The Pamphleteer/Volume 8/A Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries

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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 antients, 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.



&c. &c.


DR. WARBURTON, in his Divine Legation of Moses, has ingeniously proved, that the sixth book of Virgil’s Æneid represents some of the shews 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 shews 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 μυστηριων 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 μαρτυρομενος 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 συμβολικης 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 shews 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 antients, 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 antient 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 ασυνηθια 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 antient 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 he beautifully observes, according to Clemens in the same book, "that whatever we see 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 1. 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 be 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 δυς εις αυτην εις βορβορον σκοτεινον εσται πεσων.—αποθνησκει ουν, ως ψυχη αν θανοι· και ο θανατος αυτη, και ετι εν τω σωματι βεβαπτισμενη, εν υλη εστι καταδυναι, και πλησθηναι αυτης. και εξελθουσης εκει κεισθαι, εως αναδραμη και αφελη πως 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. 1. 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, fallacious 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 Hades, 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 ατερπη τω νω βαθη, ενθα τυφλος εν αδου μενων, και ενταυθα κακει σκιαις συνεστι. And what still farther confirms our exposition is, that matter was considered by the Egyptians as a certain mire or mud. "The Egyptians," says 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 or 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 antient 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 he 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, fallacia extrema torqueri, ut ille rebus veris oblectetur, hic falsis vexetur simulachris.” Ficin. de immortal. anim. lib. 18. p. 411.

But notwithstanding this important truth was obscurely shewn 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 shews 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 antient 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 both 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,
Adventante dea,

We may perceive an evident allusion to the earthquakes, &c. 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 demons, 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 κουφω
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 lunam 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 orci
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 φονος τε κοτος τε και αλλων εθνεα 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,
Νεικεϊ μαινομενω πισυνος.

Where too you may observe that the discordia demens of Virgil is an exact translation of the νεικεϊ 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 via, Tartarei quæ fert Acherontis ad undas;
Turbidus hic cæeno 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 ελεγε, 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." Αινυττονται (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 ανωθεν 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, &c., 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,
Infelix Theseus.

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 τιτυον, και τανταλον. Και τον μεν τιτυον, επι της γης ειδε κειμενον, και οτι το ημαρ αυτου ησθιεν γυψ. το μεν ουν ημαρ 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, επειδε 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 εγινοντο αι οπωραι. Τουτο δε σημαινει την κατα φαντασιαν ζωην. Αυτη δε σημαινει 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 interpretations 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 fluctuating 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 doctrines, 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 receive 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 purgation, the tradition of the sacred rites succeeds. The third part is 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 μυησις, 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 locos lætos, et amœna vireta
Fortunatorum nemorum, sedesque beatas.
Largior hic 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 κατηγωνισατο 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:
Pars pedibus plaudunt choreas, et carmina dicunt.
Nec 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,
Ilusque, 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 recentia 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, Titaniaque 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 ἡ 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 cælestis 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 Proserpinæ 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. Καλλος 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 ολοκληροι 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 μυησις, 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 φαινονται· και τοτε μεν ατυπωτον αυτων 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 æera 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, χειμωνα τε και ευδιην ποιειν, και ομβρους και αυχμους, και θαλασσαν αφονον 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 επιτηδευοντες δυσεβεειν 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.

That is, "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: que 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 Isidem. 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 asrow-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 Egyptians, powerful in antient 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, &c.” 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 worshipped 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 νοητα 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 arrogance 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 volvere per annos,
Lethæum ad fluvium deus evocat agmine magno:
Scilicet nnmemores 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."

To be concluded in the next No.

  1. This passage doubtless alludes to the antient 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 παντων αφελων την του αγαθου ιδεαν, και ωσπερ εν μαχη δια παντων ελεγχων διεξιων, 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 τινος εφαπτεται, δοξη ουκ επιστημη εφαπτεσθαι; και τον νυν βιον ονειροπολουντα, και υπνωττοντα, πριν ενθαδ' εξεργεσθαι, εις αδου προτερον αφικομενον τελεως επικαταδαρθανειν; i. e. "He who is not able, by the exercise of his reason, to 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; and 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 τυνχανουσιν ορθως απτομενοι φιλοσοφιας λεληθεναι τας αλλους, οτι ουδεν αλλο αυτοι επιτηδευουσιν η αποθνησκειν τε και τεθναναι. Plat. in Phæd.
  7. Evang. Præpar. lib. 3. cap. 2.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.