Vates and Initiates: Augustan Poetic Manipulation of Greek Mystery Cult
Vazquez, Adriana Maria
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This study argues for the viability of mystery cult as a distinct category of religious experience with a particular presence in the Roman poetic imagination and an especial importance in the Augustan period as locus for contemporary critique. Mystery cult, considered severally as the Bacchic, Orphic, and Eleusinian Mysteries and categorically as an elective religious experience with consistent features and distinct from civic religious engagement, furnished Augustan poets with literary topoi and unique poetic formulae available for generic manipulation, variation, and allusion. The identification of such literary devices works towards establishing a distinct literary language of mystery cult as a broader mode of literary discourse, with an emphasis on a pervasive rhetoric of secrecy and exclusivity. As the literary evidence demonstrates, identification of this discursive mode invites reconsideration of the mechanisms of allusion through reframing the allusive dynamic between poet and learned, elite audience along the model of the hierophant-initiate relationship and conferring upon Augustan poetry the authority of a hieros logos. Mystery cult as literary topos will have political implications as an originally foreign phenomenon whose presence at Rome was to be negotiated during a time of broader social and cultural restructuring enacted alongside larger dialogues around religious thinking.