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ORPHIKÍ ÝMNI - ΟΡΦΙΚΟΙ ΥΜΝΟΙ
THE ORPHIC HYMNS

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THE ORPHIC HYMNS  (Gr. Ορφικοί Ύμνοι, ΟΡΦΙΚΟΙ ΥΜΝΟΙ) are a collection of eighty-seven hymns to the Gods which have been used in the Mystical rituals of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός, ΕΛΛΗΝΙΣΜΟΣ), the ancient Greek religionThe poems are attributed to Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς), the great Thæólogos (Gr. Θεόλογὁς), but the actual authorship is unclear. The date of composition of the hymns is also a matter of dispute. There are those in the Orphic tradition who believe they are 10,000 years old, based on certain clues found in the text itself. Scholars, on the other hand, claim a time period ranging anywhere from the sixth century BCE to the fourth century CE, most believing they were composed in the later period, but it is curious, and has been noted, that there is no evidence of any Christian influence in the poems, leaving one to suspect a more ancient date of creation. G.R.S. Mead, in his book Orpheus, argues for a date of great antiquity, citing a number of ancient authors including Diόdohros Sikæliόhtis (Diodorus Siculus; Gr. Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης) and Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Gr. Ἰάμβλιχος) as well as several scholars (Clavier, Thomas Taylor, and J.F. Gail) who hold that opinion: 

"the poems of Orpheus date back to Pelasgic Greece, to the days of legend, to pre-historic times." [1] 

The critical consideration regarding these poems is that they are accepted by the contemporary Orphic community in Greece and elsewhere and are the principle body of literature used in ritual.


TRANSLATIONS

There are several English translations of the Hymns of Orphefs available, but only two are in general use: Thomas Taylor (1792) and Apostolos N. Athanassakis (1977). Each of these translations is excellent for different reasons. If you are a student of Greek, the Athanassakis is generally more word-for-word accurate, but the Taylor has other advantages that appeal to those who follow Ællinismόs. Ideally, it is beneficial to have both available. It is very peculiar that there is no edition in the Loeb Classical Library, their publications always including the text in the original language; for this you must go to the Athanassakis or take advantage of the download below for the original Greek.


The Thomas Taylor translation: 

Thomas Taylor (1758-1835 CE) was a mathematician and Neoplatonist scholar of Georgian era England. He spoke from a unique position in the largely Christian world of western Europe: Taylor had the conviction of faith in the texts he translated. It is, perhaps, for this reason that his translations have been viewed with suspicion and are sometimes denigrated, as if Taylor had crossed a forbidden line and lost scholarly distance from his subject. It is curious that someone who held many of the same beliefs as the authors he translated is regarded with skepticism, while translators inclined to beliefs quite contrary to these authors would be regarded as more trustworthy. A comparison between Taylor's translation of Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) and that of Jowett or even more contemporary readings rarely finds significant difference other than occasional language archaisms, so the negative critique would seem biased against Taylor for some partisan inference. 

Taylor was the first to translate into English the complete extant works of Plátohn and Aristotǽlis (Aristotle; Gr. ριστοτέλης), as well as much of Prόklos (Proclus; Gr. Πρόκλος), Porphýrios (Porphyry: G. Πορφύριος), Plohtínos (Plotinus; Gr. Πλωτνος), Pafsanías (Pausanias; Gr. Παυσανίας), Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Gr. άμβλιχος), and others, a monumental body of work. Taylor also wrote excellent commentaries for each of his translations as well as many independent essays such as his dissertations on the rights of animals and the ancient Mysteries.

While the great bulk of Taylor's translations are prosaic, The Hymns of Orpheus, published in 1792, are set in rhyming verse, a practice not uncommon in scholarly translations of poetry from this period. While not always word-for-word precise, Taylor clearly understands the hymns, an accomplishment acknowledged by contemporary Orphic teachers in Greece, many of whom prefer his translation.

But Taylor's translation of the hymns is frequently criticized for various reasons, usually frivolous. He occasionally uses obsolete words (such as cærulean, "dark blue") but on the whole, the translation is quite readable, despite being in a somewhat archaic style of English. American readers have criticized Taylor (and other translators from the 1800s ) for using words such as "thee" and "thou," believing that he was trying to imitate King James Biblical language. This is entirely false; these words are part of the English vernacular and such language can be seen as recently as 1969 in the dialogue found in the film Kes, directed by Ken Loach, the actors having authentic Yorkshire accents and dialect and the extras having been recruited locally from Barnsley. [2] Words such as thee and thou flow freely from the mouths of the ordinary locals in a most amazing display. Kes clearly demonstrates that the use of these words is entirely secular. 

Another unfair criticism of Taylor's translation is his use of the Roman names for the Gods rather than the Greek, but it must be understood that the language of scholars in his lifetime was Latin, so Taylor was simply following the convention of the Georgian period. 

Taylor's introductory essay and commentaries to poems reveal his immense scholarship and his surpassing profundity in regard to these texts. They are unique in that they express the mystical and philosophical meaning of the hymns, the flavor being quite different from what one would expect in ordinary scholastic texts. One could say that his perspective is not detached, but in this case, this is preferable, particularly for those who take the hymns very seriously, for those who practice Ællinismόs. These commentaries contain many terms which are foreign to the casual reader. These are mostly Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophical terms Anglicized from the Greek. Eventually all of this terminology will appear in the GLOSSARY.     

As mentioned above, there are eighty-seven hymns. The original 1792 Taylor edition lists eighty-six hymns. This is because the hymn to Ækáti (Hekate; Gr. Ἑκάτη) is included at the conclusion of the introductory invocation entitled To Mousaios, not numbering it separately. While the author of this essay was in Greece in 2008, he noticed that the Greek edition of the ancient hymns lists eighty-seven hymns, which he assumes to be correct. This numbering problem in the Taylor translation has been revised in the Prometheus Trust 1994 publication entitled Hymns and Initiations, Thomas Taylor Series V, which includes all of Taylor's translations of the hymns with the correct numbering. The online versions that this author has encountered retain the older numbering. The text presented below as a download uses the traditional numbering (not the 1792 numbering).


Here follows a link to download the hymns as translated by Thomas Taylor.  

This particular presentation differs from others in several respects. First, the Taylor translation is presented with each poem on a page of its own, making it possible to print out all the hymns and remove only the hymns required for any particular ritual. The couplets have been separated as in the original book, making it easier to rhyme the lines when reciting them (some online versions run the couplets together). Upon examination of the most commonly available collections of Taylor’s translation, many mistakes were found; this edition has been proofread carefully and is thought to be correct.  

The ancient Greek is included after each hymn. We originally worked from the text found on the Greek Wiki site for ancient texts, but discovered that there were minor corruptions, mostly occasional modern Greek mixed in with the ancient text. Our current text has been proofread against the ancient text and these corruptions have been eliminated.

Lastly, an index, missing from both the common translations, has been added at the end, to enable individuals to find the hymns more easily, since they are not in alphabetical order. The hymns do have a special order, but it is not alphabetical. 

DOWNLOAD:  HYMNS OF ORPHEUS INCLUDING THE ANCIENT GREEK

In Orphic ritual, the Olympian Gods are worshiped in pairs. You can download the hymns for the pairs, as translated by Thomas Taylor here: The Olympian Orphic Pairs


The Athanassakis translation:  

The Apostolos N. Athanassakis translation of the hymns is preferred by many. Word for word, the Athanassakis is more accurate. The book includes the Greek on the left side, the English text on the right. For many years, the 1977 translation was out of print and the cost of used copies exorbitant, but fortunately, it has been re-published in 2013 by John Hopkins University Press at a reasonable price in both paperback and hardcover. This new edition now lists Benjamin M. Wolkow as co-writer with Professor Athanassakis and includes a useful contents list, a comprehensive index, and far more extensive notes and commentary than the earlier publication, altogether an impressive new presentation.  Unfortunately, the new edition does not include the text of the hymns in ancient Greek, unlike the first edition. The ancient Greek text is available online...anyone can access it...so it is not a terrible loss, but it was convenient to have the Greek text on the left page and the English translation on the right, similar to the Loeb Classical Library texts. It is most illuminating to compare the Athanassakis translation with the Taylor and also with the original Greek.


Please Note:

There is one phrase in the hymn To Apollohn, No. 34, which is inadequate in both translations. Mr. Athanassakis translates line 19 as follows:

"balancing the poles harmoniously, as you keep the living races distinct"

The Taylor is not much better:

"All Nature's tribes to thee their diff'rence owe" 

This phrase, as translated, is misleading and could be interpreted as condoning racism. The actual Greek is: 

kríneis viothrǽmmona phýla (κρίνεις βιοθρέμμονα φῦλα) 

...which means "you judge the races of mortals" or "you separate the races of mortals by your judgment." Krínoh (Gr. κρίνω) means "to judge." There are several meanings of the word krínoh. The correct meaning in the context of this sentence is a judgment concerning ethics. So the connotation is that Apόllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) makes a distinction or separation by justice, not by race. Apόllohn distinguishes between the mortals who choose to live in justice and those who choose to live in injustice, and he keeps them separate.

Perhaps a better translation would be:

"balancing the poles harmoniously, as you judge the races of mortals"


Index

There is no contents page in most editions of the hymns, making it difficult to find the hymns you need. For an INDEX to the ORPHIC HYMNS, click on the following link. (This index is included in the Taylor translation download mentioned above) :

Orphic Hymn Index


VARIOUS ORPHIC POEMS

There are other poems which are considered Orphic but which are not included in the collection entitled Orphic Hymns. Of particular note and the subject of some discussion are the so-called golden tablets, one of which can be found below (Petelia Tablet). There is also the Derveni Papyrus, which is a long text giving a cosmogony. As texts become available, they will appear on the site:


The story of Iásohn (Jason; Gr. Ἰάσωνand the Argonáftai (Argonauts; Gr. Ἀργοναῦται) has several variants,  the most common being that which was told by Apollόhnios Rόdios (Apollonios of Rhodes; Gr. Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος), but there is one in the Orphic tradition, narrated by Orphéfs to his pupil Mousaios (Museos; Gr. Μουσαῖος):

Orphǽohs Argonaftiká


Orphic Hymn to Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς):  Within the Orphic Rhapsodies is this magnificent hymn:

Orphic Hymn to Zefs from the Orphic Rhapsodies


The Orphic Hymn to Apóllohn: Please follow this link to a page which includes the ancient Greek text of the Orphic Hymn to Apollo, a transliteration for easy pronunciation, and the translation into English by Thomas Taylor along with his commentary. You will also find additional comments from HellenicGods.org:

The Orphic Hymn to Apollo


The Orphic Rhapsodies, the Sacred Logos in Twenty-Four Rhapsodies, is the primary cosmogony believed to have been taught by Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς) himself. The text presents a theogony similar to that of Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος) but having a different emphasis:

ORPHIC RHAPSODIES - ΙΕΡΟΣ ΛΟΓΟΣ ΣΕ 24 ΡΑΨΩΔΙΕΣ


Petelia Tablet: One of the most significant Orphic hymnsfound in the grave of an Orphic initiate:

Petelia Golden Tablet 

...there are some other of these hymns (from the Golden Tablets) which can be found on this page:

Deification of the Soul: Sources


The Orphic Fragments: This is a download of all the fragments as collected by Professor Otto Kern. They are not translated but found in their original form, in ancient Greek and Latin:

Kern Orphicorum fragmenta


NOTES:

[1] Source: Orpheus: The Theosophy of the Greeks by G.R.S. Mead 1896, Theosophical Publishing Co.,  pp.19-21. There are interesting clues in the hymns themselves that suggest a very antique time period of origin. For instance, in the Hymn to Apollo there is a reference to the day being equal in time to the night. Such a thing (not meaning the one-day yearly equinoxes) occurs only once every 10,000 years and extends approximately 500 years. The last time this happened was 1352-1852 BCE so some people believe that the hymns were written somewhere in this time, but there are some who believe they are much, much older even than this.

[2] This author has friends in England who have confirmed that people speaking the Yorkshire dialect still, in 2010, use such words as "thee" and "thou" in ordinary secular speech.


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 

, 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.


SPELLING:  HellenicGods.org uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself.  An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website.  For more information, visit these three pages: 

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