BAS-RELIEF IN MARBLE,
ONE of the most celebrated pagan festivals, known by the name of Bacchanalia--and sometimes disguised with slight modifications, under the appellations of Eleusinia, Dionysia, Lampteria mysteries of Isis, of the Cabeiri, of Mithra, Adonis, the Bona Dea, &c.--is represented in this curious bas-relief. All these mysteries, and the greater part of those which we have omitted, had also their dogmatic, liturgic, and moral side; they differed not so much in doctrine and moral tendency as in origin and rites. The generating power symbolised, a victim sacrificed and purifications of the faithful,--these pervade all.
The Cabeiri, gods deriving their name from the Arabic word Cabir (power), were four in number--Ceres, Persephone, Pluto, and Mercury. With the initiated Ceres was called Oxieres; Persephone, Axiokersa; Pluto, Axiokersos; and Mercury, Casmilus. Many of the celebrated men of antiquity, such as Moses, Orpheus, Musæus, Homer, Archimedes, Dædalus, Thales, Plato, Lycurgus, Solon, Pythagoras, &c., had themselves initiated in these mysteries, which differed little in their liturgy, and not at all in their moral tendency, from the Dionysia.
Bacchus was surnamed Dionysus, derived from Διος (the genitive of Ζευς, Jupiter) and from Nysa, a town in which he is supposed to have been
brought up. Several writers of antiquity have maintained that this god, undoubtedly the Theban one, was the same as Osiris, whilst Ceres, in whose honour the Eleusinian feasts were celebrated at Eleusis, was no other that the Egyptian Isis. However this may be (and mythology is often here at variance), it appears certain that the custom of the Dionysiac festivals, of Bacchanalia, was introduced from Egypt into Greece by a certain Melampus, the son of Amiathon. 1 He, according to Herodotus, introduced the worship of Bacchus and of the phallus into Greece.
The Athenians celebrated the festivals of Bacchus with the greatest splendour; and the Romans very soon introduced the Bacchanalia into the whole of Italy. Originally no men were admitted, and consequently the scandal was not very great; but afterwards, when men were introduced, these festivals degenerated into such atrocious orgies that the Senate thought it right to interfere. In the year of Rome 568 a decree was issued for the suppression of these scandals throughout Italy. 2
The places where the Dionysia were by preference held were isolated spots; not only because the effrontery of the Bacchantes found encouragement in solitude, but also because they were more adapted to the echoing of the voice. "Evohe, evohe!" shouted Jupiter when encouraging his, son Bacchus to overcome the obstacles which the jealous Juno threw in his way, "Evohe, evohe!" repeated the eager actors in the scene. Hence the word Bacchanal is used to designate a great uproar or loud clamour.
The priestesses of Bacchus were fourteen in number; they were called Gerarai, from Gerasko (to grew old), because they were chosen when
advanced in years. They had fourteen altars, and presided at the offering of fourteen sacrifices; they were the real Bacchantes, but subsequently the name was extended to all the females that took part in these outrageous scenes. Some authors have maintained that the Bacchantes were virgins, and continued to be so, defending themselves against all attacks amidst the most extravagant sensualities and Bacchantic libations.
The statue of the god was generally painted over with cinnibar, besides which it was clad in the skin of a stag, a panther, a leopard, or some other animal. The hierophant, or priest, upon whom devolved the duty of revealing sacred things, represented the Demiurgus, the Creator. The torch-bearers went by the name of Lampadophores; their chief personified the sun; the acolyte symbolised the moon, and the sacred herald Mercury. 1
Processions, in which vessels filled with wine and covered with vine-branches were carried about, constituted the principal ceremonies. Then came the canephores, young women carrying baskets of flowers and fruit and after them the Lampadophores. These were followed by flute and cymbal players; after whom a multitude of men and women dressed up as satyrs, pans, fauns, sileni, nymphs, and bacchantes; crowned with violets and ivy-leaves, with dishevelled hair, flushed with the fumes of wine, their garments arranged with immodest art, so as to disclose to the eye what the eye should not have seen, they marched onward, singing the phallica, obscene songs in honour of Bacchus.
In the rear of this motley crowd came the Phallophores and Hyphalli, the former exhibiting shamelessly to the spectators images of the lingam, which by means of straps, were tied to the hip, and the latter carrying the same objects, but of more gigantic dimensions, at the end of a long pole.
[paragraph continues] The whole procession was closed by the fourteen priestesses, whom the archon, or high priest, had entrusted with the preparatory arrangements.
In Egypt, the ceremony was very much the same, except that the Egyptians had invented, instead of a phallus, figures about two feet high, which they set in motion by a spring. These figures, of which the virile attribute was almost as large as the rest of the body, were moved up and clown with a string by the women, who carried them through the towns and villages. When the crowd had reached its destination, which was either the middle of a lonely forest or the enclosure of a deep valley surrounded by rocks, these debauched fanatics drew the image of Bacchus from a box which the Latins called the arca ineffabilis. It was then placed on a Hermes, and a swine was offered to the god as a holocaust, after which the wine and the fruit were liberally distributed among the crowd. In a very short time the plentiful libations, the continuous clamour, the immoderate hilarity, and the mingling of the sexes, produced a general excitement, and drove the priests of the infamous divinity to the highest pitch of frenzy. Every one behaved in the presence of all as if he were isolated from the whole world, and several hundreds of spectators witnessed the most disgraceful scenes of debauchery. The naked women ran about exciting and inviting the men by obscene words and gestures, and the latter never thought of what had become in that crowd of their wives, their sisters, or their daughters. They little heeded the shame, which was reciprocal. In a word, there was no kind of licentiousness which was not improved upon on this occasion.
At last the night that had spread its veil over this scene of abomination fled before the car of Phbus and the god was restored to the arca ineffabilis. The men staggering, filled with wine, and enervated by their lusts, returned to their deserted homes, where they were gradually joined by their wives and children, dishonoured and defiled.
The government of a civilized nation could not tolerate all this scandal. We have already seen that the Bacchanalia were prohibited by the Roman Senate.
The bas-relief which has furnished the subject of the above explanation is a good representation of a Dionysiac or Bacchanal. In the centre is the old Silenus, crowned with ivy, carrying a cup in one hand, and in the other a crown, the emblem of his Victory over the drinkers. He staggers. and would certainly fall to the ground but for two young fauns who support him. A Lampadophor and a Canephor are behind him. To his left may be perceived, in order of succession, a Bacchante, a female cymbal-player, a young boy carrying some of the instruments of initiation, an immodest phallophore fixing his strap, a female Satyr placing the pedum and the syrnix at the feet of Bacchus-Hermes, who may be recognised by his horns and by the stag's skin which envelopes his chest. In the corner appears the god Cupid, who seems to have come to take part in the festival. To the left of Silenus is a small altar, and on it a pine-apple, and a lighted torch has been prepared for the Sacrifice. A Bacchante, lying on a bear-skin, reclines voluptuously in an attitude which leaves but little doubt as to the cause of her exhaustion. In the background appears a Satyr, who, attracted by the noise, leaves his dwelling in order to share in the orgie. Finally, at the extremity of the bas- relief, a woman in the disguise of a Satyr places herself on the attribute of a Priapus-Hermes. The scene takes place in a forest, where may be seen several oaks and a palm-tree.
16:1 Herodotus II., § 49.
16:2 Herodotus, ubi supra. Diodorus Siculus. Athenæus. Memoires do l'Academie des Inscriptions.
17:1 EUSEBIUS, Catena Patrum, lib. III.