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Lecture 18

CLAS 203 Lecture Notes - Lecture 18: Eleusinian Mysteries, Greco-Roman Mysteries, Metanira

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CLAS 203
Margaret Palczynski

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CLAS 203 – Greek Mythology
Margaret Palczynski
Lecture 18
Demeter Cont’d
During her quest to finding her daughter, she came across Eleusis and sits by a well. King
Celeus’ daughters see her (disguised as an old woman) and invite her back to the palace.
Metaneira (queen) takes pity and allows her to be a nurse for the baby prince, Demophon
- Demeter is very motherly: wants to make the baby immortal
Baby is held in the fire nightly
Metaneira sees this and tries to take the baby, Demeter is angered
Demands for a centre of worship: Eleusis was the centre of a mystery cult
Eleusinian mysteries (1500 B.C. – 396 A.D.)
- Reflect some ancient agrarian cult
- Different aspects: lesser ones held yearly; greater ones held every 5 years
- Pan-Hellenic: unifying force, open to all Greek speakers without blood guilt (no
murderers, etc.), initiation was in stages
Secret: death penalty for revealing mysteries
Demeter reveals the secrets of sowing and reaping to humans: tremendous gift
- Gift of agriculture: led people to be able to settle down
- Revealed to Triptolemus who takes this to others to share
Lyncus, king of the Scythians: not interested in the gift and changed into a lynx as
Myths of Death: Encounters with the Underworld
Death, Dying, and the Dead: universal phenomenon
Complex attitudes towards death and the dead
- Not that the person ceases to exist, there is always some kind of significance and
something that happens after death and somewhere else to go
Death as a passage that must be respected
Crime not to bury the bodies of the dead: remains were important
- The physical being soma does not continue after death but the psyche (soul/essence) goes
and dwells in the underworld
Bleak conception of afterlife: not going into a better place
- Happiness must be achieved in this world
- Motivation behind heroic saga: defeat death and gain immortality
Very few mythical figures escape death
- Elysian Fields: if merited and deserving, souls will pass on to these blessed fields
-Apotheosis: when a human being crosses the side to immortality
Only Hercules is known to have achieved this
Symbolically going down and coming back up is the defeat of death: the conquest of death motif
-Katabasis: ‘going down’, the coming back part is more important
Recurrent motif: Persephone: kidnapped, Dionysus: dismemberment, Orpheus,
Heracles, etc.
Many of the heroes do this and the ones who come back out show themselves to be
truly heroic
Hades (Pluto)
The Romans had a similar underworld.
Plouton, Pluto called the ‘enricher (Latin: known as Dis for riches)
- Believed there were vast riches under the earth; underworld was full of knowledge and
- Also called: Polyxenos (‘much hospitable’), Polydegmon (‘much accepting’)
- Wife: Persephone
Childless: even though the eating of the pomegranate is symbolic of insemination
He was not frequently depicted in art because people did not want to upset him. His symbol:
cornucopia ‘horn of plenty’
- There was a body/soul distinction (psych): continues to exist after death and must
descend to the underworld (body remains in the over world)
Hermes’ role to make the crossing possible
Bad scenario: if a soul remains in the over world:
- They become ghosts (eidola): usually vengeful
Shadowy existence in Hades
Invisible, unhappy, dangerous
Views of death: a crossing over, normally depicted as crossing a river (dividing line)
Odysseus (Homers Odyssey)
Circe tells Odysseus that he has to go to the mouth of Hades and converse with the
soul of the dead prophet, Tiresias
- Sails to shores of Ocean and finds the entrance to Hades: summons up ghosts of the dead
- The first ghost to appear does not come from Hades itself: soul of one of his men Elpenor
who died the morning before they sailed (unnoticed)
Begs for them to go back to Circe island and bury his body after which the souls
come up to converse with him
First to do so is his dead mother: Anticlea; tries to embrace her but cannot
- Minos, Rhadamanthys: judges in the underworld
Judged and placed souls: those who led a pious life with no big crimes were permitted
to remain in the main portion of hades; sinners were placed in Tartarus
- Aeacus (brother of the two judges): gatekeeper
- Cerberus: triple headed hound
Some of the most interesting stories about Hades describe the great sinners: in Tartarus
Ixion: great friend of the Olympians and was invited to Olympus for banquets
- Hera tells Zeus that she feels as if Ixion wants to seduce her: he creates a replica of her
out of clouds
Ixion rapes her and the semen falls onto the earth (because she is a cloud): creates
Tied to a fiery wheel revolving forever
Tityus: attempts to rape Leto
- Chained to rock and having the vultures of Zeus tear out his liver
Tantalus: son Pelops
- Another favourite of the gods, invited to Olympus as well
- Decides to reciprocate and prepares banquet for the gods but decides to do a test: takes
his son and cooks him into a stew
Ingested by Demeter
Punishment: food and water available but never able to consume
The gods permit Pelops to be put back together (shoulder of ivory because Demeter
consumed his)
Sisyphus: clever king who did not want to die
- Commits an indiscretion and tattles on Zeus: warns nymph that Zeus is in love with her
- Angered, Zeus strikes him dead: but he warned his wife to refuse to perform the burial
duties should he die; does not descend into Hades
He outwits and puts death ,Thanatos, into chains
During this time: nobody dies
Thanatos is freed and claims Sisyphus but he cannot kept him in Hades because his
body was not given the burial customs
Permitted to come back to the over world and live until his death: upon which he will
be placed in Tartarus and punished with rolling a boulder up a hill that will roll back
to start over again
- Hades is described as a wall fortress from which comes the screams of sinners being
punished, and the blows of whips