Scientific Enlightenment, Div. One
Book 2: Human Enlightenment of the First Axial

2.B.1. A Genealogy of Philosophic Enlightenment in Classical Greece
Chapter 4: Orphism
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copyright © 2004, 2005, 2006 by Lawrence C. Chin.

Orphism, attributed to the Thracian Orpheus, is thought to be a unification of the cult of Apollo on the one hand (especially: Apollo as KaqarsioV, the purifier) and Thracian Dionysian (mystery) cult on the other. The reality of this religious movement (it used to be doubted), in existence as early as the 6th century B.C., has been established by the discovery in 1962, in a tomb at Derveni, near Thessaloniki, of the "Derveni Papyrus", a "philosophical commentary on an Orphic theogony and cosmogony" "dating to approximately 330 B.C." (Marcel Detienne, "Orpheus", in The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 11, ed. Mircea Eliade, 1987, p 111. More on the Derveni Papyrus below.) But also by Soviet archaeologists' discovery in Olbia, Greece, in 1978, of "three small tablets attest[ing] the existence in the 5th century BCE of a group called the 'Orphics' and their explicit interest in the god Dionysos." (Ibid.) "Orphism involves three relatively autonomous types of religious phenomena. First, there are traditions concerning the birth, life, and descent of Orpheus into the underworld; his singing among the Thracians, and his tragic death (... torn to pieces by a band of women) [biography of Orpheus]. Next, we have a literature... several theogonic accounts. Finally, we know of certain practices and rules of conduct: proscriptions and requirements to be met by those who chose to live in an Orphic manner." (Ibid.) The purpose of this "Orphic manner" is eternal salvation. That is, Orphism is of particular significance here because it is the first definitive appearance of the second mode of salvation in the Hellenic world -- more explicitly oriented toward salvation though less philosophically clear about their thinking than were the Ionian philosophers. Here we will not cover the biography of Orpheus but only their practices ensuring salvation and the theogony relevant of this salvation.

(1) The salvational structure: the second mode. In Orphism the idea, proper to the intraworld religiosity of tribal time, of the transmigration of the soul, of one's soul as that of the ancestor or god re-entering oneself, has ascended to the idea that this soul is a fallen god, and the salvational aspiration has arisen that this fallen soul might be restored to its original high estate by a system of "purifications" (katharmoi) and "orgia" (sacraments): i.e. the second mode of salvation has disengaged. This idea of the second mode of salvation contained in Orphism is for example expressed in the three Compagno tablets found near Sybaris. "In each case the tablet lay near the hand of the skeleton." (J. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p. 584.) Synthesized together they present the text:

poinan d
'antapeteis'ergwn enek'ouci dikaiwn.

nun d
'ikethV ikw par'agnhn Fersefoneian
wV me profrwn pemyhi edraV eV euagewn

Out of the pure I come, Pure Queen of Them Below,
And Eukles and Eubouleus, and other gods immortal,
For I also avow me that I am of your blessed race.
And I have paid the penalty for deeds unrighteous,
Whether it be that Fate laid me low or the other gods immortal.
Or .................. with star-flung thunderbolt.
I have flown out of the sorrowful weary Wheel;
I have passed with eager feet to the Circle desired;
I have sunk beneath the bosom of Despoina, Queen of the Underworld;
I have passed with eager feet from the Circle desired;
And now I come a suppliant to Holy Phersephoneia,
That kindly she send me to the seat of the pure. -
"Happy and Blessed One, thou shalt be god instead of mortal."
A kid I have fallen into milk. (Based on the reconstruction by Gilbert Murray in Harrison, p. 667 - 9.)

Let's understand the salvational sentiment underlying these lines. First, in Orphism, the physical body (soma) was understood to be a prison-chamber for that fallen, true essence (psyche, soul) of a person. Thus the saying: soma sema, “body is tomb.” Just as in the Indian Vedas, the Orphics teach that the individual souls are trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnations until somehow a purification is completed and the soul could be released from matter's deathly grip and return to the Eternity from which it fell. This similarity is due to both being the second mode differentiated out from primitive intraworld religiosity with the concomitant primordial experience of the soul as the cosmic, ancestral air residing in one's body during life and leaving it upon death. One is not to be amazed about the coincidence. The idea of the transmigration of the soul has the logical tendency to evolve into the wish to be extricated from the cycles of migration. (Below; see also Pythagoreanism, next chapter.) This second mode of salvation also means a "gnostic" character of Orphism, as expressed in the flesh-degrading symbolism of the body as the tomb, and which character is also shared by Plato (Phaedo), Upanishadic Hinduism, and even Buddhism, not to mention Christian gnosticism (e.g. Valentianism) itself. (Remember that the two main features of the second mode of salvation are salvation through knowledge or intellectual work in general with its attendant degradation of the flesh ["gnostic character"], and salvation through finding the divinity within; hence the attempts within the first mode, e.g. the Christian tradition, to "upgrade" it to the second mode can either be gnosticism as such [acquisition of secret knowledge, as about the creation of the world in Valentianism] or mysticism [unification with God] or both.) Now Mircea Eliade writes in this respect (L'histoire des croyances et des idées religieuses, vol. 2, p. 182): "Some allusions from Plato permit us to see the context of the Orphic conception of immortality. Due to the punishment of a primordial crime [the Fall!], the soul is locked up in the body (soma) as if in a tomb (sema)." Hence it is said that Fate or gods have laid the soul low. "Consequently, the incarnated existence resembles rather death, and death constitutes the beginning of true life. But this 'true life' is not obtained automatically; the soul is 'judged according to its faults and merits [hence it is said that one has to pay one's penalty first], and after a certain time it is incarnated anew.'" ("Quelques allusions de Platon nous permettent d'entrevoir le contexte de la conception orphique de l'immortalité. En punition d'un crime primordial, l'âme est enfermée dans le corps (soma) comme dans le tombeau (sema). Par conséquent, l'existence incarnée ressemble plutôt à une mort, et la mort constitue le commencement de la vraie vie. Pourtant, cette 'vraie vie' n'est pas obtenue automatiquement; l'âme 'est jugée selon ses fautes ou ses mérites, et après un certain temps elle s'incarne de nouveau.'") The Hellenic equivalent to the Indic karma is seen in this "penalty-paying" before reincarnation anew: that primordial derivation of "justice" from thermodynamic equilibrium applied to fortune, resulting in the rather universal myth of the judgment of the dead, and which shows up also, for example, as said, in Anaximander's dike. "Just as in India according to the Upanishads, it is about the belief in the indestructibility of the soul, condemned to transmigrate until its final deliverance." ("Comme dans l'Inde après le Upanishads, il s'agit de la croyance en l'indestructibilité de l'âme, condamnée à transmigrer jusqu'à sa délivrance finale.") When this transmigration of the soul, typical of intraworld religiosity, has become upon reflection a rather sorrowful state of affair one wants to entangle oneself from, then the formula of the second mode of salvation is born, in Hellas just as in India. Hence the Buddhist "notion of existence as a Wheel, a cycle of life upon life ceaselessly revolving, in which the soul is caught, from the tangle and turmoil of which it seeks and at last finds rest" (Harrison, ibid., p. 588), also shows up in Orphic ritual formularies, such as seen above: "I have flown out of the sorrowful weary Wheel." Again paralleling the Indics, the Orphics are strict vegetarians and ascetics of the most severe order. (What is most surprising about Orphism is therefore that it emerges, it seems, from the orgiastic Dionysian mysteries. This is easy to understand: although the purpose of mysteries is salvational-like in that the participant attempts to become the god in question, and so through and during orgy [such as the gruesome wmofagon carin, "joy in eating raw flesh" after the "tearing-asunder," in celebration of Dionysos], the Orphics want to become god after life in order to escape from the material world altogether and so need to prepare the soul during this life through asceticism. See Harrision, p. 473 – 7, “The Cardinal Doctrine of Orphism.”) "Mais les pratiques végétariennes avaient une justification religieuse plus complexe et plus profonde" than the superficial fear, once mentioned by Pythagoras (above), of accidentally eating one's relatives from past lives. "Plato summarizes [the Orphic] strict rules in the Laws: do not touch beef, abstain from all meat, and offer the gods only cakes or fruit soaked in honey, for it is impious and unclean to eat flesh and to stain with blood the altars of the gods." (Detienne, ibid., p. 112) The second mode of salvation usually avoids hurting other sentient lives not only out of the desire to avoid creating "bad karma" (hence "uncleanness"), but this desire is also linked to a profound empathy and respect for other, even animal sensual, consciousness (so Jainism, Buddhism, etc.). Ultimately however it is based on the hatred of the material world, of flesh, with which the immaterial breath-soul is apt to reach equilibrium and thus lose its "order", its purity. The universal compassion is thus finally integrated within the salvational knowledge and the order (salvational state) of the soul (i.e. minor salvation). (Below.) As Harrison cites the modern mystic Maeterlinck (Le Temple enseveli) so appropriately: “Maeterlinck believes, as Pythagoras did, that those who abstain from flesh food ‘ont senti leurs forces s’accroître, leur santé se rétablir ou s’affirmer, leur esprit s’alléger et se purifier, comme au sortir d’une prison séculaire nauséabonde et misérable.’” (Ibid., p. 510 : “… have felt their forces increase, their health re-established or affirmed, their spirit lightened and purified, as if leaving a secular, nausea-abounded and miserable prison.”) Flesh-eating, experientially, involves too much pleasure, is like pouring out one's energy and so the order of one's soul, leaving it in more a state of equilibrium with the surrounding than before. (More on this below.) Recall that the identity of the polis is founded on sacrifice. "By refusing carnal food, the Orphics (and the Pythagoreans) [also] abstained from blood-sacrifices, obligatory in the official cult." (Eliade, ibid.; "En refusant la nourriture carnée, les orphiques (et les pythagoriciens) s'abstenaient des sacrifices sanglants, obligatoires dans le culte officiel.") This transcendence of sacrifices is Orphism's decisive advancement from the mystery religions (especially the Dionysian cult) from which it has evolved (see below). "Un tel refus traduisait, certes, la décision de se détacher de la cité, et en fin de compte de 'renoncer au monde' [salvation achieved]; mais il proclamait surtout le rejet, en sa totalité, du système religieux grec, système fondé par le premier sacrifice instauré par Prométhée..." Hence Detienne calls the Orphics "renunciants." "They devote themselves to techniques of purification in order to separate themselves from others, in order to cut themselves off from the world and from all who are subject to death and defilement.... The Orphic way of life implies an uncompromising renunciation that is expressed in a straightforward manner by the condemnation both of sanguinary food and of the social bond that is established within the state when an animal victim is sacrificed on the altar and its flesh shared in a common feast." (Detienne, ibid.; emphasis added.) Instead: "What one calls the 'Orphic life'... consists of purification, asceticism, and a number of specific rules; but salvation is obtained especially by an initiation, that is to say by revelations of the cosmological and theosophic order." ("Ce qu'on appelait la 'vie orphique'... comportait purification, ascétisme et nombre de règles spécifiques; mais le salut s'obtenait surtout par une 'initiation', c'est-à-dire par des révélations d'ordre cosmologique et théosophique." Eliade, ibid.) This is definitively entry into philosophy: salvation through the remembrance (anamnesis) of some forgotten knowledge ("gnostic"). But the "knowledge" here is still a mythic theo- and cosmo-gony, so that a transformation of this knowledge into the more sophisticated knowledge of the structure (and genesis) of reality (not of gods) is needed for it to be called philosophy-proper: transition to Pythagoreanism and, finally, to Plato's study of forms. (For Orphic cosmogony, below.) But next to the remembrance of theo- and cosmo-gony, the purification-initiation also includes certain magical rites, as will be seen. With these done, the soul, after leaving the body upon death and thus departing to the Underworld, may proclaim to the Queen there, "I am pure." It is to remain pure that during life one abstains from meat-consumption and retreats from the collective-life. But it must be remembered at this point that these Orphic renunciants did not make up an unified "church" of some sort, but constituted rather a movement -- a movement about how to obtain final salvation, for the first time in the Hellenic world -- within which different groups practiced their hermetic-monasteric way of life (interred with a papyrus scroll in their hands, abhorring blood, writing about cosmo- and theo-gonic tales; Detienne, p. 112) without necessarily any coordinations between them.

In the Orphic conception we are thus mixed of the evil, titanic (bodily) element of which we should endeavor to rid ourselves, and the divine nature (soul) which came from Zagreus or Zeus or Eubouleus or Dionysos or whichever god the Orphics in the region identify the divine with and which we should attempt to preserve. Of course this divine but fallen part is our "true self." Hence, while in front of the Queen of the Underworld, the purified soul proclaims itself to be "of the same race as the blessed divine immortal." Experientially the evil is derived from the mixture of the material in the soul, the gradual dispersion of the soul into the material body because of prolonged contact with the latter in consequence of the necessary entropic increase. It is the mix of the material in the otherwise entirely or purely immaterial breath-soul that causes the latter's continuous return back to the material world subject to continuous entropic disintegration. (We will understand the entire derivation of such thinking from the human experience of thermodynamics in the chapter on Phaedo.) The triumph of the divine, most orderly over the bodily, disorderly element would be assured by following the Orphic rites of initiation, purification, and asceticism. Then we are prepared for the afterlife, will dwell there in the blissful realm of infinitude with gods immortal and never have to come back. The return to the material world is secondly necessitated by the karmic law: If we have lived in evil, we would be punished; but if we have lived in holiness, after death our souls would be completely liberated from the evil, material elements and reunite with divinity - and never come back. Then “we will have become god instead of mortals.” Harrison is of the opinion that the other verses of the Compagno Tablets (such as jumping in and out of the Circle) describe the other aforementioned aspects of the initiation ritual by which this return can begin to be ensured. Other imitators of Orphic initiation or purification seem to even involve "sacrifices" to purge "sin", as one of Plato's dramatis personae (Adeimantus, Glaucon's brother) warns (Republic, 365a):

biblwn de omadon parecontai Musaiou kai OrfewV, SelhnhV te kai Mouswn ekgonwn, wV fasi, kaq'aV quhpolousin, peiqonteV ou monon idiwtaV alla kai poleiV, wV ara luseiV te kai kaqarmoi adikhmatwn dia qusiwn kai paidiaV hdonwn eisi men eti zwsin, eisi de kai teleuthsasin, aV dh teletaV kalousin, ai twn ekei kakwn apoluousin hmaV, mh qusantaV de deina perimenei.

"And they [those who hold the cynical view that doing justice does not pay as well as doing injustice] present a babble of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring of the Moon and the Muses, as they say, according to which they make sacrifices, persuading not only individuals, but cities as well, that there are after all deliverance and purifications from unjust deeds, through sacrifices and games of pleasure, for those still living, and there are also [rites like these] for those who are dead, [rites] which they call initiations. These initiations deliver us from the evils in the other place; without sacrificing then terrible things await."

Plato's dramatis personae here are criticizing the abuse of the karmic law and the disintegration of justice, as seen. Musaeus is said to have been the son or disciple of Orpheus. The word for "initiation" is teletas, "making perfect", meaning also "initiation into the mysteries" (mystery religions). Note the presence here of the Christian theme of getting rid of "sins" (injustice here, or disorder; but in the Orphic: also the "impurity" of the soul) through sacrifice (debt-paying). One thus notices an intermediary between the first (Christian: salvation or redemption through debt-paying to even out "sin" [debt]: this is specifically the juridical sense of Jesus’ sacrifice, as will be seen: Jesus as the ransom, the lutron) and the second mode (reunion with the infinitude/ extrication from reincarnation). This hints at the origin of the divergence between the two: within the intraworld religiosity based on the transmigration of the soul and the necessary eventual equilibrium of its fortune (karma, judgment of the dead) disengagement of salvation can take two directions operating on the same set of elements (karmic law and order). For this, below. It is to be remarked in this connection (of the imitators) that “Orpheus is presented as a reformer of the Dionysiac mysteries; this is why the initiations attributed to Dionysos are called Orphic…” (“Orphée est présenté comme un réformateur des mystères dionysiaques: 'c'est pourquoi les initiations dues à Dionysos sont appelées orphiques'...”; Eliade, ibid., vol. 1, p. 385) Indeed, Orphism seems to be the decisive disengagement of the second mode of salvation within the milieu of the Dionysian cult in particular and of the Hellenic mystery religions in general. (The other descendant of the cult of Dionysus is, as Eliade says, the tragedies, which are non-salvational.)

The decisive disengagement of the second mode notwithstanding, Orphism is still steeped in mythic symbolism as the medium of its salvational expression and so retains much of the pre-salvational intraworldly religious traces. “After death, the soul is directed to Hades. According to Phaedo (108a) and Gorgias (524a), the path is ‘neither unique nor simple, but there are many detours and many traverses.’ The Republic (614 c-d) elaborates that it is permitted to the just to take the route at the right, while the bad are sent toward the left. One encounters analogous indications in the verses inscribed on the golden leaflets found in the tombs of southern Italy and in Crete, and dated to at least the fifth century.” Among these, for example, is the Petelia Tablet (below). “‘Hail to you who travel by the path on the right toward the sacred prairies and the tree of Persephone.’ The text contains precise indications [see text below]. ‘Thou shalt find on the left of the House of Hades a Well-spring, and by the side thereof standing a white cypress. To this Well-spring approach not near. But thou shalt find another by the lake of Memory. [From this lake] cold water flowing forth, and there are guardians before it. Say [to them]: “I am a child of Earth and Starry Heaven; but my race is of Heaven (alone). This ye know yourselves. And lo, I am parched with thirst and I perish. Give me quickly the cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory.” And of themselves they will give thee to drink from the holy Well-spring, And thereafter with the other Heroes thou shalt have lordship.’ In the myth of Er, Plato reports that all the souls destined for reincarnation are obligated to drink from the lake of Lethe in order to forget their experience in the other world.” (Eliade, ibid., vol. 2., 186) We here agree with Harrison that although the Well-spring to be avoided “is left nameless, but contrasted as it is with the Well of Mnemosyne or Remembrance, we may safely conclude that the forbidden well is Lethe, Forgetfulness.” (Ibid., p. 574.) Such myth, then, of course, is common across diverse cultures. In the Chinese popular tradition, for example, it is said that when the soul of the dead went to the world of the ying (the dead), before returning to the world of the yang (the living) through reincarnation, an old lady there would provide a soup for the reincarnant to drink so as to cause the latter to forget the previous life, and to come to the new life tabula rasa. Similar but more complicated myth exists in the Polynesian tradition. “The Fiji islanders have their ‘Path of the Shades’ beset with perils and their Wai-na-dula, a well from which the dead man drinks and forgets sorrow. ‘He passed the twin goddesses Nino who peered at him and gnashed their terrible teeth, fled up the path and came to a spring and stopped and drank, and, as soon as he tasted the water, he ceased weeping, and his friends also ceased weeping in his home, for they straightway forgot their sorrows and were consoled. Therefore this spring is called the Wai-na-dula, the Water of Solace.’ After many other perils, including the escape from two savage Dictynnas who seek to catch him in their nets, the soul at last is allowed to pass into the dancing grounds where the young gods dance and sing. The Fiji parallel is worth noting because it is so different. The Fiji soul drinks of forgetfulness, and why? Because his friends and relations must put a term to their irksome mourning, and till the soul sets the example and himself forgets they must remember.” (Harrison, ibid., p. 574 – 5.)

(Reconstruction by Murray, in Harrison, p. 659.)

“But the souls of the Orphics were supposed to never reincarnate again; that’s the reason for which they must avoid the water of Lethe” (Eliade, ibid.) and drinks instead of the opposite water, that of Mnemosyne. 1 In other words, we are here witnessing how salvational pursuit is being disengaged out of the traditional, pre-salvational, intraworld milieu through the reversal of certain elements. So, next, while previously the soul, becoming forgetful of all previous experiences, and having received punishment for past injustice committed so that its fortune has reached equilibrium, leaves the Queen of the Underworld for a new life, the Orphic soul affirms its identity with the gods, and stays, being confirmed by the Queen: “O you the fortunate, O you the blessed! You have become a god, from the mortal that you were.” Extrication from the cycle of reincarnation, from birth.

"The 'cycle of heavy pains' consists of a certain number of reincarnations. After death, the soul is judged, sent temporarily to a place of punishment or beatitude, and returns to earth after 1000 years. An ordinary mortal must traverse the cycle ten times before escaping it. The 'Orphics' have abundantly described the torments of the guilty ones, the infinite evils reserved for the damned." ("Le 'cycle des lourdes peines' comporte un certain nombre de réincarnations. Après la mort, l'âme est jugée, envoyée temporairement dans un lieu de châtiment ou de béatitude, et retourne sur terre après 1000 ans. Un mortel ordinaire doit parcourir dix fois le cycle avant de s'échapper. Les 'orphiques' ont abondamment décrit les tourments des coupables, les 'maux infinis réservés aux damnés'.") This is the same thinking of karma and cycle of reincarnation as in India, and it is simply the natural development of pre-salvational mythic thinking. "In effect, the katabasis of the Singer in search of Eurydice justified all sorts of descriptions of the infernal world. We find again the 'shamanic' element, a dominant trait in the myth of Orphism: we know that in central and northern Asia it is the shamans who, by recounting with infinite details their ecstatic descent to the Underworld, have elaborated and popularized a vast and spectacular geography of the Underworld." ("En effet, la catabase du Chantre en quête d'Euridice justifiait toutes sortes de descriptions du monde infernal. Nous rencontrons de nouveau l'élément 'chamanique', trait dominant dans le mythe d'Orphée: on sait que dans toute l'Asie centrale et septentrionale ce sont les chamans qui, en racontant avec d'infinis détails leurs descentes extatiques aux Enfers, ont élaboré et popularisé une vaste et spectaculaire géographique infernale." Eliade, p. 186 - 7) The Underworld is simply the conjoint of the functional view of the "soul" subsisting after death, and so also an immediate datum for consciousness at the very beginning of the functional perspective. Salvational pursuit is contingent on such mythic world-view.

In the pre-salvational mythic consciousness shamans (with the aid of animal spirits released from animals sacrificed and with drug-induced hallucination, which is, of course, taken for granted -- as independently existing; "objectified" -- by the functional perspective as the experience of an actual "voyage") frequently travel to the world of the spirit ("ecstasy"), where normally the soul (breath) only goes after death (release from the body) and from where it reincarnates again, i.e. descends into the temporo-spatial finitude again. Similarly, "Hiéronymos de Rhode raconte que Pythagore descendit dans l'Hadès et que là il vit les âmes d'Homère et d'Hésiode, expiant pour tout ce qu'ils avaient dit de mal des dieux"; or "Aristéas de Proconnèse était fameux pour son extase susceptible d'être confondue avec la mort": the soul (breath) leaving the body to that other place; what if it can't come back in? Thus Hermotimus de Clazomènes... (p. 189. Eliade is here noting the shamanic traces in these first salvational traditions). The pursuit of salvation (negation of temporo-spatial finitude) has simply to put a halt to the process: then, remaining within the realm of the spirit, i.e. the realm of infinitude -- like air, like spirit, not delimited spatially and without care of time -- the soul is "god" (or the Ancestral Geist) and blessed, i.e. infinite. Hence the "guide" directing one to not follow through the process -- with the prerequisite already done of course: good karma, and whatever initiation and secret knowledge required to "wash away" the materiality left in the soul -- is the salvational manual leading to infinitude. ("Les fragments inscrits sur les lamelles d'or semblent faire partie d'un texte canonique, sorte de guide de l'au-delà, comparable aux 'livres des morts' égyptien ou tibétain"; p. 188.) Hence also the instruction to not drink from the water of Lethe as is done normally, but from that of Mnemosyne. Eliade isolates the source of the symbolism (of what the other world is like) in this "voyage guide" as oriental (Mesopotamian) rather than Greek; with this we are not concerned because our purpose is to see how the shamanic-mythic world view (consciousness taken for granted, free-floating spirits) will naturally evolve into this sort of salvational pursuit (extrication from the cycle of reincarnation and karma), in Hellas or in India, and in everywhere else susceptible of this direction of disengagement if the accidents of history had not prevented its coming through. For this reason, Harrison’s suggestion that the Orphic salvational image here – not the pre-salvational image of the voyage of the soul and its reincarnation – is borrowed from Egypt through Crete (ibid., p. 576) should be ignored, however many similarities might exist between the two sides.

What is of interest is that the Orphic salvational images (of Lethe and Mnemosyne) do appear in local cults, such as the oracular ritual of Trophonios at Lebadeia (north of the slopes of Helicon), with however completely different functions. As Pausanias has recounted it:

Before the worshippers can actually descend into the oracular chasm, he must spend some days in a house that is a sanctuary of the Agathos Daimon and of Tyche; then he is purified and eats sacrificial flesh. After omens have been taken and a black ram sacrificed into a trench, the inquirer is washed and anointed and led by the priests to certain “springs of water which are very near to one another, and then he must drink of the water called Forgetfulness (LhqhV), that there may be forgetfulness of everything that he has hitherto had in his mind, and after that he drinks of yet another water called Memory (MnhmosunhV), by which he remembers what he has seen when he goes down below.” He is then shown an image which Daedalus made, i.e. a very ancient xoanon, and one which was only shown to those who are going to visit Trophonios; this he worships and prays to, and then, clad in a linen tunic – another Orphic touch – and girt with taeniae and shod with boots of the country he goes to the oracle. The ritual that follows is of course a descent into the underworld, the man goes down into the oven-shaped cavity, an elaborate artificial chasm, enters a hole, is dragged through by the feet, swirled away, hears and sees “the things that are to be” (ta mellonta), he comes up feet foremost and then the priests set him on the seat, called the seat of Memory, which is near the shrine. They question him and, when they have learnt all they can, give him over to friends, who carry him possessed by fear and unconscious to the house of AgatheTyche and Agathos Daimon where he lodged before. Then he comes to himself and, one is relieved to hear, is able to laugh again (Harrison, p. 578 – 9).

This oracular ritual thus takes the form of the shamanistic ecstasy. The descent to the Underworld is in order to know the future; hence the purpose of drinking off Lethe is just “to prepare a blank sheet for the reception of the oracle of Mnemosyne, to make the utterance of the oracle indelible” (ibid., p. 580). Thus we see how the Orphics might have borrowed from the common religious cultural context such as this one for their salvational, not oracular, purpose: “… the revelation at Lebadeia of ‘things to be’ was to the Orphic a vision of and a preparation for the other world (ta ekei)… The worshipper initiated at Lebadeia drank of Lethe; there was evil still to forget. The Orphic who, after a life spent in purification, passed into Hades, had done with forgetting; his soul drinks only of Remembrance.” (Ibid.)

Eliade lists the common features between Orphism and Pythagoreanism: "croyance à l'immortalité [hence reincarnation] et à la métempsychose, punition dans l'Hadès [karma] et retour final de l'âme au ciel, végétarisme, importance accordée aux purifications, ascétisme" (ibid., p. 189). Asceticism is the prefiguration of minor salvation: as will be seen in regard to Phaedo, it allows the soul to be "concentrated", i.e. to remain in order far from equilibrium (hence abstinence is hard, like pumping energy in); indulgence in sensory and bodily pleasures disperses the soul, i.e. allows the soul, this order, to reach equilibrium with the surrounding, like the local concentration of air molecules, given free movement, i.e. "let go", disperses away so that the environment is in equilibrium, i.e. contains no local pockets of order (concentration of molecules) but is instead everywhere the same. Such disordered soul cannot be expected to go to the realm of the spirit and remain there with gods (in fact, it is possible that it may not even go there after death, but remains here as ghosts, as Socrates warns). Purification is the mythic precursor of asceticism. The soul dispersed in bodily pleasures is taken for granted, this state objectified in thinghood, as the disordered (dispersed) state is taken to be the consequence of the "presence" of materiality in the soul: "stains" to wash away! Pythogoreanism is a step beyond the Orphic purification-asceticism in "d'avoir posé les bases d'une 'science totale', de structure holistique, dans laquelle la connaissance scientifique était intégrée dans un ensemble de principes éthiques [i.e. in minor salvation], métaphysiques et religieux, accompagné de diverses 'techniques du corps' [for minor salvation]." (p. 190) That is, Pythagoreanism has at last achieved the second mode of salvation proper: salvation through knowledge and learning of the structure of reality, to which Orphism comes close, but not quite: its "knowledge" is still myth, about cosmogony, about the other world. Later, we’ll see also how these Orphic salvational or “eschatological” images re-appear in many of Plato’s consciously constructed mythic imageries of soul’s salvation or failed salvation – just how Orphic Plato really is.

A difference of the Orphics from the Pythagoreans is that "the Orphics never felt an urge to attempt a political reform or to envisage an alternative state with an alternative political cult." (Detienne, ibid, p. 113) The question is however rather why the Pythagoreans would engage in the formation of a polity at all, given the renunciative characteristic of the second mode in general.

We have seen (Heidegger's concept of guilt, its universal structure, and Paul's concept of sin) that Paul's conception of the soul is very similar to Plato's, and that his conception of sin (hamartia) is thoroughly Hellenistic. In the present connection we can finally understand the dual nature of the origin of Christianity, that it is a composite of prophetic Yahwism on the one side and the Hellenistic mystery religions on the other. This is not surprising, given the Hellenization of the Near East since Alexander's conquest. The mystery religions themselves, however, were mixtures between the "oriental" religions (of Near East and Egypt) and Hellenic cults (the Eleusian mysteries and Orphism). A genealogical connection thus exists between Christianity and Orphism via the intermediary of the mysteries.

eastern religions  -|                        |--> Gnosticism (including
                    |--> mystery religions --|   the "other" Christianity)
Orphism,            |                        |   
Eleusian mysteries -|                        |--> Christianity

We need here a summary understanding of the origin of Christianity as we try at last to locate the experiential origin of sin. The founders of Christianity did not acknowledge its Hellenistic roots (the milieu of mysteries) but tried hard to connect with the Hebrew roots instead, in order to make it into a straightforward continuation of the Yahwist tradition that was supposed to have begun since the time of creation. "From [the] Old Testament an anthology of Messianic proof-texts was made by Christian preachers to demonstrate that Christ was the fulfilment of Old Testament Revelation." (S. Angus, The Mystery Religions: A Study in the Religious Background of Early Christianity, 2nd ed., 1928; Dover Reprint; p. 300.) Consider in this respect also Acts, Chapter 7 and 28, where both the apostle Stephen and Paul regarded Judaism's rejection of Jesus as of the same type of deviation from Yahweh's command as that of which the prophets accused Israel (therefore Paul would preach the salvation of God to the Gentiles [ethnesin] instead: 28. 28). Part of the early Christians' motivation to connect with the Israelite sacred tradition seems to have been their need to have their new religion acquire an air of authoritativeness by basing themselves on a tradition of long-standing authority. That they wanted a "book" of their own is also for the purpose of attaining authoritativeness.

The source of Christian gospels, as is known, is the lost gospel Q (Quelle, "source"), "which was used, along with Mark, by Matthew and Luke in the compilation of their gospels." (Marvin Meyer, The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, HarperCollins, 1992, p. 5.) Christianity first emerged -- as Q and Mark attest to -- as an enlightenment salvation of the second mode. This is to be expected from the Hellenized environment within which the Jewish people now found themselves (the Greeks practiced only the second mode) but also because of the blossoming of the Jewish wisdom tradition at the time. The Q and the earliest Christian writings (such as the Gospel of Thomas) were collections of wisdom sayings, through the comprehension of the meaning of which the kingdom of God -- union with the Divine Source, the blissful, immortal existence of the soul, salvation -- may be found within. This primitive Christianity as a second mode of salvation is today collectively with the others called "gnosticism" and blended naturally into the Mediterranean milieu of the mysteries: "Christianity as a mystery religion." Then, a second strand of Christianity -- salvation of the first mode -- emerged by the side of the first, and this is the Christianity as we know it today: salvation by accepting the gift of God -- Christ Jesus -- through His Grace. Elaine Pagels in her Beyond Belief: the Secret Gospel of Thomas (review by Southern Cross Review; review by Jane Lampman at the Christian Science Monitor) considers the Gospel of Thomas as representative of the first, primitive strand and that of John as representative of the second strand, the two then becoming diametrically opposed in some crucial respect. And, eventually, it was the second strand, a first mode of salvation, which succeeded in driving to extinction not only all the varieties of gnosticism (Christian or otherwise) but also the mystery religions.

Factors contributing to the success of Christianity (its first mode version), according to Angus (ibid.):

  • Organizational
    • The network of synagogues (Jewish diaspora) within which Christianity spread
    • The religious associations of mystery religions within which Christianity spread
  • Preparation of people's mind for its acceptance
    • Judaism furnished the preliminary knowledge of Old Testament
    • Mystery religions de-ethnicized religious beliefs, making them a personal matter; and prepared for the consciousness of sin and the need for redemption.

Let us then consider Christianity's peculiar advancement, in contrast to other salvational religions or philosophies, in the understanding of "sin" and, therewith, of the salvational mechanism. "Sin" is originally born either from the fear of the possible equilibrium between the soul and the body or from the experience of karmic law which has already been explained to be grounded also in the human experience of the thermodynamic structure of the cosmos, of the tendency of the cosmos to reach "equilibrium". Here we are concerned with this latter. Evil done (moral fault) is actions causing "bad karma" -- ensuring for oneself retribution in the future because the thermodynamically governed cosmos always returns to the state of equilibrium -- which actions one does because of one's "imperfect constitution" (finitude, thermodynamic delimitation due to one's constitution as a localized, open dissipative structure). Bad work (which ensures karmic retribution) leads to, firstly, disturbances of order, i.e. disorder of one's soul and of the cosmos-society in general (this is how "sin" can be related to the problem of order and it already exists prior to the disengagement of the salvational tradition, e.g. with Hesiod); secondly it causes one's continual existence in the temporo-spatial (thermodynamic) world in order to continuously even out the disequilibrium caused by one's previous karmas (in order to pay one's "debt"). Salvation is to pull out from under this karmic chain of cause-and-effect the entire foundation or condition of possibility for it. This is Orphism (and its milieu of mystery religions), and why as a second mode it addressed itself to purification, to the "catharsis of sin". But one can shift focus away from evil done (moral fault, "sin") to evil suffered: thus Buddhism. But if the destruction of the foundation for karmic chain (destruction of finitude) is a gift given by the divine Other (and moreover through an "ultimate" sacrifice), then Christianity. (We are talking of course only about its triumphant first mode version.) Thus, in parallel with the dual genealogical (historical, factual) origins of Christianity, there are also two (structural, logical) ways to arrive at the structure of Christian salvation: within Yahwism, as already discussed; but also through the Hellenic or Hellenistic side-way of sacrifice-purification as recounted here with the Orphics and Musaeus & company. Thus the salvational structures of the first Christian and of the second Orphic-Buddhist mode converge, above the foundational level of the negation of finitude, in another way in the negation of the karmic effect: for the Christian the karmic effect is squeezed into an "ultimate" eternal damnation and the negation of it consists in an "ultimate," either ergonic or juridical (i.e. debt-paying), sacrifice, while for the second mode the karmic effect remains spread out in the soul's wandering within the reincarnation-cycles and the negation thereof is through knowledge-purification (Orphic) or disillusionment (Buddhism). So, to conclude, Christianity has been influenced by Hellenic and Hellenistic mystery (purification) cults during its formation, as well as being the product or continuation of the Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah and the Jeremiah prophetic tradition -- a mixed form just as much as Israelite eschatology is the result of the differentiation of a mixed form.2 And to the extent that Orphism uses the symbolism of the purification of sins it might have committed the same fault of the onticality of imagery as does Christianity; but to the extent that it uses "secret knowledge" to negate finitude it attains the philosophically second mode. Plato in Phaedo, however, though using the symbolism of "purification" (philosophia is the karthamoi of the soul), means by it the shedding of soul's ties with the temporo-spatial flesh (soma) and not of its sins (Schuld, debt) and hence is truly philosophically, i.e. ontologically, second mode.

(2) The Hellenic mythic substratum. Let us then look at the content of the Orphic cosmogonic myth, that which had to be recited during initiation, the "knowledge" to be learned in order to be saved. Kirk and Raven warn that "there was probably no such thing as Orphic cosmogony either before or during the Presocratic period." (The Presocratic Philosophers, p. 48) But the cosmogonic myths of Orphism, for which "[t]he later Neoplatonists (4th to 6th centuries A.D.), and in particular Damascius, with their long schematic allegorizations of earlier mythological accounts, are the main source" (ibid., p. 39), have preserved for us elements of the earlier myths certainly predating the Orphic movements themselves, especially the function of the "egg as an archaic theogonical, not cosmogonic, device" (Ibid., p. 48) which we see already appearing in the Chinese Pangu myth, here the Japanese cosmogonic-theogonic myth, and there in the Indian supreme man Prajapati spoken of as the "golden egg" (Hiranyagarbha). "Nilsson (Gesch. I, 648) noted that the cosmic egg is a common feature in naive mythology in many parts of the world (though it does not, as it happens, occur in near-eastern contexts except occasionally in Egypt and in the later Phoenician accounts.)" (Ibid., p. 47) It seems that what had happened was that, in order to fill the salvational structure of Orphism, the Orphics had adopted myths eclectically from various sources (Hesiod included), lacking as yet the capacity for true philosophic anamnesis such as possessed by the Ionian physicists. "For the devotees of Orpheus, who chose writing and the book as an effective symbol of their otherness, renouncing the worldliness of the state not only meant finding in vegetarianism a foretaste of life among the gods, that is, life among the gods who precede this world and its bloody altars; it also meant recasting, with a great deal of effort, the genesis of the world and rewriting the entire history of the gods." (Detienne, p. 113) These traditional sources are captured, for example, by Aristophanes' Birds (693) in "414 B.C. or shortly before." (Ibid., p. 44)

CaoV hn kai Nux EreboV te melan prwton kai TartaroV euruV,
Gh d
'oud'Ahr oud'OuranoV hn. ErebouV d'en apeirosi kolpoiV
tiktei prwtiston uphnemion Nux h melanopteroV wion,
ex ou peritellomenaiV wraiV eblasten ErwV o poqeinoV
stilbwn nwton pterugoin crusain, eikwV anemwkesi dinaiV.
outoV de Caei pteroenti migeiV nuciwi kata Tartaron eurun
eneotteusen genoV hmeteron, kai prwton anhgagen eV fwV.
proteron d
'ouk hn genoV aqanatwn prin ErwV xunemeixen apanta.
xummignumenwn d
'eterwn eteroiV genet'OuranoV WkeanoV te
kai Gh pantwn te qewn makarwn genoV afqiton. wde men esmen
polu presbutatoi pantwn makarwn.

First were Chaos and Night and black Erebos and wide Tartaros, and neither Ge nor Aer nor Ouranos existed. In the boundless bosom of Erebos black-winged Night first begets a wind-egg, from which in the evolving of the seasons ardent [desired, longed for] Eros bursts forth, his back gleaming [stilbon] with golden wings [pterugoin chrusain], likening to the whirling winds. Eros, mingling with winged, gloomy [nightly] Chaos in broad Tartaros, hatched out our race and first brought it to the light. There was no race of immortals before Eros mingled all things together; but one mingling with another Ouranos came into being, and Okeanos and Ge and the unfading race of all the blessed gods. Thus we are by far the oldest of all the blessed ones. (Kirk & Raven, p. 44)

First a word on the general structure of this myth: Chaos, Erebos ("a place of nether darkness, above the still deep Hades", Liddel & Scott), Night, and Tartaros ("a dark abyss, as deep below Hades as Earth below heaven, the prison of the Titans, etc. ", ibid.) -- these "originals" are all symbolization of disorder, of the undifferentiated substratum (the themodynamically equilibrium-state) as the source. From this undifferentiated (specifically Erebos and Night) then comes -- as a matter of the cycle of nature, of the thermodynamic flux of nature, should we say -- the wind-egg (uphnemion won): the equivalent of the egg in the Chinese Pangu myth, etc., as mentioned. This is the first step toward the formation of order, seemingly the emergence of a finite undifferentiated form from an infinite expanse (the wide Tartaros). From the egg comes Eros, the equivalent of Pangu, Prajapati, etc. And just as Pangu, emerging from the egg, created thereby heaven and earth, and then all things from his body, so Eros, though here through mixing, produced heaven, earth, sea, and all the gods -- bringing forth all things. The archaic character of this episode is thus evident.

Hence I want to dismiss beforehand some tendencies of investigating. Kirk and Raven's contains a passage from Philodemus' de pietate 47a,

en men tisin ek NuktoV kai Tartarou legetai ta panta, en de tisin ex Aidou kai AiqeroV. o de thn Titanomacian grayaV ex AiqeroV fhsin, AkousilaoV de ek CaouV prwtou talla. en de toiV anaferomenoiV eiV Mousaion gegraptai Tartaron prwton kai Nukta.

In some sources all things are said to come from Night and Tartaros, and in some from Hades and Aither; the author of the Titanomachia says [they came from] Aither, and Acousiaus says the others [came] from Chaos, the first. And in verses ascribed to Musaeus it is written that Tartaros and Night were first. (p. 21)

They then continue: "These passages indicate that there were poetical accounts, composed probably in the 7th or 6th century B.C., which made Night (in association with Aer or Tartaros, both conveying the idea of darkness) the origin of the world. [Emphasis mine.] If there was an ancient, non-derivative theory of Night as a genuine cosmogonical figure..., as opposed to post-Hesiodic learned variants, then these passages are likely to be our surest evidence for it: but only if they themselves appear to be non-Hesiodic in character. This, however, they do not appear... to be... [T]he cosmic figures involved are all to be found in the Hesiodic cosmogony proper... When we see from Damascius' reference to 'Epimenides'... that Night and Ahr ['implying mist and darkness rather than the transparent stuff that we call air'; but nevertheless, essentially the same as the Chinese qi] produce Tartaros, it begins to look as though this account is working strictly within the limits of the Hesiodic formulation. In fact this is not entirely true, because later... an egg is produced -- a non-Hesiodic and conceivably primitive device. Nevertheless, the first stages do not appear to be unaffected by the Hesiodic version..." (p. 22) Two points. First, I regard it as senseless to try to detect in these later writers what is due to Hesiod's influence and what is the original and primitive. Rather, I take it as plausible that Hesiod himself was working within the established milieu of "primitive" myths and only reformulated certain themes, perhaps, in order to express his sense of order (his moral lessons, that is). Second, I take it as unproductive, as Philodemus is doing here and Kirk and Raven frequently are doing, to be engaged in such literal details as in the question of which of these original symbols for the undifferentiated substratum begetting which others is the most primitive and which the derivative. It is far more productive to focus on the common theme -- the differentiation of an individuated order from an undifferentiated disorder or substratum (for which Night, Aer, Aither, Tartaros, Hades all are adequate symbolism) -- which expresses the fundamental human experience of the thermodynamics underlying the formation of the world and which can be equally expressed in any one of these symbols being taken as the "first".

The Orphics, just as Hesiod was drawing from the established mythic milieu to express his sense of order-disorder, were drawing from the same mythic milieu of the Hellenic culture to produce their salvational aspiration, the first full-fledged salvational movement -- and the second mode at that -- in the Hellenic world. While Aristophane's example has provided the typical figures of the Hellenic mythic substratum plus the motive of the "wingedness" of gods, all to appear in the Orphic use below, a final figure of this Orphic use not showing up above, Chronos, is found in Pherecydes of Syros (6th century B.C.), the "wise man" who is often regarded as the master of Pythagoras himself, and whose passing of the mythic cosmogony is already tainted by philosophic reflection. C.f. Damascius de principiis 124:

FerekudhV de o SurioV Zanta men einai aei kai Cronon kai Cqonian taV treiV prwtaV arcaV... ton de Cronon poihsai ek tou gonou eautou pur kai pneuma kai udwr... ex wn en pente mucoiV dihirhmenwn pollhn allhn genean susthnai qewn, thn pentemucon kaloumenhn, tauton de iswV eipein pentekosmon.
Pherecydes of Syros said that the first three principles [archas], Chronos [Time], Zanta [accusative of Zas, i.e. Zeus = sky], and Chthonian [Earth], always existed... and Chronos made out of his own seed fire, air [wind or breathe], and water... from which, when they were disposed in five recesses [corners, or caves in other references], were composed many other offspring of gods; these were called the "five recesses" [heaven, earth, water, air, and fire?], which are perhaps the same as what is said to be the "five cosmos". (K & R, p. 55)

This reflects the typical thermodynamic structure of the theo- and cosmo-gonic myths and immature philosophic reflection: the original trinity has always existed because of Conservation, although there is no attempt here to deduce the three from a primordial, unitary substratum which is really the only one to which eternal conservation is applicable ultimately. Quite philosophic anamnesis of Conservation: "An analogous declaration is seen, some two generations later, in Heraclitus' world-order, which no god or man made, but always was, and is, and shall be" just as Anaximander's apeiron and Anaximenes' (divine-cosmic) pneuma-air. (K & R, ibid.) And moreover the same differentiation of individuated orders (here resulting in the three others of the four elements in the attempt to philosophize) from an original undifferentiated expansive substratum (CaoV, from ceesqai, "to flow"). Chronos seems to be the same as Kronos: "It appears likely that by the later stages of the theogony the primeval trio assumed their familiar form as Zeus, Kronos, and Hera." (Ibid., p. 56) Pherecydes, going on the same speculative path as the Milesian physicists, used for this purpose the same Hellenic mythic substratum, and thus also included Chronos with a "protogonic" function of which the Orphics would later make such important use.

(3) The Orphic use of the Hellenic mythic substratum. Kirk and Raven provide four "versions" of the Orphic cosmogonic myth: "Damascius... stated that according to Eudemus 'the theology ascribed to Orpheus... made the origin of things from Night.' According to the Rhapsodies, Night was the daughter of Phanes, himself descended from Chronos." (p. 40) Phanes however "is an exclusive Orphic development" so not of primitive origin and is described as "[w]inged, bisexual and self-fertilizing, bright and aitherial." (p. 41) Then the "derivative and syncretistic character of the Orphic theogony" made it that Night "was given powers by Phanes, succeeded him as ruler, and seems to have given birth for a second time to Gaia and Ouranos": h de palin Gaian te kai Ouranon eurun etikte, deixen t'ex afanwn fanerouV oi t'eisi geneqlhn, "And she [Night] again begot Gaia and broad Ouranos, and shew them, from unseen, appearing as to what they are by birth", so the Rhapsody has it. (Ibid.) The theogonic genealogy is thus:

                                                   |----- Gaia
Chronos --- Phanes -- (prophetic pwr.) -- Night ---| 
                                                   |----- Ouranos

The second version (of Rhapsodies) from Damascius' de principiis (Ibid.) is:

en men toinun taiV feromenaiV tautaiV RaywidiaiV OrfikaiV h qeologia hde tiV estin h peri to nohton, hn kai oi filosofoi diermhneuousin, anti men thV miaV twn olwn archV ton Cronon tiqenteV...

In these so-known Orphic Rhapsodies there is the theo-logy concerned with the intelligible (noeton), which the philosophers too expound, putting Chronos in place of the one origin of all... [This theologia is then:]

          |- Aither -|
Chronos --|          |---> egg (shining tunic, cloud) ---> Phanes (Metis, 
          |- Chaos  -|                                             Erikepaios)

The third version offered and also included in Damascius' de principiis (DK 1 B 13):

h de kata ton Ierwnumon feromehn kai Ellanikon (Orfikh qeologia), eiper mh kai o autoV estin, outwV ecei. udwr hn, fhsin, ex archV kai ulh, ex hV epagh h gh, duo tautaV arcaV upotiqemenoV prwton, udwr kai ghn... thn de trithn archn meta taV duo gennhqhnai men ek toutwn, udatoV fhmi kai ghV, drakonta de einai kefalaV econta prospefukuiaV taurou kai leontoV, en meswi de qeou proswpon, ecein de kai epi twn wmwn ptera, wnomasqai de Cronon aghraon kai Hraklha ton auton. suneinai de autwi thn Anagkhn, fusin ousan thn authn kai Adrasteian, aswmaton diwrguiwmenhn en panti twi kosmwi, twn peratwn autou efaptomenhn. tauthn oimai legesqai thn trithn archn kata thn ousian estwsan, plhn oti arsenoqhlun authn upersthsato proV endeixin thV pantwn gennhtikhV aitiaV... o CronoV outoV o drakwn gennatai triplhn gonhn. Aiqera, fhsi, noteron kai CaoV apeiron kai triton epi toutoiV EreboV omiclwdeV... alla mhn en toutoiV o CronoV wion egennhsen... kai triton epi toutoiV qeon aswmaton, pterugaV epi twn wmwn econta crusaV, oV en men taiV lagosi prospefukuiaV eice taurwn kefalaV, epi de thV kefalhV drakonta pelwrion pantodapaiV morfaiV qhriwn indallomenon... kai hd'h qeologia Prwtogonon anumnei kai Dia kalei pantwn diataktora kai olou tou kosmou. dio kai Pana kaleisqai.

The (Orphic theology) which is said to be according to Hieronymus and Hellanicus, if he is not the same man, is like this. There was water from the beginning, he said, and matter [hule, material], from which earth was solidified. He thus posited two beginnings [archas], water and earth. And the third arche [origin] after these two was generated from these, water and, I said, earth; it was a snake having the heads of bull and lion growing from it, in the middle of which was the head of god; and it has wings on its shoulder, and is named unaging Chronos and Heracles. With it were Ananke, being of the same nature, and Adrasteia, bodiedless [incorporeal] and coextensive [?] with the entire cosmos... This I think is said to be the third arche arising according to its being, except that a bisexualness subsisted in it so as to serve as the cause of the genesis of all beings [?]... The Chronos the snake begets then triple offspring. The wet Aither, he said, and infinite Chaos and the third upon these, misty Erebos... But then in these Chronos begot an egg... And [then it begot] a third after these, a bodiedless [incorporeal] god, having golden wings on its shoulders, and which on its [...hares ?] had the head of bull growing out, and on this head a huge snake wrapped up [?] in mutivarious animal forms... And the theologia praises in song the First-begetter and calls the "arranger" [diataktora] of all beings and of all the cosmos God. Hence it is called All [Pana].

To diagram the genealogy:

water --|    unaging Chronos (a       Aither
        |--> winged, multiheaded, --> Chaos ---> egg ---> an incorporeal god
matter -|    bisexual snake, with     Erebos              (winged, bull-headed,
             Ananke & Adrasteia)                          & huge snake on head) 

The fourth version (K & R., p. 42; DK 1B 13): gar udwr arch kat'auton (Orfea) toiV oloiV, apo de tou udatoV iluV katesth, ek de ekaterwn egennhqh zwion, drakwn prospefukuian ecwn kefalhn leontoV, dia mesou de autwn qeou proswpon, onoma HraklhV kai CronoV. HraklhV egennhsen upermegeqeV wion, o sumplhroumenon upo biaV tou gegennhkotoV ek paratribhV eiV duo erragh. to men oun kata korufhn autou OuranoV einai etelesqh, to de katw enecqen Gh. prohlqe de kai qeoV tiV diswmatoV. OuranoV de Ghi micqeiV gennai qeleiaV men Klwqw Lacesin Atropon, andraV de EkatogxeiraV Kotton Gughn Briarewn kai KuklwpaV Bronthn kai Sterophn kai Arghn. ouV kai dhsaV katetartarwsen, ekpeseisqai auton upo twn paidwn thV archV maqwn. dio kai orgisqeisa h Gh touV TitanaV egennhsen.

kourouV d'OuraniwnaV egeinato potnia Gaia,
ouV dh kai TithnaV epiklhsin kaleousin
ouneka teisasqhn megan Ouranon asteroenta.

...for water was according to him (Orpheus) the origin of the totality of things, and from water slim was established, and from both of them was generated a living creature, a snake [drakon] having the head of lion growing on it, and in the middle of them the face of god, Heracles and Chronos by name. This Heracles begot a huge egg, which, being filled by the force of its begetter, burst into two through friction. And its top part ended up as Ouranos, and the underneath part as Ge. And a certain doubled-bodied god also came forth [i.e. Phanes; double-bodied means, according to K & R, "bisexual"]. And Ouranos having mingled with Ge begets, as female offsprings, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos [these three being the Moirai, Fates], and as male offsprings the Hekatoncheiras [the three "hundred-handed" and fifty-headed gians who were] Kotton [ill-will?] Gyes, and Briareos ["Strong", or Aegaeon; also known as Obriareus] and the Kyklopes [the one-eyed gians who were] Brontes [Thunderer], Steropes [Lightener], and Arges [the Vivid One]. These [Ouranos] bound since the beginning of their childhood [?] and threw into Tartarus... Thus then Ge got angry and begot the Titans.

These Ouranian-youths thus the queen Ge bears,
these she names also with the by-name Titans,
because she demands atonement of the great glittering Ouranos.
["Titan" means "to punish, to make another pay for a thing". Following DK's translation: "Uranionenjuengliche aber gebar die hehre Gaia, die sie ja auch Titanen mit Beinamen nennen, weil sie Busse verlangten (TithneV: tinesqai) von dem grossen Uranos, dem bestirnten." P. 13]

To diagram the genealogy:

                     lion-headed            |- Heaven --------|    Moirai
water --> slime ---> snake (H & C) --> egg -|--------> Phanes |-> Hekatonkheira
                                            |- Earth ---------|    Kyklopes

These last details were common throughout the Hellenic folk myths. In Hesiod's Theogony it is said (140) that their father hated the Kyklopes (who provided Zeus with thunderbolt) and the Hekatonkhereis as soon as they were born. Later (620) he bound the Hekatonkheires and sent them underground; these were then retrieved by Zeus, the son of Cronos ("and the other deathless gods whom rich-haired Rhea bare from union with Cronos"), and recruited to fight and defeat the Titans (who were on the side of Ge). They then locked the Titans up in Tartarus and guarded the jail for Zeus (Titanomachia). Apollodorus has: "Ouranos bound [Hekatonkheires and Kyklopes] and threw them into Tartaros... Now Ge, distressed by the loss of her children into Tartaros, persuaded the Titanes to attack their father, and she gave Kronos a sickle made of adamant. So all of them except Okeanos set upon Ouranos, and Kronos cut off his genitals, tossing them into the sea ... Thus having overthrown Ouranos’ rule the Titanes retrieved their brothers from Tartaros and gave the power to Kronos. But Kronos once again bound the Kyklopes and confined them in Tartaros." (1.1-7; Apollodoros' is probably the original folklore version; Hesiod's being speculative about order of the cosmos.)

The slight differences among these, and many others for sure, versions of the theo- and cosmo-gony probably result from their descendence from multiple Orphic renunciant groups -- Orphism is a movement, not a single sect, remember. The typical -- thermodynamically determined shall we say -- theme of creation myths -- the primordial orderless, undifferentiated equilibrium-substratum (chaos) differentiating into the individuated orders of the cosmos with its gods -- is however here modified by the persistent insertion of a snake-like creature re-named Chronos, which the Oprhics, it seems, tried to make into the theogonic first cause of the order of the cosmos. Elsewhere Phanes seems to be taking this role of "the Firstborn, the primal Generator and Generatrix" which is again snake-like or with lion or bull heads, bisexual, winged, etc. Phanes is called the "protogonos in the Derveni book". (Detienne, ibid., p. 113) In the first two versions this polymorphic protogenic monster precedes the undifferentiated, equilibrium state (Night, Aither, or Chaos) which then either in the most simplified mythico-philosophical manner differentiates into heaven and earth or is consolidated first into an egg (delimited undifferentiated state) which then generates the next "first principle", Phanes, just like the springing-forth of Pangu or Prajapati from a cosmic egg or the genesis of heaven, earth, and the gods in between in the Japanese Nihonshuki. In the third version the protogonic snaky Chronos himself is given an origin in the undifferentiated substratum (water and un-moulded matter) and then himself generates another undifferentiated substratum (Aither, Chaos, Erebos) which then crystalizes into an egg which then produces another Chronos-like protogonos (Phanes? or even Night) which, this time, is really going to produce the multivarious orders and gods of the cosmos, just as Pangu or Prajapati do. In the fourth the sequence remains the same until the egg produces first of all heaven and earth in the same ying-yang manner as in Nihonshuki or Pangu-myth, and secondly the (again, secondary) protogonos Phanes which then creates the famed gods of Titanomachia, etc. These Orphic theo- and cosmo-gonies operate pretty much on the same half-philosophical and half-mythical level as does the Japanese Nihonshuki, with a peculiar obsession with a snake-like protogonos.

The structure of the second mode of salvation tells that the purpose of the recitation of the "origin of the world" is to understand whence (and perhaps why) we have fallen from eternity, to which we wish to return -- to know the eternal gods, so as then to remain with and as them. The vegetarianism of the Orphics, by which they rejected the blood sacrificial cult of the polis and withdrew from its political life, was thus related to the myth of the origin (theogony): their choice to be removed from the cult of the ordinary people "was motivated by their mystical aspiration to re-find the lost unity with the gods, such as had existed, according to their theogonies during the primordial times." (Louise Bruit Zaidman et Pauline Schmitt Pantel, La religion grecque, p. 25; "Leur choix est motivé par leur aspiration mystique à retrouver l'unité perdue avec les dieux, telle qu'elle existait, selon leurs théogonies... dans les temps primordiaux.") In this fully disengaged salvational structure (of the second mode) which required them to withdraw from society, reject the Hellenic culture within which they grew up, and become "renunciants", the Orphics nonetheless had nothing except the Hellenic mythic elements at their disposal to construct the "recitation of the origin of the world." But because the theogonic myths were now used for a different purpose -- the transcendental purpose of salvation -- they acquired at the hands of Orphics a flavour quite different than when they had been in their traditional -- immanent, pre-salvational, intraworld -- context, so much so that Jean-Pierre Vernant may speak of Orphic theogonies as having taken "an opposite view from that of the Hesiodic tradition." ("Greek Religion", Encycl. of Rel., vol. 6, p.115)

For Hesiod, the divine world is organized in a linear progression leading from disorder to order, from an original state of indistinct confusion to a differentiated world organized into a hierarchy under the immutable authority of Zeus. For the followers of Orphism, the reverse was true: in the beginning the first principle, primordial Egg or Night, expresses perfect unity, the plenitude of a self-contained totality. But the nature of "being" deteriorates as its unity is divided and dislocated, producing distinct forms and separate individuals[: the Fall]. To this cycle of dispersion there must succeed a cycle during which the parts are reintegrated into the unity of the whole. This is to take place during the sixth generation with the coming of the Orphic Dionysos, whose reign represents a restoration of the One, the recovery of the lost plenitude. (Ibid.)

So the difference of the Orphics was their reinterpretation of the original undifferentiated oneness as positive: the pivot of all the attempts of the second mode of salvation in Hellas and elsewhere. But the Orphics had nonetheless failed to transcend myth. Orphism was after all a movement for the masses, not for the intellectual elites capable of full transcendence of the general culture and full disengagement of the second mode. The Pythagoreans were credited with this latter, and thus took the achievement of Orphism to the next level.

POSTSCRIPT. The philosophical anamnesis of conservation in the Derveni Papyrus.3 The Derveni Papyrus is of late production. It is certainly posterior to Heraclitus, who is cited in the fourth column. "R. Merkelbach, W. Burkert et M. L. West décèlent quant à eux des allusions à Diogène d'Appollonie, Anaxagore, Leucippe et Démocrite." (Jourdan, p. xiii.) It probably dates from 300 B.C. or so or even later. Given such late date, it is not surprising that the same sort of Ionian physicists' anamnesis of conservation shows up here -- under the influence from neighbouring philosophers, that is. The author is dissatisfied with his Orphic contemporaries because of their "too literal comprehension of the rites and the sacred texts" (p. xiv) and so writes this as an exegesis in order to help them discern the deep meaning of the theogonies, which, he asserts, have been written too allegorically. To do this hermeneutics, he tries to re-interpret the traditional mythic elements (the anthropomorphic god Zeus) within the new philosophical anamnesis. As such it is way advanced than the previously cited cosmogonies, but less so than the philosophers -- and the author probably hasn't even yet heard of Plato, his contemporary. C.f column XVII and XVIII:

proteron hn prin onomasqhnai. epeita wnomasqh. hg gar prosqen ewn h ta nun eonta sustaqhnai ahr kai estai aei. ou gar egeneto, alla hn. It [air as the substratum of being] was there before being named. Only later was it named. For air was there before the beings of today were constituted [put together], and it will always be there. For it did not come into being, but was simply there.

This again is the anamnesis of conservation, specifically in the manner of Anaximenes and the Neoconfucians: the substratum ("Total") of all existents is identified as air, corresponding to the "energy" of physics today, and this substratum has always been and will always be there because of the principle of conservation (today the conservation of energy) despite the coming and going of the individual things which form out of it and within it (like the birth and death of stars, planets, and all things which form out of the total pool of the energy of the universe).

di'o ti de ahr eklhqh dedhlwtai en toiV proteroiV. genesqai de enomisqh epeit'wnomasqh ZeuV, wsperei proteron mh ewn. kai ustaton efhsen esesqai touton, epeite wnomasqh ZeuV kai touto autwi diatelei onoma on. mecri eiV to auto eidoV ta nun eonta sunestaqhi, en wiper prosqen eonta hiwreito. The reason why air was named was already shown in the preceding [verses]. It was [habitually, by ordinary un-enlightened people] thought to "come into being" when it was named "Zeus", as if it did not exist before. And [the poet] said it will be the last, when it was named Zeus and this will continue to be its name, until the beings of today were constituted [put together] with the same form [eidos], where they had been suspended formerly.

The poet is attempting to do two things here: (1) He is trying to reconcile the former myths with the newly acquired philosophical anamnesis of conservation by re-interpreting the anthropomorphic Zeus as meaning, in fact, the substratum: by showing how ordinary people have confused a "name" for the sake of convenience with the actual nature. (2) That the things of today "existed potentially" before "in" the air means just that they are simply the re-shuffling here and there of the substratum, just as the subatomic particles, during the first, earliest moments after the Big Bang, "potentially existed" within the undifferentiated energy/ radiation pool: the temperature was as yet too high for them to "exist", i.e. to remain stable as the particles that they were. But their "forms" were already there, and it is according to these forms that subsequently things were to be constituted out of the air; so in the same way the laws of nature governing the transformation between radiation-energy and each type of fermions and bosons (e.g. the standard models) were already there even during that time of high temperature when the particles could not yet exist as such, and it is in accordance with these laws that the energy-radiation should "crystallize" into fermions.

ta d'eonta dhloi genesqai toiauta dia touton kai genomena einai en toutwi panta shmainei d'en toiV epesi toisde. ZeuV kefalh, ZeuV messa, DioV d'ek panta tetuktai. kefalhn fhsaV ecein ta eont'ainizetai, oti... He wants to show that beings [of today] come to be what they are in this way; and that, having come into being, they are all in this [i.e. primordial air, cosmic pneuma], this he indicates in the following verses: Zeus is the head, Zeus is the milieu, from Zeus all things are made. In saying that all beings have [one] head he means to say obscurely that...

Once Zeus is re-identified as just the cosmic pneuma, the poet goes from the Neoconfucian to the Daoist manner in renaming him as Destiny or Fate (Moira), i.e. this cosmic pneuma, as the substratum of all being, is not just the material out of which all things are made, but also determines how they shall be made. In other words, inherent in the cosmic pneuma are the "forms" or "laws of nature" -- the Dao -- only according to which can things come to be -- never arbitrarily.

ZeuV pnoih pantwn, ZeuV pantwn epleto Moira...

...kai talla panta einai en twi aeri pneuma eon. tout'oun to pneuma OrfeuV wnomasem Moiran. oi d'alloi anqrwpoi kata fatim Moiran epiklwsai fasin sfisig kai esesqai tauq'assa Moira epeklwsen, legonteV men orqwV ouk eidoteV de oute thm Moiran o ti estin oute to epiklowsai. OrfeuV gar thm fronhsim Moiran ekalesen. efaineto gar autwi touto prosferestaton einai ex wn apanteV anqrwpoi onomasam. prim meg gar klhqhnai Zhna, hm Moira fronhsiV tou qeou aei te kai dia pantoV. epei d'eklhqh ZeuV, genesqai auton enomisqh, onta meg kai prosqen onomazomenon d'ou. dia touto legei ZeuV prwtoV geneto, prwtog g'enota...

Zeus is the "breath" (i.e. the soul, substance, material, pneuma) of all things. Zeus is the Moira of all...

...and that all things are in air, which is the pneuma of all. And this pneuma Orpheus names Moira. Now other [i.e. ordinary] people, when speaking according to convention, say that Moira has fixed their destiny and that all things will be as Moira has determined; they are saying correctly, but they don't know what Moira is nor how she determines. For Orpheus has called "wisdom" (phronesin) Moira. For this appears to him to be the most suitable [i.e. as Moira, as Dao] among all those which people have named [her]. For before it was named Zeus, it was Moira, the wisdom of god, eternal and omnipresent. When it was [later] named Zeus, people think that it first came into being, although in fact it was there before it was named. Because of this he says Zeus comes into being the first, being there the first...

The author derives the genesis of things in the same manner as the Ionian physicists: from the differentiation of the common substratum into hot and cold, air and fire, and then from their mutual mixing and aggregation. As such he presents a scenario not very different from the modern day Big Bang.


1. "Après la mort, l'âme se dirige vers l'Hadès. Selon Phédon (108a) et Gorgias (524a), le chemin 'n'est ni unique ni simple, il y a plusieurs détours et plusieurs traverses.' La République (614 c-d) précise qu'il est permis au juste de prendre la route de droite, alors que les méchants sont envoyés vers la gauche. On rencontre des indications analogues dans les vers inscrits sur les feuilles d'or trouvées dans les tombes de l'Italie méridionale et de la Crète, et remontant au moins au Ve siècle. 'Salut à toi qui voyages par la route de droite vers les prairies sacrées et le bois de Perséphone'. Le texte contient des indications précises: 'Au gauche de la demeure d'Hadès, tu trouveras une source à côté de laquelle s'élève un cyprès blanc; de cette source ne t'approche pas trop. Mais tu en trouveras une autre: du lac de Mémoire (Mnémosyne) l'eau fraîche s'élance et des gardiens sont là en faction. Dis-leur: 'Je suis l'enfant de la Terre et du Ciel étoilé, cela vous le savez; mais je suis desséché par la soif et je me meurs. Donnez-moi vite de l'eau fraîche qui s'écoule du lac de Mémoire. Et d'eux-mêmes, les gardiens te donneront à boire de la source sacrée, et après cela tu régneras parmi les autres héros.' Dans le mythe d'Er, Platon rapporte que toutes les âmes destinées à la réincarnation sont obligées de boire à la source du Léthé pour oublier leurs expériences dans l'autre monde. Mais les âmes des 'orphiques' étaient censées ne plus réincarner; c'est la raison pour laquelle elles devaient éviter l'eau du Léthé."

2. Freud himself pointed out the similarity between Orphism and Christianity precisely in respect to sin -- but here the original sin. "The doctrine of original sin was of Orphic origin. It formed a part of the mysteries... Mankind, it was said, were descended from the Titans, who had killed the young Dionysus-Zagreus and had torn him to pieces. The burden of this crime weighed on them. A fragment of Anaximander relates how the unity of the world was broken by a primaeval sin [Reinach: 'une sorte de péché proethnique': the similarity between this image and the symmetry-breaking, in modern cosmology, first of the inflaton that made the true universe out of false vacuum and then of CPT which allowed matter to exist, is to be examined later], and that whatever issued from it must bear the punishment." (Totem and Taboo, trans. Strachey, p. 190) Then the death of Orpheus: "In his first tetralogy based on the legends of Dionysos, Aschylus presented an Orpheus stricken with the devout love of one god greater than all the rest. Every day, at dawn, Orpheus scales the crags of Mount Pangaeus, the highest mountain in Thrace. He wishes to be the first to salute the Sun, who is for him 'the greatest of gods' and to whom he gives the name Apollo. Dionysos, it is said, is filled with resentment at this daily ritual. He sends to Orpheus women with a barbarian name, the Bassarai. They surround him, seize him, and dismember him, tearing him to pieces immediately... [But] Dionysos of Pangaeus has two faces, one of which is Appolonian." (Detienne, p. 114) Freud's point was that Orpheus had redeemed mankind from their original sin by being killed in the same way in which (the precursor of) mankind had killed the father-god, and that Christ redeemed mankind similarly. In this respect Christianity seems to be enveloped in the Dionysian-Orpheus mood -- but only to the extent of mood, for, earlier, we have already shown that the similarity between late Zoroastrianism and Christianity is the result of structural convergence -- differentiation on the same theme of the New Year festival leads to coincidence in structure. But here the similarity between Christianity and Hellenic mysteries is one of mood, regarding both sin and original sin.

3. The text below follows the reconstruction in Le papyrus de Derveni, ed. Fabienne Jourdan, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2003.

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