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THE ORPHIC ARGONAUTICA
AORPHǼOHS ARGONAFTIKÁ - ΟΡΦΕΩΣ ΑΡΓΟΝΑΥΤΙΚΑ

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The Orphǽohs Argonaftiká (Orphic Argonautica; Gr. Ὀρφέως Ἀργοναυτικά, ΟΡΦΕΩΣ ΑΡΓΟΝΑΥΤΙΚΑ)

Here follows a summary of the Orphǽohs Argonaftiká. This famous epic poem tells the story of Iásohn (Jason; Gr. Ἰάσων) and the Argonáftai (Argonauts; Gr. Ἀργοναῦται) as told by Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς) to Mousaios (Musaeus; Gr. Μουσαῖος), his son or pupil. It is similar to the epic Argonaftiká of Apollóhnios Ródios (Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος), the Alexandrian poet from Ródos (Rhodes; Gr. Ῥόδος). The Orphǽohs Argonaftiká is symbolic journey, conducted on the Argóh (Argo; Gr. Ἀργώ), the ship which represents the Vehicle of the Soul. The crew of Heroes are engaged in a divine expedition: they seek the Krysómallon Dǽras (Gr. Χρυσόμαλλον Δέρας), the Golden Fleece, which represents the Deification of the Soul.


Invocation and Orphic Cosmogony

The poem begins with an invocation to Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) after which Orphéfs outlines a kozmogony, but in very few words. This little kozmogony assumes that the reader is already familiar with the mythology of Orphismós, so it just prods one's memory of particular highlights of the stories, but the beginning is important so we include the first five lines of the ancient Greek text (lines 12-16) and a suggested translation [1]:

αρχαίου μέν πρῶτα Χάους ἀτέγαρτον Ἀνάγκην,
καί Κρόνον, ὡς ἐλόχευσεν ἀπειρεσίοις ὑπό κολποίς
Αἰθέρα καί διφυῆ, πυρσωπέα, κυδρόν Ἔρωτα,
Νυκτός ἀειγνήτης υἷα κλυτόν· ὅν ρα Φάνητα
Ὁπλότεροι κλήζουσι βροτοί· πρῶτος γάρ ἐφάνθη.

Indeed, from the beginning, relentless Necessity brought forth Chaos
and Time, who of himself, from his boundless womb, brought forth
Aithír and two-sexed, fiery-eyed, illustrious Ǽrohs (Eros),
glorious son of eternal Nyx: namely Phánis
as men of later generations celebrate in song, for he was the first to appear.

Orphéfs then goes on to celebrate many of the glorious Gods of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός) and he recalls their wondrous deeds: He speaks of the offspring of mighty Vrimóh (Brimo; Gr. Βριμώ), and of the destructive Earthborn (the Titans) who from their seed (the soot after the sacrifice of Zagréfs) falling from the Sky begot the race of mortals residing throughout the world. Of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) and Kyvǽli (Cybele; Gr. Κυβέλη = Rhǽa) and of how they coupled to conceive Pærsæphóni (Persephone; Gr. Περσεφόνη); of the Dáctyli (Dactyls; Gr. Δάκτυλοι) of Mount Ídi (Ida; Gr. Ἴδη) and their Mystíria in Phriyía (Phrygia; Gr. Φρυγία); and of the Korývantæs (Korybantes; Gr. Κορύβαντες = Kouritæs); of the wanderings of Dimítir (Demeter; Gr. Δημήτηρ) in her search for her daughter Pærsæphóni; of the Káveiri (Cabeiri; Gr. Κάβειροι); of the augury (Gr. χρησμούς) of Nyx concerning Vákkhos (Bacchus = Dionysos; Gr. Βάκχος); and of sacred (Gr. ζάθεος, ζαθέην) Límnos (Lemnos; Gr. Λήμνος); and of Samothráki (Samathace; Gr. Σαμοθράκη); of Aphrodíti (Aphrodite; Gr. Ἀφροδίτη) and Ádohnis (Adonis; Gr. Ἄδωνις); of the orgies of Praxidíkæ (Praxidike; Gr. Πραξιδίκε); of Athiná (Athena; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ); of the grief of Egypt, and of the Iærá Khýtla (Sacred Libations; Gr. Ἱερά Χύτλα) of Ósiris (Gr. Ὄσιρις).

And this being somewhat reminiscent of the Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony, as the great theologian continues, reminding Mousaios of all the sacred things he has taught him. And when Orphéfs concludes this beautiful invocation and prayer, he commences his narrative concerning the great journey of the Argóh (Argo; Gr. Ἀργώ).


The Quest for the Krysómallon Dǽras and the Gathering of the Argonáftai

The king of Iohlkós (Iolchus; Gr. Ιωλκός) was Pælías (Pelias; Gr. Πελίας). Pælías had a half-brother named Aisohn (Aeson; Gr. Αἴσων), but the father of Pælías was Poseidóhn (Poseidon; Gr. Ποσειδῶν) while Aisohn's father was Krithéfs (Cretheus; Gr. Κρηθεύς)Tyróh (Tyro; Gr. Τυρώ) being the mother of both men. Aisohn had a son named Iásohn (Jason; Gr. Ἰάσων) who had been cheated by Pælías out of the kingship of Iohlkós. Pælías received an oracle that a son of Aisohn would take his kingdom and he perceived that this son of Aisohn was Iásohn, so he devised a trick to kill him: Pælías ordered Iásohn to go to the kingdom of Kolkhís (Colchis; Gr. Κολχίς) to acquire the Krysómallon Dǽras (Gr. Χρυσόμαλλον Δέρας), the Golden Fleece.  

Iásohn now supplicated Íra (Hera; Gr. Ἥρα) whom he loved the most of all the Blessed Gods. Íra obliged the Goddess Athiná (Athena, referred to in the text by her epithet Τριτογένεια) to build Iásohn a mighty boat with the help of Árgos (Argus; Gr. Ἄργος) the builder, son of Arǽstohr (Arestor; Gr. Ἀρέστωρ). The vessel was named the Argóh (Argo; Gr. Ἀργώ), after its designer. In this first of ships they installed a talkative beam of Tomarian (Gr. Τομαριάς) oak [2] which could speak true prophecies, taken from the sacred oracular grove of Dohdóhna (Dodona; Gr. Δωδώνᾱ).  

Iásohn petitioned Orphéfs (Orpheus) and many other heroes to join his noble quest. The men who joined his adventure are known as the Argonáftai (Argonauts; Gr. Ἀργοναῦται); they are also known as the Minýæs (Minyans; Gr. Μινύες). Included amongst their numbers was Iraklís (Heracles or Hercules; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς), the twin brothers Kástohr (Castor; Gr. Κάστωρ) and Polydéfkis (Polydeuces or Pollox; Gr. Πολυδεύκης), and many others. The Minýæs elected Iraklís as their leader, but Iraklís insisted that Iásohn should be their leader. They all swore a great oath, offered sacrifice, and began their journey.


The Cave of Kheirohn

The Argonáftai first visited the Cave of Kheirohn (Chiron; Gr. Χείρων), the Kǽntavros (Centaur; Gr. Κένταυρος). Kheirohn gave the Minýæs a great feast with much food and drink. He challenged Orphéfs to a musical contest and Orphéfs amazed everyone. When the feast and contest concluded, Kheirohn gave Orphéfs a leopard-skin for his musical efforts. And the men were off.


Límnos

Next on their journey was the island of Límnos (Lemnos; Gr. Λήμνος). Here the Argonáftai encountered Ypsipýli (Hypsipyle; Gr. Ὑψιπύλη) the queen who made love to Iásohn. All the Limnian woman engaged in sex with the Minýæs and the men were so enraptured that Orphéfs had to sing, exercising his ability to entrance, so that the men would recall their obligations and return to the ship.


The Battle of Kýzikos

The Argóh now journeyed to the island of the Dolíonæs (Doliones; Gr. Δολίονες), a pólis (Gr. πόλις) of the Troad which was ruled by Kýzikos (Cyzicus; Gr. Κύζικος)It was here that they encountered the six-armed giants of Áris (Ares; Gr. Ἄρης). In the battle which ensued, Iraklís (Herakles) accidentally killed Kýzikos. This angered Rhǽa (Rhea; Gr. Ῥέα) and to appease the Goddess they conducted a funerary ritual, games, and made libations to her.  


The Departure of Iraklís and Ýlas

Iraklís was accompanied by Ýlas (Hylas; Gr. Ὕλας), a handsome youth whom he loved greatly. After crossing the mouth of the Rýndakos (Rhyndacos; Gr. Ῥύνδακος) river, Iraklís went into the wood to hunt. Ýlas followed him but was distracted by the Nýmphai (Nymphs; Gr. Νύμφαι) who were so enchanted by his beauty that they detained him. Iraklís searched for the boy but in vain. When favorable winds arose, the Argonáftai were forced to depart, because Iraklís, without Ýlas, lost all ambition to return to the journey, so the Minýæs had no choice but to leave without them.


The Contest of Ámykos and Polydéfkis and the Destruction of the Vǽvrykæs

Next the Argonáftai came to the land of the Vǽvrykæs (Bebryces; Gr. Βέβρυκες) where they encountered Ámykos (Amycus; Gr. Ἄμυκος) the kingÁmykos enacted a law that no hospitality should be given to a stranger until he has been challenged to battle. Polydéfkis obliged Ámykos; he defeated and killed him in a boxing match. The Minýæs now engaged in battle with the Vǽvrykæs and destroyed them.


The Sympligádæs

Next the Argonáftai came to the Clashing Rocks, the Sympligádæs (Symplegades; Gr. Συμπληγάδες). This was a small passage in the sea between tall rocky cliffs. When a ship attempted to proceed through the passage, the two rocky sides crashed together, destroying any ship. The Goddess Íra (Hera) came to their aid and sent a heron through the rocks. They crashed together and clipped the heron's tail. With this sign, the men rowed through while Orphéfs entranced the rocks with his singing, permitting passage.


Kolkhís and King Aiítis

The Argonáftai now journeyed through many lands, entering the Black Sea, passing the cities of the Amazónæs (Amazons; Gr. Ἀμαζόνες) and finally entering the mouth of the Phásis (Gr. Φᾶσις) river and approached Kolkhís (Colchis; Gr. Κολχίς), the domain of Aiítis (Aeetes; Gr. Αἰήτης), son of Ílios (Helios = the Sun; Gr. Ἥλιος) and Pærsiís (Perseis; Gr. Περσηίς). Within Aiítis' fortified city lay a grove with an oak tree on which hung the Krysómallon Dǽras, the Golden Fleece.

Íra (Hera) sent a dream to Aiítis in which he saw a star on the bosom of Mídeia (Medea; Gr. Μήδεια), his daughter, darting through the heavens, taking Mídeia across the Sea. The king, struck with fear, gathered his children and went to the place of offerings and prayer on the river. There Aiítis saw the Argóh with its band of heroes. When the men got sight of Aiítis, he radiated like the sun and this caused great consternation amongst the Argonáftai. Iásohn (Jason) approached the king and declared that they had come to acquire the Fleece and he explained why they desired it. Aiítis gave Iásohn two choices: either engage in battle and defeat himor, choose the best man among the heroes and let him submit to labors of his choosing in order to obtain the Fleece. Iásohn himself accepted the challenge of the labors.


The Távri Khálkæï

Iásohn now had to tame the Fire-Breathing Bulls, the Távri Khálkæï (Gr. Ταύροι Χάλκεοι). By this time, he had the assistance of Mídeia, for Aphrodíti (Aphrodite; Gr. Ἀφροδίτη) had filled her heart with love for Iásohn. With the advice and magic of Mídeia, Iásohn yoked the bulls, plowed the earth, and planted the teeth of the dragon of Áris (Ares). The teeth sprouted and quickly became warriors, but Iásohn destroyed them by causing them to fight one another instead of fighting him.


The Grove of the Krysómallon Dǽras

The Krysómallon Dǽras (Gr. Χρυσόμαλλον Δέρας), the Golden Fleece, was confined to a grove surrounded by an immense wall defended by towers and enclosed by seven encircling fortifications. There were three enormous bronze gates beyond which was the wall surrounded by golden bastions. This all was overseen by Ártæmis (Artemis; Gr. Ἄρτεμις) Æmpýlios (Empylios, "At-the-Gate;" Gr. Ἐμπύλιος), breathing fire. To enter, the Goddess required sacred rites, to whom Mídeia and her priestesses were initiated, but the Goddess prevented all others access with her frenzied dogs. Inside the fortress was a grove of laurel, cornel, and other trees. It harbored many herbs and plants. In the center of the grove was a mighty oak upon which hung the Fleece, guarded by a serpent, a scourge to mortals. This serpent was covered with golden scales and coiled about the trunk of the tree, with the powers of fearful Khamaizilos Díos (= Khthonic Zefs =  ; Gr. Χαμαίζηλος Διός), and it never slept.  

Mídeia explained all the details of the fortification as they searched for the means to convince Agrotǽra (Ártæmis of the Hunt; Gr. Αγροτέρα) to allow them entry. Then Mópsos (Mopsus; Gr. Μόψος), with his oracular ability, discerned the solution. He and the Heroes urged Orphéfs to atone the Goddess. Orphéfs now did ritual and summoned the Ærinýæs (Erinyes = Furies; Gr. Ἐρινύες). He called on Pandóhra (Pandora; Gr. Πανδώρα). Orphéfs called out to Ækáti (Hecate; Gr. Ἑκάτη) of Tártaros (Tartarus; Gr. Τάρταρος) who held a sword and whose body supported three heads, that of a horse, a dog, and a lion. The ritual conducted by Orphéfs succeeded and caused Ártæmis to drop her torches. The gates of the fortress opened and the Argonáftai entered while the great serpent looked on and hissed. Orphéfs then summoned Ýpnos (Hypnos = Sleep; Gr. Ὕπνος) which quickly overtook the monster, causing him to fall into a deep slumber. Iásohn seized the Fleece and the entourage quickly departed, Mídeia coming along with them.


The Death of Afsýrtos and the Pronouncement of Kírki

King Aiítis sent his son Afsýrtos (Absyrtus; Gr. Αβσύρτος) to capture Mídeia, but Afsýrtos was killed in the attempt. The Minýæs cast his body into the river and a wind blew it out to the sea where it drifted into a group of islands now known as the Apsyrtídas (Absyrtides; Gr. Ἀψυρτίδας).

The Argonáftai now traversed many lands, eventually passing the region of the Ypærvóreiï (Hyperboreans; Gr. Ὑπερβόρειοι) and at last approached the gates of Aidis (Hades; Gr. Αἵδης)The oracular beam of wood on the Argóh spoke forth saying that the Ærinýæs (Erinyes) pursued them for their role in the death of Afsýrtos and that they would be punished when they reached the isle of Iærnída (Ierne, possibly Ireland; Gr. Ἰερνίδα). When they sailed past the island, the Argonáftai became lost for twelve days until they recognized the Island of Dimítir (Demeter; Gr. Δημήτηρ). They sailed a further three days until they reached the domain of Kírki (Circe; Gr. Κίρκη), the aunt of Mídeia. Kírki would not allow Mídeia to enter her palace because of the pollution of her crimes. She told Mídeia that she must purify herself with the help of Orphéfs on the shores of Máleia (Gr. Μάλεια) for disobeying her father and killing her brother.


Káryvdis

The Argonáftai sailed through the Pillars of Iraklís to Sardinía (Gr. Σαρδινία)past Sikælía (Sicily; Gr. Σικελία). But Káryvdis (Charybdis; Gr. Χάρυβδις), the sea monster, created a whirlpool and caused the Argóh to circle endlessly. Fortunately, the Goddess Thǽtis (Thetis; Gr. Θέτις) desired to see her husband Piléfs (Peleus; Gr. Πηλεύς) who was with the crew, so she freed the ship.


The Seirínæs

As the voyage continued, the crew came across the domain of the Seirínæs (Sirens; Gr. Σειρῆνες), whose singing was so entrancing that by it they lured sailors to their death. Orphéfs sang to them with such enchantment that they went dumb. Since they failed to kill the sailors, the Seirínæs hurled themselves down in despair, transforming into rocks.


The Marriage of Mídeia and Iásohn

The Argóh now sailed to Kórkyra (Corcyra; Κόρκυρα) but the Argonáftai were pursued by the numerous ships of Aiítis. Alkínoös (Alcinous; Gr. Ἀλκίνοος), the king, decided to surrender Mídeia to Aiítis, but Aríti (Arete; Gr. Ἀρήτη), the king's wife, convinced him that it would be wrong to divest Mídeia of her love-mate and that Aphrodíti would be angered by such an act, but, she explained, if Mídeia were a virgin, it would not offend the Goddess to return her to her father. Now hearing this, Íra (Hera), disguised as a maidservant, informed Mídeia of this decision and the lovers married and consummated the union.


Tálohs

Next the Argóh sailed to Kríti (Crete; Gr. Κρήτη) where they encountered Tálohs (Talos; Gr. Τάλως), the bronze mechanical giant, who allowed no man into the harbor. The Argóh was driven into a narrow passage dangerously near rocks, but Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) heard their prayers and shot an arrow from Dílos (Delos; Gr.Δήλος), saving them.


Purification and Arrival in Iohlkós

As required by Kírki (Circe), Mídeia and Iásohn purified themselves on the furthest shore of Maleia. Orphéfs sacrificed on their behalf. They were now able to return to Iohlkós and Orphéfs departed for his home in Thráki (Thrace; Gr. Θράκη), thus concluding the text.


NOTES:

[1] We have taken the liberty to capitalize Chaos and Necessity because of their importance. Line 15 has been translated elsewhere, saying that Phánis is the father of Nyx (as is found in Orphic fragments), and yet in another translation that Phánis is the offspring of Nyx. It seems to this author that although it does not agree with other ancient texts, this poem seems to be saying that Phánis is the son of Nyx.

[2] The text uses the word φηγός, which is the beech tree, but Siegfried Pyrrhus Petrides, a native Greek speaker who made a translation of the Orphǽohs Argonaftiká, translates this as oak (on p. 57), which would follow, as Dohdóhna (Dodona), the sacred grove from which the beam of wood came, is known for its forest of oaks, not beeches. The oak is said to be sacred to Zefs (Zeus), and Dohdóhna was his sanctuary, so it would follow that the trees were oak, but there is some uncertainty regarding this. H. G. Evelyn-White, in his translation of Catalogues of Women and Eoiae frag. 97 (found in Hesiod: The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard/Heinemann, 1936 edition pp. 214-215) translates φηγός as oak. W. H. S. Jones in his translation of Pafsanías (Pausanias; Gr. Παυσανίας) Description of Greece, Attica XVII.5 (found in the Loeb, Harvard/Heinemann 1959 edition, Vol. I, on pp. 84-85) also translates the word as oak



The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The 
Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kosmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς).  


PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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