The name of the city Eleusis is Pre-Greek, and may be related with the name of the goddess Eileithyia. Before completion, she was seized by Hades , the god of the underworld , who took her to his underworld kingdom. Distraught, Demeter searched high and low for her daughter. Because of her distress, and in an effort to coerce Zeus to allow the return of her daughter, she caused a terrible drought in which the people suffered and starved, depriving the gods of sacrifice and worship. As a result, Zeus relented and allowed Persephone to return to her mother.
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This work by contrast was an electrifying and careful reconstruction of the lost Eleusian mystery rites that constituted the preeminent religious initiation in the Greek-speaking world for many centuries, until they were forcibly brought to an end by the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius. I was initially skeptical of this approach, as it struck me as analogous to reconstructing the Catholic mass based on a careful reading of the Gospels, which would clearly not be possible.
But as he assembled evidence I became increasingly persuaded by his interpretation, as he demonstrated one element of the ritual after another to be clearly modeled on the Homeric hymn. I was also struck by the fact that this work is at heart a careful work of philology, archaeology, and close reading of the surviving material. Despite his rumor as the great Jungian interpreter of classical Greek culture, his arguments and observations were methodical and almost never theory-driven.
His reconstruction is followed by a long "hermeneutical essay" on the Eleusinian mysteries which analyzes various minutiae, and I found it to be somewhat dispensable. The real action is in his reconstruction. An exile from his native Hungary, Kerenyi wrote extensively on Greek mythology and played an important role in its revival. Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, fourth in a series of related books, is his attempt to reconstruct and interpret what really went on in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Like Jung and Campbell, Kerenyi writes from the perspective of psychology and humanism. At the same time, he distances his view from that of Jung in his introduction. Although Kerenyi uses the term "archetype" he does not mean it in the full Jungian sense. He speaks rather of "archetypal facts of human existence" p. It seems to communicate an appeal to human universals, without relying on the collective unconscious on the one hand or existentialist philosophies on the other.
From this perspective, he attempts to recover what went on in the mysteries. There is little in his reconstruction that is conclusive, and to an extent he is upfront about this. He says "My book should act as the kykeon of Eleusis in all probability did: as a stimulant" p. In other words, he intends to suggest and inspire, not to declare fact. This must be kept in mind by the reader, as Kerenyi has a slippery way of posing arguments. For example, in chapter two he concludes that the ineffable secret arrheton of Eleusis was a certain goddess, and the only evidence he provides at the time is the epithet "ineffable maiden" arrhetos koura , which only she possesses.
Kerenyi then defers further evidence till later, saying "This becomes comprehensible only as we gradually penetrate to the core of the Mysteries" p. But he never does put forward any more evidence, and the mere repitition of his thesis, stated in no uncertain terms over and over, threatens to lull the reader into agreement.
This is a shaky foundation indeed for one of the core elements of his reconstruction. It is necessary to bear in mind this matter of style to avoid being misled. The entire gamut of literature, vase paintings, numismatics, and archaeology comes together to form this picture of Eleusis. Often it is quite difficult to discern what that picture is exactly, but nevertheless there are stimulants for research on every page that would take a lifetime for the amateur Classicist to accumulate.
This is the greatest strength of the book. A much lesser strength is the reconstruction itself. Truthfully, I cannot put any faith at all in his hypotheses, except by recalling that they are intended as "stimulants.
This book is recommendable to anyone looking to expand their Eleusinian horizons beyond the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. There are so many obscure and specialist references presented here that one cannot help but benefit.
Those looking for clear, reliable answers will be frustrated, while those hungry for directions for contemplation will get their fill. I would have preferred more translated source text of the actual myth offered perhaps as an appendix or two from one of the many major versions of it in Latin or Greek.
I think academic texts like this are fabulous for scholars in the field, but lay people seeking to fulfill a dual A useful exploration into the Eleusinian Mysteries and the historical and contextual primary and secondary accounts we have about this stronghold in Greek and beyond cultural activity. Otherwise, we must toggle between versions of the source simultaneously as we examine the analysis of those versions.
Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter
Eleusis: archetypal image of mother and daughter