K is for Kore

Published April 13, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Technically, I could use any name usually Romanized with a C, since there is no C in Greek, and the names therefore start with kappa, unless they start with “Ch” in which case they start with chi.  But I thought I’d go with Kore, one of the only ancient Greek names that is pretty much never spelled with a C in English.  (Well, they don’t want people confusing it with the English word “core,” right?)

So, Kore just means “maiden.”  It’s often used to describe a certain kind of statue from the Archaic Period.  But since I’m talking about mythology, I’m using it to mean Persephone.  Kore was, essentially, her cultic name, particularly in cults worshiping her in concert with her mother, Demeter.  (As opposed to those worshiping her in concert with her husband, Hades.  Those, to the best of my knowledge (which admittedly isn’t very much) never called her Kore.  Though much of the worship involving both Demeter and Persephone still had a strong focus on her abduction by Hades.)  So, in this case, Kore might more accurately be translated as “Daughter.”

The most famous cult worshiping Kore was the one at Eleusis, just outside of Athens.  Their Mysteries are still famous, and a subject of constant study.  Despite that we know almost nothing about them.

Because all of the mystery cults placed the strict requirement on their members never to talk about the cult’s rituals.  They were always for members only.  And the Eleusinian Mysteries was particularly rigid and inflexible about never allowing its initiates to describe what they’ve seen and done in the cult.  In fact, one of the accusations against Alcibiades was violating the secrecy of the Eleusinian Mysteries.  And I’m fairly sure I read somewhere that one of the tragedians (Aeschylos?  Sophocles?) had been accused of including sacred information about the Mysteries in one of his (now lost) plays, but I can’t remember where I read that (or even which playwright it was), so…yeah, better to take that one as nothing but a second- or even third-hand rumor.

In any case, we do know a little bit about them, in that they seem to have in part mirrored or otherwise invoked Demeter’s search for Persephone after her abduction, and that taking part in the Mysteries was considered life-altering for initiates.  Scholars often theorize that psychotropic drugs were involved, but there’s no firm evidence.  Given the age of the cult–it probably dated back to Mycenaean times–if there were psychotropic drugs involved, it was probably opium; laudanum from opium poppies has been found in Mycenaean graves.  (Well, traces of it on the tools used to prepare it, rather.)  Though opium doesn’t seem to be the most popular choice among scholars, despite its known use in the region.  I dunno.  Personally, I think it would be more interesting if the initiates were having divine visions without the use of psychotropic drugs.  (I don’t know how that would happen, mind you, but it would certainly be more interesting!)



……and I’ve run out of things to say.  I guess I should have gone with Kronos or something after all…

Sorry.  This has been a lame post.  I’ll do better tomorrow.  (In fact, it’s going to be a myth re-telling!  I enjoy those.  I hope other people do, as well.)


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