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Department of the Classics, Harvard University

The Derveni Theogony: Many Questions and Some Answers Author(s): Alberto Bernabé

Source: Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 103 (2007), pp. 99-133

Published by: Department of the Classics, Harvard University

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1962 NEAR A TOMB IN DERVENI,near Salonica,among the remainsof a

funeralpyre, a scrollof papyrus was found.1It containeda curious

text,an importantpart of which was devotedto thethorough commen- tary of some verses attributedto Orpheus. The scroll dates from between340 and 320 BC2and the textit contains,from about 400 BC. The poem thatis beingcommented on mustbe priorto 500 BC.3 Allthat remains of the Orphic poem is a seriesof quotations, more or less extensive.In a paperpublished in Kernos,4I undertook a philological reconstructionof the poem. Now mypurpose is to studythe segments ofthe reconstructedtext in depth.I willdo it froma literary,religious, and philosophicperspective, with the intentionof regaining a coherent meaningof the whole. The fragmentaryand incompletecharacter of

the text will not allow as much progressin the analysisas would be desirable;however, I thinkwe mustattempt to explainthe text we have.

* This paper has benefitedfrom the aid ofthe SpanishState (HUM2006-09403/FILO). I

amvery grateful to Helena Bernab6 for the translation

ofthis paper into English.

  • 1 The papyrushas been recentlyedited by Casadestis 1995 (with translation into

Catalanand commentary), Janko 2003 (with translation into English), Betegh 2004

(withtranslation into English and commentary),

byJourdan 2003 (with translation into

Frenchand commentary), and byBernabe 2004b (with translation into Spanish and


Ample bibliographies

can be foundin the complete edition of the

Dervenipapyrus by Kouremenos,

Parassoglou, and Tsantsanoglou

2006, as wellas in the


work on the papyrus by Laks and Most 1997.

  • 2 So Tsantsanoglou and Parassoglou 1988:125, 1992:221. For other proposals, cf.


  • 3 Cf.Bernab6 2002 on the date of the text and possible identity ofthe author.

  • 4 Bernab6 2002.

  • 100 AlbertoBernab"

I willexamine the literally quoted fragments,

as well as theparts of


that tell us somethingabout the content of the text


read but did not quote. The text and the numbering

correspondto the ones of the edition of this theogony in the Bibliotheca

Teubneriana.5There and in thequoted Kemos article can be foundthe

philologicalbasis for the reconstruction

ofthe text. The translation of

theverses is Janko's (except where noted).


Ouranalysis follows the orderof the fragmentsand deals withthe

diverseproblems of interpretation

found in the text.

II.1. The Proem

The proembegins with a versewe knowfrom other Orphic works and

whichseems to be a kindof oppayi; ofOrpheus (OF 3):6

cpO~yopatolq Oi atCE i" O6pc i'TiOEOE 13O[30Xo1.

I willspeak for those entitled, close your doors, ye profane.'

Unlikeproems such as thoseby Homer or Hesiod, where the poem is

recitedfor any kind of public, this is directedat a fewlisteners, defined

as thoseto whom it is licitto speak.The entitlement (OlptR) required to

hearthe poem specifically excludes the PIg3lotot "profane," who must


close their doors. 3ig3rlXot


usually opposed to "initi-

ates:'thus it seemsclear that the condition for reading the poem is to

be initiated. This implies:

  • a) Thatthe hearer must have a previousknowledge about what is

beingtalked about. This supposition is expressedin a clearerway in an

alternativeformula we findin thefirst verse of other Orphic poems:

&~ico UVETOtowi

6V'Opaq 6' t1nteOEGO

E[3rlfXot "I will singfor those of


Consistent with this feature is the factthat some

  • 5 I willquote this edition as OF.

  • 6 Bernab61996.

  • 7 Translationby West 1983:83.

  • 8 Translationby West 1983:83.

TheDerveni Theogony


substantial details of the story are only summarily mentioned9 and they

requireturning to othertexts in order to be correctlyinterpreted.

b) Thatthe hearer is in a certainstate of religious character, which

mayinvolve moral or premoralconditions, perhaps having to do with

Justice(compare the ancientreferences to Dike in Orphictextslo),

or withpurity (according to thedeclaration of the mystai in frontof

Persephonein the leaves of Thurii)."1

Allthis necessarily means that the poem is notsensu stricto an initia-

tionpoem, it does not offer the first information

received by the person

thatis goingto be integratedinto the group of initiates, but it addsto


previously received.

So far,everything

seems clear; there are, however, two questions we


1) The firstis thefact that the formula can be interpretedin two

differentways: (a) thepoem was onlyrecited in frontof initiates, in

sucha waythat even access to the place where the text was recited and

to thetext itself was forbiddento theP13rlAoi, or (b) althoughthe text

couldcirculate without restrictions,

itwas directed only at theinitiates,

sinceonly they were able to understandit. The later use of the formula

by authorsof technicalworks, which were distributed openly, but

whichcould not be understoodby everybody, makes the second inter-

pretationmore plausible.12

The task of making the text understandable

wouldfall to thesort of people mentioned by Plato:13

v6pOv TE Kal yuvatlKwvoopov TTEpirT 0E'iatpycyparca r~TviEpiWov TE Kal ThV iEpElWVOYOlq pEPLE lTKE TEEpi W pETaXEtpiýovTat X6yov o otqT' Elvat6t66va .




fromwise men and womenwho told of thingsdivine ...

  • 9 I willlater define this characteristic

as "narrative speed."

  • 10 Pl. Lg.716a (OF 32), Ps.-D.25.11 (OF 33).

  • 11 OF488-490. In a fragmentof the Rhapsodies(OF 340) o'i ~iv K' Euayfiootvare opposed

to ot 5'5citKa Pc avrEq.This impliesthat following Justice is a featureof the ritualpurity

amongthe Orphics,or, in otherwords, that acting against Justice means committingan impureact.

  • 12 Cf.Bernab6 1996.

13P1. Men. 81a, cf. Bernabe 1999. The relationship

ofthe commentator

with the people

alludedto by Plato is pointedout byWest 1997:84.

  • 102 AlbertoBemab*

theyare certainpriests and priestesseswho have studiedso

as to be able to givea reasonedaccount of their ministry.

Translationby W. R. M. Lamb

The Derveni commentatorbelongs to this group of people and,

distantly,Plato himself,who oftenoffers sui generisinterpretations of


2) The second questionwould be which specificritual our textis

relatedto, whether it is reallythe iEp6qX6yoq of a ritual.5 Amongother

possibilities,we could considerthe OurlnoXiaalluded to in the Platonic

clause (P1.R. 364e) o01OunlnoxoOatv

or any ofthe ritualscommented on

in the firstsection of the papyrus.

II.2. The Plan ofthe Work

The poet stateswhat he is goingto deal within the poem (OF4):

o]FAt6q EY.VOVwO



thosewho wereborn of Zeus the almightyking.

Thissole verseis extremelysignificant, since we findseveral funda-

mentalstatements in it:

  • a) Zeus' poweris indisputable.

  • b) The topic of the poem is preciselythe birthof these gods (oYi,

nominativemasculine plural, must refer to "gods").

  • c) Thegods wereborn of Zeus.

It is veryillustrative to comparethis verse withthe one used by

Hesiod in similarcircumstances, that is, in the expositionof the plan of

his Theogony(106):

o'irTFi yqvovtoKai OUpavoOi&oTEPOEVTOq

thosethat were born of Earth and starrySky.

In both verses thereis a relativepronoun as subject referringto

the gods.Both verses use the same verb'sEyVvovro; that is, we are told

14Cf. Bernab6 1997.

15 On iEpoi6yot, cf. Henrichs 2003.

TheDerveni Theogony


aboutthe origin of a yEvoq.In bothverses this origin is expressedby

meansof a genitive(dependent on kf-).Therefore,

both talk about the

originof the gods' y'voq. But Hesiod uses two genitives coordinated by

Kai;that is, he talksabout a couple,the primeval couple, Earth and Sky,

whoare the ultimate origin of the gods' descent.

Thus,Orpheus differs from Hesiod in twofundamental aspects.

Thefirst, that he doesnot mention the female partner of the male god

(neitherhere nor practically in therest of the preserved poem). The

second,that Zeus is consideredas theorigin of the gods' ypvoq, but he

is notthe first divinity, since, as we willsee, he is precededby three

generations: Night-Sky-Kronos. Therefore, Orpheus, on theone hand,

breaksthe linearityof the story,beginning it withZeus ratherthan

fromthe first god, and on the other, he makes Zeus assume in some way

notonly the roles of king and father, but also that of mother.

1.3.Zeus' Seizure of Power

Itseems that immediately after the previous verse16 began the action of

the poem,marked by the presenceof pv emphaticum(OF 5).17

ZECbpihv TEi 5~.1x[Tp6cb 0o] Tdpa 0E[o]q<P

aov IpXTiV


XEipEGoot{E[X]a3[Ev K]ql[i] Saipoy[a] K6pO6v

WhenZeus took from his father the predicted rule

andstrength in his arms and the illustrious daimon

Orpheussituates us inthe moment in which Zeus takes in his hands

threethings coming from his father. The metaphor "taking something

inthe hands" is oftenused for referring to the seizure of power.18 The

directobjects depending on [X]13P[Evand coordinated by conjunctions



&pxtiv,which clearly means "rule." But the delight in theambi-

guitiesof language is characteristicofthe author of the Orphic poem.



means also "beginning,"Orpheus suggests that Zeus takes

16According to West 1983:114 and Betegh 2004:109.

17 As West1983:84 and Calame 1967:67n3 have pointed out.

18 Cf.OF 168 and 170,and Casadestis1995:274.

  • 104 AlbertoBernabe

theApxrl from Kronos in two senses, in a hierarchical one (he becomes

"thefirst," that is, "the king" of gods) and also in a strictlytemporal

order,since immediately

after he is goingto go backin time, as we shall

see. Ifthis interpretation

seems over-elaborate I refer to OF14.1-2,

wherethe poet makes the two senses explicit: ZEi'q tpt^oC [yvErto]

"Zeuswas born first" and ZEbq KE<pa[4j] "Zeus is head,;'ending with a

verbalecho of&pxtl: (OF 14.4) ZEib 5' apx6q "Zeus ruler."

In OF5, theword a&pXqv is modifiedby the adjective804[ao]qaov

"predicted"or "spoken by gods"; it is thereforea destined power, legiti-

mate,and within the order of things, not obtained by means of violence


  • b) [&]Kjv "strength."

Power is onlya possibility,

an ability, whereas

itis strengththat actually allows the god to exertpower.

  • c) Saipoy[a]Ku6p6v. This 5aiptov can be none otherthan Zeus'

father,as is shownby the genitive narp6q in thefirst verse. Therefore,

wecan understand either "Zeus

took thepredicted rule and strength


in his armsand the illustrious daimon (in person)"or, more easily by

meansof a hendiadys, "Zeus took in hisarms


strengthof the illustrious daimon."

thepredicted rule and

To sumup, Zeus seizes power and, at thesame time, the ability to

be thefirst in time.He also achievesthe strength to exertpower. The

strengthand power had belonged to hisfather, but now they belong to

himwith all legitimacy,

because they have not being usurped.

II.4. The Visit to Night

Oncehe has seized power, Zeus goes to visit Night (OF 6):

[Z6,q PEv ...


roo]tavoPgE6ouoa [OEv] 'Tpoqp6b


p 3poOrlN6"



  • i 5']EXPoaEv jtavra rc 01E[ptr


iv av6laa]8Oa,

CbCliy [XOtK]Tra KacXv .O VtP6sEvroq'OX6pnou.

AndZeus [ ...

came to the cave,where]

Nightsat, who knows all the oracles, immortal nurse

ofthe gods.

TheDerveni Theogony


to prophesyfrom his shrine19.


She prophesiedall thatit was permittedhim to achieve,20

how he would holdthe lovelyseat in snowyOlympus.21

Zeus' purpose in visiting Night is to receive fromher certain

instructions,which have to do withthe way in whichhe would seize

power.This raises two questions.One, about the contentof the predic-

tions,and the other,why Night holds the key to whatZeus has to do.

As regardsthe firstquestion, let us analyzewhat the poet saysabout

thewords told by Nightto Zeus:

  • a) lritavrcar0 ol 8~[pt qv &v6iao].Qat"all thatit was permittedhim

to achieve."By means of theseswords, the poet insistson the factthat

Zeus' acts are licit.The topicis alreadyHesiodic.22

  • b) ' &yv [XOlKa]Ta KaxciVE6oq vty6EvroE 'OX6prnouv

"how he would

holdthe lovelyseat in snowyOlympus." It is clearthat "to holdthe seat

in Olympus"is a synonymfor "to assume power,"thus the sentence

literallyunderstood does not seem to make much sense. Zeus has

alreadyreceived the powerfrom his father(OF 5), ergohe alreadyoccu-

pies the seat of Olympus.The verbonly makes sense ifit means "how

he wouldhold forever," how he mustact in orderto keep it.The advice

turnsout to be necessaryif we takeinto account that his ancestors,Sky

and Kronos,have lost it one afterthe other.Furthermore, the proce-

dure by which Zeus achieves this mustbe legitimate,since the ones

used by his ancestors-castrationand cannibalism-werenot. Forthat

reasonthey did not achieve theirpurpose of holdingon to power.We

willsee laterwhat procedureis used byNight.

As regards the second question, it is obvious that Nightknows

thingsthat Zeus does not. She is definedas rtavoP.tE<pouGa [OE v]

rpopbp lap3pooirl.

Let us analyzeeach ofthe epithets.

  • a) A4ppooiqris not significant.It is traditionaland it is foundin

Homer:Od. 4.427 &appooirl v,

II. 10.41 vuKTa S6'&p3ppoofrlv,


  • 19 Myown translation.

  • 20 "'Tohear" Janko (reading iEv &Koi]lat).

  • 21 "Sothat on snowyOlympus' lovely seat he rules" Janko.

  • 22 Cf.nEmTEpWto

Hes.Th. 464 andthe god's agreement in883-885.

  • 106 AlbertoBernab"

    • b) TravoppEiovoaU"who knowsall the oracles" is a hapax.It defines

a qualityproper of a primevaldivinity. Night exists always, because she

is beyondtime, she knowseverything from the beginningand has the

keyto thelater development of things.23

  • c) [OE v] zpoOp6q"nurse of the gods" is also a qualitybelonging to

a primevaldivinity. She nurturesand guides the variousgods who are

goingto intervenein the organizationand governmentof the world.

However,we see thatNight lives in an Hi6uTov.In all thelater Orphic

literature24Night's 6Hvsuovis a cave, and it is likelythat it is so here

too. Ifthis is so, it is a space outsidethe social world,neither on earth

nor in the sky.Night is not relatedto power.She neverreigned herself,

since herson, Sky, is the firstto reign(OF 10.2 Oipav6q El6(ppovi5rlq, 8q


To sum up, Zeus visits Nightbecause he wants to know how he

shouldact in orderto keep powerand to organizethe worldaccording

to the naturalorder of things. Night's knowledge of the wholeprocess,

and the factthat Zeus goes to ask her,shows that Zeus wantsto follow

the due orderof things without mistakes.

But thereis somethingmore. The visitto Nightis veryeffective as

a literarydevice. In resortingto prophecy,the poet also insistson the

role conferredon Zeus as the center of the narrative,as we shall see


11.5.Kronos' Prophecy

Thereis also anotherprophecy attributed to Kronos,but we know

nothingabout it, since it is onlyalluded to in a verse (OF7):

ZE' PElv nEi 65YTnaccpb6q

Eo 7tcpa. [0]o<pcar 'TKo6oa[q,

WhenZeus had heardhis father'sprophecies

  • 23 Cf.Bernab4 1999.

  • 24 Procl.in Ti. 1.312.15Diehl (OF 163), 3.169.15 Diehl (OF.164),Herm. in Phdr. 162.2 Couvr.

(OF211), cf. West 1983:213-214.

  • 25 Cf.Arist. Met. 1091b 4 (OF 20

IV) oi i notlrlalol

Kai &pXetv

<paaivo6 TroqipWouq, olov

&AA&6v A'[a.

  • 26 III.2below.

TheDerveni Theogony


We findthis topic also in the Rhapsodies,27

but the testimonyis indi-

rectand the contentof Kronos' predictions is unclear.28

II.6.Zeus' DemiurgicAct

Zeus acts in accordance with the counsels receivedfrom Night and

Kronos.His demiurgicact is,therefore, adequate, necessary, and within

the properorder of things.

In OF 8 we see what the demiurgicact entails.The meaningof this

versehas been verymuch discussed.29

aid5oovKaCTEntvEv, 60 aiOpa EXOPEXXO poo.

He ingestedthe penisof( )


thatfirst procreated the ether.

The relative&9 is masculine;thus its antecedentcannot be aiSoiov

"penis,"which is neuter.30The name ofthe possessorhad to be in the


We have to ask ourselveswhose penis it is and where it was, but,

above all,what is Zeus' purposein swallowingit.

As regardsthe firstquestion, we believe that the penis has to be

Sky's.This supposition is based on thefollowing reasons:

  • a) In fragment12 appearsthe phrasenpcoroy6vou pcaotX~w cdi5oiou

"ofthe penis ofthe first-bornking."

  • b) This "first-bornking" has to be Sky, cf. OF 10, 06pavyb

E6ippovi~rlq,8 TipciWtoqoG



Night is the primevaldivinity

and she is

not born,because she alwaysexists. Sky is her son, so, logi-

cally,he is the firstto be born.He is also thefirst to reign,because Night


Cf.Procl. in Cra.27, 21 Pasquali Kacy&p 6 p/ytorooqKp6voq &vcev

rh&qTrv vojoEWov




KaitnloaraTETi qigArlq Srlqpoupyicaq

616 Kai 6aipova auit6v

  • 6 ZEiq KaXELnap' 'Oppr '5p0ou 6' lTpeiprlvyEVEt v, &plt5dKETESaipov' (OF 239),Dam. in

Prm.270 (III

12.11Westerink) o5x6i E8 Kai 'Opqei E v tro Kp6vwLitdi'r0 Tca&Okoaca tiq

oXr' iq rjptoupyiaq, Cf. also Procl.in Ti. I 207.1Diehl, in Alc. 103a (60 Segonds),in Cra.62.6


  • 28 Casadesds 1995:296considers it likelythat Night gives her predictions,but thatit is

the fatherwho providesthe demiurgicprinciples.

  • 29 Cf.Bernabe 2002:105-112.

  • 30 I dismissthe possibilitythat aiSolov could be an adjective,for the reasons pointed

out in Bernabe2002:106-107. I findunconvincing the argumentsby Brisson 2003.

  • 108 AlbertoBernab-

does notreign. Sky is designedby a matronymic,

against the normal

patronymicbecause he has no father.

  • c) InOF 10 appears the sentence o8 pay'EPE Ev in the context of the

transmissionofpower, without doubt an allusionto Sky'scastration.

  • d) Inthe Hittite Song of Kumarbi,


quoted as a precedentof

thisGreek myth, the penis of Anu (that is, Sky) is devouredand the god

whoswallows it becomes pregnant."

  • e) But,above all, we shouldtake into account the testimony found

intwo other passages of the papyrus:

Trotovoiv T6yKp6vov yEvoOact prloiv xK zoO 'HXiouv

rTt fit,

zTIaizlav oxE aTO&


Xi"ovKpO uaeUL JtpbO



Col. XIV 2-3 (OF9)

So (Orpheus)states that this "Kronos" was bornto Earthby

thesun [i.e.the penis of Sky],because he caused(the ele-

ments)to be "thrust"against each other on account of the sun.

Ev ro~ ac[iSo1o].tq6p6v T~iyy vEotvTOiq &vOpnTtou[q]



Eval tc ro6oTWI



&lvEu 6 Tryayi oiwv 0[o

yiv]Eaoat, ai56oiotEiKcaR( rTV fj0o[v]

Col.XIII 8-10

He used thisverse, likening the sun to a genitalorgan,

becausehe sawthat people think that procreation resides

inthe genital organs, and does not arise without the genital


Leavingaside the etymological plays with Kronos' name, it is clear

thatthe commentator

interprets Sky's penis, swallowed by Zeus, as the

sun.He basedhis interpretation

on theinvigorating character of the

sun,which can be comparedto the role played by the genitals. However,

itis likelythat he was influenced by the fact that Sky's penis must have

beenleft in space after the castration. Ether, in its turn, was interpreted

as Sky'sejaculation.32

31 Cf.Bernab6 1987:139-155;

Hoffner 1998:40-45 with bibliography.

32Burkert 1999:82, cf. Burkert 2003:100 who compares this incident with the Egyptian

mythin which Atum ejaculates Shu, something like bright Air, cf. also Bickel 1994:72-83.

TheDerveni Theogony



itseems probable that we must read at the end of the

previousverse either TpxtOoy6vou

p3aoiXijo or Obipavo3&aoTEp6EvTOq


Thereremains the second question: why does Zeus swallow Sky's


Firstof all we mustunderstand that in archaicmyths "having

somethingin the belly"by swallowingand by gestation is the same

thing.Taking this into account, it seems clear that Zeus' action is dueto

reasonsthat have to do withthe genealogical line of succession and the

recreationof the world.

  • a) It has to do withgenealogy, because Zeus, as a supremegod,

cannothave ancestors. This would be incompatiblewith his 3aoxthrli

-rip',which consists of ipXEtv.

And ipxEtv, as we know,means in Greek

"togovern"' but also "tobe thefirst:' In the human world, royal succes-

sionis logicalbecause it is imposedby the death of the predecessor. In

theworld of the gods, who are immortal, the god coming afterward is

lessimportant than his predecessor. By swallowing (that is, by taking

intohis entrails) the penis of the first god, Zeus becomes a kindof father

(or better,"mother") of him, a beingthat biologically precedes him,

andthus he becomesthe first, not only in the hierarchy,

but the first in

thegenealogical order of all thegods. So Zeusrestarts the history. This

explanationof the mythical schema is confirmedby what is explicitly

manifestedinOF 14, which will be furtheranalyzed later.

  • b) Thefact that Zeus' act has alsoto do withthe recreation of the

worldis clearlyseen from OF 12:

zi 56'&pa trvtwq


tpooJcpvv padKapEq OEOi Q. ~LV"atv



andon himwere gestated34

all theimmortals, blessed gods and goddesses etc.

  • 33 ao0floq proposed by Burkert1999:81, Oi'pavoO by Betegh2004:118. The epithets

aremy own suggestion.

  • 34 "Grew"'Janko.

  • 110 AlbertoBernab

We willdevelop both ideas later.Now, let us continuewith the


11.7.Flashback: References to the PreviousStory

It is also importantto knowwhy Sky's penis is in space.Because of

that,in this moment, the poet resorts to a flashbackto tell us theprior

eventsthat led to theswallowing of the penis. We observe that he does

it withoutgoing into detail and withgreat narrative speed, which is

characteristicof the whole poem. The previousstory is toldin OF10

and11, which probably35

follow one another without break.

C%a ,VP'

1,EPE;Ev ...

Obpav6b Eitppovi5frl, 8&tp6ctla9ro 3aaiXEUaEv,


Ciq Kp6voqamGTt, TTEIT ~ pETiEraZEsi.



pTi[yKacc4Kcp* KcITaX]C-.y r3cotiXx il.[tv.







(Kronos)who did a greatdeed ...

Sky,son of Night, he who first was king.

Fromhim in turn (came) Kronos, and next was



seizingthe contrivance and kingly honor of the gods


the sinews ...

Theprevious story includes the following facts:

  • a) Kronos"did a greatdeed" to Sky,that is, castratedhim, as is

shownby Hesiod (Th. 181) and the unanimous mythical tradition. The

phraseis allusiveand it seemsto be theonly reference to Sky'scastra-

tionin thewhole poem. I believethis to be so because,if the castra-

tionwere made explicit in another passage, the commentator

could not

interpretthe allusion in a different

sense as he does(col. XIV 7-9):

  • 35 Cf.West 1983:114.

  • 36 West1983:85; "crafty" Janko.

TheDerveni Theogony


-tv Nop

K.p6vov6vop-o.aq Pya ruclal rv Opav6v"


y&p p


afterhe has named Mind


(Orpheus)states that

he "did a great deed" to Sky:for he statesthat (Sky)had his

kingshiptaken away.

  • b) Skyis the son of Night(El'ypovi6rlR) and he was the veryfirst to

reign(because Nightdid not reign).The referenceto the reignimplies

(and this is also unanimouslyaccepted by most of the tradition)that

the conflictbetween the gods is a conflictover power.

  • c) Skyis succeeded by Kronos,not only in the genealogy,but also in


  • d) Kronosis succeeded by Zeus and thisis the end ofthe genealogy.

  • e) The completegenealogy includes (although the factshave been

onlyoutlined) Night-Sky-Kronos-Zeus.

Phanes has no place in it and it

is obviousthat he is not mentionedin the poem.As I have pointedout

before(11.6), Sky is named witha matronymicE6Uppovi5Grl.

If he were

Phanes' son, we would expect him to be named witha patronymic.37

Withthe exceptionof Nightas primevalmother, the restof the story

coincidesin itsfundamental features with the Hesiodic Theogony.

  • f) with the present participleKcrIX]L)vY,

the poet insists on the

factthat, at the same time as he receivespower from his father,Zeus

acquirestwo abilitiesrelated to thatpower:

1) First,he receivesthe pLitq fromthe gods. The pinrtqis a complex

concept that involves mental attitudesand intellectualbehaviors.

These behaviors combine astuteness,foresight, easygoingness, and

the concealment,in addition to manyother aspects,highlighted by

Detienneand Vernant.38In Hesiod,Mifrq appears personifiedas Zeus'

wife (Th. 886).

The god swallows her when she is

pregnantin order

to avoid being deposed by the son who is goingto be born of her (cf.

358). In later Orphicpoetry, Metis, masculine, is identifiedwith Eros-

Phanes-Firstborn. Because of that,some authorssupported that Metis

37For these reasons I cannotaccept the argumentsby Brisson2003, repeated by




Detienneand vernant 1974.Cf. also ScaleraMcClintock 1988:142, Casadestis 1996:75,


  • 112 AlbertoBernab*

was in our poemanother name for Phanes.39 But, as I havepointed

out,40Phanes does not appear in the Theogony of Derveni. However, the

interpretationofpfirTq as a commonnoun is perfectlyacceptable.41

The Orphicpoet reinterprets in a rationalizedway the Hesiodic

swallowingof the goddessMetis. By swallowingSky's penis, Zeus

assumesthe necessary wit to reorganize creation. Thus, he alsoexplains

etymologicallyboth the epithet pLrl-iuEa

(OF 10.3) and the verb plorjoao

(OF 16.1-2),which define Zeus' activity.

  • I wonderif the poet has also etymologicallyrelated pr'ijoao with

pi sEaunderstood as a synonymof aic5o0ov. We find exactly the inverse

procedurein OF 189 dealing with the birth of Aphrodite:

p6SEaa5' Eq n ayo tnEVUtrotio



&ppi 5



X aVTOEvdqop6q"



&patq'Evtaurrtq i5'tKEV

ntape~vovcaioi'rv, KZX.

Hisgenitals fell in the sea fromabove. Around them,

as theywere floating on the water, white foam rolled

fromevery side.

Later,when the cycle of seasons was accomplished,


a venerablemaiden, etc.

As in theHesiodic model of this passage,42 there is herea double

etymological allusion. On the one hand,Aphrodite's name is related

witha&pp6q "foam"; on theother hand, the epithet ai'oirl is explained

bythe circumstance that the goddess came from Sky's genitals (PiSEa,

understoodas a synonymus


2) But,in additionto the fijtq,Zeus receives"the contrivance

and kinglyhonor of the gods," that is, the statusthat allows him to

legitimatelyuse thewit he possesses.He has,therefore,

both a planto


the world and the "legal" or institutional

capacity to do so.

  • 39 West1983:88; 114.

  • 40 Cf.II.6 above and Bernab62002:105-112.

41Cf. the convincing argumentation

byBetegh 2004:113-115.

  • 42 Hes. Th.188-198. Cf. commentary by West to verses 154-210,p211-227.

  • 43 Cf.Edwards 1991:205-206.

TheDerveni Theogony


I cansay nothing about the continuation,

where only the word Ivaq

"sinews"can be read.Its justification

inthis context remains absolutely

enigmaticto me.

Thedigression in the form of a flashbackabout the events preceding

thestory is concludedat thatpoint in ring-composition.4

The poet

returnsto thetopic of the swallowing of the penis in orderto narrate

theconsequences of Zeus' cosmic pregnancy.

11.8.The FlashbackDevice

  • I considerit pertinentto saya fewwords about the rhetorical device

offlashback. As is wellknown, it is notnew, since the Odyssey already

beganin medias res, going back from a laterpoint to tellthe previous


Itis interestingto analyzethe purposes of the use of this procedure

in ourpoem. By narrating the facts in thisorder, the poet turns Zeus

intothe highlighted point, the focus of narration. Zeus is thecenter,

aroundwhich a "before"and an "after"converge. The two are symmet-

rical:the "before" is thesequence Night-Sky-Kronos,

whocarried out

thefirst organization of the world, and the "after" is therecreation of


Thispurpose of turningZeus intothe centerof the poem,and


placing him in centerof the universe is supportedby the

use ofother rhetorical devices. The poet's reference to Night'spredic-

tioninsists on thisrole of Zeus. The god is thecentre of the plot, since

heresorts to the goddess of the past (Night) to organize the future. Also

thehymn to Zeusthat appears as a climaxemphasizes this "central"

characterof the god. But I willreturn to this question.45

Onthe other hand, we couldfind in thistechnique of narrating a

wayof conceiving the historyof the universe that is differentfrom

theHesiodic one. The Boeotian poet presents us witha linearhistory.46

Afterthe opening of Chaos and the successive seizure of power by each

godcomes Zeus' reign, and in the process there is notany kind of going

  • 44 Betegh2004:131.

  • 45 II.9 below.

  • 46 Cf.Bernabe 1990:72.

  • 114 AlbertoBernab-

back. Orpheus,however, offers us a differentdevelopmental model of

the historyof the world'sconfiguration which comprises the notionof

return;it is a regressivemodel, as we shall see later.The narrationin

flashbackhelps create this impression of going back.47

II.9. The Cosmic Pregnancy

Zeus' cosmicpregnancy is describedin a fragmentof fourverses (OF


Ipoeroy6vovpaotXow aic50dou, WGt 6' ptFpavrTE


npoarpuvy pdaKapE; OEOI 'i

Kal oToaptolKai Kpivati iTiparoi




TE 7


.oooar6o' iv yEyaGx',acr6t 6' l&papo.voý EyEvro.

ofthe penisof the first-born king. And on



all theimmortals, blessed gods and goddesses

the rivers,lovely springs and everythingelse

thathad thenbeen born;he himselfalone became.

By absorbingthe immensegenerating capacity of Sky's penis, Zeus

becomes pregnantwith the gods and goddessesthat would have to be

born (and in manycases, that would have to be reborn).Thus the state-

mentof the "program"of the work (OF 4) is fullyconfirmed.

o]i'Attb6 Ey.vovwo [InEppEEV]oq P3acoXlioq.

thosewho wereborn of Zeus the almightyking

Zeus, invested with regal sovereigntyand pregnant with the

world,returns to the originsand restartsthe historyof the universe;

he becomesa kindof universal "mother;' who is goingto givebirth to

the gods again,but not onlyto them.He will also generatethe rivers

47 It would be hazardous to affirmthat this regressiveview could be relatedto the

Orphicidea, known from later works, according to whichthe soul also suffersa cycle of

falland return.

48 "Grew"Janko.

TheDerveni Theogony


and all the rest;that is, he restartsnot onlythe theogony,but also the


Regrettably,we do not have in the preservedpart of the poem

any allusion to the way in

which the worldwas organized the


time.Maybe this topic was not even alluded to in the work,but


supposed.However, it seems clear thatthe one (Night)became many

(since Sky,and presumablyEarth too, were born of her; Kronos and

probablyat least Rhea too, were born of Skyand Earth,and finally,of

Kronosand Rheawas born,at least,Zeus). The factis thatwith the swal-

lowingof Sky's penis, now the drivingforce of evolutionis a foreign

activeprinciple that seems to be new:Zeus' intelligence(pifjtq). As has

been mentionedalready (II.8.), the evolutionis regressive,since the

many,when Sky's penis is swallowedby Zeus,become again one in the

god. The model adopted by Orpheusto deal withthe topic of one and

manyis similarto the one used by Empedocles.49But the differenceis

that Empedocles'model is

cyclical(the returnfrom the reignof Love

to thatof Hate

and vice versa is not stoppedbut is repeatedagain and

again),while it seems clear thatfor Orpheus Zeus' regressiongives rise

to a situationthat is stabilizedlater. The followingverse clearly shows

thiscircumstance, at the same timeas it revealsthat this new creation

has to do also withpower (OF 13):

viv 6' oai]vPatIXEUi[q]



Ca c1aGz' rEk]iza.

now he is kingof all and willbe in future.

The poet insistson

the factthat Zeus has the powerover the whole

universeand holds it

forever.The distributionof divine power has

become stabilized.The fightsfor power have finishedand the definite

orderhas been achieved.

49 West 1983:108, followinga suggestionby Burkertin a letterto him dated 31 July

1971.On therelationship between Empedocles and Orphism,cf. Riedweg 1995 and on the

modelsof evolutionfrom one to many,cf. Bernabe 1998b. Betegh 2001 points out simi-

laritiesbetween Empedocles' cosmic cycle and theplot of the Dervenitheogony.

  • 116 AlbertoBernabe

II.10. The Climax of the Poem: The Hymn to Zeus

Wefind in this poem a briefhymn to Zeus,50which gives expression to

all thatthe god has become (OF 14):

ZEi npOto


[yiVEto,ZEiU] o'~ratoq[&apylKpauvoq

ZEWqKEya[Xf, ZER iEaO]oga,

AtOq SEK 6


ZEiqTVOt TEwAvrtV, ZE twdvrwav ETtXETo] lpolpa"

ZEt.".1 3aos64, ZEbl)6' &pxq artdvTov&pytKipauvoq.

Zeuswas born first, Zeus of the shining bolt was last,

Zeusis head,Zeus is center,all thingsare from Zeus.

Zeusis thebreath of all, Zeus the Moira of all.

Zeusthe king, Zeus ruler of all, he ofthe shining bolt.

The poetinsists on Zeus' centralposition in theorganization of

theworld. Once he has acquiredthe knowledge from Night (the first

ancestor),the immensegenerative capacity from Sky (his second

ancestor)by swallowinghis penis,and the powerfrom Kronos (his

father),he has become the absolute center. He hasconcentrated


edgeand power, he has assumedthe previous history and started the

laterhistory. The unityof this center of four verses is reinforcedby

a formalfeature: the use ofthe same epithet apytKipauvoq (however

traditional, and not very significant in thiscontext) in thefirst and in

thelast of them.

Zeus' centralcharacter is expressedby means of a series of

sentences.In thefirst verse, the change of situation is defined,marked

by the verbywvEro. Paradoxically, the changeof situationleads to

twoopposite statements (np roq[ytVEro




"was born first


last").In theother three verses, the name of the god, repeated, is

definedby a seriesof substantives. The secondverse persists in the

paradoxical expressionof the firstone (ZEiq KE(pCa[l,ZEiq Pioc]qa

"Zeusis head,Zeus is center").However, the contradictions


ofZeus in the first two verses are only apparent. In Zeus,the opposites

50Cf. the expanded versions quoted by the authorof De mundo(OF 31) andby the


(OF 243).

TheDerveni Theogony


predicatedare harmoniouslyintegrated, in a formof expression that

remindsus ofsome formulations


To finishthe purely formal analysis, It is worthpaying attention

to thereiteration of the adjective"all,"' which appears four times (2





avdtov,4 &rtdvzwv).

Also in verse 2, the chiasm

rtvoutlnavrwv ZEb Idvwa v


poopa stressesagain with anaphoric

insistenceZeus' "central" character.

Letus analyzeeach of the characteristics

that are attributedto


  • a) ZE% ntpW-Toq

[y'vEto, ZEbq] iar1azoq.Zeus is thelast in the gene-


buthe has swallowed(integrated into

his "womb")the penisof the first-born,

Sky. He becomespregnant

withthe whole cosmos and gestatesit again.With this loop in the

linearityof time, Zeus becomes the first god of the recreated world.

Thusthe regressive model of the poem's history of the universe, which

  • I discussedearlier, is explicitlyrealized.

    • b) ZEiCqKE(pa[XI, ZE b ptao]qa,Zeus is the head because he is the

onewho governs. However, by saying that Zeus is alsocenter, Orpheus

makesexplicit Zeus' central position, both in the poem and in the world

itself,to which I havereferred above.


O 5' K [TI]rwa



UKZat.The verbTE6XLw

means "produceby

workor art," especially of material things (LSJ I1).52 The perfect parti-

ciple rTErylpEvoq

has the value "well-wrought"

(LSJ 12). Therefore,

accordingto thepoet, the world is thewell-made handiwork of Zeus,

resultingfrom his pfinq.The perfecttense emphasizes the stable

and accomplishedresult of Zeus' work.He in his turnis the divine


The god that forms the world is themost direct precedent of

thePlatonic demiurge, a powerful original idea in the Greek world.

  • d) [ZEUSirvotq nivrtwOV

ZEuq itnVTWV hrXETro]

poipa. Zeus is consid-

eredas a kindof revitalising breath of the world, similar to theair of

Diogenesof Apollonia or evento Anaximenes' dtip. On the other hand,

51 Heraclit. fr. 77 Marcovich (B 67 D.-K.)60Eb'E qL prp En(pp6vrl,

XEtjv 0 poq,rt6xEpO

Eipqvrl,K6po0~ 1p6q KTX.

52The readingsrEX-at, proposed by Diels(but cf. Schol. Galen. 1.363 ap. Moraux

1977:22)probably arose from an attemptto reinforcethe contrast between KE(pytXr

understoodas "principle"and the idea of "end,' Cf. Magnelli 1994.

  • 118 AlbertoBemabe*

Zeus,as recreatorof the world, has in himselfthe whole plan ofthe

universeand, therefore,

he knowsits fate.53

  • e) ZEi. aotlXE6iq,

ZEib 6' &pxb

tndvwc, The briefhymn finishes

witha newreference to Zeus' absolutepower. BaatIXEq and &pX6q

seemto be synonyms,

but they are not, if we see in&px6R a perceivable

doublesense between the two senses of &pxo, "to govern" and "tobe

thefirst" (in an order).Let us rememberwhat has been said about dpxij

in OF5. Thegenitive n&rtvrwv,