Stoicism and the Eleusinian Mysteries

How Marcus Aurelius was Initiated into the Cult of Demeter

For I made a vow, when the war began to blaze highest, that I too would be initiated… —Marcus Aurelius, quoted in Cassius Dio

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD) is best-known today as the author of The Meditations, a collection of personal reflections on ethics and self-improvement inspired by Stoic philosophy. While researching my recent book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, I visited several locations associated with key events in his life. One was Carnuntum, in Austria, the legionary fortress where he stationed himself while fighting the Marcomannic War, and where part of The Meditations was written. Another was the Greek town of Elefsina, just outside Athens, which was known in antiquity as Eleusis, the home of the famous Eleusinian mystery religion, based upon the myth and rites of the goddess Demeter. Marcus became a patron of Eleusis and was initiated there toward the end of his life.

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