ORPHIC FRAGMENT 21 - OTTO KERN

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For links to many more fragments: The Orphic Fragments of Otto Kern.

SUMMARY: Zefs (Ζεὺς) is the beginning, the middle, and the source of all things. 

21. Νόμοι Πλάτωνος 715e-716b: 

ὁ μὲν δὴ θεός, ὥσπερ καὶ ὁ παλαιὸς λόγος, ἀρχήν τε καὶ τελευτὴν καὶ μέσα τῶν ὄντων ἁπάντων ἔχων, εὐθείᾳ περαίνει κατὰ φύσιν περιπορευόμενος. τῷ δ' ἀεὶ ξυνέπεται Δίκη τῶν ἀπολειπομένων τοῦ θείου νόμου τιμωρός, ἧς ὁ μὲν εὐδαιμονήσειν μέλλων ἐχόμενος συνέπεται ταπεινὸς καὶ κεκοσμημένος, ὁ δέ τις ἐξαρθεὶς ὑπὸ μεγαλαυχίας, ἢ χρήμασιν ἐπαιρόμενος ἢ τιμαῖς, ἢ καὶ σώματος εὐμορφίᾳ ἅμα νεότητι καὶ ἀνοίᾳ φλέγεται τὴν ψυχὴν μεθ᾽ ὕβρεως, ὡς οὔτε ἄρχοντος οὔτε τινὸς ἡγεμόνος δεόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἄλλοις ἱκανὸς ὢν ἡγεῖσθαι,  καταλείπεται ἔρημος θεοῦ, καταλειφθεὶς δὲ καὶ ἔτι ἄλλους τοιούτους προσλαβὼν σκιρτᾷ ταράττων πάντα ἅμα, καὶ πολλοῖς τισιν ἔδοξεν εἶναί τις, μετὰ δὲ χρόνον οὐ πολὺν ὑποσχὼν τιμωρίαν οὐ μεμπτὴν τῇ δίκῃ ἑαυτόν τε καὶ οἶκον καὶ πόλιν ἄρδην ἀνάστατον ἐποίησεν. 

“God, as the old tradition declares, holding in His hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is, travels according to His nature in a straight line towards the accomplishment of His end. Justice always accompanies Him, and is the punisher of those who fall short of the divine law. To justice, he who would be happy holds fast, and follows in her company with all humility and order; but he who is lifted up with pride, or elated by wealth or rank, or beauty, who is young and foolish, and has a soul hot with insolence, and thinks that he has no need of any guide or ruler, but is able himself to be the guide of others, he, I say, is left deserted of God; and being thus deserted, he takes to him others who are like himself, and dances about, throwing all things into confusion, and many think that he is a great man, but in a short time he pays a penalty which justice cannot but approve, and is utterly destroyed, and his family and city with him.” (trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892) 

Adnotat Scholiasta p. 451 Bekk.: 

θεὸν μὲν τὸν δημιουργὸν σαφῶς, παλαιὸν δὲ λόγον λέγει τὸν Ὀρφικόν, ὅς ἐστιν οὗτος·

Ζεὺς ἀρχή, Ζεὺς μέσσα, Διὸς δ' ἐκ πάντα τέτυκται.
Ζεὺς πυθμὴν γαίης τε καὶ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος.

"Indeed, (Plato) clearly, concerning ‘God’ (is alluding to) the Dimiourgós, but  tells an ancient Orphic story, that being this: 

" 'Zefs (Ζεὺς) is the beginning, Zefs is the middle; out of Zefs all are produced.
Zefs is the foundation of earth and the starry sky.' "
 (trans. by the author)

καὶ ἀρχὴ μὲν οὗτος ὡς ποιητικὸν αἴτιον,τελευτὴ δὲ ὡς τελικόν, μέσσα δὲ ὡς ἐξ ἴσον πᾶσι παρών, κἂν πάντα διαφόρως αὐτοῦ μετέχηι. εὐθείαι δὲ τὸ κατὰ δίκην σημαίνει καὶ ἀξίαν, καὶ ἀπαρεγκλίτως, καὶ οἱονεὶ κανόνι ἑνί, τὸ δὲ περιπορευόμενος τὸ αἰωνίως. τὸ ἀεὶ ὡσαύτως καὶ κατὰ τὰ αὐτά· ἡ γὰρ περιφορὰ τοῦτο ἔχει ὡς ἐν αἰσθητοῖς. Cetera v. fr. 22.

“He is the beginning, as the producing cause; but the end, as the final (cause); the middle, as being equally present to all things, although all things partake of him differently. But by ‘that which is direct according to justice,’ (Plato) signifies desert, and the not inclining to one side, and, as it were, by one rule; but by ‘proceeding round,’ he signifies the existing eternally, and that too which is perpetually after the same manner, and according to the same; for the circumference has in sensible objects this property.” (trans. Thomas Taylor)


21a. (46) Hymnum Orphicum Plato (fr. 21) respexisse verisimillimum est (cf. Schol. fr. 21), cuius vestigia primum occurrunt in Pseudo-Aristotelis libello Περὶ κόσμου 7 p. 401 a 25:

ὡς δὲ τὸ πᾶν εἰπεῖν, οὐράνιός τε καὶ χθόνιος, πάσης ἐπώνυμος ὢν φύσεώς τε καὶ τύχης ἅτε πάντων αὐτὸς αἴτιος ὤν. Διὸ καὶ ἐν τοῖς Ὀρφικοῖς οὐ κακῶς λέγεται

Ζεὺς πρῶτος γένετο, Ζεὺς ὕστατος ἀργικέραυνος·
Ζεὺς κεφαλή, Ζεὺς μέσσα· Διὸς δ’ ἐκ πάντα τέτυκται.
Ζεὺς πυθμὴν γαίης τε καὶ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος.
Ζεὺς ἄρσην γένετο, Ζεὺς ἄμβροτος ἔπλετο νύμφη·
Ζεὺς πνοιὴ πάντων, Ζεὺς ἀκαμάτου πυρὸς ὁρμή.
Ζεὺς πόντοῦ ῥίζα, Ζεὺς ἥλιος ἠδὲ σελήνη·
Ζεὺς βασιλεύς, Ζεὺς ἀρχὸς ἁπάντων ἀργικέραυνος·
πάντας γὰρ κρύψας αὖθις φάος ἐς πολυγηθὲς
ἐξ ἱερῆς κραδίης ἀνενέγκατο, μέρμερα ῥέζων.

“... and to complete the tale of his titles, God of Heaven and the World Below, deriving his names from all natural phenomena and conditions, inasmuch as he is himself the cause of all things. Wherefore it is well said in the Orphic Hymns,

“ ‘Zeus of the flashing bolt was the first to be born and the latest,
Zeus is the head and the middle; of Zeus were all things made;
Zeus is the stay of the earth and the stay of the star-spangled heaven;
Zeus is male and female of sex, the bride everlasting;
Zeus is the breath of all and the rush of unwearying fire;
Zeus is the root of the sea, and the sun and the moon in the heavens;
Zeus of the flashing bolt is the king and ruler of all men
Hiding them all away, and again to the glad light of heaven
Bringing them back at his will, performing wondrous marvels.’ ”

(trans. Edward Seymour Forster, 1914)


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.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.


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, 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 kozmogonic 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, κιθάρα), the the lyre of Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, 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.

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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