Eleusinian Mysteries


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Eleusinian Mysteries

(ĕlyo͞osĭn`ēən), principal religious mysteriesmysteries,
in Greek and Roman religion, some important secret cults. The conventional religions of both Greeks and Romans were alike in consisting principally of propitiation and prayers for the good of the city-state, the tribe, or the family, and only secondarily of the person.
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 of ancient Greece. The mysteries may have originated as part of an early agrarian festival peculiar to certain families in Eleusis. The Athenians later (c.600 B.C.) took over the ceremonies. Because the mysteries were secret, little is known of them. Presumably fasting and ritual purification in the sea took place before the large procession from Athens to Eleusis. The rites, which fundamentally celebrated the abduction and return of Persephone, symbolized the annual cycle of death and rebirth in nature as well as the immortality of the soul. It was believed that they had originally been instituted in Eleusis by Persephone's mother, Demeter. Dionysus was also much honored. The festival at Eleusis, known as the Greater Mysteries, was celebrated in the early fall, at sowing time. Another festival, the Lesser Mysteries, was held in the early spring at Agrae.

Bibliography

See G. E. Myloras, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries (1962, repr. 1969).

Eleusinian Mysteries

 

a religious festival held in Attica, in ancient Greece, in honor of the goddess Demeter and her daughter the goddess Persephone (Kore).

The cult of Demeter and Persephone was one of the most ancient agricultural cults. The Eleusinian mysteries, celebrated from earliest times in Eleusis, became an Athenian state festival after Eleusis was incorporated into the league of Attic states in the late seventh century B.C. Regardless of sex and social position, all of the citizens of Athens, including slaves, had the right to be initiated into the mysteries, which were celebrated in late September or early October. The ritual included a solemn procession along the Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis and the mysteries proper, which consisted of representations of Demeter’s sorrow at the loss of her daughter, her search for Persephone, and her joy upon Persephone’s return. The details of the Eleusinian mysteries, which apparently included pantomime and the recitation of sacred texts, are unknown.

REFERENCES

Novosadskii, N. I. Elevsinskie misterii. St. Petersburg, 1887.
Foucart, P. Les Mystères d’Eleusis. Paris, 1914.
Deubner, L. Attische Feste [2nd ed.]. Berlin, 1966.

Eleusinian Mysteries

Lesser Eleusinia in February-March; Greater Eleusinia in September-October
In ancient Athens, the Eleusinia was the most celebrated of all religious ceremonies. Often referred to as the Mysteries because anyone who violated the secrecy surrounding the festival rites would be punished by death, the Eleusinia consisted of two celebrations: The Greater Eleusinia was observed for a week or more in September or October; the Lesser Eleusinia was observed in early spring. Those who had been initiated at the lesser mysteries were allowed to participate in the greater mysteries the following year, when the secrets of the festival would be revealed to them.
The Eleusinia was based on the legend of Demeter, a goddess associated with the harvest, and her daughter Persephone, who was carried off by Pluto to live in his underground kingdom. Although the secrecy that accompanied the Eleusinian mysteries has made it difficult to reconstruct exactly what went on there, it is believed that they were intended to encourage a bountiful growing season. The men and women who were initiated during these ceremonies were believed to live happier and more secure lives, and when they died, they were granted a place in the Elysian Fields, the mythical place where the souls of the virtuous went after death.
CONTACTS:
Tufts University, Department of the Classics
321 Eaton Hall
Medford, MA 02155
617-627-3213; fax: 617-627-2896
www.ase.tufts.edu
SOURCES:
AtticFest-1981, pp. 139, 192
ClassDict-1984, p. 220
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 512
EncyRel-1987, vol. 5, p. 83
OxClassDict-1970, p. 716

Eleusinian Mysteries

ancient religious rites; its secrets have never been discovered. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 305]
See: Mystery
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