In the special service of the Gods…


The Hymn to Demeter proclaims: “Blessed is he among men on earth who has seen these Mysteries; but he who is uninitiated and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom.” The initiation, with its rituals of purification and special sacrifices, establishes a relation between the mortal and the Deity: “Tell Persephone that Bacchos himself has released you,” says the Pelinna tablets. Dionysos intervenes on behalf of His special servants, just as Persephone is willing to grant favorable treatment to those who have become initiated in the Mysteries dedicated to Her at Eleusis. Establishing such a relation with the Deity, be it Dionysos, Persephone, or any other God/Goddess, is a matter of piety, of good behavior; to neglect which is impious. As Aidoneus tells Persephone, “And while you are here, you shall rule all that lives and moves and shall have the greatest rights among the deathless Gods: those who defraud you and do not appease your power with offerings, reverently performing rites and paying fit gifts, shall be punished for evermore.” The uninitiated ones are depicted as suffering in the afterlife as early as Polygnotus’s painting, where women trying to carry water in sieves are labeled ‘the uninitiate.’ The same punishment, according to Adeimantus in the Republic, is reserved for the impious in the afterlife by Musaeus and his son.

Rather than the initiation being a sign of piety and a good character as it is in reality, it becomes a replacement for it in the mind of the impious people…

“But, as for their being parted from wisdom and exchanged for one another, goodness of that sort may be a kind of illusory facade, and fit for slaves indeed, and may have nothing true or healthy about it; whereas, truth to tell, temperance, justice, and bravery may in fact be a kind of purification of all such things, and wisdom itself a kind of purifying rite.”

“So it really looks as if those who established our initiations are no mean people, but have in fact long been saying in riddles that whoever arrives in Hades unadmitted to the rites, and uninitiated, shall lie in the slough, while he who arrives there purified and initiated shall dwell with the Gods. For truly there are, so say those concerned with the initiations, “many who bear the thyrsos, but few who are bacchoi.” Now these latter, in my view, are none other than those who have practiced philosophy aright.” the slogan from the Dionysiac mysteries, that Olympiodorus attributes to Orpheus, is allegorically interpreted to mean that true philosophers are few, despite the number who pretend to philosophic virtue. The philosopher, like the initiate in Mysteries, dedicates special service to a Deity, re-establishing the bond between Immortal and mortal.

This idea of being in the special service of the God is echoed in the discussions of the soul in mortal life being under the care of some God, (Phaedo, 62d2–3): Cebes protests that if this is the case, why should one not protest at leaving the service of such a good master at death? In building his argument that the philosopher will serve other good and wise Gods after death (cp. 63c) Socrates says: “And as is said of the initiated, does it not pass the rest of time in very truth with the Gods?”


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