« PreviousContinue »
B(I?K stages exhibit in him the languid and voluptuous character which . marks the early foliage and vegetation of summer. Hence the story
that Persephone placed her child Dionysos in the hands of Ino and Athamas to be brought up as a girl; and from this character of feminine gracefulness he passes to the vehement licence of his heated worshippers.
The Persephone, as we have seen, is not his only mother; nor is the
Dionysos. myth which makes him born of his mother Semele amidst the blaze of the thunderbolts the only legend of his birth. He is spoken of sometimes as a son of I6, or of Arge, of DionS, or Amaltheia, the nurse of Zeus; and there was a tale which related how, when Kadmos heard that Zeus had made his child Semele a mother, he placed her and her babe in a chest, and launched them, as Akrisios launched Danae and her infant, upon the sea. The chest, according to local tradition, was carried to Brasiai, where the babe was rescued by Ino; Semele, who was found dead, being solemnly buried on the shore.1 Orgiastic Thus far the form of the myth, although it may not be genuinely raonysos3/ Hellenic and Aryan, wears a sufficiently Hellenised look: but even here we have expressions implying that in the case of Dionysos new methods of worship, if not some new religious ideas, were introduced from Asia into the countries north and west of the Egean; that these changes were stoutly resisted, and that the opposition was overcome by force. They also show that the new worship was orgiastic, involving a tumult and even frenzy of feeling by no means congenial to the ordinary Hellenic or Aryan mind, and that this excitement was in direct relations with certain theories or notions of the forces at work in the Kosmos. The dances of his worshippers may at times have been furious; but they were regulated so as to answer to what was supposed to be the march of the planets round the central sun, the dances of the stars across the nightly heavens. That this revolution (whatever may have been its extent) was effected first in Boiotia, can scarcely be a matter for doubt. It is proved not only by the localisation of the myths which indicate the change, but by the importation of Phenician names and words into the Boiotian vocabulary; by the use of Banna, for instance, as the equivalent of Thugater, and
any are disposed on this score to exult 1 Preller (Gr. Mvth. i. 523) regards
over Professor Max Miiller, they are the name Dionysos as simply an epithet
met by the trenchant remark of Mr. of Zeus as the Nysaian or ri pening god:
Sayce, that " the more the Babylonian "Der Name scheint einen feuchten,
mythology is examined, the more solar saftig fruchtbaren Ort zu bedeuten, wie
is its origin found to be," and that, with jenes Leibethron am Makedonischen
the exception of Anu and Hea, "the Olymp, wo Dionysos und Orpheus seit
great deities seem all to go back to the alter Zeit in der Umgebung der Musen
sun." vcrehrt wurden."
CHARACTERISTICS OF DIONYSOS.
by the fact that the city which claimed supremacy over all the Boiotian ChAP. towns has a non-Hellenic name, which Mr. Brown identifies with . —
the Semitic Tebah, the Kibotos, ark, chest, or coffin, of the Septuagint, as the mystic egg-chest of Uasar [Osiris] and Adonis, the Kalathos of Demeter; the envelopement and covering of the growth and life-power of the world, a fit mother city for Dionysos and his train.1
That Dionysos became for the Greeks (whatever he may have Dionysus been at the first) vastly more than the mere god of the vintage and ^,TM&Us' the soil, there can be no question. The epithets in the hymns ad- Bassareus. dressed to him and to Bassareus give more than sufficient evidence of this; and when we turn to the tragic poets, we find that their Dionysos is a phallic thyrsos-bearing, serpent-crowned god, in his savage aspect Omestes, the eater of raw flesh, the bloodthirsty brother of the Orthian Artemis who took delight in the torments of Spartan youths scourged (not unfrequently to death) in his honour. It is something that the undesigned testimony of some old myths shows that to this horrible Semitic ritual were owing just those features in Hellenic thought and worship which are least attractive, and those also which can only be described as coarse, cruel, and revolting, and that the monsters of Eastern conception which the Semitic nations worshipped as their gods remained for them monsters always. The conclusion, if it be true, is not unwelcome, that the custom of human sacrifice, which happily never laid hold on the Greek world, was a custom which, so far as it was adopted at all, came from the East.
The struggle was a hard one; but the victory of Dionysos was Dionysos not so complete as that of Poseidon. By Poseidon the true sea-god p^j^,, Nereus was left practically out of sight and out of mind; but Dionysos could do no more than win himself a throne by the side of that of Demeter and Apollon, in the joint ritual of Delphoi and Eleusis.
To the Greek the name of Bacchos, to denote this god, was Bacchos. almost as familiar as that of Dionysos. The name Zeus Meilichios was also a familiar sound in his ears, and it conveyed to him the notion of a being who is mild and merciful. But he did not know that Meilichios and Bacchos were only different forms of the same name, as in truth they seem to be. Meilichios is as much and as little Greek as Palaimon . It was simply the Greek word which
1 Great Dionysiak Mvth, ii. 238. and that Thebai, or Ox-town, was the Mr. Brown adds that Theba amongst proper capital of Thebais, Boiotia, or the Aramoans was the equivalent of ox, Ox-land.
BOOK came nearest in sound to the Semitic Moloch, the king. Seen in its ——• full form in Ha-mileas, it passes into the abraded forms Mocar, Macar, and Micar, for Molcar, Malcar, and Milcar. Mocar again appears in the form Bocar, Macar or Bacar, and so with the rest. So, too, Bokchus or Bocchus, the name of certain Mauretanian kings, is also written Bocus and Mocus, and is a contraction of Malchus and Malek: and so in the Greek Bacchos we have a variant form of Melkarth, the Boiotian Melikertes. But Bacchos is confessedly Dionysos, and thus Dionysos is himself Zeus Meilichios, the Moloch, or king. As to the name Dionysos, we can scarcely speak with the same confidence. It may be the Assyrian Daian-nisi, or Dian-nisi, the judge of men; and if so, it would correspond strictly to the Hamitic Rhotamenti, Rhadamanthys.1
The story The myth which gives most fully and most clearly the history of phone* eartn through the changing year is to be found not so much in
the legend of Adonis as in the legend of Persephone herself. This story as related in the Hymn to Demeter tells us how the beautiful maiden (and in her relations with the upper world she is pre-eminently the maiden, Kore), was playing with her companions on the flowery Nysian plain, when far away across the meadow her eye caught the gleam of a narcissus flower. As she ran towards it alone, a fragrance, which reached to the heaven and made the earth .and sea laugh for gladness, filled her with delight; but when she stretched out her arms to seize the stalk with its hundred flowers, the earth gaped, and before her stood the immortal horses bearing the car of the king Polydegmon, who placed her by his side. In vain the maiden cried aloud, and made her prayer to the son of Kronos; for Zeus was far away, receiving the prayers and offerings of men in his holy place, and there was none to hear save Hekate, who in her secret cave heard the wail of her agony, and Helios, the bright son of Hyperion, and one other—the loving mother, whose heart was pierced as with a sword, as the cry of her child reached her ears, a cry which echoed mournfully over hills, and vales, and waters. Then Demeter threw the dark veil over her shoulders, and hastened like a bird over land and sea, searching for her child. But neither god nor man could give her tidings until, with torch in hand, she reached the cave of Hekate, who knew only of the theft of the maiden, but could not tel1
1 Brown, Great Dionysiak Mvth, ch. ix. sect vi.
whither she had gone. From Helios, whom she addresses as the C*^AP'
all-seeing, Demeter receives clearer tidings and a deeper sympathy, .
and now she learns that her child is the bride of Aidoneus, who reigns in the unseen land beneath the earth. The grief of the mourning mother is almost swallowed up in rage, as she leaves the home of the gods and wanders along the fields and by the cities of men, so changed in form, and so closely veiled that none could know the beautiful queen who had till then shed a charm of loveliness over all the wide world. At last she sat down by the wayside, near Eleusis, where the maidens of the city came to draw water from the fountain. Here, when questioned by the daughters of Keleos the king, the mourner tells them that her name is Deo, and that, having escaped from Cretan kidnappers, she seeks a refuge and a home, where she may nurse young children. Such a home she finds in the house of Keleos, which the poet makes her enter veiled from head to foot.1 Not a word does she utter in answer to the kindly greetings of Metaneira, and the deep gloom is lessened only by the jests and sarcasms of Iambe. When Metaneira offers her wine, she says that now she may not taste it, but asks for a draught of water mingled with flour and mint, and then takes charge of the new-born son of Keleos, whom she names Demophoon. Under her care the babe thrives marvellously, though he has no nourishment either of bread or of milk. The kindly nurse designs, indeed, to make him immortal; and thus by day she anoints him with ambrosia, and in the night she plunges him, like a torch, into a bath of fire. But her purpose is frustrated by the folly of Metaneira, who, seeing the child thus basking in the flames, screams with fear, and is told by Demeter that, though her child shall ever receive honour because he has slumbered in her arms, still, like all the sons of men, and like Achilleus himself, he must die. Nevertheless, though she cast the child away from her, she abode yet in the house of Keleos, mourning and grieving for the maiden, so that all things in the heaven above and the earth beneath felt the weight of her sorrow. In vain the ploughs turned up the soil, in vain was the barley seed scattered along the furrows. In Olympos itself there was only gloom and sadness, so that Zeus charged Iris to go and summon Demeter to the palace of the gods. But neither her words nor those of the deities who follow her avail to lessen her grief or to bend her will. The mourning mother will not leave the place of her exile till her eyes have looked upon her child once more.
1 The hymn-writer forgets for a head touched the roof, while a blaze of moment the veiled Mater Dolorosa, light streamed through the doors and when at her entrance he says that her filled the dwelling.
Then Hermes, at the bidding of Zeus, enters the dismal under world. and Polydegmon consents to the return of Persephone, who leaps with delight for the joy that is coming. Still he cannot altogether give up his bride, and Persephone finds that she has unwittingly eaten the pomegranate seed,1 and must come back to Aidoneus again. But even with this condition the joy of the meeting is scarcely lessened. A third part only of the year she must be queen in Hades; through all the other months she is to be once more the beautiful maiden who sported on the plains of Nysa. The wrath of Demeter has departed with her grief, the air is filled with fragrance, and the cornfields wave with the ripening grain.
In Teutonic tradition Persephone is represented by Iduna, the beautiful, whom Loki brings back in the shape of a quail (Wachtel), a myth which cannot fail to remind us of Artemis Ortygia. Loki here distinctly plays the part of Perseus, for the giants of cold hasten after him as he bears away Iduna, as the Gorgon sisters chase Perseus on his way to the Hyperborean gardens. This myth in Bunsen's belief " is an exact counterpart of the earliest myth of Herakles, who falls into the sleep of winter and lies there stiff and stark till lolaus wakes him by holding a quail to his nose."a This idea of the palsied or feeble sun is reproduced in the Egyptian Harp-i-chruti (the Grecised Harpokrates), the sun regarded as an infant, the lame child of Isis, the earth,—a phrase which carries us to that wide class of legends, which speak of the sun, or the wind, or the light, as weak, if not impotent, in their first manifestations. Osiris can be avenged only by Horos, the full-grown sun, after the vernal equinox.
Although with the mythical history of PersephonS are mingled some institutional legends explaining the ritual of the Eleusinian mysteries, the myth itself is so transparent as to need but little interpretation. The stupifying narcissus with its hundred flowers springing from a single stem is in the opinion of Colonel Mure a monstrous hyperbole; yet that must be a narcotic which lulls to sleep the vegetation of nature in the bright yet sad autumn days when heaven and earth smile with the beauty of the dying year, and the myth necessarily