For links to many more fragments: The Orphic Fragments of Otto Kern.

GRAECIAE (Of Greece)

SUMMARY: This testimony, from the historian Herodotus, says that Onomacritus set in order the oracles of Musaeus and that he was accused of inserting an oracle of his own into these.


Onomacritus of Athens (Perhaps a Lycomida*? Brueckner Athen. Mitt. XVI 1891, 203) Ἱστορίαι Ἡροδότου 7.6.2-5:

τοῦτο δὲ Πεισιστρατιδέων οἱ ἀναβεβηκότες ἐς Σοῦσα, τῶν τε αὐτῶν λόγων ἐχόμενοι τῶν καὶ οἱ Ἀλευάδαι, καὶ δή τι πρὸς τούτοισι ἔτι πλέον προσωρέγοντό οἱ (sc. τῶι Ξέρξηι). ἔχοντες <δ’ add. Hude> Ὀνομάκριτον, ἄνδρα Ἀθηναῖον χρησμολόγον τε καὶ διαθέτην χρησμῶν τῶν Μουσαίου, ἀνεβεβήκεσαν, τὴν ἔχθρην προκαταλυσάμενοι ἐξηλάσθη γὰρ ὑπὸ Ἱππάρχου τοῦ Πεισιστράτου (Πεισιστρατίδεω ABC) ὁ Ὀνομάκριτος ἐξ Ἀθηνέων, ἐπ᾽ αὐτοφώρωι ἁλοὺς ὑπὸ Λάσου τοῦ Ἑρμιονέος ἐμποιέων ἐς τὰ Μουσαίου χρησμόν ὡς αἱ ἐπὶ Λήμνωι (Krueg.] Λήμνου codd.) ἐπικείμεναι νῆσοι ἀφανιζοίατο (ἀφανιοίατο Krueg.) κατὰ τῆς θαλάσσης. διὸ ἐξήλασέ μιν ὁ Ἵππαρχος, πρότερον χρεώμενος τὰ μάλιστα. τότε δὲ συναναβὰς ὅκως ἀπίκοιτο ἐς ὄψιν τὴν βασιλέος, λεγόντων τῶν Πεισιστρατιδέων περὶ αὐτοῦ σεμνοὺς λόγους κατέλεγε τῶν χρησμῶν· εἰ μέν τι ἐνέοι σφάλμα φέρον τῶι βαρβάρωι, τῶν μὲν ἔλεγε οὐδέν, ὁ δὲ τὰ εὐτυχέστατα ἐκλεγόμενος ἔλεγε, τόν τε Ἑλλήσποντον ὡς ζευχθῆναι χρεὸν εἴη ὑπ᾽ ἀνδρὸς Πέρσεω, τήν τε ἔλασιν ἐξηγεόμενος. οὗτός τε δὴ χρησμωιδέων προσεφέρετο καὶ οἵ τε Πεισιστρατίδαι καὶ οἱ Ἀλευάδαι γνώμας ἀποδεικνύμενοι.

“The Pisistratidae who had come up to Susa used the same pleas as the Aleuadae, offering Xerxes even more than they did. They had come up to Sardis with Onomacritus, an Athenian diviner [1] who had set in order the oracles of Musaeus. They had reconciled their previous hostility with him; Onomacritus had been banished from Athens by Pisistratus’ son Hipparchus, when he was caught by Lasus [2] of Hermione in the act of interpolating into the writings of Musaeus an oracle showing that the islands off Lemnos would disappear into the sea. Because of this Hipparchus banished him, though they had previously been close friends. Now he had arrived at Susa with the Pisistratidae, and whenever he came into the king's presence they used lofty words concerning him and he recited from his oracles; all that portended disaster to the Persian he left unspoken, choosing and reciting such prophecies as were most favorable, telling how the Hellespont must be bridged by a man of Persia and describing the expedition. So he brought his oracles to bear, while the Pisistratidae and Aleuadae gave their opinions.”

(trans. A. D. Godley, 1920)

*The Λυκομίδαι were a family of priests in Athens who participated in the cult of Demeter. Pausanias says that the poets Pamphos and Orpheus composed verses on Love that they might be sung by the Lykomídai in ritual (Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις Παυσανίου 9.27.2).

A. D. Godley’s Notes:

[1] The word sometimes means “a diviner”; here, probably, rather a “selecter and publisher” of existing oracles, by recitation or otherwise.

[2] A poet and musician, Pindar's teacher.

E. v. Stern Herm. LII 1917, 362; Beloch in the same journal LV 1920, 312.

As regards Onomákritos, we have the opinion of Thomas Taylor:

“In the last place, it is requisite to speak of the author of these [Orphic] Hymns, and in addition to the evidence already adduced of their genuine antiquity, to vindicate them against those who contend that they are spurious, and were not written by Orpheus, but either by Onomacritus, or some poet who lived in the decline and fall of the Roman empire. And first, with respect to the dialect of these Hymns, Gesner observes, ‘that it ought to be no objection to their antiquity. For though according to Iamblichus, the Thracian Orpheus, who is more ancient than those noble poets Homer and Hesiod, used the Doric dialect; yet the Athenian Onomacritus, who according to the general opinion of antiquity is the author of all the works now extant ascribed to Orpheus, might either, preserving the sentences and a great part of the words, only change the dialect, and teach the ancient Orpheus to speak Homerically, or as I may say Solonically; or might arbitrarily add or take away what he thought proper, which, as we are informed by Herodotus, was his practice with respect to the Oracles.’ Gesner adds, ‘that it does not appear probable to him, that Onomacritus would dare to invent all that he wrote, since Orpheus must necessarily, at that time, have been much celebrated, and a great variety of his verses must have been in circulation.’ And he concludes with observing, ‘that the objection of the Doric dialect ought to be of no more weight against the antiquity of the present works than the Pelasgic letters, which Orpheus, according to Diodorus Siculus, used.’

“In this extract, Gesner is certainly right in asserting that Onomacritus would not dare to invent all that he wrote, and afterwards publish it as Orphic; but I add, that it is unreasonable in the extreme to suppose that he in the least interpolated or altered the genuine works of Orpheus, though he might change the dialect in which they were originally written. For is it to be supposed that the Orphic Hymns would have been used in the Eleusinian mysteries, as we have demonstrated they were, if they had been spurious productions; or that the fraud would not have been long ago discovered by some of the many learned and wise men that flourished after Onomacritus ; and that the detection of this fraud would not have been transmitted so as to reach even the present times? Or indeed, is it probable that such a forgery could have existed at all, at a period when other learned men, as well as Onomacritus, had access to the genuine writings of Orpheus, and were equally capable with himself of changing them from one dialect into another? Even at a late period of antiquity, will any man who is at all familiar with the writings of Proclus, Hermias, and Olympiodorus, for a moment believe that men of such learning, profundity, and sagacity, would have transmitted to us so many verses as Orphic, though not in the Doric dialect, when at the same time they were the productions of Onomacritus? We may therefore, I think, confidently conclude, that though Onomacritus altered the dialect, he did not either add to or diminish, or in any respect adulterate the works of Orpheus; for it is impossible he should have committed such a fraud without being ultimately, if not immediately, detected.

“With respect to those who contend that the works which are at present extant under the name of Orpheus were written during the decline and fall of the Roman empire, I trust every intelligent reader will deem it almost needless to say, in confutation of such an opinion, that it is an insult to the understanding of all the celebrated men of that period, by whom these writings have been quoted as genuine productions, and particularly to such among them as rank among the most learned, the most sagacious, and wisest of mankind.”

(Thomas Taylor from The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus, 1821)

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