From the God of War through the Furies to Death himself, the final cycle of hymns, stands in stark contrast to the erotic splendors of Series III. The Muses, Hygeia, Hestia, Hephaestos, some of the most powerful forces are encountered now, perhaps in the exhaustion of nightlong celebration of the gods.
I add here several notes of interest on topics not covered in earlier introductions to this series.
In the 3rd century A.D. Artemidorus, a soothsayer and author of Oneirocritica, a once famous book on the interpretation of dreams, lived in Ephesus not far from the area in what is now Turkey that most likely produced the Hymns of Orpheus. He tells his readers that dreams of “choruses and hymn-singing mean deception and deceit…keep in mind that it makes no difference whether a person dreams that he himself does any of these things, or is present while they are being done.” Evidently he shared Plato’s low opinion of “priests” pedaling Orphic products like door to door salesmen.
To dream of Dionysos is lucky for a farmer, but bad news for a sailor. “Dancing in honor of Dionysos, waving a thyrsos, carrying trees in a procession, or doing anything else that is pleasing to the god is inauspicious for all but slaves. For most men, it foretells folly and harm because of the amazement of the mental processes and the frenzy, but for slaves it symbolizes freedom….”
Later Artemidorus tells this strange story about a dream of Dionysos: “A woman dreamed she was drunk dancing in a chorus to honor Dionysos. Three years later she killed her own child.” Artemidorus points out that the feast of Dionysos is every third year, and that another mother, Agave, frenzied by her worship of Dionysos, ripped her son Pentheus apart. In this way the woman’s dream foreshadowed her fate, according to Artemidorus.
ORPHEUS AND MEMORY
The essential theme of the Orphic mysteries is memory. Only by remembering the passwords can the initiate avoid forgetfulness at death. Only by the gods remembering us can we avoid living unworthy lives. Yet so many live lives that seem to welcome forgetfulness. Glancing at the latest mass entertainments and the demographics of escapism in games, TV, film, and social media, and the terrors of the news, one can easily imagine millions of newly dead souls deciding they would like a drink from the river lethe. Who wants to remember a life worth forgetting?
The desire to remember isn’t enough, we are told. Only memory itself can suffice. The passwords must be spoken correctly to the guardians of the water of memory. Initiation itself and the pure life of doing no harm that followed, gave the initiate the required experience to state with conviction: “I am a child of earth and the starry heavens, but my race is of the stars.”
A favorite Pythagorean exercise was the recollection of the day backwards before sleep. Going back over the day beginning with its most recent events, always with an eye to improvement, not only improved memory but morals. As Alexis Pinchard wrote: “I agree with Pugliese Carratelli when he attributes Mnemosyne’s [Memory’s] gold tablets to the Pythagorean milieu because to train memory was the favorite mental exercise among Pythagoras’s disciples.”
How literally are we to take the report by Diogenes Laertes that Ion of Chios wrote “Pythagoras made poetry he said was by Orpheus.” Is Nagy correct when he limits this statement to an Orphic performance by Pythagoras? Many a rogue scholar of yore has fallen into the trap of oversimplification declaring that the entire Orphic mysteries and associated works were nothing more than the invention of Pythagoreans. Like the mysterious Rosicrucians so many generations later, could the initial Orphic impulse have been a theatrical fiction that took on a surprisingly stubborn life of its own?
While the differences in timeline and content of what remains to us of Plato, Pythagoras and the Orphic Mysteries make fascinating subjects for study, the similarities are equally profound.
Centuries later American spiritualists often claimed to channel Plato, for they easily found there the Orphic preoccupation with remembering immortality. But what good would the game be if we didn’t forget? How does one teach consequences to a consciousness unbound by time? Eventually American spiritualists would evolve the Orphic idea of incarnation as punishment in the tomb-like body into the concept of human life as a laboratory where eternal consciousness can experiment with time and matter.
A NOTE ON ORPHIC FASHION
Orphics were known for wearing simple white. But the mysteries of Dionysos offered more extreme fashion forwardness. An ancient fragment describes the proper attire for participants: “To accomplish all this, as the body of a god in sacred attire, representing Helios of the bright rays, let the worshipper first throw on a red robe resembling flowing rays of fiery light. The skin of a spotted wild fawn should hang down from the right shoulder to symbolize the stars in the sky. Over the fawn-skin wear a gleaming golden belt around your chest to signify how the sun beams his golden rays on the flowing encircling ocean with indescribable splendor that sparkles.”
Worshipers usually carried a Thyrsos: a pine cone tipped fennel stalk wound with ivy. The obvious phallic symbol also had a deeper symbolic meaning since Prometheus used a fennel stalk to hide the spark of fire he stole from heaven.
spirit of might,
you love weapons,
slayer of men,
you turn walls to rubble,
yours are the horrid sounds of war.
you enjoy killing
in the chaos of battle,
you love the vulgar crash
of swords and spears.
Stop rage, stop strife,
ease pain’s grip on our souls,
give in to Aphrodite,
Dionysos is having a party.
Put down your mighty shield
and take up the work of the Mother
who longs for peace to nourish the young,
peace, bringer of bliss.
you shine in every flame,
powerful and strong,
bringer of light to mortals,
with mighty hands you work
your portion of the universe.
Innocent element most sublime,
all-consuming tamer of everything
you haunt us all. Space, sun, moon,
pure light, and the fire breathing stars:
these are how we know you.
Every home, city and nation
belongs to you, powerful
giver of blessings, you
dwell even in the heat
of our human bodies.
Hear this sacred song
and listen gently to our joy,
kindly notice our deeds,
end the anger of fire,
nature burns in our bodies.
Give us an even flame.
traditional: powdered incense
suggested: any warmth emitting light
healer of all,
your music charms away
the pain of those who suffer.
With your soothing might
bring health, end sickness
and the harsh threat of death.
Holy spirit of happiness flourishing,
helper who wards off evil,
honored and mighty son
of the sun god Apollo,
enemy of sickness,
husband of shining Hygieia,
goddess of health, be our savior,
bring our lives to good ends.
suggested: cypress, mistletoe or rue
Queen of everything,
charming, lovely bloom,
bliss bringer, hear us.
You make the diseases
that afflict us vanish.
You make every house
blossom full of joy.
When the world wants you,
queen, every art thrives.
Hades, destroyer of souls
loathes you for delaying
the increase of his kingdom.
You alone profit us.
Wealth, sweetly giving
abundance of feasting
fails, leaving only the many
pains of old age.
Hear us goddess,
keep way the unbearable
distress of diseases.
Grace us with good health.
Daughters of Earth and shadow,
children of Black Night,
Tisiphone, avenger of murder,
mother of retaliation;
Allekto whose anger never ends,
the pain inflictor
we fear to name;
mother of crisis,
mother of grudges.
The wicked schemes of mortals
infuriate you. Rabidly righteous
you howl over Necessity’s judgments
in the dank cavern by the hated
holy river of splendid water the Styx.
You cause the agony of retribution,
dread young women
in clothes of animal skins
your realm is Hades where
draped in gray, you see every
immoral act of the living,
while your red eyes search
the newly dead.
Airy phantoms, invisible
and swift as thought,
the speeding rays of the sun
and the glowing moon
cannot make life delightful
without your approval.
Snake-haired and many-shaped
goddesses of fate, you guard the sacred order,
the course of the sun,
the superiority of wisdom,
the virtue and thrill of bold enterprise
and the sleekness of beautiful youth.
You gaze upon the countless
races of all mortals
with the eye of Justice.
make our thoughts and our lives
soft and gentle.
Traditional: storax, powdered frankincense
The August Goddesses
Hear us, graciously and kindly,
pure daughters of subterranean Zeus
and beautiful fair-haired Persephone.
You carefully watch the wicked
with the power of Necessity
you punish the unjust
with the paralysis of insanity.
Queens with blue-black skin,
your awe-inspiring eyes flash
flesh destroying arrows of light.
rulers from whom we recoil
on that hideous night when fate
snake-haired and terrible
summons us to holiness of mind,
guide us so we may live good lives.
Traditional: aromatic herbs
Disguised as Hades
Zeus tricked Persephone
his wily schemes seduced her.
From Persephone’s fury sprang
an apparition with two bodies
that drives mortals mad.
Her airy phantoms
unnerve us with attacks
in the gloomy night
she appears in strange shapes
and eerie forms now shadowy
then visible shining in the dark.
Queen of those below,
kindly banish frenzy
to the furthest frontiers of earth,
show us life is holy.
Traditional: aromatic herbs
Notice our prayers,
Tyche, noble queen,
gentle goddess of roads,
grant us wealth and property.
Artemis, guide us,
famous daughter of Zeus
giver of good counsel,
your wish is irresistible.
You are the diversity of jobs
we find ourselves living.
Like death you deceive us.
We write songs about you.
Some you give abundant
blessings and property,
others receive only poverty
because they angered you.
Hear us, goddess,
kindly notice our lives
and from your horn of plenty
give us joy and wealth.
source of everything,
you give mortals life.
Avenger, ruler of all,
you are everywhere.
When you enter a house
your abundant powers
give wealth as you refresh
the lives of mortals
worn out by work.
Yours are the keys
to joy and sorrow.
Banish painful worries,
and the cares that cause
ruin to all the living.
Bring a glorious end
to a sweet noble life.
You love deep sea,
delighting in waves.
Supreme savior of mortals,
every ship at sea
with each unsteady heave
depends only on you.
You rescue men
from horrid drowning,
swiftly you arrive,
Goddess, help us,
save our ships
of well-crafted benches.
Send a fair tailing wind
to fill all our sails.
Traditional: aromatic herbs
Your father killed your brother
then chased you
with your mother Ino
off a cliff into the sea.
Zeus made you immortal
friends of the dolphins.
When storms strike
our ever sea-roving ships
you alone materialize
to rescue mortals
from the cruel rage
of the surging brine.
Traditional: powdered Frankincense
Daughters of Memory
and thundering Zeus,
famous and illustrious,
you take many shapes
beloved by the mortals you visit,
from you comes purest virtue
in every discipline
you nourish souls,
and set thoughts right
as you guide and rule
the mind’s powers.
You taught us mystic rites,
goddesses of pure springs:
inspire epic poetry.
Kleio, tell us history.
Erato, awaken love.
Euterpe, inspire music.
Melpomene, tell tragedy.
Polyhymnia, teach imitation.
Terpsichore, show us dance.
Thaleia, give us comedy.
Ourania, inspire astronomy.
No desire is stronger
than lust for your light.
Hear us, goddesses
diverse and holy,
inspire us to emulate glory,
lovely and sung by many.
suggested: rosemary or nine flower petals
Evil oblivion harms minds
but not yours, giver of coherence
to the thoughts and souls of mortals.
You increase our power,
because of you we can think,
never straying, ever rousing
our minds to action,
sweet, vigilant, you remind us
of all the thoughts we store
forever in our hearts.
help us remember
these sacred rites,
keep them from oblivion.
Night traveling in murky darkness
you send underground
wherever you arrive.
You lead mortals to work,
tending to our lives.
The blessings of work are your gift.
Your saffron sky delights us.
No one escapes your sight
as you watch from above
shaking sweet sleep
from every eyelid.
You are joy for every mortal,
for every reptile, all animals
birds, and the brood of the sea,
where even fish rejoice
in renewed color.
You blush rose splendor
over every horizon.
Goddess, pure and blessed
give us more holiness of light.
Traditional: powdered frankincense
suggested: any flower that opens at dawn and closes at dusk
You taught great Apollo
the art of law making.
We revere and honor your
light in the darkness
for you were the first
to teach mortals how to worship
howling to Dionysos
in nights of celebration.
From you come honors of the gods
and of the sacred mysteries.
Divine order, good counsel,
hear us with kindness and joy
and notice our holy rites.
Disperse the rebel alliance
of clouds and sleet,
hurry the raindrops
until fair weather
Let sunbeams shine on earth,
brighten the face of the sky.
when you cross the ocean
to fill meadows
with quiet sounds.
Okeanos sends you
to refresh the dead heroes
in the Elysian Fields.
Son of Dawn,
adored by harbors,
ships cut smooth
when you fill sails.
with your soft breeze.
Grace us, be generous
with your gentle breath.
Zeus gave you this honor,
to bring from sky to earth
the harvest nourishing downpour.
For this we pray, holy one,
that delighted by our rite
you will refresh mother Earth.
suggested: mist the air with water
From you come all seas,
every river, the pure flow
of freshwater springs.
Hear us, divine purifier,
you are the ends of the earth,
on you ships glide,
grace us with your favor.
Traditional: aromatic herbs
suggested: salt water or salted fresh water
home of the gods,
mighty support of men,
hearth of yellow grass,
smile, holy one,
kindly accept this offering,
grace us with wealth,
breathe on us
Traditional: aromatic herbs
suggested: fireplace or campfire
Freeing us from worries
you offer sweet rest from work.
Giving sacred comfort to every sorrow,
you save souls, easing them
into the thought of dying,
since you are the true brother
of Oblivion and Death.
We beg you, Hypnos,
with sweet temper
be our gentle savior
that we may serve the gods.
Traditional: incense with opium poppy
Long-winged dream, Morpheus,
messenger of future events,
supreme prophet to mortals,
in the sweet silence of sleep
you arrive without a sound
speaking to the soul,
exciting our minds
in our slumber you make us whisper
the will of the immortals.
Silent souls that take the noble way
of devotion to the divine
you silently show
glimpses of distant tomorrows.
Good wins every race
in mortal minds.
Good leads our lives
to anticipated pleasures,
and relieves our suffering
so the divine can reveal
the sky of immortal rulers.
The sincere always end more sweetly,
but to the insincere the cure
for future pain is never revealed.
In every way bring us closer
to the straight path.
Reveal the concealed
signatures of fate.
Let no strange apparitions
show us signs of ill omen.
We beg you, holy one,
show us the will of the gods.
Traditional: aromatic herbs
With your perpetual sleep
you break the hold
of the soul on the body,
undoing nature’s strong bonds
you bring to the living
To some you are unjust,
when you end a young life
swiftly at its peak.
Deaf to begging and prayers
you execute the verdict
shared by everyone.
We beg you anyway.
With the sincere vows of this sacrifice
we pray for long lives,
let old age be our honored prize.
Traditional: powdered frankincense
suggested: asphodel, parsley or a wilted flower
Annotated Bibliography of the Orphic Mysteries
Note: please consider this a suggested reading list. It includes works for beginners and highly technical and historically significant studies alike. Though comprehensive this bibliography is not complete, and is not limited to academic studies alone. For that bibliography please see Bernabe’s Orphic Bibliography in Tracing Orpheus published by De Gruyter.
Newcomers to Orphic studies don’t hesitate to buy outdated works. They contain a wealth of useful information and are much more affordable than the academic publications. Libraries are your best bet for reading the latest scholarship, but many of the scholars are represented online by articles you can read for free. Search their the names of the academics and the word Orpheus and you’ll find important material to peruse.
My apologies for how difficult to read the layout is, Newtopia is an all volunteer operation with no budget. The upcoming eBook will have appropriate formatting.
Agnew, Vanessa. Enlightenment Orpheus: The Power of Music in Other World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. In a world where Captain Cook’s travels to faraway places produced wonders that included transcriptions of Polynesian music, Orpheus who sailed on the Argos became a popular figure. A fascinating study of the influence of the Neo-Platonist interpretation of Orpheus and the Orphic Mysteries among composers during the Enlightenment in this history of German music just before it blossomed.
Alderink, Larry J. Creation and Salvation in Ancient Orphism. Chico: Scholar’s Press, 1981. Indispensable comprehensive study of the central Oprhic myths. Detailed criticism of earlier studies. Translation and discussion of the important Derveni papyrus, discovered in 1962 in Northern Greece, one of the earliest Orphic artifacts (4th c. B.C.), not fully published then (1981). “It was found in one of four graves with a buried warrior’s equipment, a spear and a javelin; a nearby tomb contained a krater portraying portraying Dionysos surrounded by naked satyrs and maenads, wooing Ariadne,” 26. This book is an education in critical scholarship, method and objectivity. Includes pithy translations of Burkert; valuable quotes from H.J. Rose, like this about the evidence for organized Orphic religion: “In somewhat the same manner there has never been a church called Puritan … yet ‘Puritan’ and ‘Puritanism’ meant something in the religious history of Great Britain and the U.S.A.”, 15. Lucid analysis of Pindar. Hermeneutics, Wittgenstein and Venn diagrams expertly used to clarify. Alderink mentions a Jewish Orphism between 2ndc. B.C. and 2nd c. A.D., 18. He argues that the Orphics did not believe in transmigration, but did believe souls pre-exist and survive bodies, 58. But Arthur Evans points out: “The notion of Larry Alderink that Orphism is merely ‘a mood or a spirit which animates selected literary texts’ (Alderink, 19) is refuted by Plato, who explicitly says in The Republic (364E) that the Orphics used their books and ritual practices.” (Arthur Evans, The God of Ecstasy, 158).
Harris-McCoy, Daniel. Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica: Text, Translation, and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. At long last a new translation with scholarly accoutrements. Interesting reflections on the Orphic mysteries and Dionysos in several of the dream interpretations.
Athanassakis, Apostolos, trans. and Wolkow, Benjamin, trans. The Orphic Hymns. John Hopkins University Press, 2013. The Greek text with an eloquent literal translation and copious notes.
Bachofen, J.J. Myth, Religion, and Mother Right. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967. Valuable discussions of Dionysos, Aphrodite, Demeter and Apollo, with emphasis on the suppression of matriarchy. Bachofen, writing in 1861, introduced the word “matriarchy.”
Bernabe, Albertus. Orphai Concordantia. New York: Weidmann, 1988. Indispensable concordance to the Greek text.
Bernabe, Alberto and Cristobal, Ana. Instructions for the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets. Boston: Brill, 2008. Exhaustively researched, lavishly illustrated with line drawings. Bernabe argues that denying the gold tablets are Orphic requires admitting the possibility of some other religion we know nothing about, therefore it makes more sense to accept that they are indeed Orphic. With Edmonds, representing the loyal opposition, Bernabe has advanced Orphic studies significantly.
Bernal, Martin. Black Athene: the Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987. Monumental study of the “fabrication of Greece” by European scholars from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Bernal argues against the Aryan bias that sees classical Greek civilization as an evolution of the culture of the Indo-Aryan invaders. Bernal reminds us that ancient Greek sources give Egypt and Phoenicia as the roots of Classical Civilization. In the prehistoric period of Greek history, Egypt at the height of its power may have colonized Greece; Athens, the city of Athene may have begun as an Egyptian colony named after the Egyptian goddess Neith. The Phoenicians had a colony on the Greek island Thera.
Betegh, Gabor. The Derveni Papyrus: Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Definitive analysis with useful indexes and an excellent bibliography.
Borgeard, Phillipe. The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece. Translated by Atlass and Redfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Study of Pan cult with detailed attention to festivals and Pan’s associations with the Nymphs, Artemis, the Satyrs, and Hekate. Discussion of Nympholepsy, a condition suffered by ancient Greeks from Athenian teenagers to mighty Socrates himself, whereby a person in the woods would suddenly be overcome by intense elation. This was considered possession by a nymph. Some would run away into the woods and never return.
Bremmer, Jan. The Early Greek Concept of the Soul. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. To the ancient Greeks to live meant to ensoul. Bremmer’s brief but comprehensive and definitive study suggests a widespread belief in human beings have two souls. The soul that is the life of the body is not the same as the free soul which is known only in dreams and the afterlife.
Bremmer, Jan. The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife. London: Routledge, 2002.
A summary of then current scholarship on the Orphic Mysteries included in this fascinating study of the evolution of the afterlife in the western imagination, from the Orphic meadow in the world of the dead to modern near death experiences. Along the way Bremmer explores the origin of the idea of paradise, and answers the question why did the followers of Jesus call themselves Christians. Bremmer concludes with these wry words: “What do the modern NDEs tell us about the afterlife? In opposition to what has often been suggested, they do not seem to prove the existence of the “life everlasting” but testify to the continuing decline of the afterlife. Heaven is till made of gold and marble, but it is rather empty, except for a few relatives….evidently, every age gets the afterlife it deserves.”
Breslin, Joesph. A Greek Prayer. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d. Museum pamphlet.
Brisson. Luc. How Philosophers Saved Myths: Allegorical Interpretation and Classical Mythology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Exhaustive study of the use of allegory, with an excellent chapter on Pythagoreanism and Platonism. Detailed consideration of the allegorical approach of the Neoplatonists, including Proclus and Syrianus. These themes inspired philosophers and artists long after the triumph of Christianity.
Burkert, Walter. Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972. As Barnes wrote in The Presocratic Philosophers, Burkert with this book advanced to a new level of sanity and scholarship’ the study of Pythagoreanism. Filled with fascinating information about Platonic metaphysics. Includes analysis of reincarnation in Orphism and Pythagoreanism, comparing and contrasting metempsychosis with shamanism.
Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. Soothsayers, craftsmen and poets from the Near East influenced ancient Greek culture. Includes consideration of the sort of itinerant Orphic that the Derveni papyrus called “he who makes the sacred his craft,” a sacred technician.
Burkert, Walter. Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 1989. Important but controversial study. Burkert views the various mysteries as something like expensive clubs for the elite offering experiences related to reassurance about the afterlife, among other things. He supposes that Christianity because of its appeal to ordinary people and emphasis on family became more popular.
Butterworth, E.A.S. The Tree at the Navel of the Earth. Berlin: Walter de Gruyer, 1970. Butterworth’s theory that Homer’s Odyssey records the hostile reaction of traditional Greek culture to an incursion from the east provides an interesting perspective. The lotus eaters are yogis with their lotus asana and talk of the jewel in the lotus, so are the Cyclops whose single eye is a humorous exaggeration of the third eye of Hindu deities. The Orphic mysteries of purification to achieve full awareness in the afterlife are similar to yogic and tantric practices.
Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Viking, 1964. A few important words about the origins of Orphism and its similarities to Hindu Shiva worship.
Campbell, Joseph. The Mythic Image. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974. The world as dream and other themes of Yoga traced through worldwide mutations and parallels from the Australian Bushmen to the ancient civilizations of Greece, China and Africa. Beautifully illustrated.
Cook, Arthur Bernard. Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914-1940. The classic study of the Zeus cult, distinguished by extensive, exhaustive scholarship, deserves the attention of any student of ancient Greek religion and culture. The index is an education in the attributes and myths of the Greek Gods and Goddesses. Now available free in various formats at Archive.org.
Cooper, Barry. “Two Tellurian Themes of the Republic.” In Planinc, Zdravko, ed. Politics, Philosophy, Writing: Plato’s Art of Caring for Souls. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. “The core of Orphism was the experience of ritual purification, a private mystery that involved the initiate in a renewal of life. It contained no service to a god but was a participatory transformation and the beginning of a new stage of life or a new public era. A central teaching, which Plato used from time to time, was that the body, soma, was a tomb, sema (see Crat. 400C; Gorg. 493a). This was implicit in the story of Orphic Dionysos from which was drawn the belief that deliverance from the body-tomb could only come through purity, which in turn could not be attained without initiation, followed by adherence to the Orphic life, which included Moral goodness. Cooper cites Guthrie and Cornford to support his position and dismisses Dodd as “grumpy.”
Cornford, F.M. “Plato and Orpheus.” The Classical Review, Vol. 17, No. 9 (Dec., 1903), pp. 433-445. Dated but useful, thoughtful analysis of Plato’s Cave, Euripides and Pindar. Cornford quotes the Phaedrus to illustrate the Orphic theme in Platonism: “Soul universally cares for the soulless and ranges throughout all heaven passing into various forms. So, when it is perfect and winged, it voyages aloft and governs the whole Kosmos; but the soul which loses its wings falls till it meets with some solid thing which it takes for a dwelling.”
Danielou, Alain. Shiva and Dionysos. New York: Inner Traditions, 1984. Startling apocalyptic mysticism and revelations of similarities in Greek and Hindu religion by a devoted student of both. Danielou, author of the classic Hindu Polytheism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), was a great musician, artist and athlete, and one of the first Anglo Saxons enrolled as a Hindu in the central shrine of Hinduism.
Detienne, Marcel. “Culinary Practices and the Spirit of Sacrifice.” In The Cuisine of Sacrifice, edited by Detienne and Vernant. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. Witty, sane essay reminding us most ancient Greek participants in sacrifice ate the animals they slaughtered; the Gods and Goddesses feasted on smoke because immortals couldn’t hunger for corruptible and therefore corrupted food.
Detienne, Marcel. Dionysos Slain. Translated by Muellner and Muellner. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1977. Penetrating discussion of the Dionysian myth of sacrifice with a large chapter on Orphism and Orphic prohibitions against animal sacrifice and meat eating. Albert Henrichs argues that Detienne confuses myth and cult; see Albert Henrichs, “Loss of Self, Suffering and Violence: The Modern View of Dionysos from Nietzsche to Girard,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 88 (1984), 205-240). For criticism of Henrich’s position see Arthur Evans, The God of Ecstasy, 156.
Detienne, Marcel. The Writings of Orpheus: Greek Myth in Cultural Context. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2002. Far more than a consideration of the Orphic tradition, this book shows how myths evolve and continue to inform generations of philosophical and cultural development. He leaves us to ponder the mystery of a hero despised by women: “It is even said that the excessive audacity” of the murderesses of Orpheus “stemmed from wine and on that day forward their men folk never went into battle sober. The Orphic tradition, which is consistently misogynous, suggests that Orpheus’s singing could triumph over anything, attracting to it even stones and forest animals, subjugating Satyrs and Sirens, and winning over the frenzied Thracian warriors. It could triumph over anything except the female species, before which it was powerless. The voice of Orpheus failed when he faced the race of women, and they treated him with the same fundamental cruelty as that of the murderers of the infant Dionysus.”
Dickie, Matthew. Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World. London: Routledge, 2003. Sorcerers, wandering miracle makers and conjurors, and their clients, including prostitutes, chariot drivers and actors, provide a view of the shadow world of Greco-Roman culture where Orpheus became a byword for spell peddlers and the Orphic Mysteries were mimicked by private groups as a social novelty.
Dodds, E. R. The Greeks and the Irrational. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964. Dodds discusses the differences between Orpheus and Orphism, reminding us that even primary Orphic materials such as the gold plates, Aristophanes’ The Birds, and the myths of Plato may not be Orphic. He finds no evidence to believe that soma sema is Orphic. Dodds proposes Scythian or Thracian shamanism as the origin of Orphic myth. Careful of Linforth’s analytical rigor, Dodds concludes Orpheus was a “mythical shaman or prototype of shamans.” For a summary of Dodds see Alderink, Creation and Salvation, 14; and McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 181.
Edmonds, Radcliffe G., III. “Extra-Ordinary People: Mystai and Magoi, Magicians and Orphics in the Derveni Papyrus.” Classical Philology 103 (2008): 16-39. Edmonds reveals how the author of the papyrus viewed himself as different from his colleagues or competitors, to a certain degree illuminating the difference between the approaches to ritual that became in the English language the mystic and the ceremonial magician. Must read, available online thanks to Classics Common. Search Mystai and Magoi and enjoy.
Edmonds, Radcliffe G., III Myths of the Underworld Journey: Plato, Aristophanes, and the “Orphic” Gold Tablets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. The quotation marks around the word “Orphic” in Edmonds’ work perhaps summarizes his position, but his rigorous scholarship makes his work exemplary of the prevailing agnostic stance toward the idea of any unified Orphic religious movement. “Is Orphism an origin or an orientation?” he asks. With Bernabe who represents the loyal opposition, Edmonds leads the way among the new generation of Orphic scholars.
Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III, ed. The “Orphic” Gold Tablets and Greek Religion: Further Along the Path. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Thirteen essays including facsimile texts and translations of gold tablets. In depth analysis of context from multiple perspectives provides the latest scholarship. Edmonds in his own contribution wonders if we are dealing with sacred scriptures or oracles of the dead. Could the famous “I am a child of earth and starry heaven” have been originally understood as a report from the afterlife?
Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III “Tearing Apart the Zagreus Myth: A Few Disparaging Remarks On Orphism and Original Sin” Classical Antiquity Journal 18.1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Edmonds reveals the unfortunate habit of historians: projecting their own beliefs and context onto their subjects. Believers in original sin convinced themselves that the Orphic myths foreshadowed Christianity not just in the murder of the savior Orpheus, but in the myth of the Titans tearing apart baby Dionyos thereby tainting all human beings with spiritual impurity.
Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III. “To Sit in Solemn Silence? Thronosis in Ritual, Myth and Iconography.” American Journal of Philology 127.3 2006. Fascinating study of the ritual of “solemn silence” in the Eleusinian Mysteries, a meditation, probably on mortality, as the aspiring initiate would be draped in a death shroud. Some reflections on the Orphic mysteries, which may have involved a similar procedure. Jane Harrison believed aspirants entered through a cave painted with the terrors of human life including war, disease, decrepitude and death.
Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III. “The Children of Earth and Starry Heaven: The Meaning and Function of the Formula in the ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets.” Orfeo y el orfismo: nuevas perspectivas. Bernabé, Casadesús y Santamaría (eds.) Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2010. Careful analysis of what we know and don’t know about the famous Orphic formula.
Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III. “Recycling Laertes’ Shroud: More on Orphism and Original Sin.” Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University Press, 2008. Available online at Harvard.edu. Contains perhaps my favorite opening paragraph in Orphic studies: “Alberto Bernabé has compared the scholarship on Orphism in the past century to the web of Penelope, a succession of cunning weavings of the threads followed by unravelings, in which any apparent progress in formulating a coherent picture of Orphism by one wave of scholars is undone by the next group of critics. So the proto-Protestant Orphic church imagined by Kern and Macchioro was unraveled by skeptics like Wilamowitz, while the more balanced Orphic religious movement depicted by Guthrie was challenged by the rigorous critique of Linforth. Bernabé now objects to the attempts made recently to tear apart his own careful reconstruction of Orphic religion, articulated in a series of articles over the past decade and culminating in his new edition of the Orphic fragments. Orphism, as Bernabé and other scholars such as Parker, Graf, and Johnston define it, is a religious movement that can be identified, not by social structures like an Orphic church, but rather by a set of doctrines about the origin and fate of the soul. The doctrines of the soul’s immortality and its transmigration from body to body are founded, in this hypothesis, on a particular narrative of the origin of human beings within the cosmos. Scholars weave together four strands into this central mythic narrative: the dismemberment of Dionysos Zagreus by the Titans, the punishment of the Titans by Zeus, the generation of human beings from the ashes of the lightning-blasted Titans, and the burden of guilt that human beings inherited from their Titanic ancestors because of this original sin. I argue to the contrary that this Zagreus myth is a modern fabrication and that the coherent picture of Orphism scholars have so cleverly woven must be unraveled, so that all of the strands of evidence may be recycled, put back into their proper contexts within ancient Greek religion.”
Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III. Redefining Ancient Orphism: A Study in Greek Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. The latest scholarship presented by a renowned expert whose writing skills make the adventure that much more enjoyable.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1948 edition, s.v., “Aphrodite,” “Apollo,” “Ares,” “Artemis,” “Athena,” “Dionysos,” “Greek Religion,” “Hecate,” “Hephaestus,” “Hera,” “Hercules,” “Hermes,” “Orpheus,” “Poseidon,” “Thyrsus,” “Zeus.” Informative summaries attentive to details of cult.
Evans, Arthur. The God of Ecstasy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Study of Dionysos focusing on The Bacchae of Euripedes. Includes an excellent translation of The Bacchae, and a wealth of useful quotations from the Dionysica of Nonnos, and from Plutarch, for example: “Plutarch mentions that Phillip and Olympias, the parents of Alexander the Conqueror, first met when they were both initiated into an Orphic cult in Samothrace in the North,” 157. Evans surveys the myth of Dionysos from its origins to its modern variations. Along the way he analyzes Athenian law, ancient Greek attitudes toward homosexuality, and the plight of women in ancient Greece: in “democratic” Athens rape was usually considered the victim’s fault, the law compelled husbands to divorce raped wives, and punishment for rape was “only a fine,” 16. Lucid chapters on Rome and India (including an essential criticism of Alain Danielou’s work) and a chapter on Dionysos and Christ with comments on the Witch Persecution. Evans summarizes and critiques Albert Henrich’s important articles on Dionysos and Orphism.
Farnell, Lewis R. The Cults of the Greek States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1896. The classic collection on Ancient Greek religion. Exhaustive but somewhat dated.
Fideler, David. “Orpheus and the Mysteries of Harmony,” Gnosis 27 (Spring 1993). Explores the magical power of music, the story of Orpheus, and the nature of musical harmony in ancient cosmological symbolism, both pagan and Christian.
Fontenrose, Joseph. The Delphic Oracle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. Bits and pieces about Orpheus in the notes on this collection of questions and answers of the Oracle.
Fontenrose, Joseph. Python. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959. Interesting parallels to Orpheus in this classic work on the mythology of the Oracle at Delphi.
Friedman, John Block. Orpheus in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970. Important study of medieval mutations of Orphic myth including the fable that Moses taught Orpheus in Egypt, a look at the use of Orphic themes in representations of Jesus Christ in the art of late antiquity, the evolving story of his lost love Eurydice, and the popular theme of King Orpheus and his Queen. Students of hermetic literature will find much useful information. Don’t be dissuaded by the occasional chunk of untranslated Latin.
Freiert, William K. “Orpheus: A Fugue on the Polis.” In Pozzi, Dora, ed. Myth and the Polis (Myth and Poetics). Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Includes an interesting consideration of Orpheus from the shamanistic implications of his journey to the underworld to rescue Eurydike to the meaningful overtones of Cocteau’s Orphic creations. Freiert reminds us: “The myth of Orpheus appears as nonheroic, alien to the warrior-hunter ethic, and alien to the poetry of praise (kleos) and blame that legitimizes heroic behavior in the archaic Greek society.”
Fritz, Kurt Von. Pythagorean Politics in Southern Italy: An Analysis of the Sources, New York: Columbia University Press, 1940. This examination of Aristoxenos and Dikaiarchos, and their sources, weighs their reliability, then “reconstructs” the Pythagorean information in Plato’s Timaeus. Questions of chronology and consideration of evidence from coins received attention, as does the character of Pythagorean politics, including an illuminating comparison with the political history of Freemasonry pointing out that the leaders of both were probably immune from the persecutions others of their orders suffered. Fritz, a Prussian, was forced to retire from teaching in Germany because he would not take the oath to Hitler. He taught at Oxford, Reed College in Portland and after 1937 Columbia University.
Garland, Robert. The Greek Way of Death. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. Meticulous survey of ancient Greek funeral customs, mythology and folklore.
Graf, Fritz and Johnston, Sarah Iles. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets. London: Routledge, 2007. Students of Walter Burkert continue his fine tradition of scholarship, providing new information about the enigmatic gold tablets including a translation and survey of previous scholarship. Essential.
Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. London: Faber and Faber, 1948. Graves’ controversial study of tree alphabets and the origins of the muse myth occasionally sheds an interesting light on Orphism. “A famous Greek picture by Polygnotus at Delphi represented Orpheus as receiving the gift of mystic eloquence by touching willow trees in the Grove of Persephone,” 144. According to Graves in the theology brought by Orphics to Rome, Hera is “physical nature,” Zeus is the “impregnating or animating principle” symbolized by the sun, and Athene is the “directing wisdom behind the universe,” symbolized by the moon, 382, perhaps because observing the moon’s phases and tides taught humans to measure.
Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths New York: Braziller, 1957. Wonderful handbook collection of Complete Greek myths supported by exotic White Goddess footnotes.
Guthrie, W.K.C. The Greeks and Their Gods. Boston: Beacon Press, 1951. A brief but informative chapter on Orphism. Among other interesting points, Guthrie reminds us that Empedokles, the “philosopher, scientist, poet, orator, statesman, mystagogue, miracle worker, healer, and claimant to divine honors,” as the Oxford Classical Dictionary puts it, was a passionate believer in Orphism. For a summary and criticism of Guthrie see McGinty, Dionysos and Salvation, 188.
Guthrie, W.K.C. Orpheus and Greek Religion. London: Methuen, 1952. The bedrock study of Orphism. A wealth of essential translations including numerous quotes from Proklos. Clear and complete translation and discussion of Plato on Orpheus and reincarnation, 167. “To us the differences between the worship of Olympian Zeus and the mysteries of Demeter may seem as great as those between any two religions of modern times. Yet not only did they never lead to wars or persecutions, but it was perfectly possible for the same man to be a devout participant in both,” 7. Excellent bibliography. For a summary of Guthrie see Alderink, Creation and Salvation, 11-12; and McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 187. Unfortunately, McGinty does not discuss Orpheus and Greek Religion in depth.
Harrrison, Jane. Epilogomena to the Study of Greek Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921. This work reflects the influence of Freudianism. As McGinty shows in Dionysos and Interpretation, Harrison suffered from a then prevalent belief in the stupidity of primitive man, yet she provides interesting insights into the similarities between shamanism and the myths of dancing warriors protecting baby Dionysus with their din.
Harrison, Jane. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903. “Dated,” according to McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 75; “tendentious pronouncements, programmatic generalizations, heartfelt exhortations, and autobiographical claims and confessions dot her work,” McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 73. Harrison believed the Dionysian rites were “the product of mental backwardness,” McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 71ff, 21, 69, 105, 221. Harrison was heavily influenced by the technique and perspective of Frazier’s The Golden Bough. She argues that the Orphic rites preserved the tribal memory of the original shaman dances. The Maenads, Satyrs, and Koretes were mythic distortions of warriors dancing around the bonfires. Harrison argues the Orphic Mysteries originated in Crete.
Harrison, Jane. Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912. Harrison examines how local cult ancestor spirits evolved into Olympian gods. She analyzes a Hymn to the Kouretes for evidence of primitive rites. Nilsson dismissed this as “telescoping the millennia,” McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 223, note 31. The latter half of the book is a discussion of Dike and Themis, Moral Right, and Natural Law heavily influenced by the “sociological evolutionism of Emile Durkheim and Bergson,” McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 85, 86. Harrison is “lively, learned, yet unpedantic—and utterly uncontrolled by anything resembling careful logic,” as G.S. Kirk wrote, McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 211.
Heninger, S.K. Touches of Sweet Harmony: Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics, San Marino: Huntington Library, 1974. A beautifully written, illustrated and bound study of the influence of Orphism and Pythagoreanism on Shakespeare, Spenser, and the Elizabethans.
Henrichs, Albert. “Response.” In Orphism and Bacchic Mysteries: New Evidence and Old Problems of Interpretation. Berkeley: The Center for Hermeneutical Studies, Protocol of 28th Colloquy, 1977. Henrichs follows Linforth, doubting the evidence for organized Orphism, 210-211. Evans uses philology to critique Henrichs; see Arthur Evans, The God of Ecstasy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), 156.
Elisabeth, Henry. Orpheus with his Lute: Poetry and the Renewal of Life. Southern Illinois University Press, 1992. The philosophical and psychological mutations of Orpheus from catacomb iconography equating Orpheus with Jesus Christ to the medieval romances inspired by Ovid and the tragic love stories of Renaissance .
Herrero de Jáuregui, Miguel, ed. Tracing Orpheus: Studies of Orphic Fragments. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011. Indispensible new scholarship in the form of 65 short studies on Orphic fragments by leading experts; includes Bernabe’s state of the art Orphic bibliography.
Hogart, R.C. The Hymns of Orpheus: Mutations. Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1993. An artistic work, this lyrical poetic interpretation includes interesting information in the extensive notes and bibliography, but now dated. An important influence on my own work.
Irwin, Lee. “The Orphic Mystery: Harmony and Mediation.” In Alexandria 1, edited by David Fideler, 37-55. Grand Rapids: Phanes, 1991. A concise and comprehensive summary and analysis in a journal with other excellent articles on ancient Greek music and religion.
Jaeger, Werner. Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948. Several interesting comments on Orphism in this careful three-volume study of ancient Greek ideas about education.
Jáuregui, Miguel. Orphism and Christianity in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Recovery of Ancient Texts. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010. Reveals how scholars “refabricated Orphism” finding in it projections of their own Protestant Christian beliefs. From dismissing Orphism as an invention of Neoplatonists desperately competing with Christianity to attacks on Catholic primacy based on Orphism as a precursor to Protestant Christianity, the impact of unconscious prejudices and conscious agendas has warped our view of the Orphic mysteries.
Johnston, Sarah Iles. Hekate Soteira: American Classical Studies 21. Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1990. In depth look at the cult of Hekate from magic to theurgy, including her status as Platonic Cosmic Soul.
Johnston, Sarah Iles. Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece. Berkeley: University of California, 1999. Ghosts in ancient Greece, and the rituals to honor them thereby averting trouble. For example, troubled female ghosts could cause “childless mothers and blighted virgins.” The problem of spirits who died by unavenged violence. How Hekate became the Mistress of Ghosts. The fine differences between the different beings most translators including myself have simply called The Furies. Orpheus and the Orphic mysteries are recurrent themes.
Kerenyi, C. Asklepios. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959. Comprehensive study of the God of Healing. Kerenyi believes the Asklepios cult developed from shamanism. The ancient Greek depiction of Chiron the Centaur reproduced in this book will remind tarot scholars of the Fool card, complete with robe of stars, dog nipping at feet, and pole over the shoulder.
Kerenyi, C. Eleusis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967. Archeological focus in a classical study of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Many references to Orpheus and the Orphic Hymns.
Kerenyi, C The Gods of the Greeks. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979. Superior survey of Greek mythology; a scholarly handbook with constant attention to the details of epithets and cult.
Kerenyi, C Apollo. Dallas: Spring, 1983. Detailed short study of Apollo revealing the importance of the wolf cult often forgotten or glossed over by Apollonians.
Kern, Otto. Eine Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung. Berlin: 1920. A brief but concentrated overview of the Orphic cult. Kern reports rumors that Orpheus was the grandfather or otherwise direct ancestor of Homer. Inspiring frontispiece photo of stern, crew cut, long-bearded, pioneer Orphic scholar from Bavaria.
Kern, Otto Orphicorum Fragmenta. Berlin: Weidmann, 1922. Meticulous and essential collection of texts.
Kingsley, Peter. Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Highly recommended masterpiece turned generations of scholarship on end by revealing the shamanistic implications of Empedocles, and the usefulness of Neoplatonic perspectives on the tradition they knew better than any modern scholar, having had access to loss books like Aristotle’s work on Pythagoreanism and the entire Orphic corpus.
Kuznetsova, Anna S. Shamanism and Orphic Tradition. Novosibirsk State University http://www.nsu.ru/classics/eng/Anna/Kuznetsova_Shamanism.pdf. A brief but illuminating look at the popular comparison between Orpheus and the shamans of certain indigenous cultures. Kuznetsova concludes: “Thus, an association of Orpheus with shamanism appears to be quite problematic in many respects. Those elements in the Orphica which are similar to certain typically shamanistic features remain unsupported in view of the other equally important criteria. Apollo and Dionysus, who occupied a distinctive place in the Greek mythology and were linked to specific religious cults, admit certain parallels with shamanistic rites, but I would warn against an easy connection of the other Greek religious practices with shamanism.”
Laks, Andre and Most, Glenn W. eds. Studies on the Derveni Papyrus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Important early collection of essays on the magical papyrus including its first English translation.
Lamberton, Robert. Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Lamberton points out, following Burkert, that Platonism minus the Socratic dialectic, the dogma of the Academy, may have been fundamentally Neo-Pythagorean, and that the Neoplatonic allegorical interpretation of Homer (and Orpheus) may go back much further in history than late antiquity. The chapter on Proclus highlights the symbolic subtleties of Homeric metaphor.
Liddell and Scott. Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Indispensable and holy to scholars of ancient Greek.
Linforth, I.M. The Arts of Orpheus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1941. Focus on Orphic influence on Plato and the mainstream Attic culture. Devastating criticism of evidence for Orphism. Linforth argues Orphism never was a common creed or ceremony, it was “a category for those ancients interested in a vast miscellany of myth and religious lore.” For a summary of Linforth see Alderink, Creation and Salvation, 10-11.
Macchioro, Vittorio D. From Orpheus to Paul: A History of Orphism. New York: Henry Holt, 1930. “The summary consists partly of dogmatic assertions, partly of obvious misinterpretations of Aristotle and Plutarch,” writes Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, 246; but Macchioro presents a wealth of materials from which to draw one’s own interpretation.
McGahey, Robert. The Orphic Moment: Shaman to Poet Thinker in Plato, Nietzsche, and Mallarme. Albany: State University of New York: 1994. Reveals the deep influence of Orphic myth on philosophy and literature by examining Nietzsche and Mallarme.
McGinty, Park. Interpretation and Dionysos: Method in the Study of a God. The Hague: Mouton, 1978. An example of critical excellence, revealing the contexts and biases of the scholars constructing Orphic history. A wealth of quotations, such as Nietzsche on the intoxicating effect of Dionysos: “Now all the rigid, hostile barriers which need, caprice or ‘insolent fashion’ have fixed between men are smashed. Now, with the gospel of the world harmony, everyone feels not only united, reconciled, merged with his neighbor, but one with him, as though the veil of Maya had been torn and only fluttered in tatters before the mysterious primordial One,” 40. Essential discussion of Walter F. Otto’s important works on Dionysos. Excellent bibliography.
Mead, G.R.S. Orpheus. London: Watkins, 1965. Good but dated scholarship from the author of Thrice-Greatest Hermes. Fold out chart. A useful overview.
Meyer, Marvin W., ed. The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987. Modern translations and helpful notes, useful for studies of similarities and differences between the cults of the Euphrates and the Mediterranean.
Moore, Thomas. The Planets Within. Bucknell University Press: Lewisburg, 1982. Reprint. Great Barrington: Lindisfarne Press, 1990. Detailed, seminal study of Ficino’s fusion of Christian and Classical theology and astrology and its influence on the Italian Renaissance. Ficino translated the Hymns of Orpheus at the beginning of renaissance, performing them for his friends.
Moulinier, Louis. Orphee et L’Orphisme a l”Epoque Classique. Paris, 1955. Brief, but incisive. Moulinier follows Linforth, doubting the evidence. He summarizes the history of argument that the slaughter of Dionysos by the Titans was not necessarily linked to Titanic origin of humanity.
Nagy, Gregory. Homer the Preclassic. University of California Press: 2012. The crowning achivement of the director of the Center for Hellenic Studies and the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard sheds interesting light on Orphism, including the question of Pythagoras writing poems under the name of Orpheus, as mentioned by Ion of Chios.
Nilsson, M. P. “Early Orphism and Kindred Religious Movements,” Harvard Theological Review 28 (1935), 181-230. Nilsson argued from the liknon that Dionysos is the “spirit of the fruit of the fields,” but later changed his mind, believing the evidence does not connect Dionysos to agriculture. McGinty, Interpretation and Dionysos, 228, note 61.
Nilsson, M. P. The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and its Survival in Greek Religion. Biblo and Tannen: New York, 1971. For criticism and appreciation of Nilsson, see Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, 144; and Alderink, Creation and Salvation, 13. Unfortunately, Nilsson’s work has “disturbing racist, sexist, elitist undertones,” McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 123, 127, 229, notes 74 and 83; Nilsson’s work on Dionysos is state of the art. McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 109; Nilsson argued that the Greeks viewed the incursion of the cult of Dionysos as an “atavistic reversion” from Anatolia, McGinty, Dionysos and Interpretation, 122.
Nock, A.D. “A Cult of Ordinance in verse” in Essays on Religion and the Ancient World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972. Analysis of an inscription from a sanctuary of Dionysos in what is now Turkey. Nock elucidates the fine line between Pythagorean and Orphic. Nock wonders if Apollonius of Tyana or another wandering Neo-Pythagorean may have established the ritual ordinance in questions but concludes that the more likely scenario is that given the respect afforded to Orpheus and Pythagoras their prohibitions and ordinances were widely adopted. Nock points out that many of these prohibitions may been mere quarantines for most particpants who could not be expected to give up meat, beans and sex except for prescribed periods. “Purity means thinking holy thoughts,” he reminds us.
Nock, A.D. “Orphism or Popular Philosophy?” in Essays on Religion and the Ancient World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972. Dated but refreshingly skeptical viewpoint that challenged the fabricated Orphism of earlier scholars. Beliefs mistakenly classified as Orphic were popular in far wider circles. Misinterpreted metaphors added to the confusion. Is the circle of necessity reincarnation or simply the falling leaves of autumn?
Ogden, Daniel. Greek and Roman Necromancy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. A chapter on “Shamans, Pythagoreans and Orphics” included in this look at ancient Greek and Roman beliefs and practices regarding “Tombs and Battlefields,” “Oracles of the Dead,” “Dream Incubation,” and “Evocators, Sorcerors, and Ventriliquists.”
Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961. Not quite as good as Smith’s, but essential.
Paget, R. F. In Search of Orpheus. New York: Roy, 1967. Rogue scholar finds river Styx and possible site of Orphic mysteries. Well-translated generous collection of quotes about Orphism and quick introductions to myth and cult by the Indiana Jones of Orphic studies. Alderink writes: “out of touch or interest with the historical and scholarly problems,” Creation and Salvation, 99.
Parke, H. W. The Oracles of Zeus: Dodona, Olympia, Ammon. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967. Parke reminds us that Dodona was a single tree not a grove. He believes the dove in the tree of Zeus was the ring dove, less common in Greece.
Parker, Robert. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Essential study with many interesting perspectives on the Orphic mysteries. “An allusion in the Hippolytus shows that the link of Bacchic dances, Oprhic books, and vegetarianism was familiar in fifth-century Athens. It is none the less plausible that purifiers did exist who would offer their clinets salvation for the cost of a ritual, without insisting on the uncomfortable requirements of an Oprhic life. It is interesting that Plato speaks of release, not from memempsychotic or Titanic guilt, but from the crimes of an individual or his ancestors. Thus were exotic metaphysical speculations tailored to suit the conceptions of conventional Greek morality.” p. 304.
Pausanius, Description of Greece. Translated by Anonymous (Thomas Taylor). London, 1824. One of Taylor’s clearest translations, with his usual goldmine of notes.
Pepper, Elizabeth and Wilcock, John. Magical and Mystical Sites: Europe and the British Isles. Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1993. “The largest building in Pompeii stood at the southwest end of the forum and was a basilica dedicated to Orpheus…It was at the basilica to Orpheus that the bankers and merchants of Pompeii met to discuss business. Here also judgments were made,” 116.
Pickard-Cambridge, A.W. The Dramatic Festivals of Athens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968 edition revised in 1988. Dated but nevertheless classic study of ancient drama. Useful to compare and contrast with the theatrical elements of the Orphic Hymns and mysteries.
Pinchard, Alexis. “The Salvific Function of Memory in Archaic Poetry, in the Orphic Gold Tablets and in Plato: What Continuity, What Break?” The ISNS Tenth International Conference, Cagliari 2012. “According to this paper, the Athenian Neoplatonic idea that there was a deep accordance between Orpheus, Pythagoras and Plato about the method and the definition of soul salvation (see Syrianus) is not fully erroneous. It just has to be put in a dynamic perspective instead of a static one.”
Plassman, J. O. Orpheus: Altgriechische Mysterien. Regensburg: 1982. A German translation of the Hymns.
Prumm, Karl. “Die Orphik im Spiegel der neuen Forschung,” Zeitschrift fur katologische Theologie 78 (1956): 1-40. Survey of research on Orphism recommended by Alderink who summarizes it in Creation and Salvation. 7ff, 134.
Raine, Kathleen. Blake and Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962. Classic and important two-volume study of the influence of Neoplatonism and Orphism on the poetry of the great William Blake. A wealth of beautiful illustrations, analysis and references.
Roe, Ann. Orpheus: The Song of Life. Overlook Press, 2012. While her conclusions may occasionally be suspect the information she provides and her skill as a writer make this an enjoyable survey of the prolific influence of the Orphic on western culture. “Yet perhaps no tale has haunted humanity as Orpheus’s has: the musician who sang so sweetly that he persuaded the powers of death to give him back his wife, and then lost her. Poets, from Virgil and Ovid to Mallarme and Rilke, have written his story. Composers from Monteverdi to Gluck, to Stravinsky, to Philip Glass, have told it in music. Rubens, Giorgione, Klee and Corot have painted it; Jean Cocteau has turned it into film. Only last year, I saw his story staged as a musical by players who were crippled or blind, and they acted it with such fervor that it was clearly fountain-fresh to them, at the start of the 21st century. They acted out his life as though it was theirs. And in a way it is.”
Rohde, Irwin. Psyche: The cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. Leipzig: Mohr, 1894. Classic study, by a friend of Nietzsche. In contrast with the soul the body could hardly help appearing as an encumbrance, an obstacle to be got rid of. The conception of an ever-threatening pollution and “ uncleanness ” which was nourished by the teaching and activities of those innumerable purification-priests of whom Epimenides is known to us as the supreme master, had gradually so penetrated the whole of the official religion itself with purification- ceremonies that it might very well have seemed as though in the midst of this renovation and development of a type of’ religious thought that had been more than half forgotten in the Homeric period, Greek religion was fast approaching the condition of Brahmanism or Zoroastrianism and becoming essentially a religion of purification… the “soul ” required to be purified from the polluting embarrassment of the body.”
Ronan, Stephen. “Hekate’s Inyx.” In Alexandria 1, edited by David Fideler, 321-335. Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1991. Detailed discussion of Hekate’s mysterious cult object.
Rooley, Anthony. Performance: Revealing the Orpheus Within. Dorset: Element, 1990. Charming and inspiring application of Orphism influenced performance theories and techniques presented by the director of the celebrated Consort of Musicke. A helpful and interesting short discussion of Orphic myth, cult and historical influence from Ficino to Spenser and Dowland.
Schwebel, Leah. “Dante’s Metam-Orpheus: The Unspoken Presence of Orpheus in the Divine Comedy” The McGill Journal of Classical Studies, Volume IV: 62-72, 2005. While Dante only refers to Orpheus once in his masterpiece, Orphic themes, and echoes of Orpheus himself recur throughout the poem.
Segal, Charles. Orpheus: The Myth of the Poet. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1988. Follows the myth of Orpheus as the essence of poetry lingering long on Virgil, Ovid, and Rilke.
Smith, Sir William. Dr. Smith’s Classical Dictionary. London: John Murray, 1894. The holy grail of classical dictionaries is the three volume edition of this one volume abbreviated version. Still better than the Oxford Classical Dictionary despite the lack of modern scholarship.
Stillwell, Gary. Afterlife:Post-Mortem Judgements in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. iUniverse, 2005. Useful analysis of specific similarities and differences, revealing the profound influence of the ancient Egyptians on the ancient Greeks, which the latter never denied.
Taylor, Thomas, trans. The Hymns of Orpheus. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1981. Venerable but difficult, occasionally beautiful translation with invaluable notes, a long and useful introduction to the life and theology of Orpheus, and numerous quotations from Neoplatonic sources ignored by most scholars. This rhymed version of the Orphic Hymns is the first English translation, originally published in 1787.
Taylor, Thomas, The Eleusianian and Bacchic Mysteries. Reprint. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1980. In this work, first published in 1790, Taylor develops a point he makes in a note to his translation of Description of Greece by Pausanius: “…the Orphic hymns which exist at present were the very hymns which were used in the Eleusinian Mysteries.” Taylor relies heavily on the Neoplatonists.
Tyrrell, William Blake. Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking. London: John Hopkins, 1984. Comprehensive study of the Amazon myth with focus on Athenian sexual politics and the suppression of matriarchy.
Tzifopoulos, Yannis. “Paradise” Earned: The Bacchic-Orphic Gold Lamellae of Crete. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. In depth study of a dozen small gold tablets found in Crete. Numerous black and white photographs of the tablets and the sites where they were found. Includes facsimiles of the original Greek text. “Orphic literature,” he reminds us, “Pythagorean philosophy, and Dionysiac cult(s) and ritual(s) are different contexts in which the texts…may be placed…some more readily than others.” p.118.
Voss, Angela. “Father Time and Orpheus” in Voss and Lall, eds. The Imaginal Cosmos: Astrology, Divination and the Sacred. Canterbury: University of Kent at Canterbury, 2007. As always Voss is uniquely illuminating, especially when writing about the influence of Orpheus on the father of the renaissance, Ficino, who not only translated the hymns but performed them for his friends.
Voss, Angela. “The Natural Magic of Marsilio Ficino” in Voss, Angela, ed. Historical Dance: The Journal of the Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society v. 3 n. 1, 1992. An early study of Ficino by Voss both useful and enlightening. Voss understands the healing inherent in the Orphic hymns and any ritual use of music. A must for students of ceremonial magic and theurgic ritual.
Voss, Angela. “Orpheus redivivus: The Musical Magic of Marsilio Ficino,” in Alan, Rees and Rees, ed. Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, his Philosophy, his Legacy. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Brilliant and essential look at Orpheus and Ficino.
Warden, John, ed. Orpheus: The Metamorphosis of a Myth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. Collection of essays on the influence of Orphism on the history of western culture. Warden’s essay on Ficino is excellent.
Watmough, J.R. Orphism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934. Among the most enthusiastic proponents of what might be called Orphic Christianity. “In the ancient world we have the religion of Homer, entirely concerned with sacrifice and ritual, entirely dominated by the note of “Confiteor” – the confession of vows duly performed: and over against it the religions of “Orpheus”, which emphasized the relation of the individual soul with God, for authority turning not to priests but scriptures. In the more modern world we have the medieval Church, a picturesque and colorful religious system based on sacerdotalism and ecclesiolatry: over against the Protestant reformers….”
West, Martin L. The Orphic Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. Definitive study of the Orphic Rhapsodies, a creation myth, but not all of West’s theories have been accepted unchallenged by academia.
Zaidman, Lousie and Pantel Pauline. Religion in the Ancient Greek City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Dated, but fascinating insights. “The process of degeneration reached a nadir with the murder of Dionysos and the appearance of the human race…only by abstaining from all murder, and therefore from bloody animal sacrifice, could these mortals who opted for the Orphic way of life effect a reconciliation with the gods. This was a life synonymous with purity but it also entailed a radical separation from those Greeks who pursued the conventional civic way.
Article Written by Ronnie Pontiac
Newtopia staff writer RONNIE PONTIAC is a founding member and primary guitarist of Lucid Nation, executive producer of the documentaries Rap is War, Exile Nation, and the award winning animated short Cohen on the Bridge. He associate produced The Gits documentary, and was art editor, then poet in residence for Newtopia Magazine in its former incarnation . He’s a published author of works on obscure topics such as ancient Greek religion and the history of alchemy. Follow him on Twitter @AmerMysteries.