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This page is part of the "tools" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "tools" section provides historical and geographical context (chronology, maps, entries on characters and locations) for Socrates, Plato and their time. By clicking on the minimap at the beginning of the entry, you can go to a full size map in which the city or location appears. For more information on the structure of entries and links available from them, read the notice at the beginning of the index of persons and locations.
Name of a city on the coast of the Saronic Gulf, a few miles west of Athens
that became an Attic deme after having been
annexed to Athens in the later part of the VIIth century
Eleusis had been the location of a cult to Demeter, daughter of Cronus and Rhea, goddess of agriculture, fertility and marriage, since very ancient times, and was the site of one of her most famous sanctuaries. Because of her relationship with Athens, Eleusis became one of the major sacred places of Greece, especially famed for its "Mysteries".
By Socrates' and Plato's time, the "Eleusinian mysteries" were an official festival of Athens celebrated under the leadership of the Archon-King with the help of priests from three noble families (genoi ) of Athens : the hierophant, in charge of exhibiting the sacred objects (the hiera ), was from the Eumolpidæ (the "good singers"), the priestess of Demeter was from the Philleidæ and torch-bearers (dadouchoi ) from the Ceryces (the "heralds"). These priests tracked their origins to Eumolpus, the Thracian king son of Poseidon and Chione, the daughter of Boreas and Orithuia, herself a daughter of Erechtheus, king of Athens. Eumolpus had lived in Eleusis at some point in time in his life and had then befriended its citizens, who later, after he had become king in Thracia, called upon him to help them in their war against Athens and Erechtheus, a war won by Athens, in which Eumolpus was killed. Eumolpus was sometimes said to have instituted the mysteries of Eleusis. The Eumolpidæ presented themselves as the offspring of Eumolpus while the Ceryces pretended to descend from one of Eumolpus' sons named Ceryx. Eumolpus, whose name means "good singer", was also sometime said to be the father of Musæus, the Attic counterpart of Orpheus, who was also sometime linked to the origin of the Eleusinina mysteries.
The "Small Mysteries" were celebrated during the month of Anthesterion (end of February, beginning of March) in honor of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, abducted by Hades who made her his wife in the underworld, and symbol of the seed that has to disappear within the soil before bearing fruit. The "Great mysteries" were celebrated six months later, during the month of Boedromion (end of September, beginning of October), in honor of Demeter herself. The festival lastest 10 days. It included a procession from the Eleusinion, a temple at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens to the Telesterion in Eleusis, along the "Sacred Way" and ended with rites reserved to the initiates (the mystes) that lasted three days. The ultimate symbol of the rite of initiation was an ear of wheat, and the mystes were promised some sort of personnal survival after death in an everlasting life of happiness. One noteworthy originality of the Eleusinian mysteries was that anybody could become an initiate without regard to status : initiation was open to free men and slaves alike, to men and women, Athenians and foreigners, despite the fact that, unlike most other mystery cults of the time, the Eleusinian mysteries had an official status in Athens.