A Gemstone of Many Complexions

Hermeticism and the Rhetoric of Accumulation in the Orphic Lithica

in Mnemosyne
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The Orphic Lithica is often considered an incoherent hodge-podge of teachings on magical stones. This paper, however, argues that the polyphony of voices (human, semi-divine, and divine), as well as the amalgam of various subtypes of the hexametric super-genre (didactic epic, narrative epic, bucolic, hymn, oracle), contribute to the ultimate goal of the Lithica: to overwhelm the reader with authorities for the hermetic truth that the poem preaches. The poem further accomplishes this by appealing to the poetic tradition, so as to make the subject matter more recognizable and enjoyable to the audience.


A Journal of Classical Studies



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Ebeling 2005, 45-49; Festugière 1950, 187-216.


Halleux and Schamp (1985) are right to see Helios as an allegory for divine intelligence. Perhaps the clearest indication for this is the opening of Theiodamas’ speech, although this is not noted by Halleux and Schamp: Ἀλλά σε μὲν κρείων Φαεσίμβροτος ἐξ ἀλεγεινῆς | αἰὲν ἄγοι κακότητος ἀδακρύτοιό τε πέμποι | ὄλβου πρὸς μέγα δῶμα φιλοφροσύνης ἕνεκα σφῆς (L. 166-168). Livrea (1997) is also right to see the snakes as a metaphor for the abstract concept of evil (compare L. 405-407). His suggestion to read the entire passage as a pagan adaptation of contemporary Christian motifs is interesting and requires further study. Such a project should take into account that there is indeed considerable cross-pollination between early Christianity and hermeticism (Ebeling 2005, 62-71), and that the young religion in this period had to deal with ‘ophitic’ Gnostics, who believed that the serpent in the garden of Eden was actually good (Mastrocinque 2005).


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