Tropaion is a web-log / electronic journal and Carnival for the ancient Greek Religion and history. The main goal of the web-log is to present original peer-reviewed and well referred posts on theoretical and practical aspects of the ancient Greek religion, to add to a broader circulation of Humanities and Classics in the Internet as well as to rise awareness for the Hellenic Polytheism today and to explore its relation with its ancient past.

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A new small project is starting today in Tropaion, entitled: Sacred Poetry (see previous and ongoing project here). The project will give the original ancient Greek text with a very short commentary (I will be glad readers to provide additional commentaries). In more detail: the Sacred Poetry is a ‘storage’ of hymns based in Epidauros – and believed that was constructed the third century (the Romans were lovers of bureaucracy even in matters of religion).

I find six published inscriptions (hymns) – of course from Epidauros. The first was entitled as “for all the Gods” (IG IV²,1 12) available in Corpus Inscriptionum and to Poeti Melici Graeci (937):

[θεος πσι]



[— — — — — — — — — — π]υρ μηλ…α

[— — — — — — — —]νι Δις μ̣εγστου

[— — — — — —]ν̣ο̣ν Βρμιν τε χορευτν


…..12….. εύϊον δσκλαπιν ψι[β]αν να[κτα]

[δισσ]ος τε καλετε Διοσκορους | [σ]εμνς τε

ρ]ι̣τ̣ας εκλεες τε Μοσας | εμ[εν]ες τε

Μ̣ορας | Ἠέλιν τ’ κμαντα Σελνην τε

π̣λ[]θουσαν· | ν δ τ τερεα πντα, τ τ’ ορανς


[]σ̣τ̣ε̣φνωται. | χαρετε θνατοι πντες θεο

αἰὲν ἐόντες | θνατα τε θεα, κα σζετε

τνδ’ πιδαρου | ναν ν ενομαι πολυνορι

λλνων | εροκαλλνεικοι εμενε σν λβωι.


A restoration of the above hymns missing parts is available by Robert Wagman (ZPE 103: 101-102), who restores the line 4 and the missing word with the ending [--]νον with the term(s) [--Λί]νον or [--Λίνον αἴλι]νον. The reason of this suggestion is the Βρμιν τε χορευτν which can be both a God’s epithet or a Heroes’ name. According to Wagman, the term [--Λί]νον is the most appropriate because signifies the existence of Apollo’s musician son Linos, offspring of Psamanthe (Paus.2.19), who was worshiped in Epidauros and Argos.

For the line 5 restored by P. Mass (1933): Φιλ]εύϊον and Wagman suggests: τ]ε υἰόν and further adds: Λατοῦς τ]ε υἰόν.

Re-edited: 21/09/2006

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We had a small article, days back, which in brief compared the Christian Purgatory and the Hellenic Acheronta. In the article we made the postulation that both metaphysical, underworld places, have one in common function: the cleansing of the miasma with the use of fire. Indeed the cleansing rituals, τελετὲς καθαρμοῦ, - and especially, the role of fire in these rituals is extremely important – followed every single step of a person throughout antiquity – and today.

Therefore, from our birth to our last breath we are been involved in a continue cleansing ritual. The infant and the mother, the matrimonial rite and whoever touches the sacred must be absent of any miasma as Iphigenia in Tauris states (1226-9):

But to the natives of this land my voice
Proclaims, from this pollution far remove,
Art thou attendant at the shrine, who liftest
Pure to the gods thy hands, or nuptial rites
Dost thou prepare, or pregnant matron; hence,
Begone, that this defilement none may touch.

Euripides, also presents us how can someone be purged from the miasma, very clearly in his Helen (868-870):

Lead on, bearing before me blazing brands, and, as sacred rites ordain, purge with incense every cranny of the air, that I may breathe heaven's breath free from taint; meanwhile do thou, in case the tread of unclean feet have soiled the path, wave the cleansing flame above it, and brandish the torch in front, that I may pass upon my way.

Nowadays – at list a generation back – folk tradition all around Greece provide us with a practical examples of the above Theonoe’s instruction. The infant and the mother, therefore, must be protected against of any pollution (miasma). A folk example, which gives us the ritual’s pattern, is in Aetolia - Acarnania, where a visitor to a newly born child’s house must pass under a burning charcoal positioned at the threshold.

But at the same time the mother and the infant for a period of time are polluted. Once again in Iphigenia in Tauris (381-383):

Whoe'er of mortals is with slaughter stain'd,
Or hath at childbirth given assisting hands,
Or chanced to touch aught dead, she as impure
Drives from her altars; yet herself delights

Still today in the infant mother’s room, a candle is on night and day, for maintaining a continue purge. This can be seen and understood as, in fact, the non-extinguished fire, the σβέστου πυρὸς.

Those, who, wished to perform a religious ritual or entreaty or to visit a temenos had to be liturgically purged, in ancient Greek terms “αγνεύῃ”. How that was performed? In Aristophanes, Pease, Trygaeus, provide us with the detail (959):

I take this fire-brand first and plunge it into the water;

With this water the altar and the offering will be sprinkled. Nevertheless, that is not the end of it. As Trygaeus stated earlier in Pease (948):

Here is the basket of barley-seed mingled with salt, the chaplet and the sacred knife; and there is the fire; so we are only waiting for the sheep.

But was not just the very first action of the sacrifice – to extinguish a fire-brand into the water, which was used for purging – but also the oulochitai, οὐλοχύται, or prochetai, προχύται,– the barley used for scattering onto the altar and on the victim(s) – was first purged by the use of fire as Iphigenia mentions in Aulis (1470-1):

Begin the sacrifice with the baskets, let the fire blaze for the purifying meal of sprinkling

Note: This is the second (the first you can see it here) of a series of posts on the “cleansing fire” based on a speech in the University of Thessalonica, Philosophical School, in 1972. In memory of Kyriakou Chatzeioanou (1909-1997).

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It is, still today, under discussion and continues debate the concept of the herm, έρμα. As it is familiar for those who have knowledge on the Hellenic religion (ancient Greek religion) herms were identified with the god Hermes. I am not going to touch in any detail the religious principles and meanings behind Hermes. For those who are interested to know must first refer – before even start reading the material at the Web – the eminent written material by M. P. Nilsson (1955), Walter Burket (1985) and Hans Herter’s (1976) excellent study in honor of Hermes (for additional studies see here). However, we are going to see that the connection in between the ‘pile of stone’, ἑρμαῖος λόφος or ἕρμακες has a straightforward and, seems to be also, unquestionable interrelation with the God.

Indeed according to the above-mentioned eminent professors and their studies, the God’s name derives from the on borders pile of stones. Those were a signal – a beam – which underlined boundaries, crossroads and natural resources. It is interesting that we can still find a resemblance to the Greek Christian attitude of the outskirt ‘small Churches’, eksoklisia, and eikonostasia (small constructions with candle and picture of a Saint). For those who visited Greece, I am sure that you were in a position to identify those constructions in crossroads – even in the middle of towns – and further outside in the countryside. The use of those eikonostasia – excluding the case of an accident which then are been used as ‘avert of evil’ for further prevention of accidents – are also used as the ancient herms, signals and border limits.

Another way, for the ancient Greeks, to underline borders and geographical significance was the use of the ithyphallic shape and later the stoned column. It is important to state now that the use of such piles of stones, columns (herms) and phallus, according to Kurtz and Boardman (1971, p. 241), including with other studies, is meanly for ‘protection’ and prevention of any evil. The power of such protection identified as Ἑρμάας or Ἑρμάων in the Mycenae’s writing as e-ma-a, the Doric Ἑρμάν and the Ionic Ἑρμῆς. The herms, clearly, were also recognized as tombs and burial signals. Pausanias gives us the description of the Sikion’s coins with the representation of tombs (II,7.2).

The herm, as we consider it today, was an Athenian creation (Paus. IV,33.3). Peisistratos was the first who created a series of ithyphallic columns (520 b.c.). One of them was named Ἑρμῆς (Pseudo-Plato, Hepparchos 228c-229d). Herodotus gives also the root of the herms, later established in the Peisistratos’ Athens (II,51).

It was not so with the ithyphallic images of Hermes; the production of these came from the Pelasgians, from whom the Athenians were the first Greeks to take it, and then handed it on to others […] The Athenians, then, were the first Greeks to make ithyphallic images of Hermes, and they did this because the Pelasgians taught them. The Pelasgians told a certain sacred tale about this, which is set forth in the Samothracian mysteries.

We can, therefore, support that Hermes is a Pelasgian, pro-Hellenic, and pro-Achaean in origin god (see more about it in J. Orgogozo, 1949). It is also evidence that in Athens Hermes was worshiped as Chthonios with Gaia and Plutonas, Ades (Paus. I28.6). Hermes rules the images of the dead. He, also lead them throughout their journey (His eminent presence as the first who will pass with the souls the chthonic passage).

Conclusively, we can state that the herms where apotropaic symbol used in borderlines, which initially appeared in Athens and, therefore, Hermes Chthonios, empowered the ithyphallic columns according the Athenian religious customs.
References (not included in Bibliography):
  • J. Orgogozo, (1949), 'L’ Hermès des Achéens', RHR 136 pp. 170-7
  • Hans Herter (1976), 'Hermes', RhM, cxix, (3), pp. 193-241
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As you can read by scrolling down to Tropaion’s latest posts on the Orphic life’s Testimonies, there is a strict dogmatic ascetic life for those who wished to have a pure life and eventually to escape from the “condemned” unspotted circle of lives (reincarnation).

Food and other product which derived from animals is impure, not because animals are polluted by any means but, because, humans must not immorally extract anything from other leaving beings or even use / consume these things.

As Plato stated clearly here (6.782c) the “Orphic life” is a life strictly attached to inanimate and not animate lives.

I tried to find and post any available material that has to do with the “Orphic life” and especially with the Orphic customs on food and clothing. I decided not to include the Orphic view on sexual intercourse, marriage and human relations. This can be a completely different project (series of posts) which can also include some thoughts and material for comparison throughout the Orphic tradition.
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Antiphanis Comic. Orpheus fragm. 180 (CAF Kock)

Βύστραν τιν’ ἐκ φύλλων τινῶν

A plug from some cabbages

Ησυχ. s.v.

Βύστραι· αἱ τῶν λαχάνων ἐνθέσεις. ἔνιοι δὲ τοὺς ἐκ τῶν λαχάνων ψωμούς

plugs: spices of the cabbages. Some they call the cabbages’ bits.

Herodotus 2.81.1

ἐνδεδύκασι δὲ κιθῶνας λινέους περὶ τὰ σκέλεα θυσανωτούς, τοὺς καλέουσι καλασίρις: ἐπὶ τούτοισι δὲ εἰρίνεα εἵματα λευκὰ ἐπαναβληδὸν φορέουσι. οὐ μέντοι ἔς γε τὰ ἱρὰ ἐσφέρεται εἰρίνεα οὐδὲ συγκαταθάπτεταί σφι: οὐ γὰρ ὅσιον. [2] ὁμολογέουσι δὲ ταῦτα τοῖσι Ὀρφικοῖσι καλεομένοισι καὶ Βακχικοῖσι, ἐοῦσι δὲ Αἰγυπτίοισι καὶ Πυθαγορείοισι: οὐδὲ γὰρ τούτων τῶν ὀργίων μετέχοντα ὅσιον ἐστὶ ἐν εἰρινέοισι εἵμασι θαφθῆναι. ἔστι δὲ περὶ αὐτῶν ἱρὸς λόγος λεγόμενος.

They wear linen tunics with fringes hanging about the legs, called “calasiris,” and loose white woolen mantles over these. But nothing woolen is brought into temples, or buried with them: that is impious. [2] They agree in this with practices called Orphic and Bacchic, but in fact Egyptian and Pythagorean: for it is impious, too, for one partaking of these rites to be buried in woolen wrappings. There is a sacred legend about this.

Apul. Apol. 56

Quipped lana, signissimi corporis excrementum, pecori detracta iam inde Orphei et Pythagorae scitis profanes vestitus est.

The wool, of course, as dirt part of a weak body, is taken from the animals and for that, according to the Orphic and Pythagorean dogmas, only the impure wear it.

Pausanias, Attika (1) 37.4

ᾠκοδόμηται δὲ κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ναὸς οὐ μέγας καλούμενος Κυαμίτου: σαφὲς δὲ οὐδὲν ἔχω λέγειν εἴτε πρῶτος κυάμους ἔσπειρεν οὗτος εἴτε τινὰ ἐπεφήμισαν ἥρωα, ὅτι τῶν κυάμων ἀνενεγκεῖν οὐκ ἔστι σφίσιν ἐς Δήμητρα τὴν εὕρεσιν. ὅστις δὲ ἤδη τελετὴν Ἐλευσῖνι εἶδεν ἢ τὰ καλούμενα Ὀρφικὰ ἐπελέξατο, οἶδεν ὃ λέγω.

On the road stands a small temple called that of Cyamites. I cannot state for certain whether he was the first to sow beans, or whether they gave this name to a hero because they may not attribute to Demeter the discovery of beans. Whoever has been initiated at Eleusis or has read what are called the Orphica knows what I mean.

Note: Cyamites means beans. Orphica was a poem which described aspects of the Orphic cult.

Plutarch. Mor. 157c

τὸ δ’ ἀπέχεσθαι σαρκῶν ἐδωδῆς, ὥσπερ Ὀρφέα τὸν παλαιόν ἱστοροῦσι, σόφισμα μᾶλλον ἢ φυγὴ τῶν περὶ τὴν τροφὴν ἀδικημάτων ἐστί.

Not eating meat, as they say that the old Orpheus did, is more a technique than a prevention of food consumption’s misdeed.
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Orphic life’s Testimonies – the translation of the Greek title – are going to be series of ancient Latin and Greek texts concerning the way of life of the early and later Orphic followers. I am offering a simplistic translation and / or a translation available to Perseus project if available and the original’s source text.

By going through the material – some times a straightforward statement – will prove that the Orphic tradition is not a tradition but, on the contrary, is a religion system by itself with differentiations from the “standard” Greek or Roman civil religion.

Plato, Laws 6.782c

τὸ δὲ μὴν θύειν ἀνθρώπους ἀλλήλους ἔτι καὶ νῦν παραμένον ὁρῶμεν πολλοῖς: καὶ τοὐναντίον ἀκούομεν ἐν ἄλλοις, ὅτε οὐδὲ βοὸς ἐτόλμων μὲν γεύεσθαι, θύματά τε οὐκ ἦν τοῖς θεοῖσι ζῷα, πέλανοι δὲ καὶ μέλιτι καρποὶ δεδευμένοι καὶ τοιαῦτα ἄλλα ἁγνὰ θύματα, σαρκῶν δ' ἀπείχοντο ὡς οὐχ ὅσιον ὂν ἐσθίειν οὐδὲ τοὺς τῶν θεῶν βωμοὺς αἵματι μιαίνειν, ἀλλὰ Ὀρφικοί τινες λεγόμενοι βίοι ἐγίγνοντο ἡμῶν τοῖς τότε, ἀψύχων μὲν ἐχόμενοι πάντων, ἐμψύχων δὲ τοὐναντίον πάντων ἀπεχόμενοι.

The custom of men sacrificing one another is, in fact, one that survives even now among many peoples; whereas amongst others we hear of how the opposite custom existed, when they were forbidden so much as to eat an ox, and their offerings to the gods consisted, not of animals, but of cakes of meal and grain steeped in honey, and other such bloodless sacrifices, and from flesh they abstained as though it were unholy to eat it or to stain with blood the altars of the gods; instead of that, those of us men who then existed lived what is called an “Orphic life,” keeping wholly to inanimate food and, contrariwise, abstaining wholly from things animate.

Euripides, Hippolytus 952

ἤδη νυν αὔχει καὶ δι' ἀψύχου βορᾶς / σίτοις καπήλευ' Ὀρφέα τ' ἄνακτ' ἔχων / βάκχευε πολλῶν γραμμάτων τιμῶν καπνούς

Continue then your confident boasting, take up a diet of greens and play the showman with your food, make Orpheus your lord and engage in mystic rites, holding the vaporings of many books in honor.

Note: At the time of Euripides the Orphic sect was slowly underlined throughout the Greek world as an ascetic religion with an austere vegetarian diet and a reputation for hypocrisy.

Diogenes Laertios 8.33

τὴν δ’ ἁγνείαν εἶναι διὰ καθαρμῶν καὶ λουτρῶν καὶ περριραντηρίων καὶ διὰ τοῦ αὐτὸν καθαρεύειν ἀπό τε κήδους καὶ λεχοῦς καὶ μιάσματος παντὸς καὶ ἀπέχεσθαι βρωτῶν θνησειδίων τε κρεῶν καὶ τριγλῶν καὶ μελανούρων καὶ ὠῶν καὶ τῶν ὠοτόκων ζῴων καὶ κυάμων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ὧν παρακελεύονται καὶ οἱ τὰς τελετὰς ἐν τοῖς ἱεροῖς ἐπιτελοῦντες.

The rituals of purification, bathing and sprinkles form the Orphic cleansing and by staying away from any funerary rituals, women who expecting child and from any kind of miasma; and to avoid to eat meat of dead animals, mullets, oblada melanura, eggs, oviparous animals, broad beans and everything else which is prohibited by those who perform rituals in the temples.
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ὅστις δὲ περὶ ποιήσεως ἐπολυπραγμόνησεν ἤδη, τοὺς Ὀρφέως ὕμνους οἶδεν ὄντας ἕκαστόν τε αὐτῶν ἐπὶ βραχύτατον καὶ τὸ σύμπαν οὐκ ἐς ἀριθμὸν πολὺν πεποιημένους: Λυκομίδαι δὲ ἴσασί τε καὶ ἐπᾴδουσι τοῖς δρωμένοις. κόσμῳ μὲν δὴ τῶν ἐπῶν δευτερεῖα φέροιντο ἂν μετά γε Ὁμήρου τοὺς ὕμνους, τιμῆς δὲ ἐκ τοῦ θείου καὶ ἐς πλέον ἐκείνων ἥκουσι.

Whoever has devoted himself to the study of poetry knows that the hymns of Orpheus are all very short, and that the total number of them is not great. The Lycomidae know them and chant them over the ritual of the mysteries. For poetic beauty they may be said to come next to the hymns of Homer, while they have been even more honored by the gods.

Paus. Beot. (9). 20.1

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