Orphic Fragments


Orphic Fragments* (Orphicorum Fragmenta)

…a version of the actual metrical fragments assigned by Kern to the Rhapsodic Theogony, numbered as in the Orphicorum Fragmenta. Following the number in each case is the name of the authority in whose writings the quotation is found.

61. Aristokritos the Manichee. (The poet speaks to Musaios.) These things keep in thy mind, dear son, and in thy heart, well knowing all the things of long ago, even from Phanes.

62. Malalas. Lord, son of Leto, far shooter, mighty Phoibos, all-seeing, ruler over mortal and immortals, Helios, borne aloft on golden wings, this is now the twelfth voice of those I heard from thee. ‘Twas thou that said it, and thee thyself, far shooter, would make my witness.

63. Etymologicum Magnum. These they call Giants by name among the blessed gods, for that they were born from Earth (Ge) and from the blood of Heaven (Ouranos).

(These fragments are placed at the beginning by Kern because either they or their context tell the number of the heiros logos from which they are taken, ‘ne quis me reliquias ordine geniuno disponere ausum esse opinetur’.)

66. Proklos. Of this Chronos, the ageless one, whose counsels never perish, was born Aither and a great yawning gulf on this side and on that: and there was no limit to it, no bottom nor foundation.

67. Proklos. (All things were in confusion) Throughout the misty darkness.

70. Damaskios. Then great Chronos fashioned in the divine Aither a silvery egg.

71. Proklos. (a) And it moved without slackening in a vast circle. (b) And it began to move in a wondrous circle.

72. Proklos. And at the birth Phanes the musty gulf below and the windless Aither were rent.

73 and 74. Lactantius. First-born, Phaeton, son of lofty Aither.

Proklos quotes the latter with half with the variant ‘beauteous’ for ‘lofty’.

75. Etym. Magn. Whom they call Phanes… because he first appeared in the Aither.

76. Hermias. (Of Phanes.) With four eyes looking this way and that.

78. Hermias. (Of Phanes.) With golden wings moving this way and that.

79. Proklos. (Of Phanes.) Uttering the voice of a bull and of glaring lion.

81. Proklos. Female and Father the mighty god Erikepaios.

82. (a) Proklos, Olympiodoros. Cherishing in his heart swift and sightless Eros.

(b) Proklos. (Of Phanes.) The key of mind.

83. Proklos. (Of Eros-Metis.). A great deamon ever treading on their tracks.

85. Proklos. An awful deamon. Metis, bearing the honoured seed of the gods, whom the blessed on tall Olympus were wont to call Phanes, the Firsborn.

86. Hermias and others. The Firstborn none saw with his eyes, unless it were holy Night alone. But all the others marveled when there burst upon their gaze the unlooked-for light in the Aither; so gleamed the body of immortal Phanes.

89. Lactantius. (Of Phanes.) He built for the Immortals an imperishable house.

91. Proklos. And he devised another world, immense, which the Immortals call Selene and the inhabitants of Earth Mene (both words mean Moon), a world which has many mountains, cities, many mansions.

91. Proklos. (Of the moon.) That it may return in a month as much as the sun in a year.

94. Proklos. He appointed for mortals a seat to inhabit apart from the Immortals, where the path of the sun in the middle turns back upon itself, neither too cold above the head nor fiery hot, but betwixt the two.

(With this fr. compare Virgil, Georg. I. 237-9.)

95. Proklos. And the honourable works of nature are steadfast and boundless eternity.

96 Proklos. (Of Phanes.) And he made him (the sun) guardian and bade him have lordship over all.

97. Proklos. These things the Father made in the misty darkness of the cave.

98. Proklos. (Of Phanes.) Himself he robbed his daughter of the flower of her maidenhood.

101. Proklos. (Of Phanes.) His splendid scepter he placed in the hands of the goddess Night, that she might have the honour of royal sway.

102. Alexander of Aphrodisias. (Of Night.) Holding in her hands the noble scepter of Erikepaios.

103. Hermias. He granted to her (Night) to have the gift of prophecy wholly true.

105. Hermias. (a) Fair Ide and her sister Adrasteia.

(b) He (She?) gave to Adrasteia brazen cymbals in her hands.

106. Proklos. Nurse of the gods is ambrosial Night.

108. Syruanus. He took and divided between gods and mortals the universe then existing, over which first ruled famous Erikepaios.

109. Hermias (Of Night, though line 2 is quoted elsewhere as if it referred to Phanes.) She in her turn bore Gaia and broad Ouranos; and brought to light those that where invisible, and of what race they were.

111. Alexander of Aphrodisias. (Of Ouranos.) Who first held sway over the gods after his mother Night.

114. Proklos. (Earth bore) seven fair daughters… and seven kingly sons… daughters… Themis and kindly Tethys and deep-haired Mnemosyne and happy Theia, and Dione she bore of exceeding beauty and Phoibe and Rheia, the mother of Zeus the king. (Her sons where of the same number), Koios and Krios and mighty Phorkys and Kronos and Okeanos and Hyperion and Iapetos.

115. Eustathios. And the circle of unwearied, fair-flowing Okeanos, who winds about and enfolds the earth with his swirling streams.

119. Proklos. Titans of evil counsel, with overweening hearts.

120. Proklos. (The Titans were defeated by the Olympians.) For powerful though the were they had set themselves against a mightier foe, out of their fatal insolence and reckless pride.

121. Proklos. (Of Ouranus.) With their inexorable hearts and lawless spirit… he cast them into Tartaros, deep in the earth.

127. Proklos. The genitals (of Ouranos) fell down into the sea, and round about them as they floated swirled the white foam. Then circling seasons the Year brought forth (so Kern, ‘In the circling seasons the Year he brought forth’, Platt. Cp. fr. 183) a tender maiden, and the spirits of Rivalry and Beguilement together took her up in their arms, so soon as she was born.

129. Proklos. But above all others it was Kronos whom Night reared and cherished.

135. Proklos. At this time Okeanos kept within his halls, debating with himself to which side his intent should lean, whether he should maim his father’s might and do him wanton injury, conspiring with Kronos and his other brethren who had hearkened to their mother’s peace. Long did he ponder, then remained he sitting his halls, for he was wroth with his mother, and yet more with his brethren.

142. Proklos. Under Zeus son of Kronos (by Zeus son of K. Lobeck) to have immortal life, with clear cheek… wet fragrant locks, not to be touched with the white growth of weak… but thick, luxuriant beard. (For various restorations see Kern. Whatever the meaning of the first words, the passage with which Proklos introduces the lines shows that they refer to the happy lot of men in the past under the rule of Kronos.)

144. Proklos. Until Rhea should bear a child to Kronos in love.

145. Proklos. Aforetime was she Rhea, but when she came to be called mother of Zeus she became Demeter.

148. Proklos. Then Kronos afterwards, when he had eaten the food given him in deceit, lay and snored mightily.

149. Clem. Alex. He lay with his stout neck lolling sideways, and all conquering sleep overtook him.

152. Proklos. (Of Adrasteia.) Taking the brazen cymbals and tympanon of goat hide (?).

154. Porphyrios. (Night speaks to Zeus.) Whenever thou shalt see him under the oaks with lofty foliage, drunk with the works of loud-murmuring bees, then bind him (Kronos).

155. Proklos. (Zeus to Kronos.) Set up our race, illustrious deamon.

157. Proklos. (The length of the scepter of Zeus.) Of four and twenty measures.

158. Proklos. And Justice, bringer of retribution, attended him (Zeus), bringing succour to all.

164. Proklos. (Zeus speaks.) Mother, highest of the gods, immortal Night, how am I to establish my proud rule among immortals?

165. Proklos and others. (Zeus speaks to Night.) How may I have all things one and each one separate?

Surrounding all things with ineffable Aither, and in the midst of that set the heaven, and in the midst the boundless earth, in the midst of sea, and in the midst all the constellations with which the heaven is crowned.

166. Proklos. (Night to Zeus.) But when thou shalt stretch a strong bond about all things, fitting a golden chain from the Aither.

167. Proklos. Thus then engulfing the might of Erikepaios, the Firstborn, he held the body of all things in the hollow of his own belly; and he mingled with his own limbs the power and strength of the god. Therefore together with him all things in Zeus were created anew, the shining height of the broad Aither and the sky, the seat of unharvested sea and the noble earth, great Ocean and the lowest depths beneath the earth, and rivers and the boundless sea and all else, all immortal and blessed gods and goddesses, all that was then in being and all that was to come to pass, all was there, and mingled like streams in the belly of Zeus.

168. Porphysios. And others. Hymn to Zeus, which begins: Zeus became first, Zeus of the bright lighting last. Zeus is head, Zeus is middle, and from Zeus all things have their being. Zeus became male, Zeus was an immortal maiden. Zeus is foundation of earth and starry heaven. Zeus is king and Zeus himself first Father of all.

I omit here the rest (there are 32 lines in all), which may be called an elaboration into detail of the pantheistic notion of fr. 176.

170. Proklos. (On Phanes from the beginning) Great Bromios and all seeing Zeus.

174. Proklos. (Athena.) Gleaming with arms, a brazen glory to behold.

175. Proklos. (Athena.) She is called by the noble name of Arete.

176. Proklos. (Athena.) That she might be for him (Zeus) the accomplisher of great deeds.

177. Proklos. (Athena.) For she was made the dread accomplisher of the will of Kronos’ son.

178. Proklos. (Athena.) For she is best of all immortal goddesses at plying the loom and devising the works of spinning.

179. Proklos. (The Kyklopes.) Who made for Zeus the thunder, and fashioned the thunderbolt, the first craftsmen, and taught Hephaistos and Athena all cunning works that the heaven contains.

183. Proklos. (Described by P. as the birth of the second Aphrodite. Cp. fr. 127 above.)… and the sea received the seed of great Zeus. So as the year completed its circling course, in the season of fair springing plants he bore the waker of laughter, Aphrodite, the foam-born.

187. Proklos. (Of Artemis.) Unmarried and all untried in child birth she resolves its issues.

188. Proklos. (O. calls Artemis Hekate.) She then, divine Hekate, daughter of fair-tressed Leto, leaving there the body of child departed to Olympos.

189. Proklos. (Of Demeter.) She devised servants, and attendants, and followers; she devised ambrosia and the fragrance (?), of red nectar; she devised the splendid works of the loud-murmuring bees.

193. Tzetzes. Plying the loom, an unfinished toil, flowery.

194. Proklos. (Demeter speaks to Kore.) But going up to the fruitful bed of Apollo, thou shalt bear splendid children, with countenances of flaming fire.

197. Proklos. (Kore bears) nine daugthers, grey-eyed, makers of flowers.

199. Proklos. (Of Dionysos.) And he was called sweet child of Zeus.

200. Proklos. (Names of the Moon.) Plutone and Euphrosyne and mighty Bendis.

207. Proklos. (Zeus makes Dionysos king) for all he was young and but a greedy infant.

208. Proklos. (Zeus speaks.) Give ear ye gods; this one have I made your king.

210. Proklos. (a) Only the heart, the seat of thought, did they leave.

(b) Seven parts of child in all did they divide between them.

215. Proklos. But Atlas holds the board heaven under the weight of stern necessity, at the bounds of the earth.

216. Proklos. (Dionysos is often called Wine by the theologoi from his gifts.)

(a) Instead of one stock of Wine they put in its place three.

(b) Take up all the limbs of Wine in order, and bring them to me.

(c) Jealous as she was of Wine, the son of Zeus.

218. Proklos. Zeus then, the father, ruled all things, but Bakchos ruled after him.

219. Proklos. Clement of Alexandria. (The Phrygians are said to call water bedü.). And bedü if the Nymphs drips down, sparkling water. (I do not know why Kern assigns this to the Rhapsodies.)

222. Proklos. All who live purely beneath the rays of the sun, so soon as they die have smooth path in a fair meadow beside deep-flowing Acheron, but those who have done evil beneath the rays of the sun, the insolent, are brought down below Kokytos to the chilly horrors of Tartaros.

223. Proklos. (The fate of the souls of animals is different from that of our own.) The souls of beasts and winged birds when they flit away, and sacred life forsakes the creature, not one of them is brought to the house of Hades, but each flutters aimlessly where it is, until some other creature snatch it up as it mingles with the guests of the wind. But when it is a man who leaves the light of the sun, then the immortal souls are brought down by Kyllenian Hermes to the vast hidden part of the earth.

224. Proklos and (lines 1, 2) Olympiodoros. (Souls enter different bodies in turn.) (a) Fathers and sons on the halls are the same, and neat housewives and mothers and daughters—all come out of each other in the succeeding generations.

(b)…since the souls of men in circles of times goes in turn among animals, now this one and now that. At one time a horse, then it becomes… again a sheep, then a bird, a sight of fear, again the form of a dog with deep-toned bark, and the race of cold snakes that creeps upon the bright earth.

225. Plutarch. A creature as long-lived as the young palm with feathered top.

226. Clement of Alexandria. (The first line is corrupt, but the sense must have been as follows. See conjectures in Kern.)

Water is death to soul, and soul to water. From water comes earth, and from earth water again, and from that, soul, quitting the vastness of aither.

(Versus Orphicos ad Heracliti exemplum fictos esse apparet. Kern.)

227. Clem. Alex. (Corruption in the first line at least). Of all the springing herbs with which mortals have to do on the earth, none has an unchanging destiny laid upon it, but all must go full circles, and it is not lawful to stop any part, but each bough holds to just a share of the course, even as it began it. (The reference is to the use if young branches held by worshippers of the gods. They are said by Clement to signify birth and death and in fact the wheel of existence, according to Orpheus. He quotes as parallel the use if wheels in worship by the Egyptians. Cp. p. 208 below.)

228. Vettius Valens. (a) The soul of man has its origin from aither.

(b) As we draw in the air we gather to ourselves divine soul.

(c) The soul is immortal and ageless, and comes from Zeus.

(d) The soul of all is immortal, but the bodies are mortal.

229, 230. Proklos and Simplicius. To cease from the circle and have respite from evil.

232. Olympiodoros. Men will dispatch full hecatombs in all the seasons of the year, and will perform the mystic rites, yearning to be set free from their lawless ancestry. Then thou, for thou hast power in these things, shalt set free whom thou wilt from grevious pain and endless sting of passion.

(Line 3 should surely be translated so, and not as Farnell and others do, ‘to set free their ancestors who have sinned’, with references to the doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead. Kern agrees with the translation above, Orpheus, 1920, p. 46.)

233. Malalas and Kedrenos. Beasts and birds and sinful tribes of mortals, burdens to the earth, counterfeit images, knowing no single thing, without wit to perceive the approach of evil, nor to avert disaster from afar, nor skilled when good is at hand to repent and make yours, but vain and foolish and improvident.

234. Clem. Alex. For there is no worse, no more terrible thing that a woman.

235. Olympiodoros. Many are the wand-bearers, but few the Bakchoi.