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members of the ancient Greek religious and mystical movement Orphism. The origin of Orphism is connected with the ecstatic mysteries of Dionysus-Zagreus. Orphism spread from Thrace to Greece, southern Italy, and later Rome. The Orphics considered themselves followers of Orpheus and his pupil Musaeus, who supposedly left a secret tradition for the initiates. Fragments of Orphic literature have been preserved, the earliest of which date from the sixth century B.C.; they include hymns and other texts in verse composed in ancient Orphic style and dating from Roman times.
A myth dealing with the creation of man is central to Orphic doctrine. The bisexual Phanes, born from the egg of the world (fragments of the shell form heaven and earth), was swallowed by Zeus, who thus concentrated all divine potentials within himself. Zeus then produced an heir, the future blessed master of the world—Dionysus-Zagreus. However, the Titans tore Zagreus to pieces and devoured him. Zeus slew them with lightning, and from their ashes man was born; man thus combined within himself the evil nature of the Titans and the good nature of Zagreus.
To free the divine soul imprisoned within the body, it was necessary to observe special purification rituals and ascetic prescripts, such as abstention from meat; the Orphics claimed secret knowledge of these rituals. Bliss in the next life awaited the pious, and torment in Tartarus awaited the impious. At the same time, a doctrine of metempsychosis (the reincarnation of souls) was developed. The relationship of Orphism and Pythagorean-ism is unquestionable; however, the question of priority remains in dispute.
In the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., the Orphics were particularly successful among the lower strata of the population. Many authors ridiculed Orphic doctrine and rituals as plebeian charlatanism. However, Neoplatonism attempted to make the Orphic texts its “sacred writ” in order to counterbalance the Bible of the Jews and Christians.
WORKSKern, O. Orphicorum fragmenta, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1963.
REFERENCESLosev, A. F. Antichnaia mifologiia v ee istoricheskom razvitii, part 1. Moscow, 1957. (Chapter 4 with translations.)
Guthrie, W. K. C. Orpheus and Greek Religion, 2nd ed. London, 1952.
Moulinier, L. Orphée et l’orphisme a l’époque classique. Paris, 1955.
S. S. AVERINTSEV