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Rudolf Steiner


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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Orpheus

by George Robert Stow Mead

Excerpt:

ORPHEUS.

I. INTRODUCTION.
Foreword.

Who has not heard the romantic legend of Orpheus and Eurydice ? The polished verse of Virgil, in his Georgics (iv. 452-527), has immortalised the story, told by " Caerulean Proteus" (ibid., 388). But few know the importance that mythical Orpheus plays in Grecian legends, nor the many arts and sciences attributed to him by fond posterity. Orpheus was the father of the pan-hellenic faith, the great theologer, the man who brought to Greece the sacred rites of secret worship and taught the mysteries of nature and of God. To him the Greeks confessed they owed religion, the arts, the sciences both sacred and profane; and, therefore, in dealing with the subject I have proposed to myself in this essay, it will be necessary to treat of a theology "which was first mystically and symbolically promulgated by Orpheus, afterwards disseminated enigmatically through images by Pythagoras, and in the last place scientifically unfolded by Plato and his genuine disciples" (T. Taylor's translation of Proclus' On the Theology oj Plato, Introd., i.); or to use the words of Proclus, the last great master of Neoplatonism, "all the theology of the Greeks comes from Orphic mystagogy," that is to say, initiation into the mysteries (Ivobeck, Aglaophamus, p. 723). Not only did the learned of the Pagan world ascribe the sacred science to the same source, but also the instructed of the Christian fathers (ibid., p. 466). It must not, however, be supposed that Orpheus was regarded as the "inventor" of theology, but rather as the transmitter of the science of divine things to the Grecian world, or even as the reformer of an existing cult that, even in the early times before the legendary Trojan era, had already fallen into decay. The well-informed among

the ancients recognised a common basis in the inner rites of the then existing religions, and even the least mystical of writers admit a ' common bond of discipline,' as, for instance, Lobeck, who demonstrates that the ideas of the Egyptians, Chaldseans, Orphics and Pythagoreans were derived from a common source (ibid., p. 946).

The Scope Of The Essay.

Seeing, then, that any essay on the legendary personality of Orpheus might legitimately take into its scope the whole theology and mythology of the Greeks, it is evident that the present attempt, which only aims at sketching a rough outline of the subject, will be more exercised in curtailing than in expanding the mass of heterogeneous information that could be gathered together. No human being could do full justice to the task, for even the courage of the most stout-hearted German encyclopsedist would quail before the libraries of volumes dealing directly or indirectly with the general subject. Of books dealing directly with Orpheus and the Orphics, however, there is no great number,

B

and of these the only one of my acquaintance that treats the subject with genuine sympathy is the small volume of Thomas Taylor, The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus.

For many quotations from classical writers I am indebted to the encyclopsedic volumes of Chr. Augustus Lobeck, Aglaophamus, sive de Theologic e Mysticce GrcBcorum Causts, but only for the quotations, not for the opinions on them. With regard to the Mysteries themselves, I shall speak but incidentally in this essay, as that all important subject must be left for greater leisure and knowledge than are mine at present.

The Materials.

At the end of the essay the reader will find a Bibliography, many of the books in which I have searched through with but poor reward; there is, to my knowledge, no other bibliography on the subject, and the present attempt only mentions the most important works. Not, however, that works bearing directly on Orpheus are by any means numerous, as M. de Sales laments in the early years of the century in his Memoire :


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