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6530: Poppies, dear to Persephone, growing at Eleusis, sacred to her. In the background the Plutonium can be seen.

"Whoever has been initiated at Eleusis or has read what are called the Orphica knows what I mean." (Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.37.4).

Eleusis, which stands on the Thriasian plain, is a city of Attica, on the Saronic Gulf, northwest of Athens, near the Isthmus of Corinth.


The city of Eleusis was named after Eleusis, also called Eleusinus. Some have said that Eleusinus was the son of Ogygus, the Boeotian king who lost his land to the Phoenician immigrant or invader Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. Others told that Eleusinus was the son of Hermes and Daira, one of the OCEANIDS. King Eleusinus, they say, married Cothonea and had by her a son Triptolemus, known for having sown Demeter's wheat in the whole inhabited earth, flying through the sky in a chariot dragged by winged dragons. When Demeter came to Eleusis looking for her daughter Persephone, she pretended to be a nurse, and taking care of little Triptolemus, she attempted to make him immortal by putting him in the fire. But when Eleusinus discovered her manipulations the goddess struck him dead (see also Demeter).

King Celeus 1

But it has also been told that when Demeter came to Eleusis, the king of the city was Celeus 1, son of Eleusinus. In this account, Celeus 1 appears as father of Triptolemus by Metanira. Whatever the case may be, both Celeus 1 and Eleusinus are said to have died when Demeter visited Eleusis. Of the many children of Celeus 1 and Metanira—Demophon 2, Triptolemus, Saesara, Diogenia 2, Pammerope, Clisidice, Demo 2, Callithoe and Callidice 3—no descent can be traced except for Saesara, who having married Coco, gave birth to Meganira. Meganira, some say, became the wife of Arcas 1, the son of Zeus and Callisto and eponym of Arcadia. But other women: Leanira, Chrysopelia, Erato 1 and Laodamia 3, among other whose names are unknown, are called wives of Arcas 1, and mothers of his sons and daughters.

Eumolpus 1

During the reign of Erechtheus in Athens, war broke out against the Eleusinians, who were assisted by Eumolpus 1. This Eumolpus 1 attacked Athens because, as he put it, that land belonged to his father Poseidon. But despite his father's power, Eumolpus 1 was defeated and killed by Erechtheus along with his son Ismarus 2 (also called Immaradus), who commanded the troops. Eumolpus 1's mother was Chione 1, daughter of Boreas 1 (the North Wind) and Orithyia 2, the daughter of King Erectheus that was ravished by Boreas 1 (see WINDS). Chione 1 was not proud of having been seduced by such a mighty god as Poseidon, and feeling shame or fear for her father, flung her son Eumolpus 1 into the sea. Poseidon, however, picked him up, and having taken him to Ethiopia, gave him to his daughter Benthesicyme to bring up. When Eumolpus 1 became a man, Benthesicyme's Ethiopian husband gave him one of his two daughters. But for Eumolpus 1 she was not enough, and so he tried to seduce his wife's sister. For that reason Eumolpus 1 was banished, and taking his son Ismarus 2 with him, came to Thrace where Tegyrius reigned. This king gave his daughter in marriage to Ismarus 2, but ungrateful as they were, they plotted against Tegyrius, and being detected they finally emigrated to Eleusis. On the death of Ismarus 2, they say, Eumolpus 1 returned to Thrace, and being reconciled with Tegyrius, he succeeded to the kingdom.

6502: Eleusis in Roman times. Archaeological Museum of Eleusis.

When the war with Athens broke up then, the Eleusinians asked for military assistance, and Eumolpus 1 came with a large force of Thracians. But, as it has been told, he was killed in battle by Erechtheus. Others affirm, however, that it was his son Ismarus 2 who perished in that war. The commander in chief of the Athenians was Ion 1, grandson of King Erechtheus. Ion 1 perished in the war as did Ismarus 2, son of Eumolpus 1. When the war concluded without being fought out, it was agreed that Eleusis was to keep independent control of the mysteries, becoming the subject of Athens in all other matters. Eumolpus 1 was appointed to administer the mysteries, and after him, his own son Ceryx, and Celeus 1's daughters Saesara, Diogenia 2 and Pammerope.

Entangled versions

These matters being contradictory, Ceryx has also been called son of Hermes and Aglaurus 2, the daughter of Cecrops 1, an autochthon. And there are also those who assert that Celeus 1 was no king but a peasant. And of Erechtheus it has also been said that he was by birth an Egyptian, and that he became king of Athens for having brought from Egypy a great supply of grain when drought and the destruction of crops threatened Athens. And when this city then made his benefactor king, he instituted the Eleusinian mysteries, transferring their ritual from Egypt. But all these events being uncertain, it has been said that:

"Ancient legends, deprived of the help of poetry, have given rise to many fictions, especially concerning the pedigrees of heroes." (Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.38.7).

And so the Phliasians, who lived near Sicyon close to the Isthmus of Corinth, have claimed that the mysteries were first established in Eleusis by Celeus 1's brother Dysaules, who was expelled from Eleusis by Ion 1 during the war. But some refuse to believe these two were related, and claim instead that the mysteries were taught by Demeter to Triptolemus, Diocles 2, and Celeus 1.

Some initiated

Location of Eleusis in Attica

It was not lawful for foreigners to be initiated, and that is why Pylius became the adoptive father of Heracles 1 at Eleusis. Before being initiated, Heracles 1 needed also to be cleansed for the slaughter of the CENTAURS, many of which Poseidon hid coincidentally near Eleusis. And the one, they say, who cleansed Heracles 1 was Eumolpus 1. However, this sounds unlikely, for Eumolpus 1 lived before the times of Heracles 1. Others have said, therefore, that when Heracles 1 came to Eleusis, the initiatory rites were performed by Musaeus, called sometimes son of Orpheus, and sometimes son of Antiophemus. In a similar way, when the DIOSCURI invaded Attica they demanded to be initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries, being adopted by Aphidnus 2. Yet others have said that the Eleusinian mysteries were opened to any Athenian or Hellene who wished to be initiated. In any case, the nature of the Eleusinian mysteries was never divulged, though the mysteries and the rites were brought to other cities. For example Phlyus, son of Gaia, had a son Celaenus 1, who was father of Caucon 2, the man who brought the rites of the Great Goddesses from Eleusis to Messenia under the reign of Polycaon 1 and Messene. King Polycaon 1 was son of Lelex 2, the first king of Laconia, said to have come from Egypt.

Eleusis captured by Theseus

Eleusis was, on a later occasion, captured from Megara by Theseus, after he had come to Athens. And in Eleusis he slew the Arcadian Cercyon 1, son either of Branchus and the Nymph Argiope 1, or of Poseidon and Amphictyon's daughter, or of Hephaestus. The graves of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES were shown near Eleusis, and this burial, they say, was a favor that Theseus showed to Adrastus 1.

Related sections Athens, Demeter, Map of Greece, Marmor Parium & Pétau at Mythical Chronology  

Apd.1.5.1, 2.5.12, 3.14.7, 3.15.4; Apd.Ep.1.3; Cal.Dem.30; Dio.1.29.1, 4.25.1; Hdt.8.65; Hyg.Fab.147; Nonn.13.188, 27.307, 31.67, 48.958; Ov.Fast.4.508; Ov.Met.7.439; Pau. 1.5.2, 1.27.4, 1.31.3, 1.36.4, 1.37.4, 1.38.3, 2.14.2, 7.1.5, 9.9.1; Plu.The.10.3, 29.5.