Poetry as Initiation: The Center for Hellenic Studies Symposium on the Derveni Papyrus

  Papadopoulou, Ioanna, and Leonard Muellner, eds. 2014. Poetry as Initiation: The Center for Hellenic Studies Symposium on the Derveni Papyrus. Hellenic Studies Series 63. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_PapadopoulouI_MuellnerL_eds.Poetry_as_Initiation.2014.

Chapter 4. Derveni and Ritual

Fritz Graf

The Ohio State University

In many respects, the derveni papyrus remains as intriguing as it appeared in 1964 when Stylianos Kapsomenos published the first choice morsels to whet the appetite of the scholarly community, or when, in 1968, Walter Burkert proposed the first thorough interpretation of the text known at the time and anchored the commentary firmly in Presocratic thinking. If I remember correctly, he presented this as a public lecture in Zurich when he applied for the chair in Greek philology which he was to hold and shape until his retirement—little did he know that the text would accompany him through most of his professional career. [1] Over the years, the text has become even more intriguing with the presentation of the very fragmentary first seven columns in the final critical edition, after Kyriakos Tsantsanoglou revealed them first at a Princeton colloquium in 1993, and with the new readings suggested by Richard Janko and Franco Ferrari. [2] What originally was thought to be an allegorical commentary on a theogony of Orpheus has now turned out to be a treatise whose exact character is still to be determined but that is as much about rituals as it is about Orphism or Presocratic physics—so much about rituals that Burkert suggested to identify it with a the treatise On Rituals (Περὶ τελετῶν) of Stesimbrotus of Thasus—as good a guess as any, given the little we know about this text and its author. [3]

In what follows I will return to the problem of the Derveni author—not in order to give him a name, but to understand who he could have been, and what his world and his background might have been. To this purpose, I will start from the crucial column xx, and then look at other hints in the text. The picture that {67|68} emerges will not be radically new, but I am confident that it will help to situate the text somewhat better.

1. The Interpretative Voice

The one reflection on ritual that has been known almost from the start is found in column xx (formerly col. xvi). It reads:

ὅσοι μὲν]
ἀνθρώπω[ν ἐν] τοῖς πόλεσιν ἐπιτελέσαντες [τὰ ἱ]ε̣ρὰ εἶδον,
ἔλασσόν σφας θαυμάζω μὴ γινώσκειν· οὐ γὰρ οἷόν τε
ἀκοῦσαι ὁμοῦ καὶ μαθεῖν τὰ λ̣εγόμενα· ὅσοι δὲ παρὰ τοῦ
τέχνην ποιουμένου τὰ ἱερά, οὗτοι ἄξιοι θαυμάζεσθαι
5καὶ οἰκτε[ί]ρεσθαι· θαυμάζεσθαι μὲν ὅτι δ̣οκοῦντες
πρότερον ἢ ἐπιτελέσαι εἰδήσειν ἀπέρχονται ἐπι-
τελέσαντες πρὶν εἰδέναι οὐδ’ ἐπανερόμενοι ὥσπερ
ὡς εἰδότες τ̣έ̣ων εἶδον ἢ ἤκουσαν ἢ ἔμαθον· [οἰ]κτε<ί>ρεσθαι δὲ
ὅτι οὐκ ἀρκεῖ̣ σφιν τὴν δαπάνην προσαναλῶσ̣θαι, ἀλλὰ
10___καὶ τῆ̣ς̣ γνώμης στερόμενοι πρὸς ἀπέρχονται.
πρὶν μὲν τὰ [ἱ]ερὰ ἐπιτελέσαι ἐλπίζον[τε]ς εἰδήσειν,
ἐπ̣[ιτελέσ]α̣ντ̣[ες] δὲ στερηθέντες κα[ὶ τῆς] ἐλπίδ[ος] ἀπέρχονται̣
___τω̣[ ].υοντ[…] λ̣όγος ..[…]ται[..].να
.[ ]ι τῆι ἑαυ̣τ̣ο̣ῦ ο..[ μ]ητρὶ μὲν
15 ]δ̣’ ἀδελφη[ ]ωσειδε

Already, for purely formal reasons, I think that the speaker of this auctorial voice must be the author of the overall text: the two paragraphoi after lines 10 and 13 need not mark off a quotation, as Jeffrey Rustens assumes. [8] In the Derveni Papyrus, paragraphoi serve two functions: they mark a quotation, mostly (but not exclusively) from Orpheus’ poem and often framing this quotation; and they indicate the beginning of a new paragraph even when the preceding paragraph had ended with a vacat. [9] Here, it is easier to understand both paragraphoi as marking two new paragraphs: lines 11–13 rephrase and summarize the preceding text, and thus they probably are not quotations; [10] and line 14 moves back to the interpretation at hand. [11] The speaker opposes people who perform rituals (ἐπιτελέω, the proper verb for performing any ritual) in cities to those who get their rituals from a specialist, παρὰ τέχνην ποιουμένου τὰ ἱερά. There is general agreement that we deal not just with any ritual but with the rites of mystery cults: the performers in the cities are described as people who “saw the sacred things,” τὰ ἱερὰ εἶδον; seeing the rites is typical for Eleusis from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter onwards. [12] But the author must mean more than just the one city mystery cult of Athens, if his plural ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι deserves any credit; I take it that ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι does not necessarily mean what we have learned to call a polis cult, that is, a cult financed and supervised by {69|70} the polis and concerned with the welfare of the city as well, but simply a cult that is performed in a city sanctuary and with group participation, as were, for example, the rites of Dionysos Bakcheios in Olbia, according to Herodotus. [13] In the later fifth century, the most likely time for the treatise, the one mystery cult that is widespread enough among Greek cities is the Bacchic mysteries, attested in the late sixth and early fifth centuries in cities as far apart as Ephesos, Olbia Pontica, and Cumae in Italy. This then means that the professionals “who make the sacred into their craft” are not the Eleusinian priests such as the Eumolpids (although their activities could be described in this same way) but the religious entrepreneurs that Plato calls μάντεις καὶ ἀγύρται who, in his negative and rather hostile representation, peddle private initiations to the rich. There is no need to separate these specialists whom a few later texts call Orpheotelestai, from the initiators in the cities: they might well all have performed Bacchic rituals. [14]

The author regrets that the clients of these private mystery initiators did not obtain the knowledge they could have gained if they only had asked their initiator. He concedes that such a demand would have been out of place during the rites in the cities: “It is impossible to hear the ritual words and at the same time to understand them.” In this reading, then, the key to knowledge is not the ritual gestures or the objects shown, despite the focus on seeing (εἶδον), but the words spoken during the ritual, and these words are not immediately understood. In order to obtain the knowledge they are entitled to, the initiates would need not only to hear the legomena, but to have them explained: interpretation has to follow initiation. The words uttered during the rituals (prayers, hymns, invocations) have a surface meaning that the participants could easily understand during the ritual and thus think they had gained knowledge; but the deeper meaning has eluded them, because they did not ask for elucidation after the end of the ritual.

There is, of course, a text that immediately qualifies for exactly this sort of legomenon: it is the theogony of Orpheus, whose surface meaning of a rather alarming theogony the Derveni author explains in physical terms. In column vii 2, he introduces the text he is interpreting as a “hymn” ([ὕ]μνον). In the following characterization of this text as “a hymn saying things that are sound and sanctioned by divine law” ([ὕ]μνον [ὑγ]ιῆ καὶ θεμιτὰ λέγοντα), the author makes a strong claim that the following surface reading does not justify at all. The author is quick to point this out: the poem appears as “strange and a riddle for humans” (ξ[ένη τις ἡ ποίησις [κ]αὶ ἀνθρώ[ποις] αἰνι[γμ]ατώδης, vii 4): the characterization thus draws attention to the necessity for the allegorical {70|71} reading that the author advocates, in a well-established move that takes an apparent scandalous statement in the text as the starting-off point for an allegorical reading. Perhaps he justified this claim in the sentence that immediately followed: one possible way of filling the lacuna at the end of vii 2 is Janko’s [ἱερολογεῖ]το γὰρ [τῆ]ι ποιήσει, “he said sacred things in his poem”: thus the strange and offending surface meaning must be misleading. But another supplement is more likely.

In column xx, the author distinguishes between two groups of people, both initiates: those who, through neglect or ignorance, have deprived themselves of the full benefit of initiation, knowledge, and those who would follow his advice and gain deeper knowledge. A similar dichotomy appears several times throughout the interpretation of Orpheus’ poem, between those who take the text literally, and those who, like the author, understand the deeper meaning. [19] In vii 4–8, the author states the principle that Orpheus’s poem appears “as strange and a riddle to people” (ξένη […] καὶ ἀνθρώποις αἰνιγματώδης) and thus needs explanation, with the same opposition he uses in xviii 4, where he {71|72} opposes the meaning Orpheus gave to a term to the surface understanding of “the other people” (οἱ ἄλλοι ἄνθρωποι). A similar opposition appears in ix 2 between the true understanding of a mythical detail and “those who do not know what is said” (οὐ γινώσκοντες τὰ λεγόμενα), whereas in xii 4–5 the author censors those who identify sky and Olympus because they err on a detail of poetical diction. Although these latter passages generalize, it is a generalization in the service of an interpreter who claims special knowledge that others do not possess; they thus align with the more specific opposition made in column xii, between initiates who hear the poem of Orpheus but think they understand it from their everyday use of language, and the interpreter who knows better and will tell his clients the real meaning. If this is correct, then the book must be addressed to initiates only and not destined for a larger readership. We do not deal with learned allegorization of a traditional poem (as, much later, in the Homeric Allegories of Heraclitus), we deal with the correct way to explain the ritual text to those undergoing initiation.

If we understand the poem in this way, the famous and often-remembered introductory line to Orpheus’ hymn whose second half the author comments upon in vii 9 serves a double purpose. Its full version is transmitted in two forms, ἀείσω ξυνετοῖσι and φθέγξομαι οἷς θέμις ἐστί, both completing the hexameter with the command θύρας δ’ ἐπίθεσθε, βέβηλοι. [20] We do not know which version the Derveni commentator read since in the preserved text he only comments on the common second half of the hexameter, but we can make a reasonable guess. His usual practice is to quote first at least one entire hexameter that fills its own line and is framed by two paragraphoi, then to comment on parts of the quotation that he usually cites again, lemma-like, at the beginning of his comments. Column vii 9 is such a lemma, as usual without a paragraphos; the entire verse then must have been cited towards the end of column vi, of which we have lost the lower two thirds. When the papyrus text sets in again in column vii, vii 2 describes the poem as a ὕμνος … θεμιτὰ λέγων. I suspect that this echoes the opening φθέγξομαι οἷς θέμις ἐστί—an opening that fits a ritual situation somewhat better than the second version (ἀείσω ξυνετοῖσι), although Plutarch explicitly connects this second variant with ritual performance, ἐν τελετῆι. [21] When the text was recited in the ritual, either opening kept away the noninitiated; for the allegorist who claimed to be one of those who have understanding, ξυνετοί, it provoked and justified his search for a second level of meaning. {72|73}

In what we read of column xx, the writer again justifies his own—preceding and following—allegorical explanation. But why in the middle of the interpretation and not at the beginning? To be precise, he had already justified his methodology at the outset of the interpretation, in column vii. Orpheus’ text, he said there, is enigmatic for ordinary humans, ἀνθρώποις αἰνιγματώδης (vii 5): [22] this explains the need for allegory. But this not nearly as forceful as what we read in column xx. The key to the renewed justification in column xx, I suspect, lies in the initial assertion that the hymn “tells things that conform to divinely sanctioned standards,” θεμιτὰ λέγοντα. Before column xx, we might have some surface events that hardly conformed to this standard, such as the swallowing of Ouranos’ genitals (if this is meant in col. xii 4 [23] ). But the real scandal is yet to come; it is Zeus’ marriage and incest with his mother. At about the same time, the Athenians heard on their stage how Jocasta hanged herself and how her son and husband Oedipus dug out his eyes, both to punish themselves for what Oedipus himself terms ἀσέβεια, “lack of respect for the gods” who set these standards [24] —and Zeus’ incest is worse, because premeditated and not the result of divine intrigue and human flaw. It makes some rhetorical sense to enter into yet another discussion of the need for allegorization at the very point before the story touches upon this final scandal.

The papyrus contains another case of an auctorial digression on methodology that is framed by two paragraphoi and thus singled out as interrupting the flow of the allegorization, and important enough to be underlined. It is to be found in column xiii 5 and 6:

ὅτι μὲν πᾶσαν τὴν πόησιν περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων αἰνίζεται, καθ’ ἔπος ἕκαστα ἀνάγκη λέγειν.

Since he composed the entire poem as a riddle about reality, one has to explain word by word.

All this has an immediate consequence for our understanding of column xx. Interpreters are divided into two camps, those who read the text as being critical of “Orphic” mysteries (whatever they are), and those who take it as a serious admonition to ask for more information when being initiated. [29] If we understand the Derveni theogony as the legomenon of such an initiation, to give its full text, “word by word,” is tantamount to divulging a text protected by the secrecy of the mysteries. We are accustomed to Greek authors (at least before the Christian polemics), from Herodotus and Plato to Pausanias, respecting this secrecy; no wonder that Janko took the Derveni author to be Diagoras. But {74|75} this cannot be. The author’s motive for allegorical interpretation is, in his own words, the assumption that the text says “things that are sound and sanctioned by divine law”: the need for interpretation is anchored in the author’s theology, which is as normative as Xenophanes’ or Plato’s: Zeus’ swallowing all gods or his incest with Hera are not θεμιτά. The need for sound theology stems from the fact that the text is used in a mystery ritual which the author takes very seriously: he is not laughing at the people who undergo initiation without receiving all the benefits, he pities them (οἰκτείρεσθαι xx 5) and promises them help from being defrauded by their own shortsightedness and the incompetence of their initiators. If taken seriously, this leads to the assumption that he himself is τέχνην ποιούμενος τὰ ἱερά, a religious entrepreneur who initiates people for a fee; but the specialty that he advertises in order to stand out from the other competing entrepreneurs is to explain the text he uses in his ritual as a physical allegory. The commentary is addressed to the initiates, in order to help them remember what they learned during the ritual, not unlike the gold tablets, or the Orphic hymn to Mnemosyne that, towards the very end of the ritual parcours, prays that the goddess “awake in the initiates the memory of the sacred rite.” [30]

2. Theorizing the Mystical Experience

The dichotomy Synesius uses goes back to Plato himself. Plato, however, used it differently, to describe in mystery language how a philosopher could arrive at truth. As Christoph Riedweg showed long ago, the Platonic tradition uses a three-step access to divine revelation as performed in the mystery cults as a metaphor for the philosopher’s trajectory to truth: after an initial purification rite, the second step consists of teaching and learning (παράδοσις, traditio), and the final step is pure vision, ἐποπτεία. This is never explicitly spelled out in Plato’s extant writings, but it is present in later Platonists, starting with his close student, Aristotle: it might well be a part of Plato’s oral teachings that did not surface in his own written dialogues, but only in the writings of his students and followers.

If Riedweg’s analysis is correct, we perceive a Platonic doctrine that resonates in an intricate way with what the Derveni author says. Mystery initiation contains an element of μαθεῖν, (intellectual) learning; it is central to the Derveni author, but preliminary only in the Platonic tradition. Both sides agree that an important part of what was taught in the mystery cults involved mythical stories. If we take Plato seriously, these myths were theogonical and eschatological. In Republic 377e, Socrates thinks that the story of Cronus’ castration should be only told secretly and to very few, after a sacrifice that is much more expensive than a piglet; the “piglet” might refer to the Eleusinian preliminary sacrifice, {76|77} but more important is the mostly overlooked fact that Plato can imagine traditional theogonical poetry in a mystery context. In Laws 870d, Plato talks about a λόγος ἐν ταῖς τελεταῖς that tells of punishment after death. Isocrates informs us that it was the Demeter myth that was told to the initiates in Eleusis. [35] Both Plato and the Derveni author agree that these myths were the legomena of the mystery rituals, and that they were only preliminary to the acquisition of truth. They split on the way to acquire this final truth. For the Derveni author, it can be acquired from the initiator, who should be able to explain the legomena: the truth consists in a final discursive rationalization and allegorization of the ritual texts. Plato disagrees radically: the final truth is available only through mystical experience, during which the philosopher experiences a direct vision that transcends any rationality.

The same discourse resonates in yet another late fifth-century Athenian text, Aristophanes’s Clouds. Socrates is about to initiate the reluctant Strepsiades, and he lures him with a question:

Βούλει τὰ θεῖα πράγματ’ εἰδέναι σαφῶς
ἅττ’ἐστὶν ὀρθῶς; …

Do you want to know divine matters clearly, how they are truly?

The means to obtain this knowledge, at least in Socrates’ promise, is a meeting and discussion with the divinities themselves: {77|78}

καὶ ξυγγενέσθαι ταῖς Νεφέλαισι εἰς λόγους
ταῖς ἡμετέραισιν δαίμοσι;

…. and to meet and talk with the Clouds, our divinities?

3. Μάγοι and the Derveni Author

In a paper published well after the original conference published in this volume, Franco Ferrari proposed an interesting answer. [40] He combined two hitherto unplaced fragments (162 and 180) and placed them at the beginning of column iv 11, as part either of the preceding citation from Heraclitus or of the Derveni author’s own discussion; since we miss the left margin, the paragraphos that would mark the end of the citation (possibly as early as after line {78|79} 9) is lost. The recovered text talks of Persians sacrificing, Πέρσαι θύουσιν, to the sun, and Ferrari derived from this the certainty that the μάγοι of vi 2 were Persian priests. But nothing in the text suggests that the rites were Persian as opposed to Greek. [41] Libations of milk and water are common for the Eumenides, but water libations at least are impossible in Persian cult, [42] and sacrificial cakes are a widespread although underresearched ingredient of many Greek sacrificial rites, without necessarily an equivalent in Persian ritual: in a Greek text, this remains firmly inside a Greek ritual horizon. Although one could imagine (unattested) sacrificial cakes among the Persians, and although Herodotus tells us that Xerxes’ magoi performed libations to the heroes at Troy (perhaps imitating Greek customs), [43] nothing forces us to assume that in vi 2 we are dealing with Persian rituals, and with Persian specialists performing them. Ferrari solved the ensuing quandary with the assumption that the Derveni author presented “neither a faithful account of Iranian ideas nor a sketch of Greek mysticism disguised with some Persian names and references, but a cross-cultural accommodation worked out by him and his sources to make Persian rites available to people already accustomed […] to cathartic practices and chthonian cult.” [44]

There can be little doubt that the entire list that I have highlighted, from νυκτιπόλοις to μύσταις, is Heraclitean, and that the rest is Clement’s summary of the Heraclitean passage. In addition, νυκτιπόλοι is, in all likelihood, not a noun but an adjective that is applied to the following nouns: thus, four groups of people are active during the night, three groups of performers of Bacchic mystery rites (the βάκχοι being perhaps a special group among the initiates {79|80} of Dionysus, more exalted than the simple “bearers of narthex,” the λῆναι and μύσται), and a group of religious specialists, the μάγοι, who must belong to the same contemporary Ionian world and, more narrowly, to the same religious background as the three Bacchic groups. Like them, the term μάγος is not intrinsically negative, but is as descriptive as the other three are, despite its Persian origin—but unlike those the term is not Greek but Persian. We thus learn (and I confess my own surprise) of priests in Bacchic mystery cults in Heraclitus’ world during the Persian occupation who were called or called themselves μάγοι.

This forces me to rethink the semantics of the three occurrences of μάγος in the fifth century outside Herodotus’ ethnographical text. Two cases come from tragedy, Sophocles Oedipus Rex 384–386 and Euripides Orestes 1494. In the Orestes, a servant describes the sudden disappearance of Helen, “through sorcery, the art of the magoi, or the secret attack of the gods” (ἤτοι φαρμάκοις | ἢ μάγων τέχναις ἢ θεῶν κλοπαῖς). This passage is fully descriptive; the μάγοι wield supernatural power which humans cannot resist; there is nothing intrinsically negative in the term. The Sophoclean passage is less easy to gauge. Oedipus is angry at Tiresias and abuses him as a false prophet, bought by Creon—“this wizard hatcher of plots, this crafty beggar who has sight only when it comes to profit, but in his art is blind” (μάγον τοιόνδε μηχανορράφον, | δόλιον ἀγύρτην, ὅστις ἐν τοῖς κέρδεσιν | μόνον δέδορκε, τὴν τέχνην δ’ ἔφυ τυφλός). Hugh Lloyd-Jones’ translation “wizard” begs the question: it might well be that the term is descriptive only and gets its negative force from the adjectives. At any rate, even if negative in itself, the English “wizard” is somewhat beyond the point: Tiresias is a seer, and it is his divinatory profession that is expressed by μάγος. Ἀγύρτης, the second noun, is in itself descriptive as well: he is the priest who “collects contributions.” Such priests, however, never belonged to established polis cults but to marginal and often foreign cults; unlike the polis priest, they were itinerant professionals, not citizens serving their community. The contrast with the citizen priesthood must have been enough to give the term a somewhat negative connotation. But again, as with the μάγος, it is the adjective that carries the main weight of Oedipus’ revilement.

Thus, these four passages present the μάγος as an itinerant religious specialist who concerned himself with Bacchic initiations that had an eschatological component (Heraclitus), with divination (Sophocles), healing and purification (On the Sacred Disease), and with strange supernatural acts (Euripides). With the Derveni μάγοι, these specialists share the concern with the afterlife (col. vi) and, if we assume that the speaker is not very different from the magoi, divination (col. v) and initiation into mystery cults (col. xx). We hear at least of one historical seer who combined similar activities with his own: two passages from Old Comedy describe the seer and chresmologos Diopeithes as an ecstatic performer (παραμαινόμενος) whose performances comprised dance and the music of tympana; [47] if Diopeithes were not an outspoken enemy of Anaxagoras, he would easily qualify as my candidate for the title of Derveni author. [48] Diopeithes’ portrait in Old Comedy recalls both Plato’s description of the ἀγύρται καὶ μάντεις and the use which Bacchic initiators and Orpheotelests made of the tympanon. [49] We can see a similar constellation inside an Athenian family, with an interesting sociological twist that belies Plato’s dismissive description: whereas Aeschines’ mother Glaukothea was the high priestess of the ecstatic and cathartic mysteries of a divinity closely related to Dionysus, her brother Kleioboulos was a famous seer rich enough to serve as Athenian general and leave an impressive grave stele. [50]

But the Greek conceptualization of the Persian mágoi was rather more ambiguous than is suggested by the protest of whoever wrote the Pseudo-Aristotelian Magikos. For some, they were indeed priests of another culture, either seen as authoritative, as in Herodotus and Xenophon, or as somewhat uncanny, as in the historian Theopompus, who tells of their power to resuscitate the dead. [53] To philosophers such as Aristotle, they represented an alien but acceptable philosophy whose doctrines could be cited in the same breath as those of early Greek philosophers. [54] To others again, they were simply weird and sexually ambiguous figures; to think that they were not really Greek helped to save one’s own identity. On stage, Greeks could relish actors that were called magōidoi (“singers in the style of the mágoi”). Aristoxenos of Tarentum, a student of Aristotle, describes them as comic actors that performed both male and female parts; Athenaeus, who cites Aristoxenus, describes them thus:

ὁ δὲ μαγῳδὸς καλούμενος τύμπανα ἔχει καὶ κύμβαλα καὶ πάντα τὰ περὶ αὐτὸν ἐνδύματα γυναικεῖα· σχινίζεται δὲ καὶ πάντα ποιεῖ τὰ ἔξω κόσμου, ὑποκρινόμενος ποτὲ μὲν γυναῖκας [καὶ] μοιχοὺς καὶ μαστροπούς, ποτὲ δὲ ἄνδρα μεθύοντα καὶ ἐπὶ κῶμον παραγινόμενον πρὸς τὴν ἐρωμένην.

Appendix: Heraclitus, Fire, and Persia

Let me end with a final suggestion. Once again, Heraclitus has cropped up, this time as the main witness to the μάγοι as they appear in column vi. Furthermore, Heraclitus’s νυκτιπόλοι μάγοι, βάκχοι, λήναι and μύσται—Bacchic initiates and their initiation priests—must have taken a lively interest in the afterlife: if Heraclitus predicts to them fire after their death, he must somehow turn the tables on them. Clement’s patchwork quote seems to make at least this clear, despite its opaqueness: Heraclitus does not just attack mystery rites, he connects them with eschatological beliefs that he himself rejects. Fire must either have been significantly absent from their post-mortem hopes, or (much more likely) it must have played a negative and punitive role in their eschatology.

But there is at least one other, presumably earlier, and certainly very Greek attestation. It appears in a strangely suggestive context: {84|85}

Those who have spent their life in evil deeds are brought by the Erinyes through Tartaros to Erebos and Chaos: there is the place of the Unholy Ones [ἀσεβῶν χῶρος] […] There they are consumed by eternal punishments, gnawed by wild animals, burnt by the torches of the Poinai, suffered every abominable thing.

One cannot but wonder, on several levels. Since the Derveni Papyrus did not simply serve to kindle the pyre, its text was supposed to bring some comfort to the nobleman burnt and buried there. Sarah Iles Johnston treats some of the fears he might have had in her contribution to this volume. There might have been others: I wonder whether the dead Macedonian was as afraid of the fire in the beyond as was the Athenian Axiochus, Alcibiades’ uncle and thus his social equal. If so, he had found comfort in the rites performed by a Bacchic μάγος and a book written by one of them with an ambitious intellectual outlook, destined to convey this sort of comfort through the correct explanation of the rituals and of Orpheus’ theogonic hymn. {85|}


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———. 2008. Kleine Schriften, 8: Philosophica. Ed. Th. A. Szlezák and K.-H. Stanzl. Göttingen.

Calame, C. 2005. Masques d’autorité: Fiction et pragmatique dans la poétique grecque antique. Paris.

Diels, H. 1926. Philodemos, Über die Götter, Erstes Buch. Abhandlungen der Preus-sischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1915, no. 7. Berlin.

Ferrari, F. 2010. “Democrito a Derveni? PDerv. col. 4, 1–6.” Parola del Passato 371:137–148.

———. 2011a. “Rites without Frontiers: Magi and Mystae in the Derveni Papyrus.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 179:71–83.

———. 2011b. “Frustoli erranti: Per una ricostruzione delle colonne 1–3 del Papiro di Derveni.” In Papiri filosofici: Miscellanea di Studi VI, ed. M. S. Funghi, 39–54. Florence.

———. 2012. “Derveni Papyrus. F. Ferrari Edition.” CHS-iMouseion Project. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Derveni_Papyrus_FerrariF_ed_2012.

Graf, F. 1980. “Milch, Honig und Wein: Zum Verständnis der Libation im Griechischen Ritual.” In Perennitas. Studi Angelo Brelich, 209–221. Rome.

———. 2009. “Serious Singing: The Orphic Hymns as Religious Texts.” Kernos 22:169–182.

Graf, F., and S. I. Johnston. 2013. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife. London.

Guthrie, W. K. C. 1978. A History of Greek Philosophy, 5: The Later Plato and the Academy. Cambridge.

Henrichs, A. 1984. “The Eumenides and Wineless Libation in the Derveni Papyrus.” In Atti del XVII Congresso Internazionale di Papirologia (Napoli, 19–26 maggio 1983), 255–268. Naples.

Herrero di Jáuregi, M., ed. 2011. Tracing Orpheus. Studies of Orphic Fragments in Honor of Albert Bernabé. Berlin.

Hershbell, J. P. 1981. Axiochus. Chico, CA.

Janko, R. 2008. “Reconstructing (Again) the Opening of the Derveni Papyrus.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 166:37–51.

Kapsomenos, S. G. 1964. “Ὁ Ὀρφικὸς πάπυρος τῆς Θεσσαλονίκης.” Archaiologikon Deltion 19:17–25.

———. 1964/65. “The Orphic Papyrus Roll of Thessalonika.” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 2:3–12.

Kett, P. 1966. Prosopographie der historischen griechischen Manteis bis auf die Zeit Alexanders des Grossen. Erlangen-Nürnberg.

Kouremenos, Th., G. M. Parássoglou, and K. Tsantsanoglou, eds. 2006. The Derveni Papyrus, Edited with Introduction and Commentary. Florence.

Laks, A., and G. Most, eds. 1997. Studies on the Derveni Papyrus. New York.

Müller, C. W. 1975. Die Kurzdialoge der Appendix Platonica. Munich.

Obbink, D. 1997. “Cosmology as Initiation vs. the Critique of Orphic Mysteries.” In Laks and Most 1997:39–54.

Ricciardelli, G., ed. 2000. Inni Orfici. Milan.

Richardson, N. J. 1974. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Oxford.

Riedweg, Chr. 1993. Jüdisch-hellenistische Imitation eines orphischen Hieros Logos: Beobachtungen zu OF 245 und 247 (sog. Testament des Orpheus). Tübingen.

Russell, J. R. 2001. “The Magi in the Derveni Papyrus.” Nâme-Ye Irân-e Bâstân: International Journal of Ancient Iranian Studies 1:46–56.

Rusten, Jeffrey S. 1985. “Interim Notes on the Papyrus from Derveni.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 89:121–140.

Tsantsanoglou. K. 1997. “The First Columns of the Derveni Papyrus and Their Religious Significance.” In Laks and Most 1997:93–128.

Wycherley, R. E. 1961. “Peripatos: The Athenian Philosophical Scene I.” Greece and Rome 8:152–163.


[ back ] 1. Kapsomenos 1964, 1964/65; Burkert 1968, 1980, 1986, 1997, 1998, 2006:95–111.

[ back ] 2. Text and commentary: Tsantsanoglou 1997; editio princeps: Kouremenos, Parássoglou, and Tsant-sanoglou 2006; new reconstructions: Janko 2008, Ferrari 2011b and 2012.

[ back ] 3. Burkert 1986.

[ back ] 4. [ὅσοι μὲν] is an easy supplement to create a functioning syntax.

[ back ] 5. A (partial) bibliography is provided in Bernabé’s edition (2007:238).

[ back ] 6. The column mentions Aphrodite and Peitho, the usual divinities that assist and are invoked in the wedding ritual.

[ back ] 7. I read the presence of Aphrodite Ourania, Peitho, and Harmonia in col. xxi as aition of the traditional wedding ritual with its sacrifices to these deities. For another attempt at genealogical totality, written as a joke by a gifted medievalist, see Heimito von Doderer’s hilarious novel Die Merowinger.

[ back ] 8. Rusten 1985:138–140; see the counterarguments of Obbink (1997:44–45).

[ back ] 9. Quotations: iv 6, viii 1, xii 2, xiii 3/4, xiv 5/6, xv 5/6, xv 12, xvi 2/6, xix 9, xxiii 10/11, xxiv 2/3, xxv 13/14, xxvi 3/4, 11/12; new paragraph: x 10, xi 7, xii 6, xv 10, xxiii 7.

[ back ] 10. Except if we assume that after line 10, the scribe marked a paragraph inside a quotation that would end at 13; but this assumption accepts the double function of the paragraphoi and is unnecessarily complex.

[ back ] 11. I will come back to this question below.

[ back ] 12. Homeric Hymn to Demeter 480, with the passages collected by Richardson (1974, ad loc.).

[ back ] 13. Herodotus 4.79.

[ back ] 14. Plato perseveres in his hostility against the religious entrepreneurs: in Laws 909B, he proposes incarceration for them. On the Orpheotelestai see Graf and Johnston 2012:145–146.

[ back ] 15. See Bernabé 2007:201 on the text.

[ back ] 16. Homer Odyssey viii 249 (the Demodokos story); Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 161; Hesiod Works and Days 662 (with West’s remark) as against e.g. Aeschylus Persians 623, Seven Against Thebes 866; Plato Republic 459e, 607a, Laws 700b; Demosthenes 21.5; Philochorus FGrHist 328 F 188.

[ back ] 17. Plato Republic 2.364e.

[ back ] 18. Euripides Hippolytos 953f. = OF 627 Bernabé.

[ back ] 19. The principle (Orpheus “speaks in riddles,” ἐν αἰνίγμασιν, vii 4–8); the opposition in ix 2 (οἰ οὐ γινώσκοντες), xii 3–5 (ἁμαρτάνουσι … οὐ γινώσκοντες), xviii 3–6 (Orpheus versus οἱ ἄλλοι ἄνθρωποι).

[ back ] 20. OF 1a, 1b, 377 and 378 Bernabé. See five different approaches to this text in Herrero 2011:1–28 (J.  N. Bremmer, C. Calame, F. Graf, M. Dolores Lara, and S. Macías Otero).

[ back ] 21. Plutarch fr. 202 Sandbach. See also Bremmer in Herrero 2011:1–6 (on performance, but without citing Plutarch).

[ back ] 22. See esp. Calame 2005.

[ back ] 23. See the discussion in Kouremenos, Parássoglou, and Tsantsanoglou 2006:26–28, citing earlier positions.

[ back ] 24. Oedipus as ἀσεβής: Sophocles Oedipus Rex 1441, cp. 1382 (the killer of King Laius); in 1360, he calls himself ἄθεος and ἀνοσίων παῖς.

[ back ] 25. Kouremenos, Parássoglou, and Tsantsanoglou 2006:241, with some hesitation.

[ back ] 26. In the magical papyri such textual variations are usually introduced by ἐν ἄλλωι (εὗρον) “I found in another copy” or similar formulae, PGM II 50, IV 500, 1277, V 51, VII 204, XII 201, XIII 731. Cato On Agriculture 160, with a similar formula (modern editions print one variation—in a rather superficial decision, since both variations must be ancient—and ban the other into the critical apparatus).

[ back ] 27. See also the two versions of the so-called Testament of Orpheus, OF 377 and 378 Bernabé: both are short, ca. 25 hexameters (F 277) and 41 hexameters respectively (F 378). See Riedweg 1993.

[ back ] 28. Burkert 2006:103.

[ back ] 29. See Kouremenos in Kouremenos, Parássoglou and Tsantsanoglou 2006:53–58, 238–240, who sees the author as rejecting any religious interpretation.

[ back ] 30. Orphic Hymn 77.9–10 (μύσταις μνήμην ἐπέγειρε εὐιέρου τελετῆς); see Ricciardelli 2000:512 and Graf 2009. Analyzing the literary voice of the Derveni author, Calame (2005:166–169) came to a similar conclusion: “the commentary most likely served earlier in this intellectual initiation.”

[ back ] 31. This might even explain the way the scroll burned: the part that was protected by the deceased person’s hand was the only part that survived the flames.

[ back ] 32. Arena 1994: no. 15.

[ back ] 33. Fr. 15 Rose from Synesius Dio 10. See also Psellos, Scholia on John Climacus 6.171, who seems to know the same Aristotelian text.

[ back ] 34. Plato Phaedo 69c = OF 576 Bernabé.

[ back ] 35. Isocrates Panegyric 28.

[ back ] 36. Aristotle fr. 15 Rose.

[ back ] 37. Aristophanes Clouds 250–330. Scholars usually have stressed the echoes of Eleusinian ritual, see e.g. Christiane Sourvinou Inwood, “Reconstructing Change: Ideology and the Eleusinian Mysteries,” in Inventing Ancient Culture: Historicism, Periodization, and the Ancient World, ed. M. Golden and P. Toohey (London, 1997) 132–164; P. Bonnechère, however—and more problematically—argued for the cult of Trophonios at Lebadeia, “La scène d’initiation des Nuées d’Aristophane et Trophonios: nouvelles lumières sur le culte lébadéen,” Revue des Études Grecques 111 (1998): 436–480.

[ back ] 38. Thus, I use the term in a much wider sense than Ferrari (2011a:71), who understands the “Orpheotelestae”—i.e. initiators who do not explain—as the target of the criticism of the Derveni author: but Ferrari’s understanding, based on the three passages that mention an Ὀρφεοτελεστής (Theophrastus Characters 16 = OF 654; Philodemus On Poems 1.181.1 Janko = OF 655 Bernabé; and Plutarch Apophthegmata Laconica 22 = OF 653 Bernabé), presupposes that we know whether they did more than just the ritual: but we don’t know.

[ back ] 39. Resolutely Persian according to Russell (2001), but he overlooks the Greek side.

[ back ] 40. Ferrari 2011a.

[ back ] 41. See the contribution of Sarah Iles Johnston in this volume.

[ back ] 42. Eumenides: Henrichs 1984:255–268, Graf 1980:209–221; water: Bremmer 1999:8.

[ back ] 43. Herodotus 7.43.

[ back ] 44. Ferrari 2011a:82.

[ back ] 45. Heraclitus 21 B 14 DK.

[ back ] 46. Hippocrates On the Sacred Disease 2.

[ back ] 47. Ameipsias fr. 10 Kock: ὥστε ποιοῦντες χρησμοὺς αὐτοὶ διδόασ’ ᾄδειν Διοπείθει τῷ παραμαινομένῳ.; Phrynichos fr. 9: ἁνὴρ χορεύει καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ καλά.| βούλει Διοπείθη μεταδράμω καὶ τύμπανα;.

[ back ] 48. The sources on Diopeithes appear in Kett 1966: 33 no. 21.

[ back ] 49. See the Orpheotelestai in Philodemus On Poems 1.181 Janko, and King Ptolemy IV Philopator in Plutarch Agis and Cleomenes 54.2 (820D) (τελετὰς τελεῖν καὶ τύμπανον ἔχων ἐν τοῖς βασιλείοις ἀγείρειν); see also Plutarch Moralia 60A.

[ back ] 50. See Kett 1966:52 no. 42; the epigram SEG 16,193.

[ back ] 51. Theophrastus Inquiry into Plants 15.7: the plant moly, used πρὸς τὰ ἀλεξιφάρμακα καὶ τὰς μαγείας.

[ back ] 52. Aristotle fr. 36; the late source, Diogenes Laertius 1.8, ascribes the same distinction to Deinon and Hermodorus, the former a little-known Hellenistic historian from Rhodes, and the latter perhaps a student of Plato.

[ back ] 53. Theopompus FGrHist 115 F 64a; he cites the satyr play Harpalos (performed ca. 324 BCE at the Dionysia on the river Hydaspes), where this art is ascribed to the βαρβάρων μάγοι (Athenaeus 13.68 [595 D]).

[ back ] 54. Aristotle Metaphysics 1091a30 cites the mágoi alongside Empedocles, Pherecydes of Syros, and Anaxagoras; in his lost On Philosophy fr. 6, he accurately reported on Zoroastrian dualism and regarded the mágoi as older than the Egyptians. The Alcibiades Maior 122ab (presumably spurious) contains an equally positive opinion on Zoroastrian mágoi: they teach the king “the worship of the gods,” θεῶν θεραπεία. In his Republic, however, Plato has a much poorer opinion of the mágoi: in 572e, he talks about the lawless seducers of a morally healthy youth as δεινοὶ μάγοι τε καὶ τυραννοποιοὶ, “dire magicians and tyrant-makers,” who encourage his irrational passions. The reference here is either again to the Persian mágoi as royal advisers, or to the powerful but evil rhetorical power of the seducers, in a reaction to Gorgias, or to both.

[ back ] 55. Athenaeus 14.14 (621C).

[ back ] 56. Philodemus On Poems 1.181 Janko; Plutarch Agis and Cleomenes 54.2 (820D); see above n49.

[ back ] 57. This contradicts not just my earlier assumptions but also the construction of Bremmer (2008).

[ back ] 58. Kouremenos, Parássoglou, and Tsantsanoglou 2006:11.

[ back ] 59. See the overview in Briquel 1997:9–50.

[ back ] 60. Herodotus 1.132: παρεστεὼς ἐπαείδει θεογονίην, οἵην δὴ ἐκεῖνοι λέγουσι εἶναι τὴν ἐπαοιδήν· ἄνευ γὰρ δὴ μάγου οὔ σφι νόμος ἐστὶ θυσίας ποιέεσθαι.

[ back ] 61. Plato Phaedo 114a.

[ back ] 62. Philodemus On the Gods I, col. 19, 19–23; see the edition and commentary by Diels (1926).

[ back ] 63. Plato Axiochus 371d–e. For a translation with a useful introduction see Hershbell 1981. The dates range from “not long after Plato’s life-time” (Wycherley 1961:160) to “nach Karneades” (Müller 1975:296n6, 328); Guthrie (1978:393–394) cautions against a late date and points to the traditional eschatological motives that the dialogue shares with the Orphic gold tablets.

[ back ] 64. On the strange bronze tablets Guthrie 1978:396.