The trial of Phryne - The Eleusinian Mysteries


Phryne was a Greek courtesan, who lived in the century. IV a. C. Her real name was Mnesarete, but she was nicknamed Phryne (toad) for the olive-white color of her complexion. Ethereal of rare beauty was the lover and model of the sculptor Praxiteles. She was tried for impiety, a crime that involved capital punishment, because she was accused of having founded a brotherhood, made up of men and women who proposed to practice the cult of Isodaite, a new divinity. The identity of this deity is not certain, but it is attested that the name was an attribute of the god Dionysus, and therefore it is possible that in reality Isodaite was not a real deity in its own right, but a particular cult of Dionysus, that is a religious rite where promiscuity was exhorted, and hence the accusation of impiety made at Phryne. In this regard it is said, but there is no evidence on the veracity of the fact, that during the trial, his defender Iperide having noticed that his harangue was not having success, before the judges of the Aeropago, the supreme court of Athens to which they were entrusted. judgments of great importance, he stripped the girl, so that everyone could admire her splendor, arguing that beauty cannot be a fault, and with this gesture, he managed to get her acquitted.

Phryne nude before the judges of the Aeropago - Painting by Jean-Léon Gérome - 1861. Oil on canvas - Cm 80.5 x 128 - At: Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg.

Phryne usually went dressed in transparent veils, but at the Eleusine celebrations in Poseidonia she appeared completely naked, unleashing with her sensuality the most excessive carnal instincts of the participants.

Phryne in Poseidonia in Eleusis - Painting by Henryk Semiradzky - Year 1889 - Oil on canvas - Dimensions cm. 390 x 763.5.

The Eleusinian Mysteries, ritual initiation festivals, were held every year in Eleusis, in the sanctuary of Demeter to celebrate the myth of the abduction of Persephone, a figure from Greek mythology, who entered the Roman gods with the name of Proserpina. They were secret rites, famous throughout ancient Greece, then spread to Rome as well. Participants, as a reward for initiation into the cult, trusted in a reward in the afterlife. The celebrations for the Mysteries lasted ten days, during which orgies took place, psychedelic drugs were consumed to practice evocations and have visions of the world beyond.

The myth of Persephone. Hades, brother of Zeus and Poseidon, Lord of the Underworld, did not have a consort. Eager for a female presence, he fell in love with Persephone, the beautiful daughter of his sister Demeter, goddess of harvest. One day, while he was in the company of his mother, Persephone went away to pick some flowers. Hades, with the consent of Zeus, took advantage of that moment and kidnapped her, dragging her with him into the bowels of the earth. Demeter desperately searched for her for nine days and nights with no result. On the tenth day she went to Elios, the all-seeing sun, and the rapture was revealed to her. Demeter blackmailed Zeus, telling him that she would never return to Olympus and that she would not allow the earth to produce its fruits, until her daughter Persephone was brought back to her. Zeus, worried about the fate of the world, convinced Hades to return Persephone to earth, according to the agreement that she, at the beginning of spring, would go back to the world of the living to stay there until the end of autumn, when she would return to the world of the living. Hades until the end of winter, as Queen of the Underworld. The agreement was respected and the land began to bear fruit again.

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