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The Orphic Hymn 30 to Diónysos

30. Διονύσου

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Introduction to the Orphic Hymn to Diónysos Number Thirty


There are many hymns to Diónysos in the eighty-four poems comprising the Orphic Hymns, more than to any other deity. This is because Diónysos is the most important God as concerns the human condition, indeed, the condition of all creatures. Diónysos is the fulfillment of the providence and compassion of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) for by means of his Mysteries he frees us from the sorrowful circle of births (κύκλος γενέσεως). This can be seen in the Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony: The Sixth King (the most important page on this website). Diónysos is not one of the Twelve Olympians, but he is a very special deity and one of the most important Gods of all Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion.

Hymn number thirty is the first in the collection dedicated to Diónysos and it is considered the most important. Why? Because it is the most generalized hymn to the God, not about specific areas of interest concerning him, but about him in his totality. The hymn consists primarily of famous epithets of the God, names which give us clues as to who he is and of all his glorious qualities. We recite this hymn every time we do ritual because Diónysos is so very important to mankind. Let us explore the hymn, both in translation as well as in the original ancient text, word by word.



Translation by Thomas Taylor [1] :

30. Diónysos [Bacchus or Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος]

The Fumigation from Storax.

Bacchus I call, loud-sounding and divine,
Fanatic God, a two-fold shape is thine:
Thy various names and attributes I sing,
O, first-born, thrice begotten, Bacchic king:
Rural, ineffable, two-form'd, obscure,
Two-horn'd, with ivy crown'd, euion, pure.
Bull-fac'd, and martial, bearer of the vine,
Endu'd with counsel prudent and divine:
Triennial, whom the leaves of vines adorn,
Of Jove and Proserpine, occultly born.
Immortal dæmon, hear my suppliant voice,
Give me in blameless plenty to rejoice;
And listen gracious to my Mystic pray'r,
Surrounded with thy choir of nurses fair.


Original Greek Text:

30. Διονύσου, θυμίαμα στύρακα.

Κικλήσκω Διόνυσον ἐρίβρομον, εὐαστῆρα,
πρωτόγονον, διφυῆ, τρίγονον, Βακχεῖον ἄνακτα,
ἄγριον, ἄρρητον, κρύφιον, δικέρωτα, δίμορφον,
κισσόβρυον, ταυρωπόν, Ἀρήιον, εὔιον, ἁγνόν,
ὠμάδιον, τριετῆ, βοτρυηφόρον, ἐρνεσίπεπλον.
Εὐβουλεῦ, πολύβουλε, Διὸς καὶ Περσεφονείης
ἀρρήτοις λέκτροισι τεκνωθείς, ἄμβροτε δαῖμον·
κλῦθι, μάκαρ φωνῆς, ἡδὺς δ' ἐπίπνευσον ἀμεμφής
εὐμενὲς ἦτορ ἔχων, σὺν ἐυζώνοισι τιθήναις.


Transliteration: 

This is a transliteration into English to help those who may wish to learn the hymn in Greek, following the Reuchlinian method of pronunciation, as the Greeks do.

30. Diónysou, thymíama stýraka

Kiklískoh Diónyson ærívromon, evastíra,
prohtógonon, diphií, trígonon, Vakheion ánakta,
ágrion, árriton, krýphion, dikǽrohta, dímorphon,
kissóvryon, tavrohpón, Aríion, évion, agnón,
ohmádion, triætí, votryiphóron, ærnæsípæplon.
Evvouléf, polývoulæ, Diós kai Pærsæphoneiis
arrítis lǽtrisi tæknohtheis, ámvrotæ daimon:
klýthi, mákar phohnís, idýs d'æpípnefson amæmphís
evmænǽs ítor ǽkhohn, sýn evzóhnisi tithínais.


BREAKDOWN OF THE HYMN

Διονύσου - The title to the hymn, simply the name of the God, is written in the genitive case as all titles are written in the genitive.

θυμίαμα στύρακα - The author suggests that an incense (θυμιαμα) offering of storax (στύραξ) be made to the God.

Κικλήσκω (I callΔιόνυσον (Diónysos) ἐρίβρομον (the loud-roarer). I call Diónysos, the loud-roarer! Diónysos is ærívromos (eribromus; Gr. ἐρίβρομος, nom.), an adjective meaning loud-shouting, for he is full of great joy of the Mysteries he has to offer and he is intoxicated with the Aithír (Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ) of his father. In a similar manner, those who worship the God are also known for their ecstatic cries, for they too become intoxicated with the Aithír of Zefs.

εὐαστῆρα - he who cries εὐαί! Εὐαστήρ (= εὐαστήςis the nom. epithetThis wail (εὐαί!) is the great ecstatic expression of joy of both the God and also of his worshippers, εὐαί! εὐαί! εὐαί! The famous Vakkhic howl is pronounced eh-VAY.

πρωτόγονον - first-bornDiónysos, the Sixth King, is Prohtógonos (Protogonus; Gr. Πρωτόγονος), the First-Born, for he is the essence of and fulfills the potential of Phánis (Phanes; Gr. Φάνης). Indeed all the Six Kings share the same essence. This can be seen mythologically in The Orphic Rhapsodic TheogonyThe name Prohtógonos is also given to him in hymn 52 (Τριετηρικός) at line 6 where he is not only called Prohtógonos but also Irikæpaios (Ἠριϰεπαῖος), both names of Phánis, and this hymn (52) goes on to call him both the father (πάτερ) and offspring (υἱέ the vocative of υἱός "son") of the Gods.

διφυῆ - having two natures. The epithet is διφυής (adj. fem./masc. nom.). There are various interpretations of this epithet but perhaps it refers to Diónysos expressing both the death of the mortal nature and the resurrection of the soul as a God. It could also refer to him, as is said of his father in the Orphic Rhapsodic hymn to Zefs in the theogony, that he is both male and female.

τρίγονονborn three times. The epithet is τρίγονος (adj. fem./masc. nom.). Diónysos is born first to Pærsæphóni (Persephone; Gr. Περσεφόνη) by Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) and is known as Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεύς); he is sacrificed by the Titánæs (Titans; Gr. Τιτᾶνες) but the still beating heart was retrieved by Athiná (Athena; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ) and given to Zefs. Zefs then consorted with Sæmǽli (Semele; Gr. Σεμέλη) who received the heart and became pregnant. When she was burned by the glory of Zefs, the premature infant was retrieved (the second birth) by Zefs who sewed it into his leg. When the time was ripe, Diónysos was then born from the leg of Zefs (the third birth). Please visit this page for the complete mythology: The Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony (See The Sixth King).

Βακχεῖον ἄνακτα - Vakkhic lordFrom his name Vákkhos (Bacchus; Gr. Βάκχος) + ἄναξ, "king."

ἄγριον - wild. The epithet is ἄγριος (adj. fem./masc. nom.) "living in the fields," "wild," "savage."

ἄρρητον - unable to be understood, unspoken or secret. The epithet is ἄρρητος (adj. fem./masc. nom.).

κρύφιον - concealed, hidden. The epithet is κρύφιος (adj. fem./masc. nom.). The true nature of Diónysos is concealed from the profane as are the understandings of his Mysteries. It is forbidden to reveal certain things of the Dionysian religion but in actuality they are self-secret, unable to be understood by those who are not pure of heart.

δικέρωτα - two-horned. The epithet is δίκερως (noun and adj., fem./masc. nom.). Diónysos is horned, like Zefs-Ámmohn (Zeus-Ammon; Gr. Ζεύς-Ἄμμων) and Apóllohn Κárneios (Gr. Ἀπόλλων Kárneios). In truth, all the Gods have "horns." The horns are the effulgent Aithír (Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ) which flows from the sides of their heads, but these particular Gods are so magnificent and overflowing with this "Wine" that they appear in the iconography as having the horns of an animal. It is for this reason, also, that horned animals are sacred in the art and mythology.

δίμορφον - having two shapes. Diónysos is δίμορφος (adj. neuter nom.), having two forms (μορφή) or natures, androgynous. One way this epithet has been interpreted is that Diónysos, like his pre-form Phánis and Zefs himself, is both male and female.

κισσόβρυον - adorned with ivy. The epithet is κισσόβρυος (adj. fem./masc. nom.). Because of the symbolism of wine and its intoxicating quality, Diónysos is typically depicted in iconography adorned with a wreath of ivy around his head and ivy is encountered in a multitude of myths, most famously in Homeric Hymn 7 which describes that when the God's power has become manifest, grape ivy spontaneously grows throughout a ship and up its mast.

ταυρωπόν - with a face of a bull. The epithet is ταυρωπός (adj. fem./masc. nom.). Diónysos is sometimes identified with the bull, a massively powerful and horned animal which is also identified with his father Zefs as well as Poseidohn (Poseidon; Gr. Ποσειδῶν). There are other names of the God with a similar meaning: Tavrokǽphalos (Taurocephalus; Gr. Ταυροκέφαλος) "with the head of a bull," Tavrokǽros (Tauroceros; Gr. Ταυροκέρος), and Tavrophágos (Taurophagus; Gr. Ταυροφάγος) "bull-eating."

Ἀρήιον - warlikeThe epithet is Ἄρειος (noun [masc. nom.] and adj. [fem./masc. nom.]), devoted to Ἄρης. It can be seen in the mythology that Diónysos is involved in wars in India and the conquering of various countries, but the epithet likely refers more to his attitude of bravery in the conquest of obstacles to the progress of the soul.

εὔιον - howling. The epithet is Εὔιος (noun, masc. nom.). This word refers to eví! (Gr. εὐοῖ) evai! (Gr. εὐαί), the ecstatic cries of joy wailed out by Diónysos and his worshippers, and for which he is known as Évios (Gr. Εὔιος).

ἁγνόν - holyDiónysos is ἁγνός (adj. masc. nom.), greatly endowed with the most sublime holiness.

ὠμάδιονhe who sacrificed himself (when the Titans make of him an offering). Ὠμάδιος (noun, masc. nom.) is an epithet of Diónysos; the word itself refers to human sacrifice, but in this case it is the offering of a God. It is from this that we have Ὠμοφαγία, communion, i.e. the eating of raw flesh in stories of ancient rituals for the God, in imitation of eating the flesh of Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεύς) by the Titánæs (Titans; Gr. Τιτᾶνες).

τριετῆ - he of the three-year feasts. This refers to the three-year festivals (τριετηρίς) of Diónysos which were held every two years (because the ancient Greeks counted inclusively), for which he is known as Triætirikós (Trietericus; Gr. Τριετηρικός. Adj. masc. nom.) as can seen in Orphic Hymn 52.
 
βοτρυηφόρον - bearing grapesDiónysos is completely inebriated with the Aithír (Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ) of his father; this is symbolically represented by the intoxicating quality of wine, the result of the fermentation of grapes. Diónysos is βοτρυηφόρος (adj. fem. masc. nom.), bearing grapes, and he is offering them to us, if we will accept it, for the Gods give only to those who desire their gifts.

ἐρνεσίπεπλον - wrapped in foliage. The epithet is ρνεσίπεπλος (adj. fem./masc. nom.). Again, this is the foliage of the grapes which produce the wine which is symbolic of the intoxicating quality of the Aithír (Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ) of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς). 

ΕὐβουλεῦEvvouléfs (Eubuleus; Gr. Εὐβουλεύς. Noun, masc. nom.) as an epithet of Diónysos. The name means prudent or of good counsel. In the mythology of Ælefsinian Mysteries the name seems to refer to a specific historical personage, but in the Orphic Hymns, it is applied many times to Diónysos. He is called by this name at 29.8 in the hymn to Περσεφόνη, at 30.6 in the hymn to Diónysos (this hymn), at 41.8 in the hymn to Μήτηρ Ανταία, at 42.2 in the hymn to Μίσα, at 52.4 in the hymn to Τριετηρικός, and at 72.3 in the hymn to Τύχη, all these specifically referring to Diónysos as ΕὐβουλεύςIn 56.3 the name is given to Ἄδωνις but this may be using the name in the sense that all souls who have been deified may be called Diónysi.

πολύβουλε - counsellorDiónysos is πολύβουλος (adj. fem./masc. nom.), exceedingly wise.

Διὸς καὶ ΠερσεφονείηςZefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς. Διὸς is the genitive of Ζεύς.) and Pærsæphóni (Persephone; Gr. Περσεφόνη) who unite to give Diónysos his first birth as Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεύς). See Orphic Rhapsodic TheogonyThe Sixth King. 

ἀρρήτοις (unspoken) λέκτροισι (bed) τεκνωθείς (begetting) - born of the secret bed (of Zefs and Pærsæphóni). This refers to the first birth of Diónysos when he was known as Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεύς). See Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony: The Sixth King.

ἄμβροτε δαῖμον - immortal daimon. From ἄμβροτος, the etymology of which is: (not) +‎ βροτός (mortal). Δαίμων is a neutral term which may refer to a God or actually any soul when considered as independent of a (mortal) body. For instance, our soul is a δαίμων which will survive after the death of our bodies, but all the Gods are mighty Δαίμονες (pl.).

κλῦθι - Listen! This word, from the verb κλύω, "to hear," is commonly found in hymns and prayers to Gods, κλῦθί μευ, "Hear me!" or "Listen!"

μάκαρ - blessed oneThis word mákar could be said to be the most important epithet of the Gods as opposed to mortals. Ómiros (Homer; Gr. Ὅμηρος) will frequently refer to the "blessed (μάκαρες, pl.), deathless (αθάνατοι, pl.) Gods (Θεοί, pl.)."

φωνῆς - (to) the voice (of your suppliant). From φωνή "sound" and φωνέω "producing sound."

ἡδὺς (pleasantδ' ἐπίπνευσον (inspiration or breathἀμεμφής (blameless) - breathe upon me blameless pleasure

εὐμενὲς (gracious or kindἦτορ (heart of desireἔχων (carry or bring) - be kind and grant my desire

σὺν (withἐυζώνοισι (well-girdledτιθήναις (nurses) - with your chaste nurses


A more literal translation of the hymn to Diónysos:

The translations presented in this series are not intended to replace the beautiful work of Thomas Taylor in our rituals. If anything, they make obvious his brilliance in capturing the spirit of the hymns while framing them in lovely poetry. Rather, we are simply trying to deepen our understanding of each hymn producing a more scholarly translation, word-for-word accurate.

30. Diónysos, Incense: storax.

I call Diónysos, the loud-roarer! Who wails in revel!
Prohtógonos, two-natured, thrice-born, Vakkhic king,
Wild, inscrutable, cryptic, two-horned, two-shaped,
Bedecked in ivy, bull-faced, war-like, howling, holy,
Divine victim, feasted every other year, wearing grapes and foliage,
Counselor. Zefs and Kóri bore you... 
on a secret bed, immortal Daimohn!
Listen, Blessed One, to my voice! Fill me with blameless pleasure,
Be kind and grant my desire with the aid of your chaste nurses!



NOTES:

[1] The Hymns of Orpheus, trans. by Thomas Taylor, 1792; we are using a facsimile of the original edition, London, England (printed for the author) where this quotation may be found on pp. 155-156. In this original publication of his translation of the hymns, Taylor numbered the hymn to Diónysos as 29; actually all of his numbering is off by one increment because Taylor began his numbering after the hymn to Ækáti (Hecate; Gr. Ἑκάτη) which should have been counted as the first hymn; this has been corrected in the current edition of the Taylor translations by Prometheus Trust.


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