1902 Encyclopedia > Eleusis


ELEUSIS, a small city of Attica about fourteen miles north-west of Athens, occupying the eastern part of a rocky ridge close to the shore opposite the island of Salamis. Like most of the other cities of Greece, its origin is ascribed to various fabulous characters, and, among

Plan of the Sacred Buildings of Eleusis. (From the Jneditcd Antiquities of Attica.)
1. Temple of Artemis Propylsea. 1 4. Temple of Demeter.
2. Outer propylicon. o. Outer inelosure of the sacred
3. Inner propykeon. buildings.
6. Inner inelosure.

these, to Ogyges, a fact which at least proves it to be of the highest antiquity. In the earlier period of its history it seems to have been an independent rival of Athens, and it was afterwards reckoned one of the twelve Old Attic cities. A considerable portion of its small territory was occupied by the plains of Thria, noticeable for their fertility, though the hopes of the husbandmen were not unfrequently disappointed by the blight of the south wind. To the west was the Campus Rharius, Ue8iov 'Tdpiov, or Rharian Plain, where Demeter is said to have sown the first seeds of corn ; in the midst of the Campus was the KOAAIYOOOI' cbptap, a well round which the Eleusinian matrons are said at first to have danced in honour of the goddess ; and on its confines was the field called Orgas, planted with trees consecrated to Demeter and Proserpine. To the traveller approaching by the Sacred Way from the east the first building that presented itself was the temple of Triptolemus, the site of which is now occupied by the little church of St Zacharias ; and next came a temple dedicated to Artemis Propylsea and Poseidon, constructed entirely of Pentelic marble. Entrance into the outer períbolos, or inelosure, of the great temple of the mysteries was obtained by means of a portico built in imitation of the propylsea of the Athenian citadel; into the inner períbolos by another dedicated by the consul Appius Claudius Pulcher, in 54 B.C., and exe-cuted by his nephew Claudius Pulcher and Marcius Rex. The temple itself, sacred to Demeter and Kora (Ceres and Proserpine), was considered one of the most beautiful pro-ductions of the genius of Greece. The original foundation is said to have been due to Pandion II., and Clemens Alexandrinus places it even 120 years earlier, in the reign of Lynceus. Its position and riches naturally exposed the temple to the attacks of the enemies of Attica; and, though defended by a strong fortress, it was seldom able to make any lengthened resistance. Cleomenes, king of Sparta, dared to violate its sacred precincts; but, if we may believe the Athenians, he was soon after seized with a retri-butive fit of madness. The Persians burnt it to the ground after the battle of Plataea; but scarcely had they retired from Greece, when the Athenians determined to rebuild it with more than its original magnificence. Ictinus, the architect of the Parthenon, was ordered to draw up the plan of the new edifice. He adopted the Doric order of architecture, without the erection of pillars in front of the building. We know not whether he lived long enough to carry his plan into execution; but it was during the splen-did administration of Pericles, and under the cultivated taste of Phidias, that the temple was completed in all its magnificence. The mystic cell (pvemubs ariKÓs, avaKTopov, or TeAftrri/pioi/) was begun by Corcebus, but he lived only to finish the lower row of columns, with their architraves. Metagenes, of the district of Xypete, added the rest of the entablature, and the upper row of columns. Xenocles of Cholarge built the dome on the top. A portico was long afterwards added by Demetrius Phalereus, who employed for that purpose the architect Philo. This magnificent structure continued to exist till the hordes of Alaric com-pleted its overthrow in 396 A.D. The city disappeared on the destruction of the temple ; and upon the site nothing is now found but a miserable village calledLefsina (Aevcrlva), or Lepsina, amidst the ruins of the sacred edifice. The coins of Eleusis are still common, representing Demeter drawn by dragons or serpents, and bearing the inscription EAEYSI or EAEY within a wreath of ears of corn. A colossal statue of the goddess, regarded by the inhabitants as their patroness and protectress, was removed to England in 1801, and is now preserved in Cambridge.

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