The concern of this brief essay are the underlying etiological myths upon which the foundation of Orphismós rests; here we focus on the Gods of whom we worship and of the entire universe in which both we and these Gods dwell. While thæogonía (theogony, θεογονία) is the origin and genealogy of the Gods, kozmogonía (cosmogony, κοσμογονία) is the origin of the universe. In Hellenic polytheistic religion, these two terms are closely related and cannot actually be entirely separated, for the phenomenal universe is itself divine and the personal deities are intimately connected with its origin and both emerge simultaneously.

The etymology of thæogonía is Θεοί (Gods) + γέννα (birth), hence, the birth or origin of the Gods. The etymology of kozmogonía is kόσμος (order, to put in order) + γέννα (birth); the word kόσμος only later came to mean the entire universe, but its original meaning has some bearing on how we understand our world, as the view of

Orphismós sees the birth or origin of the kózmos (cosmos, κόσμος) as having a form and order, what Pythagóras (Πυθαγόρας) called diakózmisis (diakosmesis; Gr. διακόσμησις), the orderly arrangement of the universe.

In general, the philosophical view of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός) is kozmogonical and this can be said with even more assurance of the teachings of Orphismós. In other words, everything in the religion stems from the kozmogonía and has it as its center. Despite the fantastic imagery, when properly understood, the Orphic kozmogony provides a natural and materialistic, rather than spiritual (incorporeal or immaterial), explanation for the creation of the kózmos. To a great extent, it could be said that this entire website is an attempt to explain the kozmogonía and why it is a natural view of the universe.

In antiquity, many theogonies are known to us, such as those by Akousílaos of Árgos (Acusilaus, Ἀκουσίλαος), Æpimænídis (Epimenides, Ἐπιμενίδης) of Knohssós (Knossos, Κνωσσός), and Phærækýdis (Pherecydes, Φερεκύδης) of Sýros (Σύρος) [1], but only one has come down to us in complete form, the thæogonía of Isíodos (Hesiod, Ἡσίοδος). Isíodos' theogony is viewed by many modern Hellenic reconstructionists as definitive and orthodox, in contrast to Orphic theogony, which some view as of a more recent and perhaps eccentric authorship, but this view of precedence is questioned by some scholars and most certainly by ancient authors. The Isíodos is a fixed, known text; the Orphic theogonies vary somewhat from author to author and, to complicate matters, the major Orphic theogony is not preserved in complete form.

According to the scholar W. K. C. Guthrie, "Among the many names to which theogonical and cosmogonical writings were attached, two, as is rightly remarked by the Christian apologist, stand out, Orpheus and Hesiod. The other writers whose names I have quoted (ed. as in the above paragraph, the theogonies of Akousílaos, Æpimænídis, and Phærækýdis) were always known to be later than Hesiod, who was sometimes regarded as the father of this kind of composition. Herodotus thought him so, and there were others too who doubted the authenticity of the theogony of Orpheus. The weight of that ancient name, however, was not taken away from it, and this must have suggested to many of the ancient world that, if not the poems, at least the stories which they told belonged to a time before Hesiod and Homer himself." [2] He goes on to say that the content of the Orphic theogony can be found in Neoplatonic writings and even Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων) himself: "In their (ed. the Neoplatonists) commentaries therefore they made a point of illustrating a sentence of Plato, whenever they could, by a quotation from the Orphic poems." Here Guthrie is trying to demonstrate how these philosophers tried to justify their ideas or those of Plátohn by substantiating them with the weight of Orphic corpus, making obvious their reverence for the texts and the very name of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).

Various Orphic theogonies which are extant

There is the brief but important theogony found at the beginning of the Orphǽohs Argonaftiká (Orphic Argonautica, Ὀρφέως Ἀργοναυτικά) and that found in the Argonaftiká of Apollóhnios Ródios (Apollonius Rhodius, Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος).

There is the Pythagorean kozmogony of the Tímaios (Timaeus, Τίμαιος) of Plátôn, but this text does not claim to be the words of Orphéfs; nonetheless, Pythagóras (Πυθαγόρας), Sohkrátis (Socrates, Σωκράτης), and Plátôn are regarded as in the lineage of Orphéfs.

Of more recent discovery, but of quite ancient origin (fourth century BCE), is the Dærvǽni (Derveni, Δερβένι) Papyrus, a commentary likely authored by someone from the school of Anaxagóras (Ἀναξαγόρας) on an Orphic text; this commentary includes a partial theogony. Although this theogony is not complete, we have an extensive section of the text.


Damáskios (Damascius, Δαμάσκιος), the Neoplatonic philosopher (died sometime after 538 CE) informs us of three important Orphic theogonies in his book on first principles (ἀπορίαι καὶ λύσεις περὶ τῶν πρώτων ἀρχῶν):

Damáskios describes a text entitled The Sacred Logos in Twenty-Four Rhapsodies (Ιερός Λόγος σε 24 Ραψωδίες). The term rhapsodies refers to sections of the text, apparently laid out in a similar manner as the Iliás (Iliad, Ἰλιάς) or the Odýsseia (Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια), both of which also had twenty-four parts or books referred to as rhapsodies. This text was viewed as the standard or "orthodox" theogony of Orphismós (Orphism, Ορφισμός) [3] . The Souda (Σούδα), however, ascribes it to an obscure writer known as Thæógnitos (Theognetus, Θεόγνητος) of Thæssalía (Thessaly, Θεσσαλία) (1st century BCE) who may have simply compiled the most accepted Orphic myths into one poetic narrative. The poem has come down to us as fragments scattered throughout various Christian, Neoplatonic, and other writings as quotations, and it is uncertain exactly how these fragments were originally pieced together. Nonetheless, a coherent story can be derived from the fragments and is accepted as authoritative by this writer.

Damáskios describes another theogony by Iæróhnymos Ródios (Hieronymus of Rhodes, Ιερώνυμος Ῥόδιος) or perhaps it was authored by Ællánikos (Hellanicus, Ἑλλάνικος). This summary is very important because it gives the most clear origin of the universe from Earth and Water.

Damáskios mentions yet another theogony authored by Évdimos (Eudemus, Εὔδημος), possibly a pupil of Aristotǽlis (Aristotle, Ἀριστοτέλης) but we are really not sure.

Summaries of these theogonies follows below.

The Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony [3]

The mythological story contained in the Rhapsodic kozmogony can be construed from quotations found in the writings of various ancient authors. These fragments were collected by Prof. Otto Kern (1863-1942), the classical philologist. That this story is derived solely from the ancient text entitled The Sacred Logos in Twenty-Four Rhapsodies is conjecture, although for various reasons it is quite probable that the basic outline is correct. It is attested by many ancient authors that the story told in this theogony was the most commonly accepted from antiquity as "Orphic" and authoritative and it is the narrative which the author of this essay accepts. For a loose reconstruction of the poem please visit this page: Orphic Theogony. This page is the most important page on the entire website.

Outline of the Iæróhnymos-Ællánikos (Hieronymus-Hellanicus) Kozmogonía [4]

Before the beginning of all that is: The Unutterable Principle

First: Water and solid matter that hardened into Earth.

Out of Water and Earth came a serpent with the heads of a bull and a lion between which was the face of a God, with wings on its shoulders: his name was Unageing Time (Chronos, Χρόνος) and Iraklís (Heracles, Ἡρακλῆς). Along with and united with Khrónos was born Anángki (Necessity, Ἀνάγκη) and Adrásteia (Ἀδράστεια) whose extended arms stretch to the limits of the Kózmos.

Time has triple offspring: moist Aithír (Ether, Αἰθήρ), unlimited Kháos (Chaos, Χάος), and misty Ǽrævos (Erebos, Ἔρεβος) (described as "a great yawning gulf, and darkness over all"). Among these, Khrónos creates an Egg and from among these the third intelligible triad emerges: The Egg; the Dyad of the two natures (male and female) with the plurality of the seeds in between; and thirdly, the incorporeal God with the golden wings on his shoulders, Phánis (Phanes, Φάνης), the son of Aithír. Phánis is described as being incorporeal, yet having golden wings on his shoulders, the head of a bull emerging from his shanks, and a massive serpent, showing the form of every type of animal.

Further, this theology has a hymn to Prôtogónos (Protogonos = the First-born = Phánis, Πρωτογόνος), calling him Zefs (Ζεύς) who ministers the whole Kózmos, calling him Pan (Pan = All, Πᾶν).

Outline of the Theogony According to Évdimos (Eudemus)

We have very little theogony of Évdimos (Eudemus, Εὔδημος) but this significant quotation of Damáskios:

"The theology described in the Peripatetic Eudemus as being that of Orpheus is silent about the entire realm of the intelligible for it is completely inexpressible and unknowable by the method of exposition and narration: it made its start from Night, from whom also Homer begins, although he (sc. Homer) did not make his genealogy continuous. For we should not believe Eudemus when he says that he (sc. Homer) begins from Okeanos and Tethys. For he too manifestly knows that Night is the greatest divinity, so that even Zeus feels awe before her..." [5]

While this is literally all that Damáskios directly quotes from Évdimos, he extends out with some further ideas. M. L. West in his book The Orphic Poems, considers these ideas and extends further, giving us a proposed summary of this theogony:

"In the beginning was Night. From her came Uranus and Ge (ed. Earth or Yaia); from them Oceanus and Tethys; from them the twelve Titans. Rhea bore children to Kronos, but he swallowed them as they were born. Zeus, however, was born secretly in a cave in Crete (Ida/Dicte), nursed by nymphs, and guarded by the Kouretes. Kronos was given a stone to swallow. When Zeus was grown up, Rhea made Kronos drunk with honeycombs, whereupon Zeus tied him up, castrated him, and with the help of Metis induced him to regurgitate his children. His three sons drew lots, and Hades took the lower world, Poseidon the sea, and Zeus Heaven, whither he proceeded on a goat.

"Zeus fathered children by several Goddesses, and others of the younger Gods also had families. Persephone bore Dionysus to Zeus in Crete. There followed the story of the murder of Dionysus by the Titans and his restoration to life. The Titans were blasted to Tartarus, and mankind came into being from the sooty fall-out. So theirs is a bad inheritance; Dionysus, however, can help them by his purification rites, which were first established in Crete but soon spread everywhere." [6]

The story of Iásohn (Jason, Ἰάσων) and the Argonáftai (Argonauts, Ἀργοναῦται) has several variants, the most common being that which was told by Apollohnios Rothios (Apollonios of Rhodes, Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος), but there is a one which is in the Orphic tradition which includes a brief kozmogony:



Diakózmisis - (diacosmeses; Gr. διακόσμησις, ΔΙΑΚΟΣΜΗΣΙΣ. Noun.) Lexicon entry: διακόσμησις, εως, , setting in order, regulation, ἡ περί τι δ. Pl.Smp.209a. 2. the orderly arrangement of the Universe, esp. in the Pythagorean system, Arist.Metaph.986a6, Plu.Per.4, etc. 3. Stoic t. t., of the new order after ἐκπύρωσις, Zeno Stoic.1.28, etc. 4. order, class of beings, Procl.Inst.144, Dam.Pr.301. (L&S p. 398, right column, within the entries beginning with διακοσμέω, edited for simplicity.)

Kozmogonía - (Cosmogony; Gr. Κοσμογονία, ΚΟΣΜΟΓΟΝΙΑ) Lexicon entry: κοσμογονία, ἡ, creation or origin of the world; applied to the poem of Parmenides. (L&S p. 984, right column, within the entries beginning with κοσμογένεια, edited for simplicity.)

Kózmos - (cosmos; Gr. κόσμος, ΚΟΣΜΟΣ) Lexicon entry: κόσμος, ὁ, order: generally, of things, natural order. 2. good order, good behaviour, = κοσμιότης; discipline. 3. form, fashion. 4. of states, order, government. II.ornament, decoration, esp. of women. 2. metaph., honour, credit. III. ruler, regulator, title of chief magistrate in Crete, etc.; collectively, body of κόσμοι. IV. Philos., world-order, universe. 2. metaph., microcosm; of living beings in general. 3. in later Gr., = οἰκουμένη, the known or inhabited world. 4. men in general; esp. of the world as estranged from God by sin (ed. in Christian literature). 5. οὗτος ὁ κ. this present world, i.e. earth, opp. heaven (ed. in Christian literature). V. Pythag.name for six, Theol.Ar.37; for ten, ib.59. (L&S p. 985, left column, edited for simplicity.)

Thæogonía (Theogony; Gr. Θεογονία, ΘΕΟΓΟΝΙΑ. Θεοί "Gods" + γέννα "birth.") Thæogonía is a story telling the genealogy or birth of the Gods.

- Lexicon entry: θεογονία, Ion. -ιη, ἡ, genealogy of the Gods, title of Hesiod's poem. II. generation or birth of Gods. (L&S p. 790, left column, edited for simplicity.)

Thæológos - (theologos; Gr. θεολόγος, ΘΕΟΛΟΓΟΣ. Plural is θεολόγοι.) Lexicon entry: θεολόγος, , (λέγω) one who discourses of the Gods, of poets such as Hesiod and Orpheus; of cosmologists (like the Orphics); of diviners and prophets. 2. theologian. (L&S p. 790, right column, within the entries beginning with θεολογεῖον, edited for simplicity.)

Thæothrǽmmohn - (theothremmon; Gr. θεοθρέμμων, ΘΕΟΘΡΕΜΜΩΝ) Lexicon entry: θεοθρέμμων, ον, gen. ονος, maintained by God. (L&S p. 790, left column, edited for simplicity.)

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.


[1] Orpheus and Greek Religion by W.K.C. Guthrie, 1952 but in the 1993 Princeton Univ. Press Princeton edition, p. 71.

[2] Ibid. Guthrie, pp. 71-72.

[3] The actual fragments can be downloaded here: Kern Orphicorum fragmenta.

[4] Damáskios (Damascius; Gr. Δαμάσκιος) I.317.15 Ruelle; summarized from THE DERVENI PAPYRUS - Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation by Gábor Betegh, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 143-144. (I.317.15 Ruelle) Betegh here is quoting Damáskios directly.

[5] Quoted directly from Betegh, p. 146, who gives this citation for the quotation: Damaskios, De princ. 3.162 Combès-Westerink = 1.319 Ruelle. Another translation may be found in Sara Ahbel-Rappe Damascius' Problems & Solutions Concerning First Principles (Oxford, 2010) on p. 417, this being Section XVII On the Intelligible Triads, Chapter 124 The Orphic Theology According to Eudemus.

[6] The Orphic Poems by M.L. West, 1983, pp. 138-139.

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 (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) 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 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.

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.

SPELLING: HellenicGods.org uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages:

Pronunciation of Ancient Greek

Transliteration of Ancient Greek

Pronouncing the Names of the Gods in Hellenismos

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