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Imperial mysteries

Jan N. Bremmer

Résumé

Le seul article qui a étudié ce qu’on appelle les mystères impériaux est celui, bien connu, de Harry Pleket, l’épigraphiste de Leiden, paru en 1965. Cette étude continue d’être très utile, même si la plupart des textes examinés ont été réédités depuis et si notre connaissance des mystères s’est quelque peu améliorée depuis, du moins je l’espère. Il demeure toutefois remarquable que, en dépit de l’attention savante portée aux mystères, cet article soit la seule analyse de la documentation disponible sur les mystères impériaux. Dans mon étude, je reprends la liste des documents telle que H. Pleket l’a établie, mais je tente d’aller plus loin. Mon hypothèse est que les mystères impériaux présentent un air de famille avec des mystères bien établis, tels que ceux d’Éleusis et de Samothrace, mais qu’ils n’eurent jamais une grande importance.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Burkert 1987, p 1-11. For the genesis of his book, see the Appendix. For the place of Cumont and B (...)
  • 2 Graf 2003; add now the new inscription from Marmariani published by Decourt 2015.
  • 3 Alvar 2008, passim.
  • 4 Origen, Against Celsus III, 36 (Antinoopolis); IKlaudiopolis VII, 56, 65; Pausanias, VIII, 9, 7-8;(...)
  • 5 See especially Chaniotis 2002 and Bremmer 2016.

1The study of ancient mystery cults was long dominated by Franz Cumont (1868-1947) until the appearance of Walter Burkert’s (1931-2015) concise book Ancient Mystery Cults (1987). Despite his synchronic discussion of the mysteries, Burkert established once and for all that the ‘Oriental religions’ were cults rather than religions, that they were not that Oriental and, moreover, that they did not all promise otherworldly salvation.1 Perhaps not surprisingly, Burkert concentrated on the major and well-known mysteries, such as those of Eleusis, Samothrace, Isis and Mithras. On the other hand, the lesser mysteries have been well studied by Fritz Graf, who focused on the Peloponnesian mysteries and a limited number of mysteries of Asia Minor.2 However, he did not pay attention to those of Agdistis and Ma (cf. ILydiaKP III 18 = LSAM 20), Cybele and Attis,3 Men (ILydiaM 131), Sabazios (cf. IPhrygR 127 = CCIS II 6, 39, 43 [initiates of Zeus Sabazios near Philomelion]), the ‘mysteries of the god’ (I.Smyrna 597), Antinoos,4 and Alexander of Abonouteichos.5 Graf neither mentioned the so-called imperial mysteries, which is why these will be the focus of my contribution, the more so as these have not received any detailed scholarly attention for about half a century.

  • 6 Belayche 2013, p. 35; note now also Ferrary 2014, 1. 122-131.
  • 7 Nilsson 1948, p. 178; see also Nilsson [1950] 1961, p. 370-371.
  • 8 Fishwick 1978, p. 1252-1253.
  • 9 For these celebrations, see now Graf 2015, p. 70-71.
  • 10 Price 1984, p. 190-191.

2Some readers may be somewhat sceptical about the project. In an important article, Nicole Belayche has pointed to the increasing mention of mysteries in the imperial period, but she also argued that we should not take their mention too literally. These mysteries could even refer ‘jusqu’à tout type d’expérience de la divinité et de son pouvoir’, but as proof of this statement she refers in her footnote to Cumont who says the same thing, which is perhaps not quite persuasive.6 The Altmeister Martin P. Nilsson (1874-1967) saw it from a different perspective and called the imperial mysteries ‘pseudo-mysteries’ and argued that the imperial cult ‘lacked all genuine religious content’.7 His view was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that his generation as a whole had a very low opinion of the imperial cult as such. To quote the words of another reliable student of that cult, Duncan Fishwick, imperial rituals were ‘a purely mechanical exercise’ that failed to evoke or stimulate the feelings and emotions of those who participated in these rituals.8 It is evident that the imperial cult is measured with certain ideals of what a religious ritual should be, and it is one of the merits of Simon Price’s (1954-2011) Ritual and Power to have noted and combated these Christianising interpretations. Yet it is rather surprising how little attention he gives to the imperial mysteries: less than two pages, in which his main thesis is that these mysteries, when mentioned in an inscription from Pergamum, are not ‘different in kind from the other rituals’ mentioned in that inscription, such as the celebration of imperial birthdays,9 the remembrance of former members of the imperial choir and the start of the New Year.10

  • 11 Belayche 2013, p. 35.
  • 12 For these mysteries, see Bremmer 2014, p. 1-54; note also Nielsen 2014. For the Eleusinian Mysteri (...)
  • 13 For the term, see Ginzburg 2004.

3Debates about such interpretations are not made easier due to the fact, as Nicole Belayche notes, that the veil of secrecy prevents us from knowing what really went on at the rituals called mustêria.11 Yet, to return to her argument, why would ancient authors call certain rituals mustêria if there was nothing in them that reminded the participants of those old and established mysteries that had become authoritative for every new founder of mysteries, those of Eleusis and Samothrace?12 I assume that the contemporaries saw something of a family resemblance between the established and the new mysteries,13 which is why I will return to the imperial mysteries, fully conscious of the fact that we have indeed very little material at our disposal.

  • 14 Pleket 1965.

4The only article one can consult about these mysteries is the well-known 1965 article by the Leiden epigraphist Harry Pleket.14 This is still a very useful study, but most of his texts have been re-edited since and, as I hope, our insight into the mysteries itself has also increased somewhat. Yet it is remarkable that with all the attention to the mysteries, his remains the only analysis of the available evidence regarding the imperial mysteries. In my analysis I will follow Pleket’s enumeration of the evidence but will try to advance somewhat beyond him.

5Now it is always a good starting point, when possible, to take into account the chronology, as even mysteries did not stand outside the flow of history. So our first inscription – as literary texts do not seem to mention them – is an inscription from Ephesos dating to the year AD 88/9. It is a request by a Roman citizen of Ephesos regarding the mysteries of Demeter Karpophoros and Thesmophoros, which, as we are told, were celebrated yearly, as was the custom for the older mysteries:

  • 15 I. Ephesos 213, tr. Harland 2003, p. 116.

To Lucius Mestrius Florus, proconsul (anthupatos), from Lucius Pompeius Apollonios of Ephesos. Mysteries and sacrifices are performed each year in Ephesus, lord, to Demeter Karpophoros and Thesmophoros and to the imperial gods (Theois Sebastois) by initiates with great purity and lawful customs, together with the priestesses. In most years these practices were protected by kings and emperors, as well as the proconsul of the period, as contained in their enclosed letters. Accordingly as the mysteries are pressing upon us during your time of office, through my agency the ones obligated to accomplish the mysteries necessarily petition you, lord, in order that, acknowledging their rights …15

  • 16 Herrmann 1998.

6These mysteries must have had some stature, as we now know that they were probably also celebrated in Sardis, which was of course not that far away from Ephesos.16 Important for us is to notice that the inscription claims that the mysteries are also celebrated for the ‘imperial gods (Theois Sebastois) since very many years’. It is interesting to see that the emperors are included here among the gods of the mysteries seemingly without any distinction being made between the old Demeter and the new Roman upstarts. Moreover, the Ephesian mysteries of Demeter are regularly mentioned in the inscriptions of Ephesos as very important rituals (I. Ephes. 667A, 702, 987-89, etc.), but only in a formulaic manner, clearly preserving the secrecy of the mysteries.

7In an inscription from the time of Commodus (I. Ephesos 1600), the emperor was part of an inflated number of gods, which were apparently celebrated in mysteries by a kind of Dionysiac association, which is reminiscent of the famous Torre Nova inscription by the plurality of the Dionysiac offices, but also is surprising for the plurality of gods mentioned. Both inscriptions, then, but especially the first, show that the emperor could be joined to existing mysteries. This incorporation of the emperors into local mysteries was, it seems, the first step towards imperial mysteries proper.

  • 17 I. Prusias 69; TAM IV 1, 262, cf. J. and L. Robert, Bull. Ep. 1974, 573.

8The time of the first inscription, before AD 100, would also fit since the second century AD is the century in which the mysteries seem to have flourished most. Unfortunately, and I will have to use that word more often, we do not know anything about these mysteries, but the presence of Demeter and her priestesses strongly suggests that they were modelled on the Eleusinian Mysteries. In fact, one can hardly be surprised about the fact that we have several mysteries of Demeter in Asia Minor, such as in Prusias ad Hypium and in Nicomedia where Demeter was the most important divinity of the town.17

  • 18 I. Pergamum 374, mistakenly dated to Trajan by Belayche 2013, p. 20.

9Our next city is Pergamum, where we have a famous inscription from the time of Hadrian.18 It relates to the hymnodes, the ‘choristers’ as Simon Price nicely translates them, and their sons. Here we have a few more details than we normally find. Apparently, there was a celebration of the mysteries during the first three days of the month Loios, that is, from 23-25 June. On the third day, the eukosmos, an office strangely not mentioned in the Realenzyklopädie, had to give wine, cash and bread (B 10-11). Moreover, during the mysteries, the eukosmos ‘has to decorate the humnôideion (where the mysteries clearly were celebrated) with wreaths and every day (of the mysteries) he will give wreaths to the choristers and their sons, and cake, incense and lamps to the Emperor’ (B 16-20). The priest of the club will have to give ‘wine, cash, loaves of bread’ on the second and third day (C 8) and the grammateus ‘wine, a laid table and bread’ and then, unfortunately, there follows a lacuna in the text (D 10-11).

  • 19 Euphônia: Plutarchus, Life of Phocion XXVIII, 2; Arrian, Epictetus 3, 21, 16; Philostratus, Lives (...)
  • 20 Bremmer 2014, p. 77.
  • 21 See I. Smyrna 594, 3-4; Belayche 2013, p. 31-35; Ferrary 2014, p. 115-122; Graf 2015, p. 28-30.

10In an interesting discussion, Pleket has drawn attention to various aspects of these mysteries, which shed some light on the darkness in which they were celebrated. First, given that this inscription concerns hymnodes and their sons, it is reasonable to assume that they sang hymns during the celebration of the mysteries. Indeed, singing must have been part of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the model for other mysteries, as euphônia was required of the hierophant, and a first-century BC inscription mentions humnagôgoi in Eleusis;19 in fact, the singing of hymns is securely attested in the mysteries of the Lykomids.20 Unfortunately, though, we do not know at which stage of the ritual this singing took place, but hymnodes are widely attested in the imperial cult and seem to have become increasingly important in the imperial period.21

  • 22 Brent 1999.
  • 23 I. Smyrna 653.3 and 654.3.
  • 24 Cf. Bremmer 2014, p. 106-107.

11Secondly, Pleket notes the presence of a theologos, a functionary who has naturally drawn attention from the theologians. In an interesting article from 1999, Alan Brent notes that the title theologos was given to the Apostle John as author of the Book of Revelation in several early Byzantine texts that also connect him with mysteries.22 This meaning was clearly the end result of a development in which theologos first was responsible for the composition of poetry and myth, to be set to music at the context for festivals, particularly that of Artemis, thus Brent, but he overlooks the theologoi for Demeter; in fact, we have two inscriptions from Smyrna that each mentions two female theologoi within a mystery cult for Demeter.23 Although we have no specific information about this office, it seems that the theologoi had to speak about the emperor(s). This is an interesting difference with the traditional mysteries, which contained little or no discursive content: apparently, that was no longer enough in imperial times with its many wandering sophists. Brent even suggests that the existence of imperial mysteries seems to be supported by Revelation 14.3 in which the seer as both θεολόγος and ὑμνωδός of the Christian cult mentions an ᾠδὴν καινήν, which no-one could learn except the ‘144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth’. Yet given the uncertain date of the composition of the Apocalypse, I think it better to keep that text out of our discussion. I am also far from certain that the theologos was responsible for a cultic drama, as Brent suggests. It is true that in the Dionysiac Mysteries performances of small plays seem to have taken place,24 but there existed a recognised body of myths concerning Dionysos, which was not the case with the emperor.

  • 25 Deubner 1932, p. 90.
  • 26 IG II/III2 3811, 1-2 = I. Eleusis 637, 1-2, cf. Clinton 1974, p. 40-41 and 2004, p. 90; note also (...)
  • 27 See the extensive discussion by Riedweg 1987, p. 47-52; Motte 2002; Seaford 2005.
  • 28 As I argued in Bremmer 2014, p. 33 (Samothrace), 123 (Isis).
  • 29 Plato, Phaedrus 254b, cf. Riedweg 1987, p. 52, 61-62; Clinton 1992, p. 89-90. For such φάσματα in (...)
  • 30 Pleket 1965, p. 343-345, following Robert 1989a, p. 838 n. 3.

12Third, Pleket notes the lamps in the enumeration of the duties of the eukosmos. He rightly observes that light played an important part in the ritual of the mysteries. Yet he makes a strange mistake in following Deubner who thought that the light at Eleusis was ‘einem durch Tageslicht bedingten Effekt’25. Nothing could be further from the truth. The highpoint of the Eleusinian epopteia took place at night, as was normal for mysteries and as we learn from Eleusis from an epigram of ca. AD 200 for a hierophant, which stresses the moment that the initiates saw him ‘stepping forward from the anaktoron in the shining nights’ of the mysteries.26 This light, which was effected by well-staged fires and returns in many allusions to the mysteries,27 clearly was an important moment in the ritual, which made a big impression on the participants. In fact, this light was so important that it was taken over by the mysteries of Samothrace and those of Isis.28 Now in this light the hierophant showed an ear of wheat, but he or one of the other priests also displayed a statue of Demeter.29 It thus makes sense when Pleket suggests that these lamps were used to illuminate the images of the emperors at, as I would add, the high point of these mysteries. Moreover, he also persuasively suggests that the person who held up the images of the imperial couple or of Augustus alone was, actually, the sebastophant.30

  • 31 Jones 2012, p. 889 (importance of the sebastophant), referring to Robert 1989a, p. 838 n. 4.
  • 32 All data are taken from Mitchell, French 2012, p. 155-160 (text and commentary).

13Our next stage is Galatia, which is not mentioned by Pleket. Here we have a large inscription from an association for Antoninus Pius (I. Ancyra 8), dating between AD 145-161, which set up an eikôn together with an identifying inscription and pictures (graphai). The eikôn was probably displayed during the imperial mysteries, and its production may well have been caused by the emperor’s recent accession. The inscription was probably displayed in the Galatian imperial sanctuary near the temple of Augustus under the supervision of the governor of the province and the three main officials of the imperial cult association at Ankara. It lists about a hundred names without much further specification, but at the beginning it states that it was set up ‘when Claudia Balbina the Younger was the sebastophant and Julius Aelius Julianus hierophant for life’ (10-12); apparently, as Christopher Jones notes, the sebastophant was more important than the hierophant.31 This Claudia, who is the only female name in the text, may have been the daughter of Claudia Balbina, who was of royal stock and married to Claudius Arrianus from a Roman senatorial family.32

14It is noteworthy, though, that in an apparently somewhat earlier inscription of Ankara, but still belonging to the time of Antoninus Pius, we find the father or elder brother of the aforementioned Julius Aelius Julianus, a man called Julius Aelius Macedo, who clearly also belonged to the top of the Galatian society, as he was, according to the inscription, ‘high priest, president of the games of the community of the Galatians, galatarch, sebastophant, hierophant of the Augusti for life’ (I. Ancyra 88.1-8). I presume that after his death, his collection of functions was partially rearranged and now divided over two persons instead of being kept in one hand. The function of sebastophant is noted quite often in the inscriptions of Ankara. As far as I can see, it starts to be mentioned in the time of Hadrian (81.5-6), but also occurs during the rules of Antoninus Pius as we have already seen (also 82.12, 83.6), and lasts till the time of Caracalla (96.14, 97.15-16, 98.11, 100.12, 101.10-11, 102.11), in all cases occupied by people belonging to the top of Galatian society. There can be no doubt, then, that the most important functions of the imperial mysteries in Galatia were in the hands of the elite of the local society.

  • 33 For Strubbe and Mitchell, see SEG 56 (2006), 1426.

15We also find a sebastophant in Galatian Pessinous (I. Pessinous 17), where an inscription honours Tiberius Claudius Heras, who had been a high priest of the provincial koinon and sebastophant. Unfortunately, the date of the inscription is debated. Whereas Johan Strubbe opts for the time of Marcus Aurelius, Stephen Mitchell has argued for the second half of the first century AD.33 The latter date seems very early to me, and it is not impossible that we have here an allusion to imperial mysteries, but that is all we can say.

  • 34 J. and L. Robert, Bull. Ep. 1961, 270.
  • 35 Robert 1989b, p. 246 n. 174.

16Let us now move to Bithynia, where we also have some information; in fact, long ago, Louis Robert already noted the ‘valeur religieuse de ces mystères et leur mention spéciale en Bithynie’.34 From the fine edition of the inscriptions of Prusias by Walter Ameling we learn of a number of officials with the now familiar function of sebastophant. Although he is not always able to date these inscriptions, they seem to be fairly late, that is, belonging to the second half of the second century AD and later. Our first example is a certain Titus Flavius Domitianus Nestor, who is praised by mentioning that his ancestors were ‘priests, Bithyniarchs, sebastophants and prytaneis’ (5.2-4, 46.3-5). We learn more from the honouring by the phyle Sebastene of a certain Titius Ulpius Aelianus Papianus, an interesting mix of Roman and epichoric names from around AD 200. He is said to be ‘hierophant and sebastophant of the common temple of the mysteries’ (17.6-7). The temple is the one of the province Bithynia in Nicomedia. According to Louis Robert, the mysteries of Demeter are meant,35 which we now know also from a fairly new inscription that mentions ‘the holy mysteries of Demeter’ (I. Prusias 69), which had not yet been discovered when Robert made his suggestion. In that case the imperial mysteries would have been closely connected to the Demeter mysteries. Although there seems to be no firm indication in support of the suggestion, it makes sense to suppose that Nicomedia did not have two important mysteries. More or less at the same time, we also hear of a certain Tiberius Claudius Piso, who represented the conventus of the Bithynians with the Roman authorities. He was ‘sebastophant and hierophant of the great and common temple of Bithynia of the mysteries’ (I. Prusias 47.11-12), once again somebody who combined the two functions we have now come across several times. Although we cannot be sure how we must imagine these Bithynian mysteries exactly, the evidence we have suggests once again that the officials belonged to the top of the provincial elite.

17This is all the evidence we have. Which conclusions can we draw?

181. It seems that we can see a historical development from the incorporation of the emperors in local mysteries, such as those of Ephesos to the emancipation from these mysteries into independent imperial mysteries.

  • 36 See the evidence collected by Strubbe 2006, p. 116 n. 36.

192. We have seen that the latter occurred in Pergamum, Bithynia and Galatia – clearly a fairly limited area in Asia Minor. The office of sebastophant, which strangely does not occur in the index of Simon Price’s book, is better attested but also limited to Asia, Pontus-Bithynia and Galatia.36 Its mention may conceal a few more mysteries, but by all accounts we cannot consider the imperial mysteries an important part of the imperial cult.

  • 37 Admittedly, we have no clear evidence for this statement, but all other mysteries were also celebr (...)

203. There is very little that we can say about the content of the mysteries. If we suppose that they had a more or less identical format – something about which we cannot be at all sure – we can identify the following characteristics: they were celebrated at night,37 there was hymn singing, there was the revealing of the portrait of the emperor and there was a eulogy of the emperor, which also showed who the most important person was in these mysteries and, last but not least, there was a lot of eating and drinking.

  • 38 Pleket 1965, p. 347.
  • 39 Price 1984, p. 191.
  • 40 Blois 2006.
  • 41 This is the slightly revised version of my contribution to the Colloquium « Les ‘mystères’ de l’An (...)

21Finally, in two aspects the imperial mysteries differed clearly from the traditional mysteries. First, there was a eulogy of the emperors by the theologoi. Such addresses were absent from pre-imperial mysteries and may well have been stimulated by the general cultural climate of the time that appreciated the orations of sophists. Second, the imperial mysteries were clearly not intended for the lower classes of Asia Minor. Unlike the traditional mysteries, which were open to the free and slaves, males and females, Greeks and non-Greeks, imperial mysteries were closed societies of upper-class members of the elite, seemingly mostly male. In clear reaction to Nilsson (above) and others, Louis Robert and Pleket spent much energy in arguing that the imperial mysteries manifested ‘genuine devotion’, and Pleket even concludes his article with stating that ‘here we are faced with an expression of the general dependence of man on the god(s) which comes close to pious veneration’38. Price suggested that the latter expression ‘hints at a connection between the imperial cult and the afterlife’, but there is nothing in Pleket that comes even close to that suggestion.39 In the end, we have no idea what the participants thought about the emperor and his cults. What we can notice is that none of our few testimonies is very late. This would fit the observation by Lukas de Blois that around AD 200 the imperial cult had entered a period of decay.40 Yet, in the end, we see these mysteries only through a glass darkly.41

Bibliographie

Alvar 2008: Jaime Alvar, Romanising Oriental Gods, tr. and ed. R. Gordon, Leiden.

Belayche 2013: Nicole Belayche, “L’évolution des formes rituelles : hymnes et mystèria”, in Laurent Bricault, Corinne Bonnet (éd.), Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire, Leiden, p. 17-40.

Blois 2006: Lukas de Blois, “Emperorship in a Time of Crisis”, in Lukas de Blois, Peter Funke, Johannes Hahn (ed.), The Impact of Imperial Rome on Religions, Ritual and Religious Life in the Roman Empire, Leiden, p. 268-278.

Bremmer 2014: Jan Bremmer, Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World, Berlin-Boston.

Bremmer 2016: Jan Bremmer, “Lucian on Peregrinus and Alexander of Abonuteichos: A Sceptical View of Two Religious Entrepreneurs”, in Georgia Petridou, Richard Gordon, Jörg Rüpke (ed.), Beyond Priesthood, Berlin-Boston.

Brent 1999: Allen Brent, “John as Theologos: The Imperial Mysteries and the Apocalypse”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 75, p. 87-102.

Burkert 1983: Walter Burkert, Homo necans, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London.

Burkert 1987: Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, Cambridge, MA-London.

Chaniotis 2002: Angelos Chaniotis, “Old wine in a new skin: tradition and innovation in the cult foundation of Alexander of Abonouteichos”, in Edward Dabrowa (ed.), Tradition and Innovation in the Ancient World, Cracow, p. 67-85.

Clinton 1974: Kevin Clinton, The Sacred Officials of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Philadelphia.

Clinton 1992: Kevin Clinton, Myth and Cult, Stockholm.

Clinton 2004 : Kevin Clinton, “Epiphany in the Eleusinian Mysteries”, Illinois Classical Studies 29, p. 85-101.

Decourt 2015: Jean-Claude Decourt, “Un règlement religieux de la région de Larissa : cultes grecs et ‘orientaux’ ”, Kernos 28, p. 13-51.

Deubner 1932: Ludwig Deubner, Attische Feste, Berlin.

Ferrary 2014: Jean-Louis Ferrary, Les mémoriaux de délégations du sanctuaire oraculaire de Claros, d’après la documentation conservée dans le Fonds Louis Robert, 2 vol., Paris.

Fishwick 1978: Duncan Fishwick, “The Development of Provincial Ruler worship in the Western Roman Empire”, in ANRW II, 16, 2, p. 1202-1253.

Ginzburg 2004: Carlo Ginzburg, “Family Resemblances and Family Trees: Two Cognitive Metaphors”, Critical Inquiry 30, p. 537-556.

Graf 1974: Fritz Graf, Eleusis und die orphische Dichtung Athens, Berlin.

Graf 2003: Fritz Graf, “Lesser Mysteries – not less Mysterious”, in Michael B. Cosmopoulos (ed.), Greek Mysteries. The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults, London, p. 241-262.

Graf 2015: Fritz Graf, Roman Festivals in the Greek East, Cambridge.

Harland 2003: Philip Harland, Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations, Minneapolis.

Herrmann 1998: Peter Herrmann, “Demeter Karpophoros in Sardeis”, REA 100, p. 495-508.

Jones 2010: Christopher P. Jones, New Heroes in Antiquity, Cambridge, MA-London.

Jones 2012: Christopher P. Jones, “Inscriptions of Ancyra”, JRA 25, p. 888-893.

Jones 2015: Christopher P. Jones, “Five Letters Attributed to Dio of Prusa”, CPh 110, p. 124-131.

Mitchell, French 2012: Stephen Mitchell, David French, The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Ankara (Ancyra), vol. 1, Munich.

Mollou 2015: Dorina Mollou, “Lighting Night-time Activities in Antiquity”, in Maria Elisa Micheli, Anna Santucci (ed.), Lumina, Pisa, p. 199-212.

Motte 2002: André Motte, “Nuit et lumière dans les mystères d’Éleusis”, in Julien Ries, Charles-Marie Ternes (éd.), Symbolisme et expérience de la lumière dans les grandes religions, Turnhout, p. 91-104.

Nielsen 2014: Inge Nielsen, Housing the Chosen: The Architectural Context of Mystery Groups and Religious Associations in the Ancient World, Turnhout.

Nilsson 1948: Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Piety, Oxford.

Nilsson 1961: Martin P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion II, Munich.

Pleket 1965: Harry W. Pleket, “An Aspect of the Emperor Cult: Imperial Mysteries”, HThR 58, p. 331-347.

Price 1984: Simon R. F. Price, Rituals and Power. The Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor, Cambridge.

Riedweg 1987: Christoph Riedweg, Mysterienterminologie bei Platon, Philon und Klemens von Alexandrien, Berlin.

Robert 1980: Louis Robert, À travers l’Asie Mineure, Paris.

Robert 1989a: Louis Robert, Opera minora selecta II, Amsterdam.

Robert 1989b: Louis Robert, Opera minora selecta VI, Amsterdam.

Seaford 2005: Richard Seaford, “Mystic Light in Aeschylus’ Bassarai”, CQ 55, p. 602-606.

Strubbe 2006: Johan H. M. Strubbe, “The Imperial Cult at Pessinous”, in Lukas de Blois, Peter Funke, Johannes Hahn (ed.), The Impact of Imperial Rome on Religions, Ritual and Religious Life in the Roman Empire, Leiden, p. 106-121.

Annexes

Burkert on the Mysteries

After the publication of my book, I sent a copy to Walter Burkert. His response is ‘an historic document, one might say’, as Bob Fowler rightly observed and who noted that it ‘should be published some day’ (per email 12-9-2014). Given its unique character and obvious relevance to the historiography of the mysteries, I print it here:

From: walter_burkert@bluewin.ch, Date: 2014-09-08 17:15 GMT+02:00, Subject: Re: book on the Mysteries, To: j.n.bremmer@rug.nl

 

Lieber Herr Bremmer,

Eigentlich wollte ich mich sofort bedanken, als Ihr Buch ankam; dann fing ich aber doch zu lesen an und war gefesselt. Es ist so viel Wichtiges und Interessantes, was Sie da vorlegen; für mich ist es auch fast eine Art Lebensrückblick.

Den Titel von Cumonts Erfolgsbuch lernte ich schon bei meinem ersten akademischen Lateinlehrer kennen, Carl Koch (1907-1956). Bei den Pythagoreerstudien später waren Cumonts Spätwerke ‘Symbolissme funéraire’ und ‘Lux Perpetuas’ wichtig. Viel später war ich dann, 2006, bei dem von Corinne Bonnet geleiteten Symposion, auch in Cumonts Haus in Rom, dem Belgischen Institut.

Cumont stammte aus einer durch die Belgische Montanindustrie reich gewordenen Familie (haben Sie je ‘Germinal’ von Zola gelesen?). Er hat zuerst die grosse Sammlung der Mithras-Zeugnisse gemacht (war nicht in unserer Seminar-Bibliothek; ist Cumonts Sammlung der literarischen Quellen je ersetzt worden? Das konnte Vermaseren nicht). Als Cumont Krach mit den Theologen seiner Uni (Ghent) bekam, hat er dieser den Rücken gekehrt (Diels schrieb ihm einen besorgten Brief) und ist als freier Wissenschaftler nach Rom gezogen, hat bei Dura-Europos mitgemacht (Corinne Bonnet hat ein herrliches Foto vom Professorchen zwischen den bulligen Kolonialisten), hat den grossen Katalog der astrologischen Handschriften durchgezogen (Stefan Weinstock, als Jude aus Breslau vertrieben, bekam ein Stipendium zur Mitarbeit an dem Catalogus; er sagte, er sei überzeugt, das habe Cumont aus eigener Tasche gezahlt) u.a.m. Er starb 1947, zum Glück, möchte man sagen: Damals war Belgien gleich pleite wie Italien; hätte der Millionär als Bettler geendet? Haus und Bibliothek sind an Belgien vererbt.

Erst 2006 ist mir aufgefallen, wie defizitär, aus heutiger Sicht, Cumonts Kenntnis des ‘Orients’ war: Er war vertraut mit Hebräisch und Verwandtem und wohl auch mit dem Avestischen, das seit 1771 durch Anquetil-Duperron in Paris bekannt war (‘was für ein Unsinn’ stöhnte Voltaire), aber er hat sich nie näher mit Keilschrift befasst (Akkadisch konnte seit 1857 als entziffert gelten), vom Hethitischen gerade noch einen Hauch abbekommen, vom Sumerischen, Ugaritischen, Luwischen nichts gewusst. Der berühmte Satz ‘Wenn das Christentum an einer tödlichen Krankheit zugrundegegangen wäre, wäre die Welt mithraisch geworden’ stammt von Cumonts Lehrer, Ernest Renan, der vor allem durch Studien zum Neuen Testament berühmt wurde. Das Interesse der Theologen am Iranischen geht auf Söderblom in Uppsala zurück, der, von Nietzsche herausgefordert, wissen wollte, was es mit Zarathustra auf sich hat. Mit Geo Widengren blühte dann in Uppsala eine etwas ‘geozentrische’ Religionswissenschaft. Inwieweit bei den Vorlieben deutscher Theologen fürs Iranische Antisemitismus mit im Spiel war, dem bin ich nie genauer nachgegangen; Reitzenstein hat iranische Sprachen offenbar nicht gelernt. Geo konnte alle Sprachen, besonders auch Arabisch. Das habe ich versäumt; Keilschrift habe ich nach 1977 etwas getrieben, Sumerisch aber nicht geschafft.

Aufs Iranische kam ich eher zufällig: Robert Eisler hatte auf die Ordnung der Gestirne bei Anaximandros und im Avesta hingewiesen (Meine Kleinen Schriften II, 192-222; 223-229). Eisler war ein jüdischer Kollege offenbar sehr Wienerischer Art: Er sollte für die Wiener Akademie in Rom Handschriften kollationieren, vermisste dort Wien und schickte seine Codices einfach mit Normalpost nach Wien. Das hat ihm Mommsen nicht verziehen; so endete er als Aussenseiter in USA. Ich habe dann bei Karl Hoffmann in Erlangen noch etwas Avesta getrieben. West kann es besser.

Seit 1975 habe ich mich dann in der Zusammenarbeit mit Martin West dem Derveni-Text gewidmet. Seit alles veröffentlicht ist, macht es weniger Spass; mir fehlt allmähllich Lust und Geduld, Polemiken um kleine Korrekturen zu führen. Bei den ‘Sather Lectures’ in Berkeley 1977 hielt ich ein Seminar über ‘Orphism’, d.h. Derveni Pap. und Goldblättchen, damals noch recht neu.

Zu den ‘Mysterien’ kam ich von neuem anlässlich einer Rom-Reise, mit Kollegen und Studenten, 1980, worauf dann Vorlesungen in Harvard folgten. Wie verschieden diese ‘Mysterien’ sind, war mir in den Heiligtümern von Rom aufgefallen. Ich habe danach noch einmal einen allgemeinen Versuch zur Anthropologie der Religion riskiert, ‘Kulte des Altertums’ (Titel vom Verlag). Aber das Temperament lässt nach. Nach einem leichten Schlaganfall 2009 suchte ich dann vor allem eine Neuauflage der ‘Griechischen Religion’ fertig zu kriegen (2011). Ich hätte mich, wie ich jetzt sehe, damit nicht zu beeilen brauchen.

An Ihrem Buch sehe ich vor allem, wie sehr ich seit dem Rücktritt 1996 mit Neuerscheinungen hinterherhinke. Auch sonst finde ich vieles, das ich noch nicht so klar in meinen Notizen hatte. Ein paar Einzelheiten:

Zum Wort möchte ich auf das wohl doch recht alte Wort ‘mystas’ hinweisen, das, als my-stas zum Staqmm sta- gebildet sein kann; was mu-heisst, wissen wir trotz Linear B nicht.

Ganz wichtig SEG 55,723 – also doch ‘Kabiren’ auf Samothrake (waren Sie je dort?). Scaligers Etymologie von ‘kabir’ scheint mir doch die beste; das Wort kommt als Adjektiv für ‘grossen Gott’ in den Texten von Emar vor (allgemein semitisch - vorphönizisch?).

Für die Genesis der Mithras-Mysterien scheinen mir die Vermutungen von R. Beck über die Familie von Kommagene die besten. Für die ‘Reinigungen’ scheinen mir die rein medizinischen Wirkungen viel wichtiger als wir es von der heutigen Medizin her sehen. Isis-Mysterien als Heilkult; auch Korybanten u.ä., Hekate (97f.). Es kommt auf die erfahrene Wirkung an, nicht auf einen irgendwie formulierten ‘Glauben’.

Mit Gratulation und allerbestem Dank

Ihr Walter Burkert

Notes

1 Burkert 1987, p 1-11. For the genesis of his book, see the Appendix. For the place of Cumont and Burkert in the study of the ancient mysteries, see the historiographical survey in Bremmer 2014, p. VII-XII.

2 Graf 2003; add now the new inscription from Marmariani published by Decourt 2015.

3 Alvar 2008, passim.

4 Origen, Against Celsus III, 36 (Antinoopolis); IKlaudiopolis VII, 56, 65; Pausanias, VIII, 9, 7-8; IG V 2.312, 281, cf. Robert 1980, p. 132-138; Harland 2003, p. 296; Jones 2010, p. 80 note 11.

5 See especially Chaniotis 2002 and Bremmer 2016.

6 Belayche 2013, p. 35; note now also Ferrary 2014, 1. 122-131.

7 Nilsson 1948, p. 178; see also Nilsson [1950] 1961, p. 370-371.

8 Fishwick 1978, p. 1252-1253.

9 For these celebrations, see now Graf 2015, p. 70-71.

10 Price 1984, p. 190-191.

11 Belayche 2013, p. 35.

12 For these mysteries, see Bremmer 2014, p. 1-54; note also Nielsen 2014. For the Eleusinian Mysteries, add the interesting evidence in Dio of Prusa, cf. Jones 2015, p. 129.

13 For the term, see Ginzburg 2004.

14 Pleket 1965.

15 I. Ephesos 213, tr. Harland 2003, p. 116.

16 Herrmann 1998.

17 I. Prusias 69; TAM IV 1, 262, cf. J. and L. Robert, Bull. Ep. 1974, 573.

18 I. Pergamum 374, mistakenly dated to Trajan by Belayche 2013, p. 20.

19 Euphônia: Plutarchus, Life of Phocion XXVIII, 2; Arrian, Epictetus 3, 21, 16; Philostratus, Lives of Sophists II, 20; IG II2 3639.4 = I. Eleusis 515.4, cf. Bremmer 2014, p. 6, 13, 154. Humnagôgoi: SEG 30, 93.18 = I.Eleusis 318.

20 Bremmer 2014, p. 77.

21 See I. Smyrna 594, 3-4; Belayche 2013, p. 31-35; Ferrary 2014, p. 115-122; Graf 2015, p. 28-30.

22 Brent 1999.

23 I. Smyrna 653.3 and 654.3.

24 Cf. Bremmer 2014, p. 106-107.

25 Deubner 1932, p. 90.

26 IG II/III2 3811, 1-2 = I. Eleusis 637, 1-2, cf. Clinton 1974, p. 40-41 and 2004, p. 90; note also IG II/III2 3709, 10 = I. Eleusis 659, 10; Philostratus, Lives of Sophists 587.

27 See the extensive discussion by Riedweg 1987, p. 47-52; Motte 2002; Seaford 2005.

28 As I argued in Bremmer 2014, p. 33 (Samothrace), 123 (Isis).

29 Plato, Phaedrus 254b, cf. Riedweg 1987, p. 52, 61-62; Clinton 1992, p. 89-90. For such φάσματα in mysteries, see Graf 1974, p. 134 n. 34; Burkert 1983, p. 288 and 1987, p. 164 n. 36.

30 Pleket 1965, p. 343-345, following Robert 1989a, p. 838 n. 3.

31 Jones 2012, p. 889 (importance of the sebastophant), referring to Robert 1989a, p. 838 n. 4.

32 All data are taken from Mitchell, French 2012, p. 155-160 (text and commentary).

33 For Strubbe and Mitchell, see SEG 56 (2006), 1426.

34 J. and L. Robert, Bull. Ep. 1961, 270.

35 Robert 1989b, p. 246 n. 174.

36 See the evidence collected by Strubbe 2006, p. 116 n. 36.

37 Admittedly, we have no clear evidence for this statement, but all other mysteries were also celebrated at night, cf. Bremmer 2014, p. XII, 9, 105. Moreover, lamps were not that cheap and in antiquity mostly used for nocturnal activities, cf. Mollou 2015.

38 Pleket 1965, p. 347.

39 Price 1984, p. 191.

40 Blois 2006.

41 This is the slightly revised version of my contribution to the Colloquium « Les ‘mystères’ de l’Antiquité grecque et romaine : retour sur le concept et ses réalités », Paris, 24 November 2015. I am most grateful to Nicole Belayche and Francesco Massa for their invitation and to the referees of Mètis for their comments. Rebekka Bremmer kindly corrected my English.

Auteur

University of Groningen

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