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Derveni Papyrus about Orphism and Ancient Greek s

Esoteric teachings of Golden Citizens of Ancient Greece

Learning from , and ancient by Natasa Pantovic

Metamorphoses. Transformation. A journey of a passing through Gaia, but also an epic poem in fifteen books written 2,000 years ago, by the Roman poet Ovid, completed in 8 AC inspired by the Ancient Greek Theogony Θεογονία “Birth of the Gods” attributed to Hesiod 700 BC, and the Derveni 500 BC.

Derveni-papyrus oldest ancient greek BC

The Oldest Greek Papyrus 500 BC Derveni Papyrus

The poet's writings are based on already fully established Ancient Greek manuscript tradition. Re-writing myths, the creation story, Ovid begins by describing how the elements emerge out of chaos, and how mankind degenerates from the Gold Age to the Silver Age to the Age of Iron. This is followed by an attempt by the giants (Titans) to seize the heavens, at which the God Jove sends a great flood which destroys all living things except one couple, Deucalion and Pyrrha.

The Metamorphoses, as a collection of myths is influenced by an earlier Greek work called the Theogony Θεογονία “Birth of the Gods” attributed to Hesiod 700 BC. It is a long narrative poem compiling Ancient Greek myths. Hesiod describes how the gods were created, their struggles with each other, and the nature of their divine rule. In the Theogony, the origin (arche / aRČe) is Chaos, a primordial condition, a gaping void (abyss), with the beginnings and the ends of the earth, sky, sea, gods, mankind. Symbolically associated with water, it is the source, origin, or root of things that exist. Then came Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the cave like space under the earth), and Eros, who becomes the creator of the world.

The Sources of Greek Myths

Ancient Greek vase 450 BC British museum, folk tale, folk story, legend, tale, story, fable, saga, mythos, lore, folklore, mythology, ancient Greek myths

Ancient Greek Vase, The British Museum. 480 BC

The earliest sources of Greek myth date to writings from the 800 BC and include the only surviving tales of Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Theogony. Another aset of myths were the Homeric Hymns, collected by an unknown author, the 33 hymns written from 700 BC to 400 BC and were also attributed to Homer in antiquity. The majority of the hymns celebrate the twelve Olympians gods and goddesses who dwell on Mount Olympus. 

(ll. 1-25) From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty son of Cronos, and, when they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus or in the Horse's Spring or Olmeius, make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon and move with vigorous feet. Thence they arise and go abroad by night, veiled in thick mist, and utter their song with lovely voice, praising Zeus the aegis- holder and queenly Hera of Argos who walks on golden sandals and the daughter of Zeus the aegis-holder bright-eyed Athene, and Phoebus Apollo, and Artemis who delights in arrows, and Poseidon the earth-holder who shakes the earth, and reverend Themis and quick-glancing Aphrodite, and Hebe with the crown of gold, and fair Dione, Leto, Iapetus, and Cronos the crafty counselor, Eros and great Helius and bright Selene, Earth too, and great Oceanus, and dark Night, and the holy race of all the other deathless ones that are for ever. And one day they taught Hesiod glorious song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me -- the Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus who holds the aegis:

 About Gods and Creation, the Theogony Θεογονία “Birth of the Gods”, Hesiod 700 BC

In ancient Greek philosophy, arČe is the first principle of all things. Thales (700 – 600 BC), claimed that the first principle of all things is water.

In the Babylonian creation story Enûma Eli-Š (great Š), the universe was in a formless state and is described as a watery chaos. From it emerged two primary gods, a male and a female, and a third deity: the maker Mummu.

Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Bible’s Genesis Story

Reading an English translation of this World's Classics' book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the poem's shape, structure and the way of narrating stories reminded me of the Old Testament, starting with: At the beginning there was Chaos. God has created elements, human beings, other Gods, incorporating 250 of the best known ancient Greek myths. The poem has an extremely high number of surviving manuscripts (more than 400). 

The Bible’s genesis story, resembles the Greek narrative. The poem's immense popularity in the Middle Ages earned the book a title of "A dangerously pagan work", the earliest manuscript found dated from the 11th century, the book was hidden for more than a 1,000 years.

About the Great Flood from Metamorphoses: 

But this new stock [of man], too, proved contemptuous of the gods, very greedy for slaughter, and passionate,” and “Most living things are drowned outright. And “… Jove saw…that only one man…and that but one woman…[were] left, both innocent and both worshipers of God, he rent the clouds asunder…showed the land once more to the sky, and the heavens to the land. Then too the anger of the sea subsides…by that signal to recall the floods and streams”.

Ancient Greek Myth, Great Flood Ovid's Metamorphoses, 8 AC

Ancient Greek Myths Collections Books Content

The Book 1 of Metamorphoses explores some most amazing themes, and the content of the older Ancient Greek books is very similar:

Bk I: 1-20 The Primal Chaos

Bk I: 21-31 Separation of the elements

Bk I: 32-51 The earth and sea. The five zones.

Bk I: 52-68 The four winds

Bk I: 68-88 Humankind

Book II – XIV – Ancient Greek Mythology

Book XV – the foundation of Crotone, the doctrines of Pythagoras, the apotheosis of Julius Caesar.

Metamorphoses by Ovid 8 AC Metamorphoses ovid analysis, Metamorphoses ovid quotes, Ovid metamorphoses stories

Metamorphoses by Ovid 8 AC

Ovid's book is a collection of Ancient Greek Myths

Ovid's work contains some 250 mythic stories that encompass the Ancient Worlds history, from creation to the death of Julius Caesar. In the Metamorphoses he uses earlier literary and poetic presentations of the same myths. Books were written to address a Greek audience, and their familiarity with traditions about Zeus and Hermes. Later on, Ovid's work was copied and used by other artists, apparently, Shakespeare's Prospero's renunciation speech in Act V of The Tempest is taken word for word from a speech by Medea in Book VII of the Metamorphoses. 

The Derveni papyrus (500 BC) is an ancient Macedonian papyrus that was found in 1962, and was finally published, just recently, in 2006. It is a philosophical treatise written as a commentary on an Orphic poem, a theogony concerning the birth of the gods, compiled in the circle of the philosopher AnaXagoras.

Derveni Papyrus, at Thesaloniki Museum, Greece, 340 BC and Orphism

The roll itself dates to around 340 BC, during the reign of Philip II of Macedon, making it Europe's oldest surviving manuscript. The ancient site on the road from Thessaloniki to Kavala, is a nobleman's grave belonging to the ancient city of Lete. It is the only known ancient papyrus found in Greece proper. The bottom parts had burned away in the funeral pyre. The scroll was carefully unrolled and the fragments joined together, thus forming 26 columns of text. which was used in the mystery cult of Dionysus by the 'Orphic initiators'.

According to UNESCO

"The Derveni Papyrus is of immense importance not only for the study of Greek religion and philosophy, which is the basis for the western philosophical thought, but also because it serves as a proof of the early dating of the Orphic poems offering a distinctive version of Presocratic philosophers."

The Derveni Papyrus, Thessaloniki, Archaeological Museum

The recount of the tales in Ancient Greek Kingdoms 

From scraps, mostly tiny, it was possible to reconstruct 26 columns of writing, of which only the upper part survives. After funeral rites the main part of the text was destroyed. The main part of the text is a commentary on a poem ascribed to Orpheus, which was used in the mystery cult of Dionysus by the 'Orphic initiators'. The time of theogony described in the poem has Nyx (Night) give birth to Heaven (Uranus). Cronus follows and is succeeded by Zeus. Zeus gains his power by hearing oracles from the sanctuary of Night.

The scroll contains a philosophical treatise on a lost poem describing the birth of the gods and other beliefs focusing on Orpheus, the mythical musician who visited the underworld to reclaim his dead love.

The Orpheus cult tells us of a single creator god, of trinity, of holy spirit, of resurrection, of a virgin's child...

According to him, both Orpheus and Heraclitus compose allegories about the secrets of nature and of God. In the Orphic cosmogony, he was writing only for the "pure in hearing"

The Author tells us, 2,500 years ago, that since people lack so credible an explanation, they risk losing their faith, because they do not understand apparently bizarre rites and texts. This is why, he argues, they do not believe in the terrors of Hades, because they take visions and oracles literally; the author, of course, can explain them allegorically. He offers a philosophical discussion by which he gives a "scientific" interpretation of rituals and sacred texts.

All things are pervaded by Air, which is Zeus, which is Mind, and this deity has arranged all things for the best.


* * *

. . prayers and sacrifices placate souls. ... They sacrifice cakes that are countless and many-humped, because the souls too are countless.

* * *

(I shall also prove that Orpheus composed a hymn that says wholesome and permissible things. For he was speaking allegorically with his composition, and it was impossible (for him) to state the application of his words and what was meant....

* * *

So (Orpheus) made the rule belong to the strongest, as a son (belongs) to its father. But those who do not comprehend what is meant suppose that Zeus takes the strength and the daimon from his own father.

* * *

After he has named Mind (Nous) "Kronos" because he thrust (krouonta) (the elements) against one another, (Orpheus) states that he "did a great deed" to Sky: for he states that (Sky) had his kingship taken away. (Orpheus) named him "Kronos" after his action, and (named) the other (elements) in accord with the same principle. For of all the things that exist ... as he sees the nature ... (Orpheus) states that (Sky) had his kingship taken away (when) the things that exist (were thrust together)...


Next verse:

"From him in turn (came) Kronos, and next was crafty Zeus."

The author returns to his attack on the lack of understanding among those who undergo religious

instruction; their error is to take sacred stories literally.

The author turns his attention to the scandal that, in Orpheus' poem, which was used for initiations into the Orphic mysteries of Dionysus, the poet makes Zeus commit polygamy and incest. For Zeus rapes his own mother Rhea (who bears Demeter), and then his sister-daughter Demeter (with Persephone as the result.

Zeus' rape of his mother was narrated later in the poem; the birth of Demeter, the fruit of this union.

* * *

So (Orpheus) named everything likewise as best he was able, since he understood that people do not all have a similar nature and do not all desire the same things: when they have the most power they say whatever comes into their minds-whatever they may happen to desire, not at all the same things-driven by greed, but on occasion by ignorance as well.

"Earth," "Mother," "Rhea" and "Hera" are the same. "Ge" and "Gaia" in accord with individuals' dialect. She was called "Demeter" like "Ge Meter,"

There is a statement in his Hymns too: "Demeter Rhea Ge Meter Hestia Deio."

Air / Zeus / Mind / Wisdom / Fate /Aphrodite etc., which has no gender at all.

"He contrived the great strength of wide-flowing Ocean."

"He put in it the might of silver-swirling Acheloiis."

Those who do not understand the phrase (metros [h]eas) suppose that it means "his own mother." But had (Orpheus) wanted to present the god as "wanting to unite with his own mother in love," he could have said "his own (heoio) mother," by changing some letters. For in this way it would become "his own"... of her... obvious that... in the... both ... good (mother)...

]ουε ̣[θ]ε̣ῶν[

ὁ κείμ[ενα] μετ̣α̣θ̣[ε ἐ]κ̣δ̣οῦναι

μᾶλλ[ον ἃ] σ̣ίνεται̣ [ ]τ̣ὰ τῆς τύχης γὰ̣[ρ]

οὐκ εἴ̣[α λα]μβάνει̣ν̣ ̣ ἆρ' οὐ τά̣[ξιν ἔχει διὰ τό]ν̣δε κόσμος;

5κατὰ̣ [ταὐτ]ὰ̣̣ Ἡρ̣άκλ̣ε̣ιτος μα̣[ρτυρόμενος] τ̣ὰ κοινὰ

____ κατ̣[αστρέ]φ̣ει τὰ ἴδ̣[ι]α̣· ὅσπερ ἴκελ̣α̣ [ἀστρο]λόγωι λέγων [ἔφη·]

ἥλι̣[ος ̣ ̣ ̣] ̣ου κατὰ φ̣ύσιν ἀν̣θρω[πηΐου] ε̣ὖρος ποδός [ἐστι,]

τὸ μ̣[έγεθο]ς̣ οὐχ ὑπε̣ρβάλλων εἰκ̣[ότας οὔ]ρους ε[ὔρους]

[ἑοῦ· εἰ δὲ μ]ή̣, Ἐρινύε̣[ς] νιν ἐξευρήσου̣[σι, Δίκης ἐπίκουροι·]

10[ὅπως δὲ μηδὲν ὑπερ]βατὸν ποῆι κ[

]α̣ι̣ θυο̣ ̣[

]α δίκης[

]μηνὶ τακ[τῶι

] ̣ ̣ ι̣π̣α̣ι̣c̣ε̣

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