ORPHIC FRAGMENT 238
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For links to many more fragments: The Orphic Fragments of Otto Kern.
SUMMARY: This fragment is a poetic instruction manual as to how to deck out the statue of Dionysus (or perhaps an initiate) like the Sun.
238. (152) Macrobii Ambrosii Theodosii Saturnaliorum Libri Septem (Cornelius Labeo?) I 18, 22:
item Orpheus Liberum atque Solem unum esse deum eundemque demonstrans de ornatu vestituque eius in sacris Liberalibus ita scribit
ταῦτά τε πάντα τελεῖη ἦρι σκευῆι πυκάσαντα 1
σῶμα θεοῦ, μίμημα περικλύτου ἠελίοιο·
πρῶτα μὲν οὖν φλογέαις ἐναλίγκιον ἀκτίνεσσιν
πέπλον φοινίκεον πυρὶ εἴκελον ἀμφιβαλέσθαι·
αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε νεβροῖο παναίολον εὐρὺ καθάψαι 5
δέρμα πολύστικτον θηρὸς κατὰ δεξιὸν ὦμον,
ἄστρων δαιδαλέων μίμημ’ ἱεροῦ τε πόλοιο.
εἶτα δ’ ὕπερθε νεβρῆς χρύσεον ζωστῆρα βαλέσθαι,
παμφανόωντα, πέριξ στέρνων φορέειν, μέγα σῆμα,
εὐθὺς ὅτ’ ἐκ περάτων γαίης Φαέθων ἀνορούων 10
χρυσείαις ἀκτῖσι βάληι ῥόον Ὠκεανοῖο,
αὐγὴ δ’ ἄσπετος ἦι, ἀνὰ δὲ δρόσωι ἀμφιμιγεῖσα
μαρμαίρηι δίνηισιν ἑλισσομένη κατὰ κύκλον,
πρόσθε θεοῦ· ζωστὴρ δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπὸ στέρνων ἀμετρήτων
φαίνεται Ὠκεανοῦ κύκλος, μέγα θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι. 15
“Likewise Orphéfs, (Ὀρφεύς) showing Liber (Διόνυσος) and the Sun to be the one same God, pointing out his accoutrements and attire in the sacred Liberalia festival, writes in this way:
‘Prepare all perfect things early morning, decking out 1
the body of the God, in imitation of the noble sun.
So first indeed like flaming rays,
encircle him in crimson, with a robe of fire.
Then over this, dangle a broad, many-colored faun-pelt, 5
spreading out the multi-spotted hide of the wild beast over the right shoulder
in imitation of the spangled stars and the divine axis of the sky.
Then over the faun’s pelt place a golden belt,
radiating, arrayed all ‘round his chest, a great sign!
...like Phaǽthôn (Φαέθων) leaping up straight from the rim of the earth 10
as he strikes the stream of Ôkæanós (Ὠκεανός) with his golden rays.
and there is an unspeakable gleam, mingled with the dew.
as he sparkles in whirls, winding ‘round in a circle,
before the God; then the belt beneath his immeasurable chest
looks like the ring of Ôkæanós, a great marvel to behold!’ ” 15
(trans. by the author)
Additional material, not in Kern, but of interest concerning this quotation: Thomas Taylor, the Neoplatonist, translates the above poem and explains it as follows:
“It only now remains that we explain the secret meaning of the sacred dress with which the initiated in the Dionysiacal Mysteries were invested, in order to the θρονισμός (enthroning) taking place; or sitting in a solemn manner on a throne, about which it was customary for the other initiates to dance. But the particulars of this habit are thus described in the Orphic verses preserved by Macrobius:
‘He who desires in pomp of sacred dress
The sun’s resplendent body to express,
Should first a vail assume of purple bright,
Like fair white beams combin’d with fiery light:
On his right shoulder, next, a mule’s broad hide
Widely diversified with spotted pride
Should hang, an image of the pole divine,
And dædal stars, whose orbs eternal shine.
A golden splendid zone, then, o’er the vest
He next should throw, and bind it round his breast;
In mighty token, how with golden light,
The rising sun, from earth’s last bounds and night
Sudden emerges, and, with matchless force,
Darts through old Ocean’s billows in his course.
A boundless splendor hence, enshrin’d in dew,
Plays on his whirlpools, glorious to the view;
While his circumfluent waters spread abroad,
Full in the presence of the radiant god:
But Ocean’s circle, like a zone of light,
The sun’s wide bosom girds, and charms the wond’ring sight.’
“In the first place, then, let us consider why this mystic dress belonging to Bacchus is to represent the sun. Now the reason of this will be evident from the following observations: according to the Orphic theology, the divine intellect of every planet is denominated a Bacchus, who is characterized in each by a different appellation; so that the intellect of the solar deity is called Trietericus Bacchus. And in the second place, since the divinity of the sun, according to the arcana of the ancient theology, has a super-mundane as well as mundane establishment, and is wholly of an exalting or intellectual nature; hence considered as super-mundane he must both produce and contain the mundane intellect, or Dionysus, in his essence; for all the mundane are contained in the super-mundane deities, by whom also they are produced. Hence Proclus, in his elegant Hymn to the Sun, says:
Σε κλυτὸν ὑμνείουσι Διωνύσσοιο τοκῆα.
‘they celebrate thee in hymns as the illustrious parent of Dionysus.’
“And thirdly, it is through the subsistence of Dionysus in the sun that that luminary derives its circular motion, as is evident from the following Orphic verse, in which, speaking of the sun, it is said of him, that
──── Διόνυσος δ’ ἐπεκλήθη,
Οὕνεκα δινεῖται κατ’ ἀπείρονα μακρόν Ὄλυμπον.
‘He is called Dionysus, because he is carried with a circular motion through the immensely-extended heavens.’
“And this with the greatest propriety, since intellect, as we have already observed, is entirely of a transforming and elevating nature: so that from all this, it is sufficiently evident why the dress of Dionysus is represented as belonging to the sun. In the second place, the vail, resembling a mixture of fiery light, is an obvious image of the solar fire. And as to the spotted mule-skin, which is to represent the starry heavens, this is nothing more than an image of the moon; this luminary, according to Proclus on Hesiod, resembling the mixed nature of a mule;
Γῆς μὲν ἔχουσα τὸ σκοτίζεσθαι, ἡλίου δὲ τὸ οἰκεῖον εἰληχέναι φῶς. Ταύτῃ μὲν οὖν ᾠκείωται πρὸς αὐτὴν ἡ ἡμίονος.
‘becoming dark through her participation of earth, and deriving her proper light from the sun.’
“So that the spotted hide signifies the moon attended with a multitude of stars: and hence, in the Orphic Hymn to the Moon, that deity is celebrated
καλοῖς ἄστροισι βρύουσα
‘as shining surrounded with beautiful stars’:
“and is likewise called
or ‘queen of the stars.’
“In the next place, the golden zone is the circle of the Ocean, as the last verses plainly evince. But, you will ask, what has the rising of the sun through the ocean, from the boundaries of earth and night, to do with the adventures of Bacchus? I answer, that it is impossible to devise a symbol more beautifully accommodated to the purpose: for, in the first place, is not the ocean a proper emblem of an earthly nature, whirling and stormy, and perpetually rolling without admitting any periods of repose? And is not the sun emerging from its boisterous deeps a perspicuous symbol of the higher spiritual nature, apparently rising from the dark and fluctuating material receptacle, and conferring form and beauty on the sensible universe through its light? I say apparently rising, for though the spiritual nature always diffuses its splendor with invariable energy, yet it is not always perceived by the subjects of its illuminations: besides, as psychical natures can only receive partially and at intervals the benefits of the divine irradiation; hence fables regarding this temporal participation transfer, for the purpose of concealment and in conformity to the phenomena, the imperfection of subordinate natures to such as are supreme. This description, therefore, of the rising sun, is a most beautiful symbol of the new birth of Bacchus, which, as we have already observed, implies nothing more than the rising of intellectual light, and its consequent manifestation to subordinate orders of existence.”
(Thomas Taylor, 1875)
And now, returning to Kern:
Herm. VII vs. 10; Lobeck I 727; Schuster 29 n. 2; Zeller Zeitschr. wiss. Theol. XLII 1899, 257 = Kl. Schr. II 174.
For verse 7 compare to Μααβ Aratea 126, verse 8 compare to ὕμνος Ὀρφέως 52.10 Τριετηρικοῦ·
οὐρεσιφοῖτα κερώς*, νεβριδοστόλε, ἀμφιέτηρε
“You, horned, who roam the mountains, clad in a fawnskin, celebrated with annual festivals.”
*Kern has Ἔρως here, but perhaps a mistake.
where Ludwich Berl. philol. Wochenschr. 1912, 1340 wants to read:
οὐρεσίφοιτ’, ἔρνος, νεβριδοστόλον,
“You who roam the mountains, scion, clad in a fawnskin.”
v. also in R. Keydell Quaest. metr. de epicor. Graecor. recent. diss. Berol. 1911, 30.
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.