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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.


Kern, O. Orphicorum fragmenta, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1963.


Losev, 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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
On one level, we might interpret Statius's incorporation of Orphic themes within the necklace description as an anti-Callimachean gesture.
The Orphic intertext provides Statius/Vulcan with actual anti-Callimachean narrative material (a 'poem' is now supplied to go with the anti-Callimachean daemonic 'poets'), material based in alternative cosmologies.
We have seen how Orphic poetics play a large role in Augustan Callimacheanism, and indeed Ovid's evocation of Callimachean and Orphic poetics displays an ambivalence similar to that seen in Statius.
We have, then, an alternative reading of Statius's evocation of Calli-machean and Orphic poetics in the necklace description.
Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement.
'A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries." CQ 16.2: 77-87.
(11.) For example, the Orphic Lithica (on which more below) is largely concerned with enumerating the beneficial properties of the twenty-nine stones it describes.
1983, 66-8, who argue (68 note 1) that this passage is not necessarily Orphic in the strict sense of the word and (43 note 2) that Apollonius has put the most "primitive-sounding" story possible in Orpheus's mouth.
(24.) On the difficulty of defining what constitutes Orphic ritual, myth, and literature, see Guthrie 1952, 6-11; Burkert 1982 and 1985, 296; Kirk et al.
(39.) On this passage generally, see Blakely 2007, 56-69; on its Orphic connections, see West 1984, 167 note 90.
I assume no specifically Orphic content in the poem.
The article as a whole deals with the Orphic Dionsysus story generally.