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Rite de Passage—The Tradition of Starting Over
1. On Terminology
2. Persecution and Exposure of the Threatening Child: The ‘Cyropaedia’ (1.107–130) and the Childhood of Cypselus (5.92.α–ε)—Heroic Biography as a Portent of Adversity
- Prophecy: the ruler is told he will lose his power or his life by his yet unborn descendant.
- He tries to prevent the descendant’s birth
- by marrying his daughter to an inferior husband.
- The child is exposed:
- in a chest or
- by giving it to a third party who does not execute the order.
- The child is:
- nurtured by an animal or
- The child is raised by strangers (often herdsmen).
- The child has special abilities.
- The prophecy is fulfilled and the child regains his birthright.
3. The Young Fugitive
3.1 Adrastos—‘the Boy’s Tragedy’ (1.34–45):
The story of the youth that kills a relative—inadvertently or not –, goes into exile and usually acquires a privileged position there, as a friend or guardian of the prince or husband of the princess, is frequent in Greek myth.  It is plausible that the story is a mythical reflection of an initiation rite: the protagonist is always a young man expelled and separated from his own society who, after a liminal period, finds aggregation in another situation. In Adrastos’ case, it is striking that he is named by Herodotus only after the purifying ritual: before, neither the reader nor Croesus know his name—as has been stated before, it is typical of initiation that the candidate is given a new name. Also characteristic of initiation is the pair of youths,  in this case the fugitive and the prince he is guarding.
- The inadvertent murder during a boar hunt
- The responsibility of the fugitive for a king’s child
- The doubling of the murder.
3.2 Phronime and the Wicked Stepmother (4.154–155):
4. The Deathly Banquet
4.1 The ‘Thyestean Feast’ (1.73; 1.119)—Change of Power and Levels of Culture:
- The act is motivated by revenge.
- A child (usually the guest’s) is slaughtered.
- The way the meat is prepared is described meticulously and with allusions to sacrifice practice (boiling and roasting) 
- The host deceives the guest a) to have time to escape, and/or b) to prove the other’s inferiority.
- The recognisable remains of the child are carried in after the meal, usually head and extremities.
- The guest realises what he has eaten.
4.2 Murdering the Dinner Party (5.18–21; 1.106)—Clash of Cultures:
- Invitation to a banquet.
- The guests get drunk.
- Women are molested.
- The hosts dress up as women.
- The guests are collectively murdered by the hosts.
The most obvious difference from the first story is that the whole complex of the women is missing (elements 3 and 4). Also, the hosts have the intention to kill the guests from the start (let’s label this element ‘0’) and not because they misbehave.
5. ‘Mingled Cries’: Rhampsinitos and the Master Thief (2.121–122)
- 1. Theft and trap (2.121.α–β):
- King Rhampsinitos requires a treasure chamber (οἴκημα, 2.121.α.1). The deceitful builder puts a removable stone into the wall and tells this to his sons on his deathbed. They commit several thefts before the king becomes aware of the loss and has traps set up. One of the thieves gets caught and realises there is no escape. Consequently, he begs his brother to severe his head so that nobody will recognise him; the brother obliges.
- 2. Stealing the corpse (2.121.γ–δ):
- The king has the headless corpse publicly displayed and orders that anyone mourning it be arrested. The thieves’ mother begs her surviving son to put an end to the defilement, so the master thief disguises himself as a wine merchant, makes the guards drunk and steals his brothers’ corpse. For spite, he shaves the sleeping guards—on one cheek only.
- 3. The princess in the brothel (2.121.ε–ζ):
- The king absolutely wants to capture the thief and demands that his daughter should receive all men in an οἴκημα. Before she sleeps with them, they have to tell her their ‘shrewdest and most impious’ deed. The thief cuts off his dead brother’s arm, takes it with him to the princess and tells her about the decapitating of the brother and the theft of the corpse. When she tries to seize him, he sticks out the dead brother’s arm and escapes again. Finally, the king is so impressed that he summons the thief to give him his daughter in marriage.
- 4. The journey to the underworld (2.122):
- Later, Herodotus’ sources say, Rhampsinitos went to the underworld while still alive and played dice with Demeter, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. Finally he returned with a golden hand towel the goddess had given to him. Herodotus calls this story the aition of an Egyptian festival where a blindfolded priest is led by two werewolves to the sanctuary of Demeter and back.
At first, this conglomeration of elements is confusing. And indeed, the story has often been regarded as a not very consistent mixture of independent parts or “floating motifs” (Hansen 2002, 366), with interpretations mostly concentrating on the question of its origin.
- But the parts do make a whole, as Carl Werner Müller has emphasised. All phases of the story, not just the journey to the underworld, deal with the subject of death: the treasury is most likely a burial chamber, a house of death leading to the underworld; the builder discloses his secret on his deathbed; the brother dies after having entered Death’s house; a corpse is stolen and its arm used to escape (1992:164–171). Müller believes the οἴκημα of the princess to be an underwordly place, too: all men have to pass it and answer questions resembling the situation of a judgement in afterlife. Finally, Müller regards the dead man’s hand as a substitute sacrifice to Death or a female death demon—all in all, the thief’s story would then be a contest with Death itself. Consequently, Rhampsinitos’ journey to the underworld, although at first glance it may seem like an appendix, is really organically linked with the preceding parts.
It becomes clear that the story of Rhampsinitos is not just any fairytale with underworldly connotations—it is also linked with the metamorphosis of the soul, as can be shown on several narrative levels, by analysing the implications of the other mythical parallels we have apart from the myth of Trophonios. They illustrate the metempsychosis on a ‘mimetic’, formal level, but also with regards to content, by linking it with Greek mythical and ritual traditions also dealing with metamorphosis, even of the soul.
Plutarch is, of course, a late source, but the theme of the permanently changing cosmos and soul is attested earlier,  and the polymorphy of Dionysus is alluded to in Aeschylus’ fragment. Note the striking accumulation of the words denoting ‘mixing’: maybe Aeschylus’ ‘mingled cries’ are an allusion to genre—and Plutarch takes up the dichotomy of ‘no admixture’ and ‘blend’, relating it to Apollo and Dionysus.