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Orphic Hymns And Astronomy

LIVIO C. STECCHINI

Copyright (C) 1981 by the Estate of Livio C. Stecchini

Greeks of classical times assigned great importance to a body of religious literature known as Orphic Hymns, which dealt with cosmology and were understood to have originated in archaic times. Up to now, the Orphic Hymns have been analyzed by scholars of religion and literature; but, recently (Athens, 1967), an astronomer of the Observatory of Athens, Constantine S. Chassapis, published a monograph, Greek Astronomy of the Second Millennium B. C. According to the Orphic Hymns (Greek title and Greek text, with English summary), in which he examines this material from the angle of his professional competence. His conclusion is that these Hymns had the purpose of initiating the members of the Orphic religious sect to astronomy and cosmology.

According to Chassapis' interpretation of the texts, Orphic literature assumed the diurnal rotation of the Earth and was aware of the heliocentric theory. After establishing the high scientific level of the Orphic Hymns, the author runs into difficulties when he tries to ascertain by internal evidence the date of their composition (pp. 7583). The equinoctial point is placed in the constellation of Taurus, which according to the current conception of a stable solar system was true only up to 1841 B.C. But, at the same time the Hymns state that the seasons of summer and winter are equal in length, which became true only in 1382 B.C. The author attempts to resolve this conflict by suggesting that the Hymns may have taken form at an intermediary date, around the middle of the second millennium B.C. Possibly Chassapis could have found a more satisfactory solution, if he had pursued further his finding that the Orphic Hymns declare that the cosmic order they describe came into existence with "the cataclysm of Ogyges," a physical event by which they date their cosmogony (p. 74).*

My own personal research in ancient geography indicates that the Orphic Hymns originated before the dessication of the Sahara, since they describe with mathematical precision the crossing of North Africa by boat, following rivers the dried beds of which can be traced today.

[* See Worlds in Collision, "The Floods of Deucalion and Ogyges". LMG]

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