Metamorphoses celebrates the joy of change,
of the natural world being animated, and in the
ongoing process of wondrous creation
Ovid (Publius Ovidius
Naso; 43 BC-AD 17) the most widely
read and imitated of Latin poets and considered 1 of the 3
great canonical poets of Latin literature the with Virgil
Augustus banished Ovid in AD 8 to Tomis on the Black Sea
(Romania today, Thrace then)
for reasons that remain mysterious. Ovid died at Tomis after
nearly ten years of banishment.
From his own time until the
end of Antiquity Ovid was among the most widely read and
imitated of Latin poets; his greatest work, the
Metamorphoses, has been a favorite longer than other book
since it precedes the bible. It's influence has been great
and is said to have been much revered by
|But those at whose hands
Persephone accepts atonement for her ancient grief,
their souls in the ninth year she sends up again to
the sun of this world and for all time to come
they are called of men holy heroes.
Pindar, fragment quoted by Plato.
|Dionysus Zagreus [dye-oh-NYE-suhs
theology, Dionysos is the son of Persephone, Queen
of the underworld, rather than Semele. Zeus remains
his father; he is said to have impregnated his
daughter Persephone in the form of a snake. The
Orphics both identified the soul as separate from
the body, and gave a reason for it being present in
the body: it is being punished. The reason for the
punishment is alluded to in the passage above. The
ancient grief of Persephone, according to one
argument, is sorrow for the death of her son
Dionysos at the hands of the Titans. Humans pay the
punishment because they were formed from the Titans
ashes and have a Titanic nature. By living an Orphic
life and avoiding the bloodshed which is the legacy
of the Titans, humans may pay the penalty and
is an island located in the northeastern Aegean Sea.
It is the third largest Greek island and the seventh
largest in the Mediterranean. It has an area of 630
square miles with 230 miles of coastline. Lesbos is
the birthplace of several famous persons. In archaic
times, Arion developed the type of poem called
dithyramb, the progenitor of tragedy, Terpander
invented the seven note musical scale for the lyre,
followed by the lyric poet Alcaeus. Best known is
poetess Sappho reputedly considered by Plato
as the tenth Muse.
her love poems were addressed to women. The word
lesbian itself is derived from the name of the
island of Lesbos from which she came
In ancient times
there was a King of Thrace by the name of Oeagrus.
Not satisfied with mortal women, he fell in love
with the Muse Calliope. She found him to her taste,
and of their union was born a boy, whom they named
Orpheus. Calliope had the divine gift of song, and
she taught her son well. So beautiful was the boy's
singing that the god Apollo himself was charmed, and
made him a gift of a lyre that played so sweetly it
made even the stones weep.
Although many names of
musicians are recorded in ancient sources, none played a
more important role in the development of Greek musical
thought than the mathematician and philosopher PYTHAGORAS
(6th-5th century BC). According to legend, Pythagoras,
by divine guidance and some schooling in the temples of
Egypt, discovered the mathematical rationale of musical
consonance from the weights of hammers used by smiths. He is
thus given credit for discovering that the interval of an
octave is rooted in the ratio 2:1, that of the fifth in 3:2,
that of the fourth in 4:3, and that of the whole tone in
9:8. Followers of Pythagoras applied these ratios to lengths
of a string on an instrument called a canon, or monochord,
and thereby were able to determine mathematically the
intonation of an entire musical system. The Pythagoreans saw
these ratios as governing forces in the cosmos as well as in
sounds, and Plato's Timaeus describes the soul of the world
as structured according to these same musical ratios.
Pythagoras appears as a character in the last book of Ovid's
Metamorphoses , where Ovid has him expound upon his
His head and lyre, still singing mournful songs, floated
down the swift Hebrus to the shore. There, the
winds and waves carried them on to the Lesbian shore, where
the inhabitants buried his head and a shrine was built in
his honour near Antissa. The lyre was carried to heaven by
the Muses, and was placed amongst the stars. The Muses also
gathered up the fragments of his body and buried them at
Leibethra below Mount Olympus, where the nightingales sang
over his grave. His soul returned to the underworld, where
he was re-united at last with his beloved Eurydice.
"I call upon loud-roaring and reveling
Dionysos,primeval, two-natured, thrice-born, Bacchic
lord,savage, ineffable, secretive, two-horned and
Ivy-covered, bull-faced, warlike, howling, pure,
You take raw flesh, you have triennial feasts, wrapt
in foliage, decked with grape clusters.
Resourceful Eubouleus, immortal god sired by Zeus
When he mated with Persephone in unspeakable union.
Hearken to my voice, O blessed one, and with your
fair-girdled nurses breathe on me in a spirit of
(Trans: Apostolos N Athanassakis, The Orphic
Hymns: Text, Translation & Notes, Society of
Biblical Literature Texts and Translations, no12,
|Orpheus Charms the
Metamorphoses Bk X: 143-144
about to be killed by Maenads.
Metamorphoses Bk XI: 1-43.
Ovid recounts that the Thracian Maenads, Dionysus'
followers, angry for having been spurned by Orpheus
in favor of "tender boys," first threw sticks and
stones at him as he played, but his music was so
beautiful that it charmed even inanimate
objects, and the missiles refused to strike him.
|Muses mourn while
head of Orpheus floats down the Hebros River.
Metamorphoses Bk XI: 44-66 Eventually the head
floated ashore onto the island Lesbos,a
centre of poetry and the home of Greek's Sapho.
"The head of Orpheus,
singing always, is found by the Muses, and buried in the
sanctuary at Lesbos," writes Harrison in PROLEGOMENA TO
A STUDY OF GREEK RELIGION (1908). "Who are the Muses?
Who but the Maenads repentant, clothed and in their
right minds." Harrison also notes that the
murderous maenads were punished for their act by being
tattooed with the image of a stag, an animal associated
with Dionysian sacrifice, on the upper part of their
|Through the story
of Orpheus, Ovid resolves the conflict between
Apollo and Dionysus.
As one of the pioneers of
civilization, Orpheus is said to have taught mankind the
arts of medicine, writing and agriculture. Closely
connected with religious life, Orpheus was augur and
seer; practiced magical arts, especially astrology;
founded or rendered accessible many important cults,
such as those of Apollo and Thracian god Dionysus;
instituted mystic rites, both public and private;
and prescribed initiatory and purificatory rituals.
The three Graces at Pompeii, like Orpheus a
|Most scholars believe
Dionysus originated in Thrace, which was centered in
world, after Alexander’s conquest, spread the cult
of Dionysus internationally, to Egyptian Alexandria,
where he was associated with Osiris (eventually
merging with him as Serapis); to Palestine, where he
was associated with the Baals, and even the Adonai
of the Jews (who had Dionysus imposed on them by the
Hellenes); and most far flung of all, to India,
where he became associated with Shiva. These various
connections all fed back to the Aegean, where the
cult became increasingly complex and cosmopolitan.
This would also led to a breakaway mystical form of
Dionysianism that would become part of the more
philosophical Orphic and Pythagorean Mysteries
(where Dionysos was effectively seen as the creative
Primal Chaos before creation, beyond all manifest
duality, as well as the paradoxical, dynamic
balancing force still active within it, the ‘King of
the World’, whose final liberation included not only
that from orderly civilization but from the natural
world itself!), a move in sharp contrast with the
earthy and irrational primitive rite of Dionysos,
that in some places still existed alongside it.
Later Orphic versions
of the Dionysos myth and ritual were more complex,
involving the dismemberment of the young Dionysos by
Titans and his reintegration and resurrection as a
second Dionysos, with the assistance of Athena and
Apollo. The myths and rites involved clearly
reflecting the Osiris Mysteries, and the unifying
cultural syncretism that characterized Orphism.
|Orphic initiation could provide
deliverance and purgation from sin, both for the
living and the dead