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

SUMMARY: Fragment 55 is the beginning of an exposition by Apion (the Hellenized Egyptian grammarian?) found in the work known as Homilies by pseudo-Clement of Rome in which Apion discusses the primordial state of the universe as described by Orpheus. Also, for comparison, is a passage on the same subject from a Latin translation of Recognitiones (pseudo-Clement) by Tyrannius Rufinus.


Orphic fragment 55 consists of two chapters of Omilía (Homilia or Homilies, Ὁμιλίᾳ), a book which has been attributed to Klímîs Róhmîs (Clêmês Rômês, Κλήμης Ῥώμης), Clement of Rome, although it is no longer believed to have been written by him. It is not known who wrote the book, thus the authorship is described as "pseudo-Clement." Clement was the first bishop of Rome after Peter the Apostle, although this too is disputed. He is a character in the book, a book which contain ideas from a theogony thought of as Orphic. These two chapters are presented as the actual words of a non-Christian scholar named Apíôn (Ἀπίων), most likely the Hellenic-Egyptian grammarian from Alexandria (25 BCE – 46 CE approx.), contemporary with Clement. Orphic fragment 55 is the commencement of Apíôn's exposition on the origin of the universe; the exposition continues in Orphic fragment 56.

The final fragments are from a book entitled Recognitiones (again attributed to pseudo-Clement), translated into Latin by Tyrannius Rufinus, describing the Orphic origin of all things.

55. (37. 38) Apion quoted in Ὁμιλίᾳ Κλήμεντος Ῥώμης (pseudo-Clement) 6.3 & 4 (Migne 2, 198; P. de Lagarde Clementina 74, 15 ss.) Cf. versionem Syriacam Theodori bar Chōnī Nestoriani VIII saeculi exeuntis tractatam a Th. Noeldeke Zeitschrift Deutsch. Morgenländ. Gesellsch. LIII 1899, 501.

(trans. Thomas Smith, 1886)

3. Apion Proceeds to Interpret the Myths

(This beginning of the section is not included by Kern:

Ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐδὲν <ἦν> πλὴν χάος καὶ στοιχείων ἀτάκτων ἔτι συνπεφορημένων μίξις ἀδιάκριτος, τοῦτο καὶ τῆς φύσεως ὁμολογούσης καὶ τῶν μεγάλων ἀνδρῶν οὕτως ἔχειν νενοηκότων. καὶ μάρτυρα τῶν μεγάλων ἐν σοφίᾳ τὸν μέγιστον Ὅμηρον αὐτόν σοι παρέξομαι, εἰπόντα περὶ τῆς ἀνέκαθεν συγχύσεως· «Ἀλλὰ ὑμεῖς μὲν πάντες ὕδωρ καὶ γαῖα γένοισθε», ὡς ἐκεῖθεν ἁπάντων τὴν γένεσιν ἐσχηκότων καὶ μετὰ ἀνάλυσιν τῆς ὑγρᾶς καὶ γηίνης οὐσίας εἰς τὴν πρώτην πάλιν ἀποκαθισταμένων φύσιν, ὅ ἐστιν χάος.

“There was once a time when nothing existed but chaos and a confused mixture of orderless elements, which were as yet simply heaped together. This nature testifies, and great men have been of opinion that it was so. Of these great men I shall bring forward to you him who excelled them all in wisdom, Homer, where he says, with a reference to the original confused mass, 'But may you all become water and earth;' implying that from these all things had their origin, and that all things return to their first state, which is chaos, when the watery and earthy substances are separated.”)

Here begins Kern fragment 55:

Ἡσίοδος δὲ ἐν τῇ θεογονίᾳ λέγει·

‘Ἤτοι μὲν πρώτιστα χάος ἐγένετο’.

τὸ δὲ «ἐγένετο» δῆλον ὅτι γεγενῆσθαι ὡς γενητὰ σημαίνει, οὐ τὸ ἀεὶ εἶναι ὡς ἀγένητα. καὶ Ὀρφεὺς δὲ τὸ χάος ὠῷ παρεικάζει, ἐν ᾧ τῶν πρώτων στοιχείων ἦν ἡ σύγχυσις. τοῦτο Ἡσίοδος χάος ὑποτίθεται, ὅπερ Ὀρφεὺς ὠὸν λέγει γενητόν, ἐξ ἀπείρου τῆς ὕλης προβεβλημένον, γεγονὸς δὲ οὕτω·

“And Hesiod in the Theogony (vs. 116) says,

'Assuredly chaos was the very first to come into being.'

Now, by 'come into being,' he evidently means that chaos came into being, as having a beginning, and did not always exist, without beginning. And Orpheus likens chaos to an egg, in which was the confused mixture of the primordial elements. This chaos, which Orpheus calls an egg, is taken for granted by Hesiod, having a beginning, produced from infinite matter, and originated in the following way.”

4. Origin of Chaos

τῆς τετραγενοῦς ὕλης ἐμψύχου οὔσης καὶ ὅλου ἀπείρου τινὸς βυθοῦ ἀεὶ ῥέοντος καὶ ἀκρίτως φερομένου καὶ μυρίας ἀτελεῖς κράσεις [εἰς] ἄλλοτε ἄλλως ἐπαναχέοντος καὶ διὰ τοῦτο αὐτὰς ἀναλύοντος τῇ ἀταξίᾳ, καὶ κεχηνότος ὡς εἰς γένεσιν ζῴου δεθῆναι μὴ δυναμένου, συνέβη ποτέ, αὐτοῦ τοῦ ἀπείρου πελάγους ὑπὸ ἰδίας φύσεως περιωθουμένου, κινήσει φυσικῇ εὐτάκτως ῥυῆναι ἀπὸ τοῦ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ ὥσπερ ἴλιγγα καὶ μῖξαι τὰς οὐσίας, καὶ οὕτως ἐξ ἑκάστου τῶν πάντων τὸ νοστιμώτατον, ὅπερ πρὸς γένεσιν ζῴου ἐπιτηδειότατον ἦν, ὥσπερ ἐν χώνῃ κατὰ μέσου ῥυῆναι τοῦ παντὸς καὶ ὑπὸ τῆς πάντα φερούσης ἴλιγγος χωρῆσαι εἰς βάθος καὶ τὸ περικείμενον πνεῦμα ἐπισπάσασθαι καὶ ὡς εἰς γονιμώτατον συλληφθὲν ποιεῖν κριτικὴν σύστασιν. ὥσπερ γὰρ ἐν ὑγρῷ φιλεῖ γίνεσθαι πομφόλυξ, οὕτως σφαιροειδὲς πανταχόθεν συνελήφθη κύτος. ἔπειτα αὐτὸ ἐν ἑαυτῷ κυηθέν, ὑπὸ τοῦ περιειληφότος θειώδους πνεύματος ἀναφερόμενον, προέκυψεν εἰς φῶς μέγιστόν | τι τοῦτο ἀποκύημα, ὡς ἂν ἐκ παντὸς τοῦ ἀπείρου βυθοῦ ἀποκεκυημένον ἔμψυχον δημιούργημα καὶ τῇ περιφερείᾳ τῷ ὠῷ προσεοικὸς καὶ τῷ τάχει τῆς πτήσεως.

“This matter, of four kinds, and endowed with life, was an entire infinite abyss, so to speak, in eternal stream, borne about without order, and forming every now and then countless but ineffectual combinations (which therefore it dissolved again from want of order); ripe indeed, but not able to be bound so as to generate a living creature. And once it chanced that this infinite sea, which was thus by its own nature driven about with a natural motion, flowed in an orderly manner from the same to the same (back on itself), like a whirlpool, mixing the substances in such a way that from each there flowed down the middle of the universe (as in the funnel of a mould) precisely that which was most useful and suitable for the generation of a living creature. This was carried down by the all-carrying whirlpool, drew to itself the surrounding spirit, and having been so conceived that it was very fertile, formed a separate substance. For just as a bubble is usually formed in water, so everything round about contributed to the conception of this ball-like globe. Then there came forth to the light, after it had been conceived in itself, and was borne upwards by the divine spirit which surrounded it, perhaps the greatest thing ever born; a piece of workmanship, so to speak, having life in it which had been conceived from that entire infinite abyss, in shape like an egg, and as swift as a bird.”

Compare the following Latin translation by Tyrannius Rufinus of a section of Recognitiones (pseudo-Clement) 10.30 (Ed. Basil. 161, Migne PG 1, 1436):

(trans. trans. Thomas Smith, 1886)

omnis sermo apud Graecos, qui de antiquitatis origine conscribitur, cum alios multos, tum duos praecipuos auctores habet, Orpheum et Hesiodum. horum ergo scripta in duas partes intelligentiae dividuntur, id est, secundum litteram et secudum allegoriam, et ad ea quidem quae secundum litteram sunt, ignobilis vulgi turba confluxit. ea vero quae secundum allegoriam constant, omnis philosophorum et eruditorum loquacitas admirata est. Orpheus igitur est, qui dicit primo fuisse Chaos sempiternum, immensum, ingenitum, ex | 1437 Migne quo omnia facta sunt; hoc sane ipsum Chaos non tenebras dixit esse, non lucem, non humidum, non aridum, non calidum, non frigidum, sed omnia simul mista, et semper unum fuisse informe; aliquando tamen quasi ad ovi immanis modum, per immensa tempora effectam peperisse ac protulisse ex se duplicem quandam speciem, quam illi masculo feminam vocant, ex contraria admistione huius modi diversitatis speciem concretam; et hoc esse principium omnium, quod primum ex materia puriore processerit, quodque procedens discretionem quatuor elementorum dederit, et ex duobus quae prima sunt elementis fecerit coelum, ex aliis autem terram, ex quibus iam omnia participatione sui invicem nasci dicit et gigni. Haec quidem 0rpheus. Cf. fr. 56.

“All the literature among the Greeks which is written on the subject of the origin of antiquity, is based upon many authorities, but especially two, Orpheus and Hesiod. Now their writings are divided into two parts, in respect of their meaning,—that is the literal and the allegorical; and the vulgar crowd has flocked to the literal, but all the eloquence of the philosophers and learned men is expended in admiration of the allegorical. It is Orpheus, then, who says that at first there was chaos, eternal, unbounded, unproduced, and that from it all things were made. He says that this chaos was neither darkness nor light, neither moist nor dry, neither hot nor cold, but that it was all things mixed together, and was always one unformed mass; yet that at length, as it were after the manner of a huge egg, it brought forth and produced from itself a certain double form, which had been wrought through immense periods of time, and which they call masculo-feminine, a form concrete from the contrary admixture of such diversity; and that this is the principle of all things, which came of pure matter, and which, coming forth, effected a separation of the four elements, and made heaven of the two elements which are first, fire and air, and earth of the others, earth and water; and of these he says that all things now are born and produced by a mutual participation of them. So far Orpheus.”

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; 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 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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