Eleusis (now Levsina or Lepsina), an ancient fortified town in Attica, on the bay of Salamis. It was said to have been founded by Eleusis, a son of Hermes. At an early period it was conquered by the Athenians and became one of the most populous cities of Attica. Its principal importance was derived from its being the seat of the celebrated Eleusinian mysteries. These mysteries formed a peculiar religious festival celebrated in honor of the goddess Demeter (Ceres), the patroness of agriculture, and the representative of the procrea-tive power of nature. Originally these celebrations appear to have been something like modern thanksgiving festivals, but afterward a symbolic meaning was attached to them, and they became the vehicle of a secret science, conducive as was believed to eternal bliss. They consisted in dramatic representations of the myth of Ceres and the rape of Proserpine, her daughter, by Pluto, and would seem to have been intended to propagate the belief in the immortality of the soul, and to give an ideal meaning to the coarse fancies of the popular religion. The lesser Eleusinian mysteries were celebrated at Agrae on the Ilissus during the spring, and were a preparation for the greater.
The great mysteries were celebrated at Athens and Eleusis in the latter half of September and the first of October; they lasted nine days. Except to murderers, barbarians, slaves, and afterward Epicureans and Christians, the admission to the public performances and religious exercises was free for all; but in the secret allegorical representations none but the initiated were allowed to participate, and they were bound by solemn oaths never to reveal what they had seen or heard. The unity of God and the immortality of the soul are supposed to have been the secret doctrine of the mysteries; and the symbolism of the ceremonies was probably, as Bishop Thirlwall suggests, the remains of a worship which preceded the rise of the Hellenic mythology. In 1858 a Greek schoolmaster named Vlastos discovered at the village of Hagi-Constantios an inscription upon an old marble slab, containing rules and regulations for the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries, but nothing was learned from them about their allegorical meaning. - See Uvaroff, Essai sur les mysteres d' Eleusis (3d ed., Paris, 1816), and Preller, Demeter und Persephone (Hamburg, 1837).