National Geographic : 1920 Jan
ASIA MINOR IN THE TIME OF THE SEVEN WISE MEN could be carried out in more than one way; to send an inscrutable answer, that sounded deep and wise and would allow those who sent to consult the oracle the privilege of doing their own way. Yet the power of the oracle was almost unlimited and controlled even the rights of kings in the most distant parts of the Grecian world. There was, however, another side to the religious life of that time more diffi cult to understand. During the sixth century B. C. there arose a great wave of religious emotions, affecting every oracle and popular temple and influenc ing even some of the philosophical teach ing. It seemed to appear first as an out burst of personal miracle-working in con nection with the worship of Dionysus and was especially strong in Asia Minor. It taught the purging of sin by sacri fice, the immortality and divinity of the soul, eternal reward to the pure, beyond the grave, and retribution to the impure, the pure being those initiated into these teachings. This was the religion of the common people and was closely connected with the Orphic mysteries which were practiced in secret, took the form of secret societies, and therefore are almost impos sible to investigate. THE BELIEF IN INCARNATION Certain of these cults believed in the incarnation and suffering of Dionysus Zagreus. Zagreus was a god who was born again as a man, yet was a god, was received into heaven, and became the highest and, in a sense, the only god. An individual who worshiped Dionysus Zag reus could himself develop his potential divinity. Dionysus was explained in the Orphic mysteries as the god within the spirit of worship, as inexplicable joy, as the per sonification of the spirit of ecstacy, and the impulse above reason that lifts man out of himself and gives him power and blessedness. These mysteries were in part dependent upon the singing and playing of sacred music. In the time of the Wise Men many of the old temples were rising on the coast of Asia Minor. The Temple of Diana of Ephesus, one column of which is now in the British Museum, was begun. There is also to be seen in the British Museum a lion of colossal size from Miletus, carved in marble, on which the name of Thales, the Wise Man, is in scribed. Sculpture had been for some time an acknowledged art and figures were made of gold and silver as well as of marble. Iron also was sometimes used for orna ments, as soldering in iron was discov ered in that age by a man in Chios. The pottery was perhaps the most artistic product of the time, and the earliest known vase bearing a Greek in scription, now in the British Museum, was from one of the iEgean Islands. It is ascribed to the early part of the period of the Wise Men. THE IIALLS OF FAME AND HOSPITALITY The social life was first of all religious, as the worship of the gods and goddesses involved many public and private cere monies, but there was also public politi cal life in various forms. In every large city there was a pry taneum, where national heroes were hon ored and where public feasts were given. Among the cupbearers who served the wine were sons. of most noble families. One of Sappho's brothers was a cup bearer in the prytaneum in Mitylene. The prytaneum was the state hearth, where the sacred fire was ever burning, and there was the center of the life of the whole city and of the colonies sent out from that city. Of the details of the lives of the Wise Men we know very little, and the stories told about them are probably mythical. Bias of Priene is sometimes placed at their head, but Thales and Solon are the best known. Pittakos was a wise re former and king in Mitylene, and there is one figure of his head in existence which is found in the Bibliotheque Na tionale, in Paris, on a coin of later date from Mitylene. The life of each one of them was doubtless thrilling with interest, but the utmost that we can do to revive their ac tivities is to associate the few events that are known with the places which were the theater of their actions and which are also a part of our own surroundings.