians, as we have already observed, as the symbol of matter; and fire is the natural symbol of ascent. The heart of Dionysus too, is, with the greatest propriety, said to be preserved by Minerva; for this goddess is the guardian of life, of which the heart is a symbol. So that this part of the fable plainly signifies, that while intellectual life is distributed into the universe, its principle is preserved entire by the guardian power and providence of the unpolluted intelligence. And as Apollo is the source of all union and harmony, and as he is called by Proclus, in his elegant hymn to the Sun, “the key-keeper of the fountain of life,” the reason is obvious why the members of Dionysus, which were buried by this deity, by a new generation again emerged, and were restored to their pristine integrity and life. But let it here be carefully observed, that renovation, when applied to the gods, is to be considered as secretly implying the rising of their proper light, and its consequent appearance to subordinate natures. And that punishment, when considered as taking place about beings more excellent than mankind, signifies nothing more than a secondary providence over such beings which is of a punishing character, and which subsists about apostatizing souls. Hence, then, from what has been said, we may easily collect the ultimate design of the first part of this mystic fable; for it appears to be no other than to represent the manner in which the form of the mundane intellect is distributed into the universe;—that such an intellect (and every one which is total) remains entire during its participations, and that the participations themselves are continually converted to their source, with which they become finally united. So that intellectual illumination, while it proceeds into the dark and rebounding receptacle of matter, and invests its obscurity with the supervening ornaments of deific light, returns at the same time without interrmission to the source or principle of its descent.
Let us now consider the latter part of the fable, in which it is said that our souls were formed from the vapors produced by the ashes of the burning bodies of the Titans; at the same time connecting it with the former part of the fable, which is also applicable in a certain degree to the condition of a partial intellect like ours. In the first place, then, we are made up from fragments (says Olympiodorus), because, through falling into generation, our life has proceeded into the most distant and extreme division; but from Titannic fragments, because the Titans are the ultimate artificers of things, and the most proximate to their fabrications. But further, our irrational life is Titannic, under which the rational life is torn in pieces. And hence when we disperse the Dionysius, or intellect contained in the secret recesses of our nature, breaking in pieces the kindred and divine form of our essence, and which communicates, as it were, both with things subordinate and supreme, then we become Titans; but when we establish ourselves in union with this Dionysiacal or kindred form, then we become Bacchuses, or perfect guardians of our irrational life: for Dionysius, whom in this respect we resemble, is himself a guardian deity, dissolving at his pleasure the bonds by which the soul is united to the body, since he is the cause of a partial life. But it is necessary that the passive nature of our irrational part, through which we are bound in body, and which is nothing more than the resounding echo, as it were, of soul, should suffer the punishment incurred by descent; for when the soul casts aside the peculiarity of her nature, she requires a certain proper, but at the same time multiform body, that she may again become indigent of a common form, which she has lost through Titannic dispersion into matter.
But in order to see the perfect and beautiful resemblance between the manner in which our souls descend and the participation of intellect by mundane natures, let the reader attend to the following admirable citation from the MS. Commentary of Olympiodorus on the Phædo of Plato:
“In order,” says he, “to the soul’s descent, it is necessary that she should first establish an animating image of herself in the body: and in the second place, that she should sympathize with the image, according to a similitude of form: for every form passes into a sameness with itself, through naturally verging to itself. In the third place, being situated in a divisible nature, it is necessary that she hsould be lacerated and scattered together with such a nature, and that she should fall into an ultimate distribution, till, through the energies of a cathartic life, she raises herself from the extreme dispersion, and loosens the bond of sympathy through which she is united with body; and till, at the same time, energizing without the image, she becomes established according to her primary life. And we may behold a resemblance of all this in the fable respecting Bacchus, the exemplar of our intellect. For it is said that Dionysius, establishing his image in a mirror, pursued it, and thus became distributed into the universe. But Apollo excited and elevated Bacchus; this god being a cathartic diety, and the true savious of Dionysius; and on this account he is celebrated as Dionysites.”
Οτι δει πρωτον υποστησαι εικονα την ψυχην εαυτου εν τῳ σωματι. Τουτο γαρ εστι ψυχωσαι το σωμα. Δευτερον δε συμπαθειν τῳ ειδωλῳ, κατα την ομοειδειαν. Παν γαρ ειδος επειγεται εις την προς εαυτο ταυτοητα δια την προς εαυτο συνευσιν εμφυτον. Τριτον εν τῳ μερισμῳ γενομενην συνδιασπασθηναι αυτῳ, και εις τον εσχατον εκπεσειν μερισμον. Εως αν δαι της καθαρτικης ζωης συναγειραι μεν εαυτην απο του σκορπισμου, λυση δε τον δεσμον της συμσαθειας, προβαλλεται δε την ανευ του ειδωλου, καθ’ εαυτην εστωσαν πρωτουργον ζωην. Οτι τα ομοια μυθευεται, και εν τῳ παραδειγματι. Ο γαρ διονυσος, οτι το ειδωλον ενεθηκε τω εσοπτρω τουτῳ εφεσπετο. Και ουτως εις το παν εμερισθη. Ο δε απολλων συναγειρει τε αυτον και αναγει, καθαρτικος ων θεος, και του διονυσου σωτηρ ως αληθως. Και δια τουτο διονυσοτης ανυμνειται.
Hence, as the same author beautifully observes, the soul revolves according to a mystic and mundane circulation: for flying from an indivisible and Dionysiacal life, and energizing according to a Titannic and revolting energy, she becomes bound in body as in a prison. Hence, too, she abides in punishment and takes care of her partial concerns; and being purified from Titannic defilements, and collected into one, she becomes a Bacchus; that is, she passes into the proper integrity of her nature according to the Dionysius who abides on high. From all which it evidently follows, that he who lives Dionysiacally rests from labours and is freed from his bonds; that he leaves his prison, or rather his apostatizing life; and that he who does this is a cathartic philosopher. But farther from this account of Dionysius, we may perceive the truth of Plato’s observation, “that the design of the mysteries is to lead us back to the perfection from which, as a principle, we first made our descent.” For in this perfection Dionysius himself subsists, establishing perfect souls in the throne of his proper father; that is, in the whole of a life according to Jupiter. So that he who is perfect necessarily resides with the gods, according to the design of those deities, who are the sources of consummate perfection to the soul. And lastly, the Thyrsus itself, which was used in the Bacchic procession, as it was a reed full of knots, is an apt symbol of the distribution of an intellectual nature into the sensible world. And agreeable to this, Olympiodorus on the Phædo observes,
“that the Thyrsus is a symbol of material and partial fabrication from its dissipated continuity; and that on this account it is a Titannic plant. This it was customary to extend before Bacchus instead of his paternal scepter; and through this they called him down into a partial nature. And, indeed, the Titans are Thyrsus-bearers; and Prometheus concealed fire in a Thyrsus or reed; whether he is considered as deducing celestial light into generation, or producing soul into body, or calling forth divine illumination (the whole of which is without generation), into generation. Hence Socrates calls the multitude Orphically Thyrsus-bearers, because they live according to a Titannic life.”
Οτι ο ναρθηξ συμβολον εστι της ενυλου δημιουργιας, και μεριστης, δια την μαλιστα διεσπαρμενην συνεχειαν, οθεν και τιτανικοει το φυτον. Και γαρ τῳ διονυσῳ προτεινουσιν αυτῳ, αντι του πατρικου σκηπτρου. Και ταυτῃ προκαλουνται αυτον εις τον μερικον. Και μεντοι, και ναρθηκοφορουσιν οι τιτανες, και ο προμηθευς, εν ναρθηκϊ κλεπτει το πυρ, ειτε το ουρανιον φως εις την γενεσιν κατασπων, ειτε την ψυχην εις το σωμα προαγων, ειτε την θειαν ελλαμψιν ολην αγεννητον ουσαν, εις την γενεσιν προκαλουμενος. Δια δε τουτο, και ο σωκρατης τους πολλους καλει ναρθηκοφορους Ορφικως, ως ζωντας τιτανικως.
And thus much for the secret meaning of the fable, which formed a principal part of these mystic rites. Let us now proceed to consider the signification of the symbols, which, according to Clemens Alexandrinus, belonged to the Bacchic ceremonies; and which are comprehended in the following Orphic verses:
Κωνος, και ρομβος, και παιγνια καμπεσιγυια
Μηλα τε χρυσεα καλα παῤ εσπεριδων λιγυφωνων.
A wheel, a pine nut, and the wanton plays,
Which move and bend the limbs in various ways:
With these th’ Hesperian golden fruit combine,
Which beauteous nymphs defend of voice divine.
To all which Clemens adds εσοπτρον, a mirror, ποκος, a fleece of wool, and αστραγαλος, the ankle-bone. In the first place, then, with respect to the wheel, since Dionysius, as we have already explained, is the mundane intellect, and intellect is of a reductorial, or convertive nature, nothing can be a more apt symbol of intellectual energy than a wheel or sphere: besides, as the laceration of Dionysius signifies the procession of intellectual illumination into matter, and its conversion at the same time to its source, this too will be aptly symbolized by a wheel. In the second place, a pine-nut, from its conical shape, is a perspicuous symbol of the manner in which intellectual illumination proceeds from its principle into a material nature.
“For the soul,” says Macrobius,12 “proceeding from a round figure, which is the only divine form, is produced into a cone by its defluxion.”
And the same is true symbolically of intellect. And as to the wanton sports which bend the limbs, this evidently alludes to the Titannic arts, by which Dionysius was allured, and occultly signifies the energies of the mundane intellect, considered as subsisting according to an apparent and divisible condition. But the Hesperian golden apples, signify the pure and incorruptible nature of that intellect, or Dionysius, which is participated by the world; for a golden apple, according to the philosopher Sallust, is a symbol of the world; and this doubtless, both on account of its external figure, and the incorruptible intellect which it contains, and with the illuminations of which it is externally adorned; since gold, on account of never being subject to rust, aptly denotes an incorruptible and immaterial nature. The mirror, which is the next symbol, we have already explained. And as to the fleece of wool, this is a symbol of laceration, or distribution of intellect, or Dionysius, into matter; for the verb σπαραττω, dilanio, which is used in the relation of the Bacchic discerption, signifies to tear in pieces like wool: and hence Isidorus derives the Latin word lana, wool, from laniando, as vellus a vellendo. Nor must it pass unobserved, that λῆνος, in Greek, signifies wool, and ληνὸς, a wine-press. And, indeed, the pressing of grapes is as evident a symbol of dispersion as the tearing of wool; and this circumstance was doubtless one principal reason why grapes were consecrated to Bacchus: for a grape previous to its pressure, aptly represents that which is collected into one; and when it is pressed into juice, it no less aptly represents the diffusion of that which was before collected and entire. And lastly, the αστραγαλος, or ankle-bone, as it is principally subservient to the progressive motion of animals, so it belongs, with great propriety, to the mystic symbols of Bacchus; since it doubtless signifies the progressions of that deity into the regions of nature; for nature, or that divisible life which subsists about body, and which is productive of seeds, immediately depends on Bacchus. And hence we are informed by Proclus, in Tim. p. 184, that the genital parts of this god are denominated by theologists, Diana, who, says he, presides over the whole of the generation in nature, leads forth into light all natural reasons, and extends a prolific power from on high even to the subterranean realms. And hence we may perceive the reason why, in the Orphic hymn to Nature, that goddess is described as “turning round silent traces with the ankle-bones of her feet.”
Αψοφον αστραγαλοισι ποδων ιχνος ειλισσουσα.
And it is highly worthy our observation that in this verse of the hymn Nature is celebrated as Fortune, according to that description of the goddess in which she is represented as standing with her feet on a wheel, which she continually turns round with a progressive motion; as the following verse from the same hymn abundantly confirms:
Αεναῳ στροθαλιγγι φοον ρυμα δινευουσα.
The sense of which is, “moving with rapid motion on an eternal wheel.” Nor ought it to seem wonderful that Nature should be celebrated as Fortune; for Fortune in the Orphic hymn to that deity is invoked as Diana: and the moon, as we have observed in the preceding section, is the αυτοπτον αγαλμα φυσεως, the self-conspicuous image of Nature; and indeed the apparent inconstancy of Fortune, has an evident agreement with the fluctuating condition in which the dominions of nature are perpetually involved.
It only now remains that we explain the secret meaning of the sacred dress with which the initiated in the Dionysiacal mysteries were invested, in order to the θρονισμος taking place; or sitting in a solemn manner on a throne, about which it was customary for the other mystics to dance. But the particulars of this habit are thus described in the Orphic verses preserved by Macrobius in the first book of his Saturnalia, cap. 18.
Ταυτα γε παντα τελειν ιερᾳ σκηνῃ πυκασαντα,
Σωμα θεου πλαττειν εριαυγους ηειλσιο.
Πρωτα μεν αργυρεαις εναλιγκιον ακτινεσσιν
Πεπλον φοινικερον (lege φοινικεον) πρυιικελον αμφιβαλεσθαι.
Αυταρ υπερθενεβροιο παναιολου ειρυ καθαψαι
Δερμα πολυστικτον δερος κατα δεξιον ωμον,
Αστρων δαιδαλεων μιμιμ‘ ιερου τε πολοιο.
Ειτα δ‘ υπερθε νεβρης χρυσεον ζωστηρα βαλεσθαι
Παμφανοωντα περιξ στερνων φορεειν μεγα σημα
Ευθυς οτ‘ εκ περατων γαιης φαεθων ανορουσων
Χρυσειαις ακτισι βαλῃ ροον ωκεανοιο,
Αυγη δ‘ ασπετος η, ανα δε δροσῳ αμφιμιγεισα
Μαρμαιρῃ δινῃσιν ελισσομενη κατα κυκλον,
Προσθε θεου. ζωνη δ‘ αρ‘ υπο στερνων αμετρητων
Φαινετ, αρ‘ ωκεανου κυκλος, μεγα θαυμ‘ εισιδεσθαι.
He who desires in pomp of sacred dress
The sun’s resplendent body to express,
Should first a veil assume of purple bright,
Like fair white beams combin’d with fiery light:
On his right shoulder, next, a mule’s broad hide
Widely diversified with spotted pride
Should hang, an image of the pole divine,
And dædal stars, whose orbs eternal shine.
A golden splendid zone, then, o’er the vest
He next should throw, and bind it round his breast;
In mighty token, how with golden light,
The rising sun, from earth’s last bounds and night
Sudden emerges, and, with matchless force,
Darts through old Ocean’s billows in his course.
A boundless splendor hence, enshrin’d in dew,
Plays on his whirlpools, glorious to the view;
While his circumfluent waters spread abroad,
Full in the presence of the radiant god:
But Ocean’s circle, like a zone of light,
The sun’s wide bosom girds, and charms the wond’ring sight.
In the first place, then, let us consider why this mystic dress belonging to Bacchus is to represent the sun. Now the reason of this will be evident from the following observations: according to the Orphic theology, the intellect of every planet is denominated a Bacchus, who is characterized in each by a different appellation; so that the intellect of the solar deity is called Trietericus Bacchus. And in the second place, since the divinity of the sun, according to the arcana of the ancient theology, has a super-mundane as well as mundane establishment, and is wholly of a reductorial or intellectual nature; hence considered as super-mundane, he must both produce and contain the mundane intellect, or Dionysius, in his essence; for all the mundane are contained in the super-mundane deities, by whom also they are produced. Hence Proclus, in his elegant hymn to the sun, says:
Σε κλυτον υμνειουσι Διωνυσσοιο τοκηα.
That is, “they celebrate thee in hymns as the illustrious parent of Dionysus.”
And thirdly, it is through the subsistence of Dionysius in the sun that that luminary derives its circular progression, as is evident from the following Orphic verse, in which, speaking of the sun, it is said of him, that
————Διονυσος δ’ επεκληθη,
Ουνεκα δινειται κατ‘ απειρονα μακρον ολυμπον.
“He is called Dionysius, because he is carried with a circular motion through the immensely-extended heavens.”
And this with the greatest propriety, since intellect, as we have already observed, is entirely of a convertive and reductorial nature: so that from all this, it is sufficiently evident why the dress of Dionysius is represented as belonging to the sun. In the second place, the veil, resembling a mixture of fiery light, is an obvious image of the solar fire. And as to the spotted mule-skin, which is to represent the starry heavens, this is nothing more than an image of the moon; this luminary, according to Proclus on Hesiod, resembling the mixed nature of a mule; “becoming dark through her participation of earth, and deriving her proper light from the sun.” Γης μεν εχουσα το σκοτιζεσθαι, ηλιου δε το οικειον ειληχεναι φως. Ταυτη μεν ουν οικειωται προς αυτην η ημιονος. So that the spotted hide signifies the moon attended with a multitude of stars: and hence, in the Orphic hymn to the moon, that deity is celebrated “as shining surrounded with beautiful stars”:
———καλοις αστροισι βρυουσα.
and is likewise called αστραρχη, or queen of the stars.
In the next place, the golden zone is the circle of the Ocean, as the last verses plainly evince. But, you will ask, what has the rising of the sun through the ocean, from the boundaries of earth and night, to do with the adventures of Bacchus? I answer, that it is impossible to devise a symbol more beautifully accommodated to the purpose: for, in the first place, is not the ocean a proper emblem of a material nature, whirling and stormy, and perpetually rolling without admitting any periods of repose? And is not the sun emerging from its boisterous deeps a perspicuous symbol of an intellectual nature, apparently rising from the dark and fluctuating receptacle of matter, and conferring form and beauty on the sensible universe through its light? I say apparently rising, for though the intellect always diffuses its splendor with invariable energy, yet it is not always perceived by the subjects of its illuminations: besides, as sensible natures can only receive partially and successively the benefits of divine irradiation; hence fables regarding this temporal participation transfer, for the purpose of concealment and in conformity to the phænomena, the imperfection of subordinate natures to such as are supreme. This description, therefore, of the rising sun, is a most beautiful symbol of the renovation of Bacchus, which, as we have already observed, implies nothing more than the rising of intellectual light, and its consequent appearance to subordinate forms.
And thus much for the mysteries of Bacchus, which, as well as those of Ceres, relate in one part to the descent of a partial intellect into matter, and its condition while united with the dark tenement of the body; but there appears to be this difference between the two, that in the fable of Ceres and Proserpine the descent of the whole rational soul is considered; and in that of Bacchus the distribution and procession of that supreme part alone of our nature which we properly characterize by the appellation of intellect. In the composition of each we may discern the same traces of exalted wisdom and recondite theology; of a theology the most venerable of all others for its antiquity, and the most admirable for its excellence and reality: and in each every intelligent reader must be alternately excited to grief and indignation; to pity and contempt, at the barbarous mythological systems of the moderns: for in these we meet with nothing but folly and delusion; opinions founded either on fanaticism or atheism, inconceivably absurd and inextricably obscure, ridiculously vain and monstrously deformed, stupidly dull and contemptibly zealous, methodistically delirious, or historically dry; and, in one word such only as arrogance and ignorance could conceive, impiety propagate, and the vapid spirit of the moderns be induced to admit.
Since writing the above Dissertation, I have met with a curious Greek MS. of Psellus, on Dæmons, according to the opinion of the Greeks: του Ψελλου τινα περι δαιμονων δοξαζουσιν Eλληνες: ןn the course of which he describes the machinery of the Eleusinian Mysteries as follows:
Α δε γε μυστηρια τουτων, οιον αυτικα τα ελευσινια, τον μυθικον υποκρινεται δια μιγνυμενον τῃ δηοι, η τῃ δημητερι, και τῃ θυγατερει ταυτης φερσεφαττῃ τῃ και κορη. Επειδη δε εμελλον και αφροδισιοι επι τη μυησει γινεσθαι συμπλοκαι, αναδυεται πως η αφροδιτη απο τινων πεπλασμενων μηδεων τελαγιος. Ειτα δε γαμηλιος επι τῃ κορῃ υμεναιος. Και επαδουσιν οι τελουμενοι, εκ τυμπανου εφαγον, εκ κυμβαλων επιον, εκιρνοφορησα (lege εκερνοφορησα) υπο τον παστον εισεδυν. Υποκρινεται δε και τας δηους ωδινας. Ικετηριαι γουν αυτικα δηους. Και χολης ποσις, και καρδιαλγιαι. Εφ‘ οις και τραγοσκελες μιμημα παθαινομενον περι τοις διδυμοις‘ οτι περ ο ζευς δικας αποτιννυς της βιας τῃ δημητερι τεραγου (lege τραγου) ορχεις αποτεμων, τῳ κολπω ταυτης κωτεθετο, ωσπερ δη και εαυτου. Επι πασιν αι του διονυσου τιμαι, και η κυστις, και τα πολυομφαλα ποπανα, και οι τω σαβαζιω τελουμενοι, κληδονες τε και μιμαλωνες, και τις ηχων λεβης θεσπρωτειος και δωδωναιον χαλκειον, και κορυβας αλλος και κουρης ετερος, δαιμονων μιμηματα. Εφ’ οις η βαβωτους (lege η βαυβω τους) μηρους ανασυρομενη, και ο γυναικος κτεις, ουτω γαρ ονομαζουσι την αιδω αισχυνομενοι. Και ουτως εν αισχρω την τελετην καταλυουσιν.
i.e. “The Mysteries of these dæmons,” (for Psellus, being a Christian, considered the gods of the ancients as nothing more than evil dæmons), “such as the Eleusinian mysteries, consisted in representing the fabulous narration of Jupiter mingling with Ceres and her daughter Proserpine. But as venereal connexions take place along with the initiation,13 a marine Venus is represented rising from certain fictitious genital parts: afterwards the celebrated marriage of Proserpine (with Pluto) takes place; and those who are initiated sing, I have eat out of the drum, I have drank out of the cymbal, I have borne the mystic cup, I have entered into the bed. But the pregnant throes likewise of Ceres are represented: hence the supplications of Ceres are exhibited; her drinking of bile, and the pains of her heart. After this, an image with the thighs of a goat makes its appearance, and which at the same time suffers vehemently about the testicles: because Jupiter, in order to expiate the crime of the violence which he offered to Ceres, is represented as cutting off the testicles of a goat, and placing them on the bosom of Ceres, as likewise on his own bosom. But after all this, the honours of Bacchus succeed; the Cista, and the cakes with many bosses, like those of a shield. Likewise the mysteries of Sabazius, divinations, and the priestesses of Bacchus; a certain sound of the Thesprotian kettle; the Dodonæan brass; another Corybas, and another Proserpine, who are resemblances of Dæmons. After these succeed the uncovering the thighs of Baubo, and a woman’s comb, for thus, through shame, they denominate the privities of a woman. And thus, in the indecent, they finish the initiation.”
From this curious passage, it appears that the Eleusinian mysteries comprehended those of almost all the gods; and this account will not only throw light on the relation of the mysteries given by Clemens Alexandrinus, but likewise be elucidated by it in several particulars. I would willingly unfold to the reader the mystic meaning of the whole of this machinery, but this cannot be accomplished by any one, without at least the possession of all the Platonic manuscripts which are extant. This acquisition, which I would infinitely prize above the wealth of the Indies, will, I hope, speedily and fortunately be mine, and then I shall be no less anxious to communicate this arcane information, than the liberal reader will be to receive it. I shall only therefore observe, that the mutual communication of energies among the gods was called by ancient theologists ιερος γαμος, a sacred marriage; concerning which Proclus, in the second book of his MS. Commentary on the Parmenides, admirably remarks as follows:
ταυτην δε την κοινωνιαν, ποτε μεν εν τοις συστοιχοις ορωσι θεοις (οι θεολογοι) και καλουσι γαμον ηρας και διος, ουρανου και γης, κρονου και ρεας‘ ποτε δε των καταδεεστερων προς τα κρειττω, και καλουσι γαμον διος και δημητρας‘ ποτε δε και εμπαλιν των κρειττωνων προς τα υφειμενα, και λεγουσι διος και κορης γαμον. Επειδη των θεων αλλαι μεν εισιν αι προς τα συστοιχα κοινωνιαι, αλλαι δε αι προς τα προ αυτων‘ αλλαι δε αι προς τα μετα ταυτα. Και δει την εκαστης ιδιοτητα κατανοειν και μεταγειν απο των θεων επι τα ειδη την τοιαυτην διαπλοκην.
i.e. “Theologists at one time considered this communion of the gods in divinities co-ordinate with each other; and then they called it the marriage of Jupiter and Juno, of Heaven and Earth, of Saturn and Rhea: but at another time, they considered it as subsisting between subordinate and superior divinities; and then they called it the marriage of Jupiter and Ceres; but at another time, on the contrary, they beheld it as subsisting between superior and subordinate divinities; and then they called it the marriage of Jupiter and Proserpine. For in the gods there is one kind of communion between such as are of a co-ordinate nature; another between the subordinate and the supreme; and another again between the supreme and subordinate. And it is necessary to understand the idiom of each, and to transfer a conjunction of this kind from the gods to the communion of ideas with each other.”
And in lib. i. in Tim. p. 16, he observes:
και το την αυτην (supple θεαν) ετεροις η τον αυτον θεον πλειοσι συζευγνυσθαι, λαβοις αν εκ των μυστικων λογων, και των εν απορρητοις λεγομενων ιερων γαμων.
i.e. “And that the same goddess is conjoined with other gods, or the same god with many goddesses, may be collected from the mystic discourses, and those marriages which are called in the mysteries Sacred Marriages.”
Thus far the divine Proclus; from the first of which passages the reader may perceive how adultery and rapes, as represented in the machinery of the mysteries, are to be understood when applied to the gods; and that they mean nothing more than a communication of divine energies, either between a superior and subordinate, or subordinate and superior, divinity. I only add, that the apparent indecency of these exhibitions was, as I have already observed, exclusive of its mystic meaning, designed as a remedy for the passions of the soul: and hence mystic ceremonies were very properly called ακεα, medicines, by the obscure and noble Heraclitus.14
1. This passage doubtless alludes to the ancient and beautiful story of Cupid and Psyche, in which Psyche is said to fall asleep in Hades; and this through rashly attempting to behold corporeal beauty: and the observation of Plotinus will enable the profound and contemplative reader to unfold the greater part of the mysteries contained in this elegant fable. But, prior to Plotinus, Plato, in the seventh book of his Republic, asserts, that such as are unable in the present life to perceive the idea of the good, will descend to Hades after death, and fall asleep in its dark abodes.
Ος αν μη εχη διορισασθαι τω λογω, απο των αλλων πωτων αφελων την του αγαθου ιδεαν, και ωσπερ εν μαχη δια παντων ελεγχων διαξεων, μη κατα δοξαν αλλα κατ’ ουσιαν προθυμουμενος ελεγχειν, εν πασι τουτοις απτωτι τω λογω διαπορευηται, ουτε αυτο το αγαθον ουδεν φησεις ειδεναι τον ουτως εχοντα, ουτε αλλο αγαθον ουδεν΄αλλ’ ει πη ειδωλου τονις εφαπτεται, δοξη ουκ εκιστημη εφαπτεσθαι; και τον νυν βιον ονειροπολουντα, και υπνωττοντα, πριν ενθαδ’ εξερφεσθαι, εις αδου προτερον αφικομενον τελεως επικαταδαρθανειν;
i.e. “He who is not able, by the exercise of his reason, define the idea of the good, separating it from all other objects, and piercing as in a battle, through every kind of argument; endeavouring to confute, not according to opinion, but according to essence, and proceeding through all these dialectical energies with an unshaken reason;—he who cannot accomplish this, would you not say, that he neither knows the good itself, nor any thing which is properly denominated good? And would you not assert, that such a one, when he apprehends any certain image of reality, apprehends it rather through the medium of opinion than of science; that in the present life he is sunk in sleep, and conversant with the delusions of dreams; that before he is roused to a vigilant state, he will descend to Hades, and be overwhelmed with a sleep perfectly profound.”
2. This and the other citations from Empedocles are to be found in Hierocles in Aur. Carm. p. 186.
3. The dianoëtic is the discursive power of the soul; or according to its most accurate definition, is that power of the soul which reasons scientifically, deriving the principles of its reasoning from intellect. But the doxastic is the power which energizes according to opinion.
4. Apul. Metamorph. lib. ii. Prope finem.
5. Divine Legation, p. 231.
6. Κινδυνευουσι γαρ οσοι τυγχανουσιν ορθως απτομενοι φιλοσοφιας λεληθεναι τας αλλους, οτι ουδεν αλλο αυτοι εκιτηδευουσεν η αποθνησκειν τε και τεθναναι. Plat. In Phæd.
7. Evang. Præpar. Lib. 3. cap 2.
8. Hence we may perceive the reason why Ceres as well as Saturn was denominated a legislative deity; and why illuminations were used in the celebration of the Saturnalia, as well as m the Eleusinian mysteries.
9. Porphyr. de Antro Nympharum. p. 267.
10. Theol. Plat. Lib. 6.
11. Vide Procl. in Plat. Theol. lib. 6, cap. 10.
12. In som. Soip. cap. 12.
13. i.e. a representation of them.
14. Vide Iamblichus, de Mysteriis, p. 22.