ORPHIC CRITICAL TESTIMONY 107

OTTO KERN

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ASTROLOGUS (Astronomer)

SUMMARY: This testimony explains that Orpheus taught the Greeks astronomy and that the animals who followed and listened to him in the myths are actually the constellations surrounding the constellation of the Lyre.

ORPHIC CRITICAL TESTIMONY 107.

Περὶ τῆς Ἀστρολογίας τοῦ ψευδούς Λουκιανοὺ 10 (v. F. Boll N. Jahrb. Suppl. XXI 1894, 151):

Ἕλληνες δὲ οὔτε παρ’ Αἰθιόπων οὔτε παρ’ Αἰγυπτίων ἀστρολογίης πέρι οὐδὲν ἤκουσαν, ἀλλὰ σφίσιν Ὀρφεὺς ὁ Οἰάγρου καὶ Καλλιόπης πρῶτος τάδε ἀπηγήσατο, οὐ μάλα ἐμφανέως, οὐδὲ ἐς φάος τὸν λόγον προήνεγκεν, ἀλλ’ ἐς γοητείην καὶ ἱερολογίην, οἱή διανοίη ἐκείνου· πηξάμενος γὰρ λύρην ὄργιά τε ἐποιέετο καὶ τὰ ἱρὰ ἤειδεν· ἡ δὲ λύρη ἑπτάμιτος ἐοῦσα τὴν τῶν κινεομένων ἀστέρων ἁρμονίην συνεβάλλετο. ταῦτα Ὀρφεὺς διζήμενος καὶ ταῦτα ἀνακινέων πάντα ἔθελγεν καὶ πάντων ἐκράτεεν· οὐ γὰρ ἐκείνην τὴν λύρην ἔβλεπεν οὐδὲ οἱ ἄλλης ἔμελε μουσουργίης, ἀλλ᾽ αὕτη Ὀρφέος ἡ μεγάλη λύρη. Ἕλληνές τε τάδε τιμέοντες μοίρην αὐτέηι ἐν τῶι οὐρανῶι ἀπέκριναν καὶ ἀστέρες πολλοὶ καλέονται λύρη Ὀρφέος. ἢν δέ κοτε Ὀρφέα ἴδηις ἢ λίθοισιν ἢ χροιῆι μεμιμημένον, μέσωι ἕζεται ἴκελος ἀείδοντι μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχων τὴν λύρην· ἀμφὶ δέ μιν ζῶια μυρία ἕστηκεν, ἐν οἷς καὶ κάπρος (ἄπρος Birt Laienurteil über bildende Kunst bei den Alten. Marburger Rektoratsrede 1902, 34 n. 3, ἄνθρωπος codd.) καὶ ταῦρος καὶ λέων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἕκαστον. εὖτ᾽ ἂν ἐκεῖνα ἴδηις, μέμνησό μοι τουτέων, κοίη ἐκείνου ἀοιδή, κοίη δὲ καὶ ἡ λύρη, κοῖος δὲ καὶ ταῦρος ἢ ὁκοῖος λέων Ὀρφέος ἐπαΐουσιν. ἢν δὲ τὰ λέγω αἴτια γνοίης, σὺ δὲ καὶ ἐν τῶι οὐρανῶι δέρκεο ἕκαστον τουτέων.

“The Greeks did not hear about astronomy [1] from the Ethiopians nor the Egyptians, but Orphéfs (Ὀρφεὺς), the son of Íagros (Οἴαγρος) and Kalliópî (Καλλιόπη), was the first to explain these things to them, but not quite openly; he did not bring this knowledge into the light of day, but, rather, he taught it through enchantment and mystical language; (he revealed) what knowledge he knew he could get through safely [2]. For, having made a lyre, he was composing the secret rites and singing holy things. And his lyre, being seven-stringed, was bringing together the harmony of the moving stars [3]. Seeking and awakening these [4], Orphéfs was charming all and becoming master of all; for he was not seeing that (physical) lyre, and not caring for (ordinary) singing, but, rather, this was the great lyre of Orphéfs [5]. And the Greeks, honoring these things, set apart a sector in the sky and many stars which they call ‘The Lyre of Orphéfs.’ And if at some time you should see Orphéfs represented either in mosaics or painting, he is seated in the center, like someone singing, with a lyre in his hands; and around him are placed myriad animals, among which also are a boar, a bull, a lion, and each of the others. When you should happen to see these images, remind yourself of these things, of what sort his song consists, and of what sort his lyre as well, and also what kind of bull or what kind of lion do these images convey from Orphéfs. And I say, if you wish to know the explanations of these images, look upon each of them in the sky.”

(trans. by the author)

TRANSLATOR’S NOTES:

[1] The word ἀστρολογία originally meant “astronomy,” the etymology being ἀστέρες +λογία “belonging to the stars” or ἀστέρων + λόγος “the computation of the stars.” Various lexicons (for instance Liddell & Scott) say that later the word came to refer to astrology, but they do not say when later begins; in any case, Lucian is near late antiquity, so the word has been translated in this passage elsewhere as “astrology,” but I disagree, for if you read the content of the quotation, it is perfectly clear that Lucian is describing astronomy and not astrology. Yes, it could be said that he is also ascribing some kind of mystical power to Orpheus in relationship to the heavens, but that is not quite the same thing as astrology.

[2] Meaning, I believe, that what should be forbidden to the profane he kept hidden, but what was safe to reveal he passed down.

[3] The moving stars, or the wandering stars, are the planets.

[4] What Lucian is describing sounds something like the action on the heavens of the music of Apollo, of whom Orpheus can be thought of as a son, and the son of an Olympian has characteristics of the father. Thomas Taylor gives a good explanation of this in his commentary on the Orphic hymn to Apollo:

"Gesner well observes, in his notes to this Hymn, that the comparison and conjunction of the musical and astronomical elements are most ancient; being derived from Orpheus and Pythagoras , to Plato. Now, according to the Orphic and Pythagoric doctrine, the lyre of Apollo is an image of the celestial harmony, or the melody caused by the orderly revolutions of the celestial spheres. But I cannot believe that Orpheus and Pythagoras considered this harmony as attended with sensible sounds, according to the vulgar acceptation of the word: for it is surely more rational to suppose, that they meant nothing more by the music of the spheres, than their harmonical proportions to each other. Indeed these wise men, to whom metaphors were familiar, may be easily conceived by vulgar sound and vulgar harmony to insinuate internal sound, and harmony subsisting in its origin and cause. Hence we may consider the souls of the celestial spheres, together with the soul of the world, as composing the choir of the nine Muses (ed. Mousai; Gr. Μοῦσαι) (who are called by the Platonists nine Syrens [ed. Seirínæs; Gr. Σειρῆνες]) and dancing in numerical order round Apollo the sun of the intellectual world. But these nine Muses are far different from the marine Syrens of the poets who, resident as it were in the sea of material delights, draw us aside by their alluring melody, from the paths of rectitude. For these are divine Syrens inviting us to the proper end of our nature; and forming from the eight tones of the eight spheres, one perfect and everlasting harmony.

“The following quotation from the Platonic Nichomachus (Νικόμαχος), Harm. i. p. 6. illustrates the meaning of the Hypate (Ὑπάτη) and Nete (Νεάτη), or the highest and lowest string. From the motion of Saturn (Κρόνος), (says he)

‘The most remote of the planets, the appellation of the gravest sound, Hypate, is derived: but from the lunar motion, which is the lowest of all, the most acute sound is called νεάτη, Nete, or the lowest.’

“But Gesner observes, that a more ancient, and as it were archetypal appellation, is derived from the ancient triangular lyre, a copy of which was found among the pictures lately dug out of the ruins of Herculaneum; where the highest chord next to the chin of the musicians is the longest, and consequently (says he) the sound is the most grave. Gesner proceeds in observing, that the three seasons of the year are so compared together in a musical ratio, that Hypate signifies the Winter, Nete the Summer, and the Dorian measure represents the intermediate seasons, Spring and Autumn. Now the reason why the Dorian melody is assigned to the Spring, is because that measure wholly consists in temperament and moderation, as we learn from Plut. de Mus. p. 1136. E. and consequently is with great propriety attributed to the Spring, considered as placed between Summer and Winter; and gratefully tempering the fervent heat of the one, and the intense cold of the other.”

(Thomas Taylor from The Hymns of Orpheus, 1792)

[5] This refers to the constellation Λύρα, the Lyre. The passage implies that the real concern of Orpheus was not his physical singing on earth, but the mystical music of the constellations. The idea is that the animals listening to Orpheus in the myths are actually the constellations surrounding the constellation of the Lyre.


The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic 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.

This logo 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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Pronunciation of Ancient Greek

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