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Chapter 6: Period of Transition—Hero-Worship

ALLUSION has already been made in speaking of Theognis to the way in which the growth of commerce and industry disturbed the simple relations which formerly existed between the members of each tribe. The people became more important, slaves were multiplied, and cities were consolidated. The right of primogeniture was impaired, inheritances were divided, and some powers of adoption and bequest were acknowledged. State prosecution, accompanied with religious ceremonies, at once regulated and attempered the old rough obligation of the avenger of blood. For the gentile name—Alcmaeonid, Eumolpid, Lakiad—came to be substituted first the national appellation—‘Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, of Athens,’ and by and by the name of the deme or district—‘Sophocles, son of Sophillus, from Colonus.’ The spiritual centre of gravity was passing from the family to the state, from the hearth to the high altar. And those deities acquired a special prominence who had most to do with civic life: Athena at Athens, Hera at Argos, Poseidon at Corinth. Above them all stands the Delphian Apollo, whose authority reached to all Hellenic cities. But the family, especially in the extended form of the clan, had at the same time an influence which grew with the growth of settled institutions; and the heroes to whom each group assigned its origin became more and more the objects of ceremonial reverence. Their real presence in the neighbourhood of their tombs or sanctuaries was increasingly believed in, and the worship of ancestors, which had never died out, was more and more fostered as assuring the stability of the community. The early stages of this movement are of course obscure, but half-forgotten struggles left a lasting impress on religious feeling through signal examples of self-devotion in the cause of the fatherland (Codrus, Erechtheus, Menoeceus, Megareus, Aristodemus, Aristomenes), which, whether legendary or historical, are equally important in their effects upon religion.

The steps of this process of consolidation in the case of Athens in the sixth century are known with tolerable clearness, many points having been made more distinct by the recent discovery of Aristotle's treatise on the ‘Constitution of the Athenians.’ It is no longer possible, as has sometimes been attempted, to deduce such development in a direct line from the family to the clan, from the clan to the tribe, and from the tribe to the city. New divisions required by political exigencies were deliberately made to cross the former division, which was, notwithstanding, continued for social and religious and to some extent for military purposes. The ascendency of the great families, especially where they have the wit to amass wealth and court popularity, dies very hard. Great and small families alike maintained their peculiar sacred rites, except where many joined in a common celebration as in the Apaturia. The Phratry, an old military division, continues to subsist, but the tribe, Phyle, is the political unit, which is again subdivided on principles of political convenience. For all these changes religious sanctions have to be found. For example, the ten tribes, which were substituted in the constitution of Cleisthenes for the four previously existing, must each have an eponymous hero, who comes gradually to be regarded as the ancestor of every member of the tribe. This implied a sort of legal figment analogous to the law of adoption, but with less of illusion about it. How purely conventional this came to be appears from the inscription towards the end of the fifth century awarding a crown to Thrasybulus at the restoration of the democracy, in which the privilege is accorded to him of belonging to any tribe or deme at his pleasure. But the case was very different at the time of the former revolution, when the national spirit rose to meet the legislator who found in time-honoured names a sanction for the liberties which he conferred. The Ten Eponymi were selected by the Pythia from a hundred native heroes whose names were presented to her. In this whole process two divine powers came into increasing prominence, Apollo and Athena: Apollo as the high authority revealing to mankind the supreme will of Zeus; Athena as the guardian of the city, which is henceforth one, and is sheltered under her protecting wings. ‘Our city shall never perish by the will of Zeus, and the care of the immortal gods; so high-souled is her patroness, Pallas Athena, of the mighty sire, who watches over her and holds her arms above. It is her own citizens who, under the influence of wealth, seek to ruin the great city by their folly.’ These words of Solon are very significant of the spirit of the higher minds of Attica in the early sixth century. The lawgiver's appeal to justice is not less solemn than that of Hesiod, and even more convincing, because more hopeful: ‘Her dread foundations may not be neglected’; ‘though she keep silence, she knows what acts are done and what hath been, and in time she comes inevitably, bringing the reward.’ Such utterances help us to realise the greatness of Solon's achievement. What figures in history as a political reform was nothing less than the infusion of a new religious principle, affecting, not modes of worship, but the minds of the worshippers.

The reign of law is gradually taking the place of mere customary tradition or the decision of the magistrate. Towards the end of the seventh century, in various parts of Greece, beginning with the shores of Italy, prominent citizens had been entrusted with the duty of preparing codes of law. Zaleucus at Locri in Italy, Charondas at Catana in Sicily, are specially known; but they are only examples of what was taking place elsewhere. Lycurgus is credited with the Spartan institutions, but he seems to be a legendary figure, in whom some much earlier and some later tradition was concentrated by the popular imagination. At least he cannot have left a written code. For amongst other innovations which the conservative Spartans refused to adopt were walled fortifications and written laws. Their ρ῾η̑τραι were preserved by oral tradition. The Cretan Dorians, on the other hand, had very early an accepted code of family law, which at Gortyn was engraved on the walls of an ancient building, of which the stones have been transferred to the theatre, itself ancient, in which they were found. Draco is the corresponding figure at Athens; he is a real person, and some of his enactments are clearly known. The famous legislation of Solon aimed at meeting a special exigency, and was social and economical, more than constitutional. It is interesting to reflect that his wisdom, which had so much of reason and experience in it, and was quite free from the pessimism which Herodotus attributes to him, was allied with the work of Epimenides, a religious enthusiast, and a sort of medicine man, whose reputation as an exorcist led the Athenians, in their extremity, to invite him from Crete. Plato and Aristotle agree in giving this account of him. According to other authorities he was a native Athenian. Here we find in the Athenian people an interesting combination of native shrewdness with the same simplicity which led them afterwards to be willingly imposed upon by the mummery with which Pisistratus returned, led home by a living image of Athena. It may perhaps be asked whether religious forms and practices, thus conventionally modified to suit political convenience, must not have lost something of their reality, but for the popular mind it was not so: a people of lively imagination, who read little, converse much, and live in the present, are easily capable of new impressions; and new forms which express or satisfy existing emotions soon acquire for them the sanction of antiquity. The worships which gave expression to the growing sense of common civic life were profoundly congenial to the advancing consciousness of each limited nationality. What rather moves one's wonder is, as Plato says, the native strength of the civic bond, which held together under the stress of factions that seemed likely to tear the state in sunder, amidst the contradictory interests of old families, novel claims, and restless ambitions. The love of power did not altogether supplant the love of country. Both often burned together in the same breast.

That individuals of exceptional originality and force had much to do in moulding the strong fabric of the Hellenic communities is indisputable. But it does not follow that in referring the rules of life, to which they clung tenaciously, to one original source in the person of the lawgiver, they were not following the same natural tendency which led to the creation of the eponymous hero or of the legendary founder of the mysteries. It is also important to observe that it was mostly under the presidency of one strong man, such as Pisistratus, and in connection with the process of consolidation here spoken of, that the arts of architecture and of sculpture attained to such magnificence in their association with religious functions. The buildings on the Acropolis, for example, mark the complete centralisation of religious and civic life at Athens. There is hardly any trace of temple-worship amongst the Greeks of the Homeric time. The kings of the Mycenaean period had been more solicitous to fortify their castles, and to prepare their own beehive tombs, than to raise temples in honour of the people's gods. Such shrines as that which Chryses constructed for his rude image of Apollo were more frequent on the shores of Asia than in Hellas proper. The temple of Apollo at Branchidae, near Miletus, was of ancient renown; but like that of Delphi, which already existed in the eighth century B.C., it owed its grandeur to the offerings of foreign kings, which required a spacious building to hold them. It was when the race of kings had departed, and cities became conscious of a corporate existence, that they built houses for their gods, and supported priests to care for them and to conduct the ceremonies which symbolised the continuity of civic life; and just as the monarch of Tiryns and Mycenae might summon an architect from over seas to build him a palace or a tomb, so the city, which sought to enhance the glory of the house which secured the presence of its god, might send for some one skilled in arts that were not yet fully developed upon Greek soil. It is to be observed, moreover, that the city rather than the priesthood had the initiative in all this course of change. No doubt the priestly caste, for instance the Eteo-Butadae on the Acropolis, had their interests to serve, and well knew how to work the oracle of the conservative party; but statesmen such as Solon, Pisistratus, or Pericles were too hard for them, and would not suffer the religion of the people to be made a hindrance to the growth of the state. Thus the safety and glory of the community were indissolubly associated with the present favour of the gods and heroes whom their fathers worshipped, and in whose actual presence, so long as their ritual was duly performed, the people implicitly believed.

The peaked roof of a Greek temple, with the gable end or pediment which gave such grand opportunities for the sculptor's art, is ascribed by Pindar, together with other notable inventions, to Corinth, whose wealth derived from commerce gave her an influence on the progress of the arts, of which the decorated vases of this period afford abundant evidence.

Thus although it is undeniable that the arts of architecture and of sculpture, ever closely associated, were originally derived in some measure from the Egyptians, in so far as mechanical accomplishments were concerned, yet as their increasing splendour reacted on religious feeling, and awakened the native imagination, these arts became, under the influence of Greek genius, a new creation and birth of time. The Greek so invariably transformed what he received into shapes congenial to the Hellenic spirit, that it is at once futile and unimportant, when a few obvious resemblances and differences have been observed, to disentangle further the foreign threads from the whole complex web.

A similar uncertainty attends the far deeper movement which, while these popular rites were hardening into permanent shape, was in progress among a few more aspiring minds, and was ultimately to prove a solvent for the ceremonial conventions that seemed so irremovable. The sixth century B.C. is one of those epochs in the history of our race which mark a widespread access of spiritual vitality. In the case of Hellas it is still a moot question how far some fresh impact from Egypt or from further east had to do with this. But a sort of pantheistic awakening at once intellectual and religious, beginning from many centres, of which the names of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the mythical Orpheus may serve to remind us, had set going a wave of mingled speculation and aspiration, which at one time threatened to destroy mythology, at another to transmute it into novel forms. Wants hitherto unfelt were met in various ways. Individuals were not satisfied with the traditional and conventional worships of the family or of the state. There was a deepening sense, we know not how infused, of guilt requiring atonement, of pollution crying for purgation, a feeling which had its roots in very early times, but was now becoming universal. Meditation upon life and death brought into a glaring light the inadequacy of the Homeric conception of a future life, and a craving for some assurance of blessedness hereafter. These desires combining with the primeval village festival gave new importance to mystic ceremonies, especially those of Eleusis, and had considerable influence in shaping the religion of Orphism, with its novel features of mythology, ritual, and discipline. The worship of the Erinnyes or Furies, in which the power of the curse was personified, also assumed novel forms, and was blended with that of other Chthonian powers.

The philosophic aspect of this wide movement will be more conveniently considered in treating of the subsequent growth of philosophy. But it is necessary before passing from it to remember that this also must be reckoned with in estimating the changes in poetry and general literature which emerged about the end of the sixth century. Now, too, the Homeric poems and the lyric poetry which had succeeded them began to exercise a powerful influence upon religion and the arts that ministered to it. The worshipper who had listened to an epic rhapsody, or to some outburst of choral song, could no longer think of the god to whom he paid his vows after the old crude and scarcely human fashion. A refined anthropomorphism tended to obliterate the last surviving relics of animal-worship and of savage rites. A blind reverence still clung to the rude square pillar that merely indicated the characteristics of the human form, but feeling and imagination craved for something more. And this the artist tried to satisfy and to supply. Thence gradually the plastic arts, following in the wake of poetry, set before the eyes of those who came to worship the shapes and the expressive grouping which might render outwardly the forms of fancy. The thoughts of the poet also took a new direction. He chose his subjects more immediately from the experience of life: maxims, apothegms, and apologues became more frequent with him; he aimed more at suggesting food for reflection, and in speaking of the gods avoided what seemed ugly or repellent. Man began to think of the power on whom his life depended more distinctly as the fountain of justice, and as civic relations were more and more developed, these higher thoughts began to find their centre in some one or other of the Olympian deities, especially in Athena and Apollo. Athena was looked up to by the Athenians as their protectress; she was also their instructor. Intermittently and to a less degree the Pythian Apollo stood in this relation to the whole Grecian world and to Lacedaemon above all.

The most noted change in this respect was the new consciousness about the guilt of homicide which overspread the whole Grecian world, and was immediately associated with the Delphian worship of Apollo. The only forms of purification known to Homer are fumigation with sulphur, as in the Odyssey, and washing with sea-water as in the first Iliad. The latter process survived in such ceremonies as the annual washing of the Palladium at Phalerum, and the rush to the sea with which the Eleusinian rites began. But there is no hint in Homer of expiation through the blood of swine (sacrificed to Demeter), or of other forms of ceremonial purgation which afterwards became universal. We have an interesting glimpse of one stage in this process in the visit of Epimenides to Athens, when after a long period of misery the people had called him in to heal them. After inquiry, he declared that this came on them for the blood of Cylon's partisans whom the Alkmaeonidae had slain, when suppliant at the altar of Athena. To purge this guilt, the Alkmaeonidae were banished, and the bones of their dead taken out of their graves and cast beyond the borders of the land. This feeling of bloodguiltiness was in the first instance positive and ceremonial, and was afterwards abused, becoming a superstition and an instrument of unscrupulous policy. But it contained in it the germ of a profoundly moral feeling, and of that consciousness of sin which is the beginning of a deeper religious life. Apollo and Athena thus became vicegerents of their father Zeus on earth, Apollo as the author of religious purity; Athena as the patroness of justice and equity.

The worship of the dead is by some thought to be the origin of all religion. It is at all events a phase through which all races of mankind who have attained to any historical importance have at some time passed. In the propitiation of the Manes it survived the latest period of Latin culture, and was continued by the Greek and Roman Churches in the invocation of saints. In the Cyclades Charon still gets his coin from the mouth of the dead as he did of old. To be without this element of religious life would therefore seem to be indicative either of primitive immaturity or of a late and advanced stage in the growth of the human mind. But the apparent exceptions to this rule are startling enough. Herodotus says that the Egyptians have no such custom; Hebrew religion presents few traces of it, unless in Saul at Endor; and in Homer, as before remarked, hardly any vestige of it is to be found. The statement of Herodotus, however, about Egypt is obviously based on a misconception. The departed kings, buried with such pomp, whose pyramids were maintained with great endowments providing for the unending performance of an elaborate ritual, were to all intents and purposes the objects of such worship. If the priest endeavoured to explain to his Greek interviewer that the worship was not paid to Rameses or Necho as such, but to the god with whom the spirit of either was identified, the historian's mystification might easily be as complete as when, relying on appearances, he had identified Osiris with Dionysus. Or it might be meant that the being so worshipped was not a hero but a god. The Egyptian Ka or spirit of the dead was in the case of a king more essentially divine than the shade of Ajax or Orestes. As to hero-worship in the heroic age, I may refer to what I have said above, p. 67. The blood which Odysseus pours into the narrow pit, by the advice of Circe, is precisely such an offering as in central Greece was made at every great man's tomb. The custom of providing the national hero or patron saint with a sacred precinct, such as had once been the privilege of the king, became universal in Hellas before the seventh century B.C. There is no reason to doubt that the hero so worshipped was often a real member of some family, who had impressed himself upon the people's imagination, either by founding a dynasty, or repelling an invader, or by his misfortunes, or in some other way. But political exigencies also gave rise to the invention of what are called eponymous heroes, the supposed ancestors of a family or clan, whose blood-relationship was largely supposititious. Instead of giving his name to the clan, such a hero was often named after it. Semi-divine honours were also paid to the mythical originators of certain forms of ritual. Eumolpus, for example, was the father of those who conducted the Eleusinian mysteries. Another true cause of hero-worship arose when a god of former days had been supplanted by a more important deity, whose son or servant he was now supposed to be. Asclepius, Castor, Polydeuces, and others, whom Homer speaks of as mortals, may have been gods before his time.

The strength of the impulse to worship the dead may be measured by the number and variety of the grounds which made a man a hero. First comes the claim of the head of a family descending from patriarchal times. As many families coalesced into one clan, the common ancestor of the clan must either be found or invented, and every tribe or district which came under a common government had its eponymous hero, whose worship symbolised the bond of union. As these units again coalesced into a greater whole in forming the city, the many festivals in honour of these ancestors, real or supposed, were sometimes united into one, as in the Athenian or rather Ionian feast of the Apaturia. The founder of a colony, who carried with him the sacred fire from the mother-city, invariably received such honours after death; and other sacred associations led to the multiplication of such rites, as, for example, the worship of Pelops at Olympia.

This tendency remained a living power in Greece far on into historical times; we know that Hagnon and Brasidas were so worshipped successively at Amphipolis, and the power of the local hero was the object of such vivid belief that the presence even of his image with the army was regarded as conducive to victory. In the same region the people had raised an altar to a Persian governor after his death, because of his extraordinary stature. Such faith must have often been severely tried, yet it survived. We can only point to one instance where it appears to have been shaken, and in this case it is not the native hero who proved so disappointing. When Thebes appealed to Aegina for help, the Aeginetans in all good faith sent the images of the sons of Aeacus, and when defeat followed, the Thebans returned the images, and asked for men. But this failure was not thought of when the presence of the same images at the battle of Salamis was believed to have been decisive.

The hero present at his tomb was supposed to have all the human feelings of a living citizen. The vicissitudes of war, alliance, and colonisation affected the fortunes of heroes as well as of living men. There were many tombs of Oedipus in many parts of Greece: for the Athenian he was buried at Colonus; for the Boeotian, at Potniae; for the Corinthian at Sicyon. There was a tomb of Cassandra both at Argos and at Sparta; of Talthybius, both at Sparta and in Aegina. Orestes, although not a Dorian, was a powerful factor in the Spartan state, and not until his bones had been laid within Spartan ground, and a temple raised over them, could the Lacedaemonians be secure of supremacy in the Peloponnesus. A less fortunate policy was pursued by Cleisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon, who being at war with Argos, sought to exile Adrastus the Argive hero worshipped at Sicyon. When the Pythoness forbade this in words of contumely, he instituted the worship of Melanippus, of whom legend spoke as the greatest enemy of Adrastus in his lifetime. This, however, was the action not of the people, but of a tyrant. Many cases are recorded in which an enemy received divine honours after death. The tomb of Mardonius in the Plataean territory was respected down to the time of Pausanias.

Onesilas, the Cyprian tyrant who besieged Amathus, having been slain in conflict with the Persians, the Amathusians maltreated his remains, but because of a portent (a swarm of bees having settled in the hollow of his skull) and a consequent oracle, they instituted an annual sacrifice to him, which was continued for more than one generation. On the other hand, it is equally instructive to observe that in removing all traces of the worship of Hagnon the Athenian general, the Potidaeans felt, as Thucydides tells us, that it could not be pleasant for him to receive their offerings side by side with the worship of his adversary. Philip of Crotona, the most beautiful man of his time, who was disappointed of his promised bride, the daughter of his country's enemy, and joined the fatal expedition of Dorieus, is said by Herodotus to be the only mortal to whom the people of Egesta ever paid divine honours. They raised a herôon over his tomb and continued to propitiate him with sacrifices. Yet his coming amongst them must have been a serious danger to their state.

Pausanias mentions (iii. 13 § 1) that a tomb of Idas and Lynceus was shown near the tomb of Castor in the neighbourhood of Sparta. The historian thinks it unlikely that such bitter enemies should be buried so near together, but the association is characteristic of the impartiality with which Greek religion accorded reverence to those, although opposed in life, who had in any way impressed the popular imagination. Similarly in Mysia, whether amongst a pure Greek race or not, Thersander who was slain by Telephus was honoured together with that hero in connection with the worship of Asclepius. In the same connection another feature of this branch of ritual appears; for in the popular imagination, by all except such rare spirits as Antigone, resentment was supposed to continue after death: thus in the ‘Ajax’ of Sophocles, Odysseus although friendly is not invited to take part in the sepulture of Ajax whom he had offended; and in the temple of Asclepius just spoken of, the worshippers of Telephus were not-permitted to approach Asclepius, until they had purified themselves. The reason was that Machaon the son of Asclepius was slain by Eurypylus the son of Telephus, and for the same reason the songs in praise of Telephus that were chanted there made no mention of Eurypylus, his warrior son.

The act of Cleisthenes above mentioned is a strong instance of the early prevalence of the same belief. Solon, and after him Pisistratus, had appealed from the religion of the Eupatridae, which centred in various local cults, to the universal sanctity of Zeus and Athena, of the Earth and of supreme Justice. But the power of the local gods was not extinct, and when making the people his ally, as Herodotus puts it, Cleisthenes sought for the patronage of great heroes acknowledged by general consent and approved by the Delphic oracle, to counterbalance the influence of great families whose patron saints were still so strong. Each tribe in the new democracy must have its own Attic hero.

The ritual of hero-worship was distinguished from that of the Olympian gods in several ways. Whatever may be the result, either in Greece or Egypt, of the minute investigations which have been of late pursued on the subject of temple orientation, the general fact is indisputable: the temples of the gods in Greece were so contrived that the statue in the main shrine should face the rising sun upon the day of festival. The temple of the hero on the other hand opened to the west, and looked towards Erebus and the region of gloom. This is strikingly exemplified by what Pausanias tells us (confirmed by recent investigation) of the temples at Olympia. The entrance to the Pelopeum, he says, is towards the setting of the sun, whereas the temple of Zeus, as a matter of course, faced eastwards. The same historian's account of the ritual of sacrifice in the Pelopeum is further suggestive. It was performed by the rulers for the year, and the victim was a black ram. Such sacrifice to those below was not followed by a feast. The worshippers did not taste of the victim. The soothsavers had no share in the victim, but an officer known as the woodsman, who supplied the wood for sacrifice, got the neck and nothing more. His business was to supply both states and individuals with wood of an appointed kind in due measure for the purpose of the sacrifice. White poplar was the only wood allowed, and it is very noticeable that whosoever, whether native or foreigner, shared in that sacrifice was not allowed to enter the temple of Zeus on the same day. So true is the saying of Aeschylus, that the honours of the highest gods are kept apart from those of powers below. The exact differences of ritual in minute points between the worship of gods and that of heroes is no-where clearly stated, except the essential point that in the act of hero-worship the blood was poured through an opening into the ground. But that there were such differences, and that they were very clearly marked, appears from the fact that a special word (ε᾽ναγίζειν) is used for sacrificing to a hero, in contradistinction to the more general term (θύειν), which applies to all sacrifice, but also in a special sense to offerings made to the Olympian gods.1

The worship of heroes from whom the race derived its origin was continued with little abatement in democratic times, but there can be little doubt that it was for many generations one of the strongholds of oligarchy. No one can read Pindar without a keen sense of the inordinate family pride with which he regards his own lineage from the Aegeidae as at least equal to that of the Heracleid kings of Sparta. The theme of every Epinikian ode is that the brave are born from the brave, the noble from the noble, and no motive is more operative in his morality than that noblesse oblige. Such notions might be consistent with beneficent despotism, but not with any real sympathy with the people. The Athenian tragic poets sought to popularise the native heroes, and to make of them an ideal for the admiration of mankind; but while in doing so they yielded something to the strong current of rising democracy, they also ministered to the pride of the tyrant city, and encouraged her in her career of arrogance towards subjects and allies. Yet the existence of such legendary ideals in the past was not the less an indescribable boon, binding together a whole community in indissoluble brotherhood, and bowing the pride of individuals under a deep sense of the hereditary glories and the indefeasible destiny of the race.

The question has been raised of late whether the hero was not in every case a degraded god. That this was not always so is clearly proved by the cases of Hagnon, Brasidas, Artachaeus, and Philip of Croton. That the original occupant of a sacred shrine wag often deposed in the interest of a greater deity, whose servant he became, is a familiar phenomenon in religious evolution, and may be acknowledged as the source of much hero-worship, But it matters little in this connection whether the fact were so in any particular case or not. The hero was equally regarded as a mortal who had obtained divine honours after death, and was the object of filial or patriotic adoration.

So much of heroes generally, but an important and very difficult question remains behind. Is Herakles to be regarded as a hero or as a god? The difficulty is one which the Greeks themselves felt, sometimes acutely. In the Odyssey he is already both at once: as a hero who had died his shade is underground, but he himself is in Olympus and is married to fair-ankled Hebe. Pausanias tells us how the people of Sicyon had worshipped Herakles with heroic honours, until Phaestus, son of Herakles, arrived and instructed them to sacrifice to his father as to a god: since when they sacrifice a lamb as formerly, but burn the thigh-bones on the altar and taste of the sacrifice as holding communion with the god; while other parts of the victim are offered after the manner of hero-worship. Some found a solution in the hypothesis of two persons of the name: one the son of Alcmena, who died on Mount Oeta; the other one of the Idaei Dactyli, more ancient than the former, who had shared with his brothers the guardianship of the infant Zeus and had founded the Olympian games. Something of this kind is said by Herodotus (Book ii. chapters 42–45). A possible hypothesis is that the belief in Herakles was indigenous in Greek soil, but as the legend grew, it took on foreign attributes and became confused through the ambition of great families to show connection with him, and especially from his being made the ancestor of the royal family of Sparta. Apart from the tale about Olympia, there are not many traces of him on the western side of Hellas (only the obscure battle at Pylos, and the Augean stable); in Aetolia, for example, Meleager seems to take his place, as Theseus did to some extent in Attica. And yet his fame as the founder of the Olympian games, and his connection with Aetolia as the brother-in-law of Meleager, would seem to be older than the time of Spartan supremacy. The type of the strong man, the ideal of a conquering warrior race, is probably more inseparable from Hellenic nature than the Hellenic name itself, and is rooted in immemorial antiquity. As Wilamowitz-Möllendorf has suggested, it may have come with the first conquerors in their descent from the highlands of Thessaly. While holding to his Hellenic origin, I venture to doubt whether in early times he could be said to be exclusively associated with the Dorian name. Two of the earliest seats of his worship were at Marathon and at Thermopylae; the latter is not far from Doris and immediately below the range of Oeta, but Marathon is in no sense Dorian, and there are good reasons for supposing that it had once been a Phoenician settlement.

The Cean muse of Bacchylides in the poems recently discovered, which were sung by choruses from Ceos, not a Dorian island, celebrates impartially the Attic legend of Theseus and that of Herakles in its connection with Aetolia. Herakles then is Hellenic and not Dorian merely. How comes it that so many of his attributes have an eastern complexion, lending colour to the supposition that, like the Hebrew Samson, he is an impersonation of the sun-god? That is probably due to some ‘contamination’ with the Phoenician Melkarth. The Greek mariner who boasted of his Herakles found that the Phoenician likewise had his patron in a god with similar attributes, of whom Herodotus speaks as the Tyrian and Thasian Herakles—the adventurous wanderer, the cleanser of the earth, the indefatigable labourer. The twelve labours have an unmistakable solar meaning; the legend of Atlas and of the pillars of Herakles, of the garden of the Hesperides and the golden apples, all seem in different ways to reflect Phoenician culture. It is perhaps not without significance in this regard that Pindar speaks of Herakles as not having that commanding stature which the Greeks admired. The writer of the article Herakles in Roscher's ‘Lexicon of Mythology’ has shown by an examination of the early monuments that the lion-skin was not always an inseparable badge of Herakles, and makes it probable that it was derived from the east, where a lion was the frequent symbol for the sun. Various fables about the same hero, which are not indigenous to Hellenic soil, such as the stories of Cacus and Antaeus and the oxen of Geryon, also bear some traces of a Phoenician origin. Some of these may have been fixed in Greek mythology by Stesichorus, whose well-known fragment describing Herakles borrowing the sun-boat for his journey to the west is the most distinct evidence of the solar connection. The lion of Nemea is in all probability a mythical being. Lastly, to revert to the question from which we started: the Greek Herakles from the universality of his worship cannot be regarded in the ordinary sense as a hero, but rather, notwithstanding his career of mortality, as a genuine god.

The communities which gradually formed the somewhat heterogeneous aggregate to which we give the name of Hellas were exceedingly numerous and were frequently at war with one another. The Athenians, who thought themselves aboriginal, with an infusion of Achaeans from Troezen and elsewhere, were of a distinctly different race from the Dorians, who apparently came from the far north-west. But there were two great influences which counteracted separatist tendencies, the oracles and the games. Of the latter we see the beginnings in the Iliad in the funeral contests and in the allusion of Agamemnon to the prizes which his steeds had won; also in the famous simile in which Achilles pursues Hector not for a cup or a cauldron, but for his life. It is manifest that there already existed such local competitions, perhaps imperfectly organised, as are repeatedly referred to by Pindar and Bacchylides, in celebrating some greater victory. Such competitions took place first amongst the members of the same community, and secondly amongst those dwelling within a certain range, the Perictiones. For these minor contests the prize of a brazen cauldron or a silver bowl was still offered, as for example at Sicyon. But at Olympia the gilded crown of wild olive was all the victor had to show, and the great centres at Nemea, Corinth, and Delphi followed suit with the parsley, oak, and pine. The honour of the victory against all comers from the whole of Hellas was satisfaction enough. If we imagine the immense impression made upon each visitor at Olympia or at Crissa by the excitement of the contest; the intercourse with strangers, who, though they spoke another dialect, were easily understood; the common sacrifices, the procession in honour of the victor, and above all, the processional hymn; we can easily understand that not only for the time being there was a truce of God, but that in spite of jarring interests and ambitions, there must have sunk deeply into the hearts of many individuals a feeling of Hellenic brotherhood and of pride in the Hellenic name. The rich men who had made the voyage from Syracuse, Agrigentum, Rhodes, Cyrene, for the sake of an Olympian crown and had their glory celebrated by the poet both at Olympia and at home on their triumphant return, felt themselves grafted afresh into the Hellenic stock and must in turn have excited in the breasts of the spectators new thoughts of the wide range of Hellenic life. Both impressions were confirmed by the inspired poet, who traced the genealogy of each from Herakles or Aeacus, and recited the noble deeds of ancestors who had come between. The feeling of community of race and worship could not be more effectually impressed.

In the earliest times, the small communities continually at feud with one another would often combine in the presence of a common danger. Having thus served together in war, they would entertain an intermittent neighbourliness and meet at annual festivals, where the elders of each might occasionally sit together in council and confer upon their common interests. Thus Amphictionies were formed, the most remarkable of which, so far as known to us, were those whose centres were at Thermopylae and Calauria. The Cyclades and neighbouring islands similarly regarded Delos as a centre; the Dorians of Asia Minor met at Triopium, the Ionians at Pan-Ionion. The authority of such federations, like that of the early kings, gave way before the circumstances of later times, when they were overshadowed by the ascendency of powerful states; but they retained many of their associations, and the Amphictions of Thermopylae could even exercise some actual influence when the sanctity of Delphi was threatened. Their power, however, was little more than that of the diet of Frankfort when Germany was united under the military ascendency of Prussia. The importance of Delos was acknowledged by the Athenians when they made it the cardinal point of their confederacy, though after a time they withdrew the common treasury from thence, and made Athens herself the pivot-state.

As time went on, the inheritance of a common literature was another bond of union amongst all Hellenes. We read in history of the wars of Sparta with Argos; of Argos with Tiryns and Mycenae; of Athens with Eleusis and Megara; but are apt to forget that in the intervals of peace which after all existed the rhapsode or the minstrel passed from town to town, and delighted those who thronged around him with the same strains of epic or of lyric verse with which he had charmed his own countrymen. The Iliad was popular at Sparta while it was still comparatively unknown in Attica. Terpander of Lesbos and Alcman of Sardes were neither of them Dorians; but their poems charmed the Dorians first and afterwards all Greece. There was more of intercourse between the various communities than we are apt to imagine. It was only in the late sixth or early fifth century B.C. that Sparta began her jealous habit of excluding foreigners; the Greek who could afford it loved nothing better, at any time, than seeing and hearing something new. Solon left his country, not only to avoid inconvenient interviewers, but to see the world; and Plato mentions it as one of the chief miseries of the tyrant, that having the keenest thirst for seeing and hearing pleasant things, he is compelled to live like a woman in a secret chamber for fear of assassination. That is a touch extremely characteristic of the Greek mind. But the rivalry of powerful states and internal factions rendered anything like union or even federation impossible, although wise men such as Isocrates in the fourth century began to dream of combining Hellas, against the Persian; until Philip of Macedon came and Macedonian tyranny put an end to the spontaneous vitality of the Hellenic states.

One of the greatest difficulties attending any general study of Greek religion arises out of this perpetual oscillation between universalism and particularism. The great Olympian deities, while they gradually came to be acknowledged as belonging to the whole Hellenic race, were at the same time claimed by several cities individually as belonging to them of special right. Thebes laid a special claim to Ares, Corinth to Poseidon, Argos as in Homeric times to Hera. Zeus the protector is invoked by all alike, but each nation thinks of him as protecting their own land in particular. Earth is the most universal of deities, but in speaking of her the Theban or the Argive thinks only of his own land. The travelling sun-god is perhaps the only deity who is never thus appropriated to a single state; though he too had a special favour to the island of Rhodes. Popular imagination found it hard to separate between Artemis and Athena in general and the Artemis or Athena that was worshipped in the precincts of this or that city. Such local appropriation gave special attributes to deities as worshipped under the same name by different communities, who sometimes sought to retain them, as the Spartans did their Ares, by actually chaining them to the shrines. Artemis was one divinity in Arcadia, another at Brauron, and yet another in Aetolia, or on the Maliac gulf. The Helen who dispensed the gift of beauty to Laconian women, or whose aspect terrified the Messenian chieftain was a divinity whose worship was independent of epic tradition. There were Athenas who had no special care for Athens: Athena Itonia for example, whose chief seat was in Boeotia, though she was not forgotten in Thessaly her earlier home; and the Athena Onka of the Cadmeians, whom some have identified with the armed Aphrodite. In Lacedaemon itself there were no fewer than fourteen Athenas with various attributes, all differing from the Athenian Maiden. It fortunately matters little for our present purpose whether she were originally an Aryan lightning goddess, or a Libyan water deity (Neit), or a Babylonian Ishtar. By her worshippers she was principally regarded as the guardian of their city.

The Athena of the Parthenon is no longer simply the divine helper, who moves beside the warrior or the counsellor; she is the giver of the olive, the patroness of knighthood, the founder of the council of Areopagus, the protectress of her suppliant although a stranger, the mirror of equity and of mercy. But when from the Acropolis of Athens we pass to the rising ground which was regarded as the Acropolis of Sparta, there stood Athena, a bronze goddess in a shrine of bronze, in the place which had been sacred to her before the Dorians came, but where she had remained as guardian of the Dorian city. Her title Poliuchus corresponds to the Polias of the Erechtheum. And here, as on the eastern pediment of the Parthenon, her miraculous birth was represented and she was associated with Amphitrite and Poseidon. But instead of the metopes setting forth the triumphs of Theseus, the whole series of the labours of Herakles was embossed upon the bronze walls of the shrine: Athena doubtless standing by her favourite, as in the marble metopes at Olympia. And ‘Athena of the brazen house,’ unlike her namesake of the Parthenon, shared all the sternness of Spartan discipline, and was of a rigorous unrelenting mood. The Athenian goddess protected Orestes and shielded him from the onset of the Furies, though he was not an Athenian; but she of the brazen house was in vain appealed to, by her own king of Heracleid descent, because he had been guilty of a rash act of homicide. He found no place for repentance, though he had anxiously endeavoured to purge away the stain. Athena Alea, the Tegean goddess, whom the Spartans likewise adopted, was a deity of a different mood: in accordance with her title she gave shelter to the fugitive and even to the criminal. Her sanctuary was respected upon occasions where the violence of passion might have been expected to break through, as when she protected Leotychides and the younger Pausanias and Chrysis the Argolic priestess of Hera, through whose negligence the Heraeum had been consumed with fire.

The various attributes attaching to the same deity are illustrated by Herodotus when he describes Croesus as calling upon Zeus the purifier, Zeus of the hearth, and the Zeus of comradeship, and the historian takes the trouble to remark that in all these appellations he called upon the same deity.

The connection of religion with the life of the state often found a focus in some one sacred object, in which the prosperity of the community was supposed to be bound up. Thus the grave of Oedipus at Colonus was regarded by the hearers of Sophocles as the foundation and guarantee of victory as against the Thebans. The grave of Eurystheus in Euripides is supposed to give a similar advantage over the Peloponnesians. The recovery of the bones of Orestes made the turning point in the struggle between Sparta and Tegea, and the bringing of the bones of Theseus from Scyros to Athens was regarded as one of the most distinguished services which Cimon rendered to his country. A pathetic story is told of king Aristomenes, at the close of the second Messenian war. It was doubtless believed in by every Helot, as well as by the Messenian exiles at Naupactus, and encouraged them in those desperate hopes which led to forlorn enterprises and occasioned cruel reprisals on the side of Sparta. It occurs in Pausanias, Book iv. ch. 20 § 4, where it is told how when Messene was doomed and the Pythian oracle had proclaimed it, the heroic king, courageous to the last, buried by night in some unknown spot, far from the track of men on the heights of Ithome, a sacred thing not further characterised, on the preservation of which an ancient oracle declared that the ultimate salvation of Messene depended. He then continued the struggle, of which he foresaw the issue, to the bitter end. That is not the conclusion of the story: the deposit of Aristomenes was discovered centuries afterwards by Epaminondas, through a divine intimation when he refounded the city. His general, Epiteles, on digging in the place which had been indicated in a dream, found a roll of tin-foil on which was inscribed the ritual of the Great Goddesses, Demeter and Persephone, and this was the deposit of Aristomenes. Here, once more, there is an intricate interweaving of policy with religious feeling which it were vain to attempt to disentangle. But the fact is not the less significant.

The real presence of the Aeacidae at Aegina, of Castor and Pollux in many towns of Laconia, of Pelops at Olympia, in proportion as it was vividly believed in, helped to keep alive the public spirit and the consciousness of a common life in these several centres. The shapes which religious belief and ritual ultimately assumed depended partly on military or tribal exigencies, partly on mere chance coincidences, such as the similarity of names. Thus a whole cycle of legend grew out of the apparent identity of Perseus with Perses, and of Io with the Egyptian Isis. We cannot doubt that in many instances the conquerors came to share the beliefs of the conquered people, and hoped by showing respect to local sanctities to make their conquests perpetual. Thus many articles of popular belief, some of them extremely ancient, come to be woven into the recognised body of tradition. And hence it is that many items of folklore demonstrably more primitive than anything in Homer make their appearance first at a later stage of Greek literature. That is only another proof of the fallaciousness of the argument from silence. The ordeal by fire, so frequently dwelt on in the ‘Zendavesta,’ appears only once in classical Greek literature; but it is put into the mouth of the watchman in the ‘Antigone,’ who is a most perfect witness of its existence as a popular belief. The sacredness of certain inanimate objects, such as a tree or a stone, is seldom referred to, yet it can hardly be doubted that the Thorician stone spoken of in the ‘Oedipus Coloneus’ was endued with such mysterious virtue by some primitive belief, and in this connection we may refer also to the conical Aphrodite, and the aniconic pillar representing Hera in Argolis.

It is remarkable that a growth so multifarious should have retained so many broad features in common. Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Athena, Artemis, are everywhere adored. Apollo now adds to his other attributes that of the healer of disease. This may be accounted for, perhaps, by the law of opposites—‘he who can destroy can also save’; but the belief was certainly supported by the accidental similarity between Paean, the hymn to Apollo, and Paiôn, healer. Artemis now generally assumes the attributes of Eilithyia, and presides over childbirth. This may be connected with her Homeric attribute as ‘the lion of women.’ She retains her characteristics as the huntress and also the protectress of wild animals. The worship of Hera is more localised—perhaps less popular; she has her great temples in Boeotia and at Argos, and the greatest of all perhaps in Samos. Pan is a god whose reverence becomes accentuated with the rise of popular religion; his worship spreads from Arcadia to other parts of Greece and is associated with that of Dionysus and Demeter.

Lastly, in speaking of local sanctities it will not do to forget such semi-divine persons as the nymphs and rivers, and other impersonations of natural phenomena, which are imagined, not always as immortal, but as long-lived: an expression of the feeling, perhaps, that man is more short-lived than a tree. This multiplication of demi-gods of course accentuated the polytheistic tendency, giving rise not only to innumerable legends but to manifold modifications of mythology and ritual: such as for example the habit of sacrificing to the winds. The help which Boreas gave to the Greek cause at Artemisium was never forgotten by the Athenians, who prided themselves on being connected by marriage with the god who carried off Orithyia. Subordinate deities, personifying abstract qualities, such as persuasion, health, hope, love, became attached to the shrines of greater gods with whom they were associated. Thus Earth is associated with Demeter (Pans. vii. 4 § 11), and we have a goddess of Calm in the temple of Poseidon at Corinth (Pans, ii. 3 § 9). The goddess of Health was similarly associated with Asclepius, who in Homer is hardly a divine personage, but whose worship existed in Thessaly probably before Homer's time, and passing from Epidaurus as a centre, spread quickly and widely over the rest of Hellas. Fortune comes to be personified side by side with Providence and Fate. We have Plato's authority for saying that Love in the earlier times had no separate shrine, though the famous Eros of Polycleitus suggests a different view. Such an image, however, might be a dedicatory offering at some temple of Aphrodite.

Many of these innovations may be accounted for by a theory which contains a large amount of truth—that legend has its root in ritual: that is, that in dwelling on some traditional ceremony no longer understood, the imagination formed to itself sometimes the object of worship, but invariably some history concerning him, which when analysed resolves itself into the elements of the ritual itself. That all Greek legends are to be so accounted for, it would of course be rash to affirm; but the theory in question has in many cases proved a valuable guide to the solution of mythological puzzles. The point to be observed is that the mythological fancy was still active, and that the personification of attributes, qualities, and powders, or even of a name, might at any time give rise to the creation of a new worship, in short of a god. The altercation between Themistocles and the people of Andros is a late example of this fancy in its lighter and more fugitive manifestation. When he sought to requisition them for supplies, he said that the Athenians came in fellowship with two great gods, Persuasion and Compulsion. They replied that Athens seemed to be fortunate in her deities, but the people of Andros were less fortunate, since they had two worthless deities that ever haunted their land, namely Poverty and Inability, wherefore they could not give. The same half-humorous invention of popular demons appears in the potters' song which is given amongst the epigrams attributed to Homer; here every influence (Smash-up, Half-bake, and the rest) which can do hurt to the potter's work and cause its failure is turned for the nonce into a little deity whose wrath is deprecated. See also the curious names of Spermô, 0enô, and Elaïs quoted by Proclus from the ‘Cypria’ attributed to Homer. Such ‘animism’ is of course familiar to the student of Roman religion.

  • 1.

    A third term for religious offering, ὀργιάζεσθαι, is used by Plato in Laws iv. 717 B, and is apparently applied to the worship of heroes and other divine beings (δαίμονϵϛ, θεοί πατρᾠοι) below the rank of Olympian gods.