ORPHIC COSMOGONY AND THEOGONY
myths upon which the foundation of Orphismós rests; here we are concerned with the Gods of whom we worship and of the entire universe in which both we and these Gods dwell. While Thæogonía (Theogony; Gr. Θεογονία) is the origin and genealogy of the Gods, Kosmogonía (Cosmogony; Gr. Κοσμογονία) is the origin of the universe. In Hellenic polytheistic religion, these two terms are closely related and cannot actually be entirely separated, for the phenomenal universe is itself divine and the personal deities are intimately connected with its origin and both emerge simultaneously.
The etymology of Thæogonía is Θεοί (Gods) + γέννα (birth), hence, the birth or origin of the Gods. The etymology of Kosmogonía is Κόσμος (order, to put in order) + γέννα (birth); the word Κόσμος only later came to mean the entire universe, but its original meaning has some bearing on how we understand our world, as the view of
Orphismós sees the birth or origin of the Kósmos (Cosmos; Gr. Κόσμος) as having a form and order, what Pythagóras (Gr. Πυθαγόρας) called diakósmisis (diakosmesis; Gr. διακόσμησις), the orderly arrangement of the universe.
In general, the philosophical view of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός) is kosmogonical. In other words, everything in the religion, if you call it a religion, stems from the Kosmogonía and has it as its center. Despite the fantastic imagery, when properly understood, the Orphic kosmogony provides a natural and materialistic, rather than spiritual (incorporeal or immaterial), explanation for the creation of the Kósmos. To a great extent, it could be said that this entire website is an attempt to explain the Kosmogonía and why it is a natural view of the universe.
In antiquity, many theogonies are known to us, such as those by Akousílaos of Árgos (Acusilaus; Gr. Ἀκουσίλαος), Æpimænídis (Epimenides; Gr. Ἐπιμενίδης) of Knohssós (Knossos; Gr. Κνωσσός), and Phærækýdis (Pherecydes; Gr. Φερεκύδης) of Sýros (Gr. Σύρος) [1a], but only one has come down to us in complete form, the Thæogonía of Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος). Isíodos' Theogony is viewed by many modern Hellenic reconstructionists as definitive and orthodox, in contrast to Orphic theogony, which some view as of a more recent and perhaps eccentric authorship, but this view of precedence is questioned by some scholars and most certainly by ancient authors. The Isíodos is a fixed, known text; the Orphic theogonies vary somewhat from author to author and, to complicate matters, the major Orphic theogony (The Rhapsodies) is not preserved in complete form.
According to the scholar W.K.C. Guthrie, "Among the many names to which theogonical and kosmogonical writings were attached, two, as is rightly remarked by the Christian apologist, stand out, Orpheus and Hesiod. The other writers whose names I have quoted (ed., as in the above paragraph, the theogonies of Akousílaos, Æpimænídis, and Phærækýdis) were always known to be later than Hesiod, who was sometimes regarded as the father of this kind of composition. Herodotus thought him so, and there were others too who doubted the authenticity of the theogony of Orpheus. The weight of that ancient name, however, was not taken away from it, and this must have suggested to many of the ancient world that, if not the poems, at least the stories which they told belonged to a time before Hesiod and Homer himself." [1b] Guthrie seems to think that the Orphic theogonic mythology likely pre-dates Isíodos and Homer. He goes on to say that the content of the Orphic theogony can be found in Neoplatonic writings and even Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) himself: "In their (ed. the Neoplatonists) commentaries therefore they made a point of illustrating a sentence of Plato, whenever they could, by a quotation from the Orphic poems." Here Guthrie is trying to demonstrate how these philosophers tried to justify their ideas or those of Plátohn by substantiating them with the weight of Orphic corpus, making obvious their reverence for the texts and the very name of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς).
In reference to the Orphic theogony, there appears to have existed a group of twenty-four Orphic Rhapsodiai (parts or lays) viewed as the Orphic theogony, according to the Neoplatonist Damáskios (Damascius; Gr. Δαμάσκιος), from which all of Orphismós (Orphism; Gr. Ορφισμός) is derived. The Neoplatonists believed that Orphéfs himself wrote these poems. The poems have come down to us only in fragmentary form, found scattered throughout Neoplatonic writings as quotations, and it is uncertain how these fragments were originally pieced together. Damáskios tells us of three theogonies: 1) one by Éfdimos (Eudemus; Gr. Εὔδημος), a pupil of Aristotǽlis (Aristotle; Gr. Ἀριστοτέλης), 2) by Iæróhnymos Ródios (Hieronymus of Rhodes; Gr. Ιερώνυμος Ῥόδιος) or perhaps it was authored by Ællánikos (Hellanicus; Gr. Ἑλλάνικος), and 3) lastly, the Rhapsodiai, the "orthodox" Orphic theogony. [1c]
There is the brief but important theogony found at the beginning of the Orphǽohs Argonaftiká (Orphic Argonautica; Gr. Ὀρφέως Ἀργοναυτικά) and that found in the Argonaftiká of Apollóhnios Ródios (Apollonius Rhodius; Gr. Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος), and the Orphic theogony quoted by Alǽxandros o Aphrodisiéfs (Alexander of Aphrodisias; Gr. Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Ἀφροδισιεύς). "Finally Gruppe mentions a theogony in Clemens Romanus not named as Orphic but belonging to the same circle of thought, which again shows points of difference from the rest.” [1c] Further still, there is the Pythagorean kosmogony of the Tímaios (Timaeus; Gr. Τίμαιος) of Plátohn. Pythagóras (Gr. Πυθαγόρας), Sohkrátis (Socrates; Gr. Σωκράτης), and Plátohn are regarded here as in the lineage of Orphéfs.
Of more recent discovery, but of quite ancient origin (fourth century BCE), is the Derveni Papyrus, a commentary of the school of Anaxagóras (Gr. Ἀναξαγόρας) on an Orphic text; this commentary includes a theogony.
THE BASIC THEOGONÍA OF ORPHISMÓS
Prologue: Here follows the skeletal Orphic theogony derived from two sources: the Iæróhnymos-Ællánikos (Hieronymus-Hellanicus) theogony and the Orphic Rhapsodies as found in the Orphicum Fragmenta. The paraphrased contents are derived entirely from the texts with no additions unless found in brackets; it is for this reason that the story-line is a bit fragmented.
Beginning with the Iæróhnymos-Ællánikos (Hieronymus-Hellanicus) Kosmogonía as described by Damáskios 
Before the beginning of all that is: The Unutterable Principle
First: Water and solid matter that hardened into Earth. (See Mystic Materialism)
Out of Water and Earth came a serpent with the heads of a bull and a lion between which was the face of a God, with wings on its shoulders: his name was Un-ageing Time (Khrónos or Chronos; Gr. Χρόνος) and Iraklís (Heracles; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς). Along with and united with Khrónos was born Necessity (Anángki or Ananke; Gr. Ἀνάγκη) and Adrásteia (Gr. Ἀδράστεια) whose extended arms stretch to the limits of the Kósmos.
Time has triple offspring: moist Aithír (Ether; Gr. Αἰθήρ), unlimited Kháos (Chaos; Gr. Χάος), and misty Ǽrævos (Erebos; Gr. Ἔρεβος) (described as "a great yawning gulf, and darkness over all"). Among these, Khrónos creates an Egg and from among these the third intelligible triad emerges: The Egg; the Dyad of the two natures (male and female) with the plurality of the seeds in between; and thirdly, the incorporeal God with the golden wings on his shoulders, Phánis (Phanes; Gr. Φάνης), the son of Aithír. Phánis is described as being incorporeal, yet having golden wings on his shoulders, the head of a bull emerging from his shanks, and a massive serpent, showing the form of every type of animal.
Further, this theology has a hymn to Prohtogónos (Protogonos = the First-born = Phánis; Gr. Πρωτογόνος), calling him Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) who ministers the whole Kósmos, calling him Pan (Pan = All; Gr. Πᾶν).
Continuing with the Orphicorum Fragmenta: The rest of the kosmogony is now constructed from quotations of the Rhapsodies found in the writings of various ancient writers, mostly the Platonists, collected and placed in the order suggested by Prof. Otto Kern (1863-1942), the classical philologist who uncovered much of the Orphic corpus. The Rhapsodies provide the most common theogony, the one customarily used by the Neoplatonists, so claims Damáskios (although Damáskios would not, of course, use that term). (For the complete extant fragments, visit this page: ORPHIC RHAPSODIES - ΙΕΡΌΣ ΛΌΓΟΣ ΣΕ 24 ΡΑΨΩΔΊΕΣ)
At the birth of Phánis, the "misty abyss below" and Aithír were torn. Phánis has both sexes and is able to give birth all of himself. He is imagined as marvelously beautiful, a figure of shining light, with golden wings on his shoulders, four eyes, and the voice of a bull and a lion. He has many names: Phaǽthohn (Phaeton; Gr. Φαέθων), First-Born Prohtogónos, Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως), Mítis (Metis; Gr. Μῆτις), and Irikapaios (Erikepaios; Gr. Ἠρικαπαῖος) among them.
Phánis gave birth to Nyx (Nyx = Night; Gr. Νύξ). He gave her his scepter and prophecy.
Night gave birth to Yaia (Gaia = Earth; Gr. Γαῖα) and Ouranós (Uranus; Gr. Οὐρανός), to whom Nyx gave supreme power.
[Earth] gave birth to the Titánæs (Titans: Gr. Τιτᾶνες), Krónos (Cronus; Gr. Κρόνος), Rǽa (Rhea; Gr. Ῥέα), and the rest. The Titánæs [those necessary] were defeated (by the Olympians) and cast into Tártaros (Gr. Τάρταρος) by Ouranós.
Ouranós is castrated (by Krónos).
Krónos fathers Zefs who conspires to overthrow him.
Zefs asks Nyx how he should establish his kingdom and have all things one and yet separate. Nyx answers that he should surround all things in his Aithír and suspend within it heaven and all its constellations and the earth.
Zefs now becomes the Dimiourgós (Demiurge or Creator; Gr. Δημιουργός). How can this be since Phánis is the creator? Zefs swallows Phánis, and with Phánis, who is the first-born and the origin of all, he may be regarded as taking into himself all things that exist. With this act, Zefs creates or reveals everything anew.
Zefs makes Diónysos (Gr. Διόνυσος) king. [The Titánæs] cut him into seven parts. Zefs asks for the parts. Vákkhos (Bacchus = Diónysos; Gr. Βάκχος) rules after Zefs.
Theogony in the Rhapsodies (another version) This second version of the Rhapsodies is derived from Gábor Betegh's book The Derveni Papyrus . It is included here because Betegh quite helpfully "fills in" details not found in the above version, details missing from the extant fragments of the original text.
First: Khrónos or Time
From Khrónos were born Aithír and Kháos.
Khrónos places an egg in the Aithír, called the white tunic or cloud.
Phánis (also called Mítis, Irikapaios, Prohtogónos, Ǽrohs, Zefs, and Vrómios [Bromios; Gr. βρόμιος]), the first king, emerges from the egg.
This concludes direct information from the Rhapsodies. We continue with testimony from various ancient (mostly) Platonic writers:
Next comes Night (Nyx, the second king), the daughter and lover of Phánis, to whom Phánis passes the power of the sceptre.
Night gives birth to Ouranós (the third king) and Yaia (Earth).
Ouranós and Yaia give birth to a great number of Gods, including the royal couple, Krónos and Rǽa (identified as Dimítir; Gr. Δημήτηρ).
Krónos castrates Ouranós and becomes the fourth king. The phallus of Ouranós is thrown in the sea and from the foam, Aphrodíti (Aphrodite; Gr. Ἀφροδίτη) is born.
Zefs is born to Krónos and Rǽa and castrates his father as Krónos had to Ouranós, becoming the fifth king.
Night and the oracular advice of Krónos assist Zefs: he must swallow Phánis and by doing so, the whole Kósmos is within him to give new birth.
The universe is created anew and numerous Gods are fathered by Zefs. By a union with Rǽa/Dimítir, Kóri (Core; Gr. Κόρη) is born, with whom Zefs commingles, giving birth to Diónysos.
Diónysos is the sixth and final king. Zefs enthrones him. The Titánæs, jealous of Diónysos, kidnap and tear him into seven pieces, eating of his flesh. The beating heart is retrieved by Athiná (Athena; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ) from whom a new Diónysos is created. Zefs strikes the Titánæs with a thunderbolt and from their ashes Mankind rises up.
Theogony According to Éfdimos (Eudemus)
We have very little theogony of Éfdimos (Eudemus; Gr. Εὔδημος) but this significant quotation of Damáskios:
"The theology described in the Peripatetic Eudemus as being that of Orpheus is silent about the entire realm of the intelligible for it is completely inexpressible and unknowable by the method of exposition and narration: it made its start from Night, from whom also Homer begins, although he (sc. Homer) did not make his genealogy continuous. For we should not believe Eudemus when he says that he (sc. Homer) begins from Okeanos and Tethys. For he too manifestly knows that Night is the greatest divinity, so that even Zeus feels awe before her..." 
And now we have a summary of Éfdimos as presented by M.L. West:
"In the beginning was Night. From her came Uranus and Ge (ed. Earth or Yaia); from them Oceanus and Tethys; from them the twelve Titans. Rhea bore children to Kronos, but he swallowed them as they were born. Zeus, however, was born secretly in a cave in Crete (Ida/Dicte), nursed by nymphs, and guarded by the Kouretes. Kronos was given a stone to swallow. When Zeus was grown up, Rhea made Kronos drunk with honeycombs, whereupon Zeus tied him up, castrated him, and with the help of Metis induced him to regurgitate his children. His three sons drew lots, and Hades took the lower world, Poseidon the sea, and Zeus Heaven, whither he proceeded on a goat.
"Zeus fathered children by several Goddesses, and others of the younger Gods also had families. Persephone bore Dionysus to Zeus in Crete. There followed the story of the murder of Dionysus by the Titans and his restoration to life. The Titans were blasted to Tartarus, and mankind came into being from the sooty fall-out. So theirs is a bad inheritance; Dionysus, however, can help them by his purification rites, which were first established in Crete but soon spread everywhere." 
Theogony according to the Tímaios of Plátohn
The Tímaios (Timaeus; Gr. Τίμαιος) of Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) is of enormous significance. While the general thrust of Platonic writing encourages questions more than answers, in the Tímaios, Plátohn speaks extensively of a Creator, the Dimiourgós (Δημιουργὸς). He puts these words, not in the mouth of Sohkrátis (Socrates; Gr. Σωκράτης), but in that of the natural philosopher and Pythagorean, Tímaios o Lokrós (Timaeus of Locri; Gr. Τίμαιος ὁ Λοκρός). While the perspective expressed in this dialogue may appear different from the Rhapsodies, the Tímaios is Pythagorean and Platonic; therefore it is in the tradition of Orphismós (Orphism; Gr. Ορφισμός).
As is typical of Plátohn, the Tímaios takes the position that the Gods, or in this case the Creator, is good and not evil or neutral:
The text goes on to describe how the Dimiourgós, the Creator or Maker, brought order to Kháos (Chaos; Gr. Χάος):
And he endowed the world with a soul:
The Tímaios goes on to describe two kosmogonic substances, Fire and Earth, and further, Water and Air:
Plátohn speaks of the two kosmogonic substances being combined to create the soul:
As for the Gods, the Tímaios describes them as having arisen from Earth and Heaven (Ouranós):
Next follows some statements that may surprise many people:
For comparison in another translation, the same section:
The Tímaios seems to be saying that the hosts of Gods are the creation of a Creator or Dimiourgós, where the Rhapsodies say that the Gods arise from Phánis and finally are created or revealed anew by Zefs. This would make Zefs the Dimiourgós.
All these quotations from the Tímaios are at the beginning of the kosmogony; there is a vast amount of material beyond it, but for the purposes of this brief essay, we end here. In truth, this very important work should be studied in its totality and it should be kept in mind that the comments concerning the work found here in this essay are regrettably cursory.
Read the Tímaios in either English or Greek: Platohn: Timaios
Download a free MP3 audiobook of the Tímaios: LibriVox » Tímaios of Plátohn.
Próklos: Orphic Theogony compared to Plátohn
"...Timæus being a Pythagorean, follows the Pythagorean principles. But these are the Orphic traditions. For what Orpheus delivered mystically through arcane narrations, these Pythagoras learned, being initiated by Aglaophemus in the Mystic wisdom which Orpheus derived from his mother Calliope. For these things Pythagoras says in the Sacred Discourse. What then are the Orphic traditions, since we are of opinion that the doctrine of Timæus about the Gods should be referred to these? They are as follows: Orpheus delivered the kingdoms of the Gods who preside over wholes, according to a perfect number, viz. Phanes, Night (ed. Nyx), Heaven (ed. Ouranós), Saturn (ed. Krónos), Jupiter (ed. Zefs), Bacchus (ed. Diónysos). For Phanes is the first that bears a sceptre, and the first king is the celebrated Ericapæus (ed. another name for Phánis). But the second is Night, who receives the sceptre from her father [Phanes]. The third is Heaven, who receives it from Night. The fourth is Saturn, who, as they say, offered violence to his father. The fifth is Jupiter, who subdued his father. And after him, the sixth is Bacchus. All these kings, therefore, beginning supernally from the intelligible and intellectual Gods, proceed through the middle orders, and into the world, that they may adorn mundane affairs. For Phanes is not only in intelligibles, but also in intellectuals, in the demiurgic, and in the supermundane order; and in a similar manner, Heaven and Night. For the peculiarities of them proceed through all the middle orders. And with respect to the mighty Saturn, is he not arranged prior to Jupiter, and does he not after the Jovian kingdom, divide the Bacchic fabrication in conjunction with the other Titans? And this indeed, he effects in one way in the heavens, and in another in the sublunary region; in one way in the inerratic sphere, and in another among the planets. And in a similar manner Jupiter and Bacchus. These things, therefore, are clearly asserted by the ancients.
"If, however we are right in these assertions, these divinities have every where an analogous subsistence; and he who wishes to survey the progressions of them into the heavens, or the sublunary region, should look to the first and principal causes of their kingdoms. For from thence, and according to them, their generation is derived. Some, therefore, say, that Plato omits to investigate the Gods who are analogous to the two kings in the heavens, I mean Phanes and Night. For it is necessary to place them in a superior order, and not among the mundane Gods, being eternally established in the adytum, as Orpheus says of Phanes, who by the word adytum, signifies their occult and immanifest order. Whether, therefore, we refer the circulation of same and different, mentioned by Plato in this dialogue, to the analogy of these, as male and female, or paternal and generative, we shall not wander from the truth. Or whether we refer the sun and moon, as opposed to each other among the planets, to the same analogy, we shall not err. For the sun indeed through his light preserves a similitude to Phanes, but the moon to Night. Jupiter, or the Demiurgus, in the intellectual, is analogous to Phanes in the intelligible order. And the vivific crater Juno is analogous to Night, who produces all life in conjunction with Phanes from unapparent causes; just as Juno is parturient (ed. pregnant) with, and emits into light, all the soul contained in the world. For it is better to conceive both these as prior to the world; and to arrange the Demiurgus himself as analogous to Phanes; since he is said to be assimilated to him according to the production of wholes; but to arrange the power conjoined with Jupiter, (i.e. Juno) and which is generative of wholes, to Night, who produces all things from the father Phanes. After these, however, we must consider the remaining as analogous to the intellectual kingdoms.
"If, likewise, it should be asked why Plato does not mention the kingdoms of Phanes and Night, to whom we have said Jupiter and Juno are analogous? It may be readily answered, that the tradition of Orpheus contains these; on which account Plato celebrates the kingdom of Heaven and Earth as the first, the Greeks being more accustomed to this than to the Orphic traditions; as he himself says in the Cratylus, where he particularly mentions the Theogony of Hesiod, and recurs as far as to this kingdom according to that poet. Beginning, therefore, from this Theogony as more known, and assuming Heaven and Earth as the first kingdoms above the world, he produces the visible Heaven and Earth analogous to those in the intellectual order, and celebrates the latter as the most ancient of the Gods within the former. From these also, he begins the Theogony of the sublunary Gods. These things, however if divinity pleases, will be manifest from what follows. At present we shall only add, that it is requisite to survey all these names divinely or dæmoniacally, and according to the allotments of these divinities in the four elements. For this ennead is in ether and water, in earth and in air, all-variously, according to the divine, and also according to the dæmonical peculiarity. And again, these names are to be surveyed aquatically and aerially, and likewise in the earth terrestrially, in order that all of them may be every where, according to an all-various mode of subsistence. For there are many modes of providence divine and dæmoniacal, and many allotments according to the division of the elements." 
There is a great myth of Ællinismόs in the Politikós (Statesman; Gr. Πολιτικός) of Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων), which concerns contains a cosmogonic explanation of the universe: The Age of Krónos and the Reversal of Time.
The story of Iasohn (Jason; Gr. Ἰάσων) and the Argonaftai (Argonauts; Gr. Ἀργοναῦται) has several variants, the most common being that which was told by Apollohnios Rothios (Apollonios of Rhodes; Gr. Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος), but there is a one which is in the Orphic tradition which includes a brief cosmogony:
[1a] Orpheus and Greek Religion by W.K.C. Guthrie, 1952 but in the 1993 Princeton Univ. Press Princeton edition, p. 71.
[1b] Ibid. Guthrie, pp. 71-72.
[1c] Ibid. Guthrie, p. 74.
 Damáskios (Damascius; Gr. Δαμάσκιος) I.317.15 Ruelle; summarized from THE DERVENI PAPYRUS - Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation by Gábor Betegh, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 143-144. (I.317.15 Ruelle) Betegh here is quoting Damáskios directly.
 Summarized from: Ibid. Betegh, pp. 140-143. Betegh provides numerous citations in the form of notes, supporting the entire Theogony.
 Quoted directly from Betegh, p. 146, who gives this citation for the quotation: Damaskios, De princ. 3.162 Combès-Westerink = 1.319 Ruelle.
 The Orphic Poems by M.L. West, 1983, pp. 138-139
 Plato Tímaios (Timaeus; Gr. Τίμαιος) 27d-29d; translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1892, found in volume II of the 1937 Random House edition of The Dialogues of Plato on pp.12-13
 Tímaios 29d, Jowett, pp.13-14
 Tímaios 30a, Jowett, p.14
 Tímaios 30 b-c, Jowett, p.14
 Tímaios 31b -32 c, Jowett, pp.14-15
 Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) Tímaios 34c-35a, trans. Robin Waterfield in Timaeus and Critias, Oxford World's Classics, 2008, pp.22-23
 Tímaios 40e - 41a, Jowett, p. 22
 Tímaios 41a-b, Jowett, p. 22
 Tímaios 41a-b, from Plato: Timaeus and Critias by Robin Waterfield, 2008, Oxford World's Classics, p. 30
 Próklos (Proclus; Gr. Πρόκλος) The Theology of Plato, Book Seven, Chapter XXVII, translated by Thomas Taylor, 1816; found in the 1999 Prometheus Trust edition on pp.548-550.
(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.
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