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Greek Religion: Mystery Cult

4. The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Experience of Mystic Initiation

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about what it might have been like to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, focusing in particular on a fragment of Plutarch (Stob. Anth. 4.52.49) in which the process of initiation is described, before thinking more briefly about what may be revealed in Aeschylus' Oresteia and Aristophanes' Frogs.


In this course, Professor Richard Seaford (University of Exeter) explores the Greek institution of mystery cults, focusing in particular on the Eleusinian and Dionysian Mysteries. In the first module, we think about what a mystery cult actually was – what was the purpose of mystery Cults? what form did they take? After that, we consider three aspects of the Eleusinian Mysteries: first, the various rites and rituals that were involved in the celebration of the mysteries; second, the extent to which celebration of the mysteries was a personal as opposed to a collective, political experience; and third, the process by which individuals were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. In the fifth and final module, we turn to the Dionysian Mysteries, exploring their presentation in Euripides' Bacchae, and focusing on particular on the status of Pentheus as an unwilling and/or failed initiate.


Richard Seaford is a professor of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter in England. He is the author of academic books, especially on ancient Greece, and has penned over seventy academic papers.

His work on Athenian tragedy and religion has led him to investigate the historical conditions for the radical development of Greek culture in the sixth century BC (sometimes called the origin of European culture), and to argue that a crucial factor in this development was money: the advanced Greek polis of this period was the first society in history that we know to have been thoroughly monetised.

Money and the Early Greek Mind. Homer, Tragedy, Philosophy (Cambridge 2004) explores the socio-historical conditions that made this first monetisation possible as well as its profound cultural consequences, notably the invention of 'philosophy' and of drama.

The investigation is taken further in several recent papers, for instance in ‘Money and Tragedy’ in W. V. Harris (ed.), The Monetary Systems of the Greeks and Romans (2008). His most recent book is Cosmology and the Polis: the Social Construction of Space and Time in the Tragedies of Aeschylus (Cambridge 2012). In 2005-2008 he was awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust. For 2013-4 he was awarded an AHRC Fellowship for a comparative historical study of early Indian with early Greek thought.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Seaford, R. (2018, August 15). Greek Religion: Mystery Cult - The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Experience of Mystic Initiation [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Seaford, R. "Greek Religion: Mystery Cult – The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Experience of Mystic Initiation." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,