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On this page: Orphidius Benignus – Orphitus – Orsabaris



ancient mystical poet Orpheus, dedicated them­selves to the worship of Bacchus, in which they hoped to find satisfaction for an ardent longing after the soothing and elevating influences of re­ligion. The Dionysus, to whose worship the Or­phic and Bacchic rites were annexed (to. 'OpcpiKa Kateojj.eva Kal Bafcxiwa, Herod, ii. 81), was the Chthonian deity, Dionysus Zagreus, closely con­nected with Demeter and Cora, who was the per­sonified expression, not only of the most rapturous pleasure, but also of a deep sorrow for the miseries of human life. The Orphic legends and poems related in great part to this Dionysus., who was combined, as an infernal deity, with Hades (a doctrine given by the philosopher Heracleitus as the opinion of a particular sect, ap. Clem. Alex. Protrep. p. 30, Potter) ; and upon whom the Orphic theologers founded their hopes of the puri­fication and ultimate immortality of the soul. But their mode of celebrating this worship was very different from the popular rites of Bacchus. The Orphic worshippers of Bacchus did not indulge in unrestrained pleasure and frantic enthusiasm, but rather aimed at an ascetic purity of life and man­ners. (See Lobeck, Aylaoph. p. 244.) The fol­lowers of Orpheus, when they had tasted the mystic sacrificial feast of raw flesh torn from the ox of Dionysus (ccjuo^cryfa), partook of no other animal food. They wore white linen garments, like Oriental and Egyptian priests, from whom, as Herodotus remarks (/. c.), much may have been borrowed in the ritual of the Orphic worship."

Herodotus not only speaks of these rites as being Egyptian, but also Pythagorean in their character. The explanation of this is that the Pythagorean societies, after their expulsion from Magna Graecia, united themselves with the Orphic societies of the mother country, and of course greatly influenced their character. But before this time the Orphic system had been reduced to a definite form by pherecydes and onomacritus, who stand at the head of a series of writers, in whose works the Orphic theology was embodied ; such as Cercops, Brontinus, Orpheus of Camarina, Or-.pheus of Croton, Arignote, Persinus of Miletus, Timocles of Syracuse, and Zopyrus of Heracleia or Tarentum (Muller, p. 235). Besides these asso­ciations there were also an obscure set of mysta-gogues derived from them, called Orpheotelests ('Op<p€OTe\€(TTai^ " who used to come before the doors of the rich, and promise to release them from their own sins and those of their forefathers, by sacrifices and expiatory songs ; and they produced at this ceremony a heap of books of Orpheus and Musaeus, upon which they founded their promises" (Plat. Ion, p. 536, b.; Muller, p. 235). The nature of the Orphic theology, and the points of difference between it and that of Homer and Hesiod, are fully discussed by Muller (Ifist. Lit. Anc. Gr. pp. 235—238; and Mr. Grote (vol. i. pp. 22, &c.) ; out most fully by Lobeck, in his Aglaopliamus.

Orphic Literature.—We have seen that many poems ascribed to Orpheus were current as early as the time of the Peisistratids [onomacritus], and that they are often quoted by Plato. The allusions to them in later writers are very frequent; for example, Pausanias speaks of hymns of his, which he believed to be still preserved by the Lycomidae (an Athenian family who seem to have been the chief priests of the Orphic worship, as the Eumolpidae were of t.heEleusinian), and which, he


says, were only inferior in beauty to the poems of Homer, and held even in higher honour, on account of their divine subjects. He also speaks of them as very few in number, and as distinguished by great brevity of style (ix. 30. §§ 5, 6. s. 12).

Considering the slight acquaintance which the ancients evidently possessed with these works, it is somewhat surprising that certain extant poems, which bear the name of Orpheus, should have been generally regarded by scholars, until a very recent period, as genuine, that is, as works more ancient than the Homeric poems, if not the productions of Orpheus himself. It is not worth while to repeat here the history of the controversy, which will be found in Bernhardyand the other historians of Greek literature. The result is that it is now fully esta­blished that the bulk of these poems are the forgeries of Christian grammarians and philosophers of the Alexandrian school; but that among the fragments, which form apart of the collection, are some genuine remains of that Orphic poetry which was known to Plato, and which must be assigned to the period of Onomacritus, or perhaps a little earlier. The Orphic literature which, in this sense, we may call genuine, seems to have included Hymns., a Theogony, an ancient poem called Minyas or the Descent into Hades, Oracles and Songs for Initiations (TeAeraf), a collection of Sacred Legends ('le/sol Atfyot), ascribed to Cercops, and perhaps some other works. The apocryphal productions which have comedown to us under the name of Orphica, are the following:

1. 'A/ryoraim/ca, an epic poem in 1384 hex­ameters, giving an account of the expedition of the Argonauts, which is full of indications of its late date.

2. "T/J.Voz, eighty-seven or eighty-eight hymns in hexameters, evidently the productions of the Neo-Platonic school.

3. At0t/ca, the best of the three apocryphal Orphic poems, which treats of properties of stones, both precious and common, and their uses in divination.

4. Fragments, chiefly of the Tlieogony. It is in this class that we find the genuine remains, above referred to, of the literature of the early Orphic theology, but intermingled with others of a much later date. (Eschenbach, Epigenes, de Poesi Orphica Commentarius, Norimb. 1702—1704 ; Tiedemann, Grieclienlands erste Philosoplien^ Leipz. 1780 ; G. H. Bode, de OrpJteo Poetarum Graecorum antiquis-simo, Gott. 1824: Lobeck, Aglaopliamus; Bode, Gesch. d. Hell. Dichtkunst^vols. i. ii.; Ulrici, Gesch. d. Hellen. Dichtkunst, vols. i. ii. ; Bernhardy, Grun-driss d. Griech. Litt. vol. ii. pp. 266, &c. ; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. i. pp. 140, &c. ; for a further list of writers on Orpheus, see Hoffmann, Lexicon Bibliograpliicum Scriptorum Graecorum.)

The chief editions of Orpheus, after the early ones of 1517, 1519, 1540, 1543, 1566, and 1606, are those of Eschenbach, Traj. ad Rhen. 1689, 12mo. ; Gesner and Hamberger, Lips. 1764, 8vo. and Hermann, Lips. 1805, 8vo., by far the best.

There are also small editions, chiefly for the use of schools, by Schaefer, Lips. 1818, 12mo., and in theTauchnitz Classics, 1824, 16mo. [P. S.]

ORPHIDIUS BENIGNUS, a legate of the emperor Otho, fell in the battle of Bedriacum against the troops of Vitellius, A. D. 69. (Tac. Hist. ii. 43, 45.)

ORPHITUS. [orfitus.]

ORSABARIS ('OpadSapis), a daughter of

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