Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion (1908)

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The rites of the Diasia, though ostensibly in honour of Zeus, are found really to be addressed to an underworld snake on whose worship that of Zeus has been superimposed.

Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion: Introduction

The attention is focussed on the rites of the underlying stratum. In the Anthesteria, ostensibly sacred to Dionysos, the main ritual is found to be that of the placation of ghosts. Ghosts, it is found, were placated in order that they might be kept away; the formulary for these rites is not, as with the Olympians, do ut des , but do ut abeas.

The object of these rites of Aversion, practised in the spring, is found to be strictly practical; it is the promotion of fertility by the purgation of evil influences. The ritual of the Thargelia is even snore primitive and plain-spoken. In this festival of the early summer, ostensibly dedicated to Apollo, the first-fruits of the harvest are gathered in.

The main gist of the festival is purification, necessary as a preliminary to this ingathering. Purification is effected by the ceremonial of the pharmakos. Though the festival in classical days was 'sacred to' Apollo, the pharmakos is nowise a 'human sacrifice' to a god, but a direct means of physical and moral purgation, with a view to the promotion and conservation of fertility.

Thus far it will be seen that the rites of the lower stratum are characterized by a deep and constant sense of evil to be removed and of the need of purification for its removal; that the means of purification adopted are primitive and mainly magical nowise affects this religious content. This practical end of primitive ceremonies, the promotion of fertility by magical rites, comes out still more strongly in the autumn sowing festival of the Thesmophoria.

Here the women attempt, by carrying certain magical sacra , the direct impulsion of nature. In connection with these sacra of the Thesmophoria the subject of 'mysteries' falls to be examined. The gist of all primitive mysteries is found to be the handling or tasting of certain sacra after elaborate purification. The sacra are conceived of as having magical, i. Contact with them is contact with a superhuman potency, which is taboo to the unpurified.

The gist of a mystery is often the removal of a taboo. From the Olympian religion 'mysteries' appear to have been wholly absent.


These beings, it is found, are of the order of sprites, ghosts, and bogeys, rather than of completely articulate gods, their study that of demonology rather than theology. As their ritual has been shown to be mainly that of the Aversion of evil, so they and their shifting attributes are mainly of malevolent character. Man makes his demons in the image of his own savage and irrational passions. Aeschylus attempts, and the normal man fails, to convert his Erinyes into Semnai Theai.

Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion: Newnham 1903–1906

The god begins to reflect not only human passions but humane relations. The primitive association of women with agriculture is seen to issue in the figures of the Mother and the Maid, and later of the Mother and the Daughter, later still in the numerous female trinities that arose out of this duality. The culminating point of the natural development of an anthropomorphic theology is here reached, and it is seen that the goddesses and the 'hero-gods' of the old order are, in their simple, non-mystic humanity, very near to the Olympians.

At this point comes the great significant moment for Greece, the intrusion of a new and missionary faith, the religion of an immigrant god, Dionysos. In his religion two elements are seen to coexist, the worship of an old god of vegetation on which was grafted the worship of a spirit of intoxication. The new impulse that he brought to Greece was the belief in enthusiasm , the belief that a man through physical intoxication at first, later through spiritual ecstasy, could pass from the human to the divine. This faith might have remained in its primitive savagery, and therefore for Greece ineffective, but for another religious impulse, that known to us under the name of Orpheus.

I have attempted to show that the name Orpheus stands for a real personality. I have hazarded the conjecture that Orpheus came from Crete bringing with him, perhaps ultimately from Egypt, a religion of spiritual asceticism which yet included the ecstasy of the religion of Dionysos. It has been shown that before the coming of the Orphic and Dionysiac religion the mysteries consisted mainly in the handling of certain sacra after elaborate purification.

By handling these sacra man came into contact with some divine potency. To this rudimentary mysticism Orphism added the doctrine of the possibility of complete union with the divine. This union was effected in the primitive Cretan rite of the Omophagia by the physical eating of the god; union with the divine was further symbolically effected by the rite of the Sacred Marriage, and union by adoption by the rite of the Sacred Birth.

The mission of Orphism was to take these primitive rites, originally of the crudest sympathetic magic, and inform them with a deep spiritual mysticism. The rite of the Omophagia found no place at Eleusis, but the other two sacramental rites of union, the Sacred Marriage and the Sacred Birth, formed ultimately its central mysteries.

With the doctrine and ritual of union with the divine there came as a necessary corollary the doctrine that man could attain the divine attribute of immortality. Orphic eschatology is the subject of Chapter XI.

  • Stolen (Journey of Twins).
  • Catalog Record: Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion | Hathi Trust Digital Library;
  • Catalog Record: Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion | Hathi Trust Digital Library.
  • Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion: Newnham – - Oxford Scholarship;
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Its highest spiritual form, the belief that perfect purity issued in divinity and hence in immortality, is found expressed in the Orphic tablets. Its lower expression, the belief in a Hades of eternal punishment as contrasted with the shadowy after-world of Homer, is seen in the vases of Lower Italy and the eschatology denounced by Plato.

Finally in Chapter XII. In the fifth century B. In ritual they worshipped Dionysos, but their theoretical theology recognized. The Eros of the Orphics was a mystery-being, a daimon rather than a theos , a potency wholly alien to the clear-cut humanities of Olympus. With the consideration of Orphism it has become, I hope, abundantly clear why at the outset attention was focussed on the primitive rites of Aversion and Purification rather than on the Service of the Olympians.

The ritual embodied in the formulary do ut des is barren of spiritual content. The ritual embodied in do ut abeas contains at least the recognition of one great mystery of life, the existence of evil.

Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion.

The rites of the Olympians were left untouched by the Orphics; the rites of purification and of sympathetic magic lent them just the symbolism they needed. Moreover in theology the crude forms of demons were more pliant material for mysticism than the clear-cut limitations and vivid personality of the Olympians.

Orphism was the last word of Greek religion, and the ritual of Orphism was but the revival of ancient practices with a new significance. The reader will note that in the pages that follow, two authors, Plutarch and Euripides, have been laid under special contribution. Plutarch's gentle conservatism made him cling tenaciously to antique faith.

According to him, one function of religion was to explain and justify established rites, and in the course of his attempted justification he tells us many valuable ritual facts. Euripides, instant in his attack on the Olympian gods, yet treats with respect the two divinities of Orphism, Dionysos and Eros. I have suggested that, born as he was at Phlya, the ancient home of Orphic mysteries, his attitude on this matter may have been influenced by early associations. In any case, a religion whose chief divinities were reverently handled by Euripides cannot be dismissed as a decadent maleficent superstition.

I would ask that the chapters I have written be taken strictly as they are meant, as Prolegomena. I am deeply conscious that in surveying so wide a field I have left much of interest untouched, still more only roughly sketched in. I wished to present my general theory in broad outline for criticism before filling in details, and I hope in the future to achieve a study of Orphism.

If here I have dwelt almost exclusively on its strength and beauty, I am not unaware that it has, like all mystical religions, a weak and ugly side. Don't have an account? This chapter discusses Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and its reception.

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It describes Harrison's relationship with Arthur and May Verrall, and also the London stage production of Murray's translation of Hippolytus , for which Harrison designed images of Artemis and Aphrodite. Two short books are noted: Her struggle with depression, the death of her friend Ellen Darwin, uncertainty about her own future, and health problems are described.

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