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  • 1895
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sorrow, she sat down at the wayside by the virgin’s well, where the people of Eleusis come to draw water, under the shadow of an olive- tree. She seemed as an aged woman whose time of child-bearing is gone by, and from whom the gifts of Aphrodite have been withdrawn, like one of the hired servants, who nurse the children or keep house, in kings’ palaces. And the daughters of Celeus, four of them, like goddesses, possessing the flower of their youth, Callidice, Cleisidice, Demo, and Callithoe the eldest of them, coming to draw water that they [86] might bear it in their brazen pitchers to their father’s house, saw Demeter and knew her not. The gods are hard for men to recognise.

“They asked her kindly what she did there, alone; and Demeter answered, dissemblingly, that she was escaped from certain pirates, who had carried her from her home and meant to sell her as a slave. Then they prayed her to abide there while they returned to the palace, to ask their mother’s permission to bring her home.

“Demeter bowed her head in assent; and they, having filled their shining vessels with water, bore them away, rejoicing in their beauty. They came quickly to their father’s house, and told their mother what they had seen and heard. Their mother bade them return, and hire the woman for a great price; and they, like the hinds or young heifers leaping in the fields in spring, fulfilled with the pasture, holding up the folds of their raiment, sped along the hollow road-way, their hair, in colour like the crocus, floating about their shoulders as they went. They found the glorious goddess still sitting by the wayside, unmoved. Then they led her to their father’s house; and she, veiled from head to foot, in her deep grief, followed them on the way, and her blue robe gathered itself as she walked, in many folds about her feet. They came to the house, and passed through the sunny porch, where their mother, Metaneira, was [87] sitting against one of the pillars of the roof, having a young child in her bosom. They ran up to her; but Demeter crossed the threshold, and, as she passed through, her head rose and touched the roof, and her presence filled the doorway with a divine brightness.

“Still they did not wholly recognise her. After a time she was made to smile. She refused to drink wine, but tasted of a cup mingled of water and barley, flavoured with mint. It happened that Metaneira had lately borne a child. It had come beyond hope, long after its elder brethren, and was the object of a peculiar tenderness and of many prayers with all. Demeter consented to remain, and become the nurse of this child. She took the child in her immortal hands, and placed it in her fragrant bosom; and the heart of the mother rejoiced. Thus Demeter nursed Demophoon. And the child grew like a god, neither sucking the breast, nor eating bread; but Demeter daily anointed it with ambrosia, as if it had indeed been the child of a god, breathing sweetly over it and holding it in her bosom; and at nights, when she lay alone with the child, she would hide it secretly in the red strength of the fire, like a brand; for her heart yearned towards it, and she would fain have given to it immortal youth.

“But the foolishness of his mother prevented it. For a suspicion growing up within her, she awaited her time, and one night peeped in upon [88] them, and thereupon cried out in terror at what she saw. And the goddess heard her; and a sudden anger seizing her, she plucked the child from the fire and cast it on the ground,–the child she would fain have made immortal, but who must now share the common destiny of all men, though some inscrutable grace should still be his, because he had lain for awhile on the knees and in the bosom of the goddess.

“Then Demeter manifested herself openly. She put away the mask of old age, and changed her form, and the spirit of beauty breathed about her. A fragrant odour fell from her raiment, and her flesh shone from afar; the long yellow hair descended waving over her shoulders, and the great house was filled as with the brightness of lightning. She passed out through the halls; and Metaneira fell to the earth, and was speechless for a long time, and remembered not to lift the child from the ground. But the sisters, hearing its piteous cries, leapt from their beds and ran to it. Then one of them lifted the child from the earth, and wrapped it in her bosom, and another hastened to her mother’s chamber to awake her: they came round the child, and washed away the flecks of the fire from its panting body, and kissed it tenderly all about: but the anguish of the child ceased not; the arms of other and different nurses were about to enfold it.

“So, all night, trembling with fear, they [89] sought to propitiate the glorious goddess; and in the morning they told all to their father, Celeus. And he, according to the commands of the goddess, built a fair temple; and all the people assisted; and when it was finished every man departed to his own home. Then Demeter returned, and sat down within the temple-walls, and remained still apart from the company of the gods, alone in her wasting regret for her daughter Persephone.

“And, in her anger, she sent upon the earth a year of grievous famine. The dry seed remained hidden in the soil; in vain the oxen drew the ploughshare through the furrows; much white seed-corn fell fruitless on the earth, and the whole human race had like to have perished, and the gods had no more service of men, unless Zeus had interfered. First he sent Iris, afterwards all the gods, one by one, to turn Demeter from her anger; but none was able to persuade her; she heard their words with a hard countenance, and vowed by no means to return to Olympus, nor to yield the fruit of the earth, until her eyes had seen her lost daughter again. Then, last of all, Zeus sent Hermes into the kingdom of the dead, to persuade Aidoneus to suffer his bride to return to the light of day. And Hermes found the king at home in his palace, sitting on a couch, beside the shrinking Persephone, consumed within herself by desire for her mother. A doubtful smile passed over [90] the face of Aidoneus; yet he obeyed the message, and bade Persephone return; yet praying her a little to have gentle thoughts of him, nor judge him too hardly, who was also an immortal god. And Persephone arose up quickly in great joy; only, ere she departed, he caused her to eat a morsel of sweet pomegranate, designing secretly thereby, that she should not remain always upon earth, but might some time return to him. And Aidoneus yoked the horses to his chariot; and Persephone ascended into it; and Hermes took the reins in his hands and drove out through the infernal halls; and the horses ran willingly; and they two quickly passed over the ways of that long journey, neither the waters of the sea, nor of the rivers, nor the deep ravines of the hills, nor the cliffs of the shore, resisting them; till at last Hermes placed Persephone before the door of the temple where her mother was; who, seeing her, ran out quickly to meet her, like a Maenad coming down a mountain-side, dusky with woods.

“So they spent all that day together in intimate communion, having many things to hear and tell. Then Zeus sent to them Rhea, his venerable mother, the oldest of divine persons, to bring them back reconciled, to the company of the gods; and he ordained that Persephone should remain two parts of the year with her mother, and one third part only with her husband, in the kingdom of the dead. So Demeter suffered [91] the earth to yield its fruits once more, and the land was suddenly laden with leaves and flowers and waving corn. Also she visited Triptolemus and the other princes of Eleusis, and instructed them in the performance of her sacred rites,–those mysteries of which no tongue may speak. Only, blessed is he whose eyes have seen them; his lot after death is not as the lot of other men!”

In the story of Demeter, as in all Greek myths, we may trace the action of three different influences, which have moulded it with varying effects, in three successive phases of its development. There is first its half-conscious, instinctive, or mystical, phase, in which, under the form of an unwritten legend, living from mouth to mouth, and with details changing as it passes from place to place, there lie certain primitive impressions of the phenomena of the natural world. We may trace it next in its conscious, poetical or literary, phase, in which the poets become the depositaries of the vague instinctive product of the popular imagination, and handle it with a purely literary interest, fixing its outlines, and simplifying or developing its situations. Thirdly, the myth passes into the ethical phase, in which the persons and the incidents of the poetical narrative are realised as abstract symbols, because intensely characteristic examples, of moral or spiritual conditions. [92] Behind the adventures of the stealing of Persephone and the wanderings of Demeter in search of her, as we find them in the Homeric hymn, we may discern the confused conception, under which that early age, in which the myths were first created, represented to itself those changes in physical things, that order of summer and winter, of which it had no scientific, or systematic explanation, but in which, nevertheless, it divined a multitude of living agencies, corresponding to those ascertained forces, of which our colder modern science tells the number and the names. Demeter–Demeter and Persephone, at first, in a sort of confused union–is the earth, in the fixed order of its annual changes, but also in all the accident and detail of the growth and decay of its children. Of this conception, floating loosely in the air, the poets of a later age take possession; they create Demeter and Persephone as we know them in art and poetry. From the vague and fluctuating union, in which together they had represented the earth and its changes, the mother and the daughter define themselves with special functions, and with fixed, well-understood relationships, the incidents and emotions of which soon weave themselves into a pathetic story. Lastly, in proportion as the literary or aesthetic activity completes the picture or the poem, the ethical interest makes itself felt. These strange persons–Demeter and Persephone–these marvellous incidents– the translation into Hades, the seeking [93] of Demeter, the return of Persephone to her,–lend themselves to the elevation and correction of the sentiments of sorrow and awe, by the presentment to the senses and the imagination of an ideal expression of them. Demeter cannot but seem the type of divine grief. Persephone is the goddess of death, yet with a promise of life to come. Those three phases, then, which are more or less discernible in all mythical development, and constitute a natural order in it, based on the necessary conditions of human apprehension, are fixed more plainly, perhaps, than in any other passage of Greek mythology in the story of Demeter. And as the Homeric hymn is the central expression of its literary or poetical phase, so the marble remains, of which I shall have to speak by and bye, are the central extant illustration of what I have called its ethical phase.

Homer, in the Iliad, knows Demeter, but only as the goddess of the fields, the originator and patroness of the labours of the countryman, in their yearly order. She stands, with her hair yellow like the ripe corn, at the threshing-floor, and takes her share in the toil, the heap of grain whitening, as the flails, moving in the wind, disperse the chaff. Out in the fresh fields, she yields to the embraces of Iasion, to the extreme jealousy of Zeus, who slays her mortal lover with lightning. The flowery town of Pyrasus–the wheat- town,–an ancient place in Thessaly, is her sacred precinct. But when [94] Homer gives a list of the orthodox gods, her name is not mentioned.

Homer, in the Odyssey, knows Persephone also, but not as Kore; only as the queen of the dead–epainê Persephonê+–dreadful Persephone, the goddess of destruction and death, according to the apparent import of her name.+ She accomplishes men’s evil prayers; she is the mistress and manager of men’s shades, to which she can dispense a little more or less of life, dwelling in her mouldering palace on the steep shore of the Oceanus, with its groves of barren willows and tall poplars. But that Homer knew her as the daughter of Demeter there are no signs; and of his knowledge of the rape of Persephone there is only the faintest sign,–he names Hades by the golden reins of his chariot, and his beautiful horses.

The main theme, then, the most characteristic peculiarities, of the story, as subsequently developed, are not to be found, expressly, in the true Homer. We have in him, on the one hand, Demeter, as the perfectly fresh and blithe goddess of the fields, whose children, if she has them, must be as the perfectly discreet and peaceful, unravished Kore; on the other hand, we have Persephone, as the wholly terrible goddess of death, who brings to Ulysses the querulous shadows of the dead, and has the head of the gorgon Medusa in her keeping. And it is only when these two contrasted images have been [95] brought into intimate relationship, only when Kore and Persephone have been identified, that the deeper mythology of Demeter begins.

This combination has taken place in Hesiod; and in three lines of the Theogony we find the stealing of Persephone by Aidoneus,*–one of those things in Hesiod, perhaps, which are really older than Homer. Hesiod has been called the poet of helots, and is thought to have preserved some of the traditions of those earlier inhabitants of Greece who had become a kind of serfs; and in a certain shadowiness in his conceptions of the gods, contrasting with the concrete and heroic forms of the gods of Homer, we may perhaps trace something of the quiet unspoken brooding of a subdued people–of that silently dreaming temper to which the story of Persephone properly belongs. However this may be, it is in Hesiod that the two images, unassociated in Homer–the goddess of summer and the goddess of death, Kore and Persephone–are identified with much significance; and that strange, dual being makes her first appearance, whose latent capabilities the poets afterwards developed; among the rest, a peculiar blending of those two contrasted aspects, full of purpose for the duly chastened intelligence; death, resurrection, rejuvenescence.–Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in the dust!

[96] Modern science explains the changes of the natural world by the hypothesis of certain unconscious forces; and the sum of these forces, in their combined action, constitutes the scientific conception of nature. But, side by side with the growth of this more mechanical conception, an older and more spiritual, Platonic, philosophy has always maintained itself, a philosophy more of instinct than of the understanding, the mental starting-point of which is not an observed sequence of outward phenomena, but some such feeling as most of us have on the first warmer days in spring, when we seem to feel the genial processes of nature actually at work; as if just below the mould, and in the hard wood of the trees, there were really circulating some spirit of life, akin to that which makes its energies felt within ourselves. Starting with a hundred instincts such as this, that older unmechanical, spiritual, or Platonic, philosophy envisages nature rather as the unity of a living spirit or person, revealing itself in various degrees to the kindred spirit of the observer, than as a system of mechanical forces. Such a philosophy is a systematised form of that sort of poetry (we may study it, for instance, either in Shelley or in Wordsworth), which also has its fancies of a spirit of the earth, or of the sky,–a personal intelligence abiding in them, the existence of which is assumed in every suggestion such poetry makes to us of a sympathy between the ways [97] and aspects of outward nature and the moods of men. And what stood to the primitive intelligence in place of such metaphysical conceptions were those cosmical stories or myths, such as this of Demeter and Persephone, which springing up spontaneously in many minds, came at last to represent to them, in a certain number of sensibly realised images, all they knew, felt, or fancied, of the natural world about them. The sky in its unity and its variety,–the sea in its unity and its variety,–mirrored themselves respectively in these simple, but profoundly impressible spirits, as Zeus, as Glaucus or Poseidon. And a large part of their experience–all, that is, that related to the earth in its changes, the growth and decay of all things born of it–was covered by the story of Demeter, the myth of the earth as a mother. They thought of Demeter as the old Germans thought of Hertha, or the later Greeks of Pan, as the Egyptians thought of Isis, the land of the Nile, made green by the streams of Osiris, for whose coming Isis longs, as Demeter for Persephone; thus naming together in her all their fluctuating thoughts, impressions, suspicions, of the earth and its appearances, their whole complex divination of a mysterious life, a perpetual working, a continuous act of conception there. Or they thought of the many-coloured earth as the garment of Demeter, as the great modern pantheist poet speaks of it as the “garment of God.” Its [98] brooding fertility; the spring flowers breaking from its surface, the thinly disguised unhealthfulness of their heavy perfume, and of their chosen places of growth; the delicate, feminine, Prosperina-like motion of all growing things; its fruit, full of drowsy and poisonous, or fresh, reviving juices; its sinister caprices also, its droughts and sudden volcanic heats; the long delays of spring; its dumb sleep, so suddenly flung away; the sadness which insinuates itself into its languid luxuriance; all this grouped itself round the persons of Demeter and her circle. They could turn always to her, from the actual earth itself, in aweful yet hopeful prayer, and a devout personal gratitude, and explain it through her, in its sorrow and its promise, its darkness and its helpfulness to man.

The personification of abstract ideas by modern painters or sculptors, of wealth, of commerce, of health, for instance, shocks, in most cases, the aesthetic sense, as something conventional or rhetorical, as a mere transparent allegory, or figure of speech, which could please almost no one. On the other hand, such symbolical representations, under the form of human persons, as Giotto’s Virtues and Vices at Padua, or his Saint Poverty at Assisi, or the series of the planets in certain early Italian engravings, are profoundly poetical and impressive. They seem to be something more than mere symbolism, [99] and to be connected with some peculiarly sympathetic penetration, on the part of the artist, into the subjects he intended to depict. Symbolism intense as this, is the creation of a special temper, in which a certain simplicity, taking all things literally, au pied de la lettre, is united to a vivid pre-occupation with the aesthetic beauty of the image itself, the figured side of figurative expression, the form of the metaphor. When it is said, “Out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword,” that temper is ready to deal directly and boldly with that difficult image, like that old designer of the fourteenth century, who has depicted this, and other images of the Apocalypse, in a coloured window at Bourges. Such symbolism cares a great deal for the hair of Temperance, discreetly bound, for some subtler likeness to the colour of the sky in the girdle of Hope, for the inwoven flames in the red garment of Charity. And what was specially peculiar to the temper of the old Florentine painter, Giotto, to the temper of his age in general, doubtless, more than to that of ours, was the persistent and universal mood of the age in which the story of Demeter and Persephone was first created. If some painter of our own time has conceived the image of The Day so intensely, that we hardly think of distinguishing between the image, with its girdle of dissolving morning mist, and the meaning of the image; if William Blake, to our so great delight, makes the morning stars [100] literally “sing together,”–these fruits of individual genius are in part also a “survival” from a different age, with the whole mood of which this mode of expression was more congruous than it is with ours. But there are traces of the old temper in the man of to-day also; and through these we can understand that earlier time–a very poetical time, with the more highly gifted peoples–in which every impression men received of the action of powers without or within them suggested to them the presence of a soul or will, like their own–a person, with a living spirit, and senses, and hands, and feet; which, when it talked of the return of Kore to Demeter, or the marriage of Zeus and Here, was not using rhetorical language, but yielding to a real illusion; to which the voice of man “was really a stream, beauty an effluence, death a mist.”

The gods of Greek mythology overlap each other; they are confused or connected with each other, lightly or deeply, as the case may be, and sometimes have their doubles, at first sight as in a troubled dream, yet never, when we examine each detail more closely, without a certain truth to human reason. It is only in a limited sense that it is possible to lift, and examine by itself, one thread of the network of story and imagery, which, in a certain age of civilisation, wove itself over every detail of life and thought, over every name in the past, and almost every place in [101] Greece. The story of Demeter, then, was the work of no single author or place or time; the poet of its first phase was no single person, but the whole consciousness of an age, though an age doubtless with its differences of more or less imaginative individual minds–with one, here or there, eminent, though but by a little, above a merely receptive majority, the spokesman of a universal, though faintly-felt prepossession, attaching the errant fancies of the people around him to definite names and images. The myth grew up gradually, and at many distant places, in many minds, independent of each other, but dealing in a common temper with certain elements and aspects of the natural world, as one here, and another there, seemed to catch in that incident or detail which flashed more incisively than others on the inward eye, some influence, or feature, or characteristic of the great mother. The various epithets of Demeter, the local variations of her story, its incompatible incidents, bear witness to the manner of its generation. They illustrate that indefiniteness which is characteristic of Greek mythology, a theology with no central authority, no link on historic time, liable from the first to an unobserved transformation. They indicate the various, far-distant spots from which the visible body of the goddess slowly collected its constituents, and came at last to have a well-defined existence in the popular mind. In this sense, Demeter appears to one in [102] her anger, sullenly withholding the fruits of the earth, to another in her pride of Persephone, to another in her grateful gift of the arts of agriculture to man; at last only, is there a general recognition of a clearly-arrested outline, a tangible embodiment, which has solidified itself in the imagination of the people, they know not how.

The worship of Demeter belongs to that older religion, nearer to the earth, which some have thought they could discern, behind the more definitely national mythology of Homer. She is the goddess of dark caves, and is not wholly free from monstrous form. She gave men the first fig in one place, the first poppy in another; in another, she first taught the old Titans to mow. She is the mother of the vine also; and the assumed name by which she called herself in her wanderings, is Dôs–a gift; the crane, as the harbinger of rain, is her messenger among the birds. She knows the magic powers of certain plants, cut from her bosom, to bane or bless; and, under one of her epithets, herself presides over the springs, as also coming from the secret places of the earth. She is the goddess, then, at first, of the fertility of the earth in its wildness; and so far, her attributes are to some degree confused with those of the Thessalian Gaia and the Phrygian Cybele. Afterwards, and it is now that her most characteristic attributes begin to concentrate themselves, [103] she separates herself from these confused relationships, as specially the goddess of agriculture, of the fertility of the earth when furthered by human skill. She is the preserver of the seed sown in hope, under many epithets derived from the incidents of vegetation, as the simple countryman names her, out of a mind full of the various experiences of his little garden or farm. She is the most definite embodiment of all those fluctuating mystical instincts, of which Gaia,* the mother of the earth’s gloomier offspring, is a vaguer and mistier one. There is nothing of the confused outline, the mere shadowiness of mystical dreaming, in this most concrete human figure. No nation, less aesthetically gifted than the Greeks, could have thus lightly thrown its mystical surmise and divination into images so clear and idyllic as those of the solemn goddess of the country, in whom the characteristics of the mother are expressed with so much tenderness, and the “beauteous head” of Kore, then so fresh and peaceful.

In this phase, then, the story of Demeter appears as the peculiar creation of country-people of a high impressibility, dreaming over their work in spring or autumn, half consciously touched by a sense of its sacredness, and a sort of [104] mystery about it. For there is much in the life of the farm everywhere which gives to persons of any seriousness of disposition, special opportunity for grave and gentle thoughts. The temper of people engaged in the occupations of country life, so permanent, so “near to nature,” is at all times alike; and the habitual solemnity of thought and expression which Wordsworth found in the peasants of Cumberland, and the painter François Millet in the peasants of Brittany, may well have had its prototype in early Greece. And so, even before the development, by the poets, of their aweful and passionate story, Demeter and Persephone seem to have been pre-eminently the venerable, or aweful, goddesses. Demeter haunts the fields in spring, when the young lambs are dropped; she visits the barns in autumn; she takes part in mowing and binding up the corn, and is the goddess of sheaves. She presides over all the pleasant, significant details of the farm, the threshing-floor and the full granary, and stands beside the woman baking bread at the oven. With these fancies are connected certain simple rites; the half-understood local observance, and the half- believed local legend, reacting capriciously on each other. They leave her a fragment of bread and a morsel of meat, at the cross- roads, to take on her journey; and perhaps some real Demeter carries them away, as she wanders through the country. The incidents of their yearly labour become to [105] them acts of worship; they seek her blessing through many expressive names, and almost catch sight of her, at dawn or evening, in the nooks of the fragrant fields. She lays a finger on the grass at the road-side, and some new flower comes up. All the picturesque implements of country life are hers; the poppy also, emblem of an inexhaustible fertility, and full of mysterious juices for the alleviation of pain. The countrywoman who puts her child to sleep in the great, cradle-like, basket, for winnowing the corn, remembers Demeter Courotrophos, the mother of corn and children alike, and makes it a little coat out of the dress worn by its father at his initiation into her mysteries. Yet she is an angry goddess too, sometimes–Demeter Erinnys, the goblin of the neighbourhood, haunting its shadowy places. She lies on the ground out of doors on summer nights, and becomes wet with the dew. She grows young again every spring, yet is of great age, the wrinkled woman of the Homeric hymn, who becomes the nurse of Demophoon. Other lighter, errant stories nest themselves, as time goes on, within the greater. The water-newt, which repels the lips of the traveller who stoops to drink, is a certain urchin, Abas, who spoiled by his mockery the pleasure of the thirsting goddess, as she drank once of a wayside spring in her wanderings. The night-owl is the transformed Ascalabus, who alone had seen Persephone eat that morsel [106] of pomegranate, in the garden of Aidoneus. The bitter wild mint was once a girl, who for a moment had made her jealous, in Hades.

The episode of Triptolemus, to whom Demeter imparts the mysteries of the plough, like the details of some sacred rite, that he may bear them abroad to all people, embodies, in connexion with her, another group of the circumstances of country life. As with all the other episodes of the story, there are here also local variations, traditions of various favourites of the goddess at different places, of whom grammarians can tell us, finally obscured behind the greater fame of Triptolemus of Eleusis. One might fancy, at first, that Triptolemus was a quite Boeotian divinity, of the ploughshare. Yet we know that the thoughts of the Greeks concerning the culture of the earth from which they came, were most often noble ones; and if we examine carefully the works of ancient art which represent him, the second thought will suggest itself, that there was nothing clumsy or coarse about this patron of the plough–something, rather, of the movement of delicate wind or fire, about him and his chariot. And this finer character is explained, if, as we are justified in doing, we bring him into closest connexion with that episode, so full of a strange mysticism, of the Nursing of Demophoon, in the Homeric hymn. For, according to some traditions, none other [107] than Triptolemus himself was the subject of that mysterious experiment, in which Demeter laid the child nightly, in the red heat of the fire; and he lives afterwards, not immortal indeed, not wholly divine, yet, as Shakspere says, a “nimble spirit,” feeling little of the weight of the material world about him–the element of winged fire in the clay. The delicate, fresh, farm-lad we may still actually see sometimes, like a graceful field-flower among the corn, becomes, in the sacred legend of agriculture, a king’s son; and then, the fire having searched out from him the grosser elements on that famous night, all compact now of spirit, a priest also, administering the gifts of Demeter to all the earth. Certainly, the extant works of art which represent him, gems or vase-paintings, conform truly enough to this ideal of a “nimble spirit,” though he wears the broad country hat, which Hermes also wears, going swiftly, half on the airy, mercurial wheels of his farm instrument, harrow or plough–half on wings of serpents–the worm, symbolical of the soil, but winged, as sending up the dust committed to it, after subtle firing, in colours and odours of fruit and flowers. It is an altogether sacred character, again, that he assumes in another precious work, of the severer period of Greek art, lately discovered at Eleusis, and now preserved in the museum of Athens, a singularly refined bas-relief, in which he stands, a firm and serious youth, between Demeter and [108] Persephone, who places her hand as with some sacred influence, and consecrating gesture, upon him.

But the house of the prudent countryman will be, of course, a place of honest manners; and Demeter Thesmophoros is the guardian of married life, the deity of the discretion of wives. She is therefore the founder of civilised order. The peaceful homes of men, scattered about the land, in their security–Demeter represents these fruits of the earth also, not without a suggestion of the white cities, which shine upon the hills above the waving fields of corn, seats of justice and of true kingship. She is also in a certain sense the patron of travellers, having, in her long wanderings after Persephone, recorded and handed down those omens, caught from little things–the birds which crossed her path, the persons who met her on the way, the words they said, the things they carried in their hands, einodia symbola+–by noting which, men bring their journeys to a successful end; so that the simple countryman may pass securely on his way; and is led by signs from the goddess herself, when he travels far to visit her, at Hermione or Eleusis.

So far the attributes of Demeter and Kore are similar. In the mythical conception, as in the religious acts connected with it, the mother and the daughter are almost interchangeable; [109] they are the two goddesses, the twin-named. Gradually, the office of Persephone is developed, defines itself; functions distinct from those of Demeter are attributed to her. Hitherto, always at the side of Demeter and sharing her worship, she now appears detached from her, going and coming, on her mysterious business. A third part of the year she abides in darkness; she comes up in the spring; and every autumn, when the countryman sows his seed in the earth, she descends thither again, and the world of the dead lies open, spring and autumn, to let her in and out. Persephone, then, is the summer- time, and, in this sense, a daughter of the earth; but the summer as bringing winter; the flowery splendour and consummated glory of the year, as thereafter immediately beginning to draw near to its end, as the first yellow leaf crosses it, in the first severer wind. She is the last day of spring, or the first day of autumn, in the threefold division of the Greek year. Her story is, indeed, but the story, in an intenser form, of Adonis, of Hyacinth, of Adrastus–the king’s blooming son, fated, in the story of Herodotus, to be wounded to death with an iron spear–of Linus, a fair child who is torn to pieces by hounds every spring-time–of the English Sleeping Beauty. From being the goddess of summer and the flowers, she becomes the goddess of night and sleep and death, confuseable with Hecate, the goddess of midnight [110] terrors–Korê arrêtos,+ the mother of the Erinnyes, who appeared to Pindar, to warn him of his approaching death, upbraiding him because he had made no hymn in her praise, which swan’s song he thereupon began, but finished with her. She is a twofold goddess, therefore, according as one or the other of these two contrasted aspects of her nature is seized, respectively. A duality, an inherent opposition in the very conception of Persephone, runs all through her story, and is part of her ghostly power. There is ever something in her of a divided or ambiguous identity: hence the many euphemisms of later language concerning her.

The “worship of sorrow,” as Goethe called it, is sometimes supposed to have had almost no place in the religion of the Greeks. Their religion has been represented as a religion of mere cheerfulness, the worship by an untroubled, unreflecting humanity, conscious of no deeper needs, of the embodiments of its own joyous activity. It helped to hide out of their sight those traces of decay and weariness, of which the Greeks were constitutionally shy, to keep them from peeping too curiously into certain shadowy places, appropriate enough to the gloomy imagination of the middle age; and it hardly proposed to itself to give consolation to people who, in truth, were never “sick or sorry.” But this familiar view of Greek religion is based on a consideration of a part only of what is known [111] concerning it, and really involves a misconception, akin to that which underestimates the influence of the romantic spirit generally, in Greek poetry and art; as if Greek art had dealt exclusively with human nature in its sanity, suppressing all motives of strangeness, all the beauty which is born of difficulty, permitting nothing but an Olympian, though perhaps somewhat wearisome calm. In effect, such a conception of Greek art and poetry leaves in the central expressions of Greek culture none but negative qualities; and the legend of Demeter and Persephone, perhaps the most popular of all Greek legends, is sufficient to show that the “worship of sorrow” was not without its function in Greek religion; their legend is a legend made by and for sorrowful, wistful, anxious people; while the most important artistic monuments of that legend sufficiently prove that the Romantic spirit was really at work in the minds of Greek artists, extracting by a kind of subtle alchemy, a beauty, not without the elements of tranquillity, of dignity and order, out of a matter, at first sight painful and strange.

The student of origins, as French critics say, of the earliest stages of art and poetry, must be content to follow faint traces; and in what has been here said, much may seem to have been made of little, with too much completion, by a general framework or setting, of what after [112] all are but doubtful or fragmentary indications. Yet there is a certain cynicism too, in that over-positive temper, which is so jealous of our catching any resemblance in the earlier world to the thoughts that really occupy our own minds, and which, in its estimate of the actual fragments of antiquity, is content to find no seal of human intelligence upon them. Slight indeed in themselves, these fragmentary indications become suggestive of much, when viewed in the light of such general evidence about the human imagination as is afforded by the theory of “comparative mythology,” or what is called the theory of “animism.” Only, in the application of these theories, the student of Greek religion must never forget that, after all, it is with poetry, not with systematic theological belief or dogma, that he has to do. As regards this story of Demeter and Persephone, what we actually possess is some actual fragments of poetry, some actual fragments of sculpture; and with a curiosity, justified by the direct aesthetic beauty of these fragments, we feel our way backwards to that engaging picture of the poet-people, with which the ingenuity of modern theory has filled the void in our knowledge. The abstract poet of that first period of mythology, creating in this wholly impersonal, intensely spiritual way,–the abstract spirit of poetry itself, rises before the mind; and, in speaking of this poetical age, we must take heed, before all things, in no sense to misconstrue the poets.


94. +Transliteration: epainê Persephonê. Translation: “dread Persephone.” See, for example, Odyssey, Book 10.490 and 563.

94. +”According to the apparent import of her name”; Pater likely refers to the etymology of “Persophone”–“bringer of destruction.”

95. *Theogony, 912-14:


Autar ho Dêmêtros polyphorbês es lechos êlthen ê teke Persephonên leukôlenon, hên Aidôneus hêrpasen hês para mêtros, edôke de mêtieta Zeus.

+Translation: “And he came to bountiful Demeter’s bed, / and she gave birth to white-armed Persephone, whom Aidoneus / took from her mother’s side; but Zeus, wise counsellor, gave her to him.” Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Theogony. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press. London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.

103. *In the Homeric hymn, pre-eminently, of the flower which grew up for the first time, to snare the footsteps of Kore, the fair but deadly Narcissus, the flower of narkê, the numbness of death.

108. +Transliteration: einodia symbola. Translation: “signs along the roadside.”

110. +Transliteration: Korê arrêtos. Translation: “Korê the mysterious, the horrible .”


[113] THE stories of the Greek mythology, like other things which belong to no man, and for which no one in particular is responsible, had their fortunes. In that world of floating fancies there was a struggle for life; there were myths which never emerged from that first stage of popular conception, or were absorbed by stronger competitors, because, as some true heroes have done, they lacked the sacred poet or prophet, and were never remodelled by literature; while, out of the myth of Demeter, under the careful conduct of poetry and art, came the little pictures, the idylls, of the Homeric hymn, and the gracious imagery of Praxiteles. The myth has now entered its second or poetical phase, then, in which more definite fancies are grouped about the primitive stock, in a conscious literary temper, and the whole interest settles round the images of the beautiful girl going down into the darkness, and the weary woman who seeks her lost daughter–divine persons, then sincerely believed in by the majority of the Greeks. The Homeric hymn [114] is the central monument of this second phase. In it, the changes of the natural year have become a personal history, a story of human affection and sorrow, yet with a far-reaching religious significance also, of which the mere earthly spring and autumn are but an analogy; and in the development of this human element, the writer of the hymn sometimes displays a genuine power of pathetic expression. The whole episode of the fostering of Demophoon, in which over the body of the dying child human longing and regret are blent so subtly with the mysterious design of the goddess to make the child immortal, is an excellent example of the sentiment of pity in literature. Yet though it has reached the stage of conscious literary interpretation, much of its early mystical or cosmical character still lingers about the story, as it is here told. Later mythologists simply define the personal history; but in this hymn we may, again and again, trace curious links of connexion with the original purpose of the myth. Its subject is the weary woman, indeed, our Lady of Sorrows, the mater dolorosa of the ancient world, but with a certain latent reference, all through, to the mystical person of the earth. Her robe of dark blue is the raiment of her mourning, but also the blue robe of the earth in shadow, as we see it in Titian’s landscapes; her great age is the age of the immemorial earth; she becomes a nurse, therefore, holding Demophoon in her bosom; [115] the folds of her garment are fragrant, not merely with the incense of Eleusis, but with the natural perfume of flowers and fruit. The sweet breath with which she nourishes the child Demophoon, is the warm west wind, feeding all germs of vegetable life; her bosom, where he lies, is the bosom of the earth, with its strengthening heat, reserved and shy, offended if human eyes scrutinise too closely its secret chemistry; it is with the earth’s natural surface of varied colour that she has, “in time past, given pleasure to the sun”; the yellow hair which falls suddenly over her shoulders, at her transformation in the house of Celeus, is still partly the golden corn;–in art and poetry she is ever the blond goddess; tarrying in her temple, of which an actual hollow in the earth is the prototype, among the spicy odours of the Eleusinian ritual, she is the spirit of the earth, lying hidden in its dark folds until the return of spring, among the flower-seeds and fragrant roots, like the seeds and aromatic woods hidden in the wrappings of the dead. Throughout the poem, we have a sense of a certain nearness to nature, surviving from an earlier world; the sea is understood as a person, yet is still the real sea, with the waves moving. When it is said that no bird gave Demeter tidings of Persephone, we feel that to that earlier world, ways of communication between all creatures may have seemed open, which are closed to us. It is Iris who brings to Demeter the message of Zeus; [116] that is, the rainbow signifies to the earth the good-will of the rainy sky towards it. Persephone springing up with great joy from the couch of Aidoneus, to return to her mother, is the sudden outburst of the year. The heavy and narcotic aroma of spring flowers hangs about her, as about the actual spring. And this mingling of the primitive cosmical import of the myth with the later, personal interests of the story, is curiously illustrated by the place which the poem assigns to Hecate. This strange Titaness is, first, a nymph only; afterwards, as if changed incurably by the passionate cry of Persephone, she becomes her constant attendant, and is even identified with her. But in the Homeric hymn her lunar character is clear; she is really the moon only, who hears the cry of Persephone, as the sun saw her, when Aidoneus carried her away. One morning, as the mother wandered, the moon appeared, as it does in its last quarter, rising very bright, just before dawn; that is, in the words of the Homeric hymn–“on the tenth morning Hecate met her, having a light in her hands.” The fascinating, but enigmatical figure, “sitting ever in her cave, half-veiled with a shining veil, thinking delicate thoughts,” in which we seem to see the subject of some picture of the Italian Renaissance, is but the lover of Endymion– like Persephone, withdrawn, in her season, from the eyes of men. The sun saw her; the moon saw her not, but heard her cry, and is [117] ever after the half-veiled attendant of the queen of dreams and of the dead.

But the story of Demeter and Persephone lends itself naturally to description, and it is in descriptive beauties that the Homeric hymn excels; its episodes are finished designs, and directly stimulate the painter and the sculptor to a rivalry with them. Weaving the names of the flowers into his verse, names familiar to us in English, though their Greek originals are uncertain, the writer sets Persephone before us, herself like one of them–kalykôpis+–like the budding calyx of a flower,–in a picture, which, in its mingling of a quaint freshness and simplicity with a certain earnestness, reads like a description of some early Florentine design, such as Sandro Botticelli’s Allegory of the Seasons. By an exquisite chance also, a common metrical expression connects the perfume of the newly-created narcissus with the salt odour of the sea. Like one of those early designs also, but with a deeper infusion of religious earnestness, is the picture of Demeter sitting at the wayside, in shadow as always, with the well of water and the olive-tree. She has been journeying all night, and now it is morning, and the daughters of Celeus bring their vessels to draw water. That image of the seated Demeter, resting after her long flight “through the dark continent,” or in the house of Celeus, when she refuses the red wine, or again, solitary, in her newly-finished [118] temple of Eleusis, enthroned in her grief, fixed itself deeply on the Greek imagination, and became a favourite subject of Greek artists. When the daughters of Celeus come to conduct her to Eleusis, they come as in a Greek frieze, full of energy and motion and waving lines, but with gold and colours upon it. Eleusis–coming–the coming of Demeter thither, as thus told in the Homeric hymn, is the central instance in Greek mythology of such divine appearances. “She leaves for a season the company of the gods and abides among men;” and men’s merit is to receive her in spite of appearances. Metaneira and others, in the Homeric hymn, partly detect her divine character; they find charis+;–a certain gracious air–about her, which makes them think her, perhaps, a royal person in disguise. She becomes in her long wanderings almost wholly humanised, and in return, she and Persephone, alone of the Greek gods, seem to have been the objects of a sort of personal love and loyalty. Yet they are ever the solemn goddesses,–theai semnai,+ the word expressing religious awe, the Greek sense of the divine presence.

Plato, in laying down the rules by which the poets are to be guided in speaking about divine things to the citizens of the ideal republic, forbids all those episodes of mythology which represent the gods as assuming various forms, and visiting the earth in disguise. Below the [119] express reasons which he assigns for this rule, we may perhaps detect that instinctive antagonism to the old Heraclitean philosophy of perpetual change, which forces him, in his theory of morals and the state, of poetry and music, of dress and manners even, and of style in the very vessels and furniture of daily life, on an austere simplicity, the older Dorian or Egyptian type of a rigid, eternal immobility. The disintegrating, centrifugal influence, which had penetrated, as he thought, political and social existence, making men too myriad-minded, had laid hold on the life of the gods also, and, even in their calm sphere, one could hardly identify a single divine person as himself, and not another. There must, then, be no doubling, no disguises, no stories of transformation. The modern reader, however, will hardly acquiesce in this “improvement” of Greek mythology. He finds in these stories, like that, for instance, of the appearance of Athene to Telemachus, in the first book of the Odyssey, which has a quite biblical mysticity and solemnity,–stories in which, the hard material outline breaking up, the gods lay aside their visible form like a garment, yet remain essentially themselves,–not the least spiritual element of Greek religion, an evidence of the sense therein of unseen presences, which might at any moment cross a man’s path, to be recognised, in half disguise, by the more delicately trained eye, here or there, by one and not by [120] another. Whatever religious elements they lacked, they had at least this sense of subtler and more remote ways of personal presence.

And as there are traces in the Homeric hymn of the primitive cosmical myth, relics of the first stage of the development of the story, so also many of its incidents are probably suggested by the circumstances and details of the Eleusinian ritual. There were religious usages before there were distinct religious conceptions, and these antecedent religious usages shape and determine, at many points, the ultimate religious conception, as the details of the myth interpret or explain the religious custom. The hymn relates the legend of certain holy places, to which various impressive religious rites had attached themselves–the holy well, the old fountain, the stone of sorrow, which it was the office of the “interpreter” of the holy places to show to the people. The sacred way which led from Athens to Eleusis was rich in such memorials. The nine days of the wanderings of Demeter in the Homeric hymn are the nine days of the duration of the greater or autumnal mysteries; the jesting of the old woman Iambe, who endeavours to make Demeter smile, are the customary mockeries with which the worshippers, as they rested on the bridge, on the seventh day of the feast, assailed those who passed by. The torches in the hands of Demeter are borrowed from the same source; and the shadow in which she is [121] constantly represented, and which is the peculiar sign of her grief, is partly ritual, and a relic of the caves of the old Chthonian worship, partly poetical– expressive, half of the dark earth to which she escapes from Olympus, half of her mourning. She appears consistently, in the hymn, as a teacher of rites, transforming daily life, and the processes of life, into a religious solemnity. With no misgiving as to the proprieties of a mere narration, the hymn-writer mingles these symbolical imitations with the outlines of the original story; and, in his Demeter, the dramatic person of the mysteries mixes itself with the primitive mythical figure. And the worshipper, far from being offended by these interpolations, may have found a special impressiveness in them, as they linked continuously its inner sense with the outward imagery of the ritual.

And, as Demeter and her story embodied themselves gradually in the Greek imagination, so these mysteries in which her worship found its chief expression, grew up little by little, growing always in close connexion with the modifications of the story, sometimes prompting them, at other times suggested by them. That they had a single special author is improbable, and a mere invention of the Greeks, ignorant of their real history and the general analogy of such matters. Here again, as in the story itself, the idea of development, of degrees, of a slow [122] and natural growth, impeded here, diverted there, is the illuminating thought which earlier critics lacked. “No tongue may speak of them,” says the Homeric hymn; and the secret has certainly been kept. The antiquarian, dealing, letter by letter, with what is recorded of them, has left few certain data for the reflexion of the modern student of the Greek religion; and of this, its central solemnity, only a fragmentary picture can be made. It is probable that these mysteries developed the symbolical significance of the story of the descent into Hades, the coming of Demeter to Eleusis, the invention of Persephone. They may or may not have been the vehicle of a secret doctrine, but were certainly an artistic spectacle, giving, like the mysteries of the middle age, a dramatic representation of the sacred story,–perhaps a detailed performance, perhaps only such a conventional representation, as was afforded for instance by the medieval ceremonies of Palm Sunday; the whole, probably, centering in an image of Demeter–the work of Praxiteles or his school, in ivory and gold. There is no reason to suppose any specific difference between the observances of the Eleusinian festival and the accustomed usages of the Greek religion; nocturns, libations, quaint purifications, processions–are common incidents of all Greek worship; in all religious ceremonies there is an element of dramatic symbolism; and what we really do see, through those scattered notices, [123] are things which have their parallels in a later age, the whole being not altogether unlike a modern pilgrimage. The exposition of the sacred places–the threshing-floor of Triptolemus, the rocky seat on which Demeter had rested in her sorrow, the well of Callichorus–is not so strange, as it would seem, had it no modern illustration. The libations, at once a watering of the vines and a drink-offering to the dead–still needing men’s services, waiting for purification perhaps, or thirsting, like Dante’s Adam of Brescia, in their close homes–must, to almost all minds, have had a certain natural impressiveness; and a parallel has sometimes been drawn between this festival and All Souls’ Day.

And who, everywhere, has not felt the mystical influence of that prolonged silence, the mystic silence, from which the very word “mystery” has its origin? Something also there undoubtedly was, which coarser minds might misunderstand. On one day, the initiated went in procession to the sea-coast, where they underwent a purification by bathing in the sea. On the fifth night there was the torchlight procession; and, by a touch of real life in him, we gather from the first page of Plato’s Republic that such processions were popular spectacles, having a social interest, so that people made much of attending them. There was the procession of the sacred basket filled with poppy-seeds and pomegranates. There was the day of rest, after [124] the stress and excitement of the “great night.” On the sixth day, the image of Iacchus, son of Demeter, crowned with myrtle and having a torch in its hand, was carried in procession, through thousands of spectators, along the sacred way, amid joyous shouts and songs. We have seen such processions; we understand how many different senses, and how lightly, various spectators may put on them; how little definite meaning they may have even for those who officiate in them. Here, at least, there was the image itself, in that age, with its close connexion between religion and art, presumably fair. Susceptibility to the impressions of religious ceremonial must always have varied with the peculiarities of individual temperament, as it varies in our own day; and Eleusis, with its incense and sweet singing, may have been as little interesting to the outward senses of some worshippers there, as the stately and affecting ceremonies of the medieval church to many of its own members. In a simpler yet profounder sense than has sometimes been supposed, these things were really addressed to the initiated only.*

We have to travel a long way from the Homeric hymn to the hymn of Callimachus, who writes in the end of Greek literature, in the third century before Christ, in celebration of the procession of the sacred basket of Demeter, not [125] at the Attic, but at the Alexandrian Eleusinia. He developes, in something of the prosaic spirit of a medieval writer of “mysteries,” one of the burlesque incidents of the story, the insatiable hunger which seized on Erysichthon because he cut down a grove sacred to the goddess. Yet he finds his opportunities for skilful touches of poetry;–“As the four white horses draw her sacred basket,” he says, “so will the great goddess bring us a white spring, a white summer.” He describes the grove itself, with its hedge of trees, so thick that an arrow could hardly pass through, its pines and fruit-trees and tall poplars within, and the water, like pale gold, running from the conduits. It is one of those famous poplars that receives the first stroke; it sounds heavily to its companion trees, and Demeter perceives that her sacred grove is suffering. Then comes one of those transformations which Plato will not allow. Vainly anxious to save the lad from his ruin, she appears in the form of a priestess, but with the long hood of the goddess, and the poppy in her hand; and there is something of a real shudder, some still surviving sense of a haunting presence in the groves, in the verses which describe her sudden revelation, when the workmen flee away, leaving their axes in the cleft trees.

Of the same age as the hymn of Callimachus, but with very different qualities, is the idyll of Theocritus on the Shepherds’ Journey. Although it is possible to define an epoch in mythological [126] development in which literary and artificial influences began to remodel the primitive, popular legend, yet still, among children, and unchanging childlike people, we may suppose that that primitive stage always survived, and the old, instinctive influences were still at work. As the subject of popular religious celebrations also, the myth was still the property of the people, and surrendered to its capricious action. The shepherds in Theocritus, on their way to celebrate one of the more homely feasts of Demeter, about the time of harvest, are examples of these childlike people; the age of the poets has long since come, but they are of the older and simpler order, lingering on in the midst of a more self-conscious world. In an idyll, itself full of the delightful gifts of Demeter, Theocritus sets them before us; through the blazing summer day’s journey, the smiling image of the goddess is always before them; and now they have reached the end of their journey:–

“So I, and Eucritus, and the fair Amyntichus, turned aside into the house of Phrasidamus, and lay down with delight in beds of sweet tamarisk and fresh cuttings from the vines, strewn on the ground. Many poplars and elm-trees were waving over our heads, and not far off the running of the sacred water from the cave of the nymphs warbled to us; in the shimmering branches the sun-burnt grasshoppers were busy with their talk, and from afar the little owl cried softly, out of [127] the tangled thorns of the blackberry; the larks were singing and the hedge-birds, and the turtle-dove moaned; the bees flew round and round the fountains, murmuring softly; the scent of late summer and of the fall of the year was everywhere; the pears fell from the trees at our feet, and apples in number rolled down at our sides, and the young plum-trees were bent to the earth with the weight of their fruit. The wax, four years old, was loosed from the heads of the wine-jars. O! nymphs of Castalia, who dwell on the steeps of Parnassus, tell me, I pray you, was it a draught like this that the aged Chiron placed before Hercules, in the stony cave of Pholus? Was it nectar like this that made the mighty shepherd on Anapus’ shore, Polyphemus, who flung the rocks upon Ulysses’ ships, dance among his sheepfolds?–A cup like this ye poured out now upon the altar of Demeter, who presides over the threshing-floor. May it be mine, once more, to dig my big winnowing-fan through her heaps of corn; and may I see her smile upon me, holding poppies and handfuls of corn in her two hands!”

Some of the modifications of the story of Demeter, as we find it in later poetry, have been supposed to be due, not to the genuine action of the Greek mind, but to the influence of that so-called Orphic literature, which, in the generation succeeding Hesiod, brought, from Thessaly and Phrygia, a tide of mystical ideas into the Greek [128] religion, sometimes, doubtless, confusing the clearness and naturalness of its original outlines, but also sometimes imparting to them a new and peculiar grace. Under the influence of this Orphic poetry, Demeter was blended, or identified, with Rhea Cybele, the mother of the gods, the wilder earth-goddess of Phrygia; and the romantic figure of Dionysus Zagreus, Dionysus the Hunter, that most interesting, though somewhat melancholy variation on the better known Dionysus, was brought, as son or brother of Persephone, into her circle, the mystical vine, who, as Persephone descends and ascends from the earth, is rent to pieces by the Titans every year and remains long in Hades, but every spring-time comes out of it again, renewing his youth. This identification of Demeter with Rhea Cybele is the motive which has inspired a beautiful chorus in the Helena– the new Helena–of Euripides, that great lover of all subtle refinements and modernisms, who, in this play, has worked on a strange version of the older story, which relates that Helen had never really gone to Troy at all, but sent her soul only there, apart from her sweet body, which abode all that time in Egypt, at the court of King Proteus, where she is found at last by her husband Menelaus, so that the Trojan war was about a phantom, after all. The chorus has even less than usual to do with the action of the play, being linked to it only by a sort of parallel, which may be understood, [129] between Menelaus seeking Helen, and Demeter seeking Persephone. Euripides, then, takes the matter of the Homeric hymn into the region of a higher and swifter poetry, and connects it with the more stimulating imagery of the Idaean mother. The Orphic mysticism or enthusiasm has been admitted into the story, which is now full of excitement, the motion of rivers, the sounds of the Bacchic cymbals heard over the mountains, as Demeter wanders among the woody valleys seeking her lost daughter, all directly expressed in the vivid Greek words. Demeter is no longer the subdued goddess of the quietly- ordered fields, but the mother of the gods, who has her abode in the heights of Mount Ida, who presides over the dews and waters of the white springs, whose flocks feed, not on grain, but on the curling tendrils of the vine, both of which she withholds in her anger, and whose chariot is drawn by wild beasts, fruit and emblem of the earth in its fiery strength. Not Hecate, but Pallas and Artemis, in full armour, swift-footed, vindicators of chastity, accompany her in her search for Persephone, who is already expressly, korê arrêtos+–“the maiden whom none may name.” When she rests from her long wanderings, it is into the stony thickets of Mount Ida, deep with snow, that she throws herself, in her profound grief. When Zeus desires to end her pain, the Muses and the “solemn” Graces are sent to dance and sing before her. It is then [130] that Cypris, the goddess of beauty, and the original cause, therefore, of her distress, takes into her hands the brazen tambourines of the Dionysiac worship with their Chthonian or deep-noted sound; and it is she, not the old Iambe, who with this wild music, heard thus for the first time, makes Demeter smile at last. “Great,” so the chorus ends with a picture, “great is the power of the stoles of spotted fawn-skins, and the green leaves of ivy twisted about the sacred wands, and the wheeling motion of the tambourine whirled round in the air, and the long hair floating unbound in honour of Bromius, and the nocturns of the goddess, when the moon looks full upon them.”

The poem of Claudian on the Rape of Proserpine, the longest extant work connected with the story of Demeter, yet itself unfinished, closes the world of classical poetry. Writing in the fourth century of the Christian era, Claudian has his subject before him in the whole extent of its various development, and also profits by those many pictorial representations of it, which, from the famous picture of Polygnotus downwards, delighted the ancient world. His poem, then, besides having an intrinsic charm, is valuable for some reflexion in it of those lost works, being itself pre-eminently a work in colour, and excelling in a kind of painting in words, which brings its subject very pleasantly almost to the eye of the reader. The mind of this late votary [131] of the old gods, in a world rapidly changing, is crowded with all the beautiful forms generated by mythology, and now about to be forgotten. In this after-glow of Latin literature, lighted up long after their fortune had set, and just before their long night began, they pass before us, in his verses, with the utmost clearness, like the figures in an actual procession. The nursing of the infant Sun and Moon by Tethys; Proserpine and her companions gathering flowers at early dawn, when the violets are drinking in the dew, still lying white upon the grass; the image of Pallas winding the peaceful blossoms about the steel crest of her helmet; the realm of Proserpine, softened somewhat by her coming, and filled with a quiet joy; the matrons of Elysium crowding to her marriage toilet, with the bridal veil of yellow in their hands; the Manes, crowned with ghostly flowers yet warmed a little, at the marriage feast; the ominous dreams of the mother; the desolation of the home, like an empty bird’s-nest or an empty fold, when she returns and finds Proserpine gone, and the spider at work over her unfinished embroidery; the strangely-figured raiment, the flowers in the grass, which were once blooming youths, having both their natural colour and the colour of their poetry in them, and the clear little fountain there, which was once the maiden Cyane;–all this is shown in a series of descriptions, like the designs in some unwinding tapestry, like Proserpine’s own [132] embroidery, the description of which is the most brilliant of these pictures, and, in its quaint confusion of the images of philosophy with those of mythology, anticipates something of the fancy of the Italian Renaissance.

“Proserpina, filling the house soothingly with her low song, was working a gift against the return of her mother, with labour all to be in vain. In it, she marked out with her needle the houses of the gods and the series of the elements, showing by what law, nature, the parent of all, settled the strife of ancient times, and the seeds of things disparted into their places; the lighter elements are borne aloft, the heavier fall to the centre; the air grows bright with heat, a blazing light whirls round the firmament; the sea flows; the earth hangs suspended in its place. And there were divers colours in it; she illuminated the stars with gold, infused a purple shade into the water, and heightened the shore with gems of flowers; and, under her skilful hand, the threads, with their inwrought lustre, swell up, in momentary counterfeit of the waves; you might think that the sea- wind flapped against the rocks, and that a hollow murmur came creeping over the thirsty sands. She puts in the five zones, marking with a red ground the midmost zone, possessed by burning heat; its outline was parched and stiff; the threads seemed thirsty with the constant sunshine; on either side lay the two zones proper for human life, [133] where a gentle temperance reigns; and at the extremes she drew the twin zones of numbing cold, making her work dun and sad with the hues of perpetual frost. She paints in, too, the sacred places of Dis, her father’s brother, and the Manes, so fatal to her; and an omen of her doom was not wanting; for, as she worked, as if with foreknowledge of the future, her face became wet with a sudden burst of tears. And now, in the utmost border of the tissue, she had begun to wind in the wavy line of the river Oceanus, with its glassy shallows; but the door sounds on its hinges, and she perceives the goddesses coming; the unfinished work drops from her hands, and a ruddy blush lights up in her clear and snow-white face.”

I have reserved to the last what is perhaps the daintiest treatment of this subject in classical literature, the account of it which Ovid gives in the Fasti–a kind of Roman Calendar–for the seventh of April, the day of the games of Ceres. He tells over again the old story, with much of which, he says, the reader will be already familiar; but he has something also of his own to add to it, which the reader will hear for the first time; and, like one of those old painters who, in depicting a scene of Christian history, drew from their own fancy or experience its special setting and accessories, he translates the story into something very different from the Homeric hymn. The writer of the Homeric [134] hymn had made Celeus a king, and represented the scene at Eleusis in a fair palace, like the Venetian painters who depict the persons of the Holy Family with royal ornaments. Ovid, on the other hand, is more like certain painters of the early Florentine school, who represent the holy persons amid the more touching circumstances of humble life; and the special something of his own which he adds, is a pathos caught from homely things, not without a delightful, just perceptible, shade of humour even, so rare in such work. All the mysticism has disappeared; but, instead, we trace something of that “worship of sorrow,” which has been sometimes supposed to have had no place in classical religious sentiment. In Ovid’s well-finished elegiacs, Persephone’s flower-gathering, the Anthology, reaches its utmost delicacy; but I give the following episode for the sake of its pathetic expression.

“After many wanderings Ceres was come to Attica. There, in the utmost dejection, for the first time, she sat down to rest on a bare stone, which the people of Attica still call the stone of sorrow. For many days she remained there motionless, under the open sky, heedless of the rain and of the frosty moonlight. Places have their fortunes; and what is now the illustrious town of Eleusis was then the field of an old man named Celeus. He was carrying home a load of acorns, and wild berries shaken down from the [135] brambles, and dry wood for burning on the hearth; his little daughter was leading two goats home from the hills; and at home there was a little boy lying sick in his cradle. ‘Mother,’ said the little girl–and the goddess was moved at the name of mother–‘what do you, all alone, in this solitary place?’ The old man stopped too, in spite of his heavy burden, and bade her take shelter in his cottage, though it was but a little one. But at first she refused to come; she looked like an old woman, and an old woman’s coif confined her hair; and as the man still urged her, she said to him, ‘Heaven bless you; and may children always be yours! My daughter has been stolen from me. Alas! how much happier is your lot than mine’; and, though weeping is impossible for the gods, as she spoke, a bright drop, like a tear, fell into her bosom. Soft-hearted, the little girl and the old man weep together. And after that the good man said, ‘Arise! despise not the shelter of my little home; so may the daughter whom you seek be restored to you.’ ‘Lead me,’ answered the goddess; ‘you have found out the secret of moving me;’ and she arose from the stone, and followed the old man; and as they went he told her of the sick child at home–how he is restless with pain, and cannot sleep. And she, before entering the little cottage, gathered from the untended earth the soothing and sleep-giving poppy; and as she gathered it, it is said that she [136] forgot her vow, and tasted of the seeds, and broke her long fast, unaware. As she came through the door, she saw the house full of trouble, for now there was no more hope of life for the sick boy. She saluted the mother, whose name was Metaneira, and humbly kissed the lips of the child, with her own lips; then the paleness left its face, and suddenly the parents see the strength returning to its body; so great is the force that comes from the divine mouth. And the whole family was full of joy–the mother and the father and the little girl; they were the whole household.*

Three profound ethical conceptions, three impressive sacred figures, have now defined themselves for the Greek imagination, condensed from all the traditions which have now been traced, from the hymns of the poets, from the instinctive and unformulated mysticism of primitive minds. Demeter is become the divine sorrowing mother. Kore, the goddess of summer, is become Persephone, the goddess of death, still associated with the forms and odours of flowers and fruit, yet as one risen from the dead also, presenting one side of her ambiguous nature to men’s gloomier fancies. Thirdly, there is the image of Demeter enthroned, chastened by sorrow, and somewhat advanced in age, blessing the earth, in her joy at the return of Kore. The myth has [137] now entered on the third phase of its life, in which it becomes the property of those more elevated spirits, who, in the decline of the Greek religion, pick and choose and modify, with perfect freedom of mind, whatever in it may seem adapted to minister to their culture. In this way, the myths of the Greek religion become parts of an ideal, visible embodiments of the susceptibilities and intuitions of the nobler kind of souls; and it is to this latest phase of mythological development that the highest Greek sculpture allies itself. Its function is to give visible aesthetic expression to the constituent parts of that ideal. As poetry dealt chiefly with the incidents of the story, so it is with the personages of the story–with Demeter and Kore themselves–that sculpture has to do.

For the myth of Demeter, like the Greek religion in general, had its unlovelier side, grotesque, unhellenic, unglorified by art, illustrated well enough by the description Pausanias gives us of his visit to the cave of the Black Demeter at Phigalia. In his time the image itself had vanished; but he tells us enough about it to enable us to realise its general characteristics, monstrous as the special legend with which it was connected, the black draperies, the horse’s head united to the woman’s body, with the carved reptiles creeping about it. If, with the thought of this gloomy image of our mother the earth, in our minds, we take up one of those coins [138] which bear the image of Kore or Demeter,* we shall better understand what the function of sculpture really was, in elevating and refining the religious conceptions of the Greeks. Looking on the profile, for instance, on one of those coins of Messene, which almost certainly represent Demeter, and noting the crisp, chaste opening of the lips, the minutely wrought earrings, and the delicately touched ears of corn,–this trifling object being justly regarded as, in its aesthetic qualities, an epitome of art on a larger scale,–we shall see how far the imagination of the Greeks had travelled from what their Black Demeter shows us had once been possible for them, and in making the gods of their worship the objects of a worthy companionship in their thoughts. Certainly, the mind of the old workman who struck that coin was, if we may trust the testimony of his work, unclouded by impure or gloomy shadows. The thought of Demeter is impressed here, with all the purity and proportion, the purged and dainty intelligence of the human countenance. The mystery of it is indeed absent, perhaps could hardly have been looked for in so slight a thing, intended for no sacred purpose, and tossed lightly from hand to hand. But in his firm hold on the harmonies of the human face, the designer of this tranquil head of [139] Demeter is on the one road to a command over the secrets of all imaginative pathos and mystery; though, in the perfect fairness and blitheness of his work, he might seem almost not to have known the incidents of her terrible story.

It is probable that, at a later period than in other equally important temples of Greece, the earlier archaic representation of Demeter in the sanctuary of Eleusis, was replaced by a more beautiful image in the new style, with face and hands of ivory, having therefore, in tone and texture, some subtler likeness to women’s flesh, and the closely enveloping drapery being constructed in daintily beaten plates of gold. Praxiteles seems to have been the first to bring into the region of a freer artistic handling these shy deities of the earth, shrinking still within the narrow restraints of a hieratic, conventional treatment, long after the more genuine Olympians had broken out of them. The school of Praxiteles, as distinguished from that of Pheidias, is especially the school of grace, relaxing a little the severe ethical tension of the latter, in favour of a slightly Asiatic sinuosity and tenderness. Pausanias tells us that he carved the two goddesses for the temple of Demeter at Athens; and Pliny speaks of two groups of his in brass, the one representing the stealing of Persephone, the other her later, annual descent into Hades, conducted thither by the now pacified mother. All alike have perished; though perhaps some [140] more or less faint reflexion of the most important of these designs may still be traced on many painted vases which depict the stealing of Persephone,–a helpless, plucked flower in the arms of Aidoneus. And in this almost traditional form, the subject was often represented, in low relief, on tombs, some of which still remain; in one or two instances, built up, oddly enough, in the walls of Christian churches. On the tombs of women who had died in early life, this was a favourite subject, some likeness of the actual lineaments of the deceased being sometimes transferred to the features of Persephone.

Yet so far, it might seem, when we consider the interest of this story in itself, and its importance in the Greek religion, that no adequate expression of it had remained to us in works of art. But in the year 1857, the discovery of the marbles, in the sacred precinct of Demeter at Cnidus, restored to us an illustration of the myth in its artistic phase, hardly less central than the Homeric hymn in its poetical phase. With the help of the descriptions and plans of Mr. Newton’s book,* we can form, as one always wishes to do in such cases, a clear idea of the place where these marbles–three statues of the best style of Greek sculpture, now in the British Museum–were found. Occupying a ledge of rock, looking towards the sea, at the base of a [141] cliff of upheaved limestone, of singular steepness and regularity of surface, the spot presents indications of volcanic disturbance, as if a chasm in the earth had opened here. It was this character, suggesting the belief in an actual connexion with the interior of the earth (local tradition claiming it as the scene of the stealing of Persephone), which probably gave rise, as in other cases where the landscape presented some peculiar feature in harmony with the story, to the dedication upon it of a house and an image of Demeter, with whom were associated Kore and “the gods with Demeter”– hoi theoi para Damatri+–Aidoneus, and the mystical or Chthonian Dionysus. The house seems to have been a small chapel only, of simple construction, and designed for private use, the site itself having been private property, consecrated by a particular family, for their own religious uses, although other persons, servants or dependents of the founders, may also have frequented it. The architecture seems to have been insignificant, but the sculpture costly and exquisite, belonging, if contemporary with the erection of the building, to a great period of Greek art, of which also it is judged to possess intrinsic marks–about the year 350 before Christ, the probable date of the dedication of the little temple. The artists by whom these works were produced were, therefore, either the contemporaries of Praxiteles, whose Venus was for many centuries the glory of [142] Cnidus, or belonged to the generation immediately succeeding him. The temple itself was probably thrown down by a renewal of the volcanic disturbances; the statues however remaining, and the ministers and worshippers still continuing to make shift for their sacred business in the place, now doubly venerable, but with its temple unrestored, down to the second or third century of the Christian era, its frequenters being now perhaps mere chance comers, the family of the original donors having become extinct, or having deserted it. Into this later arrangement, clearly divined by Mr. Newton, through those faint indications which mean much for true experts, the extant remains, as they were found upon the spot, permit us to enter. It is one of the graves of that old religion, but with much still fresh in it. We see it with its provincial superstitions, and its curious magic rites, but also with its means of really solemn impressions, in the culminating forms of Greek art; the two faces of the Greek religion confronting each other here, and the whole having that rare peculiarity of a kind of personal stamp upon it, the place having been designed to meet the fancies of one particular soul, or at least of one family. It is always difficult to bring the every- day aspect of Greek religion home to us; but even the slighter details of this little sanctuary help us to do this; and knowing so little, as we do, of the greater mysteries of [143] Demeter, this glance into an actual religious place dedicated to her, and with the air of her worship still about it, is doubly interesting. The little votive figures of the goddesses, in baked earth, were still lying stored in the small treasury intended for such objects, or scattered about the feet of the images, together with lamps in great number, a lighted lamp being a favourite offering, in memory of the torches with which Demeter sought Persephone, or from some sense of inherent darkness in these gods of the earth; those torches in the hands of Demeter being indeed originally the artificial warmth and brightness of lamp and fire, on winter nights. The dirae or spells,–katadesmoi+- -binding or devoting certain persons to the infernal gods, inscribed on thin rolls of lead, with holes, sometimes, for hanging them up about those quiet statues, still lay, just as they were left, anywhere within the sacred precinct, illustrating at once the gloomier side of the Greek religion in general, and of Demeter and Persephone especially, in their character of avenging deities, and as relics of ancient magic, reproduced so strangely at other times and places, reminding us of the permanence of certain odd ways of human thought. A woman binds with her spell the person who seduces her husband away from her and her children; another, the person who has accused her of preparing poison for her husband; another devotes one who has not restored a borrowed [144] garment, or has stolen a bracelet, or certain drinking-horns; and, from some instances, we might infer that this was a favourite place of worship for the poor and ignorant. In this living picture, we find still lingering on, at the foot of the beautiful Greek marbles, that phase of religious temper which a cynical mind might think a truer link of its unity and permanence than any higher aesthetic instincts–a phase of it, which the art of sculpture, humanising and refining man’s conceptions of the unseen, tended constantly to do away. For the higher side of the Greek religion, thus humanised and refined by art, and elevated by it to the sense of beauty, is here also.

There were three ideal forms, as we saw, gradually shaping themselves in the development of the story of Demeter, waiting only for complete realisation at the hands of the sculptor; and now, with these forms in our minds, let us place ourselves in thought before the three images which once probably occupied the three niches or ambries in the face of that singular cliff at Cnidus, one of them being then wrought on a larger scale. Of the three figures, one probably represents Persephone, as the goddess of the dead; the second, Demeter enthroned; the third is probably a portrait-statue of a priestess of Demeter, but may perhaps, even so, represent Demeter herself, Demeter Achaea, Ceres Deserta, the mater dolorosa of the Greeks, a type not as yet [145] recognised in any other work of ancient art. Certainly, it seems hard not to believe that this work is in some way connected with the legend of the place to which it belonged, and the main subject of which it realises so completely; and, at least, it shows how the higher Greek sculpture would have worked out this motive. If Demeter at all, it is Demeter the seeker,–Dêô+–as she was called in the mysteries, in some pause of her restless wandering over the world in search of the lost child, and become at last an abstract type of the wanderer. The Homeric hymn, as we saw, had its sculptural motives, the great gestures of Demeter, who was ever the stately goddess, as she followed the daughters of Celeus, or sat by the well-side, or went out and in, through the halls of the palace, expressed in monumental words. With the sentiment of that monumental Homeric presence this statue is penetrated, uniting a certain solemnity of attitude and bearing, to a profound piteousness, an unrivalled pathos of expression. There is something of the pity of Michelangelo’s mater dolorosa, in the wasted form and marred countenance, yet with the light breaking faintly over it from the eyes, which, contrary to the usual practice in ancient sculpture, are represented as looking upwards. It is the aged woman who has escaped from pirates, who has but just escaped being sold as a slave, calling on the young for pity. The sorrows of her long wanderings seem to have passed into the marble; [146] and in this too, it meets the demands which the reader of the Homeric hymn, with its command over the resources of human pathos, makes upon the sculptor. The tall figure, in proportion above the ordinary height, is veiled, and clad to the feet in the longer tunic, its numerous folds hanging in heavy parallel lines, opposing the lines of the peplus, or cloak, which cross it diagonally over the breast, enwrapping the upper portion of the body somewhat closely. It is the very type of the wandering woman, going grandly, indeed, as Homer describes her, yet so human in her anguish, that we seem to recognise some far descended shadow of her, in the homely figure of the roughly clad French peasant woman, who, in one of Corot’s pictures, is hasting along under a sad light, as the day goes out behind the little hill. We have watched the growth of the merely personal sentiment in the story; and we may notice that, if this figure be indeed Demeter, then the conception of her has become wholly humanised; no trace of the primitive cosmical import of the myth, no colour or scent of the mystical earth, remains about it.

The seated figure, much mutilated, and worn by long exposure, yet possessing, according to the best critics, marks of the school of Praxiteles, is almost undoubtedly the image of Demeter enthroned. Three times in the Homeric hymn she is represented as sitting, once by the fountain at the wayside, again in the house of Celeus, and [147] again in the newly finished temple of Eleusis; but always in sorrow; seated on the petra agelastos,+ which, as Ovid told us, the people of Attica still called the stone of sorrow. Here she is represented in her later state of reconciliation, enthroned as the glorified mother of all things. The delicate plaiting of the tunic about the throat, the formal curling of the hair, and a certain weight of over-thoughtfulness in the brows, recall the manner of Leonardo da Vinci, a master, one of whose characteristics is a very sensitive expression of the sentiment of maternity. It reminds one especially of a work by one of his scholars, the Virgin of the Balances, in the Louvre, a picture which has been thought to represent, under a veil, the blessing of universal nature, and in which the sleepy-looking heads, with a peculiar grace and refinement of somewhat advanced life in them, have just this half-weary posture. We see here, then, the Here of the world below, the Stygian Juno, the chief of those Elysian matrons who come crowding, in the poem of Claudian, to the marriage toilet of Proserpine, the goddess of the fertility of the earth and of all creatures, but still of fertility as arisen out of death;* and therefore she is not without a certain pensiveness, having seen the seed fall into the ground and die, many times. Persephone is returned to her, and the hair [148] spreads, like a rich harvest, over her shoulders; but she is still veiled, and knows that the seed must fall into the ground again, and Persephone descend again from her.

The statues of the supposed priestess, and of the enthroned Demeter, are of more than the size of life; the figure of Persephone is but seventeen inches high, a daintily handled toy of Parian marble, the miniature copy perhaps of a much larger work, which might well be reproduced on a magnified scale. The conception of Demeter is throughout chiefly human, and even domestic, though never without a hieratic interest, because she is not a goddess only, but also a priestess. In contrast, Persephone is wholly unearthly, the close companion, and even the confused double, of Hecate, the goddess of midnight terrors,–Despoena,–the final mistress of all that lives; and as sorrow is the characteristic sentiment of Demeter, so awe of Persephone. She is compact of sleep, and death, and flowers, but of narcotic flowers especially,–a revenant, who in the garden of Aidoneus has eaten of the pomegranate, and bears always the secret of decay in her, of return to the grave, in the mystery of those swallowed seeds; sometimes, in later work, holding in her hand the key of the great prison-house, but which unlocks all secrets also; (there, finally, or through oracles revealed in dreams;) sometimes, like Demeter, the poppy, emblem of sleep and death by its [149] narcotic juices, of life and resurrection by its innumerable seeds, of the dreams, therefore, that may intervene between falling asleep and waking. Treated as it is in the Homeric hymn, and still more in this statue, the image of Persephone may be regarded as the result of many efforts to lift the old Chthonian gloom, still lingering on in heavier souls, concerning the grave, to connect it with impressions of dignity and beauty, and a certain sweetness even; it is meant to make men in love, or at least at peace, with death. The Persephone of Praxiteles’ school, then, is Aphrodite-Persephone, Venus-Libitina. Her shadowy eyes have gazed upon the fainter colouring of the under- world, and the tranquillity, born of it, has “passed into her face”; for the Greek Hades is, after all, but a quiet, twilight place, not very different from that House of Fame where Dante places the great souls of the classical world; Aidoneus himself being conceived, in the highest Greek sculpture, as but a gentler Zeus, the great innkeeper; so that when a certain Greek sculptor had failed in his portraiture of Zeus, because it had too little hilarity, too little, in the eyes and brow, of the open and cheerful sky, he only changed its title, and the thing passed excellently, with its heavy locks and shadowy eyebrows, for the god of the dead. The image of Persephone, then, as it is here composed, with the tall, tower-like head-dress, from which the veil depends–the corn-basket, [150] originally carried thus by the Greek women, balanced on the head–giving the figure unusual length, has the air of a body bound about with grave- clothes; while the archaic hands and feet, and a certain stiffness in the folds of the drapery, give it something of a hieratic character, and to the modern observer may suggest a sort of kinship with the more chastened kind of Gothic work. But quite of the school of Praxiteles is the general character of the composition; the graceful waving of the hair, the fine shadows of the little face, of the eyes and lips especially, like the shadows of a flower–a flower risen noiselessly from its dwelling in the dust–though still with that fulness or heaviness in the brow, as of sleepy people, which, in the delicate gradations of Greek sculpture, distinguish the infernal deities from their Olympian kindred. The object placed in the hand may be, perhaps, a stiff, archaic flower, but is probably the partly consumed pomegranate–one morsel gone; the most usual emblem of Persephone being this mystical fruit, which, because of the multitude of its seeds, was to the Romans a symbol of fecundity, and was sold at the doors of the temple of Ceres, that the women might offer it there, and bear numerous children; and so, to the middle age, became a symbol of the fruitful earth itself; and then of that other seed sown in the dark under-world; and at last of that whole hidden region, so thickly sown, which Dante visited, Michelino painting him, [151] in the Duomo of Florence, with this fruit in his hand, and Botticelli putting it into the childish hands of Him, who, if men “go down into hell, is there also.”

There is an attractiveness in these goddesses of the earth, akin to the influence of cool places, quiet houses, subdued light, tranquillising voices. What is there in this phase of ancient religion for us, at the present day? The myth of Demeter and Persephone, then, illustrates the power of the Greek religion as a religion of pure ideas–of conceptions, which having no link on historical fact, yet, because they arose naturally out of the spirit of man, and embodied, in adequate symbols, his deepest thoughts concerning the conditions of his physical and spiritual life, maintained their hold through many changes, and are still not without a solemnising power even for the modern mind, which has once admitted them as recognised and habitual inhabitants; and, abiding thus for the elevation and purifying of our sentiments, long after the earlier and simpler races of their worshippers have passed away, they may be a pledge to us of the place in our culture, at once legitimate and possible, of the associations, the conceptions, the imagery, of Greek religious poetry in general, of the poetry of all religions.


117. +Transliteration: kalykôpis. Liddell and Scott definition: “Like a flower-bud, blushing, roseate.”

118. +Transliteration: charis. Liddell and Scott definition: “favour, grace … loveliness.”

118. +Transliteration: theai semnai. Translation: “august goddesses.”

124. *The great Greek myths are, in truth, like abstract forces, which ally themselves to various conditions.

129. +Transliteration: korê arrêtos. Translation: “Korê the mysterious, the horrible.” Another meaning of arrêtos, as Pater points out, is “unsaid, not to be spoken.”

136. *With this may be connected another passage of Ovid– Metamorphoses, v. 391-408.

138. *On these small objects the mother and daughter are hard to distinguish, the latter being recognisable only by a greater delicacy in the features and the more evident stamp of youth.

140. *A History of Discoveries at Halicarnassus, Cnidus, and Branchidae.

141. +Transliteration: hoi theoi para Damatri. Pater’s translation: “the gods with Demeter.”

143. +Transliteration: katadesmoi. Liddell and Scott definition: “a tie or band: a magic knot, love-knot.”

145. +Transliteration: Dêô. Liddell and Scott definition: the verb dêô means “I shall find,” while the proper noun refers to Demeter.

147. +Transliteration: petra agelastos. Translation: “sullen rock.”

147. *Pallere ligustra, / Exspirare rosas, decrescere lilia vidi.


[152] CENTURIES of zealous archaeology notwithstanding, many phases of the so varied Greek genius are recorded for the modern student in a kind of shorthand only, or not at all. Even for Pausanias, visiting Greece before its direct part in affairs was quite played out, much had perished or grown dim–of its art, of the truth of its outward history, above all of its religion as a credible or practicable thing. And yet Pausanias visits Greece under conditions as favourable for observation as those under which later travellers, Addison or Eustace, proceed to Italy. For him the impress of life in those old Greek cities is not less vivid and entire than that of medieval Italy to ourselves; at Siena, for instance, with its ancient palaces still in occupation, its public edifices as serviceable as if the old republic had but just now vacated them, the tradition of their primitive worship still unbroken in its churches. Had the opportunities in which Pausanias was [153] fortunate been ours, how many haunts of the antique Greek life unnoticed by him we should have peeped into, minutely systematic in our painstaking! how many a view would broaden out where he notes hardly anything at all on his map of Greece!

One of the most curious phases of Greek civilisation which has thus perished for us, and regarding which, as we may fancy, we should have made better use of that old traveller’s facilities, is the early Attic deme-life–its picturesque, intensely localised variety, in the hollow or on the spur of mountain or sea-shore; and with it many a relic of primitive religion, many an early growth of art parallel to what Vasari records of artistic beginnings in the smaller cities of Italy. Colonus and Acharnae, surviving still so vividly by the magic of Sophocles, of Aristophanes, are but isolated examples of a widespread manner of life, in which, amid many provincial peculiarities, the first, yet perhaps the most costly and telling steps were made in all the various departments of Greek culture. Even in the days of Pausanias, Piraeus was still traceable as a distinct township, once the possible rival of Athens, with its little old covered market by the seaside, and the symbolical picture of the place, its Genius, visible on the wall. And that is but the type of what there had been to know of threescore and more village communities, each having its own altars, its special worship and [154] place of civic assembly, its trade and crafts, its name drawn from physical peculiarity or famous incident, its body of heroic tradition. Lingering on while Athens, the great deme, gradually absorbed into itself more and more of their achievements, and passing away almost completely as political factors in the Peloponnesian war, they were still felt, we can hardly doubt, in the actual physiognomy of Greece. That variety in unity, which its singular geographical formation secured to Greece as a whole, was at its utmost in these minute reflexions of the national character, with all the relish of local difference–new art, new poetry, fresh ventures in political combination, in the conception of life, springing as if straight from the soil, like the thorn-blossom of early spring in magic lines over all that rocky land. On the other hand, it was just here that ancient habits clung most tenaciously–that old-fashioned, homely, delightful existence, to which the refugee, pent up in Athens in the years of the Peloponnesian war, looked back so fondly. If the impression of Greece generally is but enhanced by the littleness of the physical scene of events intellectually so great–such a system of grand lines, restrained within so narrow a compass, as in one of its fine coins–still more would this be true of those centres of country life. Here, certainly, was that assertion of seemingly small interests, which brings into free play, and gives his utmost value [155] to, the individual; making his warfare, equally with his more peaceful rivalries, deme against deme, the mountain against the plain, the sea-shore, (as in our own old Border life, but played out here by wonderfully gifted people) tangible as a personal history, to the doubling of its fascination for those whose business is with the survey of the dramatic side of life.

As with civil matters, so it was also, we may fairly suppose, with religion; the deme-life was a manifestation of religious custom and sentiment, in all their primitive local variety. As Athens, gradually drawing into itself the various elements of provincial culture, developed, with authority, the central religious position, the demes-men did but add the worship of Athene Polias, the goddess of the capital, to their own pre-existent ritual uses. Of local and central religion alike, time and circumstance had obliterated much when Pausanias came. A devout spirit, with religion for his chief interest, eager for the trace of a divine footstep, anxious even in the days of Lucian to deal seriously with what had counted for so much to serious men, he has, indeed, to lament that “Pan is dead”:– “They come no longer!”–“These things happen no longer!” But the Greek–his very name also, Hellen, was the title of a priesthood–had been religious abundantly, sanctifying every detail of his actual life with the religious idea; and as Pausanias goes on his way he finds many a remnant of that [156] earlier estate of religion, when, as he fancied, it had been nearer the gods, as it was certainly nearer the earth. It is marked, even in decay, with varieties of place; and is not only continuous but in situ. At Phigaleia he makes his offerings to Demeter, agreeably to the paternal rites of the inhabitants, wax, fruit, undressed wool “still full of the sordes of the sheep.” A dream from heaven cuts short his notice of the mysteries of Eleusis. He sees the stone, “big enough for a little man,” on which Silenus was used to sit and rest; at Athens, the tombs of the Amazons, of the purple-haired Nisus, of Deucalion;–“it is a manifest token that he had dwelt there.” The worshippers of Poseidon, even at his temple among the hills, might still feel the earth fluctuating beneath their feet. And in care for divine things, he tells us, the Athenians outdid all other Greeks. Even in the days of Nero it revealed itself oddly; and it is natural to suppose that of this temper the demes, as the proper home of conservatism, were exceptionally expressive. Scattered in those remote, romantic villages, among their olives or sea-weeds, lay the heroic graves, the relics, the sacred images, often rude enough amid the delicate tribute of later art; this too oftentimes finding in such retirement its best inspirations, as in some Attic Fiesole. Like a network over the land of gracious poetic tradition, as also of undisturbed ceremonial usage surviving late for those who cared to seek it, the [157] local religions had been never wholly superseded by the worship of the great national temples. They were, in truth, the most characteristic developments of a faith essentially earth-born or indigenous.

And how often must the student of fine art, again, wish he had the same sort of knowledge about its earlier growth in Greece, that he actually possesses in the case of Italian art! Given any development at all in this matter, there must have been phases of art, which, if immature, were also veritable expressions of power to come, intermediate discoveries of beauty, such as are by no means a mere anticipation, and of service only as explaining historically larger subsequent achievements, but of permanent attractiveness in themselves, being often, indeed, the true maturity of certain amiable artistic qualities. And in regard to Greek art at its best–the Parthenon–no less than to the art of the Renaissance at its best– the Sistine Chapel–the more instructive light would be derived rather from what precedes than what follows such central success, from the determination to apprehend the fulfilment of past effort rather than the eve of decline, in the critical, central moment which partakes of both. Of such early promise, early achievement, we have in the case of Greek art little to compare with what is extant of the youth of the arts in Italy. Overbeck’s careful gleanings of its history form indeed [158] a sorry relic as contrasted with Vasari’s intimations of the beginnings of the Renaissance. Fired by certain fragments of its earlier days, of a beauty, in truth, absolute, and vainly longing for more, the student of Greek sculpture indulges the thought of an ideal of youthful energy therein, yet withal of youthful self-restraint; and again, as with survivals of old religion, the privileged home, he fancies, of that ideal must have been in those venerable Attic townships, as to a large extent it passed away with them.

The budding of new art, the survival of old religion, at isolated centres of provincial life, where varieties of human character also were keen, abundant, asserted in correspondingly effective incident– this is what irresistible fancy superinduces on historic details, themselves meagre enough. The sentiment of antiquity is indeed a characteristic of all cultivated people, even in what may seem the freshest ages, and not exclusively a humour of our later world. In the earliest notices about them, as we know, the people of Attica appear already impressed by the immense antiquity of their occupation of its soil, of which they claim to be the very first flower. Some at least of those old demes-men we may well fancy sentimentally reluctant to change their habits, fearful of losing too much of themselves in the larger stream of life, clinging to what is antiquated as the work of centralisation goes on, needful as that work was, [159] with the great “Eastern difficulty” already ever in the distance. The fear of Asia, barbaric, splendid, hardly known, yet haunting the curious imagination of those who had borrowed thence the art in which they were rapidly excelling it, developing, as we now see, in the interest of Greek humanity, crafts begotten of tyrannic and illiberal luxury, was finally to suppress the rivalries of those primitive centres of activity, when the “invincible armada” of the common foe came into sight.

At a later period civil strife was to destroy their last traces. The old hoplite, from Rhamnus or Acharnae, pent up in beleaguered Athens during that first summer of the Peloponnesian war, occupying with his household a turret of the wall, as Thucydides describes–one of many picturesque touches in that severe historian–could well remember the ancient provincial life which this conflict with Sparta was bringing to an end. He could recall his boyish, half-scared curiosity concerning those Persian ships, coming first as merchantmen, or with pirates on occasion, in the half-savage, wicked splendours of their decoration, the monstrous figure-heads, their glittering freightage. Men would hardly have trusted their women or children with that suspicious crew, hovering through the dusk. There were soothsayers, indeed, who had long foretold what happened soon after, giving shape to vague, supernatural terrors. And then he had crept [160] from his hiding-place with other lads to go view the enemies’ slain at Marathon, beside those belated Spartans, this new war with whom seemed to be reviving the fierce local feuds of his younger days. Paraloi and Diacrioi had ever been rivals. Very distant it all seemed now, with all the stories he could tell; for in those crumbling little towns, as heroic life had lingered on into the actual, so, at an earlier date, the supernatural into the heroic. Like mist at dawn, the last traces of its divine visitors had then vanished from the land, where, however, they had already begotten “our best and oldest families.”

It was Theseus, uncompromising young master of the situation, in fearless application of “the modern spirit” of his day to every phase of life where it was applicable, who, at the expense of Attica, had given Athens a people, reluctant enough, in truth, as Plutarch suggests, to desert “their homes and religious usages and many good and gracious kings of their own” for this elect youth, who thus figures, passably, as a kind of mythic shorthand for civilisation, making roads and the like, facilitating travel, suppressing various forms of violence, but many innocent things as well. So it must needs be in a world where, even hand in hand with a god-assisted hero, Justice goes blindfold. He slays the bull of Marathon and many another local tyrant, but also exterminates that delightful creature, the Centaur. The Amazon, whom Plato will [161] reinstate as the type of improved womanhood, has no better luck than Phaea, the sow-pig of Crommyon, foul old landed-proprietress. They exerted, however, the prerogative of poetic protest, and survive thereby. Centaur and Amazon, as we see them in the fine art of Greece, represent the regret of Athenians themselves for something that could never be brought to life again, and have their pathos. Those young heroes contending with Amazons on the frieze of the Mausoleum had best make haste with their bloody work, if young people’s eyes can tell a true story. A type still of progress triumphant through injustice, set on improving things off the face of the earth, Theseus took occasion to attack the Amazons in their mountain home, not long after their ruinous conflict with Hercules, and hit them when they were down. That greater bully had laboured off on the world’s highway, carrying with him the official girdle of Antiope, their queen, gift of Ares, and therewith, it would seem, the mystic secret of their strength. At sight of this new foe, at any rate, she came to a strange submission. The savage virgin had turned to very woman, and was presently a willing slave, returning on the gaily appointed ship in all haste to Athens, where in supposed wedlock she bore King Theseus a son.

With their annual visit–visit to the Gargareans!–for the purpose of maintaining their [162] species, parting with their boys early, these husbandless women could hardly be supposed a very happy, certainly not a very joyous people. They figure rather as a sorry measure of the luck of the female sex in taking a hard natural law into their own hands, and by abnegation of all tender companionship making shift with bare independence, as a kind of second-best–the best practicable by them in the imperfect actual condition of things. But the heart-strings would ache still where the breast had been cut away. The sisters of Antiope had come, not immediately, but in careful array of battle, to bring back the captive. All along the weary roads from the Caucasus to Attica, their traces had remained in the great graves of those who died by the way. Against the little remnant, carrying on the fight to the very midst of Athens, Antiope herself had turned, all other thoughts transformed now into wild idolatry of her hero. Superstitious, or in real regret, the Athenians never forgot their tombs. As for Antiope, the conscience of her perfidy remained with her, adding the pang of remorse to her own desertion, when King Theseus, with his accustomed bad faith to women, set her, too, aside in turn. Phaedra, the true wife, was there, peeping suspiciously at her arrival; and even as Antiope yielded to her lord’s embraces the thought had come that a male child might be the instrument of her anger, and one day judge her cause.

[163] In one of these doomed, decaying villages, then, King Theseus placed the woman and her babe, hidden, yet secure, within the Attic border, as men veil their mistakes or crimes. They might pass away, they and their story, together with the memory of other antiquated creatures of such places, who had had connubial dealings with the stars. The white, paved waggon-track, a by-path of the sacred way to Eleusis, zigzagged through sloping olive-yards, from the plain of silvered blue, with Athens building in the distance, and passed the door of the rude stone house, furnished scantily, which no one had ventured to inhabit of late years till they came there. On the ledges of the grey cliffs above, the laurel groves, stem and foliage of motionless bronze, had spread their tents. Travellers bound northwards were glad to repose themselves there, and take directions, or provision for their journey onwards, from the highland people, who came down hither to sell their honey, their cheese, and woollen stuff, in the tiny market-place. At dawn the great stars seemed to halt a while, burning as if for sacrifice to some pure deity, on those distant, obscurely named heights, like broken swords, the rim of the world. A little later you could just see the newly opened quarries, like streaks of snow on their russet-brown bosoms. Thither in spring-time all eyes turned from Athens devoutly, intent till the first shaft of lightning gave signal for the departure of the [164] sacred ship to Delos. Racing over those rocky surfaces, the virgin air descended hither with the secret of profound sleep, as the child lay in its cubicle hewn in the stone, the white fleeces heaped warmly round him. In the wild Amazon’s soul, to her surprise, and at first against her will, the maternal sense had quickened from the moment of his conception, and (that burst of angry tears with which she had received him into the world once dried up), kindling more eagerly at every token of manly growth, had at length driven out every other feeling. And this animal sentiment, educating the human hand and heart in her, had become a moral one, when, King Theseus leaving her in anger, visibly unkind, the child had crept to her side, and tracing with small fingers the wrinkled lines of her woebegone brow, carved there as if by a thousand years of sorrow, had sown between himself and her the seed of an undying sympathy.

She was thus already on the watch for a host of minute recognitions on his part, of the self-sacrifice involved in her devotion to a career of which she must needs drain out the sorrow, careful that he might taste only the joy. So far, amid their spare living, the child, as if looking up to the warm broad wing of her love above him, seemed replete with comfort. Yet in his moments of childish sickness, the first passing shadows upon the deep joy of her motherhood, she teaches him betimes to soothe [165] or cheat pain– little bodily pains only, hitherto. She ventures sadly to assure him of the harsh necessities of life: “Courage, child! Every one must take his share of suffering. Shift not thy body so vehemently. Pain, taken quietly, is easier to bear.”

Carefully inverting the habits of her own rude childhood, she learned to spin the wools, white and grey, to clothe and cover him pleasantly. The spectacle of his unsuspicious happiness, though at present a matter of purely physical conditions, awoke a strange sense of poetry, a kind of artistic sense in her, watching, as her own long-deferred recreation in life, his delight in the little delicacies she prepared to his liking–broiled kids’ flesh, the red wine, the mushrooms sought through the early dew–his hunger and thirst so daintily satisfied, as he sat at table, like the first-born of King Theseus, with two wax-lights and a fire at dawn or nightfall dancing to the prattle and laughter, a bright child, never stupidly weary. At times his very happiness would seem to her like a menace of misfortune to come. Was there not with herself the curse of that unsisterly action? and not far from him, the terrible danger of the father’s, the step-mother’s jealousy, the mockery of those half- brothers to come? Ah! how perilous for happiness the sensibilities which make him so exquisitely happy now! Before they started on their dreadful visit to the Minotaur, says Plutarch, the women told their [166] sons many tales and other things to encourage them; and, even as she had furnished the child betimes with rules for the solace of bodily pain, so now she would have brought her own sad experience into service in precepts for the ejection of its festering power out of any other trouble that might visit him. Already those little disappointments which are as the shadow beside all conscious enjoyment, were no petty things to her, but had for her their pathos, as children’s troubles will have, in spite of the longer chance before them. They were as the first steps in a long story of deferred hopes, or anticipations of death itself and the end of them.

The gift of Ares gone, the mystic girdle she would fain have transferred to the child, that bloody god of storm and battle, hereditary patron of her house, faded from her thoughts together with the memory of her past life–the more completely, because another familiar though somewhat forbidding deity, accepting certainly a cruel and forbidding worship, was already in possession, and reigning in the new home when she came thither. Only, thanks to some kindly local influence (by grace, say, of its delicate air), Artemis, this other god she had known in the Scythian wilds, had put aside her fierce ways, as she paused awhile on her heavenly course among these ancient abodes of men, gliding softly, mainly through their dreams, with abundance of salutary touches. Full, in truth, of [167] grateful memory of some timely service at human hands! In these highland villages the tradition of celestial visitants clung fondly, of god or hero, belated or misled on long journeys, yet pleased to be among the sons of men, as their way led them up the steep, narrow, crooked street, condescending to rest a little, as one, under some sudden stress not clearly ascertained, had done here, in this very house, thereafter for ever sacred. The place and its inhabitants, of course, had been something bigger in the days of those old mythic hospitalities, unless, indeed, divine persons took kindly the will for the deed–very different, surely, from the present condition of things, for there was little here to detain a delicate traveller, even in the abode of Antiope and her son, though it had been the residence of a king.

Hard by stood the chapel of the goddess, who had thus adorned the place with her memories. The priests, indeed, were already departed to Athens, carrying with them the ancient image, the vehicle of her actual presence, as the surest means of enriching the capital at the expense of the country, where she must now make poor shift of the occasional worshipper on his way through these mountain passes. But safely roofed beneath the sturdy tiles of grey Hymettus marble, upon the walls of the little square recess enclosing the deserted pedestal, a series of crowded imageries, in the devout spirit [168] of earlier days, were eloquent concerning her. Here from scene to scene, touched with silver among the wild and human creatures in dun bronze, with the moon’s disk around her head, shrouded closely, the goddess of the chase still glided mystically through all the varied incidents of her story, in all the detail of a written book.

A book for the delighted reading of a scholar, willing to ponder at leisure, to make his way surely, and understand. Very different, certainly, from the cruel-featured little idol his mother had brought in her bundle–the old Scythian Artemis, hanging there on the wall, side by side with the forgotten Ares, blood-red,–the goddess reveals herself to the lad, poring through the dusk by taper-light, as at once a virgin, necessarily therefore the creature of solitude, yet also as the assiduous nurse of children, and patroness of the young. Her friendly intervention at the act of birth everywhere, her claim upon the nursling, among tame and wild creatures equally, among men as among gods, nay! among the stars (upon the very star of dawn), gave her a breadth of influence seemingly coextensive with the sum of things. Yes! his great mother was in touch with everything. Yet throughout he can but note her perpetual chastity, with pleasurable though half-suspicious wonder at the mystery, he knows not what, involved therein, as though he awoke suddenly in some distant, unexplored region of her person and activity. [169] Why the lighted torch always, and that long straight vesture rolled round so formally? Was it only against the cold of these northern heights?

To her, nevertheless, her maternity, her solitude, to this virgin mother, who, with no husband, no lover, no fruit of her own, is so tender to the children of others, in a full heart he devotes himself- -his immaculate body and soul. Dedicating himself thus, he has the sense also that he becomes more entirely than ever the chevalier of his mortal mother, of her sad cause. The devout, diligent hands clear away carefully the dust, the faded relics of her former worship; a worship renewed once more as the sacred spring, set free from encumbrance, in answer to his willing ministries murmurs again under the dim vault in its marble basin, work of primitive Titanic fingers–flows out through its rocky channel, filling the whole township with chaste thoughts of her.

Through much labour at length he comes to the veritable story of her birth, like a gift direct from the goddess herself to this loyal soul. There were those in later times who, like Aeschylus, knew Artemis as the daughter not of Leto but of Demeter, according to the version of her history now conveyed to the young Hippolytus, together with some deepened insight into her character. The goddess of Eleusis, on a journey, in the old days when, as Plato says, [170] men lived nearer the gods, finding herself with child by some starry inmate of those high places, had lain down in the rock-hewn cubicle of the inner chamber, and, certainly in sorrow, brought forth a daughter. Here was the secret at once of the genial, all-embracing maternity of this new strange Artemis, and of those more dubious tokens, the lighted torch, the winding-sheet, the arrow of death on the string–of sudden death, truly, which may be thought after all the kindest, as prevenient of all disgraceful sickness or waste in the unsullied limbs. For the late birth into the world of this so shadowy daughter was somehow identified with the sudden passing into Hades of her first-born, Persephone. As he scans those scenes anew, an awful surmise comes to him; his divine patroness moves there as death, surely. Still, however, gratefully putting away suspicion, he seized even in these ambiguous imageries their happier suggestions, satisfied in thinking of his new mother as but the giver of sound sleep, of the benign night, whence–mystery of mysteries!–good things are born softly, from which he awakes betimes for his healthful service to her. Either way, sister of Apollo or sister of Persephone, to him she should be a power of sanity, sweet as the flowers he offered her gathered at dawn, setting daily their purple and white frost against her ancient marbles. There was more certainly than the first breath of day in them. Was there [171] here something of her person, her sensible presence, by way of direct response to him in his early devotion, astir for her sake before the very birds, nesting here so freely, the quail above all, in some privileged connexion with her story still unfathomed by the learned youth? Amid them he too found a voice, and sang articulately the praises of the great goddess.

Those more dubious traits, nevertheless, so lightly disposed of by Hippolytus (Hecate thus counting for him as Artemis goddess of health), became to his mother, in the light of her sad experience,