Plato's Use of Eleusinian Mystery Motifs

Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin (1999)
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Abstract
The Eleusinian Mysteries are religious rituals that include rites of initiation, purification, and revelation. The high point of these Mysteries is the moment when a priest reveals the secret of the Mysteries to the newly initiated. Plato frequently uses language and motifs from the Mysteries in his dialogues, yet Plato scholars have not paid much attention to this usage, and those who have done so have not found much philosophical significance in it. I argue that in explaining his epistemology in three middle and late period dialogues Plato consciously and systematically uses Eleusinian Mystery motifs to convey the idea of a unique kind of knowledge. This immediate, direct, and incorrigible knowledge bursts upon Plato's initiates after they undergo preparatory processes such as purification through elenchus. I examine the Eleusinian Mystery motifs that Plato employs in the Ladder of Eros at Symposium 209e--212a, in the middle books of the Republic, including the Myth of the Cave at Republic 509a--518d, and in the Myth of the Soul at Phaedrus 246a--253c, and I argue that Plato finds these Mystery elements useful for two reasons. First, in many cases before an individual can come to know a form he must go through certain conditioning and transformatory processes to prepare him for it, and motifs from the Mysteries help Plato to describe these processes. Second, knowledge of a form is different from other kinds of knowledge, and the motif of the visual revelation of the epopteia helps him to express the direct, unmediated contact that constitutes knowledge of a form. ;The structure of the dissertation is as follows. In chapter one I present background information concerning the stages and events of the Mysteries. I consider the purpose and effects of initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries, paying special attention to the preparatory rituals. In chapter two I present a general discussion of certain aspects of Plato's epistemology and show how Plato employs the five Mystery motifs of progressing through a sequence of stages, purification, being led by a mystagogos, experiencing the epopteia, and achieving eudaimonia in order to explicate these aspects. In chapter three I consider the specifics of Plato's use of Mystery terminology in the Symposium. And finally, in an Appendix, I argue that Plato has a model of knowledge by acquaintance, since I assert in chapters two and three that Plato uses the Mystery theme of an epopteia to express features of this model
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