The Web of Penelope
ἡ δὲ δόλον τόνδ' ἄλλον ἐνὶ φρεσὶ μερμήριξε·
στησαμένη μέγαν ἱστὸν ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ὕφαινε,
λεπτὸν καὶ περίμετρον· ...
ἔνθα καὶ ἠματίη μὲν ὑφαίνεσκεν μέγαν ἱστόν,
νύκτας δ' ἀλλύεσκεν, ἐπὴν δαΐδας παραθεῖτο.
This was her latest masterpiece of guile:
she set up a great loom in the royal halls and she began to weave,
and the weaving finespun, the yarns endless ...
So by day she'd weave at her great and growing web –
by night, by the light of torches set beside her, she would unravel all she'd done.
(Homer, Odyssey 2.93-95, 104-105, trans. Fagles)
Alberto Bernabé has compared the scholarship on Orphism in the past century to the web of Penelope, a succession of cunning weavings of the threads followed by unravelings, in which any apparent progress in formulating a coherent picture of Orphism by one wave of scholars is undone by the next group of critics. So the proto-Protestant Orphic church imagined by Kern and Macchioro was unraveled by skeptics like Wilamowitz, while the more balanced Orphic religious movement depicted by Guthrie was challenged by the rigorous critique of Linforth. Bernabé now objects to the attempts made recently to tear apart his own careful reconstruction of Orphic religion, articulated in a series of articles over the past decade and culminating in his new edition of the Orphic fragments. Orphism, as Bernabé and other scholars such as Parker, Graf, and Johnston define it, is a religious movement that can be identified, not by social structures like an Orphic church, but rather by a set of doctrines about the origin and fate of the soul. The doctrines of the soul's immortality and its transmigration from body to body are founded, in this hypothesis, on a particular narrative of the origin of human beings within the cosmos. Scholars weave together four strands into this central mythic narrative: the dismemberment of Dionysos Zagreus by the Titans, the punishment of the Titans by Zeus, the generation of human beings from the ashes of the lightning-blasted Titans, and the burden of guilt that human beings inherited from their Titanic ancestors because of this original sin. I argue to the contrary that this Zagreus myth is a modern fabrication and that the coherent picture of Orphism scholars have so cleverly woven must be unraveled, so that all of the strands of evidence may be recycled, put back into their proper contexts within ancient Greek religion.
The four strands of the myth never appear all bound together in any of the extant evidence, but scholars defend the reconstruction of this Zagreus myth as the only possible way to explain the appearance in the evidence of all four strands in various contexts and combinations. In response to recent critiques, Bernabé tries to weave the pieces together into one coherent tale to sustain the idea of an Orphic religion that persisted over the centuries, defined by its essential nucleus of doctrines despite the shifting cultural milieux in the Mediterranean between the 6th century BCE and the 6th CE. Bernabé presents as clear a case as may be made about the most crucial pieces of evidence for each of these strands belonging to a single fabric, but his arguments nevertheless fail to prove even that such a Zagreus myth ever existed before its formulation in modern scholarship. While it is ultimately impossible to prove that such a myth never did exist, that all four elements were not ever at any point woven together, I shall show that none of the evidence combines all four elements, that some of the evidence that Bernabé and others have claimed combines several strands does not in fact weave together the elements in such a way, and that some of the evidence that attests to the presence of one element in fact precludes the presence of some of the other elements. Moreover, despite the claim that the evidence can be explained in no other way, I shall show that each of these threads can easily be explained within the wider context of Greek religion and mythology. The result is not a single, tightly woven myth like the one Bernabé and others have fabricated, but rather an assortment of shreds and patches that nevertheless provides a better understanding of the nature and variations of ancient Greek religion.
It is impossible to disprove that some author unknown, at some point in the twelve centuries between Pindar and Olympiodorus, might have combined all four of the strands of the Zagreus myth or even that such a story was designed to provide a rationale for a special religious program involving purifications. Likewise, it is impossible to prove conclusively that such a combination was actually never made, that no one until the 19th century ever combined the elements into a single story. Too many texts are missing from antiquity to make a simple argument from silence persuasive. The hypothesis that a telling of the Zagreus myth existed must therefore be evaluated on other grounds.
One important difference between the two unprovable hypotheses is falsifiability. My contention that the Zagreus myth never existed could be falsified by the discovery of a text that recounted the myth including all four elements. My hypothesis that such a story did not provide a doctrinal basis for a coherent Orphic religion could be falsified by a new text like the Derveni papyrus that provide exegesis of cultic practice on the basis of the myth. By contrast, the hypothesis that the Zagreus myth existed as a secret tradition that was never clearly and explicitly recorded is completely unfalsifiable. No potential discovery of myth or ritual, exegesis or argument, could possibly shake the assertion that such a myth existed in an underground tradition, since the absence of clear evidence is in fact one of the proofs that the tradition was secret. To make the comparison somewhat melodramatically, the hypothesis of the Zagreus myth shares this characteristic of unfalsifiability with UFO and other conspiracy theories. No amount of evidence can prove that the black helicopters or aliens or the Illuminati or whatever it happens to be do not exist. The lack of evidence merely reinforces the conviction that the secret was important enough to be kept secret. Logically, such theories are weaker than those whose truth can be tested by the appearance of new evidence.
Accepting the Zagreus myth involves accepting a number of premises that are rarely made explicit in the arguments for its plausibility. First is the idea of a secret doctrinal tradition, a secret that is recognizable by allusion to those in the know but which it is not licit to make explicit. Such a premise is used to explain all the indirect references to the myth and the absence of any direct exposition of the either the story or the doctrines it supports. According to this hypothesis, modern scholars have cracked this secret code, unlike the still mysterious references to the rituals of the Eleusinian mysteries. The Zagreus myth explains all the secret references made not only by the pious initiates like Pausanias and Diodorus Siculus, who respect the mysteries, but also by the philosophers like Plato and Plutarch, who only make use of the ideas without fully accepting the myth. And, of course, even Christian polemicists like Clement and Firmicus dare not do more than allude vaguely to the crucial doctrines and ideas, even in the midst of their revelation of the actions of the rituals. Hence, all their evidence can be seen to point to this myth, even though none of the evidence actually expresses it openly.
A related premise is that this secret doctrine, the need for humanity to seek purification from the original sin of the Titanic ancestors' murder of Dionysos, remained unchanged throughout the span of more than a millennium from which the evidence comes. The myth of the murder of Zagreus always had this meaning to the Orphic faithful, who preserved the essential tenet of their faith despite the absence of any social structure or organization to help them transmit their doctrines over the generations. One consequence of this premise is that scholars can ignore the explicit meaning assigned to any part of the myth in the evidence, as well as the context in which the myth is related. The true context, according to this premise, is the secret Orphic tradition, not the particular text in which the element or idea just happens to be found.
In addition to these premises, accepting the Zagreus myth requires that one accept that not only did the true meaning remain unchanged over the centuries, but that none of the reinterpretations that were done, by various unbelieving philosophers and allegorists, had any real impact on the form and shape of the story. Therefore, all the evidence that mentions the dismemberment, the Titans' punishment, the anthropogony, or the guilt borne by the human race can be used to reconstruct the same story. Any variants can be explained away like the variants in a manuscript tradition, as errors that do not reflect the true and original text.
The first premise of the secret doctrine is susceptible to the logical critique of unfalsifiability, but the others, I would argue, go counter to the fluid and dynamic nature of the Greek mythic tradition. Greek myths were never, even after the efforts of the late systematizing mythographers, a set of fixed texts whose archetype could be recovered from a collation of the manuscripts. Rather, they remained a dynamic tradition that was constantly in contest, with new versions narrated in different ways all vying for authority with each other. While the internal coherence of the Zagreus myth hypothesis lends it plausibility, the premises on which the whole structure rests cannot be accepted.
To make his argument for the existence of the Zagreus myth and its centrality to Orphic doctrine from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE, Bernabé provides a set of 37 testimonies (selected from the more than one thousand Orphic Fragments in his new edition). He arranges these texts into six basic categories: the early testimony of Pindar to inherited guilt, the references in Plato to inherited guilt and the punishment of the Titans, the allusions to the dismemberment in Plutarch's De Esu Carnium, the evidence for rituals connected with the dismemberment, references to the generation of the human race from the blood of the Titans, and Neoplatonic texts (from Proclus and Damascius to Olympiodorus' crucial passage). The reconstruction of the Zagreus myth and of Orphism in general does indeed rest on such few and such slender threads. I shall treat each of these categories in turn, showing that the evidence does not support the hypothesis of a Zagreus myth combining the strands of dismemberment, punishment of Titans, anthropogony, and inherited guilt. On the contrary, the evidence associated with the dismemberment of Dionysos attests to a variety of myths and rituals which had different meanings in their assorted contexts. Although Persephone and Dionysos are indeed both associated in some evidence with relief from divine anger, this function is not directly associated with the dismemberment myth but belongs to other aspects of their cults. Nor is the Dionysos who is dismembered always the child of Persephone; at times he is born from Semele or even Demeter. So too, the Titans were punished in myth both after their dismemberment of Dionysos and after their rebellion against the gods, but, except in the 6th century CE innovation of Olympiodorus, the generation of human beings only follows the Titanomachy.
At stake in the recycling of this evidence is not merely the validity of the Zagreus myth, but a variety of other issues in ancient Greek religion, as each text replaced in context enhances the understanding both of the particular facet and of the broader dynamics of the tradition. For example, my treatment of the anthropogonic myths that relate mankind's origin from a previous race will show that the Orphic evidence is indeed part of a broader tradition of such tales, even if the scattered and mostly local evidence for such myths is too often overshadowed by the Hesiodic tales. My rereading of Pindar fr. 133 raises important questions about the relation of Persephone cult (especially perhaps in Magna Graecia) to the myth of her abduction, touching on that perennial problem in the study of Greek religion – the relation of myth to ritual. If the cult honors paid to her are in some sense a recompense for her abduction, we can gain a better understanding of Persephone's role as kourotrophos and patron of marriage, as well as a better sense of the ideas of women and marriage that structure the societies that related the myths and celebrated the cults. So too, the evidence for rituals involving the dismemberment of Dionysos provides insight into the whole range of ways in which the god was significant for the Greeks in different times and different places. More importantly, understanding that the dismemberment myth did not have a single meaning helps us to see the underlying dynamic of the Greek religious tradition, the ceaseless change and contestation within the relatively stable and coherent tradition. The workings of this fluid and dynamic tradition are also explored in my treatment of Plato's references in the Laws, as well as the allegorical readings of Plutarch and the Neoplatonists Proclus, Damascius, and Olympiodorus. Plato is continually struggling with the balance between innovation and tradition as he formulates rules for a new society in the Laws, and the passages I treat are only a small part of his manipulation of traditional religious ideas in the service of his philosophic ideals. Moreover, Plato's use of myths does not differ so greatly from the later thinkers who follow in the Platonic philosophic tradition. By treating the interpretations of Plutarch and Olympiodorus as a real part of the Greek mythic and religious tradition, rather than an excrescence that needs to be wiped away for the "original" meaning to shine through, my analysis presents a broader view of the ways the Greeks dealt with their myths. Plutarch provides the viewpoint of an educated religious thinker of the early Imperial period, while Olympiodorus and the other Neoplatonists show the ways in which the religious tradition continued to be significant, even as Greek paganism faced the challenges of Christianity. Recycling this material, removing it from its artificial frame and replacing it in its original contexts, helps us better to understand the ancient evidence and religious traditions from which it comes.
The apparent coherence of the Zagreus myth can only be achieved by taking the pieces of evidence out of their proper contexts; when viewed in the context of the texts from which they come, the pieces provide instead a series of tantalizing glimpses of the wider fabric of Greek religion and mythology. The collections of Orphic fragments by Kern and Bernabé both presume the existence of the Zagreus myth and arrange the evidence to provide the clearest picture of their reconstruction of the myth, trimming out the surrounding texts in which the fragments are found. As Catherine Osborne has noted, however, any collection of fragments creates interpretive problems, because the texts are stripped of the contexts from which they come. "Thus it is the collection of 'fragments' in groups by modern editors, working on the basis of their own preconceptions, which provides the context in which they are currently read." In the context of a collection of fragments, the Zagreus myth seems a plausible hypothesis, but its coherence disappears when the strands are seen, not in the limited context of "Orphism", defined in a particular way, but in the broader context of Greek religion as a whole.
Although Bernabé protests that Orphism is the only known religious movement that could explain the persistence of the mythic elements, the entire Greek mythic tradition itself provides the proper context for interpreting the presence, persistence, and permutations of these elements. The bricolage performed by countless narrators of myth over the millennia combines and recombines the various elements in the mythic tradition in a stunning variety of ways for a plethora of purposes. The story of Dionysos' dismemberment, like any other myth, meant different things to different people and even different things to the same people in different contexts. The mere presence of the tale elements over a long stretch of time does not mean that its religious or philosophical meaning remained the same; on the contrary, without explicit evidence that a myth somehow meant the same thing to people in significantly different times and places, we must assume that it was reinterpreted to suit the ideas of its current users. No such explicit evidence exists, and the evidence to the contrary, which does indeed exist, is suppressed when the texts are examined without their contexts.
Some of the evidence is labeled in the ancient sources as Orphic, that is, associated with a poem or a ritual composed by Orpheus, but much of the evidence Bernabé and his predecessors cite is brought into consideration only because it attests to one of the four mythic strands of the Zagreus myth. Whereas Linforth simply refused to consider such evidence, I suggest that it is more useful to try, however tentatively, to recycle the material, to attempt to place it back into its context within the larger fabric of Greek religion. To be sure, we are left with an incomplete picture, disconnected shreds of the vast and complex tapestry of ancient Greek religion, but such shreds more accurately represent the puzzle we have before us than a neatly woven web that binds together disparate elements for the sake of having a simple solution.
Recompense for the Ancient Grief
ἔρχομαι ἐκ καθαρῶν καθαρά, χθονίων βασίλεια,
Εὐκλῆς καὶ Εὐβουλεύς καὶ θεοὶ δαίμονες ἄλλοι
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼν ὑμῶν γένος ὄλβιον εὔχομαι εἶναι.
ποινὰν δ' ἀνταπέτεισ' ἔργων ἕνεκ' οὔτι δικαίων·
εἴτε με μοῖρ' ἐδάμασσ' εἴτε ἀστεροπῆτι κεραυνῶν
νῦν δ' ἱκέτης ἥκω παρ' ἁγνὴν Φερσεφόνειαν
ὥς με πρόφρων πέμψηι ἕδρας ἐς εὐαγέων.
Pure I come from the pure, Queen of those below the earth,
And Eukles and Eubouleus and the other gods and daimons;
For I also claim that I am of your blessed race.
Recompense I have repaid on account of deeds not just;
Either Fate mastered me or the lightning bolt thrown by the thunderer.
Now I have come, a suppliant, to holy Phersephoneia,
That she, gracious, may send me to the seats of the blessed.
(Gold tablet A2 from Thurii = OF 489B; cp. A3 = OF 490B)
In one of the gold tablets from Timpone Piccolo in Thurii, the speaker seeks the favor of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, asking for an afterlife in the company of the blessed. In support of her plea, she claims not only that she comes of the lineage of the gods, but that she is ritually pure, and that she has made recompense for unjust deeds. These enigmatic qualifications, which she clearly expects Persephone to understand, have fascinated scholars ever since the discovery of this tablet in 1879, and the answers that have been provided to this enigma have been fundamental to the reconstruction of the religious context of the gold tablets and the wider phenomenon of Orphism.
The discovery of the Thurii tablets provided the impetus for the formulation of Orphism as a religion centrally concerned with sin and salvation, and, even if Orphism is no longer seen as foreshadowing the importance of these doctrines in Early Christianity, the idea persists that humanity is stained with the crime of the Titans who murdered the infant Dionysos Zagreus, child of Persephone. The conjunction of Persephone and a ποινή paid for unjust deeds has accordingly been understood as a claim that the deceased has learned the secret of humanity's origin from the Titanic murderers of Dionysos and has paid to Dionysos' mother the blood price owed by all humans for the ancestral crime.
The interpretation of this gold tablet from Thurii rests crucially upon the mistaken interpretation of another enigmatic text, a fragment of Pindar preserved in a Platonic dialogue, in which Persephone is said to accept the recompense (ποινή) for her ancient grief (πένθος). I argue that, in both these texts, the ποινή Persephone accepts is not a bloodprice, but rather ritual honors in recompense for her traumatic abduction to the underworld by Hades. Persephone's πένθος is not grief over a murdered son but rather her anguish over this turbulent passage from Kore to Queen of the Underworld. I will first examine the meanings of these terms in Pindar, and then explore parallel stories in which the grief of a maiden's disrupted passage is appeased or her anger averted by ritual honors paid to her, not by the guilty party as weregild, but by mortals seeking to win her favor, to make her gracious (πρόφρων) toward them just as the deceased hopes in the Thurii tablet.
By resituating these pieces of evidence in their proper religious context, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the religious phenomena labeled Orphic in antiquity, showing how familiar patterns of myth and ritual are manipulated and taken to extra-ordinary extremes. The Orphic is not one who believes that all humanity must atone for the original sin of the Titans' murder of Dionysos, but rather one who believes that she can win special favor, in the afterlife as well as in this life, by special attentions paid to Persephone and other chthonic powers. These special attentions might include rites of appeasement, special placatory honors, or rites of purification and release. These latter rites are likely to have had a Dionysiac aspect, since Dionysos is the god who presides over purification and release. The presence of Dionysos in the evidence, therefore, stems from his complementary role in this traditional pattern of myth and ritual, rather than from the particular mythic strand that made Persephone the mother of Dionysos, of which there is no trace in this evidence.
The enigmatic reference, contained in a fragment of Pindar quoted in Plato's Meno, to the recompense Persephone receives for the ancient grief has been taken as the earliest evidence for the Orphic doctrine of humanity's guilt inherited from the Titans.
οἷσι γὰρ ἂν Φερσεφόνα ποινὰν παλαιοῦ πένθεος
δέξεται, εἰς τὸν ὕπερθεν ἅλιον κείνων ἐνάτῳ ἔτει
ἀνδιδοῖ ψυχὰς πάλιν, ἐκ τᾶν βασιλῆες ἀγαυοὶ
καὶ σθένει κραιπνοὶ σοφίᾳ τε μέγιστοι
ἄνδρες αὔξοντ'· ἐς δὲ τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον ἥρωες
ἁγνοὶ πρὸς ἀνθρώπων καλέονται.
Those from whom Persephone receives the recompense for the ancient grief,
their souls in the ninth year she sends back to the sun above,
and from them arise glorious kings and men swift with strength and very great in wisdom;
and in time to come they are called sacred heroes among men.
Plato, Meno 81bc = Pindar fr. 133 = OF 443B.
This passage was not considered Orphic by Kern, but Bernabé has included it in his recent edition on the strength of the arguments made by H. J. Rose. Even Linforth, although he expresses reservations, accepts this passage as evidence that an idea of humans paying the penalty for the Titans' murder of Dionysos was known in the 6th century BCE. Such a payment would seem to imply all four of the elements of the so-called Zagreus myth: the dismemberment of Dionysos Zagreus, the punishment of the Titans, the anthropogony from their remains, and the burden of inherited guilt to be expiated by the payment. The problem is that Rose's interpretation is dependent on the particular detail of Olympiodorus' telling that seems most likely to be his own innovation – the composition of human beings not just from the Titans but also from the fragments of Dionysos which they consumed before being blasted with lightning. However, the alternatives to Rose's interpretation previously suggested by Rohde and Linforth are too weak to supplant Rose's analysis, so I shall argue for an alternative explanation dismissed by Rose, Persephone's grief over her abduction by Hades, and show the flaws in Rose's argument for dismissing this explanation. Without this crucial early testimony, the hypothesis that the Zagreus myth existed from the 6th century BCE is untenable, and the Thurii tablet demands an alternate explanation.
Rose makes his argument on the basis of the meanings of two crucial words: ποινή and πένθος. The ποινή, he argues, must have its basic Homeric sense of were-gild, the payment of blood-money that a murderer or his kin make to the kin of the murdered man. The word πένθος he likewise claims must have the sense of grief over the death of a loved one, especially a close kinsman. Rose is refuting the interpretation by earlier scholars such as Rohde that reads πένθος as guilt (Schuld) in the sense of something that causes grief and takes it as the guilt of humans for their misdeeds during previous lives. Rose is correct to claim that πένθος is unlikely to have the sense of 'cause of guilt', but, as we shall see, he unduly limits the feeling of grief to mourning for slain kin.
Rose's argument follows fairly straightforwardly upon these two premises of the meanings of the words. If Persephone feels grief at the loss of a close relative, who could that relative be but her son, Dionysos? The fact that Dionysos is not recorded as the son of Persephone before the Hellenistic period must therefore be an accident of preservation. The ποινή that Persephone accepts must therefore be the were-gild for her son's death. Since the murderers of Dionysos in the later evidence are named as the Titans, the human beings who pay this blood-price must somehow be descendants of the Titan-murderers, who carry the debt inherited from their ancient progenitors. Therefore, the fact that no other text – from any period, including Olympiodorus – that mentions the death of Dionysos refers to an inherited guilt borne by human beings descended from his murderers must also be an accident of preservation.
A closer examination of the two key words in this text, however, reveals the flaws in Rose's argument. In the first place, although it may most often mean blood-price in Homer, ποινή never has the sense of were-gild in Pindar. The only use of the word which comes close is undoubtedly the one in the forefront of Rose's mind, the reference in Olympian 2.58 to the ποινή that the dead pay in the afterlife for the kind of life they have lived on earth. However, even this usage has a much wider scope than were-gild paid to a kinsman, especially since Pindar goes on to talk of the recompense that those who have lived good lives receive, a blissful life in paradise. The other uses of ποινή in Pindar show that the term nearly always has a positive connotation, not a penalty paid to the victim of wrongdoing, but a reward given to someone who has gone through exceptional experiences or shown exceptional effort. Indeed, most often the term ποινή or ἄποινα refers to Pindar's own victory song, which Pindar with characteristic modesty proclaims as the best reward for any achievement. Even in Pindar, of course, a victory ode is not the only possible recompense for effort, however, and ποινή is used with an extended sense of an offering that is due to someone's honor. In Pythian 9.58, the land that the nymph Cyrene receives as a bridal gift after her rape by Apollo is οὔτε παγκάρπων φυτῶν νάποινον, "not without a fitting return of all kinds of crops." When Battus seeks some help for his stammer, he is granted the kingship of Cyrene as a ποινή, whereas Herakles is granted a blissful paradise of peace as a ποινή for all the great deeds he has undertaken and specifically for his aid to the gods in their fight against the giants.
It is worth noting that in none of these cases is the ποινή paid by someone who is any way responsible for the efforts that the person receiving it had to undertake or the sufferings she has undergone. Pindar certainly did not cause the athletes to strive for their prizes; he is merely on hand to provide the fitting tribute to them. Apollo is the one who rapes Cyrene, but Libya personified undertakes to provide a bridal gift in compensation. The giants, rather than the gods, are responsible for the exertions Herakles must make in the Gigantomachy, but the gods provide the ποινή. Such a recompense is the τιμή due to the recipient, the honor that properly accrues, rather than the payment of a debtor.
Rose's analysis of the word πένθος in Pindar also unduly restricts its meaning, limiting it to the grief felt at the loss of an intimate. In two cases, Polydeukes' grief over his twin Kastor's death and the dirge sung by the Gorgons after Medusa's slaying, the word does indeed have this sense. However, in other cases, the nature of the grief is clearly different. Pindar grieves at Strepsiades' death in battle in Isthmian 7.37, but the grief is the sorrow felt at the loss of a splendid stranger who achieved much and might yet have achieved more, not the anguish of losing a relative or even a personal friend. The mighty griefs that Pindar is trying to put behind him in Isthmian 8 1-7 are again unlikely, from the context, to be personal griefs, and, even if Rose is correct in connecting them with the troubles of Thebes in the Persian War, these troubles are of widespread concern, not so much the deaths of particular individuals as the turmoil and disruption of life that follow in the wake of war.
Rose stretches even further when he tries to argue that the πένθος of the daughters of Kadmos in Olympian 2 must likewise be limited to grief over the loss of kin. He claims, "Every one of their misfortunes or griefs involved a death, whether of Semele, Aktaion, Pentheus, or the children of Ino." While Agave and Autonoë would indeed be mothers grieving over the loss of their children Pentheus and Aktaion, it is very odd to claim that Semele's grief must be mourning the loss of herself as a close relative! On the contrary, Semele's griefs are the vicissitudes she went through before her death: the attentions of Zeus, the malice of Hera, and her incineration by Zeus' embrace. As a result she descends into the underworld before being retrieved by her son, Dionysos, and raised to glorious divine honors. Likewise, Ino is specifically mentioned as having received immortality after plunging into the sea. Her griefs may include the death of her children, but the vicissitudes of caring for the infant Dionysos, the madness of her husband, and the trauma of being chased off a cliff should not be ignored. In both these cases, simple grief over the death of a child cannot be the referent of πένθος here. Pindar's point is that the daughters of Kadmos suffered many things during their lives but were recompensed by the gods with immortality, for which they receive honors from mortals. Agave and Autonoë, whose primary grief does have to do with the death of their sons, are not mentioned here, precisely because they don't get this sort of recompense. The πένθος of the daughters of Kadmos thus has a fairly broad scope, including all the hardships suffered by this family, from the molestation of Semele by an eager Zeus to the mad bacchic frenzies many of them underwent to the tragic deaths of family members at the hands of their own family.
If πένθος is not necessarily grief over the death of a relative and ποινή in Pindar means not blood-price but reward, Rose's identification of Persephone's ancient grief must be reconsidered. As Rose himself notes, the most obvious cause of grief for Persephone is her rape by Hades, the central element in almost every mythic story that mentions her name. Rose, however, dismisses this possibility in favor of Persephone's grief over the murder of her son Dionysos Zagreus. Rose cites no texts that mention such grieving, however, and I have found only one that could provide any evidence for Persephone's grief over the murder of her son. In Nonnos' 6th century CE conglomeration of tales about Dionysos, Hera appeals to Persephone to send an Erinys to drive Dionysos, son of Semele, into a frenzy, arguing that this Dionysos might receive the honors that her murdered son Zagreus should have had. Even in this text, Persephone is not depicted as grieving, and any grief she might feel is less important than the stereotypical jealous rage of a neglected woman. In contrast to this single, very late, and very idiosyncratic text, the grief of Persephone over her rape by Hades appears in texts as early as the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and continues throughout the mythological tradition. The Orphic Argonautica even refers to the great grief of Persephone when separated from her mother as a theme of previous Orphic poetry.
Rose claims that the less-well known tale of Persephone's grief over her son's murder must be the referent of the ancient grief because humans are the ones paying the ποινή, and humans would have no reason to pay a ποινή for Persephone's rape. He argues, "Two events stand out in her myths as likely causes of sorrow. One is of course her rape by Hades. But even if we allow that this would naturally be called a πένθος, no man had anything whatsoever to do with it from first to last."  Here the distinction between the Homeric sense of ποινή as blood-price paid by a relative of the slayer and the Pindaric use of ποινή as a fitting recompense that might be provided by someone unconnected is most significant for the argument. For while no human may have been involved in causing her grief, humans are explicitly involved, even in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, with assuaging her grief. In his attempts to reassure his bride and convince her of the advantages of staying as his wife, not only does Hades urge his worthiness as a spouse, but he also promises that she will gain great honors (τιμαί), for all will have to make sacrifices, perform rituals, and make gifts to her. Rudhardt has pointed out the importance of the distribution of the gods' τιμαί in ancient Greek religious thought, and the myth of Persephone's abduction marriage served to establish her position among the gods and articulate the honors due to her. Hades himself pays no ποινή for his rape, but the honors that every human being who hopes for a favorable reception in the underworld after death pays to Persephone serve as the compensation for the experience she has been through.
Such a link between Persephone's abduction and her cultic honors seems not to be confined to the evidence of myth. While ritual evidence is always harder to interpret, the cults of Persephone, particularly in Magna Graecia, seem to have put the honors and festivals of Persephone in the context of her abduction. For example, many of the pinakes found in the cult area of Persephone near Epizephyrian Locri depict the abduction of Persephone by Hades, while others show her enthroned next to her spouse in the underworld, receiving homage from various visitors. The so-called "Young Abductor" pinakes, which have a youthful bridegroom instead of the bearded Hades in the role of abductor, seem to indicate that Persephone's abduction was taken as a model of the transition of marriage for a young woman – a terrifying change, perhaps, but one that provides a new status and position in society. Such a cultic model would certainly have been familiar to Pindar and his audience in Magna Graecia, and the mention of Persephone's ancient grief and the compensation provided by human activity would be easily recognizable as a reference to her abduction and the τιμαί due to her as compensation.
Plato's audience for the Meno, in which Socrates quotes the lines, would also have had no trouble understanding the reference to Persephone's abduction and cult. The cult of Kore at Eleusis may have emphasized different aspects of the myth, but, as the Homeric Hymn to Demeter shows, the Eleusinian Mysteries were considered part of the honors that were due Persephone in recompense for her rape. While we can't be sure what ideas of afterlife were associated with the cults of Persephone in Magna Graecia, we can at least be sure that the cult at Eleusis did include the promise of benefits after life on earth ended, not only during life.
Pindar fragment 133, then, does not support the idea that the Zagreus myth lies behind the mention of Persephone and ποινή in the Thurii tablet, nor that the idea of inherited guilt through a Titanic heritage, was known in the Archaic period of Pindar or even in Plato's Athens. Rose's interpretation depends upon taking the words ποινή and πένθος in a restricted sense that does not fit with Pindar's other uses of the words. The ancient grief of Persephone, which must be assuaged by the honors paid to her in ritual, arises from the traumatic experience of her passage from the land of the living to the realm of the dead, from the stage of unmarried maiden Kore to the married matron Persephone, Queen of the Dead.
Indeed, many kinds of evidence show that both Plato and Pindar could expect their audiences to be familiar with the story pattern of Persephone's abduction and to link it with paying cult honors to her in hopes of favorable treatment from her, whether such favor came in the form of a blissful afterlife in the Isles of the Blessed or a better reincarnation. The place of πένθος, ποινή, and Persephone in Pindar and the Thurii tablets must be understood in this broader context, for, as Sarah Johnston has shown, this pattern of disrupted maiden's transition appears in a number of places in the Greek religious tradition, associated with a variety of different ritual complexes in which the maiden whose transition to adult womanhood is disrupted by death is honored and appeased by a festival. The ritual celebration serves to avert the wrath of the spirit, with its attendant famine, plague or other disasters, and to bring to the community the positive aspects of chthonic powers, fertility and fecundity for the land and its people. Stories such as those of Erigone, Carya, and Iphinoë show how this pattern of providing recompense for the maiden's grief could be adapted in different ways, and we can better understand the religious background of the Pindar fragment and thereby the Thurii gold tablets, if we see them in the context of this kind of pattern.
Erigone's story is told in various ways in the sources, but she is generally associated with the Athenian Anthesteria and specifically with the Aiora, the ritual swinging that takes place at one point during the larger festival. The young girls of Athens must swing in the trees during this rite to placate the spirit of Erigone Aletis, the wandering one, who hangs herself from a tree after the death of her father. Either Erigone is the daughter of Klytemnestra and Aigisthos, who wanders into Attica in vengeful pursuit of Orestes and kills herself after he is acquitted, or she is the daughter of the local farmer Ikarios, to whom Dionysos first introduces wine and viticulture. When Ikarios gives wine to his neighbors, they kill him in a drunken fury and hide his body when they wake up with the first hangover. When she cannot find her father, Erigone wanders around seeking him, finally hanging herself when she discovers his corpse. As Johnston has pointed out, whether Erigone is described as the daughter of Ikarios or of Aigisthos, in both cases the death of her father means that she has no one to arrange her marriage and facilitate her transition to adult womanhood. Nonnos' version (47.185-6) even has the bloody ghost of her father appear to her and specifically lament that she will never know marriage.
This death of a maiden in the disrupted transition to adulthood naturally stains the community with the miasma of her untimely death, and the maidens of Athens are afflicted with a violent impulse to end their own lives in the same fashion until an oracle ordains the festival of the Aiora as way of averting the anger of Erigone. The festival includes the girls' swinging that is so cheerfully depicted in vase paintings, as well as the Ἀλῆτις song, no doubt a choral song and dance honoring the maiden, performed by the maidens who wish to avoid the grief she suffered by providing a recompense in ritual.
In Laconia, the Caryatis chorus is performed by maidens in honor of the unfortunate Carya, who, seduced by Dionysos, never completed her transition to adulthood but was transformed into a tree. Lactantius (ad Statius Thebaid 4.25) tells how the local maidens went mad and hung themselves from the branches of this carya tree. The temple of Diana Caryatis was founded on that spot, and presumably the Caryatis festival celebrated there arose at that time. As Johnston suggests, the rite serves to appease the maiden, who was stranded in a liminal zone, betwixt and between being a maiden and a woman, living and dead. The grief of Carya is appeased by the ritual honors so that the maidens of Laconia do not suffer the same grief of disrupted transition to adult life.
The threat of the maiden's anger if unappeased appears explicitly in the cases of Erigone and Carya, but the same pattern appears, albeit without the explicit threat, in the case of the Proetid Iphinoë. Hesychius defines the Agriania festival as one celebrated for one of the daughters of Proitos, but also as a festival of the dead. Like the Anthesteria in Athens, the Agriania involved the appeasement of the spirits of the dead to ensure the fertility of the community in the coming year. Just as the appeasement of Erigone by ritual choruses of maidens seems to have been part of the Anthesteria to make sure that the maidens of Athens would be able to complete their transitions to mature womanhood, marriage and childbearing, so at the Agriania Iphinoë may have been honored. Whereas the other daughters of Proitos who went wild and wandered like cows in the hills were tamed and married off to Melampous and his brother, Iphinoë perished in the process, attaining death instead of marriage. Pausanias tells us that maidens in Megara on the brink of marriage made libations and offerings of their hair to Iphinoë, here the daughter of the local hero Alkathoos, since she died before marriage, like the Hyperborean maidens at Delos. The Agriania may have involved other kinds of rituals, since Pausanias and Apollodorus tell us that Melampous cured the girls with certain rites, purifications and choruses that involved the youths as well as the maidens. To judge by the parallel of the Anthesteria, the festival must have been concerned with the renewal of the fertility of the community through the appeasing and honoring of the powers of the dead, both collectively and as individuals like Iphinoë concerned with particular aspects.
The associations of Melampous with Dionysiac rites, as well as the mention of ecstatic dancing and purificatory καθαρμοί, recall the presence of Dionysos in the other tales. In each case, Dionysos appears as a disruptive force who disturbs the maiden's expected path of transition from girl to wife. The Proetids' maiden madness is caused and/or cured by his power, and he seduces Carya and, in some versions, Erigone as well. While neither of these maidens end up, like Ariadne, as the official bride of the god, it is worth noting the variants of Ariadne's story that conclude with her disrupted transition to marriage ending with suicide by hanging, like Erigone. Johnston has indeed pointed out that, in this pattern of girl's transition, the positive and negative endings are two sides of the same coin. Instead of having a normal transition into the adult roles of wife and mother by which they gain a new status in the human community, these mythic maidens suffer extraordinary experiences and never obtain a normal adult life. Some maidens end up dead, exerting power as vengeful spirits that threaten other maidens, whereas others end up divinized in some way, as cult statues, priestesses, or even brides of a god.
By her marriage to Hades, of course, Persephone does both, attaining full status as the divine wife of an important god but also going to the realm of death. So too, like Erigone, Persephone is known as Aletis, the wanderer, just as the Proetids also do not make an orderly transition from being girls to being wives but wander wildly in the hills. Persephone's ancient grief therefore belongs in this wider context of maiden stories which are resolved by ritual honors to appease the Kore and avert her potential wrath, to win her favor for the community and bring the benefits of fertility, especially for maidens who are going through their own transitions. The particular ritual response may vary from Attica to Magna Graecia, from Eleusis to Locri or to Thurii, but the basic, underlying pattern remains the same.
Again, it is worth noting that the recompense to assuage the maiden's grief is never offered by those who are directly responsible for her suffering. Not only do Hades and Dionysos never offer recompense, but even the slayers of Ikarios do not offer ritual atonement for their bloodguilt and their responsibility for Erigone's orphaned and thus marriageless condition. Rather, the recompense is offered by those who want to gain something from the spirit; the ritual honors are paid by the girls who want the favor of the spirit upon them as they go through their own transition.
Other texts in which the word ποινή appears in a ritual context do seem to support the idea that the term had the sense of a recompense paid, not by those guilty of an offense, but by others wishing to do honor to and to win the favor of a power in need of appeasement. Maidens who died before marriage or childbirth were not the only restless spirits whose anger might need to be averted or appeased, and the Derveni papyrus provides an example of recompense paid, not to Persephone, but to the spirits of the dead.
[εὐ]χ̣αι καὶ θυσ[ί]α̣ι μ[ειλ]ίσσουσι τὰ[ς ψυχάς,] ἐπ[ωιδὴ δ]ὲ̀ μάγων δύν[α]ται δαίμονας ἐμ[ποδὼν] γι[νομένο]υς μεθιστάναι. δαίμονες ἐμπο[δών ὄντες εἰσὶ] ψ[υχαὶ τιμω]ροί τὴν θυσ[ία]ν̣ τούτου ἕνεκε[μ] π̣[οιοῦσ]ι[ν] οἱ μά[γο]ι, ὡσπερεὶ ποινὴν̣ ἀποδιδόντες. τοῖ‹ς› δὲ ἱεροῖ[ς] ἐπισπένδουσιν ὕ[δω]ρ καὶ γάλα, ἐξ ὧνπερ καὶ τὰς χοὰς ποιοῦσι. ἀνάριθμα [κα]ὶ πολυόμφαλα τὰ πόπανα θύουσιν, ὅτι καὶ αἱ ψυχα[ὶ ἀν]άριθμοί εἰσι. μύσται Εὐμενίσι προθύουσι κ[ατὰ τὰ] αὐτὰ μάγοις· Εὐμενίδες γὰρ ψυχαί εἰσιν. ὧν ἕνεκ[εν τὸν μέλλοντ]α θεοῖς θύειν ὀ[ρ]νίθ[ε]ιον πρότερον...
… prayers and sacrifices appease the souls, and the enchanting song of the magoi is able to remove the daimones when they impede. Impeding daimones are revenging souls. This is why the magoi perform the sacrifice, as if they were paying a penalty. On the offerings they pour water and milk, from which they make the libations, too. They sacrifice innumerable and many-knobbed cakes, because the souls, too, are innumerable.
(Derveni Papyrus col.6.1-11).
The magoi, whoever they may be precisely, perform rituals to appease the souls of the dead, the daimones who might somehow impede the aims of those for whom the rituals are being performed. It is unlikely that the magoi themselves (or even clients for whom they might be performing rituals) are personally responsible for the deaths of these unhappy souls. Although the text is fragmentary and the context unclear, these revenging souls are generic, innumerable, not the specific victims of a particular crime for which an individual is taking responsibility and making atonement. The ποιναί take the form of ritual actions, sacrifices and libations accompanied with some form of sung prayers, since it is ultimately this enchanting song of the magoi that appeases and removes the impeding daimones.
The specific benefits of appeasing these spirits, other than to prevent them from impeding, is unclear, but parallels with other texts suggest some of the ends a practitioner might have in mind in presenting honors to the restless dead. A defixio from Olbia promises that the practitioner will honor the spirit and present a gift, if the spirit takes action against his legal opponents. The combination of honor and sacrifices made to the spirit of an unknown dead person show that this kind of recompense need not be made by someone who is in any way responsible for the spirit's condition. On the contrary, the ritual sets up a reciprocal relation between a spirit who wants honor from one of the living and a mortal who wants a favor from one of the spirits in the underworld.
Such favors need not be the direct and practical interventions characteristic of defixiones, binding and strangling the opponents in a lawsuit or tripping up the horses in a chariot race or the like. Just as the payment of ποιναί to the innumerable souls in the Derveni papyrus is performed by magoi to appease them, so too the ποιναί mentioned in the Gurob papyrus are likely to be intended to win the favor of Brimo, whose aid is invoked in the next line. The restoration of the lines is uncertain, but the reference to some sort of recompense immediately precedes the request that Brimo, probably here Persephone, preserve the one making the prayer.
Such preservation, to judge by the parallels in the Orphic Hymns and other prayers, is most likely to mean safety and good fortune in this world, but preservation from the perils of the afterlife is another possibility. The Homeric Hymn, after all, promises that those who have paid honor to Persephone Kore at Eleusis will obtain a happy lot in the afterlife, while the gold tablet found at Pherai, which claims the initiate need no longer pay a ποινή, promises that the deceased will go to the sacred meadow, perhaps a place for the blessed dead, like the seats of the blessed in the Thurii tablets. Pindar fr. 133 sets the rewards for appeasing Persephone not just in the afterlife but in the next life. Whereas the Eleusinian Mysteries of the Homeric Hymn bring first prosperity in life and then a good lot after death, the rites to which Pindar refers bring first a good lot after death, in a new life, and then an even better lot after death comes again. The Queen of the Dead sends back to the world of the living those who have paid the recompense for her ancient grief, and their new life is one of such honor and power that, after they die once more, they receive honor as blessed heroes. The particular benefit sought may vary in each instance of this pattern, but the basic idea of the honor to the underworld power providing benefits both before and after death remains the same.
A passage of Plato picks up on this same duality of purpose for such rituals, to provide benefits for the recipients while living as well as after they have died. In the Republic, Adeimantus complains to Socrates that the entire Greek religious tradition makes people prefer injustice.
τούτων δὲ πάντων οἱ περὶ θεῶν τε λόγοι καὶ ἀρετῆς θαυμασιώτατοι λέγονται, ὡς ἄρα καὶ θεοὶ πολλοῖς μὲν ἀγαθοῖς δυστυχίας τε καὶ βίον κακὸν ἔνειμαν, τοῖς δ' ἐναντίοις ἐναντίαν μοῖραν. ἀγύρται δὲ καὶ μάντεις ἐπὶ πλουσίων θύρας ἰόντες πείθουσιν ὡς ἔστι παρὰ σφίσι δύναμις ἐκ θεῶν ποριζομένη θυσίαις τε καὶ ἐπῳδαῖς, εἴτε τι ἀδίκημά του γέγονεν αὐτοῦ ἢ προγόνων, ἀκεῖσθαι μεθ' ἡδονῶν τε καὶ ἑορτῶν, ἐάν τέ τινα ἐχθρὸν πημῆναι ἐθέλῃ, μετὰ σμικρῶν δαπανῶν ὁμοίως δίκαιον ἀδίκῳ βλάψει ἐπαγωγαῖς τισιν καὶ καταδέσμοις, τοὺς θεούς, ὥς φασιν, πείθοντές σφισιν ὑπηρετεῖν. … βίβλων δὲ ὅμαδον παρέχονται Μουσαίου καὶ Ὀρφέως, Σελήνης τε καὶ Μουσῶν ἐκγόνων, ὥς φασι, καθ' ἃς θυηπολοῦσιν, πείθοντες οὐ μόνον ἰδιώτας ἀλλὰ καὶ πόλεις, ὡς ἄρα λύσεις τε καὶ καθαρμοὶ ἀδικημάτων διὰ θυσιῶν καὶ παιδιᾶς ἡδονῶν εἰσι μὲν ἔτι ζῶσιν, εἰσὶ δὲ καὶ τελευτήσασιν, ἃς δὴ τελετὰς καλοῦσιν, αἳ τῶν ἐκεῖ κακῶν ἀπολύουσιν ἡμᾶς, μὴ θύσαντας δὲ δεινὰ περιμένει.
But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the gods and virtue. They say that the gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he'll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. … And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, in accordance with which they perform their rituals. And they persuade not only individuals but whole cities that the unjust deeds can be absolved or purified through ritual sacrifices and pleasant games, whether for them still living or when they have died. These initiations, as they call them, free people from punishment hereafter, while a terrible fate awaits those who have not performed the rituals.
Pl. Rp. 2.364a–365b.
These purifications from unjust deeds bring benefits for those still living and those who have died, that is both before and after death. Plato engages in word play, claiming that the reason some of these rites are called τελετὰς is they are for the τελευτήσασιν, the dead, since they release us (ἡμᾶς) from the sufferings in the afterlife (there - ἐκεῖ). While this definition of τελεταί should never be taken as a transparent, simple description that proves that all such rituals had to do with the afterlife, Plato's word play confirms the double purpose of the rituals that appears in the other evidence.
This passage, however, raises other issues that are helpful for understanding the evidence. Adeimantus sneers at the beggar priests and prophets who go to the doors of the rich, and he claims that they convince not only individuals, but whole cities to perform their rituals. That both communities and individuals can perform the same sort of rites helps us understand the similarities between the communal festivals like the Anthesterian Aiora and the Eleusinian Mysteries and the individual rituals that appear in the Derveni papyrus and the gold tablets. The communal rituals had much more prestige, and their authority was accepted by the widespread community, while the individual practitioners had to vie to establish their authority with their clients, so for Plato to waive the question of legitimacy and authority and to lump all them together is highly tendentious. No doubt the conflicting stories about such figures as Epimenides and his purification of Athens from the murder of the followers of Kylon help Plato blur the differences between the rites of mendicant beggar priests and rituals long sanctioned by the traditions of the community. Nevertheless, in order to make his point about the superiority of philosophy to all these other practices, he manipulates the parallels of form and purpose between the communal and the individual rites. They all involve libations and sacrifices, singing and dancing, pleasures and play, and they all are designed to purify the participants and to win the assistance of the gods.
Plato's description of the purpose of these rituals raises yet a third distinction that is helpful for understanding the evidence, that between the rites of aversion and those of appeasement. In some sense, this is merely a temporal distinction, deflecting the anger of the divine power either before it occurs or afterwards. Rites of appeasement are made when the divine anger has already manifested itself, in plague or famine or a frenzy that impels maidens to suicide. Rites of aversion, on the other hand, are designed to prevent these bad effects from occurring by keeping the divine power happy and satisfied rather than angry. In some cases, this assumes a situation of what Redfield calls "normal danger", where there is a divine power that is always potentially angry and dangerous who can be kept from inflicting harm by a regular set of religious practices. The Anthesterian Aiora, the Agriania, the Caryatis, and such festivals all fall into this category of rites of aversion that are said to have grown into regular practice from a ritual of appeasement in a particular crisis. The category includes not only public and communal rites, but the whole spectrum of public to private, communal to individual. Some such rites might come at particular moments, such as the proteleia sacrifices to Iphinoë or the Delian maidens, made to avert problems as a maiden embarks on the transition to marriage. The rites described in the Derveni papyrus that involve placating the impeding daimones likewise are designed to solve the potential problem before it occurs, to win the favor of the powerful spirits rather than risk their hostility. The Olbia defixio, like the katadesmoi mentioned in Plato, also serves to win the favor of the spirit and avert his anger to the enemies of the individual performing the ritual. 
A ποινή like that offered to the impeding daimones in the Derveni papyrus or to Persephone in the Pindar fragment serves to appease the potentially hostile power, offering recompense to one who has suffered and providing honors that recognize the extraordinary experiences. Once the community or the individual is already in the grip of the divine anger, however, λύσις is needed to free the victim from the effects of that anger; καθαρμός is required to remove the miasma that infects the community or the individual. The λύσεις τε καὶ καθαρμοὶ Plato mentions are therefore, under the distinction I have been drawing, rites of appeasement. They work after the the anger has already come, rather than serving to avert it beforehand. Whereas the ποινή is offered directly to the potentially hostile power, these λύσεις τε καὶ καθαρμοὶ often seem to require the intervention of another divinity to break the grip of the divine anger once it has set in, whether that anger manifests itself as plague or famine or madness, the pursuit of the Furies or the appearance of a monster that wreaks havoc on the community.
There were a number of deities whose epithets attest to their power in this regard, and Plato makes reference to the shrines of the apotropaic deities whose aid should be sought by someone who is impelled to criminal activity by the Furies brought on by some ancient source of anger. But while Zeus or Athena might serve this function, the primary deity associated with purification and release is of course Dionysos Lyseus. Damascius preserves lines from an Orphic poem that praises Dionysos for his power to release mortals from the pains they suffer because of the deeds of their ancestors.
ια. Ὅτι ὁ Διόνυσος λύσεώς ἐστιν αἴτιος· διὸ καὶ Λυσεὺς ὁ θεός, καὶ ὁ Ὀρφεύς φησιν · | ‘ἄνθρωποι δὲ τεληέσσας ἑκατόμβας | πέμψουσιν πάσῃσιν ἐν ὥραις ἀμφιέτῃσιν | ὄργιά τ’ ἐκτελέσουσι λύσιν προγόνων ἀθεμίστων | μαιόμενοι· σὺ δὲ τοῖσιν ἔχων κράτος, οὕς κε θέλῃσθα | λύσεις ἔκ τε πόνων χαλεπῶν καὶ ἀπείρονος οἴστρου’.
Dionysos is the cause of release, whence the god is also called the Releaser (Lyseus). And Orpheus says: "Men performing rituals will send hekatombs in every season throughout the year and celebrate festivals, seeking release from lawless ancestors. You, having power over them, whomever you wish you will release from harsh toil and the unending goad."
(Damascius, In Phaed. 1.11 = OF 232K = 350B)
Iamblichos claims that Sabazios handles the same sort of divine angers persisting from ancient times with bacchic rites of purification and release. The locus classicus for such rites is of course Plato's Phaedrus, where the madness of Dionysos provides release for those troubled by ancient crimes. Dionysos thus plays a complementary role in the process of relieving the victim of divine angers; he is not himself the one who needs to be appeased, but his disruptive madness can provide the way for the victim to make the necessary atonements. Bacchic ecstasy can purge away the miasma, the stain of divine disfavor that clings to a whole community or family line for generations, and allow a positive relationship to be established with the once hostile power.
In this light, we can reconsider the presence of Dionysos in so many of the death and the maiden myths, in which the maiden's passage to adulthood is disrupted. Although it is often suggested that, for example, the presence of the Dionysiac Melampous is a later contamination of the Proetid story, a Dionysiac element may be an integral part of the whole process of the disruption and restitution of order that takes place in these stories. Rather than a contamination of an earlier pattern, stemming from an imagined later invasion of Dionysiac religion into Greece, the presence of Dionysos is one readily available possibility in the pattern, one of the traditional elements available to the bricoleur. In dealing with the social disruption caused by maidens' transitions, Dionysos was always one way of expressing the overturning of the social order, especially for portraying it as an invasion from outside. Other ways of portraying the disruption certainly existed, and such different bricolages are often found in the stories that make use of the pattern, but the presence of Dionysos is a piece that fits well into the pattern whenever needed. The disruptive and purificatory ecstasy of Bacchic frenzy complements the appeasement of the hostile spirit, who, after the Dionysiac disruption of the social order, becomes willing to accept recompense for her sufferings and cease to vent her anger upon the community.
The gold tablets from Pelinna provide the perfect illustration of this kind of complementarity. "Tell Persephone that Bacchios himself has released you," the deceased is instructed, showing that the purifications of Dionysos are the prerequisite for winning favor with the Queen of the Underworld. Dionysos' power need not be explained by imagining that Persephone was thought of as Dionysos' mother in this text; the relation between Lyseus and the aggrieved maiden (Kore) could be imagined in many ways in different tales, as lovers like Erigone or Ariadne, as siblings (Roman Liber and Libera), or as mother and son, as with Semele whom Dionysos releases from Hades and brings to Olympus as a goddess. Each choice has its significance in the different myths (and the varying versions thereof), but the basic pattern of complementarity provides the background on which the variations are made.
The distinction between purificatory appeasement rituals and rituals of aversion that provide recompense is, of course, not always clear cut; the complementary rituals can overlap and blend in particular situations. Theophrastus shows how these two types of ritual can overlap in his caricature of the superstitious man, who takes even small occurrences as omens of an offended deity and sees the need to purify himself after all sorts of things.
ὁ δὲ δεισιδαίμων τοιοῦτός τις, οἷος ἀπὸ τριῶν κρηνῶν ἀπονιψάμενος τὰς χεῖρας καὶ περιρρανάμενος ἀπὸ ἱεροῦ δάφνην εἰς τὸ στόμα λαβὼν οὕτω τὴν ἡμέραν περιπατεῖν. καὶ τὴν ὁδὸν ἐὰν ὑπερδράμῃ γαλῆ, μὴ πρότερον πορευθῆναι, ἕως διεξέλθῃ τις ἢ λίθους τρεῖς ὑπὲρ τῆς ὁδοῦ διαβάλῃ. … καὶ ἐὰν μῦς θύλακον ἀλφίτων διαφάγῃ, πρὸς τὸν ἐξηγητὴν ἐλθὼν ἐρωτᾶν, τί χρὴ ποιεῖν, καὶ ἐὰν ἀποκρίνηται αὐτῷ ἐκδοῦναι τῷ σκυτοδέψῃ ἐπιρράψαι, μὴ προσέχειν τούτοις, ἀλλ’ ἀποτροπαίοις ἐκθύσασθαι. καὶ πυκνὰ δὲ τὴν οἰκίαν καθᾶραι δεινὸς, Ἑκάτης φάσκων ἐπαγωγὴν γεγονέναι. … καὶ οὔτε ἐπιβῆναι μνήματι οὔτ’ ἐπὶ νεκρὸν οὔτ’ ἐπὶ λεχὼ ἐλθεῖν ἐθελῆσαι, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὴ μιαίνεσθαι συμφέρον αὑτῷ φῆσαι εἶναι. … καὶ ὅταν ἐνύπνιον ἴδῃ, πορεύεσθαι πρὸς τοὺς ὀνειροκρίτας, πρὸς τοὺς μάντεις, πρὸς τοὺς ὀρνιθοσκόπους, ἐρωτήσων, τίνι θεῶν—ἢ θεᾷ— προσεύχεσθαι δεῖ. καὶ τελεσθησόμενος πρὸς τοὺς Ὀρφεοτελεστὰς κατὰ μῆνα πορεύεσθαι μετὰ τῆς γυναικός—ἐὰν δὲ μὴ σχολάζῃ ἡ γυνή, μετὰ τῆς τίτθης—καὶ τῶν παιδίων.
The Superstitious Man is the kind who washes his hands in three springs, sprinkles himself with water from a temple font, puts a laurel leaf in his mouth, and then is ready for the day's perambulations. If a weasel runs across his path he will not proceed on his journey until someone else has covered the ground or he has thrown three stones over the road. … If a mouse nibbles through a bag of barley, he goes to the expounder of sacred law and asks what he should do; and if the answer is that he should give it to the tanner to sew up he disregards the advice and performs an apotropaic sacrifice. He is apt to purify his house frequently, claiming it is haunted by Hekate. … He refuses to step on a tombstone or go near a dead body or a woman in childbirth, saying that he cannot afford to risk contamination. … When he has a dream he visits not only dream-analysts but also seers and bird-watchers to ask which god or goddess he should pray to. He makes a monthly visit to the Orphic ritualists to take the sacrament, accompanied by his wife (or if she is busy, the nurse) and his children.
Theophrastus Characters 16.2-3, 6-7, 9, 11-12. 
Theophrastus' Deisidaimon provides a negative picture of a person obsessed with these rituals, endless aversion rituals to ward off any possible harm as well as endless purification rituals, just in case some impurity was incurred. The superstitious man not only seeks to avoid any impurity or offense himself, but he takes precautions against suffering the consequences of any taint that might come from others he is associated with.
While the caricature represents the view of a disapproving observer, this same concern with purification and appeasement appears as a more positive self-presentation in the gold tablet from Thurii. Not only does the deceased come pure and from the pure, but she has established a special relation with Persephone and has offered the ποινή in recompense for the unjust deeds. The key to the deceased winning a favorable afterlife lies precisely in these two concerns, and her attention to purity and to establishing her relations with Persephone are what distinguish her from all the other dead who appear before the Queen of the Dead. Rather than being tokens of initiation into a secret society that shares the secret of sin and salvation, these tablets reflect, in a positive portrayal, the same hyperbolic concern with purity and a special favor from the gods won by special sacrifices that Theophrastus mocks.
As I have argued elsewhere, this ambivalence in the evidence, this mix of positive and negative evaluations of the same extra-ordinary concerns with purity and special relations with the gods is characteristic of the evidence for the ancient idea of Orphism. Theophrastus depicts his Deisidaimon as making regular visits to the Orpheotelest, just as Euripides depicts his Theseus linking his son's obsessive and hypocritical concerns about purity with Orpheus and his books, while Plato represents the Orphic life as one of primordial purity and closeness to the gods, without any violence or blood sacrifice. It is this extra-ordinary level of concern with purity and appeasement of the powers of the underworld that characterizes the evidence labeled Orphic in the ancient sources, not any central nucleus of dogmas about the origins of human sin and suffering.
The ancient grief of Persephone and the ποινή she accepts for it in Pindar fr. 133 thus do provide a way of understanding the religious context of the gold tablets from Thurii that mention Persephone and ποινή, even if not the same way that Rose proposed. Persephone's πενθός is not her anguish at the murder of her son, but the suffering she experienced from her traumatic rape by Hades, the disruption of her maiden's passage to womanhood that ended in the realm of the dead. Similar unhappy experiences, trials and tribulations, also beset figures such as Semele and Ino, Cyrene and Ariadne, Erigone and Iphinoë, but they too all end up with a recompense in the form of honors paid to them by others. This ποινή is never paid by the one who caused the disruption - the guilty party, as we might see it, in the story. Rather, this recompense, in the form of rituals, sacrifices and choruses, is performed by mortals who wish to win the favor of the afflicted one and to avert her anger from themselves onto others. The gold tablets make use of this familiar pattern, not for a regular, civic ritual, but for an extra-ordinary and personal one, marking the deceased as an exceptional person who deserves extra-ordinary favor from the Queen of the Dead. Understanding the religious context, both the familiar patterns of myth and ritual and the way they are manipulated in the tablets, provides a better understanding of the tablets, a vision no longer obscured by the mirage of an Orphic myth of Zagreus and its dogma of original sin.
That Old Titanic Nature
Another of the best known and most persistently cited pieces of evidence for the supposed "Orphic" doctrine of original sin embodied in the Zagreus myth is the reference to the "Titanic nature" in Plato Laws 701bc (Τιτανικὴν φύσιν). Taken out of the context of the Platonic argument, this reference has been read as an irrefutable indication that the whole myth of humans' creation from the Titans who murdered Dionysos was known to Plato. However, by examining the reference, not as a fragment of Orphic doctrine, but as part of Plato's illustration of his speaker's point, I show that it is clearly a reference, not to the secret tale of the murder of Zagreus, but rather to the well-known story of the Titans' rebellion against the gods. The referent of Plato's allusion was recognized by Cicero, but Bernabé has recently revived arguments for reading this passage in the context of Olympiodorus' dual nature of mankind. Bernabé attempts to defend his rereading of Laws 701bc by pairing it with another passage from the Laws, 854ac, and claiming that the two passages can only be seen as referring to the same Orphic idea. Both of these texts must be replaced in their proper contexts, and the strands of myth they employ must be seen in their proper place in the Greek mythic tradition. The first belongs to the myths of the rebellion against the gods by the Titans and Giants, which resulted in pitched battles before the gods restored order to the cosmos by defeating their foes. The second evokes the familiar idea of the Erinyes driving to madness and new crimes someone whose inheritance includes crimes that have not yet been expiated.
Plato alludes to the Titanic nature in the Athenian Stranger's discussion of the problems of a city that, like democratic Athens, allows too much license to its citizens. He describes a slippery slope, starting with those who disregard the rules of musical composition (playing off the double sense of νόμος as musical tune and law) and ending with a complete breakdown of societal order, in which no rules are respected at all.
ἐφεξῆς δὴ ταύτῃ τῇ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἡ τοῦ μὴ ἐθέλειν τοῖς ἄρχουσι δουλεύειν γίγνοιτ' ἄν, καὶ ἑπομένη ταύτῃ φεύγειν πατρὸς καὶ μητρὸς καὶ πρεσβυτέρων δουλείαν καὶ νομοθέτησιν, καὶ ἐγγὺς τοῦ τέλους οὖσιν νόμων ζητεῖν μὴ ὑπηκόοις εἶναι, πρὸς αὐτῷ δὲ ἤδη τῷ τέλει ὅρκων καὶ πίστεων καὶ τὸ παράπαν θεῶν μὴ φροντίζειν, τὴν λεγομένην παλαιὰν Τιτανικὴν φύσιν ἐπιδεικνῦσι καὶ μιμουμένοις, ἐπὶ τὰ αὐτὰ πάλιν ἐκεῖνα ἀφικομένους, χαλεπὸν αἰῶνα διάγοντας μὴ λῆξαί ποτε κακῶν.
Next on this path to liberty would be the wish not to submit to the rulers; and, following this, to flee the service and authority of father and mother and the elders; and, near the end, to seek not to obey the laws, and, at the end itself, to pay no mind to oaths and promises and the entirety of the gods, displaying and imitating the fabled ancient Titanic nature, they return to the same things, experiencing a savage time, never to cease from evils.
(Plato, Laws iii, 701bc = OF 9K = 37iB)
Bernabé claims that Plato must here be referring to the Orphic doctrine of the Titanic heritage of mankind, the predisposition to evil inherited from the Titan ancestors who murdered Dionysos. He argues that the way Plato refers to this Titanic nature as an ancient story is in keeping with the the way Plato refers to Orphic material throughout his works, and that the idea must therefore come from an Orphic text. Moreover, he claims that, in order to display a Titanic nature (Τιτανικὴν φύσιν ἐπιδεικνῦσι), humans must have it innately, which requires the anthropogony found in Olympiodorus. According to his interpretation of this 6th century Neoplatonist's version of the myth, humans have a double nature, Dionysiac and Titanic, since they are created from the ashes of the Titans who ate the dismembered Dionysos. The lawless ones in the Platonic passage have abandoned their Dionysiac side and given themselves wholly over to the dark side, their Titanic heritage.
For these reasons, Bernabé rejects the argument of Linforth that Plato describes these lawless ones as behaving like the Titans rather than displaying their inherent Titanic heritage, but even he admits that the text itself poses problems for his interpretation. For the lawless do not just display, but they display and imitate the fabled ancient Titanic nature (τὴν λεγομένην παλαιὰν Τιτανικὴν φύσιν ἐπιδεικνῦσι καὶ μιμουμένοις), and, as Linforth argued, the word 'imitate' implies that the lawless do not already have the Titanic nature inherently but rather are imitating the legendary Titans.
To resolve the apparent dilemma of imitating what one already has or displaying what one does not, one need only think of actors or other performers who, in their displays in the theater, imitate the natures of various personas from myth. Plato indeed speaks elsewhere of the corrupting effect that such imitations and displays might have on the souls of those who engage in them; imitation of evil leads to further wickedness, as in the slippery slope of his argument in the Laws. To display the nature of the legendary Titans while imitating their behavior does not imply an innate character, an inherited stain, or even a predisposition to sin caused by the original crime of Titanic ancestors. On the contrary, Plato, as he so often does, is illustrating his point by allusion to a traditional myth, enriching his argument with all the associations that the tale evokes in his audience without needing to recount the tale in full.
But what tale would Plato's audience have recognized in this allusion? Bernabé insists that it must be an Orphic myth, since the formula τὴν λεγομένην παλαιὰν resembles the way Plato refers to other Orphica. Plato does indeed use such tags to refer to Orphic texts, but he also uses such phrases to refer to mythic tales that are not, by any stretch of the imagination, Orphic. For example, in the Statesman, the interlocutors discuss τὰ παλαὶ λεχθέντα, ancient tales, with specific reference to three stories, the quarrel of Atreus and Thyestes, the reign of Kronos, and the birth of warriors from the earth. Tales told long ago, τὰ παλαὶ λεχθέντα, is a natural way of referring, not just to tales attributed to Orpheus, but to any and all tales familiar from the Greek mythic tradition. Such designations do signal that Plato is alluding to a traditional myth he expects his audience to be familiar with, but we cannot limit such a reference to myths that are imagined to be exclusively or even primarily Orphic in origin.
In fact, we can be quite certain what ancient audiences would have understood by Plato's reference, because we have the testimony of Cicero, who refers to this passage in his own Laws. "In truth, our Plato makes them of the kind of the Titans, those who rebel against the magistrates, in the same way as the Titans did against the gods." noster vero Plato Titanum e genere statuit eos, qui, ut illi caelestibus, sic hi adversentur magistratibus. Cicero sees the parallel set up in the Platonic passage between the lawless ones who think themselves beyond any rules or governors and the ancient Titans who thought themselves beyond the control of the gods. And, just as the revolt of the Titans in the Titanomachy led to miserable defeat and punishment, so too the lawless will end up in the same sort of condition as the Titans, experiencing a harsh and savage time as a result of their anarchic behavior and never escaping from the evils they have brought upon themselves. Cicero was assuredly familiar with more Orphic material than survives to us today, so an allusion to an Orphic myth of the Titans' murder of Dionysos and mankind's heritage would not have escaped him, had it been at all recognizable.
Bernabé, however, claims that Plato is deliberately making an obscure reference. "Mon impression est en effet qu'ici Platon a délibérément choisi d'être peu clair, parce qu'il ne partage que partiellement les croyances qu'il recueille." That is, Plato must be making an obscure reference to the Zagreus story instead of a clear reference to the Titanomachy because he was not really a believer in the secret Orphic doctrine, but nevertheless wanted to use the idea of an inherited stain from the Titans to make his point. However, the allusion to the Titanomachy illustrates Plato's point better than an allusion to the Zagreus story could, and it is difficult to see why Plato would deliberately make a muddled argument in this situation.
Bernabé tries to bolster his interpretation of Laws 701bc by citing another passage from the Laws, which he claims also alludes to the Zagreus myth. At Laws 854ac, the Athenian Stranger describes the mythic preamble that should precede the law against temple robbery, in accordance with the previously agreed principle that each of the laws of this new state the interlocutors are planning should be preceded by a preamble that expresses in the terms of traditional myths the ideas embodied in the law.
προοίμια δὲ τούτοισι, κατὰ τὸν ἔμπροσθεν λόγον ὁμολογηθέντα, προρρητέον ἅπασιν ὡς βραχύτατα. λέγοι δή τις ἂν ἐκείνῳ διαλεγόμενος ἅμα καὶ παραμυθούμενος, ὃν ἐπιθυμία κακὴ παρακαλοῦσα μεθ' ἡμέραν τε καὶ ἐπεγείρουσα νύκτωρ ἐπί τι τῶν ἱερῶν ἄγει συλήσοντα, τάδε· ὦ θαυμάσιε, οὐκ ἀνθρώπινόν σε κακὸν οὐδὲ θεῖον κινεῖ τὸ νῦν ἐπὶ τὴν ἱεροσυλίαν προτρέπον ἰέναι, οἶστρος δέ σέ τις ἐμφυόμενος ἐκ παλαιῶν καὶ ἀκαθάρτων τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἀδικημάτων, περιφερόμενος ἀλιτηριώδης, ὃν εὐλαβεῖσθαι χρεὼν παντὶ σθένει· τίς δ' ἐστὶν εὐλάβεια, μαθέ. ὅταν σοι προσπίπτῃ τι τῶν τοιούτων δογμάτων, ἴθι ἐπὶ τὰς ἀποδιοπομπήσεις, ἴθι ἐπὶ θεῶν ἀποτροπαίων ἱερὰ ἱκέτης, ἴθι ἐπὶ τὰς τῶν λεγομένων ἀνδρῶν ὑμῖν ἀγαθῶν συνουσίας, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄκουε, τὰ δὲ πειρῶ λέγειν αὐτός, ὡς δεῖ τὰ καλὰ καὶ τὰ δίκαια πάντα ἄνδρα τιμᾶν· τὰς δὲ τῶν κακῶν συνουσίας φεῦγε ἀμεταστρεπτί. καὶ ἐὰν μέν σοι δρῶντι ταῦτα λωφᾷ τι τὸ νόσημα· εἰ δὲ μή, καλλίω θάνατον σκεψάμενος ἀπαλλάττου τοῦ βίου.
And, in accordance with our rule as already approved, we must prefix to all such laws preludes as brief as possible. By way of argument and admonition one might address in the following terms the man whom an evil desire urges by day and wakes up at night, driving him to rob some sacred object-- "My good man, the evil force that now moves you and prompts you to go temple-robbing is neither of human origin nor of divine, but it is some impulse bred of old in men from ancient wrongs unexpiated, which courses round wreaking ruin; and it you must guard against with all your strength. How you must thus guard, now learn. When there comes upon you any such intention, betake yourself to the rites of guilt-averting, betake yourself as suppliant to the shrines of the curse-lifting deities, betake yourself to the company of the men who are reputed virtuous; and thus learn, partly from others, partly by self-instruction, that every man is bound to honor what is noble and just; but the company of evil men shun wholly, and turn not back. And if it be so that by thus acting your disease grows less, well; but if not, then deem death the more noble way, and quit yourself of life."
(Plato, Laws 854ac = OF 37iiB)
This preamble describes how the impulse to commit such a crime stems from ancient and unexpiated injustices and, in keeping with a pattern found throughout the Laws of blending traditional religion with philosophical innovation, states that the best way to resist the impulse is to couple traditional ritual purifications with philosophic training through the observation of good men. As with the previous passage, Bernabé claims that Plato's way of introducing the allusion, λέγοι δή τις ἂν, signals that the myth must be Orphic, an uncommon idea rather than a well-known one. "Il ne s'agit de donc pas de quelque chose d'universellement accepté, mais de la doctrine de quelques-uns." The context of the passage, however, makes it clear that the indefinite speaker is a hypothetical lawgiver speaking to a hypothetical and potential criminal. Moreover, the mythic preamble, far from being an esoteric doctrine, is deliberately designed to be a familiar and recognizable myth, an idea that will be persuasive from its mere familiarity.
In this case, the familiar mythic idea is the Erinyes or other agents of the gods who drive men to terrible acts because of unexpiated crimes in the past. In his 1829 commentary on the passage, Lobeck already noted this as a well known idea in Greek religious thought. While the generation by generation sequence of crimes in the house of Atreus is perhaps the best known example, the idea that the punishment could skip generations was not unknown, either. Pausanias relates that the wrath (μήνιμα) of the Furies of Laius and Oedipus fell not on Tisamenus, son of Tersander, son of Polyneices, who became king of Thebes after the Trojan War, but on his son, Autesion. Autesion was removed from the city at the advice of an oracle, presumably after some disaster struck. In Athens, not every Alcmaionid was thought to be driven by the Furies taking vengeance for the slaughter of the followers of Cylon, but the consequences of that stain were surely brought into political discourse at various moments in history when an Alcmaionid leader (Pericles and Alcibiades spring to mind) was attempting to pursue a policy deemed ruinous by his political opponents.
Bernabé claims that the description of the impulse to criminality, the οἶστρος, as neither divine nor human means that it must be Titanic, but the Erinyes would equally fall into this sort of middle category as inhuman servants of the gods. Platonists, starting from the definition in the Symposium (203a), refer to such an intermediary as daimonic, partaking in neither the limitations of humanity nor the perfection of the gods. Plato is unwilling to admit that the perfect gods could ever be directly responsible for wrongdoing, and the category of the daimonic becomes a convenient way to explain the traditional tales in which humans seem provoked by the gods to commit crimes. The impulse to a crime as dreadful as sacrilege or temple robbery, on the other hand, seems unlikely to come from the mere ignorance and greed of fallible humans, especially in a state as well-ordered as the one the interlocutors are putting together; some outside force must be driving these people to defy the gods and thus bring about their ruin. The Furies are just one of the mythological entities that could personify these agents of the gods, and it is worth noting that the indefinite οἶστρος expresses well the vacillation in the tradition between a personification, like the Erinyes, and a more abstract miasma or stain that arises from the same sort of crime and has the same effect on the community.
While Bernabé is surely correct to see the same idea of an οἶστρος at work in this passage and the Orphic verses preserved in Damascius, which also discuss release through rites from an οἶστρος that stems from unexpiated ancestral crimes, in neither passage is there any indication that these ancestors are Titans. Once again, the idea of such expiation performed by later generations for crimes, known or unknown, specified or unspecified, committed by members of the family who lived earlier, is a widespread and familiar theme, nor is Dionysos Lyseus the only god to whom such rituals might be performed, as the reference in Plato's Laws to the shrines of the apotropaic deities confirms.
Bernabé attempts to limit the scope of the reference, however, by citing Dodds' note that the crimes for which one is paying are usually thought to be crimes committed by oneself in a previous incarnation; hence, humans are paying for the crimes of the Titans, with whom they are identified. Even Dodds, however, although he proposes the reading Bernabé adopts of this Platonic passage, does no more than claim that the idea of reincarnation creates a more philosophically satisfying solution to the problem of theodicy than other ideas of inherited guilt or post-mortem punishment. Every reference to inherited guilt does not imply a theory of reincarnation, and there is no evidence in either the Platonic passage or the Orphic reference in Damascius that such a theory of paying for the crimes of a previous incarnation is involved. Indeed, the reference in the Orphic verses to the forebears (προγόνοι) seems to suggest a focus on the genetic rather than metempsychotic connection between the criminals and punished. Moreover, even the evidence that does make a genetic link between the Titans and humanity (on which more below) never suggests that all human beings are actually reincarnations of the small band of Titans (in some versions, seven in number) who murdered Dionysos.
Despite, then, the claim that these two passages from the Laws can only be understood in terms of a single mythic paradigm that stems from the Orphic myth of Zagreus, these two passages from the Laws are in fact easily explicable in terms of myths well-known in the Greek mythological tradition, the tales of the Titanomachy and the Furies that were recognizable in a variety of forms from a variety of sources to Plato's audience. In each passage, the well-known referent makes better sense in the context of Plato's argument than would the imagined reference to an esoteric Orphic doctrine. The threads of the punishment of the Titans and the problems of inherited guilt that scholars have tried to weave into the Zagreus myth belong instead to other aspects of the ancient Greek religious and mythological tradition. Rather than hunting for Orphic influences and excerpting fragments out of context to recreate a lost esoteric doctrine, we must consider Plato's references in the context of the arguments he is presenting to his audience. By such a method, we can gain a better appreciation of the ways in which Plato manipulates the mythic tradition of his society, reworking familiar and traditional tales and elements to suit his philosophic purposes.
Misreading the Eating
Plutarch's allusion to the Titans' dismemberment and cannibalism of Dionysos in his essay On the Eating of Flesh is another key thread used in the fabrication of the supposed Orphic doctrine of original sin, another strand that must be replaced into its proper context within Greek religious thought. Clarifying and developing the arguments of previous scholars, Bernabé reads this passage as clear proof that Plutarch knew a myth in which the Titans, after their murder and dismemberment of Dionysos, were punished by incarnation in human form, a version of the anthropogony. This interpretation, however, depends on the decontextualization of Plutarch's reference and the misreading of the allegorical interpretation that Plutarch is making of the myth. Plutarch is not using the myth to explain why humans first entered the cycle of reincarnations, to reveal the esoteric origin of humankind; rather, he cites the myth to bolster the credibility of the argument he has been making about the perils of eating flesh. The myth proves, for Plutarch, that his vegetarian ideal is not a bizarre, new-fangled idea, but something hallowed by tradition, an idea that was even encoded in allegorical fashion into ancient myth. However, by mixing up the vehicle of the allegory Plutarch presents with its tenor, scholars have misread the passage as evidence that the myth of the Titans' dismemberment of Dionysos concluded with their reincarnation into human forms. It is impossible to disprove that some other, hypothetical, no longer extant text might have related the tale in such a way, but Plutarch's text cannot be used as evidence for the existence of such a missing myth.
Plutarch's two discourses on the eating of flesh survive only in incomplete form, excerpts perhaps from lectures that were included in the collections made of Plutarch's writings in late antiquity. In the first discourse, Plutarch sketches a scenario for the development of meat-eating among humans, starting from the first savage killings in desperate hunger to the decadent and cruel butcheries of luxury loving moderns, who slaughter animals merely to gratify their bloodlust and titillate their palates. Plutarch carries out his argument along several lines. First, the eating of meat is bad for the body. Humans were not fashioned to be carnivores, and excess meat causes digestive difficulties (995ad). Secondly, the eating of meat makes the body a burden on the soul, clouding its natural brilliance (995f-996a). "In just the same way, then, when the body is turbulent and surfeited and burdened with improper food, the lustre and light of the soul inevitably come through it blurred and confused, aberrant and inconstant, since the soul lacks the brilliance and intensity to penetrate to the minute and obscure issues of natural life." Thirdly, the training of the soul to treat all animals with respect will naturally make the person more virtuous toward human beings as well. (996ab) Plutarch then moves to the principle underlying his arguments (ἀρχὴ τοῦ δόγματος), mentioning his hesitation in the face of the peculiarity of the idea of reincarnation, but citing Plato and then Empedokles to give his ideas credibility. The first fragment ends with the passage under discussion:
οὐ χεῖρον δ' ἴσως καὶ προανακρούσασθαι καὶ προαναφωνῆσαι τὰ τοῦ Ἐμπεδοκλέους· (...) ἀλληγορεῖ γὰρ ἐνταῦθα τὰς ψυχάς, ὅτι φόνων καὶ βρώσεως σαρκῶν καὶ ἀλληλοφαγίας δίκην τίνουσαι σώμασι θνητοῖς ἐνδέδενται. καίτοι δοκεῖ παλαιότερος οὗτος ὁ λόγος εἶναι· τὰ γὰρ δὴ περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον μεμυθευμένα πάθη τοῦ διαμελισμοῦ καὶ τὰ Τιτάνων ἐπ' αὐτὸν τολμήματα, κολάσεις τε τούτων καὶ κεραυνώσεις γευσαμένων τοῦ φόνου, ᾐνιγμένος ἐστὶ μῦθος εἰς τὴν παλιγγενεσίαν· τὸ γὰρ ἐν ἡμῖν ἄλογον καὶ ἄτακτον καὶ βίαιον οὐ θεῖον ἀλλὰ δαιμονικὸν οἱ παλαιοὶ Τιτᾶνας ὠνόμασαν, καὶ τοῦτ' ἔστι κολαζομένου καὶ δίκην διδόντος.
It would perhaps not be wrong to begin and quote lines of Empedokles as a preface (…) For here he says allegorically that souls, paying the penalty for murders and the eating of flesh and cannibalism, are imprisoned in mortal bodies. However, it seems that this account is even older, for the legendary suffering of dismemberment told about Dionysos and the outrages of the Titans on him, and their punishment and their being blasted with lightning after having tasted of the blood, this is all a myth, in its hidden inner meaning, about reincarnation. For that in us which is irrational and disorderly and violent and not divine but demonic, the ancients used the name 'Titans', and this pertains to one being punished and paying the penalty.
(Plutarch - De Esu Carn. i. 996b-c = OF 210K = 318B)
Because the treatise breaks off here, it is difficult to follow Plutarch's argument clearly, especially since the manuscripts do not, in fact, preserve the quotation from Empedokles that Plutarch promises. Nevertheless, Plutarch has laid out his ideas clearly enough that the underlying principle is evident: the eating of meat impairs the soul, depriving it of divine light, which leads to further crimes of blood, murder and warfare, all of which further pervert the soul. Plutarch introduces Empedokles to show the ultimate consequence of the soul's unhealthy relation to the body, reincarnation. Plato, in the Phaedo (81e), also makes reincarnation the result of a soul's failing to separate itself from its desire for the body and its pleasures, and Plutarch is elaborating the Platonic argument with specific reference to the lust for blood and the pleasures of eating flesh.
Plutarch describes Empedokles as allegorizing, concealing his meaning within a story that, on its surface, has a different sense. The story, the vehicle of Empedokles' allegory, is clearly the tale of the daimon who for a crime of bloodshed or oath-breaking is exiled from heaven and imprisoned in an alien body. The allegorical meaning, the tenor, of this story of Empedokles is that the souls of those who eat meat will undergo reincarnation; the souls correspond to the daimon in the myth, the eating of meat to the crime of bloodshed, and the rebirth in human or animal bodies to the imprisonment of the daimon in mortal form. Empedokles' point in his allegorical tale is therefore the same as that which Plutarch has been making in his argument, even if he uses a different form of expression.
Plutarch then goes further to support his arguments, claiming that not only does Empedokles agree with him, but this message is enshrined in ancient myth as well. The λόγος (here meaning the reasoned account as opposed to the traditional narrative, μῦθος) that souls of those who succumb to the lust to eat meat may suffer reincarnation is actually the meaning, Plutarch claims, of the myth of the Titans' dismemberment of Dionysos. The correspondences between vehicle and tenor are again clear: the Titans represent the undisciplined element that impels a person to indulge in pleasures of the flesh and to commit crimes of violence; Dionysos is a living creature who is the victim of a bloody crime; the Titans' murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism corresponds to the slaughter, butchery, and eating of an animal; the punishment of the Titans who are blasted with lightning represents the effects of meat-eating on the individual, who is not only made physically uncomfortable by his excesses, but who is also chained to the body both in this life and in subsequent reincarnations. The correspondences show, for Plutarch, that his argument is supported by the authority of the mythic tradition, since the meaning was enigmatically expressed in the ancient myth.
These correspondences in the allegory, however, should not be taken as identifying the parts of the tenor and vehicle, which is how the passage has often been read. Just as Dionysos is not actually an animal who is butchered to provide food, so too the Titans are not actually the undisciplined element in human beings, nor is the punishment of the Titans by lightning bolt (and perhaps Tartarosis) actually the same as reincarnation. Bernabé argues that Plutarch does not see the myth as an allegory, but rather that Plutarch claims to be making his own allegorical interpretation, an interpretation limited to his etymologizing of the name Titan in the myth. The text, however, clearly shows that it is the myth, not Plutarch, that is the source of the allegorical meaning (ᾐνιγμένος ἐστὶ μῦθος), since Plutarch never claims to be making a new symbolic interpretation of his own, but rather to be explicating the meaning that is already there.
Indeed, it would be strange if Plutarch had claimed otherwise, since the practice of ancient allegory always claimed that the meaning was inherent in the myth, whether it was put there by a sublimely wise poet (like Homer or Orpheus) or whether it was put there by the sublimely wise ancients who first composed the tale that was later corrupted and obscured by later poets (like Homer or Orpheus). Plutarch's own practice of allegory shows that he consistently attributes the meaning to the mythmaker (whether a specific poet or unnamed ancients) and that he always maintains the distinction between the narrative of the myth (the vehicle) and its enigmatic meaning (tenor). While Plutarch uses words like ᾐνιγμένος and αἰνίττονται in a variety of circumstances to refer to puzzles that must be explained, from oracles to riddles to metaphors, the most complex kind of αἴνιγμα is a traditional mythic narrative that requires interpretation to bring out the hidden meaning concealed beneath the explicit text. A few examples should be sufficient to illustrate the point.
In his treatise on Isis and Osiris (366c), Plutarch relates the tale that the goddess Nepthys was barren after her marriage with Typhon but produced a child after her adultery with Osiris. Now, since a goddess cannot really be infertile, claims Plutarch, there must be a hidden symbolic meaning, in this case that the earth, which is made barren by scorching heat, needs moisture to produce fertility. The correspondences between vehicle and tenor are clear: Nepthys is the earth, Typhon is heat, and Osiris is moisture. The distinction between myth and meaning is likewise clear: if they (unspecified and indefinite tellers of the myth) say (λέγουσιν) this thing, then they mean allegorically (αἰνίττονται) the other thing.
The tale of Aphrodite's birth from the sea, mentioned in Plutarch's Quaestiones Conviviales 5.10.4 (685e), likewise conceals a hidden physical meaning; it is a fabricated story, a μῦθον πεπλασμένον, which enigmatically signifies the generative properties of brine, εἰς τὸ τῶν ἁλῶν γόνιμον αἰνιττομένους. The well-known narrative is merely alluded to: Aphrodite, goddess of love and sex, is born from the sea. The meaning is that salt has generative properties, an idea which the speaker has been arguing on other grounds, such as the aphrodisiac effects of salt on dogs and rats' ability to conceive without copulation just by licking salt. The goddess Aphrodite corresponds to the power of generation (τὸ γόνιμον), while the sea stands for the salt that comes from its briny waters.
Plutarch's allegorical interpretations, however, do not always attribute a physical meaning to the myth; often Plutarch claims that the myths contain ideas about the soul and the cosmos, especially ideas in line with his own interpretation of Platonic cosmology. For example, in Quaestiones Conviviales 745e, the Sirens in Homer are reinterpreted by one of the interlocutors, Ammonius, within the context of the Sirens in Plato's Myth of Er at the end of the Republic (617c). The Sirens in Homer (Odyssey 12.39-54, 158-208) are terrifying creatures, who lure men to their deaths with their song, and Odysseus' men can only get past them by stopping up their ears with wax. Ammonius claims that Homer conveyed a truth symbolically, ὀρθῶς ᾐνίξατο, by this myth, namely that the harmony of the spheres creates a longing for the divine in the soul that is not made deaf by fleshly obstructions and passions. Here, the Sirens and their song represent the music of the celestial spheres, as they do in the myth of Er. The men lured to their death in Homer's tale correspond to the souls drawn back toward the heavenly realm by the recollection of the celestial harmonies, whereas Odysseus' crew, who survive because they are prevented from hearing the Sirens' song, represent the average person who is too bound up with flesh and desire to feel the attraction of the divine.
Odysseus' men figure in another of Plutarch's allegories, where they again stand in for the unphilosophic masses, in this case as they go through the cycle of reincarnations. In a fragment (fr. 200) preserved in Stobaeus i.44.60, Plutarch argues that Homer has a theory of the soul which corresponds to the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato.
Τὰ δὲ παρ'Ὁμήρῳ περὶ τῆς Κίρκης λεγόμενα θαυμαστὴν ἔχει τὴν περὶ ψυχὴν θεωρίαν. λέγεται γὰρ οὕτως·
οἱ δὲ συῶν μὲν ἔχον κεφαλὰς φωνήν τε τρίχας τε
καὶ δέμας· αὐτὰρ νοῦς ἦν ἔμπεδος ὡς τὸ πάρος περ.
ἐστι τοίνυν ὁ μῦθος αἴνιγμα τῶν περὶ ψυχῆς ὑπό τε
Πυθαγόρου λεγομένων καὶ Πλάτωνος, ὡς ἄφθαρτος οὖσα τὴν φύσιν καὶ ἀίδιος, οὔ τι μὴν ἀπαθὴς οὐδ' ἀμετάβλητος, ἐν ταῖς λεγομέναις φθοραῖς καὶ τελευταῖς μεταβολὴν ἴσχει καὶ μετακόσμησιν εἰς ἕτερα σωμάτων εἴδη, καθ' ἡδονὴν διώκουσα τὸ πρόσφορον καὶ οἰκεῖον ὁμοιότητι καὶ συνηθείᾳ βίου διαίτης·
Homer's account of Circe contains an admirable interpretation of the soul's condition. The words are as follows: "They had the heads of swine, the voice, the hair, the shape; yet still unchanged their former mind." The story is a riddling version of what Plato and Pythagoras said about the soul, how although imperishable of nature and eternal, it is no way impassible or immutable, but at the times of its so-called death and destruction it experiences an alteration and recasting which bring a change of outward bodily shape; it then follows its own tastes by looking for a shape that suits it and is appropriate by reason of a familiar similarity in its way of life.
As Homer tells it, when Odysseus and his men stopped on the island of Aiaia, Circe transformed Odysseus' men into beasts by means of a magic potion. The true meaning behind the cover of poetic invention is the immortality of the soul and its passage through reincarnations that reflect its choices in life. Once again, it is the myth that is the αἴνιγμα, the container of allegorical meaning, and, once again, the hidden meaning of the myth corresponds with a philosophic argument. Odysseus' men represent the individual soul; their minds remain the same even when their bodily form has changed. Plutarch unpacks each element of the transformation by Circe on Aiaia as an allegory for the death of the body through the cycle of rebirths in the place where souls pass from one body to another. Death is a transformation; Circe stands for the circle of rebirths, a fact proved by the etymology of her name; just as her island of Aiaia is the place where lost souls wander lamenting "Ai, ai" until they fall back into new bodies. The potion of Circe (κυκεῶνα) is the stirring together (κυκώσης) of eternal and mortal that produces incarnation. In this process of reincarnation, the soul gravitates to a body most apt to the dominant part of its nature. Those dominated by the appetitive element become donkeys and swine, while those in whom the competitive element has become dominant through their indulgence in strife and savagery end up as wolves or lions. Only those who have restrained their passions and appetites, philosophically putting their reason in charge of their conduct, will go into human bodies or perhaps, if they have kept sufficiently pure, will avoid the process altogether.
All the etymologies serve to confirm the hidden meaning of Homer's tale, but Plutarch also draws support from a citation of Empedokles, who also relates a story about reincarnation. Even though he uses different names than Homer does, they both are talking about the operation of Fate (Εἱμαρμένη) and Nature (Φύσις) that puts souls in new bodies. Instead of Circe and her potion, Empedokles refers to the daimon wrapping around an alien garment of flesh (σαρκῶν ἀλλογνῶτι περιστέλλουσα χιτῶνι), but the different vehicles have the same tenor; their mythic expressions have the same meaning.
Plutarch's allegorical reading of this Homeric passage bears numerous resemblances to his reading of the myth of the Titans in De Esu Carn. 996bc. In both, he makes use of etymologies to confirm the validity of the allegory. In both, he supports his claim with an additional reference to Empedokles. In both, he claims that the ancient myth has the same meaning as a philosophic argument regarding reincarnation, an argument going back to Plato's Phaedo that the soul needs to be guided by reason and separate itself from the passions of the body in order to avoid a bad (or possibly even any) reincarnation. Following the Platonic model of the soul, he speaks of the rational element that should be in charge, as well as the appetitive or passionate elements that attempt to take control. Such an uncurbed element (τὸ ἀκόλαστον), pursuing pleasure or a spirited desire for violence and bloodshed, can lead the individual into disaster, causing the soul to be caught up with the body. In life, this condition hampers the natural facilities of the soul, its ability to perceive the divine light, to reason. After the life of the body ends, such a soul is immediately attracted back into a bestial form that reflects the guiding element. In his arguments against eating flesh, Plutarch describes at length the appetites for the pleasures of gluttony or the impulses to violence and bloodshed that can lead a person astray if not kept in check and restrained by a philosophic mind and practice.
This is the irrational and disorderly and violent element in us that Plutarch claims the ancients named the Titans in the myth. Plutarch never claims that this element is actually a Titan, much less that the Titans are reincarnated in all human beings because of their primordial crime. To do so would be to mix the tenor and vehicle of his allegory and make nonsense of his argument. The punishment of the Titans represents allegorically the punishment of the soul that falls back into a body because of its bloodlust and gluttony, just as Circe's transformation of Odysseus' men into swine represents the reincarnation of souls from human to animal bodies. Circe's transformation of Odysseus' men into animals does not also cause them to be reincarnated as animals; it merely represents it allegorically. So too, the Titans' murder of Dionysos and punishment by lightning does not also cause them to be reincarnated; Plutarch's myth is explicitly an allegory, not an aetiological myth.
Bernabé, by contrast, claims that the myth of the Titans here serves as the primordial crime, the péché antécédent, that is the cause of the fallen condition of humans in this world, a crime that is repeated every time a human yields to his Titanic element. Bianchi's idea of péché antécédent is useful for understanding certain kinds of myths that are told as the aition for a particular phenomenon, especially ritual practice. Once upon a time, a god was angered at a certain occurrence, and so forever after humans have performed a certain rite that both reminds everyone of the problem and solves it by appeasing the god. Hesiod's tale of the quarrel between Zeus and Prometheus that resulted in the separation of men and gods is the canonical example of such a péché antécédent, an event that happened long ago but which produced the conditions that exist today. The ritual of sacrifice serves at the same time as a reminder of the separation and a way of healing the breach.
Hesiod's tale, however, is framed within his text as an explanation of why the lives of men are so hard; it is explicitly aetiological. By contrast, Plutarch frames his tale of the Titans as an allegory, using the same vocabulary that he uses to introduce other allegorical tales (ᾐνιγμένος ἐστὶ μῦθος εἰς τὴν παλιγγενεσίαν). If the tale of Circe's transformation of Odysseus' men were taken as an aition instead of an allegory, the transformation would have to serve as the precedent and cause of the whole cycle of reincarnations – because Odysseus' men drank the potion and were transformed into swine, so now all mortals undergo reincarnation. Only the fragmentary state of De Esu Carnium makes the analogous interpretation of the myth of the Titans seem less obviously absurd.
It is not in the least surprising that Plutarch should see the myth of the Titans' murder of Dionysos as, in essence, an allegory of the fate of the soul, since the tale was preserved and transmitted by a number of different authors specifically because it was a useful vehicle for various ideas about the nature of the soul and the cosmos. Although the idea that the myth of Dionysos' dismemberment was about the grape vine remained popular, the physical understanding of the myth was often replaced or supplemented by a metaphysical understanding that took the dismemberment of Dionysos as an allegory of division of the One into Many, that is, the process of differentiation that created the physical world and the individual. Plutarch himself describes how the story of Dionysos' dismemberment is an allegory of this diakosmesis.
κρυπτόμενοι δὲ τοὺς πολλοὺς οἱ σοφώτεροι τὴν μὲν εἰς πῦρ μεταβολὴν Ἀπόλλωνά τε τῇ μονώσει Φοῖβόν τε τῷ καθαρῷ καὶ ἀμιάντῳ καλοῦσι. τῆς δ' εἰς πνεύματα καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ γῆν καὶ ἄστρα καὶ φυτῶν ζῴων τε γενέσεις τροπῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ διακοσμήσεως τὸ μὲν πάθημα καὶ τὴν μεταβολὴν διασπασμόν τινα καὶ διαμελισμὸν αἰνίττονται· Διόνυσον δὲ καὶ Ζαγρέα καὶ Νυκτέλιον καὶ Ἰσοδαίτην αὐτὸν ὀνομάζουσι, καὶ φθοράς τινας καὶ ἀφανισμοὺς εἶτα δ' ἀναβιώσεις καὶ παλιγγενεσίας, οἰκεῖα ταῖς εἰρημέναις μεταβολαῖς αἰνίγματα καὶ μυθεύματα περαίνουσι.
The wiser folk, concealing it from the masses, call the transformation into fire by the name of Apollo because of the oneness of that state, or by the name of Phoebus because of its purity and lack of defilement. As to the manner of his birth and diakosmesis into winds, water, earth, stars, plants, and animals, they describe this experience and transformation allegorically as 'rending' and 'dismemberment'. They name him Dionysus, Zagreus, Nyctelius, Isodaites, and they construct allegories and myths proper to the stories of death and destruction followed by life and rebirth.
(Plutarch, De Ei 9, 388e)
In the Platonic tradition, the physical division of the universe is often less significant than the process by which the world soul or originary soul is divided and dispersed throughout the cosmos. Plutarch, like his successors Plotinus, Proclus, and Damascius, sometimes reads the myth as being about the macrocosm – the division and reintegration of the world soul – and sometimes as about the microcosm – the fate of the individual soul in its incarnations and attempts to free itself and return to the divine. In his treatise on Isis and Osiris, for example, Plutarch describes Osiris, whom he identifies with Dionysos, as the world soul, the Intelligible Principle, which is divided out through the cosmos. Proclus, in his commentary on the Cratylus, refers to the division of the whole into many individual parts on every level – mind, soul, and perceptible matter. He even brings in the physical process of wine-making to the levels of meaning he finds in the myth of the Titans' dismemberment of Dionysos. In his commentary on the Phaedo, on the other hand, Damascius brings out the personal and individual level of meaning, the life of the individual seeking divine perfection in a fragmented world. Like Plutarch, Damascius connects the Titans with the irrational element, a middle term between rational mind and mindless matter which corresponds to Plutarch's daimonic soul element.
ὅτι ἡ Τιτανικὴ ζωὴ ἄλογός ἐστιν, ὑφ' ἧς ἡ λογικὴ σπαράττεται. Κάλλιον δὲ πανταχοῦ ποιεῖν αὐτήν, ἀπὸ θεῶν γε ἀρχομένην τῶν Τιτάνων· καὶ τοίνυν τῆς λογικῆς τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτεξούσιον καὶ οἷον ἑαυτοῦ βουλόμενον εἶναι μόνου, οὔτε δὲ τῶν κρειττόνων οὔτε τῶν χειρόνων, τοῦτο ἡμῖν οἱ Τιτᾶνες ἐμποιοῦσιν, καθ' ὃ καὶ τὸν ἐν ἡμῖν Διόνυσον διασπῶμεν, παραθραύοντες ἡμῶν τὸ ὁμοφυὲς εἶδος καὶ οἷον κοινωνικὸν πρὸς τὰ κρείττω καὶ ἥττω. οὕτω δὲ ἔχοντες Τιτᾶνές ἐσμεν· ὅταν δὲ εἰς ἐκεῖνο συμβῶμεν, Διόνυσοι γινόμεθα τετελειωμένοι ἀτεχνῶς.
The Titanic mode of life is the irrational mode, by which rational life is torn asunder: It is better to acknowledge its existence everywhere, since in any case at its source there are Gods, the Titans; then also on the plane of rational life, this apparent self-determination, which seems to aim at belonging to itself alone and neither to the superior nor to the inferior, is wrought in us by the Titans; through it we tear asunder the Dionysus in ourselves, breaking up the natural continuity of our being and our partnership, so to speak, with the superior and inferior. While in this condition, we are Titans; but when we recover that lost unity, we become Dionysoi and we attain what can truly be called completeness.
(Damascius In Phaed. I.9 – trans. Westerink, modified)
When we behave badly and follow the impulses of that spirited element, we act as Titans, pulling apart the Dionysos, the superior rationality, within us, but when we behave well, we become perfected Dionysoi, under the guidance of our rational and divine element. The present general temporal clauses indicate that the idea applies not to condition precedent, but to the general situation; the tale of Dionysos and the Titans is an allegory of the general human condition, not a tale of the preceding cause of it.
Plutarch's understanding of the myth of the Titans' dismemberment of Dionysos must therefore be seen within the context, not only of his own practice of allegorical interpretation, but also within the tradition of such allegorical interpretations of this very myth. Each of these allegorical readings is designed for the particular argument being made in the context in which the myth is cited, and the details of the myth that are recounted are tailored to fit the argument. When compared with Plutarch's other allegorizations, Plutarch's reading of the myth in De Esu Carnium clearly follows the same pattern, using not only the same kind of language and relation of the myth to the philosophical argument, but even coming up with the same point as some of his other allegorical interpretations. Despite the fragmentary condition of the text of Plutarch's treatise on the eating of flesh, we can reconstruct the shape of his argument from Plutarch's writings on related topics, and we can see how the allegorical understanding of the myth supports the argument he is making in this discourse, with its particular emphasis on flesh-eating rather than passions in general. However, by mixing up the tenor and the vehicle of Plutarch's allegorization, modern scholars have created a new pastiche of a myth, in which the Titans' actions in the myth of the dismemberment are followed by a sequel of the Titans' reincarnation into human form. This confusion distorts not only the reading of the Plutarch passage, but also, by postulating a myth known to Plutarch that combines dismemberment and anthropogony, causes scholars to misread the later allusions to and interpretations of the dismemberment myth. Rather than seeing all these references as evidence for an Orphic doctrine of original sin, a Titanic nature within humankind that comes from the reincarnation of the Titans into human form, we can use each of these references to gain a better understanding of the philosophical arguments of Plutarch and his successors, as well as the ways in which they manipulated the common mythic tradition. The complex designs of these thinkers should not be reduced to mere threads in a funerary shroud, fragments of a single story of the prefiguration of the Christian doctrine of original sin.
The Playthings of Dionysos
In addition to the references to mythic narratives of the dismemberment of Dionysos, we must consider the texts that indicate some sort of ritual practice associated with the story. Bernabé asserts that the various testimonies to rituals, some attributed to Orpheus, connected with the dismemberment of Dionysos are evidence for the doctrine of guilt inherited by humans from their Titanic ancestors for the murder of Dionysos. While I agree that the existence of certain rituals is undeniable, I argue that assuming that the motif of dismemberment can only imply the full story of anthropogony and original sin oversimplifies the step from ritual to doctrine. That there were rituals connected with the sparagmos of Dionysos cannot be doubted; that some of these rituals mentioned the Titans in connection with the destruction is certain; that any of these rituals had anything to do with anthropogony or purification from original sin is not only unprovable (as well as unfalsifiable) but unsupported by the evidence.
The evidence for ancient Greek ritual of any kind is desperately slim and deeply problematic, especially for efforts to recover not simply what was done but what the rituals meant in the religion of the people performing them. The references in texts that speak of ritual are even less transparent than the literary texts, and any deductions about the import of the ritual must be carefully culled from the evidence, always taking the context into due consideration. Rather than attesting to a single doctrine of original sin that was central to a marginal sect, the evidence for rituals associated with the sparagmos of Dionysos can provide valuable information on the practices of ancient Greek religion, not only for the worship of Dionysos, but also for the rites associated with divinities such as Kouretes and Korybantes.
Just as the myth of the dismemberment did not have a single meaning but was reinterpreted in various ways by the various narrators and their audiences, so too the rituals associated with the story must have had a variety of significances. One of the few references extant for the context in which a ritual connected with the sparagmos might be performed is a scholiast to Clement, who explains the Lenaia festival as having to do with the dismemberment of Dionysos.
ληναίζοντας· ἀγροικικὴ ᾠδὴ ἐπὶ τῷ ληνῷ ᾀδομένη, ἣ καὶ αὐτὴ περιεῖχεν τὸν Διονύσου σπαραγμόν. πάνυ δὲ εὐφυῶς καὶ χάριτος ἐμπλέως τὸ "κιττῷ ἀναδήσαντες" τέθεικεν, ὁμοῦ μὲν τὸ ὅτι Διονύσῳ τὰ Λήναια ἀνάκειται ἐνδειξάμενος, ὁμοῦ δὲ καὶ ὡς παροινίᾳ ταῦτα καὶ παροινοῦσιν ἀνθρώποις καὶ μεθύουσιν συγκεκρότηται.
Lenaizontas – a rustic song sung at the wine trough, which even itself has to do with the dismemberment of Dionysos. He has put very well and gracefully the bit about "binding up with ivy", at the same time showing the fact that the Lenaian festivals are dedicated to Dionysos and also how as drunken mischief these things have been clapped together by tipsy and drunken people.
(Scholiast to Clement, Protrepticus 1.2.2 p. 297.4-8 Stählin)
Just as some authors interpret the myth of the dismemberment as signifying the process of making wine from grapes, so too in some festivals the dismemberment was celebrated as part of the process of wine-making – the harvesting of the grapes and their trampling out into wine. The scholiast is not alone in connecting the dismemberment of Dionysos with the making of wine, and there is no reason to dismiss this interpretation as a late and inauthentic allegorization that has nothing to do with what the people celebrating the ceremony believed. The timing of the Lenaia does not coincide with the time of the grape harvest, but the word ληνός means the trough or vat in which the grapes are pressed for wine, while the Lenai seem to have been the women celebrating the Dionysiac rituals as Bacchic maenads. We know little of the components of the Lenaia apart from the dramatic competitions, but the equation of Dionysos with his wine is a commonplace, so it is entirely plausible that the Lenaia festival included a ritual that involved some commemoration of the dismemberment of Dionysos as part of its festivities, whether in some sort of dramatic enactment or simply in song.
While the Lenaia was a public festival, the dismemberment of Dionysos may also have played a role in festivals less open to the view of all. Clement of Alexandria associates the dismemberment with the taboo on eating pomegranates for women at the Thesmophoria. This sort of ritual, not a private mystery but yet not something that should be spoken of publicly, may well be the kind alluded to by Herodotus. When discussing the rites of Osiris in Egypt, Herodotus famously refuses to provide details, claiming that it is not licit for him to speak of them, οὔ μοι ὅσιόν ἐστι λέγειν. Since the rites of Osiris in Egypt do not, from the available evidence, seem to have been unspeakable, many have hypothesized that Herodotus is identifying them with Greek rituals that do have such a taboo. Osiris was often identified with Dionysos, and the stories of their dismemberments were easy for mythic narrators to conflate. We need not follow the conjectures of scholars ancient and modern who have postulated that the Greek rituals actually came from Egypt (or vice versa!) to understand Herodotus' evidence as indicating that he knew of rituals having to do with the dismemberment (and probably rebirth) of Dionysos that he felt merited a degree of ritual silence. However, although many of the rituals for Osiris may have concerned the fertility brought by the Nile, they were assuredly not limited to that aspect, so it is impossible to be certain what the significance was of the rituals Herodotus had in mind. Even though Herodotus believed that the Thesmophoria also derived from Egypt, the Thesmophoria is only one possibility for a ritual somehow involving the dismemberment of Dionysos that is forbidden to speak about; there must have been many others, most of which we know nothing about.
While Herodotus' Osiris rituals do seem to have been associated with Orphic rituals, Bernabé includes in his arguments a number of testimonies which seem to have little or no connection to an Orphic ritual associated with the dismemberment of Dionysos. The story in Herodotus about the Olbian Scyles participating in Dionysiac cult assuredly attests to the intercultural relations between the Greeks and the inhabitants of the area, but there is no reason to connect it with the Olbian bone tablets, as if there were only one Dionysiac cult in the entire region over the entirety of the history of Greek colonization in Olbia. Moreover, even if one of the Olbian bone tablets did refer to Orphik[oi instead of Orphik[a and Dio[nysos instead of Dio[s (of which I am not convinced), it would not follow that at Olbia there was a sect of Orphics who practiced Dionysiac rituals having to do with reincarnation. The bone tablets do suggest the presence at some point in time at Olbia of a ritual specialist (whether established priest or itinerant charlatan) who made use of Orphic materials with a rather Heraclitean theology, but the evidence provides no indication of what rituals he might have practiced or for whom. The bone tablets have no Titans, no dismemberment, no lightning, and no anthropogony – nothing to narrow the field of reference of their cryptic and paradoxical inscriptions to the myth of Dionysos' dismemberment.
A second century CE lex sacra from Smyrna does mention the Titans in a Dionysiac context, but its dietary prohibitions against beans and eggs hardly fit either with the myth of dismemberment or the Titanic anthropogony. The inscription undoubtedly provides regulations for a private mystery association, but taboos on particular foods are not limited to a single context or rationale. Eggs were forbidden to those participating in the Haloa, while Eleusinian initiates had to avoid beans as well as fish, fowl, and pomegranates. Pausanias claims that anyone who has seen an initiation at Eleusis or read the so-called Orphic writings will understand his claim that beans were the one product of the earth that Demeter did not provide. Plutarch explains the food taboos of eggs and beans, as well as hearts and brains, as the avoidance of consuming the first principle of creation (γενέσεως). The precise role of the Titans remains inexplicable even on the hypothesis of the Zagreus myth, since the inscription is too fragmentary to reconstruct, but the combination of dismemberment, Titanic anthropogony, and inherited guilt is hardly the only possible explanation for the mention of Titans. Most plausibly, the Titans could here simply represent the mythic exemplars of cannibals, those who violate the basic rules of what (or who) can be eaten.
A defixio from Lilybaeum also mentions the Titans, locating them in Tartaros along with Persephone, but there is no indication that they are invoked for any reason other than that they are underworld powers, like the spirits of the dead and their queen, Persephone, who are also invoked. The Titans indeed appear as deities in Tartaros from their earliest mentions in Greek literature, as Pausanias points out: "Homer first introduced the Titans into poetry, making them gods down in Tartaros, as it is called; the lines are in the oath of Hera. Onomakritos, borrowing the name from Homer, composed the rites of Dionysos and made the Titans the authors of the sufferings of Dionysos."
Pausanias' claim that Onomakritos was the first to put the Titans into the story of the dismemberment raises an interesting question not often treated in the scholarship, which usually centers on the issue of Pausanias' naming of Onomakritos. Regardless of who or when this innovator was, Pausanias' evidence implies that previous versions of the dismemberment had other figures involved. The Titans, then, are not an integral part of the dismemberment story, merely one element which the mythic bricoleurs may choose to include if it suits their purposes. References to the dismemberment of Dionysos, therefore, which do not mention the Titans cannot be presumed to include the Titans, since other villains – perhaps the Giants or the Telchines or even the Kouretes – may have substituted in these other versions. The identity of the villains in the tale would undoubtedly provide a key to understanding the meaning of the story and the ritual to which it was connected. The γηγενεῖς, for example, are often mentioned in references that take the signifcance of the story to relate to Dionysos as the vine, since the earth-born and the earth-workers (γεωργοί - farmers) are easily linked.
Once the innovation is recognized, we may speculate about the innovator and his reasons for innovation. Bernabé protests that, even if Pausanias means by the name Onomakritos ps.Orpheus, there is no reason to put the date of this pseudepigrapher any later than the real Onomakritos. However, since a telling of the dismemberment that involves the Titans does not appear in the extant evidence until the versions of Diodorus Siculus and Clement of Alexandria, there is also no reason to date the Orphic poem much earlier than the second century BCE. In the absence of any other evidence for an Orphic poem that includes the Titans in the dismemberment story, we can only conclude from Pausanias' evidence that some poet in the centuries before Diodorus substituted the Titans for an older set of villains in the story for some purpose that remains unclear.
The earliest poetic references to the dismemberment do not actually resolve the problem, since, although Kallimachos and Euphorion tell of the dismemberment in the third century, the mention of the Titans comes only in the later sources that refer to them. Philodemos lists the three births of Dionysos, first from his mother, then from Zeus' thigh, and finally after his limbs were reassembled by Rhea when he had been dismembered by the Titans. Philodemos claims that Euphorion agrees with this account in his Mopsiopiai, and the scholiast on Lycophron cites both Euphorion and Kallimachos for the tale that the limbs of Dionysos were put in Apollo's Delphic tripod after the Titans dismembered him. While the myth of Dionysos' dismemberment is thus finally attested by the third century, we cannot be certain of the details of these tellings. Euphorion or Kallimachos may have cast the Titans as villains or their role may only have become canonical later, causing the later sources to interpret the Gigantes or other villains as the Titans.
Evidence from the fourth century for rituals that may involve imitation of the dismemberment of Dionysos unfortunately lacks any clear reference either to the Titans or to an Orphic source. Demosthenes describes initiands being covered with mud in a scandalous rite performed by Aischines' mother in her private cult practice. Harpocration tells us in his commentary that the Titans coated themselves with gypsum when they slaughtered the infant Dionysos and that those who are mimetically enacting the myth for those about to be initiated do likewise. Even assuming that Harpocration is indeed talking about the same practice as Demosthenes, the white gypsum with which the slayers of the god disguise themselves appears as a terrifying disguise in a number of other contexts, so we cannot be certain whether the name Titan was attached to the initiators in the ritual of Aischines' mother or merely added by the lexicographer to accord with later practice. The fact that one word for this gypsum powder was τίτανος, however, suggests that it would be easy at any point to call the white-faced murderers Titans, sanctioning the mythological innovation with the etymological word play. The ritual mentioned by Demosthenes is generally considered to be for Sabazios, but it is plausible to suggest that the books from which the ritual came (read out by the young Aischines) might have been considered Orphica. However, even if we accept all these hypotheses, that Aischines' mother performed rituals from Orphic books that involved the Titans as murderers of Dionysos, we still have no evidence to indicate what the ritual was for. As is usually the case with the evidence for ancient Greek ritual practice, we get a few tantalizing details of what was done but almost nothing about why or what the practitioners thought they got out of the ritual.
Diodorus Siculus does provide evidence for the existence of an Orphic poem that narrated the dismemberment as well as rituals that somehow corresponded. In his testimonies, Diodorus actually gives several different variations of the story in different places. Not only does Diodorus recount the other stories of Dionysos' birth and life, including a number of Euhemerizing interpretations, but he also provides two different sets of parents for the dismembered Dionysos and two different sets of dismemberers. He tells of a child of Zeus and Demeter, who was dismembered by the γηγενεῖς, but also of a Cretan born Dionysos, son of Zeus and Persephone, who was dismembered by the Titans. In both cases, he comments that the story is in accord with Orphic poems and rituals, and he explicitly refers back from the latter passage to the earlier one, in which he gives an explanation of the dismemberment in terms of the vine. Bernabé is certainly right to suppose that Diodorus is drawing here, not on a single Orphic poem but on a variety of Orphica. A variety of myths and rituals that made use of the dismemberment story may have been attributed to Orpheus - some of which included the Titans; some of which did not. Nothing in Diodorus, however, suggests that the murderers of Dionysos were the ancestors of mankind or that the point of the ritual was purification from this particular crime.
Hypothetically, Diodorus may be discussing the same myths and rituals attributed to Orpheus to which Pausanias alludes, and these rituals might even be the same as Clement denounces in what is perhaps the most detailed account of a ritual that makes use of the myth of the dismemberment. Clement even cites verses from Orpheus describing the Titans' distraction of the infant god with toys, which serve as the symbola for initiates who have undergone the ritual.
Τὰ γὰρ Διονύσου μυστήρια τέλεον ἀπάνθρωπα· ὃν εἰσέτι παῖδα ὄντα ἐνόπλῳ κινήσει περιχορευόντων Κουρήτων, δόλῳ δὲ ὑποδύντων Τιτάνων, ἀπατήσαντες παιδαριώδεσιν ἀθύρμασιν, οὗτοι δὴ οἱ Τιτᾶνες διέσπασαν, ἔτι νηπίαχον ὄντα, ὡς ὁ τῆς Τελετῆς ποιητὴς Ὀρφεύς φησιν ὁ Θρᾴκιος·
κῶνος καὶ ῥόμβος καὶ παίγνια καμπεσίγυια,
μῆλά τε χρύσεα καλὰ παρ' Ἑσπερίδων λιγυφώνων.
Καὶ τῆσδε ὑμῖν τῆς τελετῆς τὰ ἀχρεῖα σύμβολα οὐκ ἀχρεῖον εἰς κατάγνωσιν παραθέσθαι· ἀστράγαλος, σφαῖρα, στρόβιλος, μῆλα, ῥόμβος, ἔσοπτρον, πόκος. Ἀθηνᾶ μὲν οὖν τὴν καρδίαν τοῦ Διονύσου ὑφελομένη Παλλὰς ἐκ τοῦ πάλλειν τὴν καρδίαν προσηγορεύθη· οἱ δὲ Τιτᾶνες, οἱ καὶ διασπάσαντες αὐτόν, λέβητά τινα τρίποδι ἐπιθέντες καὶ τοῦ Διονύσου ἐμβαλόντες τὰ μέλη, καθήψουν πρότερον· ἔπειτα ὀβελίσκοις περιπείραντες "ὑπείρεχον ̔Ηφαίστοιο." Ζεὺς δὲ ὕστερον ἐπιφανείς (εἰ θεὸς ἦν, τάχα που τῆς κνίσης τῶν ὀπτωμένων κρεῶν μεταλαβών, ἧς δὴ τὸ "γέρας λαχεῖν" ὁμολογοῦσιν ὑμῶν οἱ θεοί) κεραυνῷ τοὺς Τιτᾶνας αἰκίζεται καὶ τὰ μέλη τοῦ Διονύσου Ἀπόλλωνι τῷ παιδὶ παρακατατίθεται καταθάψαι. Ὃ δέ, οὐ γὰρ ἠπείθησε Διί, εἰς τὸν Παρνασσὸν φέρων κατατίθεται διεσπασμένον τὸν νεκρόν.
The mysteries of Dionysos are perfectly inhuman. While he was still a child, the Kouretes danced around with clashing arms, and the Titans crept up by stealth and deceived him with childish toys. Then these Titans dismembered Dionysos while he was still an infant, as the poet of this mystery, the Thracian Orpheus, says:
"Top, and spinner, and limb-moving toys,
And beautiful golden apples from the clear-voiced Hesperides."
And it is not useless to put forth to you the useless symbols of this rite for condemnation. These are knucklebone, ball, hoop, apples, spinner, looking-glass, tuft of wool.
So, Athena, who abstracted the heart of Dionysus, was thus called Pallas, from the palpitating of the heart. The Titans, on the other hand, who tore him limb from limb, set a cauldron on a tripod and threw into it the limbs of Dionysus. First they boiled them down and, then fixing them on spits, "held them over Hephaestus (the fire)." But later Zeus appeared; since he was a god, he speedily perceived the savor of the cooking flesh, which your gods agree to have assigned to them as their portion of honor. He assails the Titans with his thunderbolt and consigns the limbs of Dionysos to his son Apollo for burial. And Apollo, for he did not disobey Zeus, bearing the dismembered corpse to Parnassus, deposited it there.
(Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 2.17.2-18.2 = OF 34K = 588iB)
This description is part of Clement's diatribe against the religious rituals of the Greeks, which he claims are all celebrations of murders and perversions. Cannibalism of an infant is even better for Clement's purposes than Zeus' incestuous rapes of Demeter and Persephone, and he makes sure to make a dig at the Greek gods' gluttonous appetites for sacrificial meats. Clement's references to mystery rites and to the symbols of the initiates do indicate that he connected the Orphic poem about the dismemberment to certain Dionysiac rituals, but, while Clement provides details that appear less clearly elsewhere (such as the toys of Dionysos or the peculiar cooking procedures), he has no interest in relaying an exegesis of the ritual, in explaining what the participants thought they were doing and why. Although Clement does confirm the existence of some associated ritual, he in fact provides almost no information about the ritual itself. As he does for the Eleusinian mysteries, he quotes Orpheus to get the scandalous details of the myth, but he does not even provide the few details about what happens in the ritual that he does for the Mysteries at Eleusis.
Firmicus Maternus does provide more details, real or imagined, about rites associated with the dismemberment of Dionysos as part of his own polemic against pagan rituals. Like Clement, he too denigrates the Dionysiac mysteries as perverse celebrations of murders, but he offers a full, euhemerized verison of the myth, making Dionysus the son of a king of Crete murdered by jealous courtiers. The ritual, he claims, was instituted to placate the anger of the king over the murder of his son, who could not even receive a burial because he had been dismembered and eaten.
Cretenses ut furentis tyranni saevitiam mitigarent, festos funeris dies statuunt, et annuum sacrum trieterica consecratione conponunt, omnia per ordinem facientes quae puer moriens aut fecit aut passus est. vivum laniant dentibus taurum, crudeles epulas annuis commemorationibus excitantes, et per secreta silvarum clamoribus dissonis eiulantes fingunt animi furentis insaniam, ut illud facinus non per fraudem factum, sed per insaniam crederetur. praefertur cista in qua cor soror latenter absconderat, tibiarum cantu et cymbalorum tinnitu crepundia, quibus puer deceptus fuerat mentiuntur. sic in honorem tyranni a serviente plebe deus factus est qui habere non potuit sepulturam.
To soften the transports of their tyrant's rage, the Cretans made the day of the death into a religious festival, and founded a yearly rite with a triennial dedication, performing in order all that the child in his death both did and suffered. They tore a live bull with their teeth, recalling the cruel feast in their annual commemoration, and by uttering dissonant cries through the depths of the forest they imitated the ravings of an unbalanced mind, in order that it might be believed that the awful crime was committed not by guile but in madness. Before them was borne the chest in which the sister secretly stole away the heart, and with the sound of flutes and the clashing of cymbals they imitated the rattles with which the boy was deceived. Thus to do honour to a tyrant an obsequious rabble has made a god out of one who was not able to find burial.
(Firmicus Maternus De Err. 6.5, trans. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, pp. 108-9 = OF 214K = 572B)
Firmicus associates the dismemberment story with the trieteric festivals of Dionysos and describes the sparagmos of a bull as part of a commemoration of the dismembered infant. He also includes the cista mystica, which makes an appearance in various mystery rites from the Eleusinia to Isis, and the manic cries, flutes, and cymbals which are characteristic of Dionysiac and Metroac festivities. Firmicus, like Clement, denies that there is any point to the rituals except to honor dead royalty as gods; his polemic refuses the existence of any theological underpinning to pagan ritual.
In the absence of any evidence from the texts themselves, Bernabé deduces the meaning of all these rituals from the evidence of the Gurob papyrus (OF 31K = 578B). This fragmentary papyrus from the third century BCE seems to contain some sort of ritual instructions for a Dionysiac ritual, and there are a number of remarkable parallels with Clement's description of the mysteries of Dionysos, the most striking of which is the presence of the toys of Dionysos, the knucklebones, tops, and mirror that Dionysos' murderers used to distract him before the murder (col. i.29-30). Whatever ritual was associated with this text, therefore, certainly evoked the dismemberment of Dionysos in some form, but the text of the papyrus is too fragmentary to show what this ritual might have been or even if the dismemberment was central to the ceremony or merely an element of Dionysiac myth recalled in passing. The presence of the Kouretes earlier in the text (col i.7-8) suggests that the whole scenario of the dismemberment was evoked, and Brimo, Demeter, and Rhea can also be fit into the narrative as it is found in other sources.
This text, unlike the other evidence, is not merely alluding to or describing a ritual, but seems actually to include instructions for things to be spoken and done in a ritual. However, despite Bernabé's claim that the meaning is evident, even this text does not provide sufficient information to determine the purpose of the ritual, much less its theological underpinnings. Bernabé claims not only that the fact that the dismemberment is enacted implies that the point of the ritual is the salvation of human beings from their Titanic original sin, but that the text explicitly asks Brimo for salvation from the crimes of these lawless ancestors.
There is indeed a plea to Brimo in the text (col. i.5 σῶισόν͙ με Βριμὼ με[γάλη), but the "explicit" mention of lawless ancestors is only explicit in a restoration to the text. Bernabé, following West, has restored col. i.4 as δῶρον δέξ]ατ᾿ ἐμὸν ποινὰς πατ[έρων ἀθεμίστων, from the papyrus reading ... ετεμον ποινας πατ... . West's restoration is plausible, if one accepts the premise that a ritual involving the dismemberment of Dionysos must have to do with salvation from humanity's Titanic heritage, but it cannot be used as an argument for that same premise without circularity.
Even if we accept the circular argument and use the words from the Orphic fragment quoted by Damascius, it is not clear, either in Damascius or in the Gurob papyrus, whether these fathers for whose crimes a recompense is offered are Titanic ancestors or merely human ones. The text might, with West's restoration, include both the elements of the dismemberment story and the idea of inherited guilt, but, even so, the Titans are never explicitly mentioned and there is no trace of any anthropogonic element. The Gurob papyrus certainly does provide evidence for a Dionysiac ritual in the third century BCE that makes reference to the dismemberment, as well as for the syncretism of different types of Dionysiac cults current in Egypt in the period. However, the plea for Brimo to save and even the reference to some sort of recompense (ποινὰς) do not provide evidence for the meaning of the ritual, since such pleas and debts are a standard part of the relations between deities and worshippers in Greek religion, particularly in private cults.
Of course, the gold tablets from Pelinna do provide evidence for Dionysos as the one who, in conjunction with Persephone, frees human beings from the burden of previously committed crimes. "Tell Persephone that Bacchios himself set you free." Other tablets from Thurii and Pherai attest that the bearer could approach Persephone with the claim to have paid any necessary penalties. The gold tablets, however, have no mention of the Titans or the dismemberment, and the dismemberment story is hardly the only context in which Dionysos can function as the liberator. Again, the evidence fails to bring together the pieces – the dismemberment of Dionysos, the punishment of the Titans, the generation of the human race, the inheritance of guilt. One or two of these pieces show up in each of these texts, but that in itself is no proof that all four elements are secretly part of each of the texts, and that the other elements must be supplied in order to interpret the texts.
The evidence examined here, therefore, while it attests to the existence of rituals attributed to Orpheus or connected with Orphic poems that somehow involve the story of the dismemberment of Dionysos, does not ever provide insight into the meaning of the rituals in the religious contexts in which they were performed. The evidence does show that a version of the dismemberment that involved the Titans existed before the second century BCE, but it also attests to a variety of stories and rituals that have to do with the dismemberment of Dionysos, which seem to have been performed for a variety of reasons. Just as the myth of the dismemberment was understood in many ways, as a tale about the natural processes of the vine, or about the formation of differentiated life in the cosmos, or even about the development of the moral and ethical individual, so too the rituals that made use of this traditional element of the dismemberment of Dionysos were understood in a variety of ways, as festivals celebrating the production of wine or as rites marking the renewal of the cosmos or even as mysteries that brought the celebrants into a new personal relation with the gods. While some rites might have served to purify the participants from divine anger stemming from a previous crime, none of the evidence that mentions the dismemberment actually provides any indication of such a function. Although such a function remains possible for some of the rites mentioned, other evidence seems to indicate the connection of the ritual with Dionysos' aspect as a god of wine and growing things, as Dionysos Lenaios rather than Dionysos Lyseus. To restrict the evidence to a single ritual function, a single interpretation of a single myth, is to limit the use of the material to illuminate a variety of aspects of Dionysiac religion over the centuries of time and the wide variety of places from which it comes. A broader investigation of this material in the context, not just of Orphic texts that mention the Titans, but of the evidence for rituals involving the Kouretes and Korybantes or even the Kabeiroi and Telchines, might yield connections hitherto unsuspected and help clarify the mysteries that still surround these mystery rites.
The Blood of the Earthborn
Another passage used as a strand in the fabrication of an Orphic myth of original sin derived from a Titanic heritage is Orpheus' list of previous themes at the beginning of the Orphic Argonautica. To authenticate the pseudepigraphic Argonautica as a poem of Orpheus himself, the text starts with Orpheus referring to what must have been well-known previous works of his, including accounts of the creation from the primal gods like Night and Phanes, the grief (πένθος) of Persephone at her rape and the wandering search of her mother Demeter, the tale of Aphrodite and Adonis, accounts of Korybantes and Kabeiroi, and even the laments for Egyptian Osiris. In the midst of this collection is the passage in question, a reference to the Earthborn giants and the creation of mortals.
Βριμοῦς τ᾿ εὐδυνάτοιο γονὰς, ἠδ᾿ ἔργ᾿ ἀΐδηλα
Γιγάντων, οἳ λυγρὸν ἀπ᾿ Οὐρανοῦ ἐστάξαντο,
σπέρμα γονῆς τὸ πρόσθεν, ὅθεν γένος ἐξεγένοντο
θνητῶν, οἳ κατὰ γαῖαν ἀπείριτον ἀιὲν ἔασι·
And the offspring of powerful Brimo, and the destructive deeds
of the Earthborn, who dripped painfully as gore from Heaven,
the seed of a generation of old, out of which arose
the race of mortals, who exist forever throughout the boundless earth.
(Orphic Argonautica 17-20 = OF 320vB)
Bernabé takes this passage as a reference to the creation of the human race from the Titans after their dismemberment of Dionysos and concludes that the Orphic Argonautica must be reproducing the sequence of stories in the Orphic Rhapsodies, which therefore must have included the combination of a Titanic anthropogony with the dismemberment of Dionysos. The Earthborn in this passage must be Titans, he claims, because the birth of the Giants cannot come between the birth of Dionysos (child of Brimo/Persephone) and the creation of human beings. Moreover, if there is a succession of races, one race cannot be born directly from another; each race must be created separately, as in the Hesiodic myth.
When read in the context of the wider Greek tradition of anthropogonic myths, however, both the generation of the Giants from the blood of Ouranos and the succession of the current human race from an earlier generation of earthborn giants appear as perfectly familiar elements in the mythic tradition that do not need to be explained by reference to a secret Orphic anthropogony. While the Hesiodic myth of the metal ages (gold, silver, bronze, and iron) remains an influential model for the generation of humans throughout the Greek mythic tradition, even in Hesiod there are traces of another model that was perhaps even more widespread, the generation of the current race of humans from a previous generation of people born directly from the earth. More importantly, the sequence of the dismemberment of Dionysos, the punishment of the Titans, the creation of mankind, and the payment of the penalty for the murder does not actually appear, either in the passage from the Orphic Argonautica or in any of the other evidence Bernabé cites to support his claims. On the contrary, in this evidence, the creation of the human race follows upon the battle of the Earthborn against the gods. These threads, which Bernabé uses to try to weave together an Orphic myth of Titanic original sin, belong instead to the mythic traditions about autochthony and the first generations of humans.
The evidence for anthropogonic myth that survives from the Orphic Rhapsodies shows that both the artifice model of the myth of the metal races and the fertility model of the earthborn appeared in Orphic poems, but the sequence of the narrative culminating in the creation of the current human race is not as clear as Bernabé claims. Proclus, in his commentary on Plato's Republic, provides evidence that the Hesiodic myth of the metals that Plato plays with in his dialogue (546e) was also associated with the creation of men in an Orphic poem. The gold race from Hesiod is associated with Phanes, while the silver race is ruled over by Kronos. The third race, whom Proclus connects with the craftsmen (demiourgoi) in the city of the Republic, is created by Zeus from the limbs of the Titans. Each race is connected with a type of person: the gold are intellective and divine, the silver self-reflective (since Kronos' "crooked cunning" curves back on itself) and the Titanic concerned with inferior and irrational beings. Although Proclus only summarizes the Orphic reference, these races, like those in Hesiod, seem to live in separate ages of the world, created and ruled over by different gods rather than succeeding one another. However, the last race in Proclus' list, the race generated from the Titans, seems to follow the pattern, not of the Hesiodic metal races fabricated by a creator god, but of the Earthborn races, springing up out of the earth from the remains of the previous generation. Orphic references to the generation of humans from the remains of the Titans or the Giants must therefore be understoood in the context of this pattern of anthropogonic myth, a strand in the mythic tradition that survives mostly in antiquarian allusions and passing references to local tales.
As Loraux points out in her study of Greek anthropogonic traditions, the mythic tradition has a large number of different stories about the first humans, mostly local stories which attribute the origin of mankind to their own area. "It is not that each city yearns to narrate the birth of the first man in its own way, but that any national tradition is less interested in giving a version of the beginnings of humanity than in postulating the nobility of the stock from which it originated." There are two basic ways in which these local traditions claim prestige for their origins: either their first ancestors are descended from gods or from the earth itself. In the former case, the first generation of mortals comes from the union of some god with a local minor divinity, such as a nymph. More often, however, the first generation of mortals springs directly from the earth. The Athenian myths of autochthony are perhaps the best known, the generation of Erichthonius (or Erechtheus) from the Earth after Hephaistos' attempted rape of Athena as well as the autochthons Cecrops, Amphictyon, and Cranaus. Nevertheless, Ericthonius was hardly the only first man in the Greek mythic tradition. Hippolytus preserves a prose version of what might have been verses of Pindar that catalog the first humans of many different myths.
χαλεπὸν δέ, φησίν, ἐξευρεῖν εἴτε Βοιωτοῖς Ἀλαλκομενεὺς ὑπὲρ λίμνης Κηφισίδος ἀνέσχε πρῶτος ἀνθρώπων· εἴτε Κουρῆτες ἦσαν Ἰδαῖοι, θεῖον γένος, ἢ Φρύγιο(ι) Κορύβαντες, οὓς πρώτους ἥλιος ἐπεῖδε δενδροφυεῖς ἀναβλαστάνοντας· εἴτε προσεληναῖον Ἀρκαδία Πελασγόν, ἢ Ῥαρίας οἰκήτορα Δυσαύλην Ἐλευσίν, ἢ Λῆμνος καλλίπαιδα Κάβιρον ἀρρήτῳ ἐτέκνωσεν ὀργιασμῷ· εἴτε Πελλήνη Φλεγραῖον Ἀλκυονέα, πρεσβύτατον Γιγάντων. Λίβυες δὲ Ἰάρβαντά φασι πρωτόγονον αὐχμηρῶν ἀναδύντα πεδίων γλυκείας ἀπάρξασθαι Διὸς βαλάνου·
"It is difficult," he says, "to discover whether for the Boeotians Alalcomeneus rose up over Lake Kephisos as the first of men; or whether the first were the Idaian Kouretes, a divine race; or the Phrygian Korybantes, whom first the sun looked upon as they sprung up, growing as trees do; or whether Arcadia brought forth Pelasgus, more ancient than the moon; or Eleusis produced Dysaules, dweller in Raria; or Lemnos of fair children begot Kabiros in unspeakable rites; or Pallene produced the Phlegraean Alcyoneus, oldest of the Giants. But the Libyans affirm that Iarbas, firstborn, on emerging from arid plains, commenced eating the sweet acorn of Jupiter."
(Hippolytus, Ref. Omn. Haer. V.ii.17 ≈ fr. 67b Lyrica Adespota PMG)
A full explication of this text is beyond the scope of this study, but it is worth noting that some of the candidates for the original humans are individuals (often descended from a god and a nymph), while others are a γένος, a whole group like the Kouretes and Korybantes. At times the first man is representative of a group that appears in other evidence, such as Kabiros for the Kabeiroi. These primordial people all seem to arise from the earth, their native soil; they are all γηγενεῖς, Earthborn, even if only some of them receive the label Gigantes.
Strabo, trying to provide an overview of the stories about the Kouretes, sums up his rather bewildering review of varying stories and allusions by noting that many people identify the Kouretes with other similar groups. "So great is the complexity in these accounts that, while some represent the Korybantes and Kabeiroi and Idaian Dactyls and Telchines as the same as the Kouretes, others make them kin with one another and distinguish certain small differences from one another." The Kouretes are linked to other groups of primitive, semi-mortals as well; Strabo quotes a fragment of Hesiod that makes the Kouretes kin to the Satyrs, and he describes the Kouretes as Satyrs in the service of Zeus.
One group of primordial peoples often conflated, not only with the Gigantes, but with the Kouretes, Korybantes, Dactyls, and even the Satyrs, are the Titans. As Vian has shown, the myths of the Gigantomachy and the Titanomachy were intertwined at an early stage. Perhaps the most surprising identification in the collection of primordial peoples is the connection made between the Satyrs and the Titans as bands of primitive, hubristic, ithyphallic males. Lucian describes the Bacchic dances of Ionia as Satyric in nature, in which audiences spend the whole day watching Satyrs and Titans and Korybantes, as if they were all variations upon similar themes. Even some of the names of individual Titans known from the genealogies of Hesiod show up as the names of Kabeiroi or Dactyls or Kouretes. Like these other primordial peoples, the Titans are often described as the first inhabitants of particular locales, the folk most closely linked to the soil form which they spring. Attica was known as the Titanland, Τιτανίδα γῆν, from its primordial inhabitant, just as Titane near Sikyon is named for Titan, the first one to dwell there. The Eretrians even claimed descent from a Titan, Eretrieus, son of Phaethon, who provided the people with his name.
Whereas in the myth of the metal races, each race is created separately to correspond with a separate age of the world, the myths of the earthborn provide a group of primordial peoples whose function is to bridge that awkward gap between the originary gods and normal, contemporary human peoples. One consequence is that these folk are always being superseded by the human race, whether they are obliterated and replaced or whether some remain as relics of the older order, preserving secrets that belong to that time. Sometimes the previous generation provides helpful services for their descendants; they are culture heroes who discover fire (like Prometheus or Phoroneus) or technology (like the Dactyls or Telchines). At other times, they rebel against the inevitable replacement and are blasted, leaving only their works or their blood behind. The connection between γένη is sometimes genetic, as in the myths associated with the great flood, when the descendants of the Titans, Deucalion and Pyrrha, themselves have offspring who mingle with the new race of humans they produce from the bones of the earth. In other cases, however, the human race arises only out of the destruction of the previous race.
Such a story is the tale of the myth of the Gigantomachy alluded to in the Orphic Argonautica. The Gigantes are one of the primordial races generated from the Earth, but, unlike some of the other primordial peoples, they are known in myth almost exclusively for their hubristic and violent attempts to overthrow the power of the gods. After some individual assaults, the Gigantes band together to make war on the gods. The gods, aided by Herakles, defeat the Gigantes, and from their remains, in some tales, the human race is born. Bernabé, however, identifies the Giants in the Orphic Argonautica passage as Titans, their destructive deeds as the dismemberment of Dionysos, and the generation of humans from them as an allusion to Zeus' generation of mortals from the smoking remains of the Titans glutted with the flesh of the infant god.
To reach these conclusions, Bernabé wants first to alter Vian's reading of the lines describing the Gigantes. Rather than having the Giants dripped as blood (ἐστάξαντο) painfully (λυγρόν) from Ouranos and being the seed (σπέρμα) from which a race of mortals came later, Bernabé wants to remove the comma and make λυγρόν go with σπέρμα, making the Earthborn the baneful seed from which mortals sprang, dripping as the blood spilled from them. The result is to compress the allusion into one story, the generation of humans from the Titans who murdered Dionysos, instead of two, the generation of the Giants from the blood of Ouranos and the generation of humans from the Giants slain in the Gigantomachy.
Bernabé argues that ἐστάξαντο, as a middle, should take as its subject the bleeder, not the substance bled out, so the Gegeneis must be doing the bleeding. However, even in the active, the substance (usually blood) dripped out can be the subject of the verb, so the middle (rarely attested elsewehere) works perfectly to indicate that the subjects of the action are the very drops that are being bled out of Heaven/Ouranos. Moreover, the origin of the Giants from the blood of Ouranos is a well-known myth, with variations from Hesiod to the Orphic Rhapsodies. Hesiod recounts how, when Kronos castrated Ouranos, drops of the blood fell onto the Earth, who produced the race of Giants, the Furies, and the Meliae. While the Furies and Giants are known from other sources, the nymphs called Meliae remain somewhat mysterious. These children of Earth and starry Heaven seem to be identified with the parents of the race of bronze when Hesiod recounts the myth of the metal races in the Works and Days, leading the scholiasts to suggest that the bronze race should be identified with the Giants born from the blood of Heaven. Traces remain of tales of other races generated from the blood spilled in Ouranos' castration; both Akousilaos and Alkaios claim that the Phaiakians (another primordial people, kin to the savage Cyclopes as well as the Giants in Homer) were actually born from the blood of Ouranos. The Etymologicum Magnum preserves two lines of Orpheus, from the eighth book of the Hieros Logos, which explain the name of the Giants as the Earthborn, since they come from the blood of Heaven spilled on the earth. In all these accounts, the castration of Ouranos leads to another set of offspring of Earth and Heaven, a race who are not Titans, but in the same generation.
The lines from the Rhapsodies on the subject of the Gigantes, coupled with the mention of the destructive works of the Gigantes in the catalogue of the Orphic Argonautica, suggest that a tale of the Giants and their works may have been recounted in an Orphic poem. Hesiod passes over recounting the deeds of the Giants, but his reference clearly depends on the tale being well known. What might have happened to the Giants and their descendants in Orpheus' story we don't know, but Gigantomachies were popular in art, and they were obviously popular enough in myth for Xenophanes to inveigh against the Gigantomachy as the prime example of the sort of old-fashioned story that was narrated at symposia instead of enlightening philosophical discourse. The battle of the Giants against the gods is certainly the most obvious referent for the allusion to their "destructive deeds" (ἔργ᾿ ἀΐδηλα), a term that suits the various combats and destructions that took place in the Gigantomachy much better than the single murder of an infant god.
Another reason to read the Giants' destructive deeds as a reference to the Gigantomachy instead of the dismemberment of Dionysos is that the creation of human beings is the sequel to the destruction of the Giants in several of the references to the Gigantomachy, just as it is in the passage of the Orphic Argonautica. Although the tale of humans generated from the blood of the enemies of the gods defeated in battle seems to go back even to Mesopotamian sources, Ovid's version is undoubtedly the best known, in which humans are born from the blood of the Giants seeping down into the Earth after their battle against the gods, the culmination of all their crimes and violations of justice. In other versions, the same tale is told of the Titans and the Titanomachy; a race of violent, primordial people rises up against the authority of the gods and a bloody battle ensues. As one scholiast makes explicit through the etymology, mortal human beings (βροτοί) are born from the gore (βρότος) of the defeated Titans. The scholiast is commenting on a passage of Oppian, who presents the birth of humans from the blood of the Titans as one alternative for the origin of humans, the other being their creation by Prometheus. Dio attributes the tale of human descent from blood of the Titans to a morose man who must have suffered much in life, since he blames the miseries of human existence in this foul world on the hatred of the gods for the descendants of their enemies, the Titans who fought a war against them.
ὅτι τοῦ τῶν Τιτάνων αἵματός ἐσμεν ἡμεῖς ἅπαντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι. ὡς οὖν ἐκείνων ἐχθρῶν ὄντων τοῖς θεοῖς καὶ πολεμησάντων οὐδὲ ἡμεῖς φίλοι ἐσμέν, ἀλλὰ κολαζόμεθά τε ὑπ' αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπὶ τιμωρίᾳ γεγόναμεν, ἐν φρουρᾷ δὴ ὄντες ἐν τῷ βίῳ τοσοῦτον χρόνον ὅσον ἕκαστοι ζῶμεν ... εἶναι δὲ τὸν μὲν τόπον τοῦτον, ὃν κόσμον ὀνομάζομεν, δεσμωτήριον ὑπὸ τῶν θεῶν κατεσκευασμένον χαλεπόν τε καὶ δυσάερον.
All mankind, we are all from the blood of the Titans. Thus, because they were the enemies of the gods and fought against them, we are not beloved by the gods either, but we are punished by them and we are born into retribution, being in custody in this life for a certain time as long as we each live ... This harsh and foul-aired prison, which we call the cosmos, has been prepared by the gods.
(Dio Chrysostom, Or. 30, 10-11 = OF 320viiB)
Bernabé claims that this Dio passage must also be a reference to the dismemberment story, but waging war against the gods (τοῖς θεοῖς καὶ πολεμησάντων) cannot refer to the murder of Dionysos Zagreus; the verb πολεμέω makes the context of the Titanomachy clear. Dio's references to mankind being in a prison (ἐν φρουρᾷ) do indeed recall the references in Plato's Phaedo and Cratylus to doctrines about the soul associated with Orpheus, but this fact merely reinforces the argument that such doctrines have no particular connection to the myth of dismemberment, but might be associated with any story of the creation of humanity. That human souls are ἐν φρουρᾷ and paying the penalty through their lives in bodies is the result of the Titanomachy in Dio's story; this is a rather pessimistic message to draw from the traditional story of the human race created from the blood of the defeated opponent of the gods, but, then again, Dio specifically frames it as the tale of a long-suffering pessimist. Oppian, by contrast, has a much more positive interpretation of the same tale, befitting the context in which he relates it. Although somewhat inferior in their strength, humans are like the gods, and thus there is nothing they cannot accomplish.
A reference in a letter of the Emperor Julian, cited as another testimony to the Zagreus anthropogony, comes from a context almost as positive as Oppian, although it may not even refer to the same type of Gigantomachy anthropogony. Julian is urging philanthropic treatment of men of all nations, good and bad alike. Among his arguments from reason and cult, he claims that all are deserving of good treatment because all men are kin and descendants of the gods, according to the sacred legend that the race of men arose from sacred drops of blood that fell when Zeus was setting the cosmos in order. This allusion could be to the same tale as in Oppian, of humans' divine descent from the Titans after Zeus set the world in order after defeating them in the Titanomachy, but the reference remains uncertain, especially since Julian attributes the tale to the ancient theurgists (παραδέδοται διὰ τῶν ἀρχαίων ἡμῖν θεουργῶν). Theurgy in Julian always refers to the Chaldaean Oracles or those who make use of the texts for special interactions with the gods. However, even if the reference is not to some unknown myth from the cosmology of the Chaldaean Oracles, the creation of mankind from blood neither follows the dismemberment nor fastens on mankind a burden of inherited guilt.
The last piece of evidence adduced is a Sibylline Oracle inscribed at Perinthos from perhaps the second century BCE, which mentions blood, fire, and ash mingling when Bacchos cries Evoe. Bernabé sees this combination of substances as a reference to the moment of creation of mankind, when the Titans are blasted by Zeus' lightning. Of course, a sacrificial celebration accompanied by Bacchic cries is the most likely context, since blood, fire, and ash would mingle in any sacrifice, but the context provides no way to prove that the Sibylline Oracle is authorizing a sacrificial rite for the Bacchic group that set up the inscription instead of making an enigmatic allusion to a secret anthropogonic myth that was somehow important to this group. However, Bernabé himself points out that it is unclear whose blood it would be in an anthropogonic context. The dual nature of mankind doctrine would seem to demand that it be the blood of Dionysos that provides the divine element that mingles with the ash of the Titanic element, but Bernabé admits that the mythic parallels would suggest that it must be the Titans' blood. Such confusion suggests that the verses make more sense as reference to a sacrificial ritual performed by the Bacchic group that set up the inscription.
However, even if the Perinthos inscription did refer to the anthropogonic moment, it would hardly support the claim that all these pieces of evidence show a clear sequence of events that must have been recounted in the Orphic Rhapsodies. In fact, not a single one of these texts contains all of the elements that are claimed to be inseparable parts of the myth: the dismemberment of Dionysos, the punishment of the Titans by lightning, the creation of humans from the blood fallen from them, and the burden of expiation for the Titans' crime. On the contrary, this collection of texts that refer to an anthropogony from the blood of the Titans never connects that anthropogony with the dismemberment story, but rather with the tale of the Titanomachy. When the anthropogony is connected to a burdensome Titanic heritage, therefore, as in Dio, it is the crime of rebelling against the gods for which mankind reaps the consequences.
Bernabé, however, objects that, whatever the text itself might seem to say, these references cannot be to the Titanomachy because, he asserts, the Titanomachy always ends with the Titans imprisoned in Tartaros, whereas the dismemberment story ends in the death of the Titans by lightning. While it would no doubt make the most sense to a scholar trying to arrange all the fragmentary tales neatly into a single coherent whole to have a Titanomachy ending with Tartarosis followed by a dismemberment ending in lightning, the evidence is unfortunately not so neat. The 5th century CE Neoplatonist Damascius notes that there are three punishments related for the Titans in the tradition: lightning, shackling, and descent into lower regions, i.e., Tartarosis. Different tales seem to have included different punishments according to the context of the tale; we cannot deduce the preceding crime from the punishment. Damascius associates the creation of humans not with the first punishment, lightning, but with the last, the imprisonment in Tartaros. By contrast, in at least one Orphic version, the binding of the Titans followed the dismemberment story, since the punishment of Atlas holding up the sky is cited as a consequence of the crime. Such a story is absolutely incompatible with the idea that the generation of human beings from the ashes of the Titans was inseparable from the dismemberment story. On the contrary, if any pattern is prevalent, it is the generation of human beings following upon the Titanomachy, parallel to the creation of humans after the Gigantomachy in other stories.
The passage from the Orphic Argonautica, then, does not provide evidence for a narrative from the Orphic Rhapsodies that included a sequence of Dionysos' dismemberment, Titans' punishment by lightning, and creation of human beings from the ashes of the Titans. Rather, as the parallels show, the myths alluded to in the passage are the generation of the race of Giants from the blood of Ouranos and the creation of human beings from the remains of the Giants after the Gigantomachy. Even if the events in the catalog of previous themes were all in a strict chronological sequence (which they most clearly are not), there is no problem with the sequence of events in the passage, since the creation of human beings often occurs as the sequel to the Gigantomachy, and there is no reason that the Gigantomachy could not occur after the birth of Brimo's child. In any case, the existence of a race of Earthborn people between the births of the gods and the generation of the human race is a common feature of anthropogonic myths in the Greek tradition, even if these Earthborn are sometimes named Giants, sometimes Titans, and sometimes even Kouretes or Dactyls. Likewise, it is in no way exceptional for the previous race to be the seed from which the current race comes, since the complete separation of the races only comes in some versions of the Hesiodic metal races myth. The idea of the generation of the human race from the Titans therefore does not imply familiarity with the version found in the 6th century CE Olympiodorus. On the contrary, all the earlier versions of the Titanic anthropogony connect the generation of mortals with the Titanomachy rather than the dismemberment myth. Such a myth, as Dio shows, can indeed be used to saddle the human race with the burden of divine anger resulting from the deeds of the Titans, but the situation is hardly different from the vengeance taken upon human beings in Hesiod as the result of the deeds of Prometheus. Each of these mythic elements – the inherited anger of the gods, the creation of the human race from the blood of the previous race, the punishment of the Titans – appear in the broader mythic tradition, combined in different ways with different emphases by different authors performing mythic bricolage. To insist that they all can be reduced to a single text that has one particular meaning is to miss the richness of the Greek mythic tradition, its multiformity and polyvalence. If we unbind them from the artificial frame of the Zagreus myth, these strands of evidence can help us get a better understanding of the myths of anthropogony, their common patterns and their points of variation. Such an understanding is all the more important because so many of the variants are local traditions, preserved only by passing references in later authors and overshadowed by the better known stories of Hesiod's panhellenic epic.
Olympiodorus' recounting (In Plat. Phaed. I.3-6) of the Titan's dismemberment of Dionysos and the subsequent creation of humankind has served for over a century as the linchpin of the reconstructions of the supposed Orphic doctrine of original sin. From Comparetti's first statement of the idea in his 1879 discussion of the gold tablets from Thurii, Olympiodorus' brief testimony has been the only piece of evidence to pull together the threads of the Zagreus myth, linking the dismemberment of Dionysos with the creation of human beings. Scholars have repeatedly argued that Olympiodorus preserves the only complete version of the story, which exists elsewhere only in incomplete fragments or allusions. These fragments, it is argued, must be restored by supplying the missing threads from Olympiodorus' story, which, despite the late 6th century CE date and peculiar biases of the author as a pagan Neoplatonist scholar (and possibly alchemist) in a Christian era, nevertheless preserves essentially unchanged the central Orphic myth that dates from the 6th century BCE. I show first that, while Olympiodorus does indeed link the dismemberment and the anthropogony, he does not include any element of inherited guilt, either in his narration of the myth or in his interpretation. Moreover, his telling of the myth, making the anthropogony the sequel to the dismemberment of Dionysos, is an innovation made for the purposes of his own argument. Rather than preserving in fossilized form a sacred myth more than a millennium old, Olympiodorus concocts an innovative tale of his own, manipulating a variety of sources that describe the dismemberment of Dionysos, as well as other sources that recount the punishment of the Titans for their rebellion in the Titanomachy and the subsequent creation of new races from them. Olympiodorus' sources include not only poetic treatments of the subjects but also allegorical readings of the myths, especially those by his predecessors Proclus and Damascius. Olympiodorus' narration of the dismemberment of Dionysos is not the key witness to a lost, secret tradition that prefigures the Christian doctrine of original sin, but rather a colorful example of a late antique Neoplatonic philosopher's manipulation of the Greek mythic tradition.
In the Greek mythic tradition, the interpretation of the myth cannot be kept separate from the way the narrative is recounted, since the author retelling a traditional tale always adapts the details of the story to fit the ideas he is trying to convey and the audience to which he is recounting the tale. In this process of bricolage, the author strives to render his version authoritative for his audience by engaging with previous versions of the tale, especially the best known or most authoritative renditions. Olympiodorus adopts many of the same gambits used by earlier tellers of myth in the Greek tradition (including Plato), concealing his own innovations by starting with references to previous versions and then diverging from the earlier accounts. Olympiodorus crafts his myth to argue for a conclusion surprising for a Neoplatonist, that suicide is forbidden because the body contains divine elements. Olympiodorus' mythic innovations allow him to provide a new and startling explanation of a crux in the Phaedo that Damascius and Proclus had tried to explain earlier. By drawing on these previous interpretations to provide a better and more authoritative version of the myth, Olympiodorus is engaging in the same kind of agonistic myth-telling that is characteristic of the Greek mythic tradition from the earliest evidence. Olympiodorus is not pedantically preserving an ancient Orphic myth, he is rather making use of the authority of Orpheus among the Neoplatonists to support his own philosophical ideas, concocting a curious new version of the traditional tale of the dismemberment of Dionysos to explain Socrates' puzzling prohibition of suicide.
As with the reference in Plutarch to the dismemberment myth (de Esu Carn. 996bc), Olympiodorus' recounting and interpretation of the story must be understood in the context of the argument he is making as well as in the context of his Neoplatonic interpretive tradition. The text comes from Olympiodorus' commentary on the Phaedo of Plato, in his explanation of Socrates' puzzling prohibition of suicide. In addition to his own argument against suicide (I.2), Olympiodorus claims that the text itself contains two proofs, a mythical and Orphic argument and philosophic and dialectic one.
Καὶ ἔστι τὸ μυθικὸν ἐπιχείρημα τοιοῦτον· παρὰ τῷ Ὀρφεῖ τέσσαρες βασιλεῖαι παραδίδονται. πρώτη μὲν ἡ τοῦ Οὐρανοῦ, ἣν ὁ Κρόνος διεδέξατο ἐκτεμὼν τὰ αἰδοῖα τοῦ πατρός· μετὰ δὲ τὸν Κρόνον ὁ Ζεὺς ἐβασίλευσεν καταταρταρώσας τὸν πατέρα· εἶτα τὸν Δία διεδέξατο ὁ Διόνυσος, ὅν φασι κατ' ἐπιβουλὴν τῆς Ἥρας τοὺς περὶ αὐτὸν Τιτᾶνας σπαράττειν καὶ τῶν σαρκῶν αὐτοῦ ἀπογεύεσθαι. καὶ τούτους ὀργισθεὶς ὁ Ζεὺς ἐκεραύνωσε, καὶ ἐκ τῆς αἰθάλης τῶν ἀτμῶν τῶν ἀναδοθέντων ἐξ αὐτῶν ὕλης γενομένης γενέσθαι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. οὐ δεῖ οὖν ἐξάγειν ἡμᾶς ἑαυτούς, οὐχ ὅτι, ὡς δοκεῖ λέγειν ἡ λέξις, διότι ἔν τινι δεσμῷ ἐσμεν τῷ σώματι (τοῦτο γὰρ δῆλόν ἐστι, καὶ οὐκ ἂν τοῦτο ἀπόρρητον ἔλεγεν), ἀλλ' ὅτι οὐ δεῖ ἐξάγειν ἡμᾶς ἑαυτοὺς ὡς τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν Διονυσιακοῦ ὄντος· μέρος γὰρ αὐτοῦ ἐσμεν, εἴ γε ἐκ τῆς αἰθάλης τῶν Τιτάνων συγκείμεθα γευσαμένων τῶν σαρκῶν τούτου.
And the mythical argument is as such: four reigns are told of in the Orphic tradition. The first is that of Ouranos, to which Kronos succeeds after cutting off the genitals of his father. After Kronos, Zeus becomes king, having hurled his father down into Tartaros. Then Dionysos succeeds Zeus. Through the scheme of Hera, they say, his retainers, the Titans, tear him to pieces and eat his flesh. Zeus, angered by the deed, blasts them with his thunderbolts, and from the sublimate of the vapors that rise from them comes the matter from which men are created. Therefore we must not kill ourselves, not because, as the text appears to say, we are in the body as a kind of shackle, for that is obvious, and Socrates would not call this a mystery; but we must not kill ourselves because our bodies are Dionysiac; we are, in fact, a part of him, if indeed we come about from the sublimate of the Titans who ate his flesh.
(Olympiodorus In Phaed. I.3 = OF 220K = 227iv+299vii+304i+313ii+318iii+320iB)
Once again, as in Plutarch, a myth is used to provide traditional authority for a philosophical argument, and the meaning of the myth, properly interpreted, is the same as the conclusion of the dialectic. Olympiodorus insists that the allegorical meaning (ἡ τοῦ μύθου ἀλληγορία) must be uncovered in order to understand Socrates' reference to the esoteric tradition, dismissing as too obvious the possibility that the φρουρά is simply the shackle of the body. While Olympiodorus draws heavily on the commentaries of Damascius and Proclus, he nevertheless must make a contribution of his own to the scholarship, finding new levels of meaning in the traditional story. Of course, to find the meaning he wants, he carefully selects and manipulates the details he provides of the traditional myth.
Olympiodorus concludes the narration of the myth at the end of the quoted passage, and it is important to note that the myth he relates does not contain the narrative element of a burden of inherited guilt passed on to mankind. In Olympiodorus' story, mankind receives its material from the Titans who cannibalized Dionysos; human bodies thus include an element of the god. The story begins with the kingship in heaven passing through four cosmic reigns: Ouranos, Kronos, Zeus, and Dionysos. Ouranos is castrated by Kronos; Kronos is sent to Tartaros by Zeus; Zeus hands over the throne to Dionysos. Hera is angry and incites the Titans to murder and cannibalism. Zeus blasts the Titans with lightning and humans are created from the particles that precipitate out of the smoke (ἐκ τῆς αἰθάλης τῶν ἀτμῶν) that rises from the blasted Titans. The idea that human beings inherited a burden of guilt, be it péché antécédent or original sin, from these Titans is not part of the story as Olympiodorus tells it, but has been read into his story by commentators since Comparetti.
Nor does original sin enter into Olympiodorus' interpretation of the myth's meaning. Each narrative element of the myth's vehicle corresponds with an element of meaning in its tenor. The four reigns in the succession of the kingship of heaven correspond to the degrees of virtue a soul can practice. The myth may divide them up in a temporal sequence, but the contemplative, purificatory, civic and ethical virtues co-exist, and the myth's temporal sequence represents the hierarchy of their value. The dismemberment of Dionysos signifies that the ethical and physical virtues are not necessarily consistent with one another. The Titans represent division and particularity, and their chewing of Dionysos is the ultimate degree of breaking down the unity into little particles. Hera provides the motivation for this process of division because "she is the patron deity of motion and procession; hence it is she who, in the Iliad, is continually stirring up Zeus and stimulating him to providential care of secondary existents." The lightning of Zeus signifies the reversion of the divided pieces back to the whole, since fire has an upwards motion. Dionysos is the patron of genesis, of the movement into life as well as back out of it, and so this divine process should not be undone by human will in suicide. The god oversees the processes of coming into and out of life, and humans have no right to take control away from the god. Thus, the mythic argument produces the same conclusion as the dialectic: "if it is the gods who are our guardians and whose possessions we are, we should not put an end to our own lives, but leave it to them."
Although it is possible to invent an argument against suicide on the basis of human beings suffering the punishment of the Titans' crime and doomed to suffer even worse punishment by evading life in the prison of the body, Olympiodorus does not make such an argument. Neither the myth as he tells it nor the interpretation he provides of the details includes an idea of human beings inheriting the guilt of the Titans' murder of Dionysos. While some scholars admit that Olympiodorus himself never brings up the idea, they nevertheless see him as providing evidence for another text that does include original sin as its central theme, Olympiodorus' source in the Orphic Rhapsodies. By a circular argument, the element of original sin not found in Olympiodorus is supplied from an earlier text, even though that earlier text is reconstructed from Olympiodorus.
Bernabé argues that Olympiodorus faithfully reproduces a passage from the Orphic Rhapsodies, since some of the details he includes in the narrative correspond with details known from other sources to be in the Orphic poems. The succession of rulers in heaven appears in a number of Orphic works, and the dismemberment story was also certainly treated in at least one Orphic poem. Such correspondences do not, of course, necessarily mean that Olympiodorus did not innovate in his telling of the story, since bricolage, the creative manipulation of traditional elements is, after all, the standard operation of the transmission of myth in the Greek mythic tradition. Bernabé assumes that Olympiodorus simply summarized a section of the Orphic Rhapsodies without presuming to alter the sacred text in any way – except of course to leave out the essential point at the end in which the guilt of the Titans descends upon mankind. Such an omission is taken as unproblematic, since it is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from the story. On this interpretation, Olympiodorus replaces this natural conclusion with his Neoplatonic allegorizing, which can be disregarded by modern scholars as inauthentic and thus without any influence on the narrative of the myth itself.
I argue, to the contrary, that we cannot neglect the interrelation of Olympiodorus' interpretation and his telling of the story, since the meaning he sees in the story directly affects the elements he chooses to include. The assumption that Olympiodorus' source is a single text which he summarizes without alteration is likewise unfounded; Olympiodorus refers to a whole mythic tradition associated with Orpheus rather than a single text, and some of his most important sources are the commentaries of his Academic predecessors, Proclus and Damascius, rather than the particular texts attributed to Orpheus. Olympiodorus indeed shows himself willing to adapt the Orphic materials to his philosophic points, especially when those points have a precedent in the commentaries of his predecessors.
Olympiodorus begins his narration with a reference to the Orphic tradition (παρὰ τῷ Ὀρφεῖ ... παραδίδονται), not with a quotation from an Orphic text. The imprecision of his reference is reinforced by his use of φασι, they say, to continue his narrative. The indeterminate third person plural indicates that Olympiodorus is not citing or even summarizing a single text, but rather referring to the way the story is traditionally told. Olympiodorus situates his own retelling of the story within the mythic tradition, providing his account with the authority of that tradition. However, his reference to four reigns in the succession of the kingship of heaven actually contradicts the accounts surviving elsewhere of six reigns, which seem to have been characteristic of Orphic theogonies. As Westerink notes, Olympiodorus is drawing on the commentaries of Damascius and Proclus, but his identification of each of the reigns with a class of virtues shapes his telling. Olympiodorus is clearly making use of Damascius' discussion of the virtues in his Phaedo commentary (I.138-151), although Damascius includes more classes of virtues, separating the ethical from the physical virtues and putting the paradigmatic and hieratic virtues above the contemplative. Westerink suggests that Olympiodorus may be following Ammonius in eliminating the paradigmatic and hieratic virtues as a way of devaluing theurgic practice in relation to philosophic contemplation, since these virtues could have been identified with the Orphic reigns of Phanes and Night if Olympiodorus had been concerned to stay as close as possible to the text of Orpheus. However, only four reigns are needed to make Olympiodorus' point, so he has no compunction about jettisoning the first two from his narration.
Olympiodorus takes fewer liberties with the next section of his narrative, although he still makes significant choices of what traditional elements to exclude from his retelling of the dismemberment. He mentions only the Titans, Dionysos, and Hera, leaving out Apollo, the Kouretes, and Athena. These other deities often play a role in the dismemberment narrative, for example in Clement's version, but Olympiodorus has no place for them in his interpretation, so he omits them. Each of the elements he chooses to include not only has precedent in the traditional mythic narratives but also meaning within the preceeding interpretive tradition.
The most obvious are the figures of the Titans and Dionysos, which have a long history of interpretation in terms of the Many and the One. The Titans represent the forces of division that make many particulars out of the original one. Damascius suggests, in his commentary on this same section of the Phaedo, that the connection with the Titans and Dionysos goes back to Xenokrates in the early Academy, since Xenokrates explained the φρουρά mentioned in the Phaedo as being Titanic and culminating in Dionysos. The sojourn in the body, whether it be understood simply as imprisonment, or more positively as garrison duty in the dangerous frontier of the material world, or even as protective custody by provident and benevolent gods, is in any case a period in which the individual is separated from the whole, the unity of divine perfection. Olympiodorus thus follows the precedent of Proclus and Damascius when he etymologizes the name of the Titans from the indefinite pronoun τι to emphasize their connection with the particular. "And he is torn apart by the Titans, of whom the something (τι) denotes the particular, for the universal form is broken up in genesis." Likewise, Olympiodorus' designation of Dionysos as the overseer of the world of genesis is in keeping with the place of Dionysos in Proclus and Damascius as the monad of a demiourgic manifold.
It is worth noting the absence of Apollo from the narrative at this point, since Apollo is often mentioned in connection with Dionysos as the one responsible for gathering his scattered limbs, reintegrating his divided self. While the connection between Dionysos and Apollo in Delphic ritual may have some part in the transmission of Apollo's role in the story, Apollo is generally included when the narrator of the story wants to emphasize the reintegration process and left out when only the process of division is important for the point.
Hera, on the other hand, is not always mentioned in the retelling of the dismemberment of Dionysos, but Olympiodorus includes her because of her meaning within the Neoplatonic interpretive tradition. Despite his explicit claim, Hera is not "in the Iliad, continually stirring up Zeus and stimulating him to providential care of secondary existents." On the contrary, she is continually trying to prevent Zeus from intervening in the war and from exercising some sort of providential care over the particular secondary existents, the Trojans, whom she wants destroyed. However, as Westerink points out, Olympiodorus' claim refers not to the well-known text of the Iliad, but rather to Proclus' allegorical interpretation of one scene, Hera's seduction of Zeus on Mt. Ida. In his allegorical interpretation of the infamously scandalous story of lust among the gods, Proclus reads the scene as the creative union of the One and the Secondary Principle, in which the Secondary Principle gets the One to begin the process that creates all things. Olympiodorus, therefore, like Proclus and other Neoplatonic interpreters, and indeed like other myth retellers and interpreters in the Greek mythic tradition, shows no compunction about altering the details or meaning even of a text as well-known as the Iliad in the service of his argument. For these transmitters of the mythic tradition, the essence of the myth lies in its meaning, its tenor, rather than the details of any textual vehicle, however prestigious.
Olympiodorus' focus on the meaning rather than the narrative of the traditional tale helps explain his innovations in the final parts of the myth, since his selection of details stems from the point he is trying to make with his mythic argument. Olympiodorus recounts that Zeus blasted the Titans with lightning and then created the human race from the remains. The lightning of Zeus is, after all, his standard weapon of punishment, and several versions of the dismemberment story do in fact include the blasting of the Titans by lightning.
However, as Damascius notes, there are three punishments recounted in the tradition for the Titans for their various crimes: lightning, shackles, and Tartarosis. Different tellings of the myths of the Titans' crimes (be it the revolt against the gods in the Titanomachy or the dismemberment of Dionysos or even Prometheus' theft of fire) made use of different punishments or combinations of punishments. Although some scholars have assumed that the blasting of the Titans after their cannibalism must have been the final event in the career of the Titans, this presumption, though specious, is not borne out by the evidence. As I have shown, the Titans survived the episode in some versions, being cast down into Tartaros and then later released. In one reference to the dismemberment story "as told by the theologians" (i.e., the Orphic versions), Proclus refers to the various lots of punishment that the other Titans received when Atlas was stationed to hold up the heavens on his back. Arnobius' version of the Titans' punishment for the dismemberment includes not only lightning but also Tartarosis: "Jupiter, drawn in by the sweetness of the smells, rushed unbidden to the feast, and, discovering what had been done, overwhelmed the feasters with his terrible thunder and hurled them down to the lowest places of Tartarus." In Nonnos, Zeus imprisons the Titans in Tartaros and then blasts the Earth with lightning, creating an ekpyrosis followed by a deluge.
The same punishments of lightning, binding, and Tartarosis appear in versions of the Titanomachy, from Hesiod to the Neoplatonic citations of the Orphica. Scholars have tried to sort out the varying references into a consistent storyline, assigning the Tartarosis to the Titanomachy and the lightning to the dismemberment and putting the Titanomachy before the dismemberment, but such solutions presume not only that the Neoplatonists citing the Orphic accounts were summarizing the Rhapsodic version without altering any details but also that the Orphic Rhapsodies themselves presented a single consistent version. But, West's elegant reconstruction notwithstanding, we have no evidence that the Rhapsodies presented a single, coherent and internally consistent version rather than a collection of different Orphic works that may have alluded to or narrated the episode in a variety of ways.
Olympiodorus chooses lightning as the punishment for the Titans in his story, rather than following the version Proclus cites, and he adds an anthropogony to the story of the dismemberment. The generation of human beings from the remains of the gods' enemies after their battle against the gods (whether Titanomachy or Gigantomachy) is, as we have seen, a familiar theme in the mythic tradition. However, no other extant source explicitly connects the dismemberment crime of the Titans with the anthropogony, so Olympiodorus must either be following some version no longer extant or he must be innovating, combining mythic elements in a way that they have not been combined in the extant references. Given the gaps in our sources, the missing text hypothesis is always possible, but there are good reasons why Olympiodorus might innovate by combining the elements of dismemberment and anthropogony, blending the stories of the Titans' two great crimes and their aftermaths.
First of all, Olympiodorus can mix the two stories because they both, in the Neoplatonic interpretive tradition, have the same meaning. The Titans stand always for the forces of division, separating the elements of the cosmos and promoting the process of genesis. Whether they are waging open battle or commiting secret murder, they are in these myths opposing the gods, who represent the divine perfection of unity. Proclus provides precisely this interpretation of the myths in a passage in his commentary on the Republic in which he links the two myths.
ὅθεν οἶμαι καὶ τοὺς Τιτᾶνας τῷ Διονύσῳ καὶ Διὶ τοὺς Γίγαντας ἀνταγωνίζεσθαί φασιν· τοῖς μὲν γὰρ ὡς πρὸ τοῦ κόσμου δημιουργοῖς ἥ τε ἕνωσις προσήκει καὶ ἡ ἀμέριστος ποίησις καὶ ἡ πρὸ τῶν μερῶν ὁλότης, οἳ δὲ εἰς πλῆθος προάγουσιν τὰς δημιουργικὰς δυνάμεις καὶ μεμερισμένως διοικοῦσιν τὰ ἐν τῷ παντὶ καὶ προσεχεῖς εἰσιν πατέρες τῶν ἐνύλων πραγμάτων.
Whence, I think, they say both that the Titans struggle against Dionysos and that the Giants struggle against Zeus. For to the gods, as craftsmen as it were of the cosmos, pertains the unification and the undivided creation and the wholeness before the division, but the latter propel into multiplicity the creative powers and they manage in a divided fashion the things in the universe and they are moreover the fathers of material things.
(Proclus in Remp. I.90.7-13)
For Proclus and those in his interpretive tradition, the Gigantomachy/Titanomachy myth really signifies this process of division and creation that is bounded by the unifying power of the gods, just as the story of the dismemberment of Dionysos is really another way of expressing the same idea. Whereas Proclus equates two distinct stories, the Gigantomachy and the dismemberment, Damascius simply lumps together all the stories of the Titans related in the mythic tradition. He notes that three punishments are traditionally recounted for the Titans, lightning, shackles, and descents into lower regions, although he only associates the anthropogony with the last, the descent into lower regions, i.e. Tartarosis.
ὅτι τριτταὶ παραδέδονται τῶν Τιτάνων κολάσεις· κεραυνώσεις, δεσμοί, ἄλλων ἀλλαχοῦ πρόοδοι πρὸς τὸ κοιλότερον. αὕτη μὲν οὖν οἷον τιμωρίας ἐπέχει τάξιν, ἐπιτρίβουσα αὐτῶν τὸ διαιρετικὸν καὶ ἀποχρωμένη τῷ κερματισμῷ αὐτῶν εἰς σύστασιν τῶν ἀτόμων ἄλλων τε καὶ ἀνθρώπων· ἡ δὲ μέση κολαστική, τὰς διαιρετικὰς ἐπέχουσα δυνάμεις· ἡ δὲ πρώτη καθαρτική, ὁλίζουσα αὐτοὺς κατὰ μέθεξιν. δεῖ δὲ περὶ ἕκαστον τὰς τρεῖς θεωρεῖν, εἰ καὶ ὁ μῦθος μερίζει·
Three punishments of the Titans are handed down in the tradition – lightning, shackles, descents into various lower regions. This last one is thus in the nature of a retribution, exacerbating their divisive nature and making use of their shattered remains for the constitution of individual entities, particuarly humans. The middle one is coercive, holding back their divisive powers. The first is purificatory, bringing them to unity through participation. It is necessary, however, to regard all three as imposed upon each, even if the myth divides them up.
(Damascius In Phaed. I.7.)
Again, like Olympiodorus, Damascius is not quoting from a particular Orphic text, he is providing an overview of the mythic tradition and arguing that all the stories about the punishment of the Titans have the same meaning. Elsewhere in his argument, Damascius does make direct quotations of Orphic poems, specifically at the beginning and the end (I.4 and I.11). These two quotations, however, are designed to illustrate specific points while at the same time lending the authority of Orpheus to the whole of the argument, a common tactic in the Greek mythic tradition. Plato's quotation of Homer in his descriptions of the underworld in his myths in the Gorgias and Phaedo provide particularly apt parallels for Damascius here. In each case, Plato brings in a single line of Homer to suggest that his description of the underworld is as familiar (and thus authoritiative) as Homer's, while nevertheless making radical innovations. Moreover, the descriptions of Minos giving judgements among the dead in the Gorgias (523e) or of Tartaros as a deep pit in the Phaedo (112ad) do not actually have the same meaning in Plato's myths as they did in Homer – Plato makes Minos the judge of newly arriving souls instead of the arbiter of disputes among the dead and his vision of Tartaros as a swirling, breathing whirlpool is far from the empty pit of Homer. Damascius likewise makes use of an idea from an authoritative poet without either keeping to the limits of the original text or necessarily preserving the poet's meaning.
Thus, although Bernabé cites this section of Damascius as evidence for an Orphic myth that contained the dismemberment, the anthropogony, and the idea of punishment for Titanic guilt, we can neither construct a narrative sequence in which these punishments occurred nor identify a particular narrative as the source of all these mythic elements. The myth may divide up these punishments into different stories, as retributions at different times or for different crimes, but they are all complementary, providing the same meaning for the myth.
There can be no doubt, however, that Damascius associates, not lightning, but the descent into Tartaros with the creation of human beings. In the above passage, Damascius lists the three punishments – lightning, shackles, and Tartarosis – and then discusses them in reverse order – Tartarosis, shackles, and lightning. Descent into the lower regions is equivalent to creation from fragments, shackles to coercive restraint, and lightning to purification. He expands his discussion of the punishments in the next few paragraphs, following this reversed order – Tartarosis in I.8-9, shackles in I.10, and purification in I.11. In the context of this procedure, he explains the creation of human beings from the fragments of the Titans as the ultimate in the process of division (εἰς ἔσχατον μερισμόν), since these entities are the lowest of the creative powers, the bottom link in the chain that connects the created materials with the divine creator. The details of the myth, that humans are created from the most divided particles of the dead bodies of the Titans, merely serve to emphasize the extreme of the process of division which the myth indicates, transferring the divided nature of human life to the extremely divided condition of the Titans. To live a Titanic life, therefore, is to behave in such a manner that exacerbates the divided condition of life.
As Damascius asserts, "the Titanic mode of life is the irrational mode, by which rational life is torn asunder." For Damascius, therefore, the meaning of the myth is that leading the irrational life breaks up the natural continuity of our being (τὸ ὁμοφυὲς εἶδος) and the partnership with the superior and inferior (οἷον κοινωνικὸν πρὸς τὰ κρείττω καὶ ἥττω), i.e., the links that bind the unity together. Acting like Titans is irrational and divisive to the self; acting in a unifying manner is to be like Dionysos. Damascius continues the allegory when he claims that "while in this condition [i.e., irrational and divided], we are Titans; but when we recover that lost unity, we become Dionysoi, having become thoroughly perfected." Nowhere in this exegesis is there a doctrine of a Titanic element and a Dionysiac element mixed into human nature by the creation of humankind from the Titans' remains. Rather, Damascius applies the general principle of division, which, as he points out, is everywhere (πανταχοῦ), to human life and behavior.
Olympiodorus takes the process of blending the stories Proclus identifies as having the same meaning one step further than Damascius; instead of just talking about all of the tales of the Titans' punishment as one idea, Olympiodorus actually recounts a version that blends the crime of the dismemberment with the anthropogony that sometimes follows on the crime of the revolt against the gods and then provides the exegesis of his myth. Olympiodorus, like Damascius, provides both an individual, ethical meaning for the myth and a theological, cosmological meaning, but Olympiodorus needs to provide a different angle on the problem than his predecessors, so he comes up with interpretations that are rather strange even among Neoplatonic allegorical exegeses.
The idea that bodies are simply a φρουρά for souls, a shackle or prison for individuals separated from the divine unity, is too obvious for Olympiodorus; the true meaning must be something more difficult to understand in order for Socrates to refer to it as an inexpressible mystery, ἀπόρρητον. Olympiodorus constructs an argument that makes suicide forbidden, not because of the nature of the soul and its punishment, but because of the nature of the body itself. If the Titans from whom the human body is created consumed Dionysos, then the human body itself must partake of the divine. As Linforth comments, "It is an audacious conjecture, because nothing could be more extraordinary than that a Platonist or Neoplatonist should locate the divine element which is in man anywhere but in the soul."
Olympiodorus' audacity may simply be due to his desire to provide something new in a long tradition of Platonic commentary on the φρουρά, but he may also have more complicated reasons for his argument about the composition of humans. As Brisson has argued, Olympiodorus may be making an alchemical allegory in his recounting of the myth, in addition to the ethical and cosmological allegories. The descriptions of the fire of Zeus' lightning blasting the Titans and of the particles produced out of the smoke that become the material for the creation of mankind, Brisson suggests, lend themselves to interpretation in alchemical terms. If fire (lightning) is applied to lime (ἄσβεστος), then a sublimate (αἰθάλη) appears as solid particles falling from the smoke (ἀτμός). This sublimate (αἰθάλη) may be identified with the ever-fresh (ἀειθαλής) spirit (πνεῦμα) that animates a human being. Lime is identified etymologically with the Titans and symbolically with Dionysos, so the application of fire to the combination (the Titans stuffed with morsels of Dionysos) alchemically produces the human being. Bernabé points out that αἰθάλη usually has the simple meaning of soot or ash, rather than the technical meaning of the solid particles that fall as a sublimate from the fumes released by the process of burning. Soot, however, is merely the most common, general form of such a sublimate, and the fact that the word has a general meaning in no way precludes it from being used in a technical sense. Indeed, for an interpreter like Olympiodorus, taking a common word in a technical and esoteric sense is precisely the way to discern the hidden, allegorical meaning.
Of course, without further evidence, it is impossible to prove that Olympiodorus is making such an alchemical allegory, but it is equally impossible to disprove, and the hypothesis serves to explain the peculiar innovation that Olympiodorus makes in arguing for the divinity of the body. So too, even if αἰθάλη is a common word, it seems unnecessarily circuitous to refer to the soot from the smoke, ἐκ τῆς αἰθάλης τῶν ἀτμῶν, rather than simply refer to the ashes of the corpses. The alchemical hypothesis also serves to explain why Olympiodorus is the only evidence for an anthropogony from the ashes of the enemies of the gods instead of the blood. Bernabé himself admits that Olympiodorus' evidence produces uncertainty whether the Orphic Rhapsodies narrated the generation of humans from the blood or the ashes of the Titans, an unresolvable dilemma if it is presumed that Olympiodorus could not be innovating this detail for purposes of his own.
Even if the alchemical allegory were to be rejected as too bizarre even for Olympiodorus, the version of the dismemberment story that Olympiodorus relates nevertheless seems to be the product of careful and deliberate manipulation of the mythic tradition, rather than the mindless preservation of a single text. Olympiodorus repeatedly demonstrates his willingness to alter the details and meanings of previous tellings in order to construct his arguments, and his combination of the dismemberment of Dionysos and the creation of human beings from the remains of the Titans is without precedent in the evidence. Olympiodorus' peculiar recounting of the myth of the dismemberment cannot be taken as evidence for a canonical Orphic tale of the generation of human beings from the ashes of the Titans. Not only is Olympiodorus' tale clearly not a precise reproduction of a single, standard Orphic text, but even if it were, the myth still does not include the dual Titanic and Dionysiac elements of human nature or any burden of guilt passed to humans, a stain of that original sin they all share. The innovative conclusion of Olympiodorus' tale, the anthropogony from the soot of the Titans, should not be read back into other tellings of the dismemberment story, since Olympiodorus chose to connect the dismemberment and the anthropogony for specific reasons, to make particular points within his argument. Such an innovation was made possible by the interpretations of the dismemberment, the Titanomachy, and the punishment of the Titans within the context of the Neoplatonic interpretive tradition, developing from Proclus to Damascius to Olympiodorus.
Olympiodorus' mythic argument against suicide is a fascinating filament within the wild and often gaudy tapestry of Neoplatonic myths. Careful analysis of the way Olympiodorus makes use of previous tellings of the myth of dismemberment as well as of the allegorical readings of the dismemberment and other myths provides insight into the relation of late antique thinkers to the Greek mythic tradition, suggesting that even a 6th century pagan living in an increasingly Christian world could engage in the same kind of serious play with the mythic tradition as Plato had a millennium earlier, brewing up a curious concoction of his own from the familiar materials to suit his arguments.
Blunting Occam's Razor: Some Methodological Considerations
"There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible and wrong."
(H. L. Mencken, "The Divine Afflatus", New York Evening Mail, 16 November 1917)
The Zagreus myth provides a simple explanation of a complex collection of evidence, weaving all the pieces into a single whole – a myth that includes the dismemberment of Dionysos, the punishment of the Titans, the generation of humanity from their ashes, and the need for purification from the original sin of the Titans' murder. The myth, moreover, provides a doctrine of the nature and fate of the soul that can be used as the nucleus of a definition of Orphism in ancient Greece, providing a simple essence of a complex religious phenomenon. How can such neat and plausible solution be wrong? Why should we pick apart this web of Penelope that has been so carefully woven in the last hundred years of scholarship? Why should we instead accept a messy and complicated answer that leaves many pieces of evidence incompletely explained?
The first response to such a question is that the Zagreus myth hypothesis does not, in fact, accurately explain the data. As I have shown, the claim that the anthropogony was an inevitable sequel to the dismemberment story is false. Not only is Olympiodorus the only text in which the anthropogony follows the dismemberment, but, in many of the most substantive pieces of evidence, the two cannot be linked. To read the anthropogony into Plutarch's allegory in the De Esu Carnium is to distort the text, and Proclus also has the dismemberment followed not by the generation of humanity out of the remains of the Titans, but by the shackling of the various Titans in a number of different places. Likewise, to assume that references to punishment of the Titans or to the creation of human beings must include the story of the dismemberment is to distort the evidence, to damage our understanding of the passages in question, from the Titanic nature of Plato's Laws to Dio's Titanic origin for humanity or the allusion to the blood of the earthborn in the Orphic Argonautica. The apparently simple explanation of the Zagreus myth only works with these texts if some of their complexities are ignored or if they are stripped of their context and woven into the fabric of the Zagreus myth as bare "Orphic fragments".
Even for the strands of evidence that do not present inherent contradictions to an interpretation in terms of the Zagreus myth, the assumption that they are all part of this single story unduly limits the scope of interpretation. Not every reference to Titans as the ancestors of mankind or to Persephone and Dionysos relieving the burden of ancient crimes or to the dismemberment of Dionysos alludes to this single story. The Greek mythic tradition was far richer and more varied, and the evidence instead attests to many different variants. We miss perceiving the evidence for local anthropogonic traditions, or for purificatory rituals, or for a number of different rituals and philosophical or theological ideas associated with the dismemberment – from agricultural festivals to private initiations to Neoplatonic cosmologies. The simple explanation provided by the Zagreus myth blinds us to the complexity and richness of the religious context that produced all of this evidence, causing us to halt our investigations before we have explored all of the ramifications.
None of the evidence that has been put forth for the existence of the Zagreus myth, from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE, actually provides all of the pieces of the myth. The sequence of dismemberment of Dionysos, punishment of the Titans, anthropogony from their remains, and mankind's burden of guilt simply does not appear in any of the evidence. All of the individual strands, of course, do appear independently and sometimes even in combination with one of the other elements. The Greek mythic tradition operates by bricolage, the piecing together of various scraps from the tradition rag-bag to create new variants of old, familiar tales as well as new tales from old pieces. The presence of one traditional element therefore never necessitates the presence of any other; the beginning, middle, or end of a story can be altered to suit the bricoleur's purpose as easily as the characters can be shifted around - one hero substituting for another or one monster for another. Any particular combination of traditional elements is therefore inextricably linked to the context in which the story is told, to the purpose for which the narrator relates the tale.
There are several reasons why the hypothesis of the Zagreus myth and the attendant idea of a coherent Orphic religion might have been appealing to the scholars at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries who first put it forth. Orphism, as reconstructed on the basis of the Zagreus myth provides not only a simple, elegant and coherent explanation of the evidence, but the model that it assumes of a doctrinally-based religion, focused on salvation from sin and relying on the authority of sacred texts, is familiar to modern scholars of religion who come from a Judaeo-Christian background. The very coherence of the model that the Zagreus myth assumes, therefore, comes not from the ancient evidence but from the familiarity of the religious model. However, such a model, forged in the debates between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and shaped by the ideas of the Enlightenment as well as the Reformation, cannot be applied to ancient religion without anachronism. Such a model is scarcely applicable to early Christianity, much less to ancient pagan Greek religion. We must turn to another model to make sense of the evidence.
Burkert and others have instead proposed a model of itinerant religious specialists competing for religious authority among a varying clientele. Rather than looking for a coherent set of sacred texts canonical to people who considered themselves Orphics, texts expressive of doctrines pertaining to sin, salvation, and afterlife, we should look for the products of bricolage, pieced together from widely available traditional material to meet the demand of clients looking for extra-ordinary solutions to their problems. If the texts and rituals are products of bricolage, however, and their creators bricoleurs competing for authority, we cannot expect to find either consistency of texts or doctrines, merely a loose family resemblance between composites of the same traditional elements. Such a model may seem a step backwards, jettisoning the positive conclusions drawn by many scholars in the past century and, to use Bernabé's image, making their labors as fruitless as Penelope's weaving. However, re-examining the evidence with attention to its ancient contexts and making use of the new models for reconstructing these religious contexts provides a more accurate understanding, not only of the evidence itself, but also of the relation of different pieces to one another. The picture may not be as neat and tidy, nor as familiar as an Orphism constructed in the image of a Protestant sect, but this messy and incomplete picture nevertheless offers a less distorted view of ancient Greek religion and the place of Orphism within it. Moreover, much of the work done by scholars using older models surely need not be abandoned, but merely adapted and recycled; their insights can contribute to our understanding of the evidence from new perspectives. The disjointed and fragmentary pieces of evidence we have are not the relics of secret canonical doctrines and scripture, but the productions of countless bricoleurs in competition with one another for religious authority. Rather than trying to define the doctrines and scriptures crucial to a secret sect, we must try to reconstruct the dynamics of this competition, the specialists and clients who were involved, and the traditional elements they used in their texts and rituals. To abuse Bernabé's metaphor, we must indeed unravel the weaving of Penelope, for the threads of evidence belong not in a single Puritan Christian funeral shroud but in a complex patchwork of Greek religious practices, whose brilliance and intricacy we can at best only hope to recover in part.
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