Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 14, No 3, pp.

Copyright © 2014 MAA
Printed in Greece. All rights reserved.

George Latura

Independent Researcher

Recent research suggests that ancient Greek festivals with nighttime elements had as-
tronomical links to specific celestial sights (Boutsikas, Hannah, Ruggles, Salt). Such an
astronomical connection can be posited between the night sky at particular seasons and
the Mysteries of Eleusis, the pre-eminent religious pilgrimage of the Hellenic and Hellen-
istic world.
The Mysteries of Demeter guaranteed those initiated at the sanctuary outside Athens a
happier lot in the hereafter. By the end of the Republic, cultured Romans headed to Ath-
ens to participate in the rites of the Mother and her daughter.
Cicero had been initiated at Eleusis and, as an objective observer, he reveals that the
Mysteries can be explained through natural philosophy – through science. What natural
phenomena occurred in spring and in autumn – when the Lesser and the Greater Myster-
ies were celebrated?
Plato describes gates to the afterlife in the Myth of Er at the end of Republic – infernal
gates like the cave of Hades at Eleusis, as well as celestial portals that would be located at
the intersections in the sky that he describes in Timaeus. The initiated Cicero’s translation
into Latin of a section of Timaeus – the part with Plato’s celestial X – suggests an astro-
nomical aspect to the Mysteries.
Another astronomical connection to the Mysteries of Eleusis could be found two centu-
ries later when the theurgist authors of the Chaldean Oracles connected Hekate – the
goddess of crossroads who had helped Demeter in the Homeric hymn – to the World
Soul that according to Plato has the form of a celestial X.
At that intersection of the Milky Way and the path of the Planets stand the gates to the
afterlife according to Macrobius’ Commentary on Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, while Cicero had
based the Dream of Scipio on Plato’s soteriological Myth of Er and the cosmological Ti-
maeus. At the portals to the afterlife – at the celestial crossroads – stood Hekate, the god-
dess who opened and closed the gates of Hades and helped Demeter find her daughter.

KEYWORDS: Athens, Demeter, Ceres, Persephone, Kore, Hades

“…since such mysteries when interpreted authored papers that demonstrate that spe. Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry. where he had taken head to Delphi. is better than these mysteries. integrating the sky in sanctuary of Eleusis. INTRODUCTION life. 1933. home city.” “It is clear that astronomy did play a crucial (Keyes. none. but also to die with a better hope. 1928. we should be ligion. CICERO & THE MYSTERIES rected to the music of the Planets. man orator and statesman Cicero was initi- “Learned men. the Arrephoria. caused by the motion of celestial spheres through We have one eyewitness who provides which gifted and virtuous souls could re- important data on the Mysteries. p. to Greek myth and re- With such a revelation. in On The Nature Of festivals (e. 14.” (Rack- cific events in the night sky could be tied to ham. Cicero could not openly reveal the se- phinus could serve as a timer for when to crets of the Mysteries. 415) role in Greek religion and cult practices. Plato’s cording to Heraclides of Pontus. use of architectural alignment. teries. 56). 115) Greek cult practice. as others “For among the many excellent and divine have obtained the same reward by devoting institutions which your Athens has brought their brilliant intellects to divine pursuits dur- forth and contributed to human life. the protagonist Scipio above included an all-night vigil (pannych. p. the cult experience. with little artificial light. the Thesmophoria) performed in can be explained through natural philoso- open space. and have gained the power not only to live happily.. and as the 400 AD by Macrobius who. LATURA 1. CICERO’S NATURAL PHENOMENA the heliacal rising of the constellation Del. were pointing to? Shortly thereafter. have gained what the Mysteries meant to him. places the we have learned from them the beginnings of gates of heaven at the intersections of the © University of the Aegean. p. The Ro- turn to the heavenly regions. Laws) and ed the visibility of an astronomical event to translated (Timaeus) – he would encode the Greek religious calendar without the mystic secrets in a mythic afterlife scenario. p. the paper connect. Africanus the Younger meets his adoptive is). to the Greek festival calendar (Pan- able to find the natural phenomena that athenaia. in On Laws. Importantly. For The descent and ascent of souls through by their means we have been brought out of our barbarous and savage mode of life and educated the Planets would be vouchsafed around and refined to a state of civilization. seek Initiation’ Efrosyni Boutsikas has authored and co. “I say nothing of the holy and awe-inspiring cled these performances. 273) my opinion.” so in very truth tary on Cicero’s Dream of Scipio. Martianus Capella. Cicero reveals that the Mysteries Mysteries. elsewhere in his writings. in ing their earthly lives. What might be the astronomical sight etc. suggests phy – science. Arrhephoria). Numenius. 2014. suggesting an astronomical aspect to ancestors in the Milky Way which – ac- the mystic rites hosted by Athens. and rationalized prove to have more to do with natural science than with theology. the importance of the celestial dome that encir. Boutsikas. 3 (2014) 37-44 . the Eleusinian The Gods. Ovid.38 GEORGE B. Ruggles.g. – was the heavenly abode of gods and that the Mysteries of Eleusis – and Plato – virtuous and heroic souls. ‘Where tribes from earth’s remotest confines 2011. 2005) showed that 3. ‘Knowing When to Consult the Oracle at Delphi’ (Salt. Macrobius. In Cicero’s ‘Dream of Scipio’ at the end The Eleusinian Mysteries mentioned of On The Republic. he tells us stringed instruments and in song. in his Commen- rites are called “initiations. by imitating this harmony on ated at Eleusis and. The nocturnal character of some Greek religious More specifically. should one need to consult an oath of silence. our attention is di- 2. works he emulated (Republic. Cicero claims as an explanation of the Mys- Published in the journal Antiquity. for themselves a return to this region.” (Boutsikas. But like Plato – whose the oracle.” (Keyes. 1928.

Plato describes both celestial and in- ments – the Same and the Different – that fernal gates. had at the end of Republic in the Myth of Er. of Er. he translates a specific section of Ti. and the un- of the motion of the Same somewhat just to travel downward through the opening vague. zooming in on the part that deals with cosmogony and features Plato’s cos- mic X (27d-47b). you tore her away from the meadow. that stretches back. 2014. and be- cosmic circles that intersect. 2013). in an unplaced fragment from On the Re. 4. ordered the just to go upwards ferent is the course of the Planets. you once took as your bride Published in the Proceedings of the 2012 pure Demeter’s daughter: SEAC Conference (Sprajc. Here Plato describes the We should bear in mind that in the Myth creation of the cosmos out of primal ele. The intersection of the Milky Way and the heaven in Plato’s Republic in his On The Re. 1952. and above them two others in the heavens. through Macrobius and All-receiver. 2003. scribes in the Myth of Er at the end of Re- Cicero already writes of heavenly gates public (Latura. the paper ‘Plato’s Cosmic X – Heavenly and through the sea you carried her to an Attic cave Gates at the Celestial Crossroads’ proposed upon your steeds that Plato’s cosmic X in Timaeus corre- it was the district of Eleusis © University of the Aegean. 5.” (Cooper.” (Bowen. In support of this theory. 3 (2014) 37-44 . Cicero. while through the door on the right. master of death. 1. the ecliptic which marks out the Zodiac. then the great gate sky (Figure 1) – following Cicero. a tradition of Hades. PLATO’S CROSSROADS & GATES Euboulos. gates of the afterlife according to Macrobius. CICERO & PLATO’S CELESTIAL X Cicero not only mimicks the gates of Fig. 136). master of mortals. Africanus. host of many. 2013). The initiated Cice- ro’s afterlife vision gives us two natural phenomena that intersect in the night sky: the Milky Way and the path of the Planets. who had of heaven lies open for me alone… It is so in. 1218) who most influenced the Platonist cosmol- Portals to the afterlife can be found at ogy of the European Middle Ages – we Eleusis itself – at the cave of Pluto whose find two cosmic motifs: the Milky Way and inverted semi-spherical shape reflects the the intersecting path of the Planets. Macrobius locates the por- “If it is right for any man to climb to the tals to the beyond at the intersections in the tracts of the heavenly ones. Garnsey. having rendered Plato does say that the motion of the Dif- their judgment. Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry. the path of the sponds to the celestial gates that he de- Planets (Stahl. 14. to Plato himself. Yet from Cicero to Manilius to Mac- on the left. Zodiac – the path of the Planets – where stood the public. 1997. p. that same door lay open also to Hercules. deed. we have the public found in Lactantius – just as Plato Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. 101) Cicero’s ‘great gate of heaven’ is located along the ‘tracts of the heavenly ones’ – the course of the Planets. An Orphic hymn At the intersections of these two celestial of the period connects Eleusis to the gates circles stood the heavenly gates. with signs of the leaving the intersecting circle that partakes judgment attached to their chests. with signs of all their deeds on their robius and Martianus Capella – the writers backs. followed Plato. tween them judges sat. celestial vault (Figure 2).PLATO’S X & HEKATE’S CROSSROADS 39 Milky Way and the Zodiac. as we’ve seen. These. p. p. (Planisphere: Heifetz) maeus. are drawn into strands and then bent into “There were two openings in the earth. Pehani. where.

between Hekate and the Mysteries – as Hekate met her. shouts where three or four roads meet. 6. In Barbette Spaeth’s The Roman Goddess At Eleusis could be found gates to the Ceres. 7. p. we have a firm connection came shining on her.. CROSSROADS & THE MYSTERIES Crossroads are not foreign to the Myster- ies of Eleusis. 150) the gates to Hades can be found. Hades abducts Persephone. 2014. Latura). Deo (Demeter) – the mother searching for her daughter – is met by Hekate. Wolkow. 2.. as Hekate holds goddess of crossroads. suggest- ing that the celestial gates of the Athenian philosopher – at the intersections in the heavens – might likewise have a connec- tion to the Mysteries of Eleusis. Hekate’s control over passage of liminal points Plato’s account of the gates to the under.. calling out to her lost daughter at cross- roads according to Roman rites. Semi-spherical cave of Hades. the Roman version of Deme- ter.. Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry. just as the abducted Persephone “When Ceres sought through all the earth passed every fall through the gates of with lit torches for Proserpina. crossroads and the Mysteries. 1994. it has endured in her rites that on certain days a (Athanassakis. portrayed on Apulian vases (Figure 3). p. life – also suggests a connection between (Foley. up the Eleusinian cross torch on an Apulian red- Then for nine days divine Deo figure krater. 107) With Ceres.” (Johnston. c. roamed over the earth. 1990. “her role as the goddess of the crossroads. 2013. 14. holding torches ablaze in her hands… With Hekate opening and closing the But when the tenth Dawn gates of Hades.. 3. p.” In outside Athens (Photo: G. 19) lamentation is raised at the crossroads every- where by the matronae…” (Spaeth. 4). also included opening and shutting the gates of world aligns with the rites of Eleusis where Hades. 3 (2014) 37-44 . portal to the “Hekate was present whenever souls crossed world beyond. she called her with ate. HEKATE & THE GATES OF HADES In Hekate Soteira. LATURA where the gates to Hades are. at Eleusis today. p. 350 BC (London British Museum). who had been Hades at the crossroads controlled by Hek- seized by Dis Pater [Pluto]. 1996. Fig. holding a torch in her hands… where the appearance of the Eleusinian The daughter of fair-tressed Rheia cross torch in the context of Persephone’s said not a word. Sarah Johnston gives the chief attributes of this goddess. we find an illuminating quote from beyond through which departing souls Servius’ commentary on Vergil’s Aeneid. passed. the Fig.. Already in the ‘Homeric Hymn of Demeter’ from the 7th century BC. but rushed off at her side abduction – and reign as queen of the after- holding torches ablaze in her hands. from this © University of the Aegean. about 18 kilometers the boundaries between life and death. Hekate. we have an explanation of why Demeter in the Ho- meric Hymn meets the goddess of cross- roads.40 GEORGE B.

the manner described by Manilius.PLATO’S X & HEKATE’S CROSSROADS 41 8.” (John. Plato’s Cosmic X. ceptible god. 121. 13) The celestial X – the Cosmic Soul that In Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy. while in The Chaldean Ora- “This world of ours has received and teems cles. (Cooper. “Evidence for the Equation of Hekate tersection of the Milky Way and the Zodi- and Soul.. which the modern opinions are based. the gree of appropriateness to the universe and to goddess of crossroads. 3 (2014) 37-44 . The Milky Way stands out brightly in a terned on the World Soul – they. 95. and wherein the five self or whether the Cosmic Soul emanates planets which struggle against the opposite from Hekate. the World outline standing out in sharp relief. Hans envelops the entire universe – is declared Lewy repeatedly identifies Hekate with by Plato.. with the World Soul. p.). 1990. even with the zodiacal p.. 7). nence by linking her to the World Soul in Since the X-shaped Cosmic Soul is con- Plato’s Timaeus. image of the intelligible Living However in the chapter ‘Plato’s Timaeus Thing. it is the athwart and trace lines that cross each other. A vis- of Hecate with the World Soul (Majercik.. An appendix to would place the gates of heaven at the in- this book.. 47.” (Majercik. linking it to the Chaldean sys. 6. Late Neoplatonist Proclus – who would The celestial phenomenon that does provide about half of the surviving quotes align with the description in Astronomica is from the Chaldean Oracles – also invokes the zodiacal light that envelops the planets. orbits… Nor does it elude the sight of the eye. the Sun plies his reins. ing Moon in her chariot. VISIBLE CELESTIAL INTERSECTION ston. has come to be. 14. dess of crossroads who opens and closes as if it were a circle to be comprehended by the the gates of Hades. p. Our one universe. ible living thing containing visible ones. even as the previous circles are per- Majercik points out the shape of the ceived by the mind. 1997. the path of the Planets. had the night sky without light pollution. ancient and modern roads who opens and closes the gates to the alike.” (Baltzly. whose form was a celestial X. World Soul that emanates from her. nected to Hekate – the goddess of cross- “Scholars of the Oracles. objects: around the time of Augustus. to’s Timaeus as Cultural Icon.” (Rey- One contains the shining signs through which dams-Schils.. 1291). 233). p. either option has Plato’s Uni. the god. Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry.. per- 1989/2013. mortal and immortal. In Chal. Luc Brisson The Roman astrological writer Manilius. constellations. at the end of Timaeus. etc. the axes of “The other circle [the Milky Way] is placed which were bent and joined together.” Soul had the shape of a Chi (X).” and the Chaldaean Oracles’ published in Pla. 177).. mind alone. crosswise to it. circuit it shines like a baldric studded with stars tem: and gives brilliance to heaven with its broad “According to Plato (Tim. ble and discernible phenomenon. stands out in sharp relief and is clearly vis- © University of the Aegean. 119). p. 1956. 2009. 57-59) dean thought – since particular souls were pat. to be a visi- Plato’s Cosmic Soul (Lewy. the theurgist authors of fixing [of the two strips] has the highest de- the Chaldean Oracles brought Hekate. nay. p. 4. 2003. throughout its mighty Cosmic Soul. movement of the sky perform the dances of their versal Soul connected to Hekate. Hecate is too high in the “To these you must add two circles which lie hierarchy to be the World Soul. instead. Ruth Majercik points out the conflation with living things. followed by the wander- Whether the World Soul is Hekate her. path of the planets. 2014. to renewed promi. too. 9.. p. 1977.” (Goold. agree that Hekate represents the Cosmic afterlife – it’s appropriate that Macrobius Soul in the Chaldean system. 36b-d). 1989/2013. HEKATE & PLATO’S COSMIC SOUL “The shape X itself that results from the af- Around 160 AD. likewise de- “We must abandon the universally admitted scribes visible intersections in the night idea according to which Hecate is identified sky. p. the soul. does not blaze forth in the In his Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus. 83.. but the same configuration.” summarizes the ancient evidence on ac.

on the night of the Full Moon. one of a higher degree. tend the Mysteries of Eleusis. when the ecliptic rises most steeply from the horizon. and this corresponded © University of the Aegean. held at opposite seasons of the year. 2005. p. 4. appears for a short period before sunrise in Milone. This means early evening in the connection. 138). especially the Full Moon. it is best seen at specific times. the fall. and arrived at “Dust is a common feature of the solar sys. and intersects On that day.. Although the zodiacal light – the dust along the ecliptic – is always there. October 7. Stefan Binnewies). 10. might out- shine fainter astronomical sights. located predominantly in the ecliptic ginning of Boedromion 20. the Anthesterion…”(Mylonas. we find a ref. The torch-lit procession was followed by ble just after sunset or before sunrise. month of the Mysteries.. and before dawn in the fall. dic Survey of Archeoastronomy. Eleusis on the evening that marked the be- tem. Crete. Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry. “The Lesser Mysteries were held as a rule once a year in the early spring in the month of flowers. LATURA ible – to those who know when to look. p. in to September and the beginning of October. It is best seen at the times common feature of Greek festivals (Parker of year when the ecliptic rises most steeply from 2005.. 14. the neophytes left Ath- erence to the zodiacal light: ens via the Sacred Road. 166) and suggests an astronomical the horizon.42 GEORGE B. Mysteries. plane. 1961. 239) while “The Greater Mysteries were Fig. These two connected Greek rites. the high priests of Athens of- the Milky Way (Photo: Matt BenDaniel) ficially welcomed those who came to at- In Exploring Ancient Skies: An Encyclope. we find an alignment between this celestial apparition and the celebration of the Lesser and the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries that took place in the spring and in the fall. The zodiacal light rises from the horizon. the miraculous sight shortly before dawn. 5. The lunar month gives the nights when the Moon. suggest an astronomically determined ritual cycle. Sunlight reflected from this dust is visi. p. 243) (Figure 4). one of a lesser degree. Zodiacal light rises from the horizon and held once a year and every fourth year they envelops the crescent Moon and planets. CALENDAR OF THE MYSTERIES There were two stages to the Eleusinian rites. It is a pannychis – an all-night vigil that was a called zodiacal light. 2007 month known as Boedromion was the sacred (Photo: Dr. Since the zodiacal light only spring. The solar year gives the seasons – at the equinoxes. at were celebrated with special splendor… The Skinakas Observatory.” (Kelley. a night-long vigil would ensure With the seasonal appearance of the zo- that initiates would be awake to witness diacal light in northern temperate climes. envelops planets along the ecliptic. The lunar calendar that starts at the New Moon tells us – as per Mylonas – that Boedromion 15 was the first day of the Fig. 2014.” what season and at what time of the night (p.. 3 (2014) 37-44 . Four days later.

Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry. Celsus. New York. The Greek poet Pindar. 449) astronomical aspect. 4. points to Plato’s celestial gates in paints a picture of the zodiacal light four the Myth of Er in Republic. B. During her search in the Homeric Hymn. where Demeter cries out to her daughter. after the moon’s when the zodiacal light is best seen in tem- glare has somewhat faded. at the visible intersection of the Milky Way First did the Fates bring wise-counseling. p.. that 12. Part 2. The zodiacal perate climes – again indicating an astro- light can in fact be seen when the Moon is nomical connection to the Mysteries. Book 3. has an (Kovacs. 1997. Macrobius. Baltzly.. 14. cal aspect. or disprove. while his heavenly gates are located Olympos. ZODIACAL LIGHT IN PINDAR ODE Chaldean Oracles that connect her to Pla- to’s cosmic Soul in Timaeus. Cambridge University Press. like the one at Eleusis 2. days after the Full Moon. goddess of cross- the twentieth at Eleusis with specifically roads. p. heavens. – cries out to her daughter at crossroads. while the “hallowed The visible intersection in the night sky stair of Olympos” corresponds to the plan. while in Roman ritual she – as Ceres astronomical details. (2009) Proclus: Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus: Vol. and the zodiacal light. Wolkow. portals located centuries earlier than Manilius. © University of the Aegean. In Ion. 1999. heavenly Themis Plato’s infernal gates from the Myth of on golden horses from the springs of Okeanos Er can be seen at Eleusis at the cave of along a shining road to the hallowed stair of Pluto. at the crossroads in the sky guarded by (Race. shined a celestial path up to the Moon and Manilius describes two visible circles that to heaven beyond. we would need a truly dark sky teries can be explained by natural science. in the sky (Figure 5). the goddess of crossroads who and the moon dances… opens and closes the gates of Hades. D. as revealed by the 11. and even in gates to Hades – to Hekate’s crossroads – Dante’s 14th century Paradiso. 2014. Mar.. John Hopkins Univer- sity Press. Baltimore. …the all-night torch of the twentieth day linking crossroads to the Mysteries of Eleu- when the star-gleaming heaven of Zeus sis. in a frag- The World Soul. best explained as the zodiacal Moon– the ritual calendar of the Mysteries light. intersect in the night sky – one the Milky Way and the other along the path of the REFERENCES Athanassakis. 3 (2014) 37-44 . strikes up the dance Hekate. road” to the heavens. A. 231) Hekate. To conclusively prove. CONCLUSIONS the Mysteries of Eleusis had an astronomi- The initiated Cicero reveals that the Mys. planetary stairs that Timaeus – the cosmic X that indicates Pla- can be found in Vitruvius. to’s celestial gates – is linked to Hekate’s tianus Capella. goddess of crossroads. Proclus on the World Soul. The Lesser and the Greater Mysteries would seem to encode when the zodiacal took place in spring and in fall – seasons light might again be seen. before sunrise – when the zodiacal light gues for an astronomical sight. ties it all together: Plato’s World Soul from ets along the ecliptic. shaped like an X in the ment preserved by Clement of Alexandria.PLATO’S X & HEKATE’S CROSSROADS 43 Given the timing –five days after the Full Planets. ninety minutes lit procession from Athens to Eleusis ar. who is The zodiacal light qualifies as “a shining linked to the X-shaped World Soul.000 years ago – five and the all-night vigil held after the torch. (2013) The Orphic Hymns. Euripides describes the night of Demeter meets Hekate.

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