Orpheus and Greek Religion Chapters 7 & 8: “Orpheus and Other Greek Religious Thinkers” and “Orpheus in the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman World”
This is my LAST notes post (and a short one) – because this is the end of the book!
- Pythagoreans: The Orphics and Pythagoreans were similar in that they promoted a specific lifestyle, and were concerned with purification of the soul. However, the Pythagoreans were not centered on Dionysos like the Ophics; they were more focused on Apollo. The authors compares the two groups to two sects of Christians who accept the same dogma, but have a different patron saint. Pythagoreanism was also a philosophy as well as a religion. There was overlap between the two groups but they were not the same.
- Milesian/Ionian school: They shared the assumption/question that there is a divine unity transcending what we see of the world, and that from this unity of the divine comes multiplicity. This is what the Orphics thought of as Orphic Zeus, the One who is Many who come back to One. The Ionians tried to discover what they would call this underlying divinity; Anaximander ended up calling it “The Unlimited,” and his cosmogony had interesting similarities to that of the Orphics.
- The book goes on from there to show how many other ancients were NOT Orphic. I was less interested in this section.
- Syncretism was huge in the Hellenistic world. It was how the Greeks could understand the existence of non-Greek gods. Orphism was a part of this world too. This can be seen in the diversity of gods and spirits addressed in the Orphic Hymns.
- Orphism and Christianity: The author suggests that we, the readers, “make up our own minds” about the connection between Christianity and Orphism, but says that the figure and myth of Orpheus was inspiring to the early Christians for sure. Comparisons were made between Orpheus and David of the Old Testament, another magical musician who played for the animals. One interesting artifact is the amulet of a man on a cross, crowned by a crescent moon, with the inscription “Orpheus Bakkikos,” which seems to be a syncretism of Orphic and Christian imagery. There are obvious similarities between Orphism and Christianity, such as the doctrine of original sin (though the Orphics meant something very different by it), the dying-and-rising god, and the similarity to the being “born anew” of the mystery religions. The details of the two belief systems, however, are very different despite the basic similarities.
I’m glad I read the book; it clarified a few things for me and makes me feel better-informed. It was a fine overview. I hope these notes can be helpful to others who may not have much time for academic books.
And with that, I’m going to take a break from studying, and will go forth and practice my Orphic-influenced religion!