Page images

and it is observable that it had reference to sin committed in a state of pre-existence: and it appears to have been a principal object in the mysteries, to purify the soul by way of qualifying it for a future state. To this effect Socrates, in the Phædo, observes :-“ The probabilities seem to be, that the founders of our

mysteries were not much out in their conjecture; nay, that what they implied of old by ænigma was a real truth, that those who

go to Hades, uninitiated and unspiritualised, will abide there in “ filth, but the purified and the perfected, upon arriving there, will “ inhabit with the gods.”—P. 195. Ed. Forster.

The purification offered in the mysteries must have formed the concluding as well as the introductory part of them; and so much, indeed, is implied by the etymology of the word Edeta'; for, as púnois, or initiation, in the lesser mysteries, was the first rite, the telety, in the greater mysteries, was the perfectory or concluding one. That a higher degree of purification followed the scenic exhibitions, which were considered only as shadows or faint images of doctrines, designed to entertain as well as to instruct, I collect from the Phædo : and here I cannot refrain from expressing my opinion, that the sentiments and speculations proposed in that dialogue were those entertained by Plato himself, and are by him only fictitiously ascribed to Socrates. I believe too, from the actual mention of the mysteries in some passages, and from apparent slight reference to them in others, that Plato, while he would have abstained from reporting the symbols, and the means by which the doctrines of the mysteries were inculcated, was less scrupulous in discussing the principles conveyed in them, which he uttered in safety, screening himself under the character of an upright man, against whom malevolence had already done its worst. But to revert to what I had suggested respecting purification, the passage on which I ground my conjecture, abovementioned, is the following: “ In a word, that is real virtue, " which is accompanied with wisdom, independent of pleasures,


“ fears and the like; for when virtue is not inwardly received and

felt, but proceeds from interested motives, may it not be viewed

as a kind of shadow painting, servile, unreal, and unsound ? But “ true virtue purifies from all this; for temperance, justice, manli

and wisdom itself may be considered a kind of purification.' Here allusion is made to the Exiaypapán, or, as I suspect, to the scenes of the Eleusinian shows, which are treated as unsubstantial instruction received by the eye, and where the pleasure or the pain of the representation rather affected the spectator, than the meaning of the things represented ; and it leads me to believe that something really of a nature to elevate and spiritualise the minds of the Epoptæ, and possibly of a moral tendency, was enforced after the close of the exhibition.

But whatever were the means of purification provided in the mysteries, it is admitted that they were not generally efficacious ; for Plato cites the ministers of these perfectory rites for the assertion, that they had many more thyrsus-bearers than individuals deserving the name of Bacchus : Eici gas dii, pariv oi tepi ta's τελετας, ναρθηκοφόροι μεν πολλοί, βάκχει δέ γε παύροι. - Ibid. p. 195.

The thyrsus was formed of the váéping, or ferule plant. In the pith of it, which was used as a slow match, Prometheus was fabled to have concealed the fire he had stolen from Heaven. The meaning of the expression is, therefore, that in the mysteries there were many initiated who had a capacity for spiritual and heavenly purity, but few were properly disposed to receive it, so that a very small number arrived to a state of perfection resembling Bacchus, who, as Passeri suggested, was totus igneus et fulgidus.

* Και ξυλλήβδην αληθής αρετή μετά φρονήσεως, και προσγιγνομένων και απογιγνομένων και ηδονών και φόβων, και των άλλων πάντων των τοιέτων χωριζόμενα δε φρονήσεως, και αλλαττόμενα αντί αλλήλων, μη σκιαγραφία της και η τοιαύτη αρετή, και τω όντι ανδραποδώδης τε, και ουδέν υγιές ούδ' αληθές έχη, το δ' αληθές τω όντι ή κάθαρσίς τις των τοιέτων πάντων και η σωφροσύνη και η δικαιοσύνη και η ανδρεία και αύτη ή φρόνησις μη καθαρμός τις ή. - Phad. p. 195. Ed. Forster.



This advanced state is beautifully illustrated by Plutarch, who has exposed the secret object of the Isiac mysteries, from which those of Eleusis appear to have been partly derived. He observes, that the highest stage in the scale of nature was, as the garment of Osiris, OwToeidnis, “ shining as the light;" that the perception of that which was intelligent, pure, and holy, flashed like lightning on the soul, which was grasped at, and viewed but for a moment, and then it passed away. When philosophy was employed upon such speculations, it was termed epoptic, as some might infer, because it was then versed on such doctrines as were explained epoptically, or by shows, at Eleusis. And this was to be effected by the exercise and improvement of the mind, by abstracting it from all considerations of sense. Plutarch further explains, that the Deity was removed far from earth, not liable to corruption or decay ; that the eventual state was a participation of the Divine Nature, termed by him petouría toữ Ocē, of which the soul, whilst encompassed about with body and passions, had only an obscure glimmering : but when freed from these impediments, and removed into the purer regions, it was then that God was to become its leader and king; upon him would it then wholly depend, still beholding without satiety, and still longing after that beauty, which it was not possible for man to express.

These, indeed, are noble sentiments, but whether they may not have been partly gleaned by Plutarch from the semi-Christian schools at Alexandria, and whether the doctrine of the hierophants reached so far, there may be some reason to doubt. It must at least be confessed, that buffoonery, the most stupid and absurd*, frivolous conceits, and gross indecency curiously sophisticated, were very inadequate to so sublime an end. That the ceremonies and spectacles of the mysteries were of the grossest description, we have been satisfied from the exposition of them

* See the Collections of Passeri, D'Hancarville, and Tischbein, passim.

[ocr errors]

by Clemens. The sublimest doctrines, delivered to minds polluted by participating in such obscenities, must have been listened to with indifference or disgust.

Let me here, then, conclude a subject, which, if it has been investigated with any probability of correctness, may serve at least to show the miserable state of ignorance and impurity to which the

pagan world were reduced, and excite our gratitude for having been brought from such darkness into light, that may be well styled marvellous. We here collect from pagan witnesses fresh attestations to the truth of our own consistent antediluvian history, which should be dear to us in the extreme, because the foundation of all our hope is laid in the very earliest pages of it. It serves to show, that however human pride may be disinclined to admit a state of degradation, the result of sin, it was nevertheless acknowledged by the initiated heathens; and the pagan dipus utters a first great truth, in the same words which are adopted by the awakened Christian :

*Αρέφυν κακός; 'Αρ' ουχί σας αναγνος

Edip. Tyr. 841, 842.

but, for this uncleanness, the Christian can boast, in the words of Plato (with a very slight alteration of their sense), that ow@gooúvn, a singleness of heart, dixanocúrn, a righteousness not his own, avòpsia, God manifest in the flesh, and Qgórmois, wisdom imparted from above, - these are an effectual purification.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »