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Myths of Greece and Rome, by Jane Harrison, [1928], at


The early form of Eros is given us on Greek vases. Round the head of Aphrodite are clustered a number of little winged figures holding sprays of flowers; they are Erotes. At death there fluttered forth from a man's mouth a little winged sprite--the ker, as the Greeks called it, the spirit of life. Eros, to begin with, is not love between man and woman, but the impulse of life in all living things. So Theognis:

"Love comes at his hour, comes with the flowers in spring,
            Leaving the land of his birth,
 Kypros, beautiful isle. Love comes scattering
            Seed for man upon earth."

These winged sprites, these Erotes, attend the mother when she rises from the earth in spring. Later, owing to the poignant attachments existing between man and man at Athens, Eros took on the form of a beautiful ephebos.

The religion of Eros has one element lacking in the religion of all the other gods; it has a cosmogony. Aristophanes tells of a time when earth and heaven as yet were not, only chaos:

p. 70

"In the beginning of Things, black-winged Night
    Into the bosom of Erebos dark and deep
 Laid a wind-born egg, and, as the seasons rolled,
 Forth sprang Love, gleaming with wings of gold,
 Like to the whirlings of wind, Love the Delight
   And Love with Chaos in Tartaros laid him to sleep;
 And we, his children, nestled, fluttering there,
 Till he led us forth to the light of the upper air."

This is pure Orphic mysticism, as different from Homer as dark from light. Homer knows of no world-egg and no birth of Love. Homer is so dazzled by his human heroes and their radiant counterparts mirrored in Olympus that he never cares to peer into the darkness whence they sprang. He cares as little, it seems, for the Before as for the Hereafter.

Homer has only a glimmering eschatology, a shadowy Tartaros, and still more shadowy Elysian fields where great heroes and those connected by marriage with the gods go after death, but in which the common man has no place. Of cosmogony he seems to have no consciousness. The two, cosmogony and eschatology, seem to go together; both are pathetic attempts to answer the question Homer never cared to raise--Whence and Whither? A religion like the Olympian religion that shirks these two great questions, gnawing always at the heart of humanity, is scarcely worth its name. The Olympians paled, and were bound to pale, before the mystery gods.

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