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Greek Studies: A Series of Essays by Walter Horatio Pater

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Preface by Charles Shadwell

A Study of Dionysus: The Spiritual Form of Fire and Dew: 9-52

The Bacchanals of Euripides: 53-80

The Myth of Demeter and Persephone I. 81-112

The Myth of Demeter and Persephone II. 113-151

Hippolytus Veiled: A Study from Euripides: 152-186

The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture--I. The Heroic Age of Greek Art:

The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture--II. The Age of Graven Images: 224-

The Marbles of Aegina: 251-268

The Age of Athletic Prizemen: A Chapter in Greek Art: 269-end


[1] THE present volume consists of a collection of essays by the
late Mr. Pater, all of which have already been given to the public in
various Magazines; and it is owing to the kindness of the several
proprietors of those Magazines that they can now be brought together
in a collected shape. It will, it is believed, be felt, that their
value is considerably enhanced by their appearance in a single
volume, where they can throw light upon one another, and exhibit by
their connexion a more complete view of the scope and purpose of Mr.
Pater in dealing with the art and literature of the ancient world.

The essays fall into two distinct groups, one dealing with the
subjects of Greek mythology and Greek poetry, the other with the
history of Greek sculpture and Greek architecture. But these two
groups are not wholly distinct; they mutually illustrate one another,
and serve to enforce Mr. Pater's conception of the essential [2]
unity, in all its many-sidedness, of the Greek character. The god
understood as the "spiritual form" of the things of nature is not
only the key-note of the "Study of Dionysus"* and "The Myth of
Demeter and Persephone,"* but reappears as contributing to the
interpretation of the growth of Greek sculpture.* Thus, though in
the bibliography of his writings, the two groups are separated by a
considerable interval, there is no change of view; he had already
reached the centre of the problem, and, the secret once gained, his
mode of treatment of the different aspects of Greek life and thought
is permanent and consistent.

The essay on "The Myth of Demeter and Persephone" was originally
prepared as two lectures, for delivery, in 1875, at the Birmingham
and Midland Institute. These lectures were published in the
Fortnightly Review, in Jan. and Feb. 1876. The "Study of Dionysus"
appeared in the same Review in Dec. 1876. "The Bacchanals of
Euripides" must have been written about the same time, as a sequel to
the "Study of Dionysus"; for, in 1878, Mr. Pater revised the four
essays, with the intention, apparently, of publishing them
collectively in a volume, an intention afterwards abandoned. [3] The
text now printed has, except that of "The Bacchanals," been taken
from proofs then set up, further corrected in manuscript. "The
Bacchanals," written long before, was not published until 1889, when
it appeared in Macmillan's Magazine for May. It was reprinted,
without alteration, prefixed to Dr. Tyrrell's edition of the Bacchae.
"Hippolytus Veiled" first appeared in August 1889, in Macmillan's
Magazine. It was afterwards rewritten, but with only a few
substantial alterations, in Mr. Pater's own hand, with a view,
probably, of republishing it with other essays. This last revise has
been followed in the text now printed.

The papers on Greek sculpture* are all that remain of a series which,
if Mr. Pater had lived, would, probably, have grown into a still more
important work. Such a work would have included one or more essays
on Phidias and the Parthenon, of which only a fragment, though an
important fragment, can be found amongst his papers; and it was to
have been prefaced by an Introduction to Greek Studies, only a page
or two of which was ever written.

[4] This is not the place to speak of Mr. Pater's private virtues,
the personal charm of his character, the brightness of his talk, the
warmth of his friendship, the devotion of his family life. But a few
words may be permitted on the value of the work by which he will be
known to those who never saw him.

Persons only superficially acquainted, or by hearsay, with his
writings, are apt to sum up his merits as a writer by saying that he
was a master, or a consummate master of style; but those who have
really studied what he wrote do not need to be told that his
distinction does not lie in his literary grace alone, his fastidious
choice of language, his power of word-painting, but in the depth and
seriousness of his studies. That the amount he has produced, in a
literary life of thirty years, is not greater, is one proof among
many of the spirit in which he worked. His genius was "an infinite
capacity for taking pains." That delicacy of insight, that gift of
penetrating into the heart of things, that subtleness of
interpretation, which with him seems an instinct, is the outcome of
hard, patient, conscientious study. If he had chosen, he might,
without difficulty, have produced a far greater body of work of less
value; and from a worldly point of view, he would have been wise.
Such was not his understanding [5] of the use of his talents. Cui
multum datum est, multum quaeretur ab eo. Those who wish to
understand the spirit in which he worked, will find it in this
volume. C.L.S.

Oct. 1894.


2. *See p. 34.

2. *See p. 100.

2. *See pp. 220, 254.

3. *"The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture" was published in the
Fortnightly Review, Feb. and March 1880; "The Marbles of Aegina" in
the same Review in April. "The Age of Athletic Prizemen" was
published in the Contemporary Review in February of the present year.


[9] WRITERS on mythology speak habitually of the religion of the
Greeks. In thus speaking, they are really using a misleading
expression, and should speak rather of religions; each race and class
of Greeks--the Dorians, the people of the coast, the fishers--having
had a religion of its own, conceived of the objects that came nearest
to it and were most in its thoughts, and the resulting usages and
ideas never having come to have a precisely harmonised system, after
the analogy of some other religions. The religion of Dionysus is the
religion of people who pass their lives among the vines. As the
religion of Demeter carries us back to the cornfields and farmsteads
of Greece, and places us, in fancy, among a primitive race, in the
furrow and beside the granary; so the religion of Dionysus carries us
back to its vineyards, and is a monument of the ways and thoughts of
people whose days go by beside the winepress, and [10] under the
green and purple shadows, and whose material happiness depends on the
crop of grapes. For them the thought of Dionysus and his circle, a
little Olympus outside the greater, covered the whole of life, and
was a complete religion, a sacred representation or interpretation of
the whole human experience, modified by the special limitations, the
special privileges of insight or suggestion, incident to their
peculiar mode of existence.

Now, if the reader wishes to understand what the scope of the
religion of Dionysus was to the Greeks who lived in it, all it
represented to them by way of one clearly conceived yet complex
symbol, let him reflect what the loss would be if all the effect and
expression drawn from the imagery of the vine and the cup fell out of
the whole body of existing poetry; how many fascinating trains of
reflexion, what colour and substance would therewith have been
deducted from it, filled as it is, apart from the more aweful
associations of the Christian ritual, apart from Galahad's cup, with
all the various symbolism of the fruit of the vine. That supposed
loss is but an imperfect measure of all that the name of Dionysus
recalled to the Greek mind, under a single imaginable form, an
outward body of flesh presented to the senses, and comprehending, as
its animating soul, a whole world of thoughts, surmises, greater and
less experiences.

[11] The student of the comparative science of religions finds in the
religion of Dionysus one of many modes of that primitive tree-worship
which, growing out of some universal instinctive belief that trees
and flowers are indeed habitations of living spirits, is found almost
everywhere in the earlier stages of civilisation, enshrined in legend
or custom, often graceful enough, as if the delicate beauty of the
object of worship had effectually taken hold on the fancy of the
worshipper. Shelley's Sensitive Plant shows in what mists of
poetical reverie such feeling may still float about a mind full of
modern lights, the feeling we too have of a life in the green world,
always ready to assert its claim over our sympathetic fancies. Who
has not at moments felt the scruple, which is with us always
regarding animal life, following the signs of animation further
still, till one almost hesitates to pluck out the little soul of
flower or leaf?

And in so graceful a faith the Greeks had their share; what was crude
and inane in it becoming, in the atmosphere of their energetic,
imaginative intelligence, refined and humanised. The oak-grove of
Dodona, the seat of their most venerable oracle, did but perpetuate
the fancy that the sounds of the wind in the trees may be, for
certain prepared and chosen ears, intelligible voices; they could
believe in the transmigration of souls into mulberry and laurel, mint
and hyacinth; and the dainty Metamorphoses of Ovid [12] are but a
fossilised form of one morsel here and there, from a whole world of
transformation, with which their nimble fancy was perpetually
playing. "Together with them," says the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite,
of the Hamadryads, the nymphs which animate the forest trees, "with
them, at the moment of their birth, grew up out of the soil, oak-tree
or pine, fair, flourishing among the mountains. And when at last the
appointed hour of their death has come, first of all, those fair
trees are dried up; the bark perishes from around them, and the
branches fall away; and therewith the soul of them deserts the light
of the sun."+

These then are the nurses of the vine, bracing it with interchange of
sun and shade. They bathe, they dance, they sing songs of
enchantment, so that those who seem oddly in love with nature, and
strange among their fellows, are still said to be nympholepti; above
all, they are weavers or spinsters, spinning or weaving with airiest
fingers, and subtlest, many-coloured threads, the foliage of the
trees, the petals of flowers, the skins of the fruit, the long thin
stalks on which the poplar leaves are set so lightly that Homer
compares to them, in their constant motion, the maids who sit
spinning in the house of Alcinous. The nymphs of Naxos, where the
grape-skin is darkest, weave for him a purple robe. Only, the ivy is
never transformed, is visible as natural ivy to the last, pressing
the [13] dark outline of its leaves close upon the firm, white, quite
human flesh of the god's forehead.

In its earliest form, then, the religion of Dionysus presents us with
the most graceful phase of this graceful worship, occupying a place
between the ruder fancies of half-civilised people concerning life in
flower or tree, and the dreamy after-fancies of the poet of the
Sensitive Plant. He is the soul of the individual vine, first; the
young vine at the house-door of the newly married, for instance, as
the vine-grower stoops over it, coaxing and nursing it, like a pet
animal or a little child; afterwards, the soul of the whole species,
the spirit of fire and dew, alive and leaping in a thousand vines, as
the higher intelligence, brooding more deeply over things, pursues,
in thought, the generation of sweetness and strength in the veins of
the tree, the transformation of water into wine, little by little;
noting all the influences upon it of the heaven above and the earth
beneath; and shadowing forth, in each pause of the process, an
intervening person--what is to us but the secret chemistry of nature
being to them the mediation of living spirits. So they passed on to
think of Dionysus (naming him at last from the brightness of the sky
and the moisture of the earth) not merely as the soul of the vine,
but of all that life in flowing things of which the vine is the
symbol, because its most emphatic example. At Delos he bears a son,
from whom [14] in turn spring the three mysterious sisters Oeno,
Spermo, and Elais, who, dwelling in the island, exercise respectively
the gifts of turning all things at will into oil, and corn, and wine.
In the Bacchae of Euripides, he gives his followers, by miracle,
honey and milk, and the water gushes for them from the smitten rock.
He comes at last to have a scope equal to that of Demeter, a realm as
wide and mysterious as hers; the whole productive power of the earth
is in him, and the explanation of its annual change. As some embody
their intuitions of that power in corn, so others in wine. He is the
dispenser of the earth's hidden wealth, giver of riches through the
vine, as Demeter through the grain. And as Demeter sends the airy,
dainty-wheeled and dainty-winged spirit of Triptolemus to bear her
gifts abroad on all winds, so Dionysus goes on his eastern journey,
with its many intricate adventures, on which he carries his gifts to
every people.

A little Olympus outside the greater, I said, of Dionysus and his
companions; he is the centre of a cycle, the hierarchy of the
creatures of water and sunlight in many degrees; and that fantastic
system of tree-worship places round him, not the fondly whispering
spirits of the more graceful inhabitants of woodland only, the nymphs
of the poplar and the pine, but the whole satyr circle, intervening
between the headship of the vine and the mere earth, the grosser,
less human [15] spirits, incorporate and made visible, of the more
coarse and sluggish sorts of vegetable strength, the fig, the reed,
the ineradicable weed-things which will attach themselves, climbing
about the vine-poles, or seeking the sun between the hot stones. For
as Dionysus, the spiritual form of the vine, is of the highest human
type, so the fig-tree and the reed have animal souls, mistakeable in
the thoughts of a later, imperfectly remembering age, for mere
abstractions of animal nature; Snubnose, and Sweetwine, and Silenus,
the oldest of them all, so old that he has come to have the gift of

Quite different from them in origin and intent, but confused with
them in form, are those other companions of Dionysus, Pan and his
children. Home-spun dream of simple people, and like them in the
uneventful tenour of his existence, he has almost no story; he is but
a presence; the spiritual form of Arcadia, and the ways of human life
there; the reflexion, in sacred image or ideal, of its flocks, and
orchards, and wild honey; the dangers of its hunters; its weariness
in noonday heat; its children, agile as the goats they tend, who run,
in their picturesque rags, across the solitary wanderer's path, to
startle him, in the unfamiliar upper places; its one adornment and
solace being the dance to the homely shepherd's pipe, cut by Pan
first from the sedges of the brook Molpeia.

Breathing of remote nature, the sense of which [16] is so profound in
the Homeric hymn to Pan, the pines, the foldings of the hills, the
leaping streams, the strange echoings and dying of sound on the
heights, "the bird, which among the petals of many-flowered spring,
pouring out a dirge, sends forth her honey-voiced song," "the crocus
and the hyacinth disorderly mixed in the deep grass"+--things which
the religion of Dionysus loves--Pan joins the company of the Satyrs.
Amongst them, they give their names to insolence and mockery, and the
finer sorts of malice, to unmeaning and ridiculous fear. But the
best spirits have found in them also a certain human pathos, as in
displaced beings, coming even nearer to most men, in their very
roughness, than the noble and delicate person of the vine; dubious
creatures, half-way between the animal and human kinds, speculating
wistfully on their being, because not wholly understanding themselves
and their place in nature; as the animals seem always to have this
expression to some noticeable degree in the presence of man. In the
later school of Attic sculpture they are treated with more and more
of refinement, till in some happy moment Praxiteles conceived a
model, often repeated, which concentrates this sentiment of true
humour concerning them; a model of dainty natural ease in posture,
but with the legs slightly crossed, as only lowly-bred gods are used
to carry them, and with some puzzled trouble of youth, you might wish
for a moment [17] to smoothe away, puckering the forehead a little,
between the pointed ears, on which the goodly hair of his animal
strength grows low. Little by little, the signs of brute nature are
subordinated, or disappear; and at last, Robetta, a humble Italian
engraver of the fifteenth century, entering into the Greek fancy
because it belongs to all ages, has expressed it in its most
exquisite form, in a design of Ceres and her children, of whom their
mother is no longer afraid, as in the Homeric hymn to Pan. The puck-
noses have grown delicate, so that, with Plato's infatuated lover,
you may call them winsome, if you please; and no one would wish those
hairy little shanks away, with which one of the small Pans walks at
her side, grasping her skirt stoutly; while the other, the sick or
weary one, rides in the arms of Ceres herself, who in graceful
Italian dress, and decked airily with fruit and corn, steps across a
country of cut sheaves, pressing it closely to her, with a child's
peevish trouble in its face, and its small goat-legs and tiny hoofs
folded over together, precisely after the manner of a little child.

There is one element in the conception of Dionysus, which his
connexion with the satyrs, Marsyas being one of them, and with Pan,
from whom the flute passed to all the shepherds of Theocritus, alike
illustrates, his interest, namely, in one of the great species of
music. One form of that wilder vegetation, of which the Satyr race
is the soul made visible, is the reed, which [18] the creature plucks
and trims into musical pipes. And as Apollo inspires and rules over
all the music of strings, so Dionysus inspires and rules over all the
music of the reed, the water-plant, in which the ideas of water and
of vegetable life are brought close together, natural property,
therefore, of the spirit of life in the green sap. I said that the
religion of Dionysus was, for those who lived in it, a complete
religion, a complete sacred representation and interpretation of the
whole of life; and as, in his relation to the vine, he fills for them
the place of Demeter, is the life of the earth through the grape as
she through the grain, so, in this other phase of his being, in his
relation to the reed, he fills for them the place of Apollo; he is
the inherent cause of music and poetry; he inspires; he explains the
phenomena of enthusiasm, as distinguished by Plato in the Phaedrus,
the secrets of possession by a higher and more energetic spirit than
one's own, the gift of self-revelation, of passing out of oneself
through words, tones, gestures. A winged Dionysus, venerated at
Amyclae, was perhaps meant to represent him thus, as the god of
enthusiasm, of the rising up on those spiritual wings, of which also
we hear something in the Phaedrus of Plato.

The artists of the Renaissance occupied themselves much with the
person and the story of Dionysus; and Michelangelo, in a work still
remaining in Florence, in which he essayed [19] with success to
produce a thing which should pass with the critics for a piece of
ancient sculpture, has represented him in the fulness, as it seems,
of this enthusiasm, an image of delighted, entire surrender to
transporting dreams. And this is no subtle after-thought of a later
age, but true to certain finer movements of old Greek sentiment,
though it may seem to have waited for the hand of Michelangelo before
it attained complete realisation. The head of Ion leans, as they
recline at the banquet, on the shoulder of Charmides; he mutters in
his sleep of things seen therein, but awakes as the flute-players
enter, whom Charmides has hired for his birthday supper. The soul of
Callias, who sits on the other side of Charmides, flashes out; he
counterfeits, with life-like gesture, the personal tricks of friend
or foe; or the things he could never utter before, he finds words for
now; the secrets of life are on his lips. It is in this loosening of
the lips and heart, strictly, that Dionysus is the Deliverer,
Eleutherios; and of such enthusiasm, or ecstasy, is, in a certain
sense, an older patron than Apollo himself. Even at Delphi, the
centre of Greek inspiration and of the religion of Apollo, his claim
always maintained itself; and signs are not wanting that Apollo was
but a later comer there. There, under his later reign, hard by the
golden image of Apollo himself, near the sacred tripod on which the
Pythia sat to prophesy, was to be seen a strange object--a sort [20]
of coffin or cinerary urn with the inscription, "Here lieth the body
of Dionysus, the son of Semele." The pediment of the great temple
was divided between them--Apollo with the nine Muses on that side,
Dionysus, with perhaps three times three Graces, on this. A third of
the whole year was held sacred to him; the four winter months were
the months of Dionysus; and in the shrine of Apollo itself he was
worshipped with almost equal devotion.

The religion of Dionysus takes us back, then, into that old Greek
life of the vineyards, as we see it on many painted vases, with much
there as we should find it now, as we see it in Bennozzo Gozzoli's
mediaeval fresco of the Invention of Wine in the Campo Santo at Pisa-
-the family of Noah presented among all the circumstances of a Tuscan
vineyard, around the press from which the first wine is flowing, a
painted idyll, with its vintage colours still opulent in decay, and
not without its solemn touch of biblical symbolism. For differences,
we detect in that primitive life, and under that Greek sky, a nimbler
play of fancy, lightly and unsuspiciously investing all things with
personal aspect and incident, and a certain mystical apprehension,
now almost departed, of unseen powers beyond the material veil of
things, corresponding to the exceptional vigour and variety of the
Greek organisation. This peasant life lies, in unhistoric time,
behind the definite forms with which poetry and a refined [21]
priesthood afterwards clothed the religion of Dionysus; and the mere
scenery and circumstances of the vineyard have determined many things
in its development. The noise of the vineyard still sounds in some
of his epithets, perhaps in his best-known name--Iacchus, Bacchus.
The masks suspended on base or cornice, so familiar an ornament in
later Greek architecture, are the little faces hanging from the
vines, and moving in the wind, to scare the birds. That garland of
ivy, the aesthetic value of which is so great in the later imagery of
Dionysus and his descendants, the leaves of which, floating from his
hair, become so noble in the hands of Titian and Tintoret, was
actually worn on the head for coolness; his earliest and most sacred
images were wrought in the wood of the vine. The people of the
vineyard had their feast, the little or country Dionysia, which still
lived on, side by side with the greater ceremonies of a later time,
celebrated in December, the time of the storing of the new wine. It
was then that the potters' fair came, calpis and amphora, together
with lamps against the winter, laid out in order for the choice of
buyers; for Keramus, the Greek Vase, is a son of Dionysus, of wine
and of Athene, who teaches men all serviceable and decorative art.
Then the goat was killed, and its blood poured out at the root of the
vines; and Dionysus literally drank the blood of goats; and, being
Greeks, with quick and mobile sympathies, [22] deisidaimones,+
"superstitious," or rather "susceptible of religious impressions,"
some among them, remembering those departed since last year, add yet
a little more, and a little wine and water for the dead also;
brooding how the sense of these things might pass below the roots, to
spirits hungry and thirsty, perhaps, in their shadowy homes. But the
gaiety, that gaiety which Aristophanes in the Acharnians has depicted
with so many vivid touches, as a thing of which civil war had
deprived the villages of Attica, preponderates over the grave. The
travelling country show comes round with its puppets; even the slaves
have their holiday;* the mirth becomes excessive; they hide their
faces under grotesque masks of bark, or stain them with wine-lees, or
potters' crimson even, like the old rude idols painted red; and carry
in midnight procession such rough symbols of the productive force of
nature as the women and children had best not look upon; which will
be frowned upon, and refine themselves, or disappear, in the feasts
of cultivated Athens.

Of the whole story of Dionysus, it was the episode of his marriage
with Ariadne about which ancient art concerned itself oftenest, and
with most effect. Here, although the antiquarian [23] may still
detect circumstances which link the persons and incidents of the
legend with the mystical life of the earth, as symbols of its annual
change, yet the merely human interest of the story has prevailed over
its earlier significance; the spiritual form of fire and dew has
become a romantic lover. And as a story of romantic love, fullest
perhaps of all the motives of classic legend of the pride of life, it
survived with undiminished interest to a later world, two of the
greatest masters of Italian painting having poured their whole power
into it; Titian with greater space of ingathered shore and mountain,
and solemn foliage, and fiery animal life; Tintoret with profounder
luxury of delight in the nearness to each other, and imminent
embrace, of glorious bodily presences; and both alike with consummate
beauty of physical form. Hardly less humanised is the Theban legend
of Dionysus, the legend of his birth from Semele, which, out of the
entire body of tradition concerning him, was accepted as central by
the Athenian imagination. For the people of Attica, he comes from
Boeotia, a country of northern marsh and mist, but from whose sombre,
black marble towns came also the vine, the musical reed cut from its
sedges, and the worship of the Graces, always so closely connected
with the religion of Dionysus. "At Thebes alone," says Sophocles,
"mortal women bear immortal gods." His mother is the daughter of
Cadmus, himself marked out by [24] many curious circumstances as the
close kinsman of the earth, to which he all but returns at last, as
the serpent, in his old age, attesting some closer sense lingering
there of the affinity of man with the dust from whence he came.
Semele, an old Greek word, as it seems, for the surface of the earth,
the daughter of Cadmus, beloved by Zeus, desires to see her lover in
the glory with which he is seen by the immortal Hera. He appears to
her in lightning. But the mortal may not behold him and live.
Semele gives premature birth to the child Dionysus; whom, to preserve
it from the jealousy of Hera, Zeus hides in a part of his thigh, the
child returning into the loins of its father, whence in due time it
is born again. Yet in this fantastic story, hardly less than in the
legend of Ariadne, the story of Dionysus has become a story of human
persons, with human fortunes, and even more intimately human appeal
to sympathy; so that Euripides, pre-eminent as a poet of pathos,
finds in it a subject altogether to his mind. All the interest now
turns on the development of its points of moral or sentimental
significance; the love of the immortal for the mortal, the
presumption of the daughter of man who desires to see the divine form
as it is; on the fact that not without loss of sight, or life itself,
can man look upon it. The travail of nature has been transformed
into the pangs of the human mother; and the poet dwells much on the
pathetic incident of death in childbirth, making [25] Dionysus, as
Callimachus calls him, a seven months' child, cast out among its
enemies, motherless. And as a consequence of this human interest,
the legend attaches itself, as in an actual history, to definite
sacred objects and places, the venerable relic of the wooden image
which fell into the chamber of Semele with the lightning-flash, and
which the piety of a later age covered with plates of brass; the Ivy-
Fountain near Thebes, the water of which was so wonderfully bright
and sweet to drink, where the nymphs bathed the new-born child; the
grave of Semele, in a sacred enclosure grown with ancient vines,
where some volcanic heat or flame was perhaps actually traceable,
near the lightning-struck ruins of her supposed abode.

Yet, though the mystical body of the earth is forgotten in the human
anguish of the mother of Dionysus, the sense of his essence of fire
and dew still lingers in his most sacred name, as the son of Semele,
Dithyrambus. We speak of a certain wild music in words or rhythm as
dithyrambic, like the dithyrambus, that is, the wild choral-singing
of the worshippers of Dionysus. But Dithyrambus seems to have been,
in the first instance, the name, not of the hymn, but of the god to
whom the hymn is sung; and, through a tangle of curious etymological
speculations as to the precise derivation of this name, one thing
seems clearly visible, that it commemorates, namely, the double birth
of the vine-god; that [26] he is born once and again; his birth,
first of fire, and afterwards of dew; the two dangers that beset him;
his victory over two enemies, the capricious, excessive heats and
colds of spring.

He is pyrigenÍs,+ then, fire-born, the son of lightning; lightning
being to light, as regards concentration, what wine is to the other
strengths of the earth. And who that has rested a hand on the
glittering silex of a vineyard slope in August, where the pale globes
of sweetness are lying, does not feel this? It is out of the bitter
salts of a smitten, volcanic soil that it comes up with the most
curious virtues. The mother faints and is parched up by the heat
which brings the child to the birth; and it pierces through, a wonder
of freshness, drawing its everlasting green and typical coolness out
of the midst of the ashes; its own stem becoming at last like a
tangled mass of tortured metal. In thinking of Dionysus, then, as
fire-born, the Greeks apprehend and embody the sentiment, the poetry,
of all tender things which grow out of a hard soil, or in any sense
blossom before the leaf, like the little mezereon-plant of English
gardens, with its pale-purple, wine-scented flowers upon the leafless
twigs in February, or like the almond-trees of Tuscany, or Aaron's
rod that budded, or the staff in the hand of the Pope when
Tannhšuser's repentance is accepted.

And his second birth is of the dew. The fire of which he was born
would destroy him in [27] his turn, as it withered up his mother; a
second danger comes; from this the plant is protected by the
influence of the cooling cloud, the lower part of his father the sky,
in which it is wrapped and hidden, and of which it is born again, its
second mother being, in some versions of the legend, Hyť--the Dew.
The nursery, where Zeus places it to be brought up, is a cave in
Mount Nysa, sought by a misdirected ingenuity in many lands, but
really, like the place of the carrying away of Persephone, a place of
fantasy, the oozy place of springs in the hollow of the hillside,
nowhere and everywhere, where the vine was "invented." The nymphs of
the trees overshadow it from above; the nymphs of the springs sustain
it from below--the Hyades, those first leaping maenads, who, as the
springs become rain-clouds, go up to heaven among the stars, and
descend again, as dew or shower, upon it; so that the religion of
Dionysus connects itself, not with tree-worship only, but also with
ancient water-worship, the worship of the spiritual forms of springs
and streams. To escape from his enemies Dionysus leaps into the sea,
the original of all rain and springs, whence, in early summer, the
women of Elis and Argos were wont to call him, with the singing of a
hymn. And again, in thus commemorating Dionysus as born of the dew,
the Greeks apprehend and embody the sentiment, the poetry, of water.
For not the heat only, but its solace--the freshness of the [28] cup-
-this too was felt by those people of the vineyard, whom the prophet
Melampus had taught to mix always their wine with water, and with
whom the watering of the vines became a religious ceremony; the very
dead, as they thought, drinking of and refreshed by the stream. And
who that has ever felt the heat of a southern country does not know
this poetry, the motive of the loveliest of all the works attributed
to Giorgione, the FÍte ChampÍtre in the Louvre; the intense
sensations, the subtle and far-reaching symbolisms, which, in these
places, cling about the touch and sound and sight of it? Think of
the darkness of the well in the breathless court, with the delicate
ring of ferns kept alive just within the opening; of the sound of the
fresh water flowing through the wooden pipes into the houses of
Venice, on summer mornings; of the cry Acqua frťsca! at Padua or
Verona, when the people run to buy what they prize, in its rare
purity, more than wine, bringing pleasures so full of exquisite
appeal to the imagination, that, in these streets, the very beggars,
one thinks, might exhaust all the philosophy of the epicurean.

Out of all these fancies comes the vine-growers' god, the spiritual
form of fire and dew. Beyond the famous representations of Dionysus
in later art and poetry--the Bacchanals of Euripides, the statuary of
the school of Praxiteles--a multitude of literary allusions and local
[29] customs carry us back to this world of vision unchecked by
positive knowledge, in which the myth is begotten among a primitive
people, as they wondered over the life of the thing their hands
helped forward, till it became for them a kind of spirit, and their
culture of it a kind of worship. Dionysus, as we see him in art and
poetry, is the projected expression of the ways and dreams of this
primitive people, brooded over and harmonised by the energetic Greek
imagination; the religious imagination of the Greeks being,
precisely, a unifying or identifying power, bringing together things
naturally asunder, making, as it were, for the human body a soul of
waters, for the human soul a body of flowers; welding into something
like the identity of a human personality the whole range of man's
experiences of a given object, or series of objects--all their
outward qualities, and the visible facts regarding them--all the
hidden ordinances by which those facts and qualities hold of unseen
forces, and have their roots in purely visionary places.

Dionysus came later than the other gods to the centres of Greek life;
and, as a consequence of this, he is presented to us in an earlier
stage of development than they; that element of natural fact which is
the original essence of all mythology being more unmistakeably
impressed upon us here than in other myths. Not the least
interesting point in the study of him is, that he illustrates very
clearly, not only the [30] earlier, but also a certain later
influence of this element of natural fact, in the development of the
gods of Greece. For the physical sense, latent in it, is the clue,
not merely to the original signification of the incidents of the
divine story, but also to the source of the peculiar imaginative
expression which its persons subsequently retain, in the forms of the
higher Greek sculpture. And this leads me to some general thoughts
on the relation of Greek sculpture to mythology, which may help to
explain what the function of the imagination in Greek sculpture
really was, in its handling of divine persons.

That Zeus is, in earliest, original, primitive intention, the open
sky, across which the thunder sometimes sounds, and from which the
rain descends--is a fact which not only explains the various stories
related concerning him, but determines also the expression which he
retained in the work of Pheidias, so far as it is possible to recall
it, long after the growth of those later stories had obscured, for
the minds of his worshippers, his primary signification. If men
felt, as Arrian tells us, that it was a calamity to die without
having seen the Zeus of Olympia; that was because they experienced
the impress there of that which the eye and the whole being of man
love to find above him; and the genius of Pheidias had availed to
shed, upon the gold and ivory of the physical form, the blandness,
the breadth, the smile of the open sky; the mild [31] heat of it
still coming and going, in the face of the father of all the children
of sunshine and shower; as if one of the great white clouds had
composed itself into it, and looked down upon them thus, out of the
midsummer noonday: so that those things might be felt as warm, and
fresh, and blue, by the young and the old, the weak and the strong,
who came to sun themselves in the god's presence, as procession and
hymn rolled on, in the fragrant and tranquil courts of the great
Olympian temple; while all the time those people consciously
apprehended in the carved image of Zeus none but the personal, and
really human, characteristics.

Or think, again, of the Zeus of Dodona. The oracle of Dodona, with
its dim grove of oaks, and sounding instruments of brass to husband
the faintest whisper in the leaves, was but a great consecration of
that sense of a mysterious will, of which people still feel, or seem
to feel, the expression, in the motions of the wind, as it comes and
goes, and which makes it, indeed, seem almost more than a mere symbol
of the spirit within us. For Zeus was, indeed, the god of the winds
also; Aeolus, their so-called god, being only his mortal minister, as
having come, by long study of them, through signs in the fire and the
like, to have a certain communicable skill regarding them, in
relation to practical uses. Now, suppose a Greek sculptor to have
proposed to himself to present [32] to his worshippers the image of
this Zeus of Dodona, who is in the trees and on the currents of the
air. Then, if he had been a really imaginative sculptor, working as
Pheidias worked, the very soul of those moving, sonorous creatures
would have passed through his hand, into the eyes and hair of the
image; as they can actually pass into the visible expression of those
who have drunk deeply of them; as we may notice, sometimes, in our
walks on mountain or shore.

Victory again--Nikť--associated so often with Zeus--on the top of his
staff, on the foot of his throne, on the palm of his extended hand--
meant originally, mythologic science tells us, only the great victory
of the sky, the triumph of morning over darkness. But that physical
morning of her origin has its ministry to the later aesthetic sense
also. For if Nikť, when she appears in company with the mortal, and
wholly fleshly hero, in whose chariot she stands to guide the horses,
or whom she crowns with her garland of parsley or bay, or whose names
she writes on a shield, is imaginatively conceived, it is because the
old skyey influences are still not quite suppressed in her clear-set
eyes, and the dew of the morning still clings to her wings and her
floating hair.

The office of the imagination, then, in Greek sculpture, in its
handling of divine persons, is thus to condense the impressions of
natural things into human form; to retain that early mystical sense
of water, or wind, or light, in the [33] moulding of eye and brow; to
arrest it, or rather, perhaps, to set it free, there, as human
expression. The body of man, indeed, was for the Greeks, still the
genuine work of Prometheus; its connexion with earth and air asserted
in many a legend, not shaded down, as with us, through innumerable
stages of descent, but direct and immediate; in precise contrast to
our physical theory of our life, which never seems to fade, dream
over it as we will, out of the light of common day. The oracles with
their messages to human intelligence from birds and springs of water,
or vapours of the earth, were a witness to that connexion. Their
story went back, as they believed, with unbroken continuity, and in
the very places where their later life was lived, to a past,
stretching beyond, yet continuous with, actual memory, in which
heaven and earth mingled; to those who were sons and daughters of
stars, and streams, and dew; to an ancestry of grander men and women,
actually clothed in, or incorporate with, the qualities and
influences of those objects; and we can hardly over-estimate the
influence on the Greek imagination of this mythical connexion with
the natural world, at not so remote a date, and of the solemnising
power exercised thereby over their thoughts. In this intensely
poetical situation, the historical Greeks, the Athenians of the age
of Pericles, found themselves; it was as if the actual roads on which
men daily walk, went up and on, into a visible wonderland.

[34] With such habitual impressions concerning the body, the physical
nature of man, the Greek sculptor, in his later day, still free in
imagination, through the lingering influence of those early dreams,
may have more easily infused into human form the sense of sun, or
lightning, or cloud, to which it was so closely akin, the spiritual
flesh allying itself happily to mystical meanings, and readily
expressing seemingly unspeakable qualities. But the human form is a
limiting influence also; and in proportion as art impressed human
form, in sculpture or in the drama, on the vaguer conceptions of the
Greek mind, there was danger of an escape from them of the free
spirit of air, and light, and sky. Hence, all through the history of
Greek art, there is a struggle, a Streben, as the Germans say,
between the palpable and limited human form, and the floating essence
it is to contain. On the one hand, was the teeming, still fluid
world, of old beliefs, as we see it reflected in the somewhat
formless theogony of Hesiod; a world, the Titanic vastness of which
is congruous with a certain sublimity of speech, when he has to
speak, for instance, of motion or space; as the Greek language itself
has a primitive copiousness and energy of words, for wind, fire,
water, cold, sound--attesting a deep susceptibility to the
impressions of those things--yet with edges, most often, melting into
each other. On the other hand, there was that limiting, controlling
tendency, [35] identified with the Dorian influence in the history of
the Greek mind, the spirit of a severe and wholly self-conscious
intelligence; bent on impressing everywhere, in the products of the
imagination, the definite, perfectly conceivable human form, as the
only worthy subject of art; less in sympathy with the mystical
genealogies of Hesiod, than with the heroes of Homer, ending in the
entirely humanised religion of Apollo, the clearly understood
humanity of the old Greek warriors in the marbles of Aegina. The
representation of man, as he is or might be, became the aim of
sculpture, and the achievement of this the subject of its whole
history; one early carver had opened the eyes, another the lips, a
third had given motion to the feet; in various ways, in spite of the
retention of archaic idols, the genuine human expression had come,
with the truthfulness of life itself.

These two tendencies, then, met and struggled and were harmonised in
the supreme imagination, of Pheidias, in sculpture--of Aeschylus, in
the drama. Hence, a series of wondrous personalities, of which the
Greek imagination became the dwelling-place; beautiful, perfectly
understood human outlines, embodying a strange, delightful, lingering
sense of clouds and water and sun. Such a world, the world of really
imaginative Greek sculpture, we still see, reflected in many a humble
vase or battered coin, in Bacchante, and Centaur, and Amazon; [36]
evolved out of that "vasty deep"; with most command, in the
consummate fragments of the Parthenon; not, indeed, so that he who
runs may read, the gifts of Greek sculpture being always delicate,
and asking much of the receiver; but yet visible, and a pledge to us,
of creative power, as, to the worshipper, of the presence, which,
without that material pledge, had but vaguely haunted the fields and

This, then, was what the Greek imagination did for men's sense and
experience of natural forces, in Athene, in Zeus, in Poseidon; for
men's sense and experience of their own bodily qualities--swiftness,
energy, power of concentrating sight and hand and foot on a momentary
physical act--in the close hair, the chastened muscle, the perfectly
poised attention of the quoit-player; for men's sense, again, of
ethical qualities--restless idealism, inward vision, power of
presence through that vision in scenes behind the experience of
ordinary men--in the idealised Alexander.

To illustrate this function of the imagination, as especially
developed in Greek art, we may reflect on what happens with us in the
use of certain names, as expressing summarily, this name for you and
that for me--Helen, Gretchen, Mary--a hundred associations, trains of
sound, forms, impressions, remembered in all sorts of degrees, which,
through a very wide and full experience, they have the power of
bringing with [37] them; in which respect, such names are but
revealing instances of the whole significance, power, and use of
language in general. Well,--the mythical conception, projected at
last, in drama or sculpture, is the name, the instrument of the
identification, of the given matter,--of its unity in variety, its
outline or definition in mystery; its spiritual form, to use again
the expression I have borrowed from William Blake--form, with hands,
and lips, and opened eyelids--spiritual, as conveying to us, in that,
the soul of rain, or of a Greek river, or of swiftness, or purity.

To illustrate this, think what the effect would be, if you could
associate, by some trick of memory, a certain group of natural
objects, in all their varied perspective, their changes of colour and
tone in varying light and shade, with the being and image of an
actual person. You travelled through a country of clear rivers and
wide meadows, or of high windy places, or of lowly grass and willows,
or of the Lady of the Lake; and all the complex impressions of these
objects wound themselves, as a second animated body, new and more
subtle, around the person of some one left there, so that they no
longer come to recollection apart from each other. Now try to
conceive the image of an actual person, in whom, somehow, all those
impressions of the vine and its fruit, as the highest type of the
life of the green sap, had become incorporate;--all the scents and
colours of its flower and fruit, and [38] something of its curling
foliage; the chances of its growth; the enthusiasm, the easy flow of
more choice expression, as its juices mount within one; for the image
is eloquent, too, in word, gesture, and glancing of the eyes, which
seem to be informed by some soul of the vine within it: as Wordsworth

Beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face--

so conceive an image into which the beauty, "born" of the vine, has
passed; and you have the idea of Dionysus, as he appears, entirely
fashioned at last by central Greek poetry and art, and is consecrated
in the Oinophoria and the AnthestÍria,+ the great festivals of the
Winepress and the Flowers.

The word wine, and with it the germ of the myth of Dionysus, is older
than the separation of the Indo-Germanic race. Yet, with the people
of Athens, Dionysus counted as the youngest of the gods; he was also
the son of a mortal, dead in childbirth, and seems always to have
exercised the charm of the latest born, in a sort of allowable
fondness. Through the fine-spun speculations of modern ethnologists
and grammarians, noting the changes in the letters of his name, and
catching at the slightest historical records of his worship, we may
trace his coming from Phrygia, the birthplace of the more mystical
elements of [39] Greek religion, over the mountains of Thrace. On
the heights of Pangaeus he leaves an oracle, with a perpetually
burning fire, famous down to the time of Augustus, who reverently
visited it. Southwards still, over the hills of Parnassus, which
remained for the inspired women of Boeotia the centre of his
presence, he comes to Thebes, and the family of Cadmus. From Boeotia
he passes to Attica; to the villages first; at last to Athens; at an
assignable date, under Peisistratus; out of the country, into the

To this stage of his town-life, that Dionysus of "enthusiasm" already
belonged; it was to the Athenians of the town, to urbane young men,
sitting together at the banquet, that those expressions of a sudden
eloquence came, of the loosened utterance and finer speech, its
colour and imagery. Dionysus, then, has entered Athens, to become
urbane like them; to walk along the marble streets in frequent
procession, in the persons of noble youths, like those who at the
Oschophoria bore the branches of the vine from his temple, to the
temple of Athene of the Parasol, or of beautiful slaves; to
contribute through the arts to the adornment of life, yet perhaps
also in part to weaken it, relaxing ancient austerity. Gradually,
his rough country feasts will be outdone by the feasts of the town;
and as comedy arose out of those, so these will give rise to tragedy.
For his entrance upon this new stage of his career, his coming into
the town, is from the [40] first tinged with melancholy, as if in
entering the town he had put off his country peace. The other
Olympians are above sorrow. Dionysus, like a strenuous mortal hero,
like Hercules or Perseus, has his alternations of joy and sorrow, of
struggle and hard-won triumph. It is out of the sorrows of Dionysus,
then,--of Dionysus in winter--that all Greek tragedy grows; out of
the song of the sorrows of Dionysus, sung at his winter feast by the
chorus of satyrs, singers clad in goat-skins, in memory of his rural
life, one and another of whom, from time to time, steps out of the
company to emphasise and develope this or that circumstance of the
story; and so the song becomes dramatic. He will soon forget that
early country life, or remember it but as the dreamy background of
his later existence. He will become, as always in later art and
poetry, of dazzling whiteness; no longer dark with the air and sun,
but like one eskiatrofÍkŰs+--brought up under the shade of Eastern
porticoes or pavilions, or in the light that has only reached him
softened through the texture of green leaves; honey-pale, like the
delicate people of the city, like the flesh of women, as those old
vase-painters conceive of it, who leave their hands and faces
untouched with the pencil on the white clay. The ruddy god of the
vineyard, stained with wine-lees, or coarser colour, will hardly
recognise his double, in the white, graceful, mournful figure,
weeping, chastened, lifting up his arms in yearning+ [41] affection
towards his late-found mother, as we see him on a famous Etruscan
mirror. Only, in thinking of this early tragedy, of these town-
feasts, and of the entrance of Dionysus into Athens, you must
suppose, not the later Athens which is oftenest in our thoughts, the
Athens of Pericles and Pheidias; but that little earlier Athens of
Peisistratus, which the Persians destroyed, which some of us perhaps
would rather have seen, in its early simplicity, than the greater
one; when the old image of the god, carved probably out of the stock
of an enormous vine, had just come from the village of Eleutherae to
his first temple in the Lenaeum--the quarter of the winepresses, near
the Limnae--the marshy place, which in Athens represents the cave of
Nysa; its little buildings on the hill-top, still with steep rocky
ways, crowding round the ancient temple of Erechtheus and the grave
of Cecrops, with the old miraculous olive-tree still growing there,
and the old snake of Athene Polias still alive somewhere in the
temple court.

The artists of the Italian Renaissance have treated Dionysus many
times, and with great effect, but always in his joy, as an embodiment
of that glory of nature to which the Renaissance was a return. But
in an early engraving of Mocetto there is for once a Dionysus treated
differently. The cold light of the background displays a barren
hill, the bridge and towers of [42] an Italian town, and quiet water.
In the foreground, at the root of a vine, Dionysus is sitting, in a
posture of statuesque weariness; the leaves of the vine are grandly
drawn, and wreathing heavily round the head of the god, suggest the
notion of his incorporation into it. The right hand, holding a great
vessel languidly and indifferently, lets the stream of wine flow
along the earth; while the left supports the forehead, shadowing
heavily a face, comely, but full of an expression of painful
brooding. One knows not how far one may really be from the mind of
the old Italian engraver, in gathering from his design this
impression of a melancholy and sorrowing Dionysus. But modern
motives are clearer; and in a Bacchus by a young Hebrew painter, in
the exhibition of the Royal Academy of 1868, there was a complete and
very fascinating realisation of such a motive; the god of the
bitterness of wine, "of things too sweet"; the sea-water of the
Lesbian grape become somewhat brackish in the cup. Touched by the
sentiment of this subtler, melancholy Dionysus, we may ask whether
anything similar in feeling is to be actually found in the range of
Greek ideas;--had some antitype of this fascinating figure any place
in Greek religion? Yes; in a certain darker side of the double god
of nature, obscured behind the brighter episodes of Thebes and Naxos,
but never quite forgotten, something corresponding to this deeper,
more refined idea, [43] really existed--the conception of Dionysus
Zagreus; an image, which has left, indeed, but little effect in Greek
art and poetry, which criticism has to put patiently together, out of
late, scattered hints in various writers; but which is yet
discernible, clearly enough to show that it really visited certain
Greek minds here and there; and discernible, not as a late after-
thought, but as a tradition really primitive, and harmonious with the
original motive of the idea of Dionysus. In its potential, though
unrealised scope, it is perhaps the subtlest dream in Greek religious
poetry, and is, at least, part of the complete physiognomy of
Dionysus, as it actually reveals itself to the modern student, after
a complete survey.

The whole compass of the idea of Dionysus, a dual god of both summer
and winter, became ultimately, as we saw, almost identical with that
of Demeter. The Phrygians believed that the god slept in winter and
awoke in summer, and celebrated his waking and sleeping; or that he
was bound and imprisoned in winter, and unbound in spring. We saw
how, in Elis and at Argos, the women called him out of the sea, with
the singing of hymns, in early spring; and a beautiful ceremony in
the temple at Delphi, which, as we know, he shares with Apollo,
described by Plutarch, represents his mystical resurrection. Yearly,
about the time of the shortest day, just as the light begins to
increase, [44] and while hope is still tremulously strung, the
priestesses of Dionysus were wont to assemble with many lights at his
shrine, and there, with songs and dances, awoke the new-born child
after his wintry sleep, waving in a sacred cradle, like the great
basket used for winnowing corn, a symbolical image, or perhaps a real
infant. He is twofold then--a DŲppelganger; like Persephone, he
belongs to two worlds, and has much in common with her, and a full
share of those dark possibilities which, even apart from the story of
the rape, belong to her. He is a Chthonian god, and, like all the
children of the earth, has an element of sadness; like Hades himself,
he is hollow and devouring, an eater of man's flesh--sarcophagus--the
grave which consumed unaware the ivory-white shoulder of Pelops.

And you have no sooner caught a glimpse of this image, than a certain
perceptible shadow comes creeping over the whole story; for, in
effect, we have seen glimpses of the sorrowing Dionysus, all along.
Part of the interest of the Theban legend of his birth is that he
comes of the marriage of a god with a mortal woman; and from the
first, like merely mortal heroes, he falls within the sphere of human
chances. At first, indeed, the melancholy settles round the person
of his mother, dead in childbirth, and ignorant of the glory of her
son; in shame, according to Euripides; punished, as her own sisters
allege, for impiety. The death of Semele [45] is a sort of ideal or
type of this peculiar claim on human pity, as the descent of
Persephone into Hades, of all human pity over the early death of
women. Accordingly, his triumph being now consummated, he descends
into Hades, through the unfathomable Alcyonian lake, according to the
most central version of the legend, to bring her up from thence; and
that Hermes, the shadowy conductor of souls, is constantly associated
with Dionysus, in the story of his early life, is not without
significance in this connexion. As in Delphi the winter months were
sacred to him, so in Athens his feasts all fall within the four
months on this and the other side of the shortest day; as Persephone
spends those four months--a third part of the year--in Hades. Son or
brother of Persephone he actually becomes at last, in confused, half-
developed tradition; and even has his place, with his dark sister, in
the Eleusinian mysteries, as Iacchus; where, on the sixth day of the
feast, in the great procession from Athens to Eleusis, we may still
realise his image, moving up and down above the heads of the vast
multitude, as he goes, beside "the two," to the temple of Demeter,
amid the light of torches at noonday.

But it was among the mountains of Thrace that this gloomier element
in the being of Dionysus had taken the strongest hold. As in the
sunny villages of Attica the cheerful elements of his religion had
been developed, so, in those [46] wilder northern regions, people
continued to brood over its darker side, and hence a current of
gloomy legend descended into Greece. The subject of the Bacchanals
of Euripides is the infatuated opposition of Pentheus, king of
Thebes, to Dionysus and his religion; his cruelty to the god, whom he
shuts up in prison, and who appears on the stage with his delicate
limbs cruelly bound, but who is finally triumphant; Pentheus, the man
of grief, being torn to pieces by his own mother, in the judicial
madness sent upon her by the god. In this play, Euripides has only
taken one of many versions of the same story, in all of which
Dionysus is victorious, his enemy being torn to pieces by the sacred
women, or by wild horses, or dogs, or the fangs of cold; or the
maenad Ambrosia, whom he is supposed to pursue for purposes of lust,
suddenly becomes a vine, and binds him down to the earth
inextricably, in her serpentine coils.

In all these instances, then, Dionysus punishes his enemies by
repaying them in kind. But a deeper vein of poetry pauses at the
sorrow, and in the conflict does not too soon anticipate the final
triumph. It is Dionysus himself who exhausts these sufferings.
Hence, in many forms--reflexes of all the various phases of his
wintry existence--the image of Dionysus Zagreus, the Hunter--of
Dionysus in winter--storming wildly on the dark Thracian hills, from
which, like Ares and Boreas, he originally descends into [47] Greece;
the thought of the hunter concentrating into itself all men's
forebodings over the departure of the year at its richest, and the
death of all sweet things in the long-continued cold, when the sick
and the old and little children, gazing out morning after morning on
the dun sky, can hardly believe in the return any more of a bright
day. Or he is connected with the fears, the dangers and hardships of
the hunter himself, lost or slain sometimes, far from home, in the
dense woods of the mountains, as he seeks his meat so ardently;
becoming, in his chase, almost akin to the wild beasts--to the wolf,
who comes before us in the name of Lycurgus, one of his bitterest
enemies--and a phase, therefore, of his own personality, in the true
intention of the myth. This transformation, this image of the
beautiful soft creature become an enemy of human kind, putting off
himself in his madness, wronged by his own fierce hunger and thirst,
and haunting, with terrible sounds, the high Thracian farms, is the
most tragic note of the whole picture, and links him on to one of the
gloomiest creations of later romance, the werewolf, the belief in
which still lingers in Greece, as in France, where it seems to become
incorporate in the darkest of all romantic histories, that of Gilles
de Retz.

And now we see why the tradition of human sacrifice lingered on in
Greece, in connexion with Dionysus, as a thing of actual detail, and
[48] not remote, so that Dionysius of Halicarnassus counts it among
the horrors of Greek religion. That the sacred women of Dionysus
ate, in mystical ceremony, raw flesh, and drank blood, is a fact
often mentioned, and commemorates, as it seems, the actual sacrifice
of a fair boy deliberately torn to pieces, fading at last into a
symbolical offering. At Delphi, the wolf was preserved for him, on
the principle by which Venus loves the dove, and Hera peacocks; and
there were places in which, after the sacrifice of a kid to him, a
curious mimic pursuit of the priest who had offered it represented
the still surviving horror of one who had thrown a child to the
wolves. The three daughters of Minyas devote themselves to his
worship; they cast lots, and one of them offers her own tender infant
to be torn by the three, like a roe; then the other women pursue
them, and they are turned into bats, or moths, or other creatures of
the night. And fable is endorsed by history; Plutarch telling us
how, before the battle of Salamis, with the assent of Themistocles,
three Persian captive youths were offered to Dionysus the Devourer.

As, then, some embodied their fears of winter in Persephone, others
embodied them in Dionysus, a devouring god, whose sinister side (as
the best wine itself has its treacheries) is illustrated in the dark
and shameful secret society described by Livy, in which his worship
ended at Rome, afterwards abolished by solemn act of the senate. [49]
He becomes a new Aidoneus, a hunter of men's souls; like him, to be
appeased only by costly sacrifices.

And then, Dionysus recovering from his mid-winter madness, how
intensely these people conceive the spring! It is that triumphant
Dionysus, cured of his great malady, and sane in the clear light of
the longer days, whom Euripides in the Bacchanals sets before us, as
still, essentially, the Hunter, Zagreus; though he keeps the red
streams and torn flesh away from the delicate body of the god, in his
long vesture of white and gold, and fragrant with Eastern odours. Of
this I hope to speak in another paper; let me conclude this by one
phase more of religious custom.

If Dionysus, like Persephone, has his gloomy side, like her he has
also a peculiar message for a certain number of refined minds,
seeking, in the later days of Greek religion, such modifications of
the old legend as may minister to ethical culture, to the perfecting
of the moral nature. A type of second birth, from first to last, he
opens, in his series of annual changes, for minds on the look-out for
it, the hope of a possible analogy, between the resurrection of
nature, and something else, as yet unrealised, reserved for human
souls; and the beautiful, weeping creature, vexed by the wind,
suffering, torn to pieces, and rejuvenescent again at last, like a
tender shoot of living green out of the hardness and stony darkness+
[50] of the earth, becomes an emblem or ideal of chastening and
purification, and of final victory through suffering. It is the
finer, mystical sentiment of the few, detached from the coarser and
more material religion of the many, and accompanying it, through the
course of its history, as its ethereal, less palpable, life-giving
soul, and, as always happens, seeking the quiet, and not too anxious
to make itself felt by others. With some unfixed, though real, place
in the general scheme of Greek religion, this phase of the worship of
Dionysus had its special development in the Orphic literature and
mysteries. Obscure as are those followers of the mystical Orpheus,
we yet certainly see them, moving, and playing their part, in the
later ages of Greek religion. Old friends with new faces, though
they had, as Plato witnesses, their less worthy aspect, in certain
appeals to vulgar, superstitious fears, they seem to have been not
without the charm of a real and inward religious beauty, with their
neologies, their new readings of old legends, their sense of mystical
second meanings, as they refined upon themes grown too familiar, and
linked, in a sophisticated age, the new to the old. In this respect,
we may perhaps liken them to the mendicant orders in the Middle Ages,
with their florid, romantic theology, beyond the bounds of orthodox
tradition, giving so much new matter to art and poetry. They are a
picturesque addition, also, to the exterior of Greek life, with [51]
their white dresses, their dirges, their fastings and ecstasies,
their outward asceticism and material purifications. And the central
object of their worship comes before us as a tortured, persecuted,
slain god--the suffering Dionysus--of whose legend they have their
own special and esoteric version. That version, embodied in a
supposed Orphic poem, The Occultation of Dionysus, is represented
only by the details that have passed from it into the almost endless
Dionysiaca of Nonnus, a writer of the fourth century; and the imagery
has to be put back into the shrine, bit by bit, and finally
incomplete. Its central point is the picture of the rending to
pieces of a divine child, of whom a tradition, scanty indeed, but
harmonious in its variations, had long maintained itself. It was in
memory of it, that those who were initiated into the Orphic mysteries
tasted of the raw flesh of the sacrifice, and thereafter ate flesh no
more; and it connected itself with that strange object in the Delphic
shrine, the grave of Dionysus.

Son, first, of Zeus, and of Persephone whom Zeus woos, in the form of
a serpent--the white, golden-haired child, the best-beloved of his
father, and destined by him to be the ruler of the world, grows up in
secret. But one day, Zeus, departing on a journey in his great
fondness for the child, delivered to him his crown and staff, and so
left him--shut in a strong tower. Then it came to pass that the
jealous Here sent [52] out the Titans against him. They approached
the crowned child, and with many sorts of playthings enticed him
away, to have him in their power, and then miserably slew him--
hacking his body to pieces, as the wind tears the vine, with the axe
Pelekus, which, like the swords of Roland and Arthur, has its proper
name. The fragments of the body they boiled in a great cauldron, and
made an impious banquet upon them, afterwards carrying the bones to
Apollo, whose rival the young child should have been, thinking to do
him service. But Apollo, in great pity for this his youngest
brother, laid the bones in a grave, within his own holy place.
Meanwhile, Here, full of her vengeance, brings to Zeus the heart of
the child, which she had snatched, still beating, from the hands of
the Titans. But Zeus delivered the heart to Semele; and the soul of
the child remaining awhile in Hades, where Demeter made for it new
flesh, was thereafter born of Semele--a second Zagreus--the younger,
or Theban Dionysus.


12. +"Hymn to Aphrodite," lines 264-72 (Greek text). The Homeric
Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-
White. Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press;
London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.

16. +"Hymn to Pan," lines 16ff. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with
an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Homeric Hymns.
Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann
Ltd. 1914.

22. +Transliteration: deisidaimones. Liddell and Scott definition:
"fearing the gods," in both a good and bad sense--i.e. either pious
or superstitious.

22. *There were some who suspected Dionysus of a secret democratic
interest; though indeed he was liberator only of men's hearts, and
eleuthereus only because he never forgot Eleutherae, the little
place which, in Attica, first received him.

26. +E-text editor's transliteration: pyrigenÍs. Liddell and Scott
definition: "born of fire."

38. +Transliteration: Oinophoria . . . AnthestÍria. Liddell and
Scott definition of AnthestÍria: "The Feast of Flowers, the three
days' festival of Bacchus at Athens, in the month Anthesterion."

40. +Transliteration: eskiatrofÍkŰs. Liddell and Scott definition:
participle of skiatropheo, "to rear in the shade."


[53] So far, I have endeavoured to present, with something of the
concrete character of a picture, Dionysus, the old Greek god, as we
may discern him through a multitude of stray hints in art and poetry
and religious custom, through modern speculation on the tendencies of
early thought, through traits and touches in our own actual states of
mind, which may seem sympathetic with those tendencies. In such a
picture there must necessarily be a certain artificiality; things
near and far, matter of varying degrees of certainty, fact and
surmise, being reflected and concentrated, for its production, as if
on the surface of a mirror. Such concrete character, however, Greek
poet or sculptor, from time to time, impressed on the vague world of
popular belief and usage around him; and in the Bacchanals of
Euripides we have an example of the figurative or imaginative power
of poetry, selecting and combining, at will, from that mixed and
floating mass, weaving the many-coloured threads together, blending
the various phases of legend--all the light and shade of the [54]
subject--into a shape, substantial and firmly set, through which a
mere fluctuating tradition might retain a permanent place in men's
imaginations. Here, in what Euripides really says, in what we
actually see on the stage, as we read his play, we are dealing with a
single real object, not with uncertain effects of many half-fancied
objects. Let me leave you for a time almost wholly in his hands,
while you look very closely at his work, so as to discriminate its
outlines clearly.

This tragedy of the Bacchanals--a sort of masque or morality, as we
say--a monument as central for the legend of Dionysus as the Homeric
hymn for that of Demeter, is unique in Greek literature, and has also
a singular interest in the life of Euripides himself. He is writing
in old age (the piece was not played till after his death) not at
Athens, nor for a polished Attic audience, but for a wilder and less
temperately cultivated sort of people, at the court of Archelaus, in
Macedonia. Writing in old age, he is in that subdued mood, a mood
not necessarily sordid, in which (the shudder at the nearer approach
of the unknown world coming over him more frequently than of old)
accustomed ideas, conformable to a sort of common sense regarding the
unseen, oftentimes regain what they may have lost, in a man's
allegiance. It is a sort of madness, he begins to think, to differ
from the received opinions thereon. Not that he is insincere or
ironical, but that he tends, in the [55] sum of probabilities, to
dwell on their more peaceful side; to sit quiet, for the short
remaining time, in the reflexion of the more cheerfully lighted side
of things; and what is accustomed--what holds of familiar usage--
comes to seem the whole essence of wisdom, on all subjects; and the
well-known delineation of the vague country, in Homer or Hesiod,
one's best attainable mental outfit, for the journey thither. With
this sort of quiet wisdom the whole play is penetrated. Euripides
has said, or seemed to say, many things concerning Greek religion, at
variance with received opinion; and now, in the end of life, he
desires to make his peace--what shall at any rate be peace with men.
He is in the mood for acquiescence, or even for a palinode; and this
takes the direction, partly of mere submission to, partly of a
refining upon, the authorised religious tradition: he calmly
sophisticates this or that element of it which had seemed grotesque;
and has, like any modern writer, a theory how myths were made, and
how in lapse of time their first signification gets to be obscured
among mortals; and what he submits to, that he will also adorn
fondly, by his genius for words.

And that very neighbourhood afforded him his opportunity. It was in
the neighbourhood of Pella, the Macedonian capital, that the worship
of Dionysus, the newest of the gods, prevailed in its most
extravagant form--the [56] Thiasus, or wild, nocturnal procession of
Bacchic women, retired to the woods and hills for that purpose, with
its accompaniments of music, and lights, and dancing. Rational and
moderate Athenians, as we may gather from some admissions of
Euripides himself, somewhat despised all that; while those who were
more fanatical forsook the home celebrations, and went on pilgrimage
from Attica to Cithaeron or Delphi. But at Pella persons of high
birth took part in the exercise, and at a later period we read in
Plutarch how Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, was devoted
to this enthusiastic worship. Although in one of Botticelli's
pictures the angels dance very sweetly, and may represent many
circumstances actually recorded in the Hebrew scriptures, yet we
hardly understand the dance as a religious ceremony; the bare mention
of it sets us thinking on some fundamental differences between the
pagan religions and our own. It is to such ecstasies, however, that
all nature-worship seems to tend; that giddy, intoxicating sense of
spring--that tingling in the veins, sympathetic with the yearning
life of the earth, having, apparently, in all times and places,
prompted some mode of wild dancing. Coleridge, in one of his
fantastic speculations, refining on the German word for enthusiasm--
Schwšrmerei, swarming, as he says, "like the swarming of bees
together"--has explained how the sympathies of mere numbers, as such,
the random catching on [57] fire of one here and another there, when
people are collected together, generates as if by mere contact, some
new and rapturous spirit, not traceable in the individual units of a
multitude. Such swarming was the essence of that strange dance of
the Bacchic women: literally like winged things, they follow, with
motives, we may suppose, never quite made clear even to themselves,
their new, strange, romantic god. Himself a woman-like god,--it was
on women and feminine souls that his power mainly fell. At Elis, it
was the women who had their own little song with which at spring-time
they professed to call him from the sea: at Brasiae they had their
own temple where none but women might enter; and so the Thiasus,
also, is almost exclusively formed of women--of those who experience
most directly the influence of things which touch thought through the
senses--the presence of night, the expectation of morning, the
nearness of wild, unsophisticated, natural things--the echoes, the
coolness, the noise of frightened creatures as they climbed through
the darkness, the sunrise seen from the hill-tops, the disillusion,
the bitterness of satiety, the deep slumber which comes with the
morning. Athenians visiting the Macedonian capital would hear, and
from time to time actually see, something of a religious custom, in
which the habit of an earlier world might seem to survive. As they
saw the lights flitting over the mountains, [58] and heard the wild,
sharp cries of the women, there was presented, as a singular fact in
the more prosaic actual life of a later time, an enthusiasm otherwise
relegated to the wonderland of a distant past, in which a supposed
primitive harmony and understanding between man and nature renewed
itself. Later sisters of Centaur and Amazon, the Maenads, as they
beat the earth in strange sympathy with its waking up from sleep, or
as, in the description of the Messenger, in the play of Euripides,
they lie sleeping in the glen, revealed among the morning mists, were
themselves indeed as remnants--flecks left here and there and not yet
quite evaporated under the hard light of a later and commoner day--of
a certain cloud-world which had once covered all things with a veil
of mystery. Whether or not, in what was often probably coarse as
well as extravagant, there may have lurked some finer vein of ethical
symbolism, such as Euripides hints at--the soberer influence, in the
Thiasus, of keen air and animal expansion, certainly, for art, and a
poetry delighting in colour and form, it was a custom rich in
suggestion. The imitative arts would draw from it altogether new
motives of freedom and energy, of freshness in old forms. It is from
this fantastic scene that the beautiful wind-touched draperies, the
rhythm, the heads suddenly thrown back, of many a Pompeian wall-
painting and sarcophagus-frieze are originally derived; and that
melting languor, that perfectly [59] composed lassitude of the fallen
Maenad, became a fixed type in the school of grace, the school of

The circumstances of the place thus combining with his peculiar
motive, Euripides writes the Bacchanals. It is this extravagant
phase of religion, and the latest-born of the gods, which as an
amende honorable to the once slighted traditions of Greek belief, he
undertakes to interpret to an audience composed of people who, like
Scyles, the Hellenising king of Scythia, feel the attraction of Greek
religion and Greek usage, but on their quainter side, and partly
relish that extravagance. Subject and audience alike stimulate the
romantic temper, and the tragedy of the Bacchanals, with its
innovations in metre and diction, expressly noted as foreign or
barbarous--all the charm and grace of the clear-pitched singing of
the chorus, notwithstanding--with its subtleties and sophistications,
its grotesques, mingled with and heightening a real shudder at the
horror of the theme, and a peculiarly fine and human pathos, is
almost wholly without the reassuring calm, generally characteristic
of the endings of Greek tragedy: is itself excited, troubled,
disturbing--a spotted or dappled thing, like the oddly dappled fawn-
skins of its own masquerade, so aptly expressive of the shifty,
twofold, rapidly-doubling genius of the divine, wild creature
himself. Let us listen and watch the strange masks coming and going,
for a while, [60] as far as may be as we should do with a modern
play. What are its charms? What is still alive, impressive, and
really poetical for us, in the dim old Greek play?

The scene is laid at Thebes, where the memory of Semele, the mother
of Dionysus, is still under a cloud. Her own sisters, sinning
against natural affection, pitiless over her pathetic death and
finding in it only a judgment upon the impiety with which, having
shamed herself with some mortal lover, she had thrown the blame of
her sin upon Zeus, have, so far, triumphed over her. The true and
glorious version of her story lives only in the subdued memory of the
two aged men, Teiresias the prophet, and her father Cadmus, apt now
to let things go loosely by, who has delegated his royal power to
Pentheus, the son of one of those sisters--a hot-headed and impious
youth. So things had passed at Thebes; and now a strange
circumstance has happened. An odd sickness has fallen upon the
women: Dionysus has sent the sting of his enthusiasm upon them, and
has pushed it to a sort of madness, a madness which imitates the true
Thiasus. Forced to have the form without the profit of his worship,
the whole female population, leaving distaff and spindle, and headed
by the three princesses, have deserted the town, and are lying
encamped on the bare rocks, or under the pines, among the solitudes
of Cithaeron. And it is just at this point that the divine child,
[61] supposed to have perished at his mother's side in the flames,
returns to his birthplace, grown to manhood.

Dionysus himself speaks the prologue. He is on a journey through the
world to found a new religion; and the first motive of this new
religion is the vindication of the memory of his mother. In
explaining this design, Euripides, who seeks always for pathetic
effect, tells in few words, touching because simple, the story of
Semele--here, and again still more intensely in the chorus which
follows--the merely human sentiment of maternity being not forgotten,
even amid the thought of the divine embraces of her fiery bed-fellow.
It is out of tenderness for her that the son's divinity is to be
revealed. A yearning affection, the affection with which we see him
lifting up his arms about her, satisfied at last, on an old Etruscan
metal mirror, has led him from place to place: everywhere he has had
his dances and established his worship; and everywhere his presence
has been her justification. First of all the towns in Greece he
comes to Thebes, the scene of her sorrows: he is standing beside the
sacred waters of Dirce and Ismenus: the holy place is in sight: he
hears the Greek speech, and sees at last the ruins of the place of
her lying-in, at once his own birth-chamber and his mother's tomb.
His image, as it detaches itself little by little from the episodes
of the play, and is further characterised by the [62] songs of the
chorus, has a singular completeness of symbolical effect. The
incidents of a fully developed human personality are superinduced on
the mystical and abstract essence of that fiery spirit in the flowing
veins of the earth--the aroma of the green world is retained in the
fair human body, set forth in all sorts of finer ethical lights and
shades--with a wonderful kind of subtlety. In the course of his long
progress from land to land, the gold, the flowers, the incense of the
East, have attached themselves deeply to him: their effect and
expression rest now upon his flesh like the gleaming of that old
ambrosial ointment of which Homer speaks as resting ever on the
persons of the gods, and cling to his clothing--the mitre binding his
perfumed yellow hair--the long tunic down to the white feet, somewhat
womanly, and the fawn-skin, with its rich spots, wrapped about the
shoulders. As the door opens to admit him, the scented air of the
vineyards (for the vine-blossom has an exquisite perfume) blows
through; while the convolvulus on his mystic rod represents all
wreathing flowery things whatever, with or without fruit, as in
America all such plants are still called vines. "Sweet upon the
mountains," the excitement of which he loves so deeply and to which
he constantly invites his followers--"sweet upon the mountains," and
profoundly amorous, his presence embodies all the voluptuous
abundance of Asia, its beating [63] sun, its "fair-towered cities,
full of inhabitants," which the chorus describe in their luscious
vocabulary, with the rich Eastern names--Lydia, Persia, Arabia Felix:
he is a sorcerer or an enchanter, the tyrant Pentheus thinks: the
springs of water, the flowing of honey and milk and wine, are his
miracles, wrought in person.

We shall see presently how, writing for that northern audience,
Euripides crosses the Theban with the gloomier Thracian legend, and
lets the darker stain show through. Yet, from the first, amid all
this floweriness, a touch or trace of that gloom is discernible. The
fawn-skin, composed now so daintily over the shoulders, may be worn
with the whole coat of the animal made up, the hoofs gilded and tied
together over the right shoulder, to leave the right arm disengaged
to strike, its head clothing the human head within, as Alexander, on
some of his coins, looks out from the elephant's scalp, and Hercules
out of the jaws of a lion, on the coins of Camarina. Those
diminutive golden horns attached to the forehead, represent not
fecundity merely, nor merely the crisp tossing of the waves of
streams, but horns of offence. And our fingers must beware of the
thyrsus, tossed about so wantonly by himself and his chorus. The
pine-cone at its top does but cover a spear-point; and the thing is a
weapon--the sharp spear of the hunter Zagreus--though hidden now by
the fresh leaves, and that button of pine-cone (useful also to dip in
[64] wine, to check the sweetness) which he has plucked down, coming
through the forest, at peace for a while this spring morning.

And the chorus emphasise this character, their songs weaving for the
whole piece, in words more effective than any painted scenery, a
certain congruous background which heightens all; the intimate sense
of mountains and mountain things being in this way maintained
throughout, and concentrated on the central figure. "He is sweet
among the mountains," they say, "when he drops down upon the plain,
out of his mystic musings"--and we may think we see the green
festoons of the vine dropping quickly, from foot-place to foot-place,
down the broken hill-side in spring, when like the Bacchanals, all
who can, wander out of the town to enjoy the earliest heats. "Let us
go out into the fields," we say; a strange madness seems to lurk
among the flowers, ready to lay hold on us also; autika ga pasa
choreusei+--soon the whole earth will dance and sing.

Dionysus is especially a woman's deity, and he comes from the east
conducted by a chorus of gracious Lydian women, his true sisters--
Bassarids, clad like himself in the long tunic, or bassara. They
move and speak to the music of clangorous metallic instruments,
cymbals and tambourines, relieved by the clearer notes of the pipe;
and there is a strange variety of almost imitative sounds for such
music, in their very [65] words. The Homeric hymn to Demeter
precedes the art of sculpture, but is rich in suggestions for it;
here, on the contrary, in the first chorus of the Bacchanals, as
elsewhere in the play, we feel that the poetry of Euripides is
probably borrowing something from art; that in these choruses, with
their repetitions and refrains, he is reproducing perhaps the spirit
of some sculptured relief which, like Luca della Robbia's celebrated
work for the organ-loft of the cathedral of Florence, worked by
various subtleties of line, not in the lips and eyes only, but in the
drapery and hands also, to a strange reality of impression of musical
effect on visible things.

They beat their drums before the palace; and then a humourous little
scene, a reflex of the old Dionysiac comedy--of that laughter which
was an essential element of the earliest worship of Dionysus--follows
the first chorus. The old blind prophet Teiresias, and the aged king
Cadmus, always secretly true to him, have agreed to celebrate the
Thiasus, and accept his divinity openly. The youthful god has
nowhere said decisively that he will have none but young men in his
sacred dance. But for that purpose they must put on the long tunic,
and that spotted skin which only rustics wear, and assume the thyrsus
and ivy-crown. Teiresias arrives and is seen knocking at the doors.
And then, just as in the medieval mystery, comes the [66] inevitable
grotesque, not unwelcome to our poet, who is wont in his plays,
perhaps not altogether consciously, to intensify by its relief both
the pity and the terror of his conceptions. At the summons of
Teiresias, Cadmus appears, already arrayed like him in the appointed
ornaments, in all their odd contrast with the infirmity and staidness
of old age. Even in old men's veins the spring leaps again, and they
are more than ready to begin dancing. But they are shy of the
untried dress, and one of them is blind--poi dei choreuein; poi
kathistanai poda; kai krata seisai polion;+ and then the difficulty
of the way! the long, steep journey to the glens! may pilgrims boil
their peas? might they proceed to the place in carriages? At last,
while the audience laugh more or less delicately at their aged
fumblings, in some co-operative manner, the eyes of the one combining
with the hands of the other, the pair are about to set forth.

Here Pentheus is seen approaching the palace in extreme haste. He
has been absent from home, and returning, has just heard of the state
of things at Thebes--the strange malady of the women, the dancings,
the arrival of the mysterious stranger: he finds all the women
departed from the town, and sees Cadmus and Teiresias in masque.
Like the exaggerated diabolical figures in some of the religious
plays and imageries of the Middle Age, he is an impersonation of
stupid impiety, one of those whom the gods willing to [67] destroy
first infatuate. Alternating between glib unwisdom and coarse
mockery, between violence and a pretence of moral austerity, he
understands only the sorriest motives; thinks the whole thing
feigned, and fancies the stranger, so effeminate, so attractive of
women with whom he remains day and night, but a poor sensual
creature, and the real motive of the Bacchic women the indulgence of
their lust; his ridiculous old grandfather he is ready to renounce,
and accuses Teiresias of having in view only some fresh source of
professional profit to himself in connexion with some new-fangled
oracle; his petty spite avenges itself on the prophet by an order to
root up the sacred chair, where he sits to watch the birds for
divination, and disturb the order of his sacred place; and even from
the moment of his entrance the mark of his doom seems already set
upon him, in an impotent trembling which others notice in him. Those
of the women who still loitered, he has already caused to be shut up
in the common prison; the others, with Ino, Autonoe, and his own
mother, Agave, he will hunt out of the glens; while the stranger is
threatened with various cruel forms of death. But Teiresias and
Cadmus stay to reason with him, and induce him to abide wisely with
them; the prophet fittingly becomes the interpreter of Dionysus, and
explains the true nature of the visitor; his divinity, the completion
or counterpart of that of Demeter; his gift of prophecy; [68] all the
soothing influences he brings with him; above all, his gift of the
medicine of sleep to weary mortals. But the reason of Pentheus is
already sickening, and the judicial madness gathering over it.
Teiresias and Cadmus can but "go pray." So again, not without the
laughter of the audience, supporting each other a little grotesquely
against a fall, they get away at last.

And then, again, as in those quaintly carved and coloured imageries
of the Middle Age--the martyrdom of the youthful Saint Firmin, for
instance, round the choir at Amiens--comes the full contrast, with a
quite medieval simplicity and directness, between the insolence of
the tyrant, now at last in sight of his prey, and the outraged beauty
of the youthful god, meek, surrounded by his enemies, like some fair
wild creature in the snare of the hunter. Dionysus has been taken
prisoner; he is led on to the stage, with his hands bound, but still
holding the thyrsus. Unresisting he had submitted himself to his
captors; his colour had not changed; with a smile he had bidden them
do their will, so that even they are touched with awe, and are almost
ready to admit his divinity. Marvellously white and red, he stands
there; and now, unwilling to be revealed to the unworthy, and
requiring a fitness in the receiver, he represents himself, in answer
to the inquiries of Pentheus, not as Dionysus, but simply as the
god's prophet, [69] in full trust in whom he desires to hear his
sentence. Then the long hair falls to the ground under the shears;
the mystic wand is torn from his hand, and he is led away to be tied
up, like some dangerous wild animal, in a dark place near the king's

Up to this point in the play, there has been a noticeable ambiguity
as to the person of Dionysus, the main figure of the piece; he is in
part Dionysus, indeed; but in part, only his messenger, or minister
preparing his way; a certain harshness of effect in the actual
appearance of a god upon the stage being in this way relieved, or
made easy, as by a gradual revelation in two steps. To Pentheus, in
his invincible ignorance, his essence remains to the last unrevealed,
and even the women of the chorus seem to understand in him, so far,
only the forerunner of their real leader. As he goes away bound,
therefore, they too, threatened also in their turn with slavery,
invoke his greater original to appear and deliver them. In pathetic
cries they reproach Thebes for rejecting them--ti m' anainei, ti me
pheugeis;+ yet they foretell his future greatness; a new Orpheus, he
will more than renew that old miraculous reign over animals and
plants. Their song is full of suggestions of wood and river. It is
as if, for a moment, Dionysus became the suffering vine again; and
the rustle of the leaves and water come through their words to
refresh it. The [70] fountain of Dirce still haunted by the virgins
of Thebes, where the infant god was cooled and washed from the flecks
of his fiery birth, becomes typical of the coolness of all springs,
and is made, by a really poetic licence, the daughter of the distant
Achelous--the earliest born, the father in myth, of all Greek rivers.

A giddy sonorous scene of portents and surprises follows--a distant,
exaggerated, dramatic reflex of that old thundering tumult of the
festival in the vineyard--in which Dionysus reappears, miraculously
set free from his bonds. First, in answer to the deep-toned
invocation of the chorus, a great voice is heard from within,
proclaiming him to be the son of Semele and Zeus. Then, amid the
short, broken, rapturous cries of the women of the chorus,
proclaiming him master, the noise of an earthquake passes slowly; the
pillars of the palace are seen waving to and fro; while the strange,
memorial fire from the tomb of Semele blazes up and envelopes the
whole building. The terrified women fling themselves on the ground;
and then, at last, as the place is shaken open, Dionysus is seen
stepping out from among the tottering masses of the mimic palace,
bidding them arise and fear not. But just here comes a long pause in
the action of the play, in which we must listen to a messenger newly
arrived from the glens, to tell us what he has seen there, among the
Maenads. The singular, somewhat sinister beauty of this speech, and
a [71] similar one subsequent--a fair description of morning on the
mountain-tops, with the Bacchic women sleeping, which turns suddenly
to a hard, coarse picture of animals cruelly rent--is one of the
special curiosities which distinguish this play; and, as it is wholly
narrative, I shall give it in English prose, abbreviating, here and
there, some details which seem to have but a metrical value:--

"I was driving my herd of cattle to the summit of the scaur to feed,
what time the sun sent forth his earliest beams to warm the earth.
And lo! three companies of women, and at the head of one of them
Autonoe, thy mother Agave at the head of the second, and Ino at the
head of the third. And they all slept, with limbs relaxed, leaned
against the low boughs of the pines, or with head thrown heedlessly
among the oak-leaves strewn upon the ground--all in the sleep of
temperance, not, as thou saidst, pursuing Cypris through the
solitudes of the forest, drunken with wine, amid the low rustling of
the lotus-pipe.

"And thy mother, when she heard the lowing of the kine, stood up in
the midst of them, and cried to them to shake off sleep. And they,
casting slumber from their eyes, started upright, a marvel of beauty
and order, young and old and maidens yet unmarried. And first, they
let fall their hair upon their shoulders; and those [72] whose
cinctures were unbound re-composed the spotted fawn-skins, knotting
them about with snakes, which rose and licked them on the chin.
Some, lately mothers, who with breasts still swelling had left their
babes behind, nursed in their arms antelopes, or wild whelps of
wolves, and yielded them their milk to drink; and upon their heads
they placed crowns of ivy or of oak, or of flowering convolvulus.
Then one, taking a thyrsus-wand, struck with it upon a rock, and
thereupon leapt out a fine rain of water; another let down a reed
upon the earth, and a fount of wine was sent forth there; and those
whose thirst was for a white stream, skimming the surface with their
finger-tips, gathered from it abundance of milk; and from the ivy of
the mystic wands streams of honey distilled. Verily! hadst thou seen
these things, thou wouldst have worshipped whom now thou revilest.

"And we shepherds and herdsmen came together to question with each
other over this matter--what strange and terrible things they do.
And a certain wayfarer from the city, subtle in speech, spake to us--
'O! dwellers upon these solemn ledges of the hills, will ye that we
hunt down, and take, amid her revelries, Agave, the mother of
Pentheus, according to the king's pleasure?' And he seemed to us to
speak wisely; and we lay in wait among the bushes; and they, at the
time appointed, began moving their wands for the Bacchic dance, [73]
calling with one voice upon Bromius!--Iacchus!--the son of Zeus! and
the whole mountain was moved with ecstasy together, and the wild
creatures; nothing but was moved in their running. And it chanced
that Agave, in her leaping, lighted near me, and I sprang from my
hiding-place, willing to lay hold on her; and she groaned out, 'O!
dogs of hunting, these fellows are upon our traces; but follow me!
follow! with the mystic wands for weapons in your hands.' And we, by
flight, hardly escaped tearing to pieces at their hands, who
thereupon advanced with knifeless fingers upon the young of the kine,
as they nipped the green; and then hadst thou seen one holding a
bleating calf in her hands, with udder distent, straining it asunder;
others tore the heifers to shreds amongst them; tossed up and down
the morsels lay in sight--flank or hoof--or hung from the fir-trees,
dropping churned blood. The fierce, horned bulls stumbled forward,
their breasts upon the ground, dragged on by myriad hands of young
women, and in a moment the inner parts were rent to morsels. So,
like a flock of birds aloft in flight, they retreat upon the level
lands outstretched below, which by the waters of Asopus put forth the
fair-flowering crop of Theban people--Hysiae and Erythrae--below the
precipice of Cithaeron."--

A grotesque scene follows, in which the [74] humour we noted, on
seeing those two old men diffidently set forth in chaplet and fawn-
skin, deepens into a profound tragic irony. Pentheus is determined
to go out in arms against the Bacchanals and put them to death, when
a sudden desire seizes him to witness them in their encampment upon
the mountains. Dionysus, whom he still supposes to be but a prophet
or messenger of the god, engages to conduct him thither; and, for
greater security among the dangerous women, proposes that he shall
disguise himself in female attire. As Pentheus goes within for that
purpose, he lingers for a moment behind him, and in prophetic speech
declares the approaching end;--the victim has fallen into the net;
and he goes in to assist at the toilet, to array him in the ornaments
which he will carry to Hades, destroyed by his own mother's hands.
It is characteristic of Euripides--part of his fine tact and
subtlety--to relieve and justify what seems tedious, or constrained,
or merely terrible and grotesque, by a suddenly suggested trait of
homely pathos, or a glimpse of natural beauty, or a morsel of form or
colour seemingly taken directly from picture or sculpture. So here,
in this fantastic scene our thoughts are changed in a moment by
the singing of the chorus, and divert for a while to the dark-haired
tresses of the wood; the breath of the river-side is upon us; beside
it, a fawn escaped from the hunter's net is flying swiftly in [75]
its joy; like it, the Maenad rushes along; and we see the little head
thrown back upon the neck, in deep aspiration, to drink in the dew.

Meantime, Pentheus has assumed his disguise, and comes forth tricked
up with false hair and the dress of a Bacchanal; but still with some
misgivings at the thought of going thus attired through the streets
of Thebes, and with many laughable readjustments of the unwonted
articles of clothing. And with the woman's dress, his madness is
closing faster round him; just before, in the palace, terrified at
the noise of the earthquake, he had drawn sword upon a mere fantastic
appearance, and pierced only the empty air. Now he begins to see the
sun double, and Thebes with all its towers repeated, while his
conductor seems to him transformed into a wild beast; and now and
then, we come upon some touches of a curious psychology, so that we
might almost seem to be reading a modern poet. As if Euripides had
been aware of a not unknown symptom of incipient madness (it is said)
in which the patient, losing the sense of resistance, while lifting
small objects imagines himself to be raising enormous weights,
Pentheus, as he lifts the thyrsus, fancies he could lift Cithaeron
with all the Bacchanals upon it. At all this the laughter of course
will pass round the theatre; while those who really pierce into the
purpose of the poet, shudder, as they see the victim thus grotesquely
clad going to his doom, [76] already foreseen in the ominous chant of
the chorus--and as it were his grave-clothes, in the dress which
makes him ridiculous.

Presently a messenger arrives to announce that Pentheus is dead, and
then another curious narrative sets forth the manner of his death.
Full of wild, coarse, revolting details, of course not without
pathetic touches, and with the loveliness of the serving Maenads, and
of their mountain solitudes--their trees and water--never quite
forgotten, it describes how, venturing as a spy too near the sacred
circle, Pentheus was fallen upon, like a wild beast, by the mystic
huntresses and torn to pieces, his mother being the first to begin
"the sacred rites of slaughter."

And at last Agave herself comes upon the stage, holding aloft the
head of her son, fixed upon the sharp end of the thyrsus, calling
upon the women of the chorus to welcome the revel of the Evian god;
who, accordingly, admit her into the company, professing themselves
her fellow-revellers, the Bacchanals being thus absorbed into the
chorus for the rest of the play. For, indeed, all through it, the
true, though partly suppressed relation of the chorus to the
Bacchanals is this, that the women of the chorus, staid and temperate
for the moment, following Dionysus in his alternations, are but the
paler sisters of his more wild and gloomy votaries--the true
followers of the mystical Dionysus--the real chorus of Zagreus; the
idea that their [77] violent proceedings are the result of madness
only, sent on them as a punishment for their original rejection of
the god, being, as I said, when seen from the deeper motives of the
myth, only a "sophism" of Euripides--a piece of rationalism of which
he avails himself for the purpose of softening down the tradition of
which he has undertaken to be the poet. Agave comes on the stage,
then, blood-stained, exulting in her "victory of tears," still quite
visibly mad indeed, and with the outward signs of madness, and as her
mind wanders, musing still on the fancy that the dead head in her
hands is that of a lion she has slain among the mountains--a young
lion, she avers, as she notices the down on the young man's chin, and
his abundant hair--a fancy in which the chorus humour her, willing to
deal gently with the poor distraught creature. Supported by them,
she rejoices "exceedingly, exceedingly," declaring herself
"fortunate" in such goodly spoil; priding herself that the victim has
been slain, not with iron weapons, but with her own white fingers,
she summons all Thebes to come and behold. She calls for her aged
father to draw near and see; and for Pentheus himself, at last, that
he may mount and rivet her trophy, appropriately decorative there,
between the triglyphs of the cornice below the roof, visible to all.

And now, from this point onwards, Dionysus himself becomes more and
more clearly discernible [78] as the hunter, a wily hunter, and man
the prey he hunts for; "Our king is a hunter," cry the chorus, as
they unite in Agave's triumph and give their sanction to her deed.
And as the Bacchanals supplement the chorus, and must be added to it
to make the conception of it complete; so in the conception of
Dionysus also a certain transference, or substitution, must be made--
much of the horror and sorrow of Agave, of Pentheus, of the whole
tragic situation, must be transferred to him, if we wish to realise
in the older, profounder, and more complete sense of his nature, that
mystical being of Greek tradition to whom all these experiences--his
madness, the chase, his imprisonment and death, his peace again--
really belong; and to discern which, through Euripides' peculiar
treatment of his subject, is part of the curious interest of this

Through the sophism of Euripides! For that, again, is the really
descriptive word, with which Euripides, a lover of sophisms, as
Aristophanes knows, himself supplies us. Well;--this softened
version of the Bacchic madness is a sophism of Euripides; and
Dionysus Omophagus--the eater of raw flesh, must be added to the
golden image of Dionysus Meilichius--the honey-sweet, if the old
tradition in its completeness is to be, in spite of that sophism, our
closing impression; if we are to catch, in its fulness, that deep
undercurrent of horror which runs below, all through [79] this masque
of spring, and realise the spectacle of that wild chase, in which
Dionysus is ultimately both the hunter and the spoil.

But meantime another person appears on the stage; Cadmus enters,
followed by attendants bearing on a bier the torn limbs of Pentheus,
which lying wildly scattered through the tangled wood, have been with
difficulty collected and now decently put together and covered over.
In the little that still remains before the end of the play, destiny
now hurrying things rapidly forward, and strong emotions, hopes and
forebodings being now closely packed, Euripides has before him an
artistic problem of enormous difficulty. Perhaps this very haste and
close-packing of the matter, which keeps the mind from dwelling
overmuch on detail, relieves its real extravagance, and those who
read it carefully will think that the pathos of Euripides has been
equal to the occasion. In a few profoundly designed touches he
depicts the perplexity of Cadmus, in whose house a god had become an
inmate, only to destroy it--the regret of the old man for the one
male child to whom that house had looked up as the pillar whereby
aged people might feel secure; the piteous craziness of Agave; the
unconscious irony with which she caresses the florid, youthful head
of her son; the delicate breaking of the thing to her reviving
intelligence, as Cadmus, though he can but wish that she might live
on for ever in her visionary enjoyment, [80] prepares the way, by
playing on that other horrible legend of the Theban house, the
tearing of Actaeon to death--he too destroyed by a god. He gives us
the sense of Agave's gradual return to reason through many glimmering
doubts, till she wakes up at last to find the real face turned up
towards the mother and murderess; the quite naturally spontaneous
sorrow of the mother, ending with her confession, down to her last
sigh, and the final breaking up of the house of Cadmus; with a result
so genuine, heartfelt, and dignified withal in its expression of a
strange ineffable woe, that a fragment of it, the lamentation of
Agave over her son, in which the long-pent agony at last finds vent,
were, it is supposed, adopted into his paler work by an early
Christian poet, and have figured since, as touches of real fire, in
the Christus Patiens of Gregory Nazianzen.


64. +Transliteration: autika ga pasa choreusei. E-text editor's
translation: "Straightway all the earth shall dance." Euripides,
Bacchae 114. Euripidis Fabulae, ed. Gilbert Murray, vol. 3.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913.

66. +Transliteration: poi dei choreuein; poi kathistanai poda; kai
krata seisai polion. Translation: "Where must I dance? Where must
I stand and shake my white locks?" Euripides, Bacchae 184-85.
Euripidis Fabulae, ed. Gilbert Murray, vol. 3. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1913.

69. +Transliteration: ti m' anainei, ti me pheugeis. Translation:
"Why do you reject me, why do you run from me?" Bacchae 519. Euripidis
Fabulae, ed. Gilbert Murray, vol. 3. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913.


[81] No chapter in the history of human imagination is more curious
than the myth of Demeter, and Kore or Persephone. Alien in some
respects from the genuine traditions of Greek mythology, a relic of
the earlier inhabitants of Greece, and having but a subordinate place
in the religion of Homer, it yet asserted its interest, little by
little, and took a complex hold on the minds of the Greeks, becoming
finally the central and most popular subject of their national
worship. Following its changes, we come across various phases of
Greek culture, which are not without their likenesses in the modern
mind. We trace it in the dim first period of instinctive popular
conception; we see it connecting itself with many impressive elements
of art, and poetry, and religious custom, with the picturesque
superstitions of the many, and with the finer intuitions of the few;
and besides this, it is in itself full of [82] interest and
suggestion, to all for whom the ideas of the Greek religion have any
real meaning in the modern world. And the fortune of the myth has
not deserted it in later times. In the year 1780, the long-lost text
of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter was discovered among the manuscripts
of the imperial library at Moscow; and, in our own generation, the
tact of an eminent student of Greek art, Sir Charles Newton, has
restored to the world the buried treasures of the little temple and
precinct of Demeter, at Cnidus, which have many claims to rank in the
central order of Greek sculpture. The present essay is an attempt to
select and weave together, for those who are now approaching the
deeper study of Greek thought, whatever details in the development of
this myth, arranged with a view rather to a total impression than to
the debate of particular points, may seem likely to increase their
stock of poetical impressions, and to add to this some criticisms on
the expression which it has left of itself in extant art and poetry.

The central expression, then, of the story of Demeter and Persephone
is the Homeric hymn, to which Grote has assigned a date at least as
early as six hundred years before Christ. The one survivor of a whole
family of hymns on this subject, it was written, perhaps, for one of
those contests which took place on the seventh day of the Eleusinian
festival, and in which a bunch of [83] ears of corn was the prize;
perhaps, for actual use in the mysteries themselves, by the
Hierophantes, or Interpreter, who showed to the worshippers at
Eleusis those sacred places to which the poem contains so many
references. About the composition itself there are many difficult
questions, with various surmises as to why it has remained only in
this unique manuscript of the end of the fourteenth century.
Portions of the text are missing, and there are probably some
additions by later hands; yet most scholars have admitted that it
possesses some of the true characteristics of the Homeric style, some
genuine echoes of the age immediately succeeding that which produced
the Iliad and the Odyssey. Listen now to a somewhat abbreviated
version of it.

"I begin the song of Demeter"--says the prize-poet, or the
Interpreter, the Sacristan of the holy places--"the song of Demeter
and her daughter Persephone, whom Aidoneus carried away by the
consent of Zeus, as she played, apart from her mother, with the deep-
bosomed daughters of the Ocean, gathering flowers in a meadow of soft
grass--roses and the crocus and fair violets and flags, and
hyacinths, and, above all, the strange flower of the narcissus, which
the Earth, favouring the desire of Aidoneus, brought forth for the
first time, to snare the footsteps of the flower-like girl. A
hundred [84] heads of blossom grew up from the roots of it, and the
sky and the earth and the salt wave of the sea were glad at the scent
thereof. She stretched forth her hands to take the flower; thereupon
the earth opened, and the king of the great nation of the dead sprang
out with his immortal horses. He seized the unwilling girl, and bore
her away weeping, on his golden chariot. She uttered a shrill cry,
calling upon her father Zeus; but neither man nor god heard her
voice, nor even the nymphs of the meadow where she played; except
Hecate only, the daughter of Persaeus, sitting, as ever, in her cave,
half veiled with a shining veil, thinking delicate thoughts; she, and
the Sun also, heard her.

"So long as she could still see the earth, and the sky, and the sea
with the great waves moving, and the beams of the sun, and still
thought to see again her mother, and the race of the ever-living
gods, so long hope soothed her, in the midst of her grief. The peaks
of the hills and the depths of the sea echoed her cry. And the
mother heard it. A sharp pain seized her at the heart; she plucked
the veil from her hair, and cast down the blue hood from her
shoulders, and fled forth like a bird, seeking Persephone over dry
land and sea. But neither man nor god would tell her the truth; nor
did any bird come to her as a sure messenger.

"Nine days she wandered up and down upon the earth, having blazing
torches in her hands; [85] and, in her great sorrow, she refused to
taste of ambrosia, or of the cup of the sweet nectar, nor washed her
face. But when the tenth morning came, Hecate met her, having a
light in her hands. But Hecate had heard the voice only, and had
seen no one, and could not tell Demeter who had borne the girl away.
And Demeter said not a word, but fled away swiftly with her, having
the blazing torches in her hands, till they came to the Sun, the
watchman both of gods and men; and the goddess questioned him, and
the Sun told her the whole story.

"Then a more terrible grief took possession of Demeter, and, in her
anger against Zeus, she forsook the assembly of the gods and abode
among men, for a long time veiling her beauty under a worn
countenance, so that none who looked upon her knew her, until she
came to the house of Celeus, who was then king of Eleusis. In her

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