Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Triptolemos at Eleusis

Outside the entrance to the Eleusinian sanctuary stood a temple of Triptolemos, seen by initiates just before they went in. Triptolemos had brought Demeter’s grain to the Greeks, but also some unspecified additional “hope”. The ancient sources are mute about his role in the Eleusinian Mysteries, but since he was regularly and repeatedly depicted in art linked to Eleusinian initiates, it seems likely that Triptolemos played a role in the cult.
Recently Patrick Hunt has theorised that Triptolemos was a key part of the ‘secret’ of Eleusis.

After his condemnation by the Athenians, Socrates is attested as saying:
“If on arrival in the other world, beyond the reach of these so-called judges here, one will find there the true judges who are said to sit in judgment in those courts, Minos and Rhadamanthys and Aeacus and Triptolemos, and all those other demigods who were upright in their earthly life, would that be an unrewarding place to settle?”
Plato, Apologia 41a (Hunt’s translation.)

Hunt sees this as evidence of Socrates having himself been an Eleusinian initiate, and hinting at the secrets of the Mysteries in his last speech – he had been condemned to die for impiety, and was beyond further charges. There were usually only three judges in Hades: Rhadamanthys, Minos and Aeacus. Triptolemos was not attested anywhere else as a judge, and his role as one may well have been one of the secrets of Eleusis. Socrates certainly thought that Triptolemos acted as a mediator between the Eleusinian initiates and the gods, offering them hope of a better afterlife. Images of Triptolemos found in tombs can possibly be used to identify them as interments of initiates; images of Demeter and Kore were too general to denote a specific association with the cult.

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