THE RISE OF THE SIX KINGS
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Below find a theogony reconstructed primarily from the Orphic fragments collected by Otto Kern in the last century. The idea is to present the fragments as a story, a true theogony or genesis of the Gods of the ancient Greek religion, something like the theogony of Hesiod. The author of this work, does not pretend to have the skill of the great epic poets from the past, but is simply trying to provide something much needed for those who practice the religion.
In antiquity, there was an epic poem known as the Sacred Discourses in Twenty-Four Rhapsodies (Ιεροὶ Λόγοι ἐν ῥαψωιδίαις κδ΄). It appears to have been widely recognized as the definitive theogony of Orpheus, the great theologian of our religion. A rhapsody can be thought of as a division in epic poetry, exactly like the twenty-four books of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but how the material was divided into sections is not known, for the entire narrative has been lost or destroyed. Nonetheless, many fragments of the poem exist, as well as other Orphic poems and theogonies, and these were painstakingly found by Professor Kern as quotations in various texts, both Christian and pagan; from these fragments, a story emerges. The below reconstructed theogony is derived almost exclusively from these fragments, with some exceptions. What Kern presented in his Orphicorum fragmenta of 1922 are simply quotations attributed to Orpheus or to Orphic texts; they are not all from the poem known as the Rhapsodies, but we are here generalizing the collection as “Rhapsodic,” using the term somewhat loosely, although it is likely that all these ideas were included in the original text of that name. It seems that the author of the Rhapsodies constructed the poem by compiling stories from all the various Orphic texts available.
The beginning section of our theogony concerning Earth and Water and the Ἄρρητος Ἀρχή come from the summary of an Orphic theogony by Hieronymus of Rhodes, or perhaps Hellanicus, as outlined by Damaskios, the last Scholarch of the School of Athens, in his work on first principles (ἀπορίαι καὶ λύσεις περὶ τῶν πρώτων ἀρχῶν). This can be found in Orphic fragment 54 but its content is not usually thought of as from the Rhapsodies; nonetheless, these concepts were among the first I was taught orally, and the idea of Earth and Water being first principles is presented as the teaching of Orpheus himself.
The story of Zagreus transforming himself into many creatures in order to escape the Titans comes from Διονυσιακὰ Νόννου.
Our reconstruction of the text describes two births of Aphrodite: the first birth from the genitals of Ouranós falling into the sea as is also found in Hesiod; the second birth from the semen of Zeus falling into the sea as he pursues Dione. Both of these stories are included in the fragments, but this creates an awkward situation of there being two entirely separate Goddesses with the same name or competing versions of the birth of the same Goddess. To resolve the conflict, the assignment of the titles Ourania and Pandemus to the two births has precedent elsewhere, most notably in the Συμπόσιον Πλάτωνος 180.d-e; this understanding is part of our tradition in any case. And calling Ourania the mother of Armonia is a supposition of this author, considering the qualities of Ourania Aphrodite. Nonetheless, this author's understanding is that the two births reflect mythologically two "faces" of one Goddess.
The story of the birth of Dionysus by Semele is not found in the fragments, but, as found in Nonnos, this narrative follows after the birth of Zagreus by Persephone. This same order of appearances of the God is found in a hymn to Athena composed by Proclus (Hymn 7.12-15). This hymn is not one the fragments, obviously, but, nonetheless, in support of the inclusion of the story in our theogony, many of the fragments come from the writings of Proclus and he would seem to hold the position that his own hymn proclaims and yet be completely familiar with the entire Orphic theogony. It should also be noted that Orphic fragment 199 relates the story of Hipta and says that she receives Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus; this makes more sense if it follows the traditional story of the burning of Semele and Zeus sewing the fetus into his leg. Therefore, it is assumed by this author that this mythology was originally in the Orphic stories; as previously stated, both stories (of Zagreus and Dionysus) are found in Nonnos.
For those who are only familiar with Hesiod, some of what you will read here will be unfamiliar. Early in the theogony we are introduced to Phanes, a deity not even mentioned in Hesiod, but as the progression of deities continues, we discover stories of Gaea and Uranus, of Rhea and Cronus, and of Hera and Zeus and Dionysus, stories which we know, but the details are somewhat different. And there are things not present in the Orphic text that we know well from Hesiod and other more familiar collections of mythology. For instance, there is no battle of the Titans. This is because it would be difficult to confidently know how such a battle occurred in the Rhapsodies, if at all. The reader may also notice that there is an underlying purpose which propels the Orphic text which is not so present in Hesiod.
To fill out the text, details have been added to the story, mostly common knowledge concerning the Gods from various ancient sources. And finally, particular understandings have been included passed down through the tradition to this author.
The epithets of the Gods used in the reconstruction come primarily from the Orphic hymns; the original Greek words for these epithets are included in parenthesis.
A.V. = Ἀπολλοδώρου Βιβλιοθήκη
H.H. = Homeric Hymn
I.T. = Ἡσιόδου Θεογονία
K.H. = Kallímakhos Hymn
N.D.= Νόννου Διονυσιακὰ
O.H. = Orphic Hymn
O.I. = Ὁμήρου Ἰλιὰς
The numbers listed in brackets are not notes, but, rather, refer to the Orphic fragments from Otto Kern; by clicking on them, you can read translations of the actual fragments.
The author would like to recognize help he received from his teacher, to whom I am entirely indebted for all my understanding of the ancient religion, to Thæódôros B. for his help in rendering sections of The Great Orphic Hymn to Zefs into English, and special thanks to Deognotus M. who found many translations into English of the Kern fragments. I am indebted to M. L. West who in his book The Orphic Poems proposed a logical order for the fragments, which I followed for the most part with some exceptions. And of course all of this would not be possible without the work of Prof. Otto Kern himself.
ORPHIC RHAPSODIC THÆOGONÍA
To the reader of this text, if you feel that goodness and virtue are things that only fools pursue, take my advice and close this book; you will find nothing here that will interest you.
But if you are a reader who loves beauty and who possesses a well-meaning disposition, please do read on. You are welcome and will hear a story both marvelous and useful.
Come son of Litóh (Λητώ), golden-haired Apóllôn (Ἀπόλλων), whose will echoes the Father of Gods and men: illuminate my mind! Come Mnîmosýnî (Μνημοσύνη), wise queen (ἄνασσα), and awaken things learned long ago, things which beg to again come to light! Our minds are darkened with clouds and our hearts are downtrodden, tormented by mundane trials which never end. Console us and tell us something splendid that we may triumph over our interminable tribulations (ἐμπεδόμοχθος)! Oh lovely many-formed (πολύμορφοι) Mousai (Μοῦσαι), guide my heart and guide my hands that I might retrieve the marvelous narrative given to us long ago by the great theologian (Θεολόγος) who sang with a lyre of gold (χρυσολύρης), the genesis of the greatest of the blessed deathless Gods, those born from Earth and the blood of Ouranós (Οὐρανός) .
Then these thoughts appeared in the aithír (αἰθήρ) of my mind, “Take the fragments scattered in the texts of those who unwittingly hid them. Arrange their content in a mighty poem, easy to understand for the pious, yet obscure to the profane, that it might give solace once again to the souls of virtuous mortals, of yours and future generations, who are able to perceive the beauty concealed within the story it tells.” And thus I, one not special at all, began my holy task; may the Gods make obvious graceful and lovely words, worthy of its content!
THE FIRST KING
What was at the very beginning cannot be explained or understood; it can only be spoken of indirectly because there is no way to comprehend something in which its points of differentiation have yet to be expressed. It is called the Beginning Which Cannot Be Spoken (Ἄρρητος Ἀρχή). It is not created; it did not come to be; it has always been. It is there before anything else; it is there at the beginning; it is now and will always be. Orphéfs (Ὀρφεύς), the founder of Mysteries (Τελετάρχης), tells us that within this undifferentiated mixture are Earth and Water  and it is from the dance of these two that everything which is comes to be. For Ageless (ἀγήραος) Time (Χρόνος) was moved by Necessity (Ἀνάγκη)  and gave birth to Aithír (Αἰθήρ) and a limitless chasm (χάσμα) which extended in every direction, and everything was in tumult . In the Aithír, Time formed a silvery egg (ὠεόν or ᾠόν) , the offspring of Aithír and Kháos (Χάος) . And the egg began to move in an enormous and wondrous circle  and from the egg Phánis (Φάνης) emerged, and as he was born, the Aithír and the Chasm were torn apart (ἐρράγη) .
Behold the son of Aithír! The First-Born (Πρωτογόνος) ! The Shining One (Φαέθων) [73 & 74]! Who by his nature illumines everything and was the first to appear in the Aithír ! Witness his four eyes looking everywhere  and marvel at his four horns! Behold his golden wings which flutter all about ! He bellows like a massive bull and roars like a lion ! He is Irikæpaios (Ἠριϰεπαῖος), both male and female , who harbors in his heart blind and swift Ǽrohs (Ἔρως) ! He is Mítis (Μῆτις), the progenitor of the Gods, who call him the Revealer and First-born ! He is the one with the mighty voice (Βρόμιος); he is all-seeing (πανόπτης) Zefs (Ζεύς) ! He can be seen only by his daughter, but his effulgent light shining in the Aithír draws wonder for those who behold it, illuminating the world with great brilliance .
Now Phánis caused many things to occur. He built an everlasting dwelling for the Immortal Gods . He brought forth the Moon, which Gods call Sælíni (Σελήνη) and mortals call Míni (Μήνη), with mountains, cities, and mansions . And for the ephemeral beings he made a world separate from the Immortals , with natural laws and a sun as their lord , neither too cold nor too hot, but appropriate for their needs . These things he, Irikæpaios the first king , made from his seat in the misty darkness of the Cave (Ἄντρον) of his daughter Nyx (Νύξ) [97, 104]. Oh glorious Phánis! You are Justice (Δικαιοσύνη), Prudence (Σωφροσύνη), and Truth (Ἐπιστήμη), begotten of Night who shines with stars (ἀστεροφεγγής) ! And thus did he divide the world between Gods and mortals .
THE SECOND KING
Phánis then united with his daughter Nyx , the Mother of Dreams (Μήτερ Ὀνείρων), and gave her the rulership. He placed in her hands his mighty staff, the scepter of Irikæpaios , and bestowed upon her the gift of prophecy .
THE THIRD KING
Nyx, the nurse of the Gods , made obvious those who were previously concealed: she gave birth to Yaia (Γαῖα), whose name means “earth,” and to Ouranós (Οὐρανός), the limits of the mind (ὅρια νοός), whose name means “sky,”  and she gave the scepter of Phánis to Ouranós and thereby gave him the kingship . Ouranós and Yaia united and this is the first marriage .
Now the royal couple produced children. Yaia gave birth to the three Cyclopes (Κύκλωπες) and the three giant Hundred-Handers (Ἑκατόγχειρες), but these were an unruly bunch and Ouranós cast them into the bowels of the earth (Τάρταρος) , for he had received an oracle that his own children would overthrow him.
But when Ouranós imprisoned her sons, Yaia was greatly distressed, so she then gave birth to seven lovely daughters and seven kingly sons , indeed, the great Titánæs (Τιτᾶνες) who are the powers of the natural world, they who drag or stretch.
The seven Titanic daughters are law-giving (θεμιστοσύνη) Thǽmis (Θέμις) and gentle Tithýs (Τηθύς, the Sea) the mother of Kýpris (Κύπρις, O.H. 22.7), Mnimosýni (Μνημοσύνη) the mother of the fair-haired (καλλίκομοι) Mousai, and happy Theia (Θεία) the mother of light (εὐρυφάεσσα). And Yaia bore beautiful Dióhnî (Διώνη) the mother of procreation, radiant Phívi (Φοίβη) who held the seat at Dælphí (Δελφοί), and glorious Rǽa (Ῥέα) the mother of the aiyís-bearing Olympian king of all.
The seven Titanic sons are querying Kíos (Κοῖος) the father of Litóh (Λητώ) and Astæría (Ἀστερία), Kreios (Κρεῖος) the lord of the vast constellations, mighty Phórkys (Φόρκυς) who rules the great depths of the Sea, light-giving Ypæríohn (Ὑπερίων) the father of the Sun and the Moon, genial Iapætós (Ἰαπετός) the father of the race of men, Okæanós (Ὠκεανός) who encircles and envelops the earth with his many streams, and greatest of all, kingly Krónos (Κρόνος), he who strikes (awakens) the mind (κρούων τον νοῦν), father of glorious children. Of all these mighty sons and daughters of Earth it was Krónos who Nyx cherished and cultivated .
Yaia pleaded with the Titánæs to overthrow their father for having cast her progeny into Tártaros (Τάρταρος). All the siblings rallied to her supplication with the exception of Okæanós who brooded darkly in the halls of his palace trying to decide what to do. The plot angered the mighty God against his mother and even more so against his siblings, so he declined to join them .
Yaia gave Krónos an adamantine sickle (δρεπάνη) and when Ouranós came to lie with her, the Titánæs overtook and bound him while Krónos cut off his genitals. The members of Ouranós flew through the air into the wine-dark (οἶνοψ) sea and swirled about in the restless blue waters forming a wondrous foam out of which emerged beautiful Heavenly Aphrodíti (Ουρανíα Ἀφροδίτη), the mother of Harmony (Ἁρμονία), and as she was born, Zílos (Ζῆλος) and Apáti (Ἀπάτη) took her into their care .
THE FOURTH KING
These things having been accomplished, Krónos assumed the kingship ; he deserved this by his very nature and for having borne the greatest weight of the deed done to his father. He married his sister Rǽa, and the other siblings married one another , Tithýs and Okæanós, Phívi and Kíos, Theia and Ypæríohn, Thǽmis and Iapætós, and the others.
Krónos and Rǽa now produced glorious children: Æstía (Ἑστία) and Íra (Ήρα), as well as Ploutôn (Πλούτων) and Poseidóhn (Ποσειδῶν). But Krónos also had been given an oracle that his rule would be usurped by one of his children, so he swallowed them, one by one, as they came into the world, but Rǽa despised this and contrived a plan. The next child came forth, glorious Zefs (Ζεύς), and at the birth of Zefs, Rǽa became the Earth-Mother (Δημήτηρ) . She deceived Krónos by presenting him with a rock around which she wrapped swaddling clothes. Krónos promptly swallowed the rock, thinking it was his newborn son . This caused him to vomit up all the Titanic children. Ploutôn now took his seat on Earth wielding his Cap of Invisibility (Ἄϊδος κυνέην), the symbol of his power. Poseidóhn took residence in the Sea, wielding the Trident (Τρίαινα) . The other son of Krónos too was destined for great things, but the time was not yet ripe.
Zefs was rushed to the cave of starry-eyed (ἀστεροόμματος) Nyx in great secrecy and placed under the care of Adrásteia (Ἀδράστεια) and her sister Ídi (Ἴδῃ), the daughters of Mælliséfs (Μελλισεύς) and Amáltheia (Ἀμάλθεια) [105, 162]. To prevent Krónos from hearing the cries of the child, Adrásteia stood in front of the cave and loudly clashed brazen cymbals and beat a goat-skin drum (τύμπανον) [105, 152] while the bronze-rattling (χαλκόκροτοι) Kourítæs (Κουρῆτες), the three handsome sons of Rǽa, shared in this clamorous labor and protected them all [150, 151].
Meanwhile, Zefs grew in strength and when the time was ripe, blessed Nyx instructed him, “When your father is in the oaken wood and drunk with the fruit of bees, then bind him !” Zefs told his mother all that which the Goddess decreed and, acting upon her advice, Rǽa threw a magnificent banquet and, along with course after course of delicious amvrosía (ἀμβροσία), she gave Krónos great drafts of golden honey . Soon the powerful Titan became inebriated; the room of the great hall began spin all around him and he longed for the open air. Krónos left the banquet and wandered about; at last he laid down and fell asleep, snoring loudly [148, 149]. Zefs and his confidants went in search of him, and, just as Nyx had foretold, they found him in the oaken wood, oblivious to their actions. They bound the God and Zefs castrated him, just as Krónos had previously castrated his own father .
THE FIFTH KING
And then Zefs went to the Sacred Cave and asked, “Mother, supreme of all the Gods, immortal Nyx, how am I to proceed? How can I inaugurate my rule with the immortal Gods?  How can I keep all things as one, yet separate?” And blessed (μάκαιρα) Nyx, gleaming with the blue of dawn (κυαναυγής), answered him saying, “Surround everything in the Aithír …the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the stars… and bind them all with a golden aithirial chain .”
Thus mighty Zefs engulfed and swallowed Irikæpaios , employing all of his power, and drew everything that existed into the hollow of his belly. And now all things in Zefs were created anew: the sky, the sea, the earth, and all the blessed and immortal Gods and Goddesses, all that was then, and all that will be, all mingled in the belly of Zefs .
THE GREAT RHAPSODIC HYMN TO OLYMPIAN ZEFS  **
Zefs is the first and the last, the lord of lightning. 1
Zefs is the head and center, for all things are from Zefs.
Zefs is born male; immortal Zefs comes forth a nýmphi (νύμφη/female).
Zefs is the foundation of earth and starry heaven.
Zefs is sovereign of all for he is the first cause of all things. 5
In one divine power, emerging one divinity, the commander of the world.
One regal body in which everything revolves:
Fire and Water and Earth and Aithír, and both Night and Day,
and Mítis (Μήτις), the first-begotten one and lovely Ǽrohs (Ἔρως).
For these are all in the mighty body of Zefs. 10
Behold his head and handsome countenance,
the radiant sky. Around his golden hair
are the gleaming stars twinkling beautifully.
And there are great golden bull’s horns on either side of his head,
the rising and setting (sun), the heavenly pathway of the Gods. 15
His eyes are Ílios (Helios), reflected in the Moon.
His mind is kingly truth itself, the immortal Aithír,
hearing and considering all: nothing which is,
no word nor cry nor noise nor voice,
escapes the ear of the mightiest son of Krónos. 20
Thus indeed his immortal head and mind,
now then his radiant body, boundless, undisturbed.
His fearless, strong limbs, exceedingly mighty are formed thus:
the shoulders and chest and broad back of the God,
formed of the air all surrounding. He generates wings 25
whereupon he flies everywhere. His divine belly is
Earth, the mother of all, with her imposing hills and mountain peaks.
The belt about his middle is a wave of the deep-voiced sea
and ocean! His feet, the foundation of earth,
are dank Tártaros and earth's furthermost limit! 30
Hiding all things yet causing them to newly emerge into delightful light,
he brings them forth again from his heart, acting in divine wonderment!
And now Zefs produced many children:
Zefs mingled with Necessity (Ἀνάγκη) and generated Fate (Εἱμαρμένη) .
As Nyx had foretold in oracle, law-giving (θεμιστοσύνη) Thǽmis was barren until the birth of Zefs , but then she bore him glorious children, for she is the mother of the Seasons (Ὧραι) [O.H. 43.1]: Justice (Δίκη), Good Order (Εὐνομία), and Peace (Εἰρήνη), those ministers of Zefs who by their dancing make manifest the progression of Nature. And by her daughter Evnomía (Good Order) he fathered the Kháritæs (Graces; Χάριτες) [O.H. 60.2]: Splendor (Ἀγλαΐα, the shining one), Merriment (Εὐφροσύνη, the well-meaning one), and Abundance (Θάλεια, she who flourishes).
Zefs pursued Dióhnî (Διώνη), but she escaped his caresses, and his divine semen fell into the sea. In spring, the season of new flowers, the seed spawned a wondrous foam from which the popular (πάνδημος)Aphrodíti came forth, she who awakens laughter (ἐγερσιγέλωτες) and who blesses the physical union of mortals .
By many-named (πολυώνυμος) Íra he fathered Íphaistos [A.V. 1.19] the Coppersmith (Χαλκεύς) who is called the lame God (κυλλοποδίων) and the untiring fire (ἀκάματος πῦρ). Íphaistos became the greatest of craftsman, for, as he had an inclination to make things, the Kýklohpæs (Κύκλωπες), those three divine craftsmen who fashioned the thunderbolt of Zefs, taught him the art of creating beautiful brazen objects. Íphaistos mingled with Aphrodíti and thereby created the form of the universe, and then he united with Aglaia (Ἀγλαΐα) and produced Good Glory (Εὔκλεια), Abundance (Ευθηνία), Good Omen (Εὐφήμη, good fame), and Friendliness (Φιλοφροσύνη), by which his works are made beautiful .
With Íra, whose form is like the air (ἀερόμορφε), Zefs fathered invulnerable (ἄρρηκτος) Áris the mighty God of Life and struggle, youthful Ívi (Ἥβη), and Eileithyia (Εἰλείθυια) who protects the births of our progeny (γενετυλλίς) [A.V. 1.13].
Zefs continued to father glorious children, manly (ἀρσενόμορφος) Ártæmis (Ἄρτεμις) and her brother Apóllôn (Ἀπόλλων) the shining one (Φοίβος), for which the Titan Litóh (Λητώ) is called the mother of twins (διδυματόκος). Ártæmis is the great huntress (κυνηγέτις) who with her dogs seeks beautiful prey to receive her arrows. She is a great boon to women, for she assists them in childbirth (λοχεία) . Apóllôn, the slayer of the Python (Πυθοκτόνος), unites the two streams of oracular ability: one stems from Zefs, for he sits at his father's side [συμπάρεδρος, K.H. 1.35] and proclaims his will, and the other originates with Earth who gave it to Thǽmis who gave it to Phívi who at last passed it on to him for all time. Apóllôn plays the mystic guitar (κιθάρα) which spins our souls to Freedom, for which he is known as the great Liberator (Ἐλευθερεύς).
With cave-dwelling (ἀντροδίαιτος) Maia (Μαῖα) he produced cheerful (εὔφρων) and clever (ποικιλόβουλος) Ærmís (Ἑρμῆς) [H.H. 18.3], the luck-bringing messenger of the deathless Gods [ἄγγελον ἀθανάτων ἐριούνιον], who is cherished for his great love of mankind (φίλανδρος).
And from his head, Zefs produced happy (μάκαιρα) Athîná (Ἀθηνᾶ), a glory to behold all gleaming in bronze and bearing arms, for she is adorned with shining armor at her birth.  Hail Athîná, the Slayer of Gorgóh (Γοργοφόνη)! who accomplishes great deeds  and realizes the will of the son of Krónos ! You are pure Virtue (Ἀρετή) ! Of the Goddesses, you exceed them all in command of the loom and the art of spinning . The skillful Kýklohpæs taught both you and Íphaistos the disciplines necessary to create all the clever works of heaven ! Oh athletic maiden (γυμνάζουσα κόρη)! You are the empyrean guardian power who shares the dance of the vigilant Kourítæs (Κουρῆτες) and have become their leader [151, 185, 186]!
Zefs took up the invincible Thunderbolt (Κεραυνός), crafted for him by the one-eyed Kýklopæs (Κύκλωπες) , and the Staff of Phánîs passed down through all the line of kings [101, 107]; he now took saddle upon a comely she-goat which transported him to his throne in the Sky . Nyx bid him to keep Law (Νόμος), Justice (Δίκη), and Piety (Εὐσέβεια) at his side [158, 159]; this he did and commenced his glorious reign. And joined with him in marriage is his sister Íra, of equal rank with him [132, 163].
The Olympian Gods
Zefs now appealed to his father, “Glorious Daimôn (Δαίμων), how must I set up this generation ?" And pure (ἀμίαντος) Krónos gave him lengthy advice. Thus Zefs divided up the kingdom amongst the greatest of the Gods, he and eleven others, for which they are known as the Dôdækáthæon (Δωδεκάθεον), the Twelve Olympian Gods. And he gave them each governance (ἐφορεῖον, ἀρχή) over one of the Natural Laws: Æstía (Ἑστία), Árîs (Ἄρης), Ártæmis (Ἄρτεμις), Íphaistos (Ἥφαιστος), Íra (Ἥρᾱ), Poseidóhn (Ποσειδῶν), Athîná (Ἀθηνᾶ), Aphrodítî (Ἀφροδίτη), Apóllôn (Ἀπόλλων), Ærmís (Ἑρμῆς), Zefs (Ζεύς), and Dîmítîr (Δημήτηρ).
THE SIXTH KING
The Life of Zagréfs
Mighty cloud-gathering (νεφεληγερέτᾱ) Zefs, with deep fore-knowledge, understood that he must marry his mother Dîmítîr (Γῦ Μήτηρ, Earth-Mother), she who designed the works of the droning bees , but Dîmítîr resisted his advances and transformed herself into a serpent. Zefs responded by becoming a serpent himself and the two intertwined in a Knot of Iraklís* (Ἡρακλῆς) producing the Daughter (Κόρη) Pærsæphónî(Περσεφόνη) [58, 153].
When adequate time had passed and life-giving (βῐοδῶτις) Pærsæphónî was at the bloom of her youth, Zefs again became a serpent, united with her, and produced the child Zagréfs (Ζαγρεύς), the sweet child of his father [58, N.D. 6.155-168]. And the leaping (σκιρτητής) Kourítæs danced about his cradle, clashing their cymbals, stamping their feet to the beat of the drum .
When the boy-God was yet young, his father set him on a throne and placed the scepter in his hands. All the Gods were gathered in awe and much-honored (πολυτίμητος) Zefs declared, “Listen you Gods! Behold, here is your king (Κληρονόμος) !
Later, the seven pairs of Titánæs, with faces smeared with gypsum (γύψος), approached Zagréfs, and presented him with a basket containing seven toys: a Mirror (Ἔσοπτρον), Knuckle-Bones (Ἀστράγαλος), a Sphere (Σφαῖρᾰ), a Top (Ρόμβος), an Apple (Μῆλον), a Cone (Κῶνος or Στρόβιλος), and a Tuft of Hair (Πόκος) . Little Zagréfs peaked inside the basket and glimpsed his own reflection radiating back at him. He picked up the beautiful Mirror and was mesmerized by his image. The Titánæs took advantage of his state of wonderment and seized him. But Zagréfs resisted and tried many sundry ways to escape them. He transformed himself into the tiniest little things, thinking he would surely slip through their fingers, but the Titans would not relax their grip. Next he became all manner of creatures from the sea, first the spineless jellyfish and the spinning crustaceans, he became the swimming fish, both small and large, and he turned into a wondrous dolphin, and a shark, and many creatures long forgot, but the Titánæs would not relax their grip. Now Zagréfs became four-footed creatures, a mouse, a dog, a lion, and great panther. He became a goat, a wild horse, and all the other numerous cloven-footed animals, and finally a great bull, but the Titánæs would not relax their grip. And after so many divers transformations, whirling from one to another, from female to male and back again, over and over into all the vast plenitude of life, Zagréfs grew dizzy and woke from his futile attempt to circumvent their plan [N.D. 6.169-205]. He found himself simply staring into the Mirror , unable to escape.
The Titánæs took Zagréfs and prepared him for a great meal. They cut him into seven pieces [34, 35, 210], but the heart, the seat of the Mind, was carefully set aside  and the limbs were left alone. The Titans then boiled the pieces and placed them on spits, roasting them, and they ate some of his flesh in a great holy rite.
When the smoke of the sacrifice (θῦσία) reached the palace of the all-seeing (πανόπτης) king, Zefs immediately recognized the savor of his burning scion and understood what had occurred. He sent Blue-eyed (γλαυκῶπις, blue or owl-eyed) Athîná to retrieve the heart [35, 210]; she placed it in a silver casket and delivered it to her father, and it is for this reason that she is known as Pallás (Παλλάς), for the heart was still beating (πάλλεσθαι). Zefs now summoned Apóllôn the giver of riches (ὀλβιοδώτης) and said, “Collect the limbs of Wine, for he is the essence of my Aithír which intoxicates the souls of all those who taste it !” Apóllôn sped swiftly to the great sacrifice, gathered the limbs with tenderness, and entombed them at his sanctuary on Mount Parnassós (Παρνασσός) .
And now with no delay the mighty son of Krónos (Κρονίδης) stood before the Titánæs, in no mood for conversation. He lifted his great left arm straight into the clouds. A terrible clap of thunder bellowed from the vast sky like the roar of a powerful bull. The surrounding clouds exploded into light and from within emerged an enormous glowing bolt of lightning which took perfect aim upon the Titans. All the heavens lit up and exposed colossal mountains of ominous dark clouds, crackling with lightning, the powerful weapon of Olympian Zefs. And now the God bent his fury upon the earth with a torrent of massive thunderbolts, setting all ablaze and the Titánæs with it [N.D. 6.208].
The anger of the God continued for a great period of time, but at last the smoke dispersed and soot fell from the sky. From this ash, the remains of the blasted Titánæs who had eaten of Zagréfs’ flesh, Father Zefs revealed a new generation of mortals [140, 220, 224]. For under Phánîs there had been a Golden Age of men. And under Krónos there was a Silver Age where men had very long lives . But there would now be a new age, the Titanic Age, with humans and sundry kinds of animals, some who fly, some walking, and others swimming, all of whom have souls from the soot, but in due time their bodies grow old and fade away or are destroyed by disease or violence . Their souls, however, are immortal and have as their source the Aithír of Zefs himself ; they come back and are reborn in the mortal bodies of the various creatures, sometimes walking, sometimes swimming, or sometimes human, sometimes female and sometimes male, being born and living a while but then fading away only to return, over and over, with little respite . And of this sorrowful cycle of births (κύκλος γενέσεως) Zefs had deep compassion, and he thereby devised a great plan, for from the still-beating heart of Zagréfs would come a great Savior (Σωτήρ).
The Birth and Mission of Diónysos
As these events came to fruition, fresh seeds of hope were germinating which would have great import to all mankind, for beautiful Kýpris (Κύπρις) of the fluttering eyelids (ἑλικοβλέφαρος) had attracted the attention of strong-spirited (ὀμβριμόθυμος) Árîs (Ἄρης) who delights in strife. The roaring rage of the invincible (ἀδάμαστος) God of war was softened when he beheld the graceful tresses of Aphrodítî’s hair. An exchange of words ensued, a conversation which became an elegant dance spinning into rapturous passion, until at last they united; the quarrelsome God became one with the laughter-loving (φιλομμειδής) queen and they produced a lovely child which they named Harmony (Ἁρμονία) [N.D. 3.372].
Now when Harmony came of age, she was given by Zefs to Kádmos (Κάδμος), Ayínôr's (Ἀγήνωρ) son (Ἀγηνορίδης) and the founder of Thívai (Θῆβαι) [A.V. 3.4.2]. As Kádmos approached her from the distance, he was singing (ἀοιδοπόλος), and bright-faced (φαιδρωπός) Ílios (the Sun, Ἥλιος) arose behind him giving Kádmos the appearance of a glorious daimôn (δαίμων) with light radiating in every direction. They were married and produced children, a son and several daughters, the finest of which was comely (εὐειδής) Sæmǽlî (Σεμέλη) [A.V. 3.25].
Now it came to pass that the attention of Zefs fell upon Sæmǽlî, for she possessed a two-fold beauty, both of physical form, which was unsurpassed, but also within her heart. Zefs proceeded to woo her, for he recognized in the girl a suitable vessel in which his providence would blossom. He united with the daughter of Kádmos, and the beating heart of Zagréfs was nurtured within her womb. Zefs was so pleased with Sæmǽlî that he promised to return and grant her anything she desired.
In the meanwhile, Íra, the queen of all (παμβασίλεια), wife and sister to Zefs, discovered this liaison. She transformed herself into an old woman and approached the door of the daughter of Kádmos, saying, “Young girl, you would do well to engage the help of a servant such as myself, for soon you will be burdened by all the duties of motherhood. Take me into your employ and I will soon make your life less troublesome. I am Væróï (Βερόη) and I am a great solution to your predicament.” And Sæmǽlî took the advice of the old woman, having no knowledge of who she was. Soon she revealed to Væróï all that had transpired, and that her divine suitor was soon to return and grant her anything she desired. Then the old woman smiled and said to her, “Oh, such a great opportunity! Ask the mighty God to come to you in all his glory. Ask him to come to you as he comes to his wife Íra!” Væróï then went about her work and disappeared into the recesses of the home.
Soon Zefs returned and Sæmǽlî made the request suggested by Væróï, but the mighty God looked deeply into her eyes and said, “Not this, Sæmǽlî, not this.” But his reluctance only made her desire for this wish stronger, and with this he left. When next he returned to the home of Sæmǽlî, there was a great wind and thunder. The fire-bearing (πυρφόρος) son of Krónos (Κρονίδης) appeared before her crackling with lightning, but as he approached, she could not withstand his glory and was completely burnt away. Zefs reached into the fire and retrieved the divine infant. He cut open his own thigh, placed the babe inside and sewed up the wound.
When the months were up, the infant was born from the thigh of Zefs himself [A.V.3.26] for which the child-God is known as Thrice-Born (Τρίγονος). He was delivered to the Goddess Ípta (Ἵπτα), the soul of the universe, who placed him in a red basket wound about by a snake and carried him up Mount Ídi (Ἴδη) to be guarded by the mighty Kourítæs and placed into the care of the Mother of the Gods (Μήτηρ Θεῶν) , who when the time was ripe, taught him the rites of the Mysteries [A.V. 3.5.1].
This child, conceived from the heart of Zagréfs, is now born again and transformed into Diónysos (Διόνυσος) [Próklos Hymn 7.14], and it is he who, along with the Daughter (Κόρη) Pæsæphónî, initiates mortals intoMysteries (Μυστήρια) and thereby frees them from this wheel of misery [229, 230] bringing the compassion of his father to fruition. And thus men make great sacrifices (ἑκατόμβη, sacrifice of a hundred oxen) and practice the mystic rites yearning for freedom; and Zefs, through his blessed Son, sets them free from the sting of endless passion and sufferings .
NOTES: The numbers in brackets are not notes but, rather, refer to the numbers of the Orphic fragments collected by Otto Kern; by clicking on them, you can read translations of the actual fragments.
* The Knot of Herakles (Ἡρακλῆς or Hercules) is commonly called the reef-knot. This knot was a symbol in ancient times of the bond of marriage.
** Below find the Greek text as found in ORPHICORVM FRAGMENTA by Otto Kern, 1922, pp. 201-202. It is Orphic fragment 168. This great hymn was quoted from a lost work of Porphýrios (Porphyry, Πορφύριος) in a text by the Christian Church father Efsǽvios (Eusebius, Εὐσέβιος) entitled Εὑαγγελικὴ προπαρασκευή, more commonly known by its Latin title Praeparatio evangelica. The hymn can be found in Book 3, chapter 9:
Original ancient Greek text of the Orphic Rhapsodic Hymn to Zefs
Ζεὺς πρῶτος γένετο, Ζεὺς ὕστατος ἀργιϰέραυνος·
Ζεὺς ϰεφαλή, Ζεὺς μέσσα· Διὸς δ’ ἐϰ πάντα τέτυϰται.
Ζεὺς ἄρσην γένετο, Ζεὺς ἄμβροτος ἔπλετο νύμφη·
Ζεὺς πυθμὴν γαίης τε ϰαὶ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος·
Ζεὺς βασιλεύς, Ζεὺς αὐτὸς ἁπάντων ἀρχιγένεθλος· 5
ἓν ϰράτος, εἷς δαίμων γένετο, μέγας ἀρχὸς ἁπάμτων,
ἓν δὲ δέμας βασίλειον, ἐν ὧι τάδε πάντα ϰυϰλεῖται,
πῦρ ϰαὶ ὕδωρ ϰαὶ γαῖα ϰαὶ αἰθήρ, νύξ τε ϰαὶ ἦμαρ,
ϰαὶ Μῆτις, πρῶτος γενέτωρ ϰαὶ Ἔρως πολυτερπής·
πάντα γὰρ ἐν ζηνὸς μεγάλωι τάδε σώματι ϰεῖται· 10
τοῦ δή τοι ϰεφαλὴ μὲν ἰδεῖν ϰαὶ ϰαλὰ πρόσωπα
οὐρανὸς αἰγλήεις, ὃν χρύσεαι ἀμφὶς ἔθειραι
ἄστρων μαρμαρέων περιϰαλλέες ἠερέθονται,
ταύρεα δ' ἀμφοτέρωθε δύο χρύσεια ϰέρατα,
ἀντολίη τε δύσις τε, θεῶν ὁδοὶ οὐρανιώνων, 15
ὄμματα δ' ἠέλιός τε ϰαὶ ἀντιόωσα σελήνη·
νοῦς δέ ἀψευδὴς βασιλήϊος ἄφθιτος αἰθήρ,
ὧι δή πάντα ϰλύει ϰαὶ φράζεται· οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν
αὐδὴ οὔδ' ἐνοπὴ οὐδὲ ϰτύπος οὐδὲ μὲν ὄσσα,
ἣ λήθει Διὸς οὖας ὑπερμενέος Κρονίωνος. 20
ὧδε μὲν ἀθανάτην ϰεφαλὴν ἔχει ἠδὲ νόημα·
σῶμα δέ οἱ περιφεγγές, ἀπείριτον, ἀστυφέλιϰτον,
ἄτρομον, ὀβριμόγυιον, ὑπερμενές ὧδε τέτυϰται·
ὦμοι μὲν καὶ στέρνα ϰαὶ εὐρέα νῶτα θεοῖο
ἀὴρ εὐρυβίης, πτέρυγες δέ οἱ ἐξεφύοντο, 25
τῆις ἐπὶ πάντα ποτᾶθ', ἱερὴ δέ οἱ ἔπλετο νηδύς
γαῖά τε παμμήτωρ ὀρέων τ' αἰπεινὰ ϰάρηνα·
μέσση δὲ ζώνη βαρυηχέος οἶδμα θαλάσσης
ϰαὶ πόντου· πυμάτη δὲ βάσις, χθονὸς ἔνδοθι ῥίζαι,
Τάρταρά τ' εὐρώεντα ϰαὶ ἔσχατα πείρατα γαίης. 30
πάντα δ' ἀποϰρύψας αὖθις φάος ἐς πολυγηθὲς
μέλλεν ἀπό ϰραδίης προφέρειν πάλι, θέσϰελα ῥέζων.
Please also visit this page: The Orphic Rhapsodic Hymn to Zefs
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.
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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.
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