Friday, February 15, 2013

PBP: Dadoukhoi: torch bearers

You would think that, from a culture that has the letter 'D' in its alphabet, there would be a large variety of D-words to choose from. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are still a few, but I wasn't in the mood to write about most of those. Today, I'm going to delve a little deeper into certain aspects of the Eleusinian mysteries in order to express the importance of the torch in ancient Hellenic worship.

The Temple of Hēphaistos in the Athenian agora during a modern torchlight procession.

The cult of the Eleusinian mysteries is probably the best known mystery cult of ancient Hellas. We might not know a great deal about what, exactly, went on during the rites, but we know that for Athens--and far beyond--the nine day Eleusinia (Ἐλευσίνια) festival in honor of Demeter and Persephone was one of the most important of all times. I'll tackle the Eleusinian mysteries in two weeks, when we get to the 'E's, but for now let me suffice in saying that the Eleusinian mysteries, which had festivals throughout the year, were tied to agriculture through Demeter's refusal to perform her duties as an agricultural Theia while her daughter Persephone is with Hades, and to the afterlife and Underworld through Persephone's return to the surface of the earth after her mandatory stay with Hades has ended.

One of the titles of the officiants within the Eleusinian mysteries was 'Dadoukhos' (Δᾳδοῦχος): torch bearer. They were ranked after Hierophants, and the office was inherited through several Athenian family lines. Torch bearers literally carried torches in processions, they oversaw the nighttime rituals, and represented several key moments in the mythology surrounding the Eleusinian mysteries.

The mythical foundation for the Eleusinian rites is of course the second Homeric hymn, to Demeter, as assumed to be written by Pámphōs (Πάμφως), an early Hellenic poet, who is mentioned by Pausanias to have lived earlier than Hómeros himself. Pámphōs was the author of various hymns to deities, including the hymn to Demeter, and was connected to the mysteries as such. From the Homeric hymn to Demeter:

"Bitter pain seized her [Demeter's] heart, and she rent the covering upon her divine hair with her dear hands: her dark cloak she cast down from both her shoulders and sped, like a wild-bird, over the firm land and yielding sea, seeking her child. But no one would tell her the truth, neither god nor mortal men; and of the birds of omen none came with true news for her. Then for nine days queenly Demeter wandered over the earth with flaming torches in her hands, so grieved that she never tasted ambrosia and the sweet draught of nectar, nor sprinkled her body with water. But when the tenth enlightening dawn had come, Hekate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her and told her news: "Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of good gifts, what god of heaven or what mortal man has rapt away Persephone and pierced with sorrow your dear heart? For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my eyes who it was. But I tell you truly and shortly all I know." So, then, said Hekate. And the daughter of rich-haired Rhea answered her not, but sped swiftly with her, holding flaming torches in her hands."

In some versions of the myth, Persephone is led out of the Underworld not by Hades in His golden chariot, but by Hekate Herself, carrying torches to light the way out of darkness; a ritual that continued year after year. It is most certainly true that Hekate and Persephone are good friends:

"Then bright-coiffed Hekate came near to them, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hecate was minister and companion to Persephone."

Many of the mysteries rites were conducted in the dark, and vase paintings and reliefs show many Theoi with torches, overlooking the secret rites. Triptolemos (Τριπτόλεμος), for example, is depicted on various vases from the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries BC, holding an ear of corn, sitting on a winged throne or chariot, surrounded by Persephone and Demeter with pine torches. The Ninnion Tablet depicts Demeter, followed by Persephone and Iakchos, an epithet of Dionysos, and then the procession of initiates of the mysteries. Then, Demeter is sitting on the kiste inside the Telesterion, with Persephone holding a torch and introducing the initiates. The second row of initiates were led by Iakchos, now a priest, who held torches for the ceremonies. It were these divine shoes the Dadoukhoi filled.

We will return to the Eleusinian mysteries soon, but for today, a glimpse at its wonders. May the torches of the Theoi always light the way.

2 comments:

Daphne Lykeion said...

Lovely post as always :) Naturally I have my own interpretation, with the torchbearers representative of Apollon and Artemis (Artemis being cultically represented at Eleusis with a temple there as the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon...aka Despoina who is intimately connected with the Peloponnesian mystery program of Demeter). Research has also indicated two Iakkhos, one, the babe born of Demeter or Persephone who is associated with Dionysos in these mysteries, and another which is a youth and herder that I see logically as Apollon as I have discussed more on my own blog.

Elani Temperance said...

@Daphne: Thank you! :) And yes, I'm sure you have your own Apollon-inspired interpretations. I love that in you :) I will hunt for those blog posts before writing my post on the Eleusinian mysteries. Thank you!