Friday, November 13, 2009

The Eleusinian Mysteries and The Sixth Book of the Aeneid

Many people suspect that Book Six of Vergil's Aeneid contains a great deal of information about the Eleusinian Mysteries. See, for example, Thomas Taylor's essay on "The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries":
http://www.sacred- texts.com/ cla/ebm/ebm05. htm:
Dr. Warburton, in his Divine Legation of Moses, has ingeniously proved, that the sixth book of Virgil’s Æneid represents some of the dramatic exhibitions of the Eleusinian Mysteries; but, at the same time, has utterly failed in attempting to unfold their latent meaning, and obscure though important end. By the assistance, however, of the Platonic philosophy, I have been enabled to correct his errors, and to vindicate the wisdom of antiquity from his aspersionsby a genuine account of this sublime institution; of which the following observations are designed as a comprehensive view.
The famous Sixth Book contains one of the more humorous passages in all of epic poetry. When Aeneas pleads for the Sibyl to help him to visit his dead father in Hades:
Grant me to see the face, and hear the voice
Of my loved sire once more; point me the way,
Unbar the sacred portals!
The Priestess of Hecate replies:
Descent to Hell is easy -- day and night
Wide open stands the gate of darksome Dis,
But to retrace your steps, and mount again
Into the upper air is hard indeed.
But of course, as everyone knows the Sibyl grants to Aeneas what he needs both to go and visit Anchises, and to "mount again into the upper air".

3 comments:

mamiel said...

Such a timely post. Thanks!

Denis said...

Little is known of Virgil's biography. Is there any evidence that he participated in Eleusinian mysteries? Even if he did, he would not have revealed the details of the initiation, as no initiates are known to have done that.
BTW, you blog is great. Looking forward to the Timaeus article you promised.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Denis, George Luck takes up precisely that point in his "Virgil and the Mystery Religions" which is a chapter in his book "Ancient Pathways and Hidden Pursuits". The argument that Virgil either wasn't initiated and therefore didn't know, or was initiated and therefore couldn't reveal what he knew, was actually taken up by good old Edward Gibbon, and Luck tries to show that Gibbon was wrong. I'm working on a follow up post with links......

And thanks for the kind words. Timaeus!! Yes, I really must get back to Plato......