6020Re: [ANE-2] Re: Greek Mystery Religions
- Sep 9, 2007Greetings,
I think the problem here is that you are taking a far more
sinister approach to the idea of secret and mystery in the cults than
necessary. Aristotle claimed that initiation was experiential, it had
to be experienced, felt in a certain way. Keeping the mysteries meant
that every new initiate experienced the rites in the same, new way,
the correct way to get the proper result. Imagine starting the Harry
Potter novels with number seven, or even jumping ahead to the end of
seven before reading the whole thing -- you won't have the same
experience of the novel(s) as if you read them in proper order
(likewise for "The Sixth Sense"). The early Christians (especially
Clement of Alexandria) tried to destroy the experiential quality of
the mysteries by revealing them, completely out of (aesthetic)
context. So I do not think that the secret nature of the mysteries was
intended to be exclusionary so much as preserving the psychological
impact of the rites.
Phryne got away with nothing. She could be a bit of an
exhibitionist because she was a popular courtesan, meaning she had no
husband or family to manipulate her, and she was not under the same
social regulations as a citizen female. Nevertheless, by drawing too
much attention to herself, she got herself into a peck of trouble: She
was brought to trial for impiety. Rather than being "religiously"
priviledged, she was nearly religiously condemned (like Sokrates).
Amusingly, as the story goes, she was only acquitted when her
lover/advocate exposed her breasts to the jurors, who, very impressed,
decided that it would be an act of impiety against Aphrodite to kill
Phryne (a very similar story exists concerning Helen and Menelaos, so
the story may be more apocryphal than real).
The point is, while she could be initiated into the Eleusinian
Mysteries, this gave her no special perogatives. To offer a counter
example, the mother of Aeschenes was a professional initiator, and
this fact was often used to humiliate Aeschenes in court. Her role in
the mysteries was a detraction, not a sign of status.
As for Athens' control of Eleusis, yes, it could be seen as a
sign of political power. But the actions engaged by Athens for the
mysteries were not necessarily different from what other cities did
during large religious rituals. Universal "peaces" were called for the
pan-Hellenic games, like the Olympics, and control of large
sanctuaries always gave a certain amount of authority and prestige.
Ultimately, class does not need to be brought in as an important
factor for understanding the mysteries. You seem to be reading them as
if they were ancient country clubs -- exclusive and snobbish, getting
away with it because the important people who make policy are in the
"in" crowd. They were more like a Rotary Club. There were certain
requirements of money, time commitment, etc. to follow, but they were
hardly exclusionary beyond that. They gave a sense of community to the
members, those who had had the same "experiences" mentioned above, but
there is no evidence that they looked down on those who were not
members, or that they actively tried to keep anyone out (save those
who did not fulfill the criteria, such as speaking Greek for the
Eleusinians, or maintaining certain forms of ritual purity for those
initiated into the Isianic cult). If anything, they formed a new means
of forming communities in the breakdown of the traditional city-state
structures in the Hellenistic period, while before that they created
new means of connecting to people who were not traditionally in one's
class or community. They also dealt with issues of afterlife in a way
more hopeful than the traditional "being bored in Hades forever"
option. As such, they were appealing for everyone.
Quoting Daniel Grolin <dgrolin@...>:
> Dear participants of the Mystery Religion thread,
> I would like to thank everyone for their input.
> Stephanie. I would like to bring out a few quotes from Pakkanen's
> thesis to explain my view about mystery and status.
> "It was a kind of blessed status for those who had seen the
> Mysteries and who could share in the secret. All the other great
> celebrations created an opportunity to escape temporarily from daily
> life, its duties and troubles, but the Mysteries offered somewhat
> more. This may be interpretated as purifying, getting temporarily
> free from anxieties by solving questions concerning life and death
> and their paradox. It is hard to say whether individual distinction
> prevailed over group identity, because the central part of the
> Mysteries, the shared secrecy, was also socially determined. The
> individualistic appeal, however, was one of the most important
> factors that made the Mysteries so long-lived in antiquity and
> guaranteed its continuity." (p. 34)
> Now Pekkanen is here proposing what might have been the religious
> motives for internal cohesion, but what I proposed was that it not
> only created an "us" (that have the secret) and a "them" (that
> don't), but also that the "secret" translated into status and social
> Immediately, below this quote commences Pekkanen's discussion of
> participants in the cult. As you noted all sorts of people could
> become initiates as long as the fulfilled certain criteria, which
> you cited and I will not repeat. You noted that even prostitutes
> could become members and the story of one such is mentioned in
> footnote 4.
> "There are, even though, only rare literal mentions of the women who
> took part in the rites; for example, the famous courtesan Phryne is
> mentioned by Athenaeus, 13.590e-f as having gone to take a bath
> naked in the river Cephissus, in front of the eyes of all
> participating in the procession from Athens to Eleusis."
> Now this to me is an example of social power granted by mystery.
> Phryne is parading power in a twofold way. First of all Phryne's
> personal power in terms of her ability to attract men. Social
> convention requires that Phryne to cover herself and not display her
> power, just like a warrior cannot go through the streets with
> weapon bared. Phryne can flaunt social convention because she has
> another power to back her, the mystery. She knows the secret and
> must be motivated by it and no one stops her. It is the power of
> the idea of mystery, and the authority it gives to those who know
> it, but it is also the mystery as social grouping.
> After her brief remark about membership she goes to discuss the
> cult's position in Athens:
> "From this we learn that the cult was an expedient for expressing
> the position of Athens, and during period of political and
> economical difficulties it might have been one way to symbolically
> show to the outer world that Athens had not lost its power. Thus the
> public aspect of this religious celebration was important for the
> city, because it gave an opportunity for the organization of a
> spectacle, a procession that made the position and power of Athens
> visible and concrete. The procession was the most important one
> given by the city-state, because it bound the relation of Athens and
> Eleusis together at a practical level and gave an opportunity for
> Athenian power to make a public appearance before all the Greeks.
> There is epigraphical evidence concerning the ordering of the
> procession, forming its participants into a line.1 It is quite
> evident that the role of the epheboi held a remarkable significance;
> the epheboi were those who represented the cities
> which took part in the festival, and thus their presence had
> symbolic meaning. Their appearance is most emphasized in the
> regulations for forming the pompe. One inscription from the middle
> of the fourth century BC (SEG XVII 21) relates how a so-called
> sacred peace was proclaimed for the period of the Great Mysteries in
> Athens and states that the initiants had to be ready to accept the
> regulations of the city. It was necessary for one to prove to the
> magistrate, who acted for the benefit of the Athenian state, that
> one had brought a contribution to the sacrificies. It was one way
> for Athens to make them submit to her, and acknowledge her power.
> The city itself even had the power of proclaiming an internal peace
> which demonstrates the remarkable political influence of the
> festival. No doubt Athens was well aware of this." (p. 35)
> If Athens could use the mystery cult as political capital, then
> surely it follows that members that gave such prestige to Athens in
> Greek society, must have had it in Athens' societal scheme as well.
> Pekkanen goes on to explain at great length about the administration
> of the cult, which I will not even try to summarize or quote here.
> A number of things, however, are worth noticing. For example, while
> there are a limited number of high officials, Pekkanen presents an
> impressive number of "minor sacred officials", right from advisors
> to cleaners (and those are only the ones that we know of). It seems
> to me that there were plenty of room for hierarchy within the mystery.
> Within this hierarchy the secret of the mystery also played a role.
> The hierophantes, the top official, was the one who showed the
> "hiera and revealed the spoken secrets" (p. 36) Thus to reveal the
> secrets to outsiders was a twofold betrayal. It was the betrayal of
> the hierarchy and the prerogatives of the top, and it was a betrayal
> of the boundaries between "us" and "them". Furthermore revealing
> the secrets of the mystery devalues it.
> Cara L. Sailor in her thesis "The Function of Mythology and Religion
> in Greek Society" notes:
> Like all Mystery Cults, the Eleusian Mysteries were to be kept
> secret from any person not initiated into the cult. However, there
> were at least a few people who violated this. One, a man named
> Diagoras of Melos, was said to have told the entirety of the mystery
> in the streets of Athens in such a way as to make it seem 'vile and
> unimportant.'" (p. 44)
> Finally, one of the things that originally suggested to me that we
> were dealing with what I (perhaps unadvisedly) called an "upper
> class phenomenon" was reading Zoilos of Aspendos' letter to
> Apollonios (Grant, F. C. "Hellenistic Religions: The Age of
> Syncretism" pp. 144-5). Where popular movements like Pauline
> Christianity created communities from the grassroots mystery
> religions were created from the top. While the latter's ideology
> tried to overturn social status quo and therefore came into conflict
> with Rome, mystery religions both accommodated and supported the
> status quo and happily co-existed with secular leaders (an
> anachronism, I know). The exception, the Dionysic cult, only proves
> the point. The solution was to have a Roman official be overseer.
> Michael. Thanks for the tip. It's a bit later than the period I am
> looking at, but might still be worth my while.
> With respect to the possible recurrence of themes from mystery
> religions (such as resurrection) in Christianity, I think that while
> this is interesting it does not really solve the question of
> relationship. First of all we cannot (as far as I can tell)
> construct the general features of the content of mystery religions,
> because in terms of content they are diverse. So one is not really
> comparing Pauline Christianity with a generic set of features, but
> looking at features in Pauline Christianity that may or may not be
> similar to those of a number of diverse religions.
> What unifies them, what can be regarded as generic, I think, is the
> phenomenon. It is also here that I find that they are quite different.
> I do think though that they both could be viewed as "voluntary associations".
> Daniel Grolin
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