ORPHIC HYMNS - ORPHIKÍ ÝMNI - ΟΡΦΙΚΟΙ ΥΜΝΟΙ

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Click here to download the Orphic Hymns in English and in ancient Greek: ORPHIC HYMNS DOWNLOAD.
To access the hymns in the original: The Orphic Hymns in Ancient Greek Online.

INTRODUCTION

Scholars are aware of many texts which in antiquity were viewed as Orphic, the vast majority of which have been lost. What of this Orphic corpus has survived? There are numerous fragments, most of which were collected in the last century by the German philologist Otto Kern. Many of these fragments are quotations from a great epic poem, the Sacred Logos in Twenty-Four Rhapsodies (Ιερός Λόγος σε 24 Ραψωδίες), and the story it tells has been reconstructed. We have an Orphic work, the Δερβένι βύβλος, not complete, but a sizable section of the text. But has anything survived in its entirety from the Orphic literature? We possess the Ὀρφέως Ἀργοναυτικά, an epic poem describing the journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece, similar to the Ἀργοναυτικὰ Ἀπολλωνίου Ῥοδίου, but more mystical in nature. We have the so-called Golden Tablets, little prayers written on thin sheets of gold which were buried in the graves of mystics. But perhaps the most significant Orphic composition we possess in its entirety is a group of devotional poems known collectively as Ὀρφικοί Ὕμνοι, the Orphic Hymns.

The Orphic Hymns are a collection of eighty-seven [1] hymns to the Gods which have been used in the mystical rituals of Ællînismόs (Hellênismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion. The poems are attributed to Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς), the great Thæólogos (Θεόλογὁς), but the actual authorship is unclear. The date of composition of the hymns is also a matter of dispute. There are some in the Orphic tradition who believe they are approximately 10,000 years old, based on certain clues found in the text itself [2], but this date has been convincingly challenged. 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 more recent 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...

"…the poems of Orpheus date back to Pelasgic Greece, to the days of legend, to pre-historic times." [3]

...but he makes certain questionable assumptions (see the note).

If the poems are of more recent authorship, the ideas contained within them are most certainly of great antiquity. Ultimately, the critical consideration for a practitioner of this religion is that the hymns are the principle body of liturgy used today in ritual, both in Greece and outside of Greece. Indeed, they are ubiquitous in the practice of all those who follow the ancient religion, regardless of whether one is involved with the Mysteries.

The Orphic Hymns are thought of as a storehouse of mysticism, and it is true that many of the poems have this deeper insight, but what is infrequently mentioned is that for the most part they present very traditional portraits-in-miniature of the Gods, portraits which are extremely useful to familiarize students in the characteristics of deities. As a perfect example, read through the hymn to Ártæmis (Artemis, Άρτεμις); you will discover that it is entirely traditional, presenting a vivid likeness of the Goddess. And this is true of so many of the hymns. Some, such as the hymn to Íphaistos (Hêphaestus, Ἥφαιστος), are much more mystical, but for the most part, the poems are fantastic "snapshots" that help us to become acquainted with well-known associations of these deities. Many of the hymns contain long strings of epithets (such as #30 Διονύσου), leading some critics to question their inspiration. Often, the hymns will refer to a deity by an epithet rather than using the familiar name of the God. This use of epithets, to those who worship the Gods, is thought of as very beautiful and beneficial.


TRANSLATIONS

At this date, there are several English translations of the hymns available, but only two we will discuss here: 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 word-for-word accurate, for the most part, but the Taylor has other advantages that appeal to some who follow Ællînismόs. Ideally, it is beneficial to have both.

There is no translation of the Orphic hymns in the Loeb Classical Library. Indeed, as of this date they have not published translations of the hymns nor the Ὀρφέως Ἀργοναυτικά nor the Δερβένι βύβλος, leaving their catalog suspiciously absent of anything Orphic except by coincidence. It is interesting to note that when the early Christian church-fathers attacked our religion, they particularly attacked the Orphic texts, which means that they must have seen them as important. They seem to have been threatened by these texts, and for those familiar with the Orphic mythology, it is obvious why. For this and many other reasons they should not be ignored by Loeb. Their publications have a wonderful and useful feature: they always include the text in the original language. In our present publication, we have resolved this problem by including the ancient Greek text.


The Thomas Taylor translation

Thomas Taylor (1758-1835 CE) was a mathematician of Georgian-era England. He spoke from a unique position in the largely Christian world of Western Europe: Taylor was a believing Neoplatonist. This fact is completely obvious when you read his commentaries. Therefore, his translations have been viewed with suspicion, as if Taylor had crossed a forbidden line, and lost scholarly distance from his subject. A comparison between Taylor's translation of Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων), however, and that of Benjamin Jowett or even more contemporary renderings, rarely finds significant difference, other than occasional language archaisms. But it must be understood that Taylor was functioning as a scholastic commentator within the tradition, not as an outside observer. So, for instance, Taylor has no problem with seeing Platonism and the religion as the ancient commentators did, accepting the Gods as they did in antiquity; while Platonists from the Catholic Church, as an example, may think of these entities as angels, or in some way reconcile these ancient ideas. Therefore, Taylor has been seen as eccentric by scholars of his time, as well as of our time.

Taylor was the first to translate into English the complete extant works of Plátôn and Aristotǽlîs (Aristotle, Ἀριστοτέλης), as well as much of Prόklos (Proclus, Πρόκλος), Porphýrios (Porphyry, Πορφύριος), Plôtínos (Plôtinus, Πλωτῖνος), Pafsanías (Pausanias, Παυσανίας), Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus, Ἰάμβλιχος), 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, and word-for-word accurate, The Hymns of Orpheus, published in 1792, are set in rhyming verse, a practice typical in scholarly translations of poetry from this period. While frequently not word-for-word precise, Taylor clearly understands the hymns, an accomplishment acknowledged by Orphic teachers in modern Greece, most of whom prefer his translation for students who speak the English language. Yet it must be admitted that he sometimes takes considerable liberties in order to rhyme the hymns, depending on the hymn. On the other hand, some of the translations are remarkably close to the original. Consider 
30. Διονύσου or 34. Ἀπόλλωνος. Of the hymns which this author has himself translated, I can very clearly see what Taylor was doing in his translations. What the Greek teachers in this author’s acquaintance say, is that Taylor gets the flavor of the hymns, from an insider’s point of view. Other critics think of him simply as a bad poet, for various reasons, yet there are many who love him.

Taylor's translation of the hymns is frequently criticized for specific reasons, usually frivolous reasons. 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.

Modern readers have criticized Taylor (and other translators from the 1800's) 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 dialect, having been recruited locally from Barnsley [4]. Words such as thee and thou flow freely from the mouths of ordinary local boys in a most amazing display. Kes clearly demonstrates that the use of these words is entirely secular and has not disappeared in parts of England (and even deep in the Appalachians in the United States).

Another unfair criticism of Taylor 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, not Greek, so Taylor was simply following the convention of the Georgian period. It is said that in the confines of his home, Taylor and his wife spoke ancient Greek exclusively.

Taylor's introductory essay and additional comments to individual hymns 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 the religion. These commentaries contain many terms which are foreign to the casual reader. These are mostly Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophical terms Anglicized from the Greek.

Ultimately, the choice for or against Taylor is a personal matter. Either you are charmed by what he is doing or not. The translation is quite old and rhyming poetry has lost its appeal for many people. But, as we shall see, there is a good alternative translation for those who dislike Taylor.

As mentioned above, there are eighty-seven hymns. The original 1792 Taylor edition lists eighty-six hymns. This is because the hymn to Ækátî (Hekatê, 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, the Greek editions of the hymns were found to begin with the hymn to Ækátî, which I assume to be the correct numbering. 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 in the download below uses the traditional numbering (not the 1792 numbering)
.

E
xplanation of the download for the hymns

This presentation of the Orphic hymns 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 those required for any particular ritual. The couplets have been kept separate as in the original book. Upon examination of the most commonly available collections of Taylor’s translation, many mistakes were found; this edition has been proofread and is thought to be correct.

The ancient Greek is included after each hymn. The text was copied directly from a facsimile of the 1818 book entitled: ORPHICA. NOVA EDITIO ACCVRATA IN VSVM PRAELECTIONVM ACADEMICARVM ET SCHOLARVM. This book does not give any information concerning the manuscript used. It seems to be the same manuscript used by Gottfried Hermann in his well-known collection of Orphica. The name Gottfried Heinrich Schäfer comes up in web searches connected with the title of this book. Schäfer was an associate of Gottfried Herman. There are differences between this text and that found in the first edition of Athanassakis, but, altogether, they are not terribly significant; for instance, the Athanassakis manuscript does not generally use iota subscript, where our text does. There are some interesting additional fragments in the hymns to Zefs and Poseidóhn which you will not find in the Athanassakis.

Lastly, an index has been added at the end, to enable individuals to find the hymns more easily, since they are not in alphabetical order.

DOWNLOAD:    Hymns of Orpheus in English and in ancient Greek


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 from this very site...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.

 

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):


INDIVIDUAL PAGES FOR ORPHIC HYMNS: Please follow the below links to pages for individual Orphic hymns. These include the ancient Greek text, and a transliteration for easy pronunciation. Each hymn is  thoroughly broken down, word-for-word, yielding new translations.



The Orphic Hymn to Íphaistos



Much of the theology of our religion has been preserved in fragments: The Orphic Fragments of Otto Kern.


NOTES:

[1] Some manuscripts of the Orphic Hymns include a hymn to Árîs (Arês, Ἄρης) which is more typically considered one of the Homeric hymns, making the total number of hymns eighty-eight. We are following such a manuscript, so that hymn is 88 in our presentation. We are also including the Great Orphic Hymn to Zefs (Ζεὺς) as hymn 89; this is fragment 168 in Kern’s Orphica fragmenta.

[2] See Κωνσταντίνος Χασάπης Η Ελληνική Αστρονομία της Β' Χιλιετηρίδας π.Χ., κατά τους Ορφικούς Ύμνους (The Greek Astronomy of the Second Millennium B.C.E. according to the Orphic Hymns). In the hymn to Apóllôn (Apollô, Ἀπόλλων) there is a reference to the summer being equal to the winter. Such a thing 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 during this time, but there are others who believe they are much, much older even than this. Chassapis proposed the time-period beginning 11,841 BCE, but this date was not accepted for various reasons by contemporary scholars.

[3] Orpheus: The Theosophy of the Greeks by G.R.S. Mead 1896, Theosophical Publishing Co., pp.16-17. Mead here is making certain assumptions which are open to question. He cites Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus, Ἰάμβλιχος) in his life of Pythagóras (book 34). In reality Iámvlikhos never mentions in the text the Orphic Hymns; he is simply generalizing about the language of Orphéfs as an author. But Mead is, here, assuming that Orphéfs himself wrote the hymns, something which many people do indeed believe, as implied at the beginning of the hymns when the author addresses Mousaios (Musaeus, Μουσαῖος). This is a convention in Orphic literature, to present an Orphic text as though Orphéfs himself were speaking to his son (or closest student) Mousaios.

[4] 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 story of the birth of the GodsOrphic 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 (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) 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 lyre of Apóllohn (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.

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.

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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