The Handclasp and Embrace as Tokens of Recognition
The Handclasp and Embrace as Tokens of Recognition
Los Angeles, California
The Symbolon: Unity, Separation, Unity
The present paper is excerpted from a
much longer paper published in Epoché, the UCLA graduate journal of history of religions.1 The paper began in a
seminar examining Greek recognition drama, a type of play in which a child is
separated from its (aristocratic) parents at birth (often it is stolen, or
saved by strangers after a shipwreck), and so grows up as a slave or
prostitute; but later, when it becomes an adult, it finds or is found by its
parents (the recognition scene) through the help of tokens left with the child,
often insignia or jewelry on a necklace, sometimes a ring; sometimes a peculiar
scar. Often the tokens are kept in boxes and are dramatically extracted from
the boxes, one by one, in the recognition scene. Critics, I found, have usually
looked at recognition drama with contempt; however, all Greek drama is bathed
in religion, sometimes very alien, and I wondered if the structure of
recognition was not linked with religion in some way; and if the critics were
not doing these plays an injustice because of their modern, secular bias and
insensitivity to the nuances of ancient Greek religion and ritual. The climaxes
of these recognition dramas seemed to have great meaning for the Greek
playwrights and audiences; surely the recognition drama with tokens was not
just a rickety, mechanistic plot device used as a crutch by playwrights of the
stature of Aeschylus and Euripides. As my research progressed, I found that the
Greek/Hellenistic mystery cults involved tokens revealed at the high point of
the secret rituals. These tokens were always kept in a box/basket called the cista mystica; and as they were brought
out, the initiate had to speak certain passwords (also called tokens). After
the experience, the initiate enjoyed a new intimacy with the central god or
gods of the mystery and was prepared for a better state in the next life. Not
much more was known about this token experience in the mysteries, but I thought
the parallel was close enough to warrant a comparison of the climax of the
recognition scene, with its crucial tokens, and the climax of the mystery
ritual, with its tokens. As there are many continuities between the mystery
religions and early Christianity, and since I was writing the paper for a
history of religions seminar, I allowed myself to examine evidence in late
antiquity, especially in Gnostic Christianity. I used three recognition plays
in particular: Euripides’ Ion, Menander’s Epitrepontes (Arbitrants), and Plautus’s Rudens.
There are a number of words in Greek
and Latin that mean “token” in recognition drama — e.g., anagnorismata (“things for making
known again”), spargana (the
swaddling wrappings of the lost child, often figured), semeia (“signs, marks, signals”). But one of the most
interesting token-words is the basis for our word “symbol”: symbolon (singular; plural: symbola), found as a name for tokens
both in recognition and mystery.2 This word means
“things thrown together” (i.e., something thrown together after it
has been once broken apart, from ballo, “thrown,” and sun-, “with or together”). Liddell, Scott, and Jones, in their Greek-English Lexicon, define it thus:
“tally, i.e., each of two halves or corresponding pieces of an astragalos [knucklebone] or other
object, which two xenoi [guest-friends], or any two contracting parties, broke between them, each party
keeping one piece, in order to have proof of the identity of the presenter of
the other.”3 Both
halves represent their two owners, and each is a symbol of identity, the
individual, parted; the halves “thrown together,” unified, are the
symbol of two separate identities merging into one. So the symbolon is a precise image both for absolutely unique
individuality and perfectly joined unity. No other parts would fit the two symbolon halves; paradoxically, their
unique identity is what creates their complete unity as represented by the
unified token. It is also significant that the perfect fitting together is
dependent on a previous breaking.4
Later in the semantic development of
the word, it came to be applied to “any token serving as proof of
identity” — in which category we find the dramatic recognition token
— and then developed on to other abstract and technical ideas: treaty,
symbol, allegory, warrant, ticket. In the recognition symbolon, there is no longer the actual two-part, physically broken
token,5 but the token
remains a symbol of dual identity, “thrown together” after a parting.
Palaestra, the foundling of Rudens, owns her tokens; they define the most important part of her identity; but they
were given to her by her father and mother and are inscribed with their names.
When Palaestra and her father, Daemones, are “thrown together” again,
her knowledge, through the tokens, unites with his knowledge through the tokens
— the two realizations create a united, new (or rather, renewed)
knowledge, and they are united. This is a recognition: a “knowing
again,” as the English word means exactly, just as does the Greek anagnorismos (ana-, “again”; gnorizo, “to make known”).
Thus the contract symbolon (unity, separation into two, renewed unity of two) serves
as a model for the whole recognition drama: as in Rudens, there is, at first, a unity of parent and child; there is a
separation, by kidnapping; finally there is a reunion (through the
knowledge-combining tokens). The recognition symbolon brings about the human symbolon.
The handclasp and the embrace perfectly
express this concept of two separate halves coming together to create a unity;
and one of the tokens in the Rudens is a handclasp. Herman shows us an ivory symbolon carved in the likeness of two clasped hands.6 Even more evocative is the embrace, for when the parent and
child embrace, in a moment of high emotion after the recognition scene with
token telling (identifying tokens one by one), they are renewing an embrace
they had shared years earlier. The parent-child symbolon, broken by fate, violent nature, or human greed and
malevolence, has been renewed.
Among the Rudens tokens are “a tiny pair of clasped hands” (“duae conexae maniculae,” 1169). I was originally interested in this token because it is such a perfect symbolon image on a human, physical
level: two separate hands, symbols of the separate identities of their
possessors, are joined, and fingers intertwine to make a new unity, complex yet
simple. Though its “secular” use — as a widespread token of
recognition, friendship, and agreement — is obvious,7 it was also co-opted by
the mystery religions for use as an emblem for many things: Love, initiation,
arrival, salvation, union with the god, apotheosis.
I have found no solid evidence for the
ritual handclasp — the dexiosis, dextrarum iunctio — at Eleusis. However, in the culminating initiation scene in the
Eleusis-influenced Lovatelli urn,8 there is perhaps a hint
of the dexiosis. As the initiate
approaches Demeter sitting on the cista, the goddess’s snake rises from her lap to greet the initiate; he extends his
right hand for the snake to touch. If, as I have argued, this scene reflects a
high point of the mysteries, and if the touching of the snake and the right
hand of the initiate is related to the dextrarum
iunctio, we may conjecture that a handclasp as token (the snake represents
the contents of the cista, the symbola, as well as the presence of the
god) took place as part of the initiate’s union with the god at Eleusis.
This, however, must remain conjectural.
A remarkable piece of iconography from the Sabazian mysteries, on the other
hand, supplies valuable evidence for the ritual handclasp in a mystery
environment. A series of paintings in the tomb of Vincentius, a priest of
Sabazius, near Rome and dating from the second century A.D.,9 show the other-world
experiences of Vincentius’ wife, Vibia. After death and judgment in the
underworld, the final scene in the series, showing the heavenly banquet of the
blessed, shows Vibia, standing on the threshold of a doorway, being led through
it by a “good messenger” (so labeled by the artist), already inside
the “heaven.” The messenger brings her inside by means of a dextrarum iunctio. The whole act is
labeled an “inductio,” a
leading in. The bonus angelus has
been variously interpreted, some authors ascribing him to Jewish or Christian
influence (the Sabazian cult had earlier syncretized with Jewish inhabitants of
Asia Minor); however, Leclerq regards him as Sabazius himself (cf. fig. 2).10
Though this representation is
comparatively late, funeral iconography of the Attic Greeks11 shows that the concept
of the handclasp representing eschatological union was extremely common in
classical Greece; there are eleven examples of the motif in the Getty funerary
collection alone. This handclasp’s meaning is somewhat ambiguous; Brilliant, after
summarizing some interpretations (an excerpt from life [which would seem
unlikely, on a funerary monument], a farewell, a desired reunion), concludes
thus: “Most probably the handshake expresses that continued community of
the dead and the living within the bounds of the familiar society which in
itself constitutes immortality.”12 There are
representations of Hermes the psychopomp leading the soul of the dead by the
parallels the psychopomp in the Sabazian painting.
Another fairly late piece of evidence
shows that in Plutarch’s day the dexiosis was used among
the Pythagoreans as a symbol of love, brotherhood, and reconciliation. “We
should pattern ourselves after the Pythagoreans, who, though related not at all
by birth, yet sharing a common discipline, if ever they were led by anger into
recrimination, never let the sun go down before they joined right hands,
embraced each other, and were reconciled,” wrote Plutarch in his essay on
brotherly love.14 We
have already seen that Orphism and Pythagoreanism were a nearly inseparable
In classical Greek iconography, there
are also representations of Heracles clasping hands with various mythical
sixth-century vase shows him sharing the dexiosis with Pholos,
the centaur; another with Hermes; another with Athena; and yet another with a
mythical king, possibly Zeus himself.17
In the Hellenistic period, Heracles
became allegorized as the soul; his myth served to illustrate the trials and
victories of the soul.18 In the Igel monument, a remarkable piece of funerary art with Mithraic motifs,19 Heracles as soul is
combined with the dexiosis motif; the
handclasp is used to draw Heracles into heaven. The hero is in the quadriga (chariot), ascending into
heaven; Athena emerges from a cloud and extends to him “a hand of
Heracles grasps. This apotheosis scene “portrays the Heroisation of the
personage laid in the tomb, or, in a more general fashion, the destiny of the
soul, which, with the help of heavenly powers, reaches the abode of the
blessed,”21 according to Cumont. While the handclasp often expresses complete equality (as
in the marriage handclasp, one of the most unvarying of Roman marriage rituals,
and as in the handclasp used for treaty),22 here it expresses
salvation, the saving and the saved. It is diagonal, not level; Heracles
reaches up, Athena reaches down. The goddess will draw the mortal up into
heaven (cf. figs. 3 and 4). However, the sense of equality is not entirely
gone: Heracles enters heaven by having a goddess descend to his level; he has
come up to her level, almost. The clasp here symbolizes entrance, liminality,
as it did in the inductio of Vibia,
but it also emphasizes apotheosis, the entrance into the divine type of life,
as it simultaneously suggests the condescension of the god that makes the
apotheosis possible. This dexiosis of salvation is
suggested in a prayer to Isis: “Thou stretchest forth thy right hand of
salvation,” speaks the worshipper to the goddess.23 The human must return
the right hand to complete the manual symbolon. The frescoes of the underground
basilica on the Via Praenestina show “Apollo, the God of Light . . .
holding out his hand graciously to receive the soul after passing through the
last ordeal, and Victory is proffering the crown.”24
The marriage handclasp — which
represents uniting, love, equality, sexuality, and treaty between husband and
wife as marriage begins25 — is seen on a mythological and allegorical level in a Roman funerary urn
portraying the marriage of Dionysos and Ariadne. The god and his wife clasp
hands, standing side by side, while, above them, two overshadowing grapevines
intertwine their leaves, a charming parallel expression of the symbolon theme. Beside them, Hypnos
(“Sleep”) approaches “to permit them to attain Olympus.”26 In Hellenistic times,
Ariadne came to symbolize the soul who is united to deity; the central scene of
the Villa of the Mysteries is a portrayal of Ariadne with Dionysos.27
The handclasp was an important
initiatory gesture in the Mithraic mysteries. Iconography shows Mithras
(himself often equated with the sun) clasping hands with Sol, the Sun, in a
gesture of agreement, friendship, and reconciliation (at one time there was an
antagonism between the two).28 In one relief,29 Mithra and Sol clasp
hands over an altar, while a spit of meat pecked at by a raven is directly
above the union of the hands. Vermaseren interprets this as a treaty before
“the divine meal which itself took place before their ascent to heaven in
the chariot of the sun.”30 This is the paradigm
for the initiate so he “himself can devoutly hope for his own return to
the eternal sunlight.”31 Here the dextrarum iunctio represents
precisely reunion and reconciliation, as well as unity, equality, friendship
between gods. However, now there is no environment of threshold or entrance; it
rather precedes the road to the desired entrance as a preliminary rite.32 Still, in actual
Mithraic rite, there is some evidence that the handclasp came at the end of the
initiation. According to Vermaseren,
At a given moment, after the novice had
been submitted to certain purification rites and had gone through a time of
fasting and abstinence, he reached the end of his ordeals. He had sworn the
oath, been branded on hands or forehead and had pressed the Father’s right
hand. . . . The joining of the right hands (dexiosis) promoted the
initiates to sundexioi with the
A builder of a Mithraeum writes that he
made the temple so that “the syndexi might celebrate their vows with joy for eternity (ut possint syndexi hilares celebrare vota per aevum).”34 A verbal symbolon of Firmicus uses the word:
“Novice of the bull-theft, initiate (sundexie)
of the proud Father.”35 Sundexios is a common word on the
walls of the Dura Mithraeum.36 In a Mithraeum at
Capus, Eros (love) holds Psyche (soul) by the left hand.37
The handclasp continued in early
Christian ritual, both gnostic and “orthodox.” According to Galatians 2:9,
“the right hand of fellowship” (dexias
koinonias didonai tini) is given “as a sign of friendship and
this does not necessarily suggest ritual practice, such as we found in the
Sabazian and Mithraic mysteries. The handclasp as marriage rite, however,
continued in Christian surroundings.39 The salvific handclasp
is nearly the trademark of the iconography of Christ’s postcrucifixion descent
into Hades.40 One of
the most frequent scenes in this tradition is that of Christ grasping the hands
of Adam and Eve to lift them up out of hell and to resurrect them. While
sometimes he grasps their wrists, which emphasizes even more than the diagonal dexiosis their helplessness
and lack of equality,41 in other depictions he lifts them with a true dextrarum iunctio.42 The fifth-century Gospel of Nicodemus43 describes a true
handclasp: “And the Lord . . . took the right hand of Adam and went up out
of hell (tenens dexteram Adae ascendit ab
inferis), and all the saints followed him. . . . He went therefore into
paradise holding our forefather by the hand, and delivered him, and all the
righteous, unto Michael the archangel.”44 Here the dexiosis starts the
ascent, continues it, and ends it on the threshold of paradise. A similar
handclasp is used in the apocalyptic 1
Enoch: “And the angel Michael, . . . seizing me by my right hand and
lifting me up, led me out into all the secrets of mercy; and he showed me all
the secrets of righteousness.”45
In some early Christian depictions of
the Ascension of Christ, Christ himself, approaching heaven, clasps the hand of
God, which descends from a stylized upper corner of the composition.46 This symbolism is
arresting: Christ, the Savior, reaches up to be saved, and must be drawn, or at
least helped, up into heaven. Perhaps there is a residual emphasis on the unity
and equality of the saving handclasp here, but it is nevertheless a saving,
All these examples come from
“orthodox” Christianity;47 on an iconographic
level at least they are clear continuations of motifs such as we have seen in
mystery religions. We may assume that there were some ritual continuities too;
we know there were in the use of the dexiosis in marriage
rite.48 The handclasp
was also used in Gnostic ritual, and is especially prominent in Manichaean myth
and rite. In the myth of the fall and return of the Primeval Man, he is sent
forth from the Father of Greatness and the Mother of Life to do battle with the
Prince of Darkness (matter); temporarily overcome by darkness, he sends up a
prayer to his former home. The Father creates and sends forth the Living Spirit
to rescue him:
The Living Spirit, who was accompanied
by the Mother of Life, extended his right hand to Primeval Man. The latter
seized it and thus was drawn up out of the depths of the world of darkness.
Together with the Mother of Life and the Living Spirit he rose up and up,
soared like victorious light out of darkness, till he was returned to the
paradise of light, his celestial home, where his kin awaited him.49
As in the Mithraic scenario and the Gospel of Nicodemus, the handclasp is
the beginning of salvation and ascent. However, Manichaeism adds a new touch to
the picture, a protological dexiosis: “The first
‘right hand’ is that which the Mother of Life gave to Primal Man when he was
about to go forth to the war. . . . The second ‘right hand’ is that which the
Living Spirit gave to Primal Man when he led him up out of the war,”
according to the Kephalaia. This
second ‘right hand’ is the aition for
the Manichaean ritual handclasp: “In the image of the mystery of that
right hand originated the right hand that is in use among men in giving it to
one another.”50 “On that account the Manichaeans when meeting one another grasp right
hands in sign that they themselves are of those saved from the Darkness,”
says the Acta Archelai.51 According to
Jonas, the handclasp as a form of salutation spread through Europe as a result
of Christian or Manichaean influences; previously it had been used only for
conclusion of contracts.52
Other Gnostics also used the handclasp
ritually. According to Lidzbarski, the central concept of Mandaean religion is
“truth,” kusta; this word
is also used to refer to the bond which unites the faithful, and the handshake
of brotherhood. In Mandaean baptism, the priest gives the kusta to the initiate standing in water, then crowns him with a
wreath of myrtle. Afterwards, the kusta is repeated twice. This is similar in function to the Mithraic handclasp that
made one an initiate.53
Thus the ritual handclasp in the
mysteries and early Christianity54 was linked with
concepts of equality, friendship, agreement, liminality, entrance, marriage,
sexuality, salvation, starting the path of initiation, ending the path of
initiation, resurrection, forgiveness, reconciliation, communion of man with
man, of human with god, of god with god,55 and apotheosis.
The Ritual Embrace
In Rudens and Ion, the correct telling of the
tokens, bringing about the recognition, is followed by the physical reunion of
the two long-separated parties. There is a loving paternal or maternal embrace.
This embrace is not left to the discretion of the actors, for the dramatist is
careful to insert clear markers of the act in his dialogue. This is the final symbolon of the drama, the complete
human token; like the handclasp — which is, as it were, a preparatory
embrace, a symbol of this reunion56 — it is the
final fusion of identity in the drama, two long separate beings forming a
renewed unity, re-creating an identity that had been fragmented and lost. It
would seem to be overtly sexual but for the powerful filial maternal/paternal
feelings it expresses. The lost child, who until this moment had been a
cast-off foundling of low social status, discovers that he (in the case of Ion) is the son of a queen and the god
of light; that she (in the case of Palaestra) is an authentic Athenian citizen
and need no longer be a slave-prostitute.57 The parents, on the
other hand, are no longer childless, without heir. There is an emotional
exaltation resulting from these factors that is found even in the fragmented
ending of the Epitrepontes. The
embrace is the primary emblem of this exaltation, and the sign of the child’s
new status, his re-adoption by his parent.
The first embrace in Ion takes place when Creusa recognizes
Ion’s ark. She rushes from the altar to embrace Ion and the tokens; as Ion does
not trust her, this embrace is entirely maternal, and is not reciprocated. Creusa: “Slay me, slay me. But I
will cling [anthexomai] to this ark
and to you and to those things of yours that are hidden in it” (1404). The
reciprocal embrace takes place after the telling of the tokens:
Ion: My own dear mother! O the joy of seeing you, the joy of kissing your joyous
face! [lit., “gladly I have fallen toward your glad cheeks”: asmenos . . . pros asmenas peptoka sas
Creusa: O my child, O light brighter than the sun to your mother (the god will understand),
I hold you in my arms. My treasure, I never hoped for this. I thought you had
gone to your long home with Persephone and the shades below.
Ion: Ah, dearest mother, your arms are around me (en kheroin sethen . . . phantazomai)! You see me alive that was
Creusa: Ah, ye expanses of brilliant ether! What words, what cry shall I utter? Whence
came this joy, this unexpected joy? How did I attain this rapture? . . . My
child, not without tears was your birth; with lamentations were you separated
from your mother’s arms. Now, cheek to cheek [geneiasin para sethen, lit., by your cheeks], I breathe again;
happiness, blissful happiness has come to me (1437-60).
In the Rudens, there are separate embraces with both the father and mother
(though she is offstage). After Palaestra correctly identifies the last token,
her father embraces her:
Daemones: She is, she certainly is! I can’t keep from hugging her any longer! (contineri quin complectar non queo!) Ah,
my own daughter! I am the father that reared you! I am Daemones myself, and
look, inside here is your mother, Daedalis!
Palaestra: Ah, dear father, father unhoped for!
Daemones: Ah, the joy of having you in my arms [ut
te amplector libens — lit., “how gladly I embrace you”]. .
. . Come, let’s go to your mother, my child. She can make further inquiries and
test you better, having had more to do with you and knowing more about those
tokens of yours (1172-80). [Later:] What’s this I see? My wife, arms around her
daughter’s neck, clinging to her! (uxor
complexa collo retinet filiam!) Comes precious near being a silly nuisance,
all her fondling! Wife! Better call a halt on that kissing (osculando — the kiss is naturally
closely associated with the embrace)58 some time (1202-5).
There is some evidence for the presence
of a ritual embrace in mystery cult. The return of Persephone from the
underworld and her reunion with her mother is obviously the emotional climax of
the Hymn to Demeter. Unfortunately,
the reunion scene is fragmentary, but enough survives to be suggestive:
“And when Demeter saw them, she rushed forth as does a Maenad down some
thickwooded mountain, while Persephone on the other side . . . of her mother, .
. . and leaped down to run . . .” (damaged from 387-400). However, that an
embrace took place is made certain by a following passage: “So did they
then, with hearts at one [homophrona
thumon ekhousai — lit., “having a one-minded soul”; the
embrace is merely the outward token of the inward meshing of souls] greatly
cheer each the other’s soul and spirit with many an embrace [amphagapazomenai]: their hearts had
relief from the griefs while each took and gave back joyousness [gethosunas d’ edekhonto par’ allelo edidon te]”
(434-37). Now Demeter causes crops to grow, teaches her mysteries to the
Eleusinians, and she and her daughter ascend to heaven. “But when the
bright goddess had taught them all, they went to Olympus to the gathering of
the other gods. And there they dwell beside Zeus who delights in thunder, awful
and reverend goddesses” (483-85).
How much of this was reflected in
Eleusinian ritual is uncertain and debated. However, there seems to be good
evidence that the drama of Demeter and Persephone was performed in the
mysteries. Mylonas writes,
There can be little doubt that at least
part of the dromena [the “things
done,” the ritual performance] was a sacred pageant, the presentation of
the story of Demeter and Persephone. Such a pageant, accompanied with music,
singing, and measured steps . . . could have been very impressive and conducive
of those feelings of awe, sorrow, despair, and joy which could, as in tragedy,
“The initiates probably took a
certain part in the dromena . . .
unlike the people in the theater . . . and thus could share more fully the
experiences of the Goddess.”60 The best evidence for
this, which also isolates the reunion of Persephone and Demeter as the high
point of the mysteries, is from Lactantius: “In the Mysteries of Demeter
all night long with torches kindled they seek for Persephone and when she is
found, the whole ritual closes with thanks-giving and the tossing of
torches.”61 According to Clement, “Demeter and Kore have come to be the subject of a
mystic drama (drama), and Eleusis
celebrates with torches the abduction of the daughter and the sorrowful
wanderings of the mother.”62 Nilsson writes:
The reuniting of the Mother and the
Maid was the kernel of the myth. Judging from the nature of the festival, it
must likewise have been the kernel of the Eleusinian Mysteries. . . . Demeter
is rightly called the mater dolorosa of Greek religion. To this heartbreaking sorrow, the reunion of mother and
daughter provided a joyful contrast, rousing the mystae to exultation and moving their minds with the deepest
A late piece of evidence, questionable
by itself, adds probability to the idea of ritual embrace at Eleusis. Lucian
writes that when the charlatan Alexander carried out rites somewhat modeled on
the Eleusinian mysteries, a culminating act was an embrace and a kiss. Lucian
satirizes Alexander’s weakness for young, beautiful initiates; still, this may
have been a plausible reflection of Eleusinian practices.64
There is some evidence for a mystic
embrace in the Orphic and Dionysiac mysteries. Guthrie thinks it probable that
a dramatic presentation of Demeter and Persephone took place in Orphic rite, as
at Eleusis.65 As
“Orphism” is closely connected to the Pythagoreans, we may also
recall the Pythagorean custom of combining the handclasp and embrace to
accompany reconciliation, brotherly love.66 In the fourth
“Orphic” gold plate, the soul, listing his qualifications, says,
“I have sunk beneath the bosom of the Mistress, the Queen of the
Underworld”67 (despoinas d’ hupo kolpon edun). This
phrase has been variously interpreted; according to one of the more likely
interpretations it refers to an adoption by the god. “It finds a close
parallel in a certain form of adoption-ritual, practised both on secular
occasions and in mystery-religions,” writes Guthrie.68 Rohde writes that the phrase
means, “I seek (as hiketes [suppliant]) the
protection of her maternal bosom (or lap).”
It would certainly be attractive to
take this . . . as referring to a symbolical act, corresponding to the ceremony
in which . . . the adoption of a boy, his reception into a new genos [clan] was symbolically
represented. . . . But such a symbolical proceeding, if it was to bring about
the association of the mystes [initiate] with
the goddess, must have taken place already in the orgia [rites] once held
on earth. . . . Thus the fully initiated is gennetes [kinsman] of
the divine family, kata te poiesin [according to
The goddess embracing an infant,
holding him to her bosom, plays an important part in the Hymn to Demeter, as Demeter becomes the nurse of Demophoon and
tries to make him immortal. “Gladly will I take the boy to my breast (hupodexomai),70 as you bid me, and
will nurse him,” says Demeter to Metaneira, the mother (226). “She
took the child in her fragrant bosom (thuodeï
dexato kolpoi) with her divine hands. . . . So the goddess nursed in the
palace Demophoon” (231-35). Richardson, at line 232, concludes that the
whole sequence with Demophoon is “an adoption ritual.” “These
similarities may be explained by the character of the mystic initiation as a
rite of adoption, with which the idea of purification is also associated.”71 The initiate stands
in the same relationship to the Eleusinian goddesses as Demophoon to Demeter,
as is suggested by Sophocles: “The torch-lit shores, where the Potniai are
nurses (tithenountai) of the dread
rites for mortals.”72 Richardson judges this rite to be connected with the “central significance
of the Mysteries” and not merely part of a preliminary purification rite.73 Thus in the
“Orphic” gold plates, and in the Eleusinian cult, being drawn to the
breast of the goddess, being adopted by her, is probably a rite of great
importance. The relevance of this sort of adoptive ritual — defined by
the specific act of embracing — to recognition drama should be clear. In
recognition drama, the embrace is the immediate seal of recognition and love
when the identity of the tested party has been proved. This is not exactly the
same as adoption; it is more a re-adoption.
Just as we have seen Dionysos and
Ariadne united by the dextrarum iunctio, there is also a pictorial tradition that portrays them embracing. A famous
depiction of this embrace in the Villa of the Mysteries seems to be the focal
point of whatever ritual acts are portrayed on those walls: “Occupying the
center of the rear wall and directly opposite the main entrance, is the scene
that is the culminating point of the whole series, the union of Dionysos and
Ariadne.”74 “The central figure on this wall, and therewith of the whole fresco, was
Ariadne. She is seated, erect and high, in its very center, the loving god in
her lap. Dionysus, the woman’s god, in the arms of the mortal woman whom his
love made into a goddess.”75 A vasepainting of
Ariadne and Dionysos also shows the embrace.76 Again the embrace may
seem overtly sexual, but Hellenistic allegory made the sexuality merely an
image for divine-human union: “The myth of the god rescuing Ariadne, who
had been cruelly abandoned on the island of Naxos, was understood to mean that
the human soul, like the Cretan princess, could find immortal life and
happiness in loving arms of the divine.”77 (And as we saw Eros
and Psyche [“love” and “soul”] bound by the dextrarum iunctio, so we often see them
bound by the embrace and kiss.78 Thus the marriage of
Dionysos and Ariadne, represented by the embrace, expressed many nuances of
emotion and meaning: the unio mystica, human with god, which was the goal of initiation; the joy of the divine life;
love; love creating apotheosis.
The kiss of peace of the New Testament
apparently always included the embrace.79 Sometimes the kiss and
the embrace were both specified: Cyprian writes, “Holding to this faith,
and meditating thereon day and night, let us too aspire to God with all our
heart, disdaining the present and thinking only on the things that are to be,
the fruition of the eternal kingdom, the embrace and the kiss of the Lord [complexum et osculum Domini], the vision
of God.”80 A
specific example appears in Luke 15:20:
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way
off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and
kissed him.” Sometimes the kiss disappeared, leaving only the embrace:
“The kiss or pax was eventually
reduced to a mild embrace occasionally accompanied by a touching of the
Chrysostom writes of the holy kiss (1 Corinthians
16:20) exchanged by Christians that it “unites and makes one
tells us that when we exchange the kiss as a symbol of love with our neighbors
the Lord wants our souls to kiss and our hearts to embrace.83 The kiss was used in
baptismal initiation and in the mass (cf. fig. 5).84
As we move from mystery religion to
Christianity to Gnostic Christianity, we again find strong parallels to the
sacral paternal/maternal embrace in Manichaeism. When the Primeval Man returns
to the heavenly world after his sojourn and combat in darkness, “The
mother caught and kissed him: ‘Thou art come again, exiled son. Hurry and pass
into the light, for thy kind for thee greatly are longing.’ ” Widengren
remarks on the vividness of this scene, “when the mother embraces and
kisses him, the only son, whom she thought lost forever.”85 Since before his
descent to darkness, matter, and the world, the Primeval Man (lit., the First
Man) lived in the presence of the divine father and mother, this event is a
true recognition — an only son
thought lost forever (cf. Ion) has
unexpectedly returned from seeming death. And to make the embrace exactly symmetrical
(as was the Manichaean handclasp, though in that case different parties, the
Mother and the Spirit, deliver it), another Manichaean text portrays the mother
embracing the son as he departs from the heavenly home: “The first embrace
(aspasmos: greeting, embrace; Böhlig translates “Kuβ”) is
that which the Mother of Life gave to the First Man as he separated himself
from her in order to come down to earth to the testing (agon). Also, all the gods and angels . . . embraced him on that
occasion. . . . Also, all who were to be of the Church . . . embraced (aspazein)
him with love.86 Thus the eschatological embrace is the reuniting of the protological embrace,
after the painful parting, which is, from the point of view of the mother, a
death. But the divine-human symbolon regains its original identity; there is an anagnorisis, a recognition, a knowing again. The embrace is the renewed outward token
reflecting the renewed inward token of knowledge and love.87
1. Todd M. Compton,
“The Whole Token: Mystery Symbolism in Classical Recognition Drama,” Epoché 13 (1985): 1-81.
2. For symbola in recognition, see Ion 1386; for symbola in mystery cult, see Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus II, 15, 19, in PG 8:80, 88; cf. Liddell, Scott, and
Jones, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. symbolon, III, 5.
3. Ibid. Cf. also
Gabriel Herman, Ritualised Friendship and
the Greek City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 62-67;
Philippe Gauthier, Symbola, Le étrangers
és grecques (Nancy: Université de Nancy, 1972), 62-66.
4. Yeats writes, in “Crazy
Jane Talks with the Bishop,” “Nothing can be sole or whole / That has
not been rent.” Ann Bergren writes, “What the symbolon symbolizes is a liason between two parts, a ‘wholeness’ or
‘identity’ constituted by the ‘fault’ of difference, like James’ ‘golden
bowl’,” “Allegorizing Winged Words: Simile and Symbolization in Odyssey V,” Classical World 74 (1980): 109-23 (112).
5. Cf., however,
Aeschylus’ Choephori, in which
Electra sees a cut-off piece of hair on Agamemnon’s tomb (167), then later
compares it with the shorn spot on Orestes’ head (205-10).
6. Herman, Ritualised Friendship, 64.
7. An early example
is Homer, Odyssey 3.36; cf. Livy, I,
58, 7; I, 21, 4; I, 41, 2. For the handclasp generally: Gerhard Neumann, Gesten und Gebärden in der
griechischen Kunst (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1965), 49-58, cf. 59-65; Karl
Sittl, Die Gebärden der Griechen
und Römer (Leipzig: Teubner, 1890), 27-32, 290, 335-36, cf. 329; Louis
Reekmans, “La ‘dextrarum iunctio’ dans l’iconographie,” Bulletin de
l’Institut historique belge de Rome 31 (1958): 23-95; B. Kötting, “Dextrarum iunctio,” in
Theodor Klauser et al., eds., Reallexikon
für Antike und Christentum (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1950-88),
3:881-88; Richard Brilliant, Gesture and
Rank in Roman Art (New Haven, CT: The Academy, 1963), 18-21; Franz Cumont,
“The Dura Mithraeum,” in John R. Hinnells, ed., Mithraic Studies, 2 vols. (Manchester: Manchester University Press,
1975), 1:196-98; Herman, Ritualised
Friendship, 50-54, 64.
8. Walter Burkert, Homo Necans (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1983), 269, figs. 8-9; George Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1961), 205-7, 243-44, fig. 83 (cf. fig. 84, the Torre Nova
Sarcophagus); Carl Kerényi, Eleusis,
Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (New York: Bollingen/Pantheon,
9. See Erwin R.
Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the
Greco-Roman Period, 13 vols. (New York: Bollingen/Pantheon, 1953-58), vol.
3, figs. 839, 842; 2:45-50; Franz Cumont, Recherches
éraire des Romains (Paris: Geuthner, 1942), 418, n. 1.
10. Henri Leclerq,
“Sabazios,” in Dictionnaire
d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, 15 vols. (Paris: Libraire Letouzey,
1924-53), 15:213. As to whether this can be used as evidence for earlier
mystery, cf. Richard Seaford, “Dionysiac Drama and the Dionysiac
Mysteries,” Classical Quarterly 31 (1981): 252, on the essential conservatism of the mysteries.
11. For one example
among, I believe, thousands, see Brilliant, Gesture
and Rank, 19, figs. 1.16, 1.19.
12. Ibid., 20-21.
13. Donna Kurtz and
Greek Burial Customs (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 129.
14. Plutarch, De Fraterno Amore XVII, 488b-c, tr.
Helmbold: “prin e ton helion dunai
tas dexias embalontes allelois kai aspasamenoi dieluonto.” Cf.
Nicholas J. Perella, The Kiss Sacred and
Profane (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 16, who draws a
parallel with Paul’s, “Let not the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26),
15. See Compton,
“The Whole Token,” 7, n. 25, for the close relationship of Orphics
16. Neumann, Gesten und Gebärden, 54, fig. 25;
55, fig. 26 a-b.
17. Ibid., 50-51.
18. Eugénie Strong, Apotheosis and After Life (London:
Constable, 1915), 201.
19. Cumont, Symbolisme funéraire des Romains, fig. 1.
20. Ibid., 174. Cf.
Apotheosis and After Life, 222-32.
21. Cumont, Symbolisme funéraire des Romains, 174.
22. See, e.g.,
Kötting, “Dextrarum iunctio,” passim, and Reekmans, “La
‘dextrarum iunctio’ dans l’iconographie romaine et paleochretienne,”
23. Samuel Angus, The Mystery Religions and Christianity (New York: University Books, 1966), 119. Cf. Hans P. L’Orange, Studies on the Iconography of Cosmic
Kingship in the Ancient World (New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas, 1982), 139-41,
on the “saving right hand.” Julian the Apostate, Contra Galilaeos I, 200B, says that Aesculapius “extended his
right hand of salvation [soterion heautou
dexian] to all the earth.” Procopius, De Bello Persico II, 13, 8-9, calls the right hand the “token
of salvation,” soterias symbolon. See n. 46 below.
24. Angus, Mystery Religions, 141-42.
“La ‘dextrarum iunctio’ dans l’iconographie romaine et
paleochrétienne,” figs. 34-37, 32-33, 4-10. Cf. Ernest Crawley, The Mystic Rose, revised and enlarged by
Theodore Besterman, 2 vols. in one (London: Methuen, 1927), 2:118-19.
26. Cumont, Symbolisme funéraire des Romains, 412,
27. Martin P.
Nilsson, The Dionysiac Mysteries of the
Hellenistic and Roman Age (New York: Arno, 1975), 71, fig. 10d; John
Ferguson, “The Mystery Religions,” in Richard Cavendish, ed., Myth: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (New
York: Marshall Cavendish, 1980), 144-59 (149). K. Kerényi, Dionysos: Archetypal Image of an Indestructible Life, tr. R.
Manheim (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 124-25. Cf. Burkert, Homo Necans, 233, n. 12, for Dionysos
and Ariadne; 271, n. 22. Cf. n. 74 below.
28. M. J. Vermaseren, Mithras: The Secret God, tr. Therese
and Vincent Megaw (London: Chatto and Windus, 1963), 98; figs. 32-33.
29. Ibid., 97, fig. 33.
30. Ibid.; cf. Leroy
A. Campbell, Mithraic Iconography and
Ideology (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 389. In the Mithraic mysteries,
“pieces of the bull’s flesh are pierced by spits and held above an altar
to suggest the piercing of the bodies of the contracting parties likewise if
they break the pledge.”
31. Vermaseren, Mithras: The Secret God, 98.
33. This is, however, problematical. To
become a sundexios was both a final
step of initiation, and the beginning of it. Cf. Vermaseren, Mithras: The Secret God, 136-37, and E.
D. Francis, “Mithraic Graffiti from Dura-Europos,” in Hinnells, Mithraic Studies, 2:438-39: “The term sundexios does not appear, as some have
suggested, to be restricted to a specific grade. The iunctio dextrarum may have constituted the particular act by which
one became sundexios or the one
through which members continued to affirm their corporate bond.”
34. Vermaseren, Mithras: The Secret God, 136-37.
35. Ibid.; Cumont, Symbolisme funéraire des Romains, 196.
37. Angus, The Mystery Religions and Christianity, 142.
38. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament, tr. and adapted by William Arndt and F. Gingrich
(Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1979), s.v. dexios: 2a, 174, and s.v. koinonia, ibid., 439. Cf. n. 14 above.
“La ‘dextrarum iunctio’ dans l’iconographie,” figs. 32-37.
40. P. Verdier,
“Descent of Christ into Hell,” New
Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967-79), 4:788-93, esp. 791,
41. See Neumann, Gesten und Gebärden, 59-65.
42. P. Verdier,
“Descent of Christ into Hell,” 791, fig. 5. See also F. Cabrol,
“Descente du Christ aux enfers d’apres la liturgie,” and A. De
Meester, “Descente du Christ aux enfers dans les liturgies
orientales,” in Dictionnaire
d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, 682-96, and Friedrich Loofs,
“Descent to Hades (Christ’s),” in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 13
vols. (New York: Scribners, 1928), 4:654-63.
43. M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1955), 95.
44. Evangelium Nicodemi (Gospel of Nicodemus) II, VII (XXIV), 1-2 (Tischendorf). There is much emphasis on Christ’s saving
hand: “And the Lord stretching forth his hand, said: Come unto me, all ye
my saints which bear mine image and my likeness. . . . And the Lord holding the
right hand of Adam, said unto him: Peace be unto thee with all thy children
that are my righteous ones. . . . And the Lord stretched forth his hand and
made the sign of the cross over Adam and over his saints, and he took the right
hand of Adam and went up out of hell. . . . Then did holy David cry aloud and
say: Sing unto the Lord a new song, for he hath done marvellous things. His
right hand hath wrought salvation for him and his holy arm,” James, The Apocryphal New Testament, 137-39.
Cf. n. 23 above.
45. 1 Enoch 71:3, in James H. Charlesworth,
ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 1:49.
46. See Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de
liturgie 1:2929-30, A (988) and B (989); cf. Cumont, Symbolisme funéraire des Romains, figs. 1, 2; also Gertrud Schiller, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, 4 vols. (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1971), 3:140-65, figs.
443-521. For the hand of God alone extending from the cloud, see Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de
liturgie 10:1208. David Seely, “The Winged Sun Disk, the Hand of God
and the Cloud: Symbols of the Presence of God and the Transfiguration,”
unpublished paper, 1983, 14-17. Goodenough, Jewish
Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, 1:247, n. 481.
47. By which I simply
mean non-Gnostic; this does not do justice to the complexity of early
Christianity. Cf. bibliography in my foreword to Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, vol.
4, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1987), xii, n. 8.
48. It is difficult
to assess a statement such as is found in Minucius Felix, Octavius 9 (of Christians): “They know themselves by hidden notae [i.e., tokens, marks, signs; C. T.
Lewis and C. Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1890), s.v.] and insignia [i.e., signals, tokens, badges, insignia; Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, s.v.] and love [those whom] they have scarcely
known previously. . . . They call themselves brother and sister without
distinction.” Minucius (a Christian writer, fl. ca. 200 A.D.) has these
words spoken by an anti-Christian, and a very unreliable interpreter of
Christianity. Cf. E. R. Dodds, Pagan and
Christian in an Age of Anxiety (New York: Norton, 1965), 111, on reasons
for Christian unpopularity: “They appeared, moreover, to constitute a
secret society, whose members recognized each other by private signs, as
gypsies do today, and were bound together by some mysterious intimacy.”
Cf. Origen, Contra Celsum I, 1, in PG 11:652. Dodds draws the parallel
between Minucius’s notae et insignia and Dionysiac secret signs (Plautus, Miles 10-16: “Give me the signum [i.e., sign, mark, token, password; Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, s.v.], if you are of these Bacchantes”;
Apuleius, Apology 56).
49. Geo Widengren, Mani and Manichaeism, tr. Charles
Kessler (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1965), 52.
50. A. Böhlig and H.
J. Polotsky, trs. and eds., Kephalaia I (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1940), 38, lines 20-21; 40, lines 5-7, 16-19; Hans
Jonas, The Gnostic Religion (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1963), 223.
51. Ibid., 222-23.
52. Ibid., 223, n.
53. Cumont, “The
Dura Mithraeum,” 198. In a Mandaean account of the ultimate reunion of God
and man, Ayar (Ether, equated with the Father in the Mandaean Father/Mother
dyad — “The Mother is ‘the Left,’ the Father ‘the Right': the
Mother, Earth, the Father, Sky,” Ethel S. Drower, The Secret Adam [Oxford: Clarendon, 1960], 13, 14) greets the
approaching spirits. “And when he said ‘The Place of Safe-keeping which is
set apart for the company of the Great [Life],’ they all rose to their feet.
And as they grasped Ayar’s hand in covenant [kusta] he said, ‘The Great Life hath stretched forth His right hand
to thee! Put away passion from thy thought! Thy thought shall be filled with
Ours and thy garment and our Garment shall be One.” Ibid., 55; cf. 24, n.
2. Here the dexiosis is used in the context of arrival, covenant, and the final mystic communion.
The handclasp is also found in the round dance of apostles in the Gnostic Acts of John 94: “He bade us
therefore make as it were a ring, holding one another’s hands, and himself
standing in the midst.” James, The
Apocryphal New Testament, 253. See also Ethel S. Drower, Water into Wine (London: Murray, 1956),
102-11, the most extensive analysis of the kusta. Cf. the Second Apocalypse of James 57:10-11, in James Robinson, ed., The Nag
Hammadi Library (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 253, with Christ speaking at
a gate: “But now, stretch out your [hand]. Now, take hold of me.”
54. Following is a brief overview of
extraclassical examples: for the handclasp in an Indian marriage rite, see Ramayana of Valmiki, tr. Robert Goldman
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), vol. I, Sarga 72, lines
17-22, p. 262; J. A. B. Van Buitenen, ed. and tr., The Mahabharata I (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973),
106, 444, n. 43.1. Arnold Van Gennep, The
Rites of Passage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 105,
describes a Brahmanic initiation culminating in a ritual death, which involves
a bath, a change of clothing, a change of name, and the handclasp. Van Gennep
defines the handclasp as one of the rites of incorporation (“a formal
entrance, a meal in common, an exchange of handclasps”  — almost
a point-by-point description of the portrayal of Vibia’s entrance into
paradise. Cf. marriage rites of incorporation, 132: “tying parts of each
other’s clothing together; touching each other reciprocally some way, . . .
joining hands, intertwining the fingers, kissing, embracing”); he further
cites examples of its use in Africa (28) and in Slavic brotherhoods (29). The
rite of incorporation is the uniting of the token, of course. One of the more
curious examples of the handclasp I have found was used in a Finnish folk song;
cf. The Kalevala, tr. Francis P.
Magoun, Jr. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 380-81, 374-75:
this was always performed in pairs, and the two singers (one of whom starts a
verse, while the other completes it) sit, facing each other, and hold the
other’s hands. This is called “hand in hand” (kasi kateen), a deux, or “singing in turn” (380). So the
verbal token and the manual token are used simultaneously. For more on the
handclasp as a marriage rite, see Crawley, The
Mystic Rose, 118-19. For the handclasp in ancient Mesopotamia, see S.
Mayassis, Mystères et initiations dans la
préhistoire et protohistoire (Athens: Bibliotheque d’archéologie orientale
d’Athènes, 1961), 49-51. It is “the expression of familiarity, of equality,
of sympathy, of love, of protection. ‘You are compassionate (oh! Marduk). . . .
I am weak. . . . You grasp the hand.’ ‘Oh, you who save he who is captive, who
take by the hand he who has fallen.’ ” The dead man prays to be
resurrected, to grasp the hand of god in the presence of the great gods (50).
This is the same salvific resurrecting handclasp we have noted earlier.
Mayassis should be balanced by Svend A. Pallis, The Babylonian Akitu Festival (Copenhagen: A. F. Host, 1926),
174-83. See also Angel Gonzales, “El Rito de la Alianza,” Estudios Biblicos 24 (1965): 217-38
(222); Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the
Eternal Return, tr. W. Trask (New York: Bollingen/Pantheon, 1954), 23; Geo
Widengren, “Reflections on the Origin of the Mithraic Mysteries,”
645-68 of Perennitas: Studi in onore di
Angelo Brelich (Rome: Edizioni dell’ Ateneo, 1980), 662; E. O. James, Christian Myth and Ritual (Gloucester,
MA: P. Smith, 1973), 162-63. I am indebted to Esther Gilman for the following
two references. Frank Waters, The Book of
the Hopi (New York: Viking Press, 1963), 252, writes that Hopi tradition
records the original meeting of Hopis and Spaniards, saying “that Tovar
and his men were conducted to Oraibi. They were met by all the clan chiefs at
Tawtoma, as prescribed by prophecy, where four lines of sacred meal were drawn.
The Bear Clan leader stepped up to the barrier and extended his hand, palm up,
to the leader of the white men. If he was indeed the true Pahana, the Hopis
knew he would extend his own hand, palm down, and clasp the Bear Clan leader’s
hand to form the nakwach, the ancient
symbol of brotherhood. Tovar instead curtly commanded one of his men to drop a
gift into the Bear chief’s hand, believing that the Indian wanted a present of
some kind. Instantly all the Hopi chiefs knew that Pahana had forgotten the
ancient agreement made between their peoples at the time of their separation.
Nevertheless, the Spaniards were escorted up to Oraibi, fed and quartered, and
the agreement explained to them. It was understood that when the two were
finally reconciled, each would correct the other’s laws and faults; they would
live side by side and share in common all the riches of the land and join their
faiths in one religion that would establish the truth of life in a spirit of
universal brotherhood. The Spaniards did not understand, and having found no
gold, they soon departed.” [Cf. 151, 344: nakwa is a mark of identification; nakwach is a symbol of brotherhood.]
This story is particularly interesting
to me because it illustrates vividly the theme, so important in both Epitrepontes and Rudens, of the token as a sacred sign of recognition versus the
token merely as something to be sold for money. I also find evocative the idea
of white and red man forming a primeval token that was to be reunited in an
exchange of culture and peace.
For the handclasp in
Masonry and in Masonry-influenced Mormon iconography, see Richard Poulsen, The Pure Experience of Order (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), 45-55; and Allen D.
Roberts, “Where Are the All-Seeing Eyes?” Sunstone (May-June 1979): 22-37.
55. See Brilliant, Gesture and Rank, 20, n. 68; Neumann, Gesten und Gebärden, 52.
56. Cf. Cumont, Symbolisme funéraire des Romains, 412,
fig. 84; Cumont, “The Dura Mithraeum,” 197, calls the dexiosis a “mutual embrace.” The handclasp often shaded into an embrace (as in
Mithraic iconography, Vermaseren, Mithras:
The Secret God, fig. 32), or was combined with an embrace — numerous
references in Sittl, Die Gebärden
der Griechen und Römer, 32-33. E.g., Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica III, 258: “They clasped
the hand [dexioonto-dexioomai, “greet with the right hand, welcome,” cf. Liddell, Scott, and Jones, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v.] and
embraced (amphagapason) their mother
when they saw her.”
57. She is also
enabled to marry her lover, Plesidippus, an Athenian, who had tried to save her from Labrax, a
references in Sittl, Die Gebärden
der Griechen und Römer, 37. There was often a combination of the dexiosis, embrace, and kiss. Sophocles, Oedipus at
Colonus (1130-31), “And stretch to me your right hand, lord, so that I
may touch and kiss, if it is lawful, your head.”
59. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, 261-62.
61. Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones, Epitome, 23 (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 19:689).
62. Clement of
Alexandria, Protreptica II, 12. Cf.
Psellus of late antiquity, De Operatione
Daemonum, 3, according to whom the Eleusinian mysteries enacted the story
of Demeter and Persephone; Aphrodite rising from the sea; the ritual marriage
of Persephone; Demeter’s birth-pangs; a “goat-legged mime” of Zeus
raping Demeter; then rites of Dionysos; the cista with cakes; a “sounding
cauldron” and a gong; something done by Baubo” — text and
translation in Jane Harrison, Prolegomena
to the Study of Greek Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1922), 568-69; cf. Psellos, De Operatione
Daemonum, ed. J. Boissonade (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1964), 39. This seems
garbled and overly inclusive, but at the least it suggests a ritual drama; that
general idea must have been plausible to the writer’s audience. Despite these
references, there is a school of Eleusinian interpretation that denies a drama
there (e.g., Kerényi, Dionysos: Archetypal
Image of an Indestructible Life, 26, 116-17). One of the complications of
the Eleusinian mysteries is that there was a version of them that took place at
Alexandria; a technique used to disallow evidence for Eleusis is to ascribe a
text to Alexandria, as Kerényi does here. N. J. Richardson, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), 25, is not
convinced that initiates participated in the drama, though he believes one took
place. Cf. Burkert, Homo Necans, 275,
63. Martin P.
Nilsson, Greek Folk Religion (New
York: Harper, 1961), 54. Cf. Ugo Bianchi, The
Greek Mysteries (Leiden: Brill, 1976), pls. 20-22; Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, pl. 88.
64. Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet, 39. Cf.
Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, 22.
65. W. K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, 2nd rev.
ed. (London: Methuen, 1952), 204.
66. See n. 14 above.
67. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, 172-74.
68. Ibid., 182.
69. Edwin Rohde, Psyche, tr. W. B. Hillis (London: K.
Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1925), 601-3; cf. also Hugo Hepding, Attis (Giessen: Ricker, 1903), 178-89;
George Thomson, Aeschylus and Athens, 2nd ed. (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1946), 438, n. 35; Albrecht Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie (Stuttgart:
Teubner, 1966), 134-35. Contra, for Eleusis, cf. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, 296.
70. Notice the force
of hupo (“beneath,” cf. the
fourth Orphic plate) and dekhomai, “receive”; cf. Seaford, “Dionysiac Drama and the Dionysiac
Mysteries,” 247, n. 146, on dekhomai as a ritual term.
71. Richardson, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 232.
72. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1050-51. Cf.
Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio IX,
35, 5, where Demeter is the nurse (trophon)
73. Richardson, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 236; cf.
74. Nilsson, The Dionysiac Mysteries 75 and fig. 10d.
75. Gunther Zuntz, Persephone (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971),
178. See 178, n. 3, for other versions of this scene. Cf. G. Van Hoorn,
“Dionysus et Ariadne,” Mnemosyne, series 4, 12 (1959): 193-97; Strong, Apotheosis
and After Life, 200, for Dionysos as parabolic; cf. n. 27 above.
“The Mystery Religions,” 149.
78. Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, figs. 7,
79. Ibid., fig. 10.
80. Epistula VI, 4 (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 3:484); cf. Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, 31. Cyprian
also wrote, “Fully blessed are they, who among you, having walked by this
path of glory, have departed from the world and . . . have already attained the
embrace and the kiss of the Lord,” Epistula XXXVII, 3 (Corpus Scriptorum
Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 3:578); cf. Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, 34.
81. Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, 278.
82. John Chrysostom, Homily on the First Epistle to the
Corinthians, XLIV, 2, in PG 61:376.
83. John Chrysostom, De Compunctione I, 3, in PG 47:398: ton apo tes kardias aspasmon.
84. Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, 18, 278.
85. Widengren, Mani and Manichaeism, 53.
86. Böhlig and
Polotsky, Kephalaia I, 38, lines 22-30.
Cf. Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, 20-21.
87. As with the handclasp, the ritual
embrace has an important parallel in the ancient Near East, this time in Egypt.
Since there was a direct close dependence of the Isaic mysteries on Egyptian
ritual, we may even make the hypothesis that such an embrace may have been as
important to the Isaic mysteries as it was to Egyptian ritual. See Franz
Cumont, Oriental Religions in Roman
Paganism (New York: Dover, 1956), 94: “Even under the Caesars the
ancient ceremonies dating back to the first ages of Egypt were scrupulously
performed. . . . This ritual and the attitude toward it found their way for the
most part into the Latin temples of Isis and Serapis. This fact has long been
ignored, but there can be no doubt about it.” Cf. ibid., 74, “One
fact remains, namely, that Serapis and Osiris were either immediately
identified or else were identical from the beginning.” See ibid., 79, for
the diffusion of this mystery in Greece. It was, of course, very prevalent in
In Egypt the embrace was closely tied
to kingship succession: it was a paternal, father/son interchange, and also a
means of transferring divine power. King and son were assimilated to the
theological paradigm of Horus and Osiris, whose embrace of reunion after the
death of Osiris they copied. However, in Egypt, the kingship aspect of the rite
always seems dominant. In the Memphis Theology, whose original text dates from
before 2,700 B.C., near the beginning of Egyptian history (cf. James Pritchard,
ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating
to the Old Testament [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955], 4),
the text ends in an embrace. Osiris “entered the mysterious portals in the
glory of the lords of eternity” following the sun. “He joined with
the court and associated with the gods. . . . His son Horus appeared as King of
Upper Egypt and appeared as King of Lower Egypt, in the embrace of [cf. Henri
Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 32: “in the arms of”]
his father Osiris, together with [ibid., “in the presence of”] the
gods.” Frankfort, ibid., 35, calls this a ” ‘mystic communion’ between
father and son at the moment of succession, a unity and continuity of divine
power.” In a Pyramid Text, an
embrace with Atum is mentioned: “Thou art cool in the embrace of thy
father, in the embrace of Atum. Atum, let this Unas ascend to thee; embrace
him. He is thy son, of thy body, throughout eternity” (ibid., 122).
Earlier in the same text, there is the maternal embrace: “The embrace of
thy mother Nut receives thee” (ibid., 121, cf. 135). This text is also full
of purification, apotheosis, and perfect tense of accomplishments, but, unlike
the Orphic plates, it is expressed in the second person. “Thou hast
‘become,’ thou art high, thou hast been transfigured.”
These texts, according to Frankfort,
are mythological, with occasional references to ritual (ibid., 123). But in
what he calls “the Mystery Play of the Succession,” the whole drama
(dating from 2,000 B.C., the “actual script of a play”) is overtly
ritualistic. An important element of the “mystery” is the embrace
between the new king (assimilated to Horus) and Osiris (represented by a bronze
‘stomacher’ fitting over the chest and back). “The immortal parts of
Osiris seem immanent in it, and the mutual embrace of Horus and Osiris is
effected.” This act is reciprocal: divine power flows from the old king to
his successor and son; but the son strengthens the father as he prepares for
the arduous journey in the after life. “The ’embrace’ is no mere sign of
affection, but a true fusion, a communion between two living spirits, unio mystica” (ibid., 134). When
Ramses I is embraced by Ptah, the god endows him with the splendor of divine
life, symbolized by gold, “the flesh of the gods.” Ptah spoke:
“When I see thee my heart rejoices and I receive thee in an embrace of
gold, I enfold thee with permanence, stability, and satisfaction; I endow thee
with health and joy of heart; I immerse thee in rejoicing, joy, gladness of
heart, and delights — forever” (ibid., 135). For two more examples
of the Egyptian embrace, see ibid., 135.
There are hints of the ritual embrace
in Mesopotamia, see Mayassis, Mystères et
initiations dans la préhistoire et protohistoire, 447-48. Gilgamesh says,
“I have embraced [Enkidu] as one embraces a wife, I have raised him and I
have placed him on his feet.” Mayassis notes the presence of the embrace
in the ritual nursing the king receives from the representative of a goddess.
The embrace is one of
the most common of Van Gennep’s “rites of incorporation,” Rites of Passage, 29, 132, 133. For the
embrace in the Hellenistic novel, with its possible relevance to mystery there,
see Reinhold Merkelbach, Roman und
Mysterium in der Antike (Munich: Beck, 1962), 85-86, and 345, s.v. Umarmung. Philo interestingly gives the
kiss/embrace a cosmological significance. In Questions on Exodus II, 78, and II, 169, he writes that the things
of creation meet in “an embrace and kiss of concord.” The divine
Logos is “the mediator and bond of all things, weaving together the parts
of the universe, including contrarieties.” His force (love) causes
inimical, irreconcilable things to unite in an embrace and kiss of love
(Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, 15).