THE tragedies of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were performed at Athens at a festival known as the Great Dionysia. This took place early in April, so that the time itself makes us suspect that its ceremonies were connected with the spring. But we have more certain evidence. Aristotle, in his treatise on the Art of Poetry, raises the question of the origin of the drama. He was not specially interested in primitive ritual; beast dances and spring mummeries might even have seemed to him mere savagery, the lowest form of "imitation;" but he divined that a structure so complex as Greek tragedy must have arisen out of a simpler form; he saw, or felt, in fact, that art had in some way risen out of ritual, and he has left us a memorable statement.
In describing the "Carrying-out of Summer" we saw that the element of real drama, real
impersonation, began with the leaders of the band, with the Queen of the May, and with the "Death" or the "Winter." Great is our delight when we find that for Greek drama Aristotle 1 divined a like beginning. He says:
"Tragedy--as also Comedy--was at first mere improvisation--the one (tragedy) originated with the leaders of the Dithyramb."
The further question faces us: What was the Dithyramb? We shall find to our joy that this obscure-sounding Dithyramb, though before Aristotle's time it had taken literary form, was in origin a festival closely akin to those we have just been discussing. The Dithyramb was, to begin with, a spring ritual; and when Aristotle tells us tragedy arose out of the Dithyramb, he gives us, though perhaps half unconsciously, a clear instance of a splendid art that arose from the simplest of rites; he plants our theory of the connection of art with ritual firmly with its feet on historical ground.
When we use the word "dithyrambic" we certainly do not ordinarily think of spring.
[paragraph continues] We say a style is "dithyrambic" when it is unmeasured, too ornate, impassioned, flowery. The Greeks themselves had forgotten that the word Dithyramb meant a leaping, inspired dance. But they had not forgotten on what occasion that dance was danced. Pindar wrote a Dithyramb for the Dionysiac festival at Athens, and his song is full of springtime and flowers. He bids all the gods come to Athens to dance flower-crowned.
"Look upon the dance, Olympians; send us the grace of Victory, ye gods who come to the heart of our city, where many feet are treading and incense steams: in sacred Athens come to the holy centre-stone. Take your portion of garlands pansy-twined, libations poured from the culling of spring. . . .
'Come hither to the god with ivy bound. Bromios we mortals name Him, and Him of the mighty Voice. . . . The clear signs of his Fulfilment are not hidden, whensoever the chamber of the purple-robed Hours is opened, and nectarous flowers lead in the fragrant spring. Then, then, are flung over the immortal Earth, lovely petals of pansies, and roses are amid our hair; and voices of song
are loud among the pipes, the dancing-floors are loud with the calling of crowned Semele."
Bromios, "He of the loud cry," is a title of Dionysos. Semele is his mother, the Earth; we keep her name in Nova Zembla, "New Earth." The song might have been sung at a "Carrying-in of Summer." The Horæ, the Seasons, a chorus of maidens, lead in the figure of Spring, the Queen of the May, and they call to Mother Earth to wake, to rise up from the earth, flower-crowned.
You may bring back the life of the Spring in the form of a tree or a maiden, or you may summon her to rise from the sleeping Earth. In Greek mythology we are most familiar with the Rising-up form. Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, is carried below the Earth, and rises up again year by year. On Greek vase-paintings 1 the scene occurs again and again. A mound of earth is represented, sometimes surmounted by a tree; out of the mound a woman's figure rises; and all about the mound are figures of dancing dæmons waiting to welcome her.
All this is not mere late poetry and art. It is the primitive art and poetry that come straight out of ritual, out of actual "things done," dromena. In the village of Megara, near Athens, the very place where to-day on Easter Tuesday the hills are covered with throngs of dancing men, and specially women, Pausanias 1 saw near the City Hearth a rock called "Anaklethra, 'Place of Calling-up,' because, if any one will believe it, when she was wandering in search of her daughter, Demeter called her up there"; and he adds: "The women to this day perform rites analogous to the story told."
These rites of "Calling up" must have been spring rites, in which, in some pantomimic dance, the uprising of the Earth Spirit was enacted.
Another festival of Uprising is perhaps more primitive and instructive, because it is near akin to the "Carrying out of Winter," and also because it shows clearly the close connection of these rites with the food-supply. Plutarch 2 tells us of a festival held every nine years at Delphi. It was called from the name of the puppet used Charila, a word
which originally meant Spring-Maiden, and is connected with the Russian word yaro, "Spring," and is also akin to the Greek Charis, "grace," in the sense of increase, "Give us all grace." The rites of Charila, the Gracious One, the Spring-Maiden, were as follows:
"The king presided and made a distribution in public of grain and pulse to all, both citizens and strangers. And the child-image of Charila is brought in. When they had all received their share, the king struck the image with his sandal, the leader of the Thyiades lifted the image and took it away to a precipitous place, and there tied a rope round the neck of the image and buried it."
Mr. Calderon has shown that very similar rites go on to-day in Bulgaria in honour of Yarilo, the Spring God.
The image is beaten, insulted, let down into some cleft or cave. It is clearly a "Carrying out the Death," though we do not know the exact date at which it was celebrated. It had its sequel in another festival at Delphi called Herois, or the "Heroine." Plutarch 1 says it
was too mystical and secret to describe, but he lets us know the main gist.
"Most of the ceremonies of the Herois have a mystical reason which is known to the Thyiades, but from the rites that are done in public, one may conjecture it to be a 'Bringing up of Semele.'"
Some one or something, a real woman, or more likely the buried puppet Charila, the Spring-Maiden, was brought up from the ground to enact and magically induce the coming of Spring.
These ceremonies of beating, driving out, burying, have all with the Greeks, as with the savage and the modern peasant, but one real object: to get rid of the season that is bad for food, to bring in and revive the new supply. This comes out very clearly in a ceremony that went on down to Plutarch's time, and he tells us 1 it was "ancestral." It was called "the Driving out of Ox-hunger." By Ox-hunger was meant any great ravenous hunger, and the very intensity and monstrosity of the word takes us back to days when
famine was a grim reality. When Plutarch was archon he had, as chief official, to perform the ceremony at the Prytaneion, or Common Hearth. A slave was taken, beaten with rods of a magical plant, and driven out of doors to the words: "Out with Ox-hunger! In with Wealth and Health" Here we see the actual sensation, or emotion, of ravenous hunger gets a name, and thereby a personality, though a less completely abstracted one than Death or Summer. We do not know that the ceremony of Driving out Ox-hunger was performed in the spring, it is only instanced here because, more plainly even than the Charila, when the king distributes pulse and peas, it shows the relation of ancient mimic ritual to food-supply.
If we keep clearly in mind the object rather than the exact date of the Spring Song we shall avoid many difficulties. A Dithyramb was sung at Delphi through the winter months, which at first seems odd. But we must remember that among agricultural peoples the performance of magical ceremonies to promote fertility and the food supply may begin at any moment after the earth is ploughed and the seed sown. The sowing of the seed is its death
and burial; "that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." When the death and burial are once accomplished the hope of resurrection and new birth begins, and with the hope the magical ceremonies that may help to fulfil that hope. The Sun is new-born in midwinter, at the solstice, and our "New" year follows, yet it is in the spring that, to this day, we keep our great resurrection festival.
We return to our argument, holding steadily in our minds this connection. The Dithyramb is a Spring Song at a Spring Festival, and the importance of the Spring Festival is that it magically promotes the food-supply.
Do we know any more about the Dithyramb? Happily yes, and the next point is as curious as significant.
Pindar, in one of his Odes, asks a strange question:
Scholars have broken their own heads and one another's to find a meaning and an answer to the odd query. It is only quite
lately that they have come at all to see that the Dithyramb was a Spring Song, a primitive rite. Formerly it was considered to be a rather elaborate form of lyric poetry invented comparatively late. But, even allowing it is the Spring Song, are we much further? Why should the Dithyramb be bull-driving? How can driving a Bull help the spring to come? And, above all, what are the "slender-ankled" Graces doing, helping to drive the great unwieldy Bull?
The difficulty about the Graces, or Charites, as the Greeks called them, is soon settled. They are the Seasons, or "Hours," and the chief Season, or Hour, was Spring herself. They are called Charites, or Graces, because they are, in the words of the Collect, the "Givers of all grace," that is, of all increase physical and spiritual. But why do they want to come driving in a Bull? It is easy to see why the Givers of all grace lead the Dithyramb, the Spring Song; their coming, with their "fruits in due season" is the very gist of the Dithyramb; but why is the Dithyramb "bull-driving"? Is this a mere "poetical" epithet? If it is, it is not particularly poetical.
But Pindar is not, we now know, merely being "poetical," which amounts, according to some scholars, to meaning anything or nothing. He is describing, alluding to, an actual rite or dromenon in which a Bull is summoned and driven to come in spring. About that we must be clear. Plutarch, the first anthropologist, wrote a little treatise called Greek Questions, in which he tells us all the strange out-of-the-way rites and customs he saw in Greece, and then asks himself what they meant. In his 36th Question he asks: "Why do the women of Elis summon Dionysos in their hymns to be present with them with his bull-foot?" And then, by a piece of luck that almost makes one's heart stand still, he gives us the very words of the little ritual hymn the women sang, our earliest "Bull-driving" Spring Song:
It is a strange primitive picture--the holy women standing in springtime in front of the temple, summoning the Bull; and the Bull, garlanded and filleted, rushing to-wards them, driven by the Graces, probably three real women, three Queens of the May, wreathed and flower-bedecked. But what does it mean?
Plutarch tries to answer his own question, and half, in a dim, confused fashion, succeeds. "Is it," he suggests, "that some entitle the god as 'Born of a Bull' and as a 'Bull' himself? . . . or is it that many hold the god is the beginner of sowing and ploughing? "We have seen how a kind of daimon, or spirit, of Winter or Summer arose from an actual tree or maid or man disguised year by year as a tree. Did the god Dionysos take his rise in like fashion from the driving and summoning year by year of some holy Bull?
First, we must notice that it was not only at Elis that a holy Bull appears at the Spring Festival. Plutarch asks another instructive Question: 1 "Who among the Delphians is the Sanctifier?" And we find to our amazement that the sanctifier is a Bull. A Bull
who not only is holy himself, but is so holy that he has power to make others holy, he is the Sanctifier; and, most important for us, he sanctifies by his death in the month Bysios, the month that fell, Plutarch tells us, "at the beginning of spring, the time of the blossoming of many plants."
We do not hear that the "Sanctifier" at Delphi was "driven," but in all probability he was led from house to house, that every one might partake in the sanctity that simply exuded from him. At Magnesia, 1 a city of Asia Minor, we have more particulars. There, at the annual fair year by year the stewards of the city bought a Bull, "the finest that could be got," and at the new moon of the month at the beginning of seedtime they dedicated it, for the city's welfare. The Bull's sanctified life began with the opening of the agricultural year, whether with the spring or the autumn ploughing we do not know. The dedication of the Bull was a high solemnity. He was led in procession, at the head of which went the chief priest and priestess of the city. With them went a herald and the sacrificer, and two bands of youths and
maidens. So holy was the Bull that nothing unlucky might come near him; the youths and maidens must have both their parents alive, they must not have been under the taboo, the infection, of death. The herald pronounced aloud a prayer for "the safety of the city and the land, and the citizens, and the women and children, for peace and wealth, and for the bringing forth of grain and of all the other fruits, and of cattle." All this longing for fertility, for food and children, focuses round the holy Bull, whose holiness is his strength and fruitfulness.
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.
[paragraph continues] 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 pæans, 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 1 opens thus:
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 dæmon, 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." 1 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 up-bringing 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 overstresses distinctions and transitions. The song 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, 1 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, 2 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 1 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.
[paragraph continues] Thus among the Carrier Indians 1 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 re-appearance 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 mid-way 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 tĕlĕtē. 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 tĕlĕtē 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:
[paragraph continues] The Eiresione had another name that told its own tale. It was called Korythalia, 1 "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 Diktè 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 Horæ (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 Dikè is strange. We translate the word "Justice," but Dikè 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.
76:1 Poetics, IV, 12.
78:1 See my Themis, p. 419. (1912.)
79:1 I, 43. 2.
79:2 Quaest. Græc. XII.
80:1 Op. cit.
81:1 Quæst. Symp., 693f.
85:1 The words "in Spring-time" depend on an emendation to me convincing. See my Themis, p. 205, note 1.
87:1 See my Themis, p. 151.
102:1 See my Prolegomena, p. 439.
103:1 Prolegomena, p. 402.
107:1 Frazer, Totemism and Exogamy, Vol. I, p. 228.
107:2 The Golden Bough,2 III, 424.
108:1 The Golden Bough,2 III, 442.
111:1 The Golden Bough,2 III, p. 438.
114:1 See my Themis, p. 503.