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p477 Eumolpidae

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p477 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

EUMOLPIDAE (εὐμολπίδαι), the most distinguished and venerable among the priestly families in Attica. They were devoted to the service of Demeter at Athens and Eleusis, and were said to be the descendants of the Thracian bard Eumolpus, who, according to some legends, had introduced the Eleusinian mysteries into Attica (Diod. Sic. I.29; Apollod. III.15 § 4; Demosth. c. Neaer. p1384). The high priest of the Eleusinian goddess (ἱεροφάντης or μυσταγωγός), who conducted the celebration of her mysteries and the initiation of the mystae, was always a member of the family of the Eumolpidae, as Eumolpus himself was believed to have been the first hierophant (Hesych. s.v. Εὐμολπίδαι; Tacit. Hist. IV.83; Arnob., V.25; Clemens Alex. Protrept. p16, &c.). In his external appearance the hierophant was distinguished by a peculiar cut of his hair, a kind of diadem (στρόφιον), and a long purple robe (Arrian. in Epictet. III.21; Plut. Alcib. 22). In his voice he seems always to have affected a solemn tone suited to the sacred character of his office, which he held for life, and which obliged him to remain unmarried (Paus. II.14 § 1). The hierophant was attended by four ἐπιμεληταί, one of whom likewise belonged to the family of the Eumolpidae (Harpocrat. and Suidas, s.v. Ἐπιμέληται τῶν μυστηρίων). Other members of their family do not seem to have had any particular functions at the Eleusinia, though they undoubtedly took part in the great procession to Eleusis. The Eumolpidae had on certain occasions to offer up prayers for the welfare of the state, and in case of neglect they might be taken to account and punished; for they were, like all other priests and magistrates, responsible for their conduct, and for the sacred treasures entrusted to their care (Aeschin. c. Ctesiph. p56, Steph.; compare Euthyne.)

The Eumolpidae had also judicial power in cases were religion was violated (περὶ ἀσεβείας, Demosth. c. Androt. p601). This power probably belonged to this family from the earliest times, and Solon as well as Pericles do not seem to have made any alternation in this respect. Whether this religious court acted independent of the archon king, or under his guidance, is uncertain. The law according to which they pronounced their sentence, and of which they had the exclusive possession, was not written, but handed down by tradition; and the Eumolpidae alone had the right to interpret it, whence they are sometimes called ἐξηγηταί [Exegetae]. In cases for which the law had made no provisions, they acted according to their own discretion (Lysias, c. Andocid. p204; Andocid. De Myst. p57). Respecting the mode of proceeding in these religious courts nothing is known (Heffter, Athen. Gerichtsverf. p405, &c.; Platner, Process, II p147, &c.). In some cases, when a person was convicted of gross violation of the public institutions of his country, the people, besides sending the offender into exile, added a clause in their verdict that a curse should be pronounced upon them by the Eumolpidae (Plut. Alcib. 22; Corn. Nep. Alcib. 4, 5). But the Eumolpidae could pronounce such a curse only under the command of the people, and might afterwards be compelled by the people to revoke it and purify the person whom they had cursed before (Plut. Alcib. 33; Corn. Nep. Alcib. 6.5).


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