Harrison, Jane E. Themis: a Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. With an excursus on the ritual forms preserved in Greek tragedy by Professor Gilbert Murray and a chapter on the Origin of the Olympic Games by Mr. F. M. Cornford. Rev. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1927.

(excerpted by Clifford Stetner)



Plutarch in his account of the purification of Athens in the days of Solon says of Epimenides that he was a man of Phaistos, son of the nymph Balte, ‘beloved of the gods,’ and ‘an adept in religious matters dealing with the lore of orgiastic and initiation rites.’ It was because of this that he was reputed to be son of a nymph and gained his title of Koures.



The awful, the uncanny, the unknown, is with man rather than without. In all excited states, whatever be the stimulant, whether of sex or intoxication or, or vehement motion as in dancing, man is conscious of a potency beyond himself, yet within himself, he feels himself possessed, not by a personal god—he is not yet [entheos]—but by an exalted power. The power within him he does not, cannot, at first clearly distinguish from the power without, and the fusion and confusion is naturally helped when the emotion is felt collectively in the group.




The savage, like the child, passes from the particular to the general; the mature and civilized mind well supplied with ready-made abstractions is apt to start form generalities. To the savage this stone or tree or  yam has mana or orenda, that is what concerns him; but gradually—and this is another high road to impersonation—from the multitude of things that have mana, thre arises the notion of a sort of continuum  of mana, a world of unseen power lying behind the visible universe, a world which is the sphere, as will be seen, of magical activity and the medium  of mysticism. The mystical element, the oneness and continuousness comes out very clearly in the notion of Wa-kon’-da among the Sioux Indians. This continuum, rather felt than formulated, is perhaps primitive man’s first effort at generalization.





(a)   Magic and Tabu.


‘…Of these the one who is wisest teaches the magic of Zoroaster the son of Horomazos’; and then to our surprise Socrates adds by way of explanation, ‘the art of the magician is the service of the gods. The same man gives instruction in kingly duties’  [Alcibiades]


An Arunta native ‘sings’ over a stick or a stone or a spear, and thereby gives it what he calls Arungquiltha, a magical dangerous evil power. The object itself, a thin flake of flint attached to a spear thrower and carefully painted, is called Arungquiltha; the property is not distinguished from the vehicle. It is left in the sun for some days, and the men visit it daily and sing over it a request to kill the intended victim, ‘Go straight, go straight, kill him.’ By and by, if the Arungquiltha is successful, they hear a noise like a crash of thunder, and then they know that, in the form of a great spear the Arungquiltha has gone straight to the man, mutilating and thus killing him.



Turmoil and dust the winds belched out and thunder

And lightning and the smoking thunderbolt,

Shafts of great Zeus.


He is the product of a late anthropomorphism, but the three sorts of ‘shaft’ mentioned are interesting. Thunder is a reality, a sound actually heard, lightning no less a reality, actually seen, but the third shaft—the thunderbolt? There is no such thing. Yet by a sort of irony it is the non-existent thunderbolt that Greek art most frequently depicts.



Little by little the attention is focused on distinctions. Man, though he is dressed up as an emu, becomes more and more conscious that he is not an emu, but that he is imitating an emu, a thing in some respects alien to himself, a thing possessed of much mana, but whose mana is separate, a thing to be acted on, controlled,, rather than sympathetically reinforced. Then, as the Greek would say, [metheksis] gives place to [mimesis], participation to imitation.



The stages of its death are gradual. The whole group ceases to carry on the magical rite, which becomes the province of a class of medicine-men; the specialized Kouretes, as we have seen, supplant the whole body of Kouroi. Finally the power is lodged in an individual, a head medicine-man, a king whose functions are at first rather magical than political.



n1 Such a system probably only occurs sporadically where man’s progress in epistemology has been arrested and the social structure crystallizes…since writing the above I am delighted to find that my conjecture, which might appear hazardous, has been anticipated by Mr. A. B. Cook. He writes … ‘On the whole I gather that the Mycenaean worshippers were not totemists pure and simple but that the mode of their worship points to its having been developed out of still earlier totemism.’



Such strange blendings of new and old, such snowball-like accumulations, are sometimes caused, or rather precipitated, by definite political action. Peisistratos, feeling no doubt that Olympia might be a dangerous religious an social rival to Athens, conscious too that, at a time when the Homeric pantheon was rapidly being domesticated in Greece, the fact that Athens should have no important local worship of Zeus stamped Athens as provincial, introduced in the lower town near the Ilissos the worship of Zeus Olympios, and with it he wisely transplanted a whole complex of primitive Olympian cults, making a sanctuary for Kronos and Rhea, and a precinct containing a chasm and dedicated to Gaia, with the title Olympian.



Athenaeus has preserved for us a fragment of the fourth book of the History of Alexandria by Kallixenos the Rhodian. In it is described a great spectacle and procession exhibited by Ptolemy Philadelphos in honour of Dionysos. One group in the procession is of interest to us. The procession was headed by Silenoi clad, some in purple, some in scarlet, to keep off the multitude; next followed twenty Satyrs bearing lamps; next figures of Nike with golden wings; then Satyrs again, forty of them, ivy-crowned, their bodies painted some purple,  some vermilion. So far it is clear we have only the ministrants, the heralds of the god to come. After these heralds comes the first real personage of the procession, escorted by two attendants. His figure will not now surprise us.

“After the Satyrs come two Sileni, the one with petasos and caduceus as herald, the other with trumpet to make proclamation. And between them walked a man great of stature, four cubits tall in the dress and mask of a tragic actor and carrying the gold horn of Amaltheia. His name was Eniautos. A woman followed him, of great beauty and stature, decked out with much and goodly gold; in one of her hands she held a wreath of peach-blossom, in the other a palm-staff, and she was called Penteteris. She was followed by four Horai dressed in character and each carrying her own fruits.”

The human Dionysos came later, but surely the procession is for the Year-Feast, [eis ‘Eniauton].



On March 14, the day before the first full moon of the new year, a man dressed in goat-skins was led in procession through the streets of Rome, beaten with long white rods, and driven out of the city. His name was, Lydus says, Mamurius, and Mamurius we know was also called Veturius. He is the old Year, the Old Mars, the Death, Winter, driven out before the incoming of the New Mars, the spring.

(b)  Not less transparent as a year-god is Anna Perenna, year-in year-out.’



From the leaders of the Dithyramb Aristotle ahs told us arose tragedy, the Goat-Song. Yet the Dithyramb is a song of Bull-driving. The difficulty is not so great as it seems. Any young full-grown creature can be the animal form of the Kouros, can be sacrificed, sanctified, divinized, and become the Agathos Daimon, the ‘vegetation spirit,’ the luck of the year. All over Europe we find, as Dr Frazer has abundantly shown, goats, pigs, horses, even cats can play the part. Best of all perhaps is a bear, because it is strongest; this the Athenian maidens remembered in their Bear-Service [orkteia]. But bears, alas! Retreat before advancing civilization. Almost equally good is a bull, if you can afford him.

A goat is not a bad life-spirit, as anyone will quickly discover who tries to turn him back against his will. Crete, the coast-land of Asia minor, and Thrace, as we know form their coins, were bull-lands with abundant pastures. Attica, stony Attica, is a goat-land.




The Origin of the Olympic Games.

By F. M. Cornford



The Heraea.


We have seen that the Olympic festival was a moveable feast, and occurred alternately in Apollonios and Parthenios, which were probably the second and third months of the Elean year. This  variation of the month is a strange and inconvenient arrangement. Moreover it is unique. The Pythia also were held at intervals of 50 and 49 months, but the incidence of the intercalated months of the octennial period was so arranged that the festival itself always fell in the same month (Bukatios) of the Delphic year. In the same way the Panathenaea, though penteteric, always fell in Hekatombaion. There must have been some very strong reason for the troublesome variation of months in the sole case of the most important of panhellenic gatherings.

            Weniger finds the reason in the existence of an older immovable festival at the very season at which the reconstituted Games were to be fixed. Every fourth year a college called the Sixteen Women wove a robe for Hera and held games called the Heraea. The games consisted of a race between virgins, who ran in order of age, the youngest first, and the eldest last. The course was the Olympic stadium, less about one-sixth of its length (i.e. 500 instead of 600 Olympic feet). The winners received crowns of olive and  a share of the cow sacrificed to Hera. ‘They trace the origin of the games of the virgins, like those of the men, to antiquity, saying that Hippodameia, out of gratitude to Hera for her marriage with Pelops, assembled the Sixteen Women, and along with them arranged the Heraean games for the first time.’

            It is highly probable that these games of virgins (Parthenia) gave its name to the month Parthenios, and were in honour of Hera Parthenos—Hera whose virginity was perpetually renewed after her sacred marriage with Zeus. It is also probable that they were held at the new moon, that is, on the first day of Parthenios. Further, if these games gave the month its name, in that month they must always have fallen. Thus the octennial period of the Heraea is of the usual straightforward type, which keeps always to the same month. The natural inference is that the Heraea were first in the field, and that, when the men’s games were fixed at the same season, it was necessary to avoid this older fixed festival. At the same time, if the games of Zeus were allowed to be established regularly in the middle of the previous month Apollonios, it was obvious that the Heraea would sink into a mere appendage. Zeus, on the other hand was not inclined to yield permanent precedence to Hera. The deadlock was solved by a characteristic compromise. The octennial period for the Games of Zeus was so arranged that in alternate Olympiads they should fall fourteen days before, and fourteen days after, the Heraea (on Apollonios 14/15 and Parthenios 14/15). By this device of priestly ingenuity the honour of both divinities was satisfied, and so the inconvenient variation of months for the Olympic festival is explained.



The Heraea, then, were probably older than the reconstituted Olympia; and if they gave its name to the month Parthenios, they must have been annual before they were octennial or penteteric. They carry us back to the old lunar year, which preceded the combined sun-and-moon penteteris. [n1 The accusation against Oinomaos of incest with his daughter Hippodameia simply means that Hippodameia was the title of his ‘wife’ and also of her successor, the wife of his successor, represented in myth as his ‘daughter.’]



The Danaids are also well-maidens, with functions, perhaps, like those of the Antenian Dew-Carriers (p. 173). To the moon-bride may have fallen the duty of bringing water for rain-charms, while the sun-bridegroom was charged with the maintenance of the solar fire.



[n1 Cr. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, I. 122. In modern agricultural festivals ‘water is thrown on the fields and on the plough, while the worshippers themselves, or a representative chosen form among them, are sprinkled or immersed. To this practice many survivals bear evidence; ; the virtues persistently ascribed to dew gathered on may morning, the ceremonial bathing of women annually or in times of drought with the expressed purpose of bringing fruitfulness on man or beast or crop, the “ducking” customs…’ etc. …]


Modern analogies support this view of the significance of the foot-race. ‘Games,’ says Mr Chambers, ‘were a feature of seasonal, no less than of funeral feasts. . . . A bit of wrestling or a bout of quarter-staff is still de rigueur at many a wake or rush-bearing, while in parts of Germany the winner of a race or of a shooting-match at the popinjay is entitled to light the festival fire, or to hold the desired office of May-King.’



[n2 … Professor Ridgeway… Athenaeum, May 20, 1911, ‘pointed out that the astronomical cycles, such as the Metonic, were late, and may have come in with the remaking of the games, which must have existed long before B.C. 776 at Olympia.’]

In discussing that combination we agreed with Dr Frazer that form its introduction the Olympic victor represented the Sun united in marriage with the Moon. Even if there were no further evidence, it would still be a reasonable conjecture that in earlier days, the sacred marriage, here as elsewhere, had been an annual feast, and its protagonists instead of being related to the celestial bridegroom and bride, had embodied the powers of fertility in  more primitive form directly associated with the seasonal life of nature. If that is so, the new penteteric festival in the late summer may have attracted to itself features, such as the single combat and the foot-race for the olive branch, form feasts which under the older systems of time-reckoning would naturally belong to winter or to spring. We are therefore untouched by objections based on the time of year of the historic Games—a time fixed solely with reference to the Sun and Moon. We are at liberty to suppose that the winner of the foot-race represented the fertility-daimon, before he represented the Sun. as one mode of time-reckoning supersedes another, so in the sphere of religion emphasis is successively laid on Earth, with her changing seasons and meteoric phenomena, on the Moon, and on the Sun. this line of enquiry may set at rest many old-standing controversies.



These vegetation-spirits or Year Gods successively take on moon and sun attributes, when the lunar calendar supersedes the agricultural, and again when the lunar calendar is first combined with, then superseded by the solar. There is no simple answer to the question: ‘Is Osiris the Moon, or is he the Sun? He began as neither, and has passed through both phases.



The Great Mother of Mount Sipylos was also the Lady of Ida.


This gives us a clue. It suggests a form of cult to which we can refer the ritual of Tantalus’ Feast—the cult, namely, which prevailed all down the coast of Asia Minor, of the Great Mother and her Child, with her attendant Kouretes or Korybantes—the very cult which we have found established at the foot of the hill of Kronos at Olympia.


… Strabo… “On the coast near Ephesus, a little above the sea, lies Ortygia, a splendid grove of trees of all sorts, mostly cypress. Through it flows the river Kenchrios were they say Leto washed after her travail. For here legend tells of the Birth, of the nurse Ortygia, of the Birth-place, where no one may enter, and of the olive-tree close by where the goddess is said to have rested after her travail.

            Above this grove is a mountain, Somissos, where they say the Kouretes took their stand and with the clash of their arms frightened the jealous Hera who was lying in wait, and helped Leto to conceal the birth. (There are ancient temples with ancient images of wood, as well as later temples with statures by Scopas and others.)

            Here, every year, the people assemble to celebrate a festival, at which it is the custom for the young men to vie with one another the magnificence of their contributions to the entertainment. At the same season a college of the Kouretes holds banquets and performs certain mystical sacrifices.”



It is not improbable that this Kronian feast represents a very ancient seasonal festival of spring which became attached to the vernal equinox when the sun and the critical dates of his annual course became important. In discussing Salmoneus, we connected his attribute of the slipped fetter (p. 233) with the Kronian custom of releasing slaves and prisoners at new year festivals. We saw too that this custom at Rome which originally belonged to the Kalends of March, was borrowed by the later Saturnalia of mid-winter, and yet retained also at its old date in March. The Attic Kronia show an instructive parallel. At Athens the same Saturnalian custom of feasting slaves and releasing prisoners appears both at the Panathenaea in Hekatombaion—a festival apparently superimposed on the older Kronia—and at the spring festival of Dionysus, the Anthesteria.


[End Cornford]



In the Wasps old Philocleon…

[n3 … Clearchus like so many of his successors misinterpreted the rigid matriarchal system as licence. See my Prolegomena, p. 262.]



We have next to establish a further step in our argument. The ‘hero’ takes on not only the form and general function of the daimon but also his actual life-history as expressed and represented in his ritual. This further step is, as will presently be seen, for the understanding of the origin of the drama of paramount importance. We shall best understand its significance by taking a single concrete case that occurs in the mythology and cultus of the quasi-historical hero, Theseus. Theseus is an example to us specially instructive because his cult took on elements from that of Dionysos. He too not only absorbed the functions of an Agathos Daimon but like Pegasos, like Ikarios, like the nameless hero in Fig. 92 ‘received’ the god.



Plutarch in his delightful way says at the beginning of his Life of Theseus: ‘I desire that the fabulous material I deal in may be subservient to my endeavours, and, being moulded by reason, may accept the form of history, and, when it obstinately declines probability and will not blend appropriately with what is credible, I shall pray my readers may be indulgent and receive with kindness the fables of antiquity.’


321 [Theseus]

With the Staphylodromoi of the Karneia in our minds the main gist of the Oschophoria is clear. It is like the race of Olympia, a race of youths, epheboi, kouri, with boughs. It has two elements, the actual agon the contest, in this case a race, and then, second in time but first in importance, the procession and the komos. The somewhat complicated details of the race seem to have been as follows. Two epheboi chosen form each of the ten tribes raced against one another. The ten victors, after being feasted, formed into procession, one of them leading the way as kerys, two following, dressed as women and carrying branches, the remaining seven forming, as at Delphi, the choros.


[n3 Mommsen thinks that the Oschophoria and the Dionysos myths were attached to Theseus quite late, i.e. after the Persian war. The date of the contamination is of little importance to my argument. n4 The mythology of Ariadne cannot here be examined, but it is interesting to note in passing that in the legend of the desertion Theseus and Dionysos are obvious doubles.]



Theseus indeed marks, as already noted, the period of transition between the group and the individual, the functionary, the basileus and the individual historic or saga-chief. Theseus is a king’s son, but he lets go the kingship. He is the hero of the new democracy whose basis is individuality.

Theseus, then, the saga-hero, the quasi-historical personality, took on the life-history, the year-history of a fertility-daimon, that daimon himself, figured by the youth with the Eiresione, having assimilated another daimon, him of the grape—Dionysos. It remains to ask—what are the factors, the actual elements, the events in the life-history of an Eniautos-daimon? What is his mythos? And first, what precisely do we mean by a mythos?



In the Grizzly Bear Dance of the North American Indians the performers shuffle and shamble about like a bear in his cave waking from his winter sleep.



That is the action the [dromenon]. They also at the same time chant the words:

I begin to grow restless in the spring.

I take my robe,

My robe is sacred,

I wander in the summer.

These are the [legomena], the things uttered by the mouth, the myths. As man is a speaking as well a motor animal, any complete human ceremony usually contains both elements, speech and action, or as the Greeks would put it, we have in a rite [ta dromena] and also [ta epi tois dromenois legomena].


An Iowa Indian when asked about the myths and traditions of his tribe said: “These are sacred things and I do not like to speak about them, and it is not our custom to do so except when we make a feast and collect the people and use the sacred pipe.”

     A pious man would no more tell out his myths than he would dance out his mysteries. Only when the tribe is assembled after solemn fasting, and holy smoking, only sometimes In a strange archaic tongue and to initiate men or novices after long and arduous preparation, can the myth with safety be uttered from the mouth; such is its sanctity, its mana.



We have previously analysed in detail the motor or active factor in a rite, the [dromenon], we have seen that in its religious sense it was not simply a thing done but a thing re-done or pre-done; it was commemorative or magical or both. We have also noted that it was a thing done under strong emotional excitement and done collectively. All this applies equally to the other factor in a rite, the myth. In the religious sense a myth is not merely a word spoken; it is a re-utterance or pre-utterance, it is a focus of emotion, and uttered as we have seen collectively or at least with collective sanction. It is the collective sanction and solemn purpose that differentiate the myth alike from the historical narrative and the mere conte or fairy-tale: a myth becomes practically a story of magical intent and potency.



The Eniautos-Mythos

[n3 … Mr Chambers’ analysis of the Mummers’ play… divides it into three parts: the Presentation, the Drama, the Quete. See also Prof. Murray, infra, p. 359.]

(a)   A contest [agon]. In this case and also in the Karneia and in the Olympic Games the contest is a race to decide who shall carry the boughs and wear the crown.

(b)  A pathos, a death or defeat. In the Theseus myth this appears in the death of the old king. The pathos is formally announced by a messenger [angelos] and it is followed or accompanied by a lamentation [threnos].

(c)   A triumphant Epiphany, an appearance or crowning of the victor or the new king, with an abrupt change [peripeteia] from lamentation to rejoicing. In the Theseus rite, we have the actual mythoi which marked this shift, Eleleu Iou Iou.


[End Harrison]






Usener has argued on other grounds … that Orestes at Delphi was a winter daimon and ‘Doppelganger’ to Dionysus, as Neoptolemus was to Apollo.

See my [Murray] Orestes and Hamlet, a Study in Traditional types, Proceedings of British Academy 1912.



We noticed above in the Andromache (p. 347) that the interrupting Orestes-scene came with a sequence Messenger, Threnos, Epiphany of Orestes, and that, much in the manner of a deus ex machine he (1) saved and consoled Hermione, and (2) announced the Aition of the play.



… Agon, Messenger-Pathos, Threnos, Anagnorisis [= epiphany/peripeteia], Theophany [establishment of rite].

Choephori: as in other Orestes-plays we have a Threnos and Anagnorisis quite early 165-244: Evocation of dead 315-510: Agon (Orestes and Clytemnestra) 674-930, with a Messenger (Exangelos) in the midst of it 975-886, combined with Pathos [autangelon]: Threnos, consisting of mixed joy and woe and culminating in long speeches over the dead bodies 935-1047: lastly a Vision of the Furies, which may possibly have involved a real epiphany.



…Prologue-speakers. … Alcestis, Apollo (and Death): Hippolytus, Aphrodite: Hecuba, the Ghost of Polydorus: Ion, Hermes: Troades, Poseidon (and Athena): Bacchae, Dionysus: all these are supernatural. Next observe Heracleidae, Iolaus suppliant at an altar: Andromache, the heroine suppliant at an altar: Supplices, Aithra, surrounded by a band of women suppliant at an altar: Heracles, Amphitryon and Megara, suppliants at an altar: Helena, the heroine suppliant at an altar: Iph. Taur., the half-divine priestess of a strange and bloodstained Temple rising from a dream of death. The religious half-supernatural atmosphere is unmistakable.



What is the explanation of these facts? It seems to me that the old Sacer Ludus has reasserted itself: the Prologue, after passing into a mere dramatic exposition-scene between ordinary people, returns again to be a solemn address spoken to the audience by a sacred or mysterious figure. The differences are, first, that it is now integral in the whole play as a work of art, and secondly, that it has been markedly influenced by the speech of the god at the end. It is the same story with other elements of the drama. The language and metre get freer in Sophocles, and return to formality in Euripides. The dialogue becomes irregular and almost ‘natural’ in Sophocles, and then returns to a kind of formal antiphony of symmetrical speeches or equally symmetrical stichomythiae. The Chorus itself first dwindles to a thing of little account and then increases again till it begins once more to bear the chief weight of the tragedy. Something like the old hierophant reappears at the beginning, something like the old re-risen god at the end; and, as we have seen, it is in plays of Euripides, and most of all in the very latest of his plays, that we find in most perfect and clear-cut outlines the whole sequence of Contest, Tearing-asunder, Messenger, Lamentation, Discovery, recognition, and Resurrection which constituted the original Dionysus-mystery.

            Thus the death of Dionysus is [arriton]. It was blasphemous, if not impossible, to speak seriously of the death of the Life of the World. This fact seems to me to have had important consequences, differentiating Dionysus form the other Year-Daimons and incidentally explaining some peculiarities of Greek Tragedy.

     The ordinary Year-Daimon arrived, grew great and was slain by his successor, who was exactly similar to him. But Dionysus did not die. He seemed to die, but really it was his enemy, in his dress and likeness, it was Pentheus or Lycurgus who died while Dionysus lived on in secret. When the world seemed to be dead and deprived of him, whe was three in the ivy and pine and other evergreens; he was the secret life or fire in wine, or other intoxicants. By this train of ideas Dionysus comes to be regarded not as a mere vegetation-spirit, or Year-Daimon, but as representing some secret or mysterious life, persisting through death or after death.


[End Murray]



From Daimon to Olympian

(Herakles, Asklepios, Gaia to Apollo at Delphi.)



Herakles as Fertility and Year-Daimon.


Homeric saga did for Herakles all it could. ‘And as to Hermes and Herakles,’ says Pausanias, ‘the poems of Homer have given currency to the report that the first is a servant of Zeus and leads down the spirits of the departed to Hades, and that Herakles preformed many hard tasks.’


Why should Hermes and Herakles be linked together? What has the young messenger with golden rod and winged sandals to do with the lusty athlete? A second question brings an answer to the first. What were Hermes and Herakles before ‘Homer’ made of one the ‘servant of Zeus’ and of the other the ‘hero’ of the labours? Pausanias himself tells us; they were both ‘Herms.’



The Athenians, he says, zealous in all maters of religion, were ‘the first to use the square-shaped images of Hermes.’ The Arcadians were ‘specially partial to the square form of Hermes. Hermes was a Herm., but not only Hermes, also Apollo Aguieus and Poseidon and Athena Ergane and Helios and—which concerns us most for the moment—Herakles. Art too bears out the testimony of Pausania. In the vase-painting, Fig. 97, we have Hermes in Herm form. The herm is marked by the kerykeoion, the staff with double snakes. Behind the Herm is a little tree, for Hermes is a fertility daimon; in front an altar and, suspended on the wall, a votive pinax. [n3 …the Herm on the original is ithyphallic.]



Herakles is not only a seasonal fertility-daimon; he is manifestly a daimon of the Sun-Year. [n1 See Dr Verrall, The Calendar in the Trachiniae of Sophocles, … 1896, p. 85, to which I must refer for details of a a somewhat complicated argument. No one will tax Dr Verall with a parti pris for Sun-Myths. He says expressly ‘Our proposition is simply that, in respect of the chronological framework, the story presented in the Trachiniae exhibits, and is founded upon, a certain calendar and certain institutions relating to the calendar which existed when the story was first thrown into this shape.’] His Twelve Labours occupy a Great Year, [megas eniautos]. The divisions of this cycle were somehow set forth in the ‘ancient tablet’ form Dodona which he gave to Dejaneira before he set forth on his last Labour, in the twelfth year. This twelfth year was not 12 months but 14, that is, it had the two intercalary months necessary to equalize approximately the moon and sun cycles.

It may be that neither Sophocles nor his predecessors in shaping the legend, Peisander and Panyasis were actually aware that Herakles was the daimon of the Sun-Year, but more, much more, than conscious knowledge goes to the making of poetry.



[n1 I would guard against misunderstanding. Herakles takes on the form of an Eniautos-daimon, and therefore has solar elements, but these do not exhaust his content. The same is true of Apollo, Odysseus, Orpheus and Dionysos, and indeed of almost all gods and daimones. The reaction against certain erroneous developments of solar mythology has led, as I have long pointed out, to the neglect of these elements.]



Ritual of Herakles as Year-Daimon.


Pausanias… “they say that Phaistos when he came to Sekyon found them devoting offerings to Herakles as to a hero. But Phaistos would do nothing of the kind but would offer burnt offering to him as to a god. And even now the Sekyonians, when they slay a lamb and burn the thighs upon the altar, eat a portion of the flesh as though it were a sacrificial victim, and another part of the flesh they devote as though to a hero.”



Herodotus was evidently puzzled by the two-fold nature of Herakles. Finally he comes to the conclusion that “Those of the Geeks do most wisely who have set up a double worship of Herakles and who offer burnt sacrifice to the one as an immortal and with the title Olympian, and to the other devote offerings as to a hero.” The first of these wise Greeks who set up the double worship of Herakles were the Athenians.



[n2 Moon-elements are found in nearly all goddesses and many heroines; in Athena, Artemis, Hekate, Persephone, Bendis;  in Antiope, Europa, Pashiphae, Auge, and a host of others. Sun-elements in Odysseus, Bellerophon, Perseus, Talos, Ixion, Phaethon. Sun and moon symbols are the bull, the golden dog, the Golden Fleece, the Golden Lamb, etc., etc., in fact, if our contention be true, there is scarcely any mythological figure that does not contain sun and moon elements, and scarcely any of which the content is exhausted by sun and moon.]



But what Aeschylus envisaged as a divine sequence, and what modern psychology and anthropology know to be a necessary development, looked quite otherwise to the popular mind. A gradual evolution seen form beginning and end only is apt to conceived as a fight between the two poles. So it was at Delphi. The natural sequence of cults from Gaia to Apollo was seen by the man in the street as a  fight between Earth and the Sun, between Darkness and Light, between the dream-oracle and the truth of heaven. All this for ritual reasons that will appear later crystallized in the form of a myth, the slaying of the Python by Apollo.



It remains to ask, ‘What do we know of the ritual of Gaia at Delphi?’ of ritual to Gaia under that name and definitely stated to have been carried on at the omphalos-sanctuary, the answer, as previously indicated, is, ‘Nothing.’ But it happens that we have from Plutarch [Greek Questions] a fairly full account of three manifestly primitive festivals, which took place at Delphi every nine years, and these festivals on examination, turn out to be three acts in one dramatic or rather magical ceremony, whose whole gist is to promote the fertility of Earth. They are in short three factors in or forms of, a great Eniautos-festival.



Being himself a priest at Delphi Plutarch takes, as an instance of how things are misunderstood, the festival of the Stepterion, according to him an extreme case. Aeschylus, we are told, is utterly wrong when he says  “And pure Apollo, banished, a god, from Heaven. And furthest of all from the truth are the theologians at Delphi who hold that once a fight took place there between the god and a serpent about the oracle, and who allowed poets and story-writers to present this at dramatic performances in the theatres, as though they were bent on contradicting what is actually done in the most sacred rites.” Here he is interrupted, most fortunately for us, by a question form one of his audience, a certain Philip, who wants to know exactly what these ‘most sacred rites’ are, which dramatic authors, when they represent a fight as taking place between Apollo and the snake, contradict. Plutarch answers: “Those rites I mean which are in connection with the oracular shrine, which quite recently the state (Delphi) celebrated, admitting into them all the Hellenes beyond Pylas and going in procession as far as Tempe.” It is these rites that contradict the notion of a fight with a serpent. “For the hut that is set up here, over the threshing-floor, every nine years, is not just some hole like the lair of a serpent, but is the imitation of the dwelling of a tyrant or king, and the attack made in silence upon it along what is called the Dolonela. . . they accompany the youth, both of whose parents are alive, with lighted torches, and when they have set fire to the hut and overturned the table they fly without looking back through the doors of the sanctuary. Finally the wanderings and the servitude of the boy and the purifications that take place at Tempe make one suspect that there has been some great pollution and some daring deed.”



Clearly Plutarch has here no belief in the aetiological myth which in the Quaestiones he doubtfully accepts. It is often assumed that the hut which was burned contained a serpent, but of this there is no evidence. Had Plutarch known of any such serpent he would never have argued as he did, and no one was better acquainted than Plutarch with the details of Delphic ritual. We must give up the serpent. The Stepterion consisted of a secret attack with lighted torches on a hut, which though apparently it is made of wood or reeds had somehow—a piece of purple drapery and a wreath would do it—the semblance of a king’s palace. The boy who lit the fire fled to Tempe, was purified and feasted there, and returned in triumph crowned and carrying a laurel branch.



But as the group system disintegrates, the individual emerges, and further, not only does the individual emerge from the group, but the human individual is more and more conscious of his sharp distinction from animals and plants, from the whole of nature that surrounds him. This twofold emergence of the individual from the group of the human individual from the nature-world around him, is inevitably mirrored in the personality, in the individuality of the Olympian gods.

            We are still too pat to put the cart before the horse, to think of the group as made up of an aggregate of individuals rather than of the individuals as a gradual segregation of the group. It is only by an effort of imagination that we realize that plurality, the group comes first. A simple illustration form language may serve to make clear this point.

     In many North American, Central Asian, and Pacific languages two plurals are in use, the Inclusive and Exclusive, or, as they are perhaps better called the Collective and Selective Plurals. The collective ‘we’ includes all persons present, the ‘Selective’ a smaller selected group, to which the speaker belongs. The proper use of this plural is essential to the successful missionary, otherwise doctrinal scandal may ensue:

“When the formula ‘We have sinned’ occurs in prayer, the exclusive form must be employed, for the supplicant would otherwise be including the Almighty among those to whom sin is imputed. The same expression occurring in a sermon, take the inclusive form: for the audience would otherwise be excluded from the category of sinners and would understand the preacher’s meaning to be ‘We, the clergy, have sinned but not you, the people.’



Again, and still more instructively, we have among the Apache Indians and the British Columbian tries a collective as well as a selective singular. The collective singular denotes the person as a member of the group. Thus if the question be asked ‘Who will help?’ the answer would be the collective ‘I,’ that is ’I for one’ or ‘I among others.’ But if the question be ‘Who is the mother of this child?’ the answer will be the selective ‘I,’ that is I and nobody else. “Now ‘this sharp distinction occurs,’ Mr Payne observes, ‘with a frequency which indicates it as answering to a substantial need of daily life. The Apache Indians for example, one of the wildest peoples in America, would scarcely have invented and rigorously preserved this idiom unless it were indispensable to their intercourse: and the same may be said of the British Columbian tribes in whose language it is even more conspicuous. The collective, it should be noted, is the ordinary form, and the selective the exception.’

…the plural and all other forms of number in grammar arise not by multiplication of an original ‘I’ but by selection and gradual exclusion from an original collective group…



It used to be thought that language began with nouns, the names of things, to which later were added qualifying adjectives. Still later, it was held, these separate nouns were joined by verbs expressing relations between subject and object, and these again were qualified by adverbs. Modern linguistic tells quite another tale. Language, after the purely emotional interjection, began with whole sentence, holophrases, [n4 For this illustration from language I am indebted to Mr E. J. Payne’s sections on language in his History of the New World , 1899…]



utterances of a relation in which subject and object have not yet got their heads above water but are submerged in a situation. A holophrase utters a holopsychosis. Out of these holophrases at a later stage emerge our familiar ‘Parts of speech,’ rightly so called, for speech was before its partition. A simple instance will make this clear.

            The Fuegians have a word, or rather a holophrase, mamihlapinatapai, which means ‘looking-at- each-other,-hoping-that-either-will-offer- to- do- something- which both- parties- desire- but- are- unwilling- to- do.’ This holophrase contains no nouns and no separate verbs it simply expresses a tense relation—not unknown to some of us, and applicable to any and every one. Uneducated and impulsive people even to-day tend to show a certain holophrastic savagery. They not unfrequently plunge into a statement of relations before they tell you who they are talking about. As civilization advances, the holophrase, overcharged, disintegrates, and, bit by bit, object, subject and verb, and the other ‘Parts of speech’ are abstracted from the stream of warm conscious human activity in which they were once submerged. “’The analogy,’ as Mr Crawley observes, ‘between the holophrase and the primitive precept and concept is close. In both we start with masses which are gradually divided in the one case by perception becoming analytical, in the other by an attempt on the part of the articulating muscles to keep pace with this mental analysis.’



We touch here on the very heart and secret of the difference between the Olympian and the mystery-god, between Apollo and Zeus on the one hand and Dionysos on the other: a difference; the real significance of which was long a ago, with the instinct of genius, divined by Nietzsche.

Above the intellectualized Olympians was set, by Homer and by Aeschylus alike, the dominant figure of Moira, division, partition, allotment, and rightly, for it is by dividing, by distinguishing, by classifying, that we know.



The Olympians are then but highly diversified Moirai and the Moirai are departments, they are the spatial correlatives of the temporal Horai. The wheel of Dike moves through time, Moira operates in space.


[n1 … the authors seek to establish that logical classification arises from social. This is analogous to the philosophical position of Prof. Durkheim, who holds that the ‘categories’ are modes of collective rather than individual thinking…]



Such in general is the progress of a god—from emotion to concept, form totem-animal to mystery-god, form mystery-god to Olympian. But the Greek, and perhaps only the Greek, went one step further, and that step brought a certain provisional salvation. It is a step, at all events, so characteristic of the Greek mind, that it claims our attention.

            This brings us to our last point.

(5) The Olympian became an objet d’art



He was concerned not to lie prostrate in wonder before the mystery of their life, still less to embark on scientific inquiry into the causes of that life, but to make them grow and multiply that he might eat them and grow and multiply himself.

            Has man then no sense of mystery, no consciousness of something grater than himself to which he owes obedience, to which he pays reverence? Yes. The instinct of those who, in framing the old definitions of religion, included ‘mystery’ and ‘the infinite,’ was right—though their explanations wrong. The mystery, the thing greater than man , is potent, not only or chiefly because it is unintelligible and calls for explanation, not because it stimulates a baffled understanding, but because it is felt as an obligation . The thing greater than man, the ‘power not himself that makes for righteousness,’ is in the main, not the mystery of the universe to which as yet he is not awake, but the pressure of that unknown ever incumbent force, herd instinct, the social conscience. The mysterious dominant figure is not Physis, but Themis.



Again, ritual is always conservative. In the archaic ritual of the oath we see the contrast between new and old. When Menelaos is about to engage with Paris, he says to the Trojans “Bring ye two lambs, one white ram and one black ewe for Earth and Sun, and we will bring one for Zeus.

            The Trojans, Southerners of Asia Minor, use the old sympathetic ritual of the Horkos. The primitive Horkos or barrier or division is between Earth and Sky, and Earth the Mother is, as we shall presently see, before Sky, the Father. The Achaeans, the Northerners, have no Horkos proper, but they bring a ram for the anthropomorphic Zeus.

     If then we would understand the contrast between the Olympians and their predecessors we must get back to the earlier Themis, to the social structure that was before the patriarchal family, to the matrilinear system, to the Mother and the Tribe, the Mother and the Child and the Initiated young men, the Kouretes.



Matrilinear Structure

…Plato, in the Politicus [271 E, 272 A]… “There were divine daimones who were the shepherds of the various species and herds of the animals, and each was entirely sufficient for those whom he shepherded. So that there was no wildness nor eating of each other, nor any war, nor revolt amongst them. . . In those days God himself was their shepherd. . . Under him there were no governments nor separate possessions of women and children. For all men rose again from the earth remembering nothing of their past. And such things as private property and families did not exist, but Earth herself gave them abundance of fruits form trees and other green things, spontaneously, and not through husbandry. And they dwelt naked in the open air, for the temperature of the seasons was mild. And they had no beds, but lay on soft couches of herb which grew abundantly out of the earth. Such, Socrates, was the life of men in the days of Kronos.”

            Plato seems conscious that, in the days of Kronos, the ruler of each department was more herdsman or shepherd than king. The ancient Basileus was indeed, as already has been hinted, a person half daimon, half man essentially a functionary, and almost wholly alien to our modern, individualistic notion of king.


Kronos indeed, so far as he is a Year-god, marks and expresses that earlier calendar of Hesiod, in which Works and Days are governed by the rising and setting of certain stars and constellations, Sirius, Orion, the Pleiades, and by the comings and goings of migratory birds, the swallow, the cuckoo, and the crane. But though man looks to these heavenly and atmospheric terata to guide his sowings and reapings, his real focus of attention is still earth. And inasmuch as his social structure is matrilinear, she is Mother-Earth; Father-Heaven takes as yet but a subordinate place. When, nowadays, we speak of God as ‘Father’ we mean of course no irreverence, but we strangely delimit the sources of life. The Roman Church with her wider humanity, though she cherishes the monastic ideal, yet feels instinctively that a male Trinity is non-natural, and keeps always the figure of the divine Mother.



Tritogeneia is not ‘she who is born on the third day,’ nor yet, ‘she who was born from the head of her father,’ nor yet ‘she who was born of the water of the brook Triton’; she is she who was true born and to be true born is in patrilinear days to be born in wedlock of your lawful father. Hesychius, defining the word [Tritokouri] says: “She for whom everything has been accomplished as to marriage. Some define it as a ‘true virgin.’”

     The outrageous myth of the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus is but the religious representation, the emphasis, and over emphasis, of a patrilinear social structure. When an Athenian prayed to the Tritopatores, it was not for children merely, but for true born children, children born with him for their father.

            The Apatouria, then, is the festival of those who have the same father, and of these the Tritopatores and Tritogeneia are the mythical expression. Now we realize why the god and goddess, who presided over the Apatouria, were Zeus and Athena, Father and Father-born daughter. As, in the old matrilinear days, Kronos the father was ignored, so, by the turn of the wheel, the motherhood of the mother is obscured, even denied; but with far less justice, for the facts of motherhood have been always patent.



Apollo and Athena then are linked together as Phratrioi and this conjunction is found in the patrilinear Homer and in the Eumenides where all the emphasis is patriarchal. Elsewhere Apollo is linked with quite another goddess, with Artemis, and in this conjunction we see a survival, though altered and disfigured, of matriarchal structure. In Homer a great effort is made to affiliate Artemis as one of the patriarchal family, but, in her ancient aspect as [Potnia Thiron], she is manifestly but a form of the Great Mother: at Delphi, where Apollo reigns supreme, his ‘sister’ Artemis is strangely, significantly    absent. What has happened is fairly obvious. Artemis, as Mother, had a male-god as son or subordinate consort, just as Aphrodite had Adonis. When patriarchy ousted matriarchy, the relationship between the pair is first spiritualized as we find it in Artemis and Hippolytos; next the pair are conceived of in the barren relation of sister and brother. Finally the female figure dwindles altogether and the male-consort emerges as merely son of his father or utterer of his father’s will—[Dios prophitis].



The rites of puberty, the rites of marriage, are like all other primitive rites, rites de passage: their object is to afford a safe passage in the perilous transit form one age or condition to another. Man feels, though he does not yet know, that life is change, and change is beset with dangers. The first crisis of life is the change of puberty, form boyhood to manhood. Manhood, among primitive peoples, seems to be envisaged as ceasing to be a woman; the notion is quite natural. Man is born of woman, reared of woman. When he passes to manhood, he ceases to be a woman-thing and begins to exercise functions other and alien. That moment is one naturally of extreme peril; he at once emphasizes and disguises it. he wears woman’s clothes. The same applies at  marriage.

Hence the fact, perplexing at first, that at mourning for death—another rite de passage—the Lycians changed clothes with the opposite sex. In fact the ceremony of change of clothes might easily come to be observed whenever it was desirable to ‘change the luck.’ Among the Nandi “Once every seven-and-a-half years, some say four years after the circumcision festival, the Saket-ap-eito ceremony takes place. The country is handed over form one age to another. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, the men of the preceding age take off their warriors’ garments and put on those of old age. the defence and well-being of the community are thereby handed over to their successors.”

            Here the rite de passage is not from sex to sex but from age to age. the general characteristics of each periodic festival, such as the Carnival, the Saturnalia, are always the same, a complete upset of the old order, a period of licence and mutual hilarity, and then the institution of the new.



The Oracle of Trophonios.


  1. The account of Pausanias when he visited Lebedeia.
  2. The treatise of Plutarch on the Daimon of Sokrates, in which he recounts the experiences of a young philosopher who went down into the chasm of Trophonios to find out what the Daimon of Sokrates was.
  3. Plutarch’s treatise on the Face in the Orb of the Moon, in which he relates the rite of Trophonios to other ceremonies, and thereby lets out their real nature.



(2) Plutarch’s account of the experiences of Timarchos adds certain details to the picture, and greatly emphasizes the importance of the revelations imparted. When Timarchos after the accustomed preliminaries entered the chasm, “thick darkness was about him. He prayed and lay a long while upon the ground uncertain whether he was waking or dreaming. But it seemed to him that he felt a sharp blow on his head with a great noise,



and that through the sutures of his skull his soul was let loose. And, as his soul went forth, it was mixed with pure and pleasant and lightsome air, and it seemed for the first time to take breath, and seemed to expand and be more spacious than before, like a sail swollen with the wind.” Then follows a long account of the revelation vouchsafed to Timarchos, which included the  whole cosmos and the daimones pervading the cosmos, all of which was explained by an invisible voice. Finally, “The voice ceased speaking, and Timarchos turned round to see who was the speaker. But a sharp pain seized his head, as though his skull ere being pressed together, so that he lost all sense and understanding. In a little while he recovered and found himself in the mouth of the cave of Trophonios, where he had first lain down.” [n1 Plut. De Genio Socr. XXII, sub fin.]



“They come down hither in order to take charge of oracles and they are preset at, and take part in, the highest of orgiastic initiatory rites, and they are chasteners and watchers over wrong doings and they shine as saviors in battle and at sea . . . Of the best of these daimones those of the age of Kronos said they themselves were. And the same of old were the Idaean Daktyls in Crete and the Korybantes in Phrygia and the Trophoniads in Lebadeia of Boeotia and countless others in various palces all over the habitable world, of whom the sacred rites and honours and titles remain.”

            Plutarch could not put the matter more plainly. The same daimones preside over oracles and over rites of initiation; Torphoniads, Idaean Daktyls and those of the age of Kronos are all substantially the same. The statement is for us a priceless illumination. But we ask what is really meant by this bringing together of things apparently so remote and alien, oracles, institutions for looking into the future, and rites of initiation, purely social institutions?


Mnemosyne and Anamnesis.

At the outset, it must be remembered that oracles were, down to late days, places to be consulted for advice as to the present as essentially places of counsel for practical purposes. But even so there remains a certain gulf to be bridged between the social and oracular. The bridge is easily crossed if we examine the analogy of primitive initiation rites.



That Memory, the mere remembering of facts, should be the Mother of the Muses is a frigid genealogy. The usual explanation offered is that memory is the faculty which enables you to remember and repeat long epic poems. But the Mnemosyne of initiation rites, the remembering again, the [anamnesis], of things seen in ecstasy when the soul is rapt to heavenly places, she is surely now, as ever, the fitting Mother of all things musical. We are told again and again that Plato ‘borrowed much of his imagery’ from the mysteries, but it is no external borrowing of a mere illustration. Plato’s whole scheme alike of education and philosophy  is but an attempted rationalization of the primitive mysticism of initiation, and most of all that profound and perennial mysticism of the central rite de passage, the death and the new birth, social moral, intellectual.



Themis, Dike and the Horae.

Our first chapter was devoted to the consideration of the Hymn of the Kouretes. We noted then that in subject as in structure the Hymn fell into three parts, (1) The Invocation, (2) the Aetiological Myth, (3) the Resultant Blessings. The first and second parts we considered in detail. We saw how the Kouros invoked was a projection of his worshippers the Kouretes, and we noted that he was invoked for the year, that he was in fact the vehicle and incarnation of the fruits and blessings of the year. His growth to maturity, his entry on the status of ephebos, caused the growth and maturity of the natural year.



‘Leap for our Cities, and leap for our sea-borne ships, and leap for our young citizens and for goodly Themis,’

Themis is the mother of the Horai. Speaking of the weddings of Zeus, Hesiod says,

 “Next led he goodly Themis, and she bore

The Hours, Eunomia, Dike, blooming Peace”

It is then two of the Horai, the Seasons, who, at the birth of the Kouros, bring the new and splendid order to the earth.