Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.03.22


Kevin Clinton, Myth and Cult: The Iconography of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Stockholm: Svenska Institutet i Athen, 1992. Pp. 209; 12 illustrations, 52 plates. ISBN 91-7916-025-5.


Reviewed by R. Hamilton, Bryn Mawr College.

Contents: 1. Sacred Landscape (Introduction; A)GE/LASTOS PE/TRA; Callichoron Well; The Homeric Hymn: a Re-evaluation), 2. Eleusinian Gods (Introduction; The Youth in the Great Eleusinian Relief; Eubouleus; Eubouleus, the Thesmophoria, and the Mysteries), 3. More Gods, the Scenes, and the Myth of the Mysteries (Iakchos; Eubouleus in the Fifth Century; The Ninnion Tablet; Eumolpos; Interpretation of Eleusinian Scenes; The Sacred Drama; Artistic Representations and the Secrets of the Mysteries; The Birth of a Child in the Mysteries), 4. Conclusions (Iconography; The Homeric Hymn to Demeter), Appendices (Triptolemos as Child; The Age of Ploutos; Plouton and Hades in Art; Theos and Thea; Hekate at Eleusis; The "Omphalos" and the Cult of Dionysus in Eleusis; The Name of the Telesterion)

Specialists will need to evaluate with care C.'s detailed and superbly documented arguments for identifying Ploutos, Plouton, Eubouleus, Iakchos and Eumolpos on various exemplars of the iconography of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but almost any student of Greek religion will want to become acquainted with his interpretation of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter as an aetiological myth for the Thesmophoria rather than a cult myth of the Mysteries.

The negative argument is quite persuasive: the Hymn has nothing about Eubouleus who plays a major part in the Mysteries (and not much about Triptolemos or Eumolpos), but it has a lot about Hecate, Demophon and Iambe who do not. (In the Hymn Demeter sits by a well while in the Mysteries she sits on the "Mirthless Rock," but C. has had to find this rock for us and so there is a certain, perhaps necessary, circularity.)

The positive arguments are somewhat less persuasive, perhaps because we know so little about the Thesmophoria: the Hymn's Iambe fits the ritual abuse the women evidently hurled at each other at the Thesmophoria much better than the peripheral Gephyrismos of the Mysteries (although Baubo would have been better); Callimachus' Demeter sits on the ground by a well fasting, and we find the same elements in the Thesmophoria (but not in the Homeric Hymn, at least not together and not emphatically); Hekate "looks like a mythic analogue to the Kourotrophos of cult" (but she is invoked along with Kourotrophos in the Thesmophoriazusae, and this passage is C.'s only direct evidence for her presence in the cult). Kourotrophia also explains the emphasis on nursing and on Demophon (though not his fiery bath, and C. makes the wine-skin baby of Thesmophoriazusae too prominent for my taste). C. finds the kykeon with its kourotrophic pennyroyal better suited to the Thesmophoria than the Mysteries and interprets the Hymn's comment (221) that Demeter drank it "for the rite" as a reference to the older ritual of the Thesmophoria not the not-yet-established Mysteries. He thereby removes a strong reason for treating the Hymn as cult myth but must at the same time ignore what most scholars consider a key testimony to the Mysteries, Clement's description of the "password" ("I fasted, I drank the kykeon ... "). Finally C. appears to find no place in the Hymn for some central elements of the Thesmophoria: tent, rotted pigs, phallic loaves, willow branches, Chalcidian pursuit, pomegranate seeds (cf. Dem. 373, 411).

C. himself is not dogmatic about his interpretation and states in his introduction that "a fresh study of all extant versions of the myth" is needed. I think this is correct, and in addition we should keep other abduction and woman-by-well stories in mind and, more important, the likely context for the delivery of the Hymn. If the Hymn to Apollo is any indication (and Hesiod's Theogony may support this), the longer hymns were competition pieces at major public gatherings. We know that the quadrennial Eleusinia had contests as early as the 6th C, perhaps including a rhapsode reciting a hymn to Demeter with an Eleusinian spin.

In any case, C. is certainly correct to insist that the Hymn is not a blueprint for the Mysteries, that every Eleusinian reference need not be to the Mysteries, and this alone makes an essential contribution to our understanding of Greek cult.