Ancient Art and Ritual
by Jane Ellen Harrison
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The Bull thus solemnly set apart, charged as it were with the luck of the whole people, is fed at the public cost. The official charged with his keep has to drive him into the market-place, and "it is good for those corn-merchants who give the Bull grain as a gift," good for them because they are feeding, nurturing, the luck of the State, which is their own luck. So through autumn and winter the Bull lives on, but early in April the end comes. Again a great procession is led forth, the senate and the priests walk in it, and with them come representatives of each class of the State—children and young boys, and youths just come to manhood, epheboi, as the Greeks called them. The Bull is sacrificed, and why? Why must a thing so holy die? Why not live out the term of his life? He dies because he is so holy, that he may give his holiness, his strength, his life, just at the moment it is holiest, to his people.

"When they shall have sacrificed the Bull, let them divide it up among those who took part in the procession."

The mandate is clear. The procession included representatives of the whole State. The holy flesh is not offered to a god, it is eaten—to every man his portion—by each and every citizen, that he may get his share of the strength of the Bull, of the luck of the State.

* * * * *

Now at Magnesia, after the holy civic communion, the meal shared, we hear no more. Next year a fresh Bull will be chosen, and the cycle begin again. But at Athens at the annual "Ox-murder," the Bouphonia, as it was called, the scene did not so close. The ox was slain with all solemnity, and all those present partook of the flesh, and then—the hide was stuffed with straw and sewed up, and next the stuffed animal was set on its feet and yoked to a plough as though it were ploughing. The Death is followed by a Resurrection. Now this is all-important. We are so accustomed to think of sacrifice as the death, the giving up, the renouncing of something. But sacrifice does not mean "death" at all. It means making holy, sanctifying; and holiness was to primitive man just special strength and life. What they wanted from the Bull was just that special life and strength which all the year long they had put into him, and nourished and fostered. That life was in his blood. They could not eat that flesh nor drink that blood unless they killed him. So he must die. But it was not to give him up to the gods that they killed him, not to "sacrifice" him in our sense, but to have him, keep him, eat him, live by him and through him, by his grace.

And so this killing of the sacred beast was always a terrible thing, a thing they fain would have shirked. They fled away after the deed, not looking backwards; they publicly tried and condemned the axe that struck the blow. But their best hope, their strongest desire, was that he had not, could not, really have died. So this intense desire uttered itself in the dromenon of his resurrection. If he did not rise again, how could they plough and sow again next year? He must live again, he should, he did.

The Athenians were a little ashamed of their "Ox-murder," with its grotesque pantomime of the stuffed, resurrected beast. Just so some of us now-a-days are getting a little shy of deliberately cursing our neighbours on Ash Wednesday. They probably did not feel very keenly about their food-supply, they thought their daily dinner was secure. Anyhow the emotion that had issued in the pantomime was dead, though from sheer habit the pantomime went on. Probably some of the less educated among them thought there "might be something in it," and anyhow it was "as well to be on the safe side." The queer ceremony had got associated with the worship of Olympian Zeus, and with him you must reckon. Then perhaps your brother-in-law was the Ox-striker, and anyhow it was desirable that the women should go; some of the well-born girls had to act as water-carriers.

The Ox-murder was obsolete at Athens, but the spirit of the rite is alive to-day among the Ainos in the remote island of Saghalien. Among the Ainos the Bear is what psychologists rather oddly call the main "food focus," the chief "value centre." And well he may be. Bear's flesh is the Ainos' staple food; they eat it both fresh and salted; bearskins are their principal clothing; part of their taxes are paid in bear's fat. The Aino men spend the autumn, winter and spring in hunting the Bear. Yet we are told the Ainos "worship the Bear"; they apply to it the name Kamui, which has been translated god; but it is a word applied to all strangers, and so only means what catches attention, and hence is formidable. In the religion of the Ainos "the Bear plays a chief part," says one writer. The Bear "receives idolatrous veneration," says another. They "worship it after their fashion," says a third. Have we another case of "the heathen in his blindness"? Only here he "bows down" not to "gods of wood and stone," but to a live thing, uncouth, shambling but gracious—a Bear.

Instead of theorizing as to what the Aino thinks and imagines, let us observe his doings, his dromena, his rites; and most of all his great spring and autumn rite, the dromenon of the Bear. We shall find that, detail for detail, it strangely resembles the Greek dromenon of the Bull.

As winter draws to a close among the Ainos, a young Bear is trapped and brought into the village. At first an Aino woman suckles him at her breast, then later he is fed on his favourite food, fish—his tastes are semi-polar. When he is at his full strength, that is, when he threatens to break the cage in which he lives, the feast is held. This is usually in September, or October, that is when the season of bear-hunting begins.

Before the feast begins the Ainos apologize profusely, saying that they have been good to the Bear, they can feed him no longer, they must kill him. Then the man who gives the Bear-feast invites his relations and friends, and if the community be small nearly the whole village attends. On the occasion described by Dr. Scheube about thirty Ainos were present, men, women, and children, all dressed in their best clothes. The woman of the house who had suckled the Bear sat by herself, sad and silent, only now and then she burst into helpless tears. The ceremony began with libations made to the fire-god and to the house-god set up in a corner of the house. Next the master and some of the guests left the hut and offered libations in front of the Bear's cage. A few drops were presented to him in a saucer, which he promptly upset. Then the women and girls danced round the cage, rising and hopping on their toes, and as they danced they clapped their hands and chanted a monotonous chant. The mother and some of the old women cried as they danced and stretched out their arms to the Bear, calling him loving names. The young women who had nursed no Bears laughed, after the manner of the young. The Bear began to get upset, and rushed round his cage, howling lamentably.

Next came a ceremony of special significance which is never omitted at the sacrifice of a Bear. Libations were offered to the inabos, sacred wands which stand outside the Aino hut. These wands are about two feet high and are whittled at the top into spiral shavings. Five new wands with bamboo leaves attached to them are set up for the festival; the leaves according to the Ainos mean that the Bear may come to life again. These wands are specially interesting. The chief focus of attention is of course the Bear, because his flesh is for the Aino his staple food. But vegetation is not quite forgotten. The animal life of the Bear and the vegetable life of the bamboo-leaves are thought of together.

Then comes the actual sacrifice. The Bear is led out of his cage, a rope is thrown round his neck, and he is perambulated round the neighbourhood of the hut. We do not hear that among the Ainos he goes in procession round the village, but among the Gilyaks, not far away in Eastern Siberia, the Bear is led about the villages, and it is held to be specially important that he should be dragged down to the river, for this will ensure the village a plentiful supply of fish. He is then, among the Gilyaks, taken to each hut in the village, and fish, brandy, and other delicacies are offered to him. Some of the people prostrate themselves in front of him and his coming into a house brings a blessing, and if he snuffs at the food, that brings a blessing too.

To return to the Aino Bear. While he is being led about the hut the men, headed by a chief, shoot at the Bear with arrows tipped with buttons. But the object of the shooting is not to kill, only apparently to irritate him. He is killed at last without shedding of his sacred blood, and we hope without much pain. He is taken in front of the sacred wands, a stick placed in his mouth, and nine men press his neck against a beam; he dies without a sound. Meantime the women and girls, who stand behind the men, dance, lament, and beat the men who are killing their Bear. The body of the dead Bear is then laid on a mat before the sacred wands. A sword and quiver, taken from the wands, are hung about the Bear. If it is a She-Bear it is also bedecked with a necklace and rings. Food and drink, millet broth and millet cakes are offered to it. It is decked as an Aino, it is fed as an Aino. It is clear that the Bear is in some sense a human Bear, an Aino. The men sit down on mats in front of the Bear and offer libations, and themselves drink deep.

Now that the death is fairly over the mourning ends, and all is feasting and merriment. Even the old women lament no more. Cakes of millet are scrambled for. The bear is skinned and disembowelled, the trunk is severed from the head, to which the skin is left hanging. The blood, which might not be shed before, is now carefully collected in cups and eagerly drunk by the men, for the blood is the life. The liver is cut up and eaten raw. The flesh and the rest of the vitals are kept for the day next but one, when it is divided among all persons present at the feast. It is what the Greeks call a dais, a meal divided or distributed. While the Bear is being dismembered the girls dance, in front of the sacred wands, and the old women again lament. The Bear's brain is extracted from his head and eaten, and the skull, severed from the skin, is hung on a pole near the sacred wands. Thus it would seem the life and strength of the bear is brought near to the living growth of the leaves. The stick with which the Bear was gagged is also hung on the pole, and with it the sword and quiver he had worn after his death. The whole congregation, men and women, dance about this strange maypole, and a great drinking bout, in which all men and women alike join, ends the feast.

The rite varies as to detail in different places. Among the Gilyaks the Bear is dressed after death in full Gilyak costume and seated on a bench of honour. In one part the bones and skull are carried out by the oldest people to a place in the forest not far from the village. There all the bones except the skull are buried. After that a young tree is felled a few inches above the ground, its stump is cleft, and the skull wedged into the cleft. When the grass grows over the spot the skull disappears and there is an end of the Bear. Sometimes the Bear's flesh is eaten in special vessels prepared for this festival and only used at it. These vessels, which include bowls, platters, spoons, are elaborately carved with figures of bears and other devices.

Through all varieties in detail the main intent is the same, and it is identical with that of the rite of the holy Bull in Greece and the maypole of our forefathers. Great is the sanctity of the Bear or the Bull or the Tree; the Bear for a hunting people; the Bull for nomads, later for agriculturists; the Tree for a forest folk. On the Bear and the Bull and the Tree are focussed the desire of the whole people. Bear and Bull and Tree are sacred, that is, set apart, because full of a special life and strength intensely desired. They are led and carried about from house to house that their sanctity may touch all, and avail for all; the animal dies that he may be eaten; the Tree is torn to pieces that all may have a fragment; and, above all, Bear and Bull and Tree die only that they may live again.

* * * * *

We have seen (p. 71) that, out of the puppet or the May Queen, actually perceived year after year there arose a remembrance, a mental image, an imagined Tree Spirit, or "Summer," or Death, a thing never actually seen but conceived. Just so with the Bull. Year by year in the various villages of Greece was seen an actual holy Bull, and bit by bit from the remembrance of these various holy Bulls, who only died to live again each year, there arose the image of a Bull-Spirit, or Bull-Daimon, and finally, if we like to call him so, a Bull-God. The growth of this idea, this conception, must have been much helped by the fact that in some places the dancers attendant on the holy Bull dressed up as bulls and cows. The women worshippers of Dionysos, we are told, wore bulls' horns in imitation of the god, for they represented him in pictures as having a bull's head. We know that a man does not turn into a bull, or a bull into a man, the line of demarcation is clearly drawn; but the rustic has no such conviction even to-day. That crone, his aged aunt, may any day come in at the window in the shape of a black cat; why should she not? It is not, then, that a god 'takes upon him the form of a bull,' or is 'incarnate in a bull,' but that the real Bull and the worshipper dressed as a bull are seen and remembered and give rise to an imagined Bull-God; but, it should be observed, only among gifted, imaginative, that is, image-making, peoples. The Ainos have their actual holy Bear, as the Greeks had their holy Bull; but with them out of the succession of holy Bears there arises, alas! no Bear-God.

* * * * *

We have dwelt long on the Bull-driving Dithyramb, because it was not obvious on the face of it how driving a bull could help the coming of spring. We understand now why, on the day before the tragedies were performed at Athens, the young men (epheboi) brought in not only the human figure of the god, but also a Bull "worthy" of the God. We understand, too, why in addition to the tragedies performed at the great festival, Dithyrambs were also sung—"Bull-driving Dithyrambs."

* * * * *

We come next to a third aspect of the Dithyramb, and one perhaps the most important of all for the understanding of art, and especially the drama. The Dithyramb was the Song and Dance of the New Birth.

Plato is discussing various sorts of odes or songs. "Some," he says, "are prayers to the gods—these are called hymns; others of an opposite sort might best be called dirges; another sort are paeans, and another—the birth of Dionysos, I suppose—is called Dithyramb." Plato is not much interested in Dithyrambs. To him they are just a particular kind of choral song; it is doubtful if he even knew that they were Spring Songs; but this he did know, though he throws out the information carelessly—the Dithyramb had for its proper subject the birth or coming to be, the genesis of Dionysos.

The common usage of Greek poetry bears out Plato's statement. When a poet is going to describe the birth of Dionysos he calls the god by the title Dithyrambos. Thus an inscribed hymn found at Delphi[28] opens thus:

"Come, O Dithyrambos, Bacchos, come. ... Bromios, come, and coming with thee bring Holy hours of thine own holy spring. ... All the stars danced for joy. Mirth Of mortals hailed thee, Bacchos, at thy birth."

The Dithyramb is the song of the birth, and the birth of Dionysos is in the spring, the time of the maypole, the time of the holy Bull.

* * * * *

And now we come to a curious thing. We have seen how a spirit, a daemon, and perhaps ultimately a god, develops out of an actual rite. Dionysos the Tree-God, the Spirit of Vegetation, is but a maypole once perceived, then remembered and conceived. Dionysos, the Bull-God, is but the actual holy Bull himself, or rather the succession of annual holy Bulls once perceived, then remembered, generalized, conceived. But the god conceived will surely always be made in the image, the mental image, of the fact perceived. If, then, we have a song and dance of the birth of Dionysos, shall we not, as in the Christian religion, have a child-god, a holy babe, a Saviour in the manger; at first in original form as a calf, then as a human child? Now it is quite true that in Greek religion there is a babe Dionysos called Liknites, "Him of the Cradle."[29] The rite of waking up, or bringing to light, the child Liknites was performed each year at Delphi by the holy women.

But it is equally clear and certain that the Dionysos of Greek worship and of the drama was not a babe in the cradle. He was a goodly youth in the first bloom of manhood, with the down upon his cheek, the time when, Homer says, "youth is most gracious." This is the Dionysos that we know in statuary, the fair, dreamy youth sunk in reverie; this is the Dionysos whom Pentheus despised and insulted because of his young beauty like a woman's. But how could such a Dionysos arise out of a rite of birth? He could not, and he did not. The Dithyramb is also the song of the second or new birth, the Dithyrambos is the twice-born.

This the Greeks themselves knew. By a false etymology they explained the word Dithyrambos as meaning "He of the double door," their word thyra being the same as our door. They were quite mistaken; Dithyrambos, modern philology tells us, is the Divine Leaper, Dancer, and Lifegiver. But their false etymology is important to us, because it shows that they believed the Dithyrambos was the twice-born. Dionysos was born, they fabled, once of his mother, like all men, once of his father's thigh, like no man.

But if the Dithyrambos, the young Dionysos, like the Bull-God, the Tree-God, arises from a dromenon, a rite, what is the rite of second birth from which it arises?

* * * * *

We look in vain among our village customs. If ever rite of second birth existed, it is dead and buried. We turn to anthropology for help, and find this, the rite of the second birth, widespread, universal, over half the savage world.

With the savage, to be twice born is the rule, not the exception. By his first birth he comes into the world, by his second he is born into his tribe. At his first birth he belongs to his mother and the women-folk; at his second he becomes a full-fledged man and passes into the society of the warriors of his tribe. This second birth is a little difficult for us to realize. A boy with us passes very gradually from childhood to manhood, there is no definite moment when he suddenly emerges as a man. Little by little as his education advances he is admitted to the social privileges of the circle in which he is born. He goes to school, enters a workshop or a university, and finally adopts a trade or a profession. In the case of girls, in whose upbringing primitive savagery is apt to linger, there is still, in certain social strata a ceremony known as Coming Out. A girl's dress is suddenly lengthened, her hair is put up, she is allowed to wear jewels, she kisses her sovereign's hand, a dance is given in her honour; abruptly, from her seclusion in the cocoon state of the schoolroom, she emerges full-blown into society. But the custom, with its half-realized savagery, is already dying, and with boys it does not obtain at all. Both sexes share, of course, the religious rite of Confirmation.

To avoid harsh distinctions, to bridge over abrupt transitions, is always a mark of advancing civilization; but the savage, in his ignorance and fear, lamentably over-stresses distinctions and transitions. The long process of education, of passing from child to man, is with him condensed into a few days, weeks, or sometimes months of tremendous educational emphasis—of what is called "initiation," "going in," that is, entering the tribe. The ceremonies vary, but the gist is always substantially the same. The boy is to put away childish things, and become a grown and competent tribesman. Above all he is to cease to be a woman-thing and become a man. His initiation prepares him for his two chief functions as a tribesman—to be a warrior, to be a father. That to the savage is the main if not the whole Duty of Man.

This "initiation" is of tremendous importance, and we should expect, what in fact we find, that all this emotion that centres about it issues in dromena, "rites done." These rites are very various, but they all point one moral, that the former things are passed away and that the new-born man has entered on a new life.

Simplest perhaps of all, and most instructive, is the rite practised by the Kikuyu of British East Africa,[30] who require that every boy, just before circumcision, must be born again. "The mother stands up with the boy crouching at her feet; she pretends to go through all the labour pains, and the boy on being reborn cries like a babe and is washed."

More often the new birth is simulated, or imagined, as a death and a resurrection, either of the boys themselves or of some one else in their presence. Thus at initiation among some tribes of South-east Australia,[31] when the boys are assembled an old man dressed in stringy bark fibre lies down in a grave. He is covered up lightly with sticks and earth, and the grave is smoothed over. The buried man holds in his hand a small bush which seems to be growing from the ground, and other bushes are stuck in the ground round about. The novices are then brought to the edge of the grave and a song is sung. Gradually, as the song goes on, the bush held by the buried man begins to quiver. It moves more and more and bit by bit the man himself starts up from the grave.

The Fijians have a drastic and repulsive way of simulating death. The boys are shown a row of seemingly dead men, their bodies covered with blood and entrails, which are really those of a dead pig. The first gives a sudden yell. Up start the men, and then run to the river to cleanse themselves.

Here the death is vicarious. Another goes through the simulated death that the initiated boy may have new life. But often the mimicry is practised on the boys themselves. Thus in West Ceram[32] boys at puberty are admitted to the Kakian association. The boys are taken blindfold, followed by their relations, to an oblong wooden shed under the darkest trees in the depths of the forest. When all are assembled the high priest calls aloud on the devils, and immediately a hideous uproar is heard from the shed. It is really made by men in the shed with bamboo trumpets, but the women and children think it is the devils. Then the priest enters the shed with the boys, one at a time. A dull thud of chopping is heard, a fearful cry rings out, and a sword dripping with blood is thrust out through the roof. This is the token that the boy's head has been cut off, and that the devil has taken him away to the other world, whence he will return born again. In a day or two the men who act as sponsors to the boys return daubed with mud, and in a half-fainting state like messengers from another world. They bring the good news that the devil has restored the boys to life. The boys themselves appear, but when they return they totter as they walk; they go into the house backwards. If food is given them they upset the plate. They sit dumb and only make signs. The sponsors have to teach them the simplest daily acts as though they were new-born children. At the end of twenty to thirty days, during which their mothers and sisters may not comb their hair, the high priest takes them to a lonely place in the forest and cuts off a lock of hair from the crown of each of their heads. At the close of these rites the boys are men and may marry.

Sometimes the new birth is not simulated but merely suggested. A new name is given, a new language taught, a new dress worn, new dances are danced. Almost always it is accompanied by moral teaching. Thus in the Kakian ceremony already described the boys have to sit in a row cross-legged, without moving a muscle, with their hands stretched out. The chief takes a trumpet, and placing the mouth of it on the hand of each lad, he speaks through it in strange tones, imitating the voice of spirits. He warns the boys on pain of death to observe the rules of the society, and never to reveal what they have seen in the Kakian house. The priests also instruct the boys on their duty to their blood relations, and teach them the secrets of the tribe.

Sometimes it is not clear whether the new birth is merely suggested or represented in pantomime. Thus among the Binbinga of North Australia it is generally believed that at initiation a monstrous being called Katajalina, like the Kronos of the Greeks, swallows the boys and brings them up again initiated; but whether there is or is not a dromenon or rite of swallowing we are not told.

In totemistic societies, and in the animal secret societies that seem to grow out of them, the novice is born again as the sacred animal. Thus among the Carrier Indians[33] when a man wants to become a Lulem, or Bear, however cold the season, he tears off his clothes, puts on a bearskin and dashes into the woods, where he will stay for three or four days. Every night his fellow-villagers will go out in search parties to find him. They cry out Yi! Kelulem ("Come on, Bear") and he answers with angry growls. Usually they fail to find him, but he comes back at last himself. He is met and conducted to the ceremonial lodge, and there, in company with the rest of the Bears, dances solemnly his first appearance. Disappearance and reappearance is as common a rite in initiation as simulated killing and resurrection, and has the same object. Both are rites of transition, of passing from one state to another. It has often been remarked, by students of ancient Greek and other ceremonies, that the rites of birth, marriage, and death, which seem to us so different, are to primitive man oddly similar. This is explained if we see that in intent they are all the same, all a passing from one social state to another. There are but two factors in every rite, the putting off of the old, the putting on of the new; you carry out Winter or Death, you bring in Summer or Life. Between them is a midway state when you are neither here nor there, you are secluded, under a taboo.

* * * * *

To the Greeks and to many primitive peoples the rites of birth, marriage, and death were for the most part family rites needing little or no social emphasis. But the rite which concerned the whole tribe, the essence of which was entrance into the tribe, was the rite of initiation at puberty. This all-important fact is oddly and significantly enshrined in the Greek language. The general Greek word for rite was t{)e}l{)e}t{-e}. It was applied to all mysteries, and sometimes to marriages and funerals. But it has nothing to do with death. It comes from a root meaning "to grow up." The word t{)e}l{)e}t{-e} means rite of growing up, becoming complete. It meant at first maturity, then rite of maturity, then by a natural extension any rite of initiation that was mysterious. The rites of puberty were in their essence mysterious, because they consisted in initiation into the sanctities of the tribe, the things which society sanctioned and protected, excluding the uninitiated, whether they were young boys, women, or members of other tribes. Then, by contagion, the mystery notion spread to other rites.

* * * * *

We understand now who and what was the god who arose out of the rite, the dromenon of tribal initiation, the rite of the new, the second birth. He was Dionysos. His name, according to recent philology, tells us—Dionysos, "Divine Young Man."

When once we see that out of the emotion of the rite and the facts of the rite arises that remembrance and shadow of the rite, that image which is the god, we realize instantly that the god of the spring rite must be a young god, and in primitive societies, where young women are but of secondary account, he will necessarily be a young man. Where emotion centres round tribal initiation he will be a young man just initiated, what the Greeks called a kouros, or ephebos, a youth of quite different social status from a mere pais or boy. Such a youth survives in our King of the May and Jack-in-the-Green. Old men and women are for death and winter, the young for life and spring, and most of all the young man or bear or bull or tree just come to maturity.

And because life is one at the Spring Festival, the young man carries a blossoming branch bound with wool of the young sheep. At Athens in spring and autumn alike "they carry out the Eiresione, a branch of olive wound about with wool ... and laden with all sorts of firstfruits, that scarcity may cease, and they sing over it:

"Eiresione brings Figs and fat cakes, And a pot of honey and oil to mix, And a wine-cup strong and deep, That she may drink and sleep."

The Eiresione had another name that told its own tale. It was called Korythalia,[34] "Branch of blooming youth." The young men, says a Greek orator, are "the Spring of the people."

* * * * *

The excavations of Crete have given to us an ancient inscribed hymn, a Dithyramb, we may safely call it, that is at once a spring-song and a young man-song. The god here invoked is what the Greeks call a kouros, a young man. It is sung and danced by young warriors:

"Ho! Kouros, most Great, I give thee hail, Lord of all that is wet and gleaming; thou art come at the head of thy Daimones. To Dikte for the Year, Oh, march and rejoice in the dance and song."

The leader of the band of kouroi, of young men, the real actual leader, has become by remembrance and abstraction, as we noted, a daimon, or spirit, at the head of a band of spirits, and he brings in the new year at spring. The real leader, the "first kouros" as the Greeks called him, is there in the body, but from the succession of leaders year by year they have imaged a spirit leader greatest of all. He is "lord of all that is wet and gleaming," for the May bough, we remember, is drenched with dew and water that it may burgeon and blossom. Then they chant the tale of how of old a child was taken away from its mother, taken by armed men to be initiated, armed men dancing their tribal dance. The stone is unhappily broken here, but enough remains to make the meaning clear.

And because this boy grew up and was initiated into manhood:

"The Horae (Seasons) began to be fruitful year by year and Dike to possess mankind, and all wild living things were held about by wealth-loving Peace."

We know the Seasons, the fruit and food bringers, but Dike is strange. We translate the word "Justice," but Dike means, not Justice as between man and man, but the order of the world, the way of life. It is through this way, this order, that the seasons go round. As long as the seasons observe this order there is fruitfulness and peace. If once that order were overstepped then would be disorder, strife, confusion, barrenness. And next comes a mandate, strange to our modern ears:

"To us also leap for full jars, and leap for fleecy flocks, and leap for fields of fruit and for hives to bring increase."

And yet not strange if we remember the Macedonian farmer (p. 32), who throws his spade into the air that the wheat may be tall, or the Russian peasant girls who leap high in the air crying, "Flax, grow." The leaping of the youths of the Cretan hymn is just the utterance of their tense desire. They have grown up, and with them all live things must grow. By their magic year by year the fruits of the earth come to their annual new birth. And that there be no mistake they end:

"Leap for our cities, and leap for our sea-borne ships, and for our young citizens, and for goodly Themis."

They are now young citizens of a fenced city instead of young tribesmen of the bush, but their magic is the same, and the strength that holds them together is the bond of social custom, social structure, "goodly Themis." No man liveth to himself.

* * * * *

Crete is not Athens, but at Athens in the theatre of Dionysos, if the priest of Dionysos, seated at the great Spring Festival in his beautiful carved central seat, looked across the orchestra, he would see facing him a stone frieze on which was sculptured the Cretan ritual, the armed dancing youths and the child to be year by year reborn.

We have seen what the Dithyramb, from which sprang the Drama, was. A Spring song, a song of Bull-driving, a song and dance of Second Birth; but all this seems, perhaps, not to bring us nearer to Greek drama, rather to put us farther away. What have the Spring and the Bull and the Birth Rite to do with the stately tragedies we know—with Agamemnon and Iphigenia and Orestes and Hippolytos? That is the question before us, and the answer will lead us to the very heart of our subject. So far we have seen that ritual arose from the presentation and emphasis of emotion—emotion felt mainly about food. We have further seen that ritual develops out of and by means of periodic festivals. One of the chief periodic festivals at Athens was the Spring Festival of the Dithyramb. Out of this Dithyramb arose, Aristotle says, tragedy—that is, out of Ritual arose Art. How and Why? That is the question before us.


[19] Poetics, IV, 12.

[20] See my Themis, p. 419. (1912.)

[21] I, 43. 2.

[22] Quaest. Graec. XII.

[23] Op. cit.

[24] Quaest. Symp., 693 f.

[25] The words "in Spring-time" depend on an emendation to me convincing. See my Themis, p. 205, note 1.

[26] IX.

[27] See my Themis, p. 151.

[28] See my Prolegomena, p. 439.

[29] Prolegomena, p. 402.

[30] Frazer, Totemism and Exogamy, Vol. I, p. 228.

[31] The Golden Bough,^2 III, 424.

[32] The Golden Bough,^2 III, 442.

[33] The Golden Bough,^2 III, p. 438.

[34] See my Themis, p. 503.



Probably most people when they go to a Greek play for the first time think it a strange performance. According, perhaps, more to their temperament than to their training, they are either very much excited or very much bored. In many minds there will be left a feeling that, whether they have enjoyed the play or not, they are puzzled: there are odd effects, conventions, suggestions.

For example, the main deed of the Tragedy, the slaying of hero or heroine, is not done on the stage. That disappoints some modern minds unconsciously avid of realism to the point of horror. Instead of a fine thrilling murder or suicide before his very eyes, the spectator is put off with an account of the murder done off the stage. This account is regularly given, and usually at considerable length, in a "messenger's speech." The messenger's speech is a regular item in a Greek play, and though actually it gives scope not only for fine elocution, but for real dramatic effect, in theory we feel it undramatic, and a modern actor has sometimes much ado to make it acceptable. The spectator is told that all these, to him, odd conventions are due to Greek restraint, moderation, good taste, and yet for all their supposed restraint and reserve, he finds when he reads his Homer that Greek heroes frequently burst into floods of tears when a self-respecting Englishman would have suffered in silence.

Then again, specially if the play be by Euripides, it ends not with a "curtain," not with a great decisive moment, but with the appearance of a god who says a few lines of either exhortation or consolation or reconciliation, which, after the strain and stress of the action itself, strikes some people as rather stilted and formal, or as rather flat and somehow unsatisfying. Worse still, there are in many of the scenes long dialogues, in which the actors wrangle with each other, and in which the action does not advance so quickly as we wish. Or again, instead of beginning with the action, and having our curiosity excited bit by bit about the plot, at the outset some one comes in and tells us the whole thing in the prologue. Prologues we feel, are out of date, and the Greeks ought to have known better. Or again, of course we admit that tragedy must be tragic, and we are prepared for a decent amount of lamentation, but when an antiphonal lament goes on for pages, we weary and wish that the chorus would stop lamenting and do something.

* * * * *

At the back of our modern discontent there is lurking always this queer anomaly of the chorus. We have in our modern theatre no chorus, and when, in the opera, something of the nature of a chorus appears in the ballet, it is a chorus that really dances to amuse and excite us in the intervals of operatic action; it is not a chorus of doddering and pottering old men, moralizing on an action in which they are too feeble to join. Of course if we are classical scholars we do not cavil at the choral songs; the extreme difficulty of scanning and construing them alone commands a traditional respect; but if we are merely modern spectators, we may be respectful, we may even feel strangely excited, but we are certainly puzzled. The reason of our bewilderment is simple enough. These prologues and messengers' speeches and ever-present choruses that trouble us are ritual forms still surviving at a time when the drama has fully developed out of the dromenon. We cannot here examine all these ritual forms in detail;[35] one, however, the chorus, strangest and most beautiful of all, it is essential we should understand.

Suppose that these choral songs have been put into English that in any way represents the beauty of the Greek; then certainly there will be some among the spectators who get a thrill from the chorus quite unknown to any modern stage effect, a feeling of emotion heightened yet restrained, a sense of entering into higher places, filled with a larger and a purer air—a sense of beauty born clean out of conflict and disaster.

A suspicion dawns upon the spectator that, great though the tragedies in themselves are, they owe their peculiar, their incommunicable beauty largely to this element of the chorus which seemed at first so strange.

Now by examining this chorus and understanding its function—nay, more, by considering the actual orchestra, the space on which the chorus danced, and the relation of that space to the rest of the theatre, to the stage and the place where the spectators sat—we shall get light at last on our main central problem: How did art arise out of ritual, and what is the relation of both to that actual life from which both art and ritual sprang?

* * * * *

The dramas of AEschylus certainly, and perhaps also those of Sophocles and Euripides, were played not upon the stage, and not in the theatre, but, strange though it sounds to us, in the orchestra. The theatre to the Greeks was simply "the place of seeing," the place where the spectators sat; what they called the sk{-e}n{-e} or scene, was the tent or hut in which the actors dressed. But the kernel and centre of the whole was the orchestra, the circular dancing-place of the chorus; and, as the orchestra was the kernel and centre of the theatre, so the chorus, the band of dancing and singing men—this chorus that seems to us so odd and even superfluous—was the centre and kernel and starting-point of the drama. The chorus danced and sang that Dithyramb we know so well, and from the leaders of that Dithyramb we remember tragedy arose, and the chorus were at first, as an ancient writer tells us, just men and boys, tillers of the earth, who danced when they rested from sowing and ploughing.

Now it is in the relation between the orchestra or dancing-place of the chorus, and the theatre or place of the spectators, a relation that shifted as time went on, that we see mirrored the whole development from ritual to art—from dromenon to drama.

* * * * *

The orchestra on which the Dithyramb was danced was just a circular dancing-place beaten flat for the convenience of the dancers, and sometimes edged by a stone basement to mark the circle. This circular orchestra is very well seen in the theatre of Epidaurus, of which a sketch is given in Fig. 1. The orchestra here is surrounded by a splendid theatron, or spectator place, with seats rising tier above tier. If we want to realize the primitive Greek orchestra or dancing-place, we must think these stone seats away. Threshing-floors are used in Greece to-day as convenient dancing-places. The dance tends to be circular because it is round some sacred thing, at first a maypole, or the reaped corn, later the figure of a god or his altar. On this dancing-place the whole body of worshippers would gather, just as now-a-days the whole community will assemble on a village green. There is no division at first between actors and spectators; all are actors, all are doing the thing done, dancing the dance danced. Thus at initiation ceremonies the whole tribe assembles, the only spectators are the uninitiated, the women and children. No one at this early stage thinks of building a theatre, a spectator place. It is in the common act, the common or collective emotion, that ritual starts. This must never be forgotten.

The most convenient spot for a mere dancing-place is some flat place. But any one who travels through Greece will notice instantly that all the Greek theatres that remain at Athens, at Epidaurus, at Delos, Syracuse, and elsewhere, are built against the side of hills. None of these are very early; the earliest ancient orchestra we have is at Athens. It is a simple stone ring, but it is built against the steep south side of the Acropolis. The oldest festival of Dionysos was, as will presently be seen, held in quite another spot, in the agora, or market-place. The reason for moving the dance was that the wooden seats that used to be set up on a sort of "grand stand" in the market-place fell down, and it was seen how safely and comfortably the spectators could be seated on the side of a steep hill.

The spectators are a new and different element, the dance is not only danced, but it is watched from a distance, it is a spectacle; whereas in old days all or nearly all were worshippers acting, now many, indeed most, are spectators, watching, feeling, thinking, not doing. It is in this new attitude of the spectator that we touch on the difference between ritual and art; the dromenon, the thing actually done by yourself has become a drama, a thing also done, but abstracted from your doing. Let us look for a moment at the psychology of the spectator, at his behaviour.

* * * * *

Artists, it is often said, and usually felt, are so unpractical. They are always late for dinner, they forget to post their letters and to return the books or even money that is lent them. Art is to most people's minds a sort of luxury, not a necessity. In but recently bygone days music, drawing, and dancing were no part of a training for ordinary life, they were taught at school as "accomplishments," paid for as "extras." Poets on their side equally used to contrast art and life, as though they were things essentially distinct.

"Art is long, and Time is fleeting."

Now commonplaces such as these, being unconscious utterances of the collective mind, usually contain much truth, and are well worth weighing. Art, we shall show later, is profoundly connected with life; it is nowise superfluous. But, for all that, art, both its creation and its enjoyment, is unpractical. Thanks be to God, life is not limited to the practical.

When we say art is unpractical, we mean that art is cut loose from immediate action. Take a simple instance. A man—or perhaps still better a child—sees a plate of cherries. Through his senses comes the stimulus of the smell of the cherries, and their bright colour urging him, luring him to eat. He eats and is satisfied; the cycle of normal behaviour is complete; he is a man or a child of action, but he is no artist, and no art-lover. Another man looks at the same plate of cherries. His sight and his smell lure him and urge him to eat. He does not eat; the cycle is not completed, and, because he does not eat, the sight of those cherries, though perhaps not the smell, is altered, purified from desire, and in some way intensified, enlarged. If he is just a man of taste, he will take what we call an "aesthetic" pleasure in those cherries. If he is an actual artist, he will paint not the cherries, but his vision of them, his purified emotion towards them. He has, so to speak, come out from the chorus of actors, of cherry-eaters, and become a spectator.

I borrow, by his kind permission, a beautiful instance of what he well calls "Psychical Distance" from the writings of a psychologist.[36]

"Imagine a fog at sea: for most people it is an experience of acute unpleasantness. Apart from the physical annoyance and remoter forms of discomfort, such as delays, it is apt to produce feelings of peculiar anxiety, fears of invisible dangers, strains of watching and listening for distant and unlocalized signals. The listless movements of the ship and her warning calls soon tell upon the nerves of the passengers; and that special, expectant tacit anxiety and nervousness, always associated with this experience, make a fog the dreaded terror of the sea (all the more terrifying because of its very silence and gentleness) for the expert seafarer no less than the ignorant landsman.

"Nevertheless, a fog at sea can be a source of intense relish and enjoyment. Abstract from the experience of the sea-fog, for the moment, its danger and practical unpleasantness; ... direct the attention to the features 'objectively' constituting the phenomena—the veil surrounding you with an opaqueness as of transparent milk, blurring the outlines of things and distorting their shapes into weird grotesqueness; observe the carrying power of the air, producing the impression as if you could touch some far-off siren by merely putting out your hand and letting it lose itself behind that white wall; note the curious creamy smoothness of the water, hypercritically denying as it were, any suggestion of danger; and, above all, the strange solitude and remoteness from the world, as it can be found only on the highest mountain tops; and the experience may acquire, in its uncanny mingling of repose and terror, a flavour of such concentrated poignancy and delight as to contrast sharply with the blind and distempered anxiety of its other aspects. This contrast, often emerging with startling suddenness, is like the momentary switching on of some new current, or the passing ray of a brighter light, illuminating the outlook upon perhaps the most ordinary and familiar objects—an impression which we experience sometimes in instants of direst extremity, when our practical interest snaps like a wire from sheer over-tension, and we watch the consummation of some impending catastrophe with the marvelling unconcern of a mere spectator."

* * * * *

It has often been noted that two, and two only, of our senses are the channels of art and give us artistic material. These two senses are sight and hearing. Touch and its special modifications, taste and smell, do not go to the making of art. Decadent French novelists, such as Huysmann, make their heroes revel in perfume-symphonies, but we feel that the sentiment described is morbid and unreal, and we feel rightly. Some people speak of a cook as an "artist," and a pudding as a "perfect poem," but a healthy instinct rebels. Art, whether sculpture, painting, drama, music, is of sight or hearing. The reason is simple. Sight and hearing are the distant senses; sight is, as some one has well said, "touch at a distance." Sight and hearing are of things already detached and somewhat remote; they are the fitting channels for art which is cut loose from immediate action and reaction. Taste and touch are too intimate, too immediately vital. In Russian, as Tolstoi has pointed out (and indeed in other languages the same is observable), the word for beauty (krasota) means, to begin with, only that which pleases the sight. Even hearing is excluded. And though latterly people have begun to speak of an "ugly deed" or of "beautiful music," it is not good Russian. The simple Russian does not make Plato's divine muddle between the good and the beautiful. If a man gives his coat to another, the Russian peasant, knowing no foreign language, will not say the man has acted "beautifully."

To see a thing, to feel a thing, as a work of art, we must, then, become for the time unpractical, must be loosed from the fear and the flurry of actual living, must become spectators. Why is this? Why can we not live and look at once? The fact that we cannot is clear. If we watch a friend drowning we do not note the exquisite curve made by his body as he falls into the water, nor the play of the sunlight on the ripples as he disappears below the surface; we should be inhuman, aesthetic fiends if we did. And again, why? It would do our friend no harm that we should enjoy the curves and the sunlight, provided we also threw him a rope. But the simple fact is that we cannot look at the curves and the sunlight because our whole being is centred on acting, on saving him; we cannot even, at the moment, fully feel our own terror and impending loss. So again if we want to see and to feel the splendour and vigour of a lion, or even to watch the cumbrous grace of a bear, we prefer that a cage should intervene. The cage cuts off the need for motor actions; it interposes the needful physical and moral distance, and we are free for contemplation. Released from our own terrors, we see more and better, and we feel differently. A man intent on action is like a horse in blinkers, he goes straight forward, seeing only the road ahead.

Our brain is, indeed, it would seem, in part, an elaborate arrangement for providing these blinkers. If we saw and realized the whole of everything, we should want to do too many things. The brain allows us not only to remember, but, which is quite as important, to forget and neglect; it is an organ of oblivion. By neglecting most of the things we see and hear, we can focus just on those which are important for action; we can cease to be potential artists and become efficient practical human beings; but it is only by limiting our view, by a great renunciation as to the things we see and feel. The artist does just the reverse. He renounces doing in order to practise seeing. He is by nature what Professor Bergson calls "distrait," aloof, absent-minded, intent only, or mainly, on contemplation. That is why the ordinary man often thinks the artist a fool, or, if he does not go so far as that, is made vaguely uncomfortable by him, never really understands him. The artist's focus, all his system of values, is different, his world is a world of images which are his realities.

* * * * *

The distinction between art and ritual, which has so long haunted and puzzled us, now comes out quite clearly, and also in part the relation of each to actual life. Ritual, we saw, was a re-presentation or a pre-presentation, a re-doing or pre-doing, a copy or imitation of life, but,—and this is the important point,—always with a practical end. Art is also a representation of life and the emotions of life, but cut loose from immediate action. Action may be and often is represented, but it is not that it may lead on to a practical further end. The end of art is in itself. Its value is not mediate but immediate. Thus ritual makes, as it were, a bridge between real life and art, a bridge over which in primitive times it would seem man must pass. In his actual life he hunts and fishes and ploughs and sows, being utterly intent on the practical end of gaining his food; in the dromenon of the Spring Festival, though his acts are unpractical, being mere singing and dancing and mimicry, his intent is practical, to induce the return of his food-supply. In the drama the representation may remain for a time the same, but the intent is altered: man has come out from action, he is separate from the dancers, and has become a spectator. The drama is an end in itself.

* * * * *

We know from tradition that in Athens ritual became art, a dromenon became the drama, and we have seen that the shift is symbolized and expressed by the addition of the theatre, or spectator-place, to the orchestra, or dancing-place. We have also tried to analyse the meaning of the shift. It remains to ask what was its cause. Ritual does not always develop into art, though in all probability dramatic art has always to go through the stage of ritual. The leap from real life to the emotional contemplation of life cut loose from action would otherwise be too wide. Nature abhors a leap, she prefers to crawl over the ritual bridge. There seem at Athens to have been two main causes why the dromenon passed swiftly, inevitably, into the drama. They are, first, the decay of religious faith; second, the influx from abroad of a new culture and new dramatic material.

It may seem surprising to some that the decay of religious faith should be an impulse to the birth of art. We are accustomed to talk rather vaguely of art "as the handmaid of religion"; we think of art as "inspired by" religion. But the decay of religious faith of which we now speak is not the decay of faith in a god, or even the decay of some high spiritual emotion; it is the decay of a belief in the efficacy of certain magical rites, and especially of the Spring Rite. So long as people believed that by excited dancing, by bringing in an image or leading in a bull you could induce the coming of Spring, so long would the dromena of the Dithyramb be enacted with intense enthusiasm, and with this enthusiasm would come an actual accession and invigoration of vital force. But, once the faintest doubt crept in, once men began to be guided by experience rather than custom, the enthusiasm would die down, and the collective invigoration no longer be felt. Then some day there will be a bad summer, things will go all wrong, and the chorus will sadly ask: "Why should I dance my dance?" They will drift away or become mere spectators of a rite established by custom. The rite itself will die down, or it will live on only as the May Day rites of to-day, a children's play, or at best a thing done vaguely "for luck."

The spirit of the rite, the belief in its efficacy, dies, but the rite itself, the actual mould, persists, and it is this ancient ritual mould, foreign to our own usage, that strikes us to-day, when a Greek play is revived, as odd and perhaps chill. A chorus, a band of dancers there must be, because the drama arose out of a ritual dance. An agon, or contest, or wrangling, there will probably be, because Summer contends with Winter, Life with Death, the New Year with the Old. A tragedy must be tragic, must have its pathos, because the Winter, the Old Year, must die. There must needs be a swift transition, a clash and change from sorrow to joy, what the Greeks called a peripeteia, a quick-turn-round, because, though you carry out Winter, you bring in Summer. At the end we shall have an Appearance, an Epiphany of a god, because the whole gist of the ancient ritual was to summon the spirit of life. All these ritual forms haunt and shadow the play, whatever its plot, like ancient traditional ghosts; they underlie and sway the movement and the speeches like some compelling rhythm.

Now this ritual mould, this underlying rhythm, is a fine thing in itself; and, moreover, it was once shaped and cast by a living spirit: the intense immediate desire for food and life, and for the return of the seasons which bring that food and life. But we have seen that, once the faith in man's power magically to bring back these seasons waned, once he began to doubt whether he could really carry out Winter and bring in Summer, his emotion towards these rites would cool. Further, we have seen that these rites repeated year by year ended, among an imaginative people, in the mental creation of some sort of daemon or god. This daemon, or god, was more and more held responsible on his own account for the food-supply and the order of the Horae, or Seasons; so we get the notion that this daemon or god himself led in the Seasons; Hermes dances at the head of the Charites, or an Eiresione is carried to Helios and the Horae. The thought then arises that this man-like daemon who rose from a real King of the May, must himself be approached and dealt with as a man, bargained with, sacrificed to. In a word, in place of dromena, things done, we get gods worshipped; in place of sacraments, holy bulls killed and eaten in common, we get sacrifices in the modern sense, holy bulls offered to yet holier gods. The relation of these figures of gods to art we shall consider when we come to sculpture.

So the dromenon, the thing done, wanes, the prayer, the praise, the sacrifice waxes. Religion moves away from drama towards theology, but the ritual mould of the dromenon is left ready for a new content.

Again, there is another point. The magical dromenon, the Carrying out of Winter, the Bringing in of Spring, is doomed to an inherent and deadly monotony. It is only when its magical efficacy is intensely believed that it can go on. The life-history of a holy bull is always the same; its magical essence is that it should be the same. Even when the life-daemon is human his career is unchequered. He is born, initiated, or born again; he is married, grows old, dies, is buried; and the old, old story is told again next year. There are no fresh personal incidents, peculiar to one particular daemon. If the drama rose from the Spring Song only, beautiful it might be, but with a beauty that was monotonous, a beauty doomed to sterility.

We seem to have come to a sort of impasse, the spirit of the dromenon is dead or dying, the spectators will not stay long to watch a doing doomed to monotony. The ancient moulds are there, the old bottles, but where is the new wine? The pool is stagnant; what angel will step down to trouble the waters?

* * * * *

Fortunately we are not left to conjecture what might have happened. In the case of Greece we know, though not as clearly as we wish, what did happen. We can see in part why, though the dromena of Adonis and Osiris, emotional as they were and intensely picturesque, remained mere ritual; the dromenon of Dionysos, his Dithyramb, blossomed into drama.

Let us look at the facts, and first at some structural facts in the building of the theatre.

We have seen that the orchestra, with its dancing chorus, stands for ritual, for the stage in which all were worshippers, all joined in a rite of practical intent. We further saw that the theatre, the place for the spectators, stood for art. In the orchestra all is life and dancing; the marble seats are the very symbol of rest, aloofness from action, contemplation. The seats for the spectators grow and grow in importance till at last they absorb, as it were, the whole spirit, and give their name theatre to the whole structure; action is swallowed up in contemplation. But contemplation of what? At first, of course, of the ritual dance, but not for long. That, we have seen, was doomed to a deadly monotony. In a Greek theatre there was not only orchestra and a spectator-place, there was also a scene or stage.

The Greek word for stage is, as we said, skene, our scene. The scene was not a stage in our sense, i.e. a platform raised so that the players might be better viewed. It was simply a tent, or rude hut, in which the players, or rather dancers, could put on their ritual dresses. The fact that the Greek theatre had, to begin with, no permanent stage in our sense, shows very clearly how little it was regarded as a spectacle. The ritual dance was a dromenon, a thing to be done, not a thing to be looked at. The history of the Greek stage is one long story of the encroachment of the stage on the orchestra. At first a rude platform or table is set up, then scenery is added; the movable tent is translated into a stone house or a temple front. This stands at first outside the orchestra; then bit by bit the scene encroaches till the sacred circle of the dancing-place is cut clean across. As the drama and the stage wax, the dromenon and the orchestra wane.

This shift in the relation of dancing-place and stage is very clearly seen in Fig. 2, a plan of the Dionysiac theatre at Athens (p. 144). The old circular orchestra shows the dominance of ritual; the new curtailed orchestra of Roman times and semicircular shape shows the dominance of the spectacle.

Greek tragedy arose, Aristotle has told us, from the leaders of the Dithyramb, the leaders of the Spring Dance. The Spring Dance, the mime of Summer and Winter, had, as we have seen, only one actor, one actor with two parts—Death and Life. With only one play to be played, and that a one-actor play, there was not much need for a stage. A scene, that is a tent, was needed, as we saw, because all the dancers had to put on their ritual gear, but scarcely a stage. From a rude platform the prologue might be spoken, and on that platform the Epiphany or Appearance of the New Year might take place; but the play played, the life-history of the life-spirit, was all too familiar; there was no need to look, the thing was to dance. You need a stage—not necessarily a raised stage, but a place apart from the dancers—when you have new material for your players, something you need to look at, to attend to. In the sixth century B.C., at Athens, came the great innovation. Instead of the old plot, the life-history of the life-spirit, with its deadly monotony, new plots were introduced, not of life-spirits but of human individual heroes. In a word, Homer came to Athens, and out of Homeric stories playwrights began to make their plots. This innovation was the death of ritual monotony and the dromenon. It is not so much the old that dies as the new that kills.

* * * * *

AEschylus himself is reported to have said that his tragedies were "slices from the great banquet of Homer." The metaphor is not a very pleasing one, but it expresses a truth. By Homer, AEschylus meant not only our Iliad and Odyssey, but the whole body of Epic or Heroic poetry which centred round not only the Siege of Troy but the great expedition of the Seven Against Thebes, and which, moreover, contained the stories of the heroes before the siege began, and their adventures after it was ended. It was from these heroic sagas for the most part, though not wholly, that the myths or plots of not only AEschylus but also Sophocles and Euripides, and a host of other writers whose plays are lost to us, are taken. The new wine that was poured into the old bottles of the dromena at the Spring Festival was the heroic saga. We know as an historical fact, the name of the man who was mainly responsible for this inpouring—the great democratic tyrant Peisistratos. We must look for a moment at what Peisistratos found, and then pass to what he did.

He found an ancient Spring dromenon, perhaps well-nigh effete. Without destroying the old he contrived to introduce the new, to add to the old plot of Summer and Winter the life-stories of heroes, and thereby arose the drama.

Let us look first, then, at what Peisistratos found.

The April festival of Dionysos at which the great dramas were performed was not the earliest festival of the god. Thucydides[37] expressly tells us that on the 12th day of the month Anthesterion, that is in the quite early spring, at the turn of our February and March, were celebrated the more ancient Dionysia. It was a three-days' festival.[38] On the first day, called "Cask-opening," the jars of new wine were broached. Among the Boeotians the day was called not the day of Dionysos, but the day of the Good or Wealthy Daimon. The next day was called the day of the "Cups"—there was a contest or agon of drinking. The last day was called the "Pots," and it, too, had its "Pot-Contests." It is the ceremonies of this day that we must notice a little in detail; for they are very surprising. "Casks," "Cups," and "Pots," sound primitive enough. "Casks" and "Cups" go well with the wine-god, but the "Pots" call for explanation.

The second day of the "Cups," joyful though it sounds, was by the Athenians counted unlucky, because on that day they believed "the ghosts of the dead rose up." The sanctuaries were roped in, each householder anointed his door with pitch, that the ghost who tried to enter might catch and stick there. Further, to make assurance doubly sure, from early dawn he chewed a bit of buckthorn, a plant of strong purgative powers, so that, if a ghost should by evil chance go down his throat, it should at least be promptly expelled.

For two, perhaps three, days of constant anxiety and ceaseless precautions the ghosts fluttered about Athens. Men's hearts were full of nameless dread, and, as we shall see, hope. At the close of the third day the ghosts, or, as the Greeks called them, Keres, were bidden to go. Some one, we do not know whom, it may be each father of a household, pronounced the words: "Out of the door, ye Keres; it is no longer Anthesteria," and, obedient, the Keres were gone.

But before they went there was a supper for these souls. All the citizens cooked a panspermia or "Pot-of-all-Seeds," but of this Pot-of-all-Seeds no citizen tasted. It was made over to the spirits of the under-world and Hermes their daimon, Hermes "Psychopompos," Conductor, Leader of the dead.

* * * * *

We have seen how a forest people, dependent on fruit trees and berries for their food, will carry a maypole and imagine a tree-spirit. But a people of agriculturists will feel and do and think quite otherwise; they will look, not to the forest but to the earth for their returning life and food; they will sow seeds and wait for their sprouting, as in the gardens of Adonis. Adonis seems to have passed through the two stages of Tree-Spirit and Seed-Spirit; his effigy was sometimes a tree cut down, sometimes his planted "Gardens." Now seeds are many, innumerable, and they are planted in the earth, and a people who bury their dead know, or rather feel, that the earth is dead man's land. So, when they prepare a pot of seeds on their All Souls' Day, it is not really or merely as a "supper for the souls," though it may be that kindly notion enters. The ghosts have other work to do than to eat their supper and go. They take that supper "of all seeds," that panspermia, with them down to the world below, that they may tend it and foster it and bring it back in autumn as a pot of all fruits, a pankarpia.

"Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die."

The dead, then, as well as the living—this is for us the important point—had their share in the dromena of the "more ancient Dionysia." These agricultural spring dromena were celebrated just outside the ancient city gates, in the agora, or place of assembly, on a circular dancing-place, near to a very primitive sanctuary of Dionysos which was opened only once in the year, at the Feast of Cups. Just outside the gates was celebrated yet another festival of Dionysos equally primitive, called the "Dionysia in the Fields." It had the form though not the date of our May Day festival. Plutarch[39] thus laments over the "good old times": "In ancient days," he says, "our fathers used to keep the feast of Dionysos in homely, jovial fashion. There was a procession, a jar of wine and a branch; then some one dragged in a goat, another followed bringing a wicker basket of figs, and, to crown all, the phallos." It was just a festival of the fruits of the whole earth: wine and the basket of figs and the branch for vegetation, the goat for animal life, the phallos for man. No thought here of the dead, it is all for the living and his food.

* * * * *

Such sanctities even a great tyrant might not tamper with. But if you may not upset the old you may without irreverence add the new. Peisistratos probably cared little for, and believed less in, magical ceremonies for the renewal of fruits, incantations of the dead. We can scarcely picture him chewing buckthorn on the day of the "Cups," or anointing his front door with pitch to keep out the ghosts. Very wisely he left the Anthesteria and the kindred festival "in the fields" where and as they were. But for his own purposes he wanted to do honour to Dionysos, and also above all things to enlarge and improve the rites done in the god's honour, so, leaving the old sanctuary to its fate, he built a new temple on the south side of the Acropolis where the present theatre now stands, and consecrated to the god a new and more splendid precinct.

He did not build the present theatre, we must always remember that. The rows of stone seats, the chief priest's splendid marble chair, were not erected till two centuries later. What Peisistratos did was to build a small stone temple (see Fig. 2), and a great round orchestra of stone close beside it. Small fragments of the circular foundation can still be seen. The spectators sat on the hill-side or on wooden seats; there was as yet no permanent the{-a}tron or spectator-place, still less a stone stage; the dromena were done on the dancing-place. But for spectator-place they had the south slope of the Acropolis. What kind of wooden stage they had unhappily we cannot tell. It may be that only a portion of the orchestra was marked off.

* * * * *

Why did Peisistratos, if he cared little for magic and ancestral ghosts, take such trouble to foster and amplify the worship of this maypole-spirit, Dionysos? Why did he add to the Anthesteria, the festival of the family ghosts and the peasant festival "in the fields," a new and splendid festival, a little later in the spring, the Great Dionysia, or Dionysia of the City? One reason among others was this—Peisistratos was a "tyrant."

Now a Greek "tyrant" was not in our sense "tyrannical." He took his own way, it is true, but that way was to help and serve the common people. The tyrant was usually raised to his position by the people, and he stood for democracy, for trade and industry, as against an idle aristocracy. It was but a rudimentary democracy, a democratic tyranny, the power vested in one man, but it stood for the rights of the many as against the few. Moreover, Dionysos was always of the people, of the "working classes," just as the King and Queen of the May are now. The upper classes worshipped then, as now, not the Spirit of Spring but their own ancestors. But—and this was what Peisistratos with great insight saw—Dionysos must be transplanted from the fields to the city. The country is always conservative, the natural stronghold of a landed aristocracy, with fixed traditions; the city with its closer contacts and consequent swifter changes, and, above all, with its acquired, not inherited, wealth, tends towards democracy. Peisistratos left the Dionysia "in the fields," but he added the Great Dionysia "in the city."

Peisistratos was not the only tyrant who concerned himself with the dromena of Dionysos. Herodotos[40] tells the story of another tyrant, a story which is like a window opening suddenly on a dark room. At Sicyon, a town near Corinth, there was in the agora a heroon, a hero-tomb, of an Argive hero, Adrastos.

"The Sicyonians," says Herodotos, "paid other honours to Adrastos, and, moreover, they celebrated his death and disasters with tragic choruses, not honouring Dionysos but Adrastos." We think of "tragic" choruses as belonging exclusively to the theatre and Dionysos; so did Herodotus, but clearly here they belonged to a local hero. His adventures and his death were commemorated by choral dances and songs. Now when Cleisthenes became tyrant of Sicyon he felt that the cult of the local hero was a danger. What did he do? Very adroitly he brought in from Thebes another hero as rival to Adrastos. He then split up the worship of Adrastos; part of his worship, and especially his sacrifices, he gave to the new Theban hero, but the tragic choruses he gave to the common people's god, to Dionysos. Adrastos, the objectionable hero, was left to dwindle and die. No local hero can live on without his cult.

The act of Cleisthenes seems to us a very drastic proceeding. But perhaps it was not really so revolutionary as it seems. The local hero was not so very unlike a local daemon, a Spring or Winter spirit. We have seen in the Anthesteria how the paternal ghosts are expected to look after the seeds in spring. The more important the ghost the more incumbent is this duty upon him. Noblesse oblige. On the river Olynthiakos[41] in Northern Greece stood the tomb of the hero Olynthos, who gave the river its name. In the spring months of Anthesterion and Elaphebolion the river rises and an immense shoal of fish pass from the lake of Bolbe to the river of Olynthiakos, and the inhabitants round about can lay in a store of salt fish for all their needs. "And it is a wonderful fact that they never pass by the monument of Olynthus. They say that formerly the people used to perform the accustomed rites to the dead in the month Elaphebolion, but now they do them in Anthesterion, and that on this account the fish come up in those months only in which they are wont to do honour to the dead." The river is the chief source of the food-supply, so to send fish, not seeds and flowers, is the dead hero's business.

Peisistratos was not so daring as Cleisthenes. We do not hear that he disturbed or diminished any local cult. He did not attempt to move the Anthesteria with its ghost cult; he only added a new festival, and trusted to its recent splendour gradually to efface the old. And at this new festival he celebrated the deeds of other heroes, not local but of greater splendour and of wider fame. If he did not bring Homer to Athens, he at least gave Homer official recognition. Now to bring Homer to Athens was like opening the eyes of the blind.

* * * * *

Cicero, in speaking of the influence of Peisistratos on literature, says: "He is said to have arranged in their present order the works of Homer, which were previously in confusion." He arranged them not for what we should call "publication," but for public recitation, and another tradition adds that he or his son fixed the order of their recitation at the great festival of "All Athens," the Panathenaia. Homer, of course, was known before in Athens in a scrappy way; now he was publicly, officially promulgated. It is probable, though not certain, that the "Homer" which Peisistratos prescribed for recitation at the Panathenaia was just our Iliad and Odyssey, and that the rest of the heroic cycle, all the remaining "slices" from the heroic banquet, remained as material for dithyrambs and dramas. The "tyranny" of Peisistratos and his son lasted from 560 to 501 B.C.; tradition said that the first dramatic contest was held in the new theatre built by Peisistratos in 535 B.C., when Thespis won the prize. AEschylus was born in 525 B.C.; his first play, with a plot from the heroic saga, the Seven Against Thebes, was produced in 467 B.C. It all came very swiftly, the shift from the dithyramb as Spring Song to the heroic drama was accomplished in something much under a century. Its effect on the whole of Greek life and religion—nay, on the whole of subsequent literature and thought—was incalculable. Let us try to see why.

* * * * *

Homer was the outcome, the expression, of an "heroic" age. When we use the word "heroic" we think vaguely of something brave, brilliant, splendid, something exciting and invigorating. A hero is to us a man of clear, vivid personality, valiant, generous, perhaps hot-tempered, a good friend and a good hater. The word "hero" calls up such figures as Achilles, Patroklos, Hector, figures of passion and adventure. Now such figures, with their special virtues, and perhaps their proper vices, are not confined to Homer. They occur in any and every heroic age. We are beginning now to see that heroic poetry, heroic characters, do not arise from any peculiarity of race or even of geographical surroundings, but, given certain social conditions, they may, and do, appear anywhere and at any time. The world has seen several heroic ages, though it is, perhaps, doubtful if it will ever see another. What, then, are the conditions that produce an heroic age? and why was this influx of heroic poetry, coming just when it did, of such immense influence on, and importance to, the development of Greek dramatic art? Why had it power to change the old, stiff, ritual dithyramb into the new and living drama? Why, above all things, did the democratic tyrant Peisistratos so eagerly welcome it to Athens?

In the old ritual dance the individual was nothing, the choral band, the group, everything, and in this it did but reflect primitive tribal life. Now in the heroic saga the individual is everything, the mass of the people, the tribe, or the group, are but a shadowy background which throws up the brilliant, clear-cut personality into a more vivid light. The epic poet is all taken up with what he called klea andron, "glorious deeds of men," of individual heroes; and what these heroes themselves ardently long and pray for is just this glory, this personal distinction, this deathless fame for their great deeds. When the armies meet it is the leaders who fight in single combat. These glorious heroes are for the most part kings, but not kings in the old sense, not hereditary kings bound to the soil and responsible for its fertility. Rather they are leaders in war and adventure; the homage paid them is a personal devotion for personal character; the leader must win his followers by bravery, he must keep them by personal generosity. Moreover, heroic wars are oftenest not tribal feuds consequent on tribal raids, more often they arise from personal grievances, personal jealousies; the siege of Troy is undertaken not because the Trojans have raided the cattle of the Achaeans, but because a single Trojan, Paris, has carried off Helen, a single Achaean's wife.

Another noticeable point is that in heroic poems scarcely any one is safely and quietly at home. The heroes are fighting in far-off lands or voyaging by sea; hence we hear little of tribal and even of family ties. The real centre is not the hearth, but the leader's tent or ship. Local ties that bind to particular spots of earth are cut, local differences fall into abeyance, a sort of cosmopolitanism, a forecast of pan-Hellenism, begins to arise. And a curious point—all this is reflected in the gods. We hear scarcely anything of local cults, nothing at all of local magical maypoles and Carryings-out of Winter and Bringings-in of Summer, nothing whatever of "Suppers" for the souls, or even of worship paid to particular local heroes. A man's ghost when he dies does not abide in its grave ready to rise at springtime and help the seeds to sprout; it goes to a remote and shadowy region, a common, pan-Hellenic Hades. And so with the gods themselves; they are cut clean from earth and from the local bits of earth out of which they grew—the sacred trees and holy stones and rivers and still holier beasts. There is not a holy Bull to be found in all Olympus, only figures of men, bright and vivid and intensely personal, like so many glorified, transfigured Homeric heroes.

In a word, the heroic spirit, as seen in heroic poetry, is the outcome of a society cut loose from its roots, of a time of migrations, of the shifting of populations.[42] But more is needed, and just this something more the age that gave birth to Homer had. We know now that before the northern people whom we call Greeks, and who called themselves Hellenes, came down into Greece, there had grown up in the basin of the AEgean a civilization splendid, wealthy, rich in art and already ancient, the civilization that has come to light at Troy, Mycenae, Tiryns, and most of all in Crete. The adventurers from North and South came upon a land rich in spoils, where a chieftain with a band of hardy followers might sack a city and dower himself and his men with sudden wealth. Such conditions, such a contact of new and old, of settled splendour beset by unbridled adventure, go to the making of a heroic age, its virtues and its vices, its obvious beauty and its hidden ugliness. In settled, social conditions, as has been well remarked, "most of the heroes would sooner or later have found themselves in prison."

A heroic age, happily for society, cannot last long; it has about it while it does last a sheen of passing and pathetic splendour, such as that which lights up the figure of Achilles, but it is bound to fade and pass. A heroic society is almost a contradiction in terms. Heroism is for individuals. If a society is to go on at all it must strike its roots deep in some soil, native or alien. The bands of adventurers must disband and go home, or settle anew on the land they have conquered. They must beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Their gallant, glorious leader must become a sober, home-keeping, law-giving and law-abiding king; his followers must abate their individuality and make it subserve a common social purpose.

Athens, in her sheltered peninsula, lay somewhat outside the tide of migrations and heroic exploits. Her population and that of all Attica remained comparatively unchanged; her kings are kings of the stationary, law-abiding, state-reforming type; Cecrops, Erechtheus, Theseus, are not splendid, flashing, all-conquering figures like Achilles and Agamemnon. Athens might, it would seem, but for the coming of Homer, have lain stagnant in a backwater of conservatism, content to go on chanting her traditional Spring Songs year by year. It is a wonderful thing that this city of Athens, beloved of the gods, should have been saved from the storm and stress, sheltered from what might have broken, even shattered her, spared the actual horrors of a heroic age, yet given heroic poetry, given the clear wine-cup poured when the ferment was over. She drank of it deep and was glad and rose up like a giant refreshed.

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