In the rhapsodies which pass under the name of Orphic, the theology, if any, is that concerning the Intelligible; and the philosophers thus interpret it. They place Chronus (Time) for the one principle of all things, and for the two Ether and Chaos: and they regard the egg as representing Being simply, and this they look upon as the first triad. But to complete the second triad they imagine as the god a conceiving and conceive egg, or a white garment, or a cloud, because Phanes springs forth from these. But concerning this middle (subsistence) different philosophers have different opinions. Whatever it may be they look upon it as Mind; but for Father and Power some of them imagine other things which have no connexion with Orpheus. And in the third triad they substitute for it Metis, whilst they place Ericapæus as Power, and Phanes as Father.
But the middle triad is never to be placed according to the triformed god (Phanes) as absolutely conceived in the egg: for the middle subsistence always shadows out each of the extremes, as should this, which must partake at once both of the egg and of the triformed god. And you may perceive that the egg is the united (subsistence) or principle of union; and the triformed god, who is multiform about being, is the separated principle of the Intelligible; but the middle subsistence, being united as far as it relates to the egg, and already separated as far as it relates to the god, may be considered as existing altogether as in the act of separation: such is the common Orphic theology.
But the theology delivered by Hieronymus and Hellanicus is as follows: — He says that water was from the beginning, and Matter, from which the Earth was produced, so that he supposes that the two first principles were Water and Earth; the latter of which is of a nature liable to separation, but the former a substance serving to conglutinate and connect it: but he passes over as ineffable the one principle prior to these two, for its recondite nature is evinced, in that there is no manifestation appertaining to it. The third principle after these two, which is generated from them, that is from the Water and Earth, is a Dragon having the heads of a Bull and Lion naturally produced, and in the middle, between these, is the countenance of the God: he has, moreover, wings upon his shoulders, and is denominated incorruptible Chronus (Time) and Hercules. Fate also, which is the same as Nature, is connected with him, and Adrastia, which is incorporeally co-extensive with the universe, and connects its boundaries in harmony. I am of opinion that this third principle is regarded as subsisting according to essence, inasmuch as it is supposed to exist in the nature of male and female, as a type of the generating principle of all things.
And in the rhapsodies I conceive that the (Orphic) theology, passing over the two first principles, together with the one preceding those two which is delivered in silence, establishes the third, which is properly posterior to the other two, as the first principle, inasmuch as it is the first which has something effable in its nature, and commensurate with human conversation. For the venerable and incorruptible Chronus (Time) was held in the former hypothesis to be the father of Ether and Chaos: but in this he is passed over, and a Serpent substituted: and the threefold Ether is called intellectual, and Chaos boundless, and the dark cloudy Erebus is added to them as a third. He delivers, therefore, this second triad as analogous to the first, this being potential as was that paternal. Wherefore the third subsistence of this triad is dark Erebus, and its paternal principle and summit Ether, subsisting not simply but intellectually, and the middle derived from it is boundless Chaos. But with these it is said Chronus generated the egg, for this relation makes it a procession of Chronus, and born of these, inasmuch as from these procceds the third Intelligible triad. What, then, is this triad? The egg, the duad of the natures of male and female contained in it, and the multitude of the all-various seeds in the middle of it; and the third subsistence in addition to these is the incorporeal god, with golden wings upon his shoulders, who has the heads of bulls springing forth from his internal parts, and upon his head an enormous serpent, invested with the varied forms of beasts. This, therefore, is to be taken as the Mind of the triad: but the middle processions, which are both the Many and the Two, must be regarded as Power, but the egg as the paternal principle of this third triad. But the third god of this third triad, the theology now under discussion celebrates as Protogonus (First-born), and calls him Dis, as the disposer of all things, and the whole world: upon that account he is also denominated Pan. Such are the hypotheses which this genealogy lays down concerning the Intelligible principles.
But the cosmogony which is delivered by the Peripatetic Eudemus as being the theology of Orpheus, passes the whole Intelligible order in silence, as altogether ineffable and unknown, and incapable of discussion or explanation. He commences from Night, which Homer also constitutes his first principle, if we would render his genealogy consistent. Therefore we must not put confidence in the assertion of Eudemus, that Homer makes it commence from Oceanus and Tethys; for it is manifest that he regards Night as the greatest divinity, which is implied in the following line, where he says that she is reverenced by Jove himself —
He feared lest he should excite the displeasure of swift Night.
Homer, therefore, must be supposed to commence from Night.
But Hesiod, when he affirms that Chaos was the first produced, appears to me to regard Chaos as the incomprehensible and perfectly united nature of the Intelligible. From thence he deduces Earth3 as the first principle of all the generation of the gods, unless, perhaps, he may regard Chaos as the second subsistence of the two principles: in which case Earth and Tartarus, and Eros (Love), compose the three-fold Intelligible, Eros being put for the third subsistence, considered according to its convertive nature. Orpheus also in his rhapsodies has adopted a very similar disposition, for he places the Earth for the first, being the first that was conglomerated into a compact and essential substance, while he places Tartarus as the middle, as having already, in a manner, a tendency towards disunion.
But Acusilaus appears to me to regard Chaos as the first principle and altogether unknown, and after this one to place the duad, Erebus as the male and Night as the female, the latter being substituted for infinity, and the former for bound; and from a connexion between these were generated Ether and Eros (Love), and Metis (Counsel), these three being the Intelligible hypostases, of which he places Ether as the summit, Eros as the middle in compliance with the natural intervention of love, and Metis as the third, inasmuch as it is already highly-venerable Intellect. And from these, according to the relation of Eudemus, he deduces the vast multitude of the other gods.
Epimenides affirms that the two first principles are Air and Night: whence it is evident that he reverences in silence the one principle which is prior to the two: from which, I conceive, he holds that Tartarus is generated regarding it as a nature in a manner compounded of the two; for some, indeed, regard the principle which is derived from these two as a kind of Intelligible intermediate subsistence or mediety, properly so called, inasmuch as it extends, itself to both extremities, the summit and the boundary; for by their connexion with one another, an egg is generated which is properly the very Intelligible animal from which again proceeds another progeny.
But Pherecydes Syrius considers the three first principles to be an Ever-vital subsistence, Chronus4, and an Earthly subsistence; placing, as I conceive, the One prior to the Two, and the Two posterior to the One: and that Chronus generated from himself Fire, and Spirit, and Water, representing, I presume, the threefold nature of the Intelligible: from which, when they became distributed into five recesses, were constituted a numerous race of gods, called the five-times animated order, equivalent to what he might call a five-fold world. But another opportunity may perhaps occur for the discussion of this part of the subject. Such and of a similar description are the hypotheses which are received by us relative to the Greek mythological fables, which are numerous and very various.
But the Babylonians, like the rest of the Barbarians, pass over in silence the One principle of the Universe, and they constitute Two, Tauthe and Apason; making Apason the husband of Tauthe, and denominating her the mother of the gods. And from these proceeds an only-begotten son, Moymis, which I conceive is no other than the Intelligible world proceeding from the two principles. From them, also, another progeny is derived, Dache and Dachus; and, again, a third, Kissare and Assorus, from which last three others proceed Anus, and Illinus, and Aus. And of Aus and Dauce is born a son called Belus, who, they say, is the fabricator of the world, the Demiurgus.
But of the Magi and all the Arion race, according to the relation of Eudemus, some denominate the Intelligible Universe and the United, Place, while others call it Time (Chronus): from whom separately proceed a Good Divinity and an Evil Dæmon; or, as some assert, prior to these, Light and Darkness. Both the one, therefore, and the other, after an undivided nature, hold the twofold co-ordination of the superior natures as separated and distinct, over one of which they place Oromasdes as the ruler, and over the other Arimanius.
The Sidonians, according to the same writer, before all things place Chronus, and Pothus, and Omichles, (Time, Love, and Cloudy Darkness). And by a connexion between Pothus and Omichles, as the Two principles are generated Aer and Aura (Air and a Gentle Breeze), substituting Air for the summit of the Intelligible, and the Breeze arising from it for the vivifying prototype of the Intelligible. And from these two again is generated Otus (the Night Raven), representing, as I conceive, the Intelligible Mind.
But independent of the collections of Eudemus we find the mythology of the Phoenicians thus delivered according to Mochus. First was Ether and Air, which are the Two first principles; from these was produced Ulomus, the Intelligible God, and, as I conceive, the summit of the Intelligible: from whom, by a connexion with himself, was produced Chousorus, the first expanding principle, and then the Egg: by the latter I imagine they mean the Intelligible Mind; but by Chousorus, the Intelligible Power, being the first nature which separates an unseparate subsistence, unless, perhaps, after the two principles the summit may be the one Wind; but to the middle, the two winds Lips and Notus (south-west and south), for sometimes they place these prior to Oulomus. In which case Oulomus himself would be the Intelligible Mind, and the expanding Chousorus the first order after the Intelligible, and the Egg Heaven: for it is said, that by the rupture of it into two parts heaven and earth were produced each from one of its two severed parts.
Of the Egyptian doctrines Eudemus gives us no accurate information. But the Egyptian philosophers, who are resident among us, have explained their occult truth, having obtained it from certain Egyptian discourses. According to them, then it appears to be this. The One principle of the Universe is celebrated as Unknown Darkness, and this three-times pronounced as such: and the Two principles are Water and Sand, according to Heraïscus; but according to Asclepiades, who is the more ancient of the two, Sand and Water, from whom, and next in succession after them, is generated the first Kamephis, and from this a second, and from this again a third, which, they affirm, completes the whole Intelligible distribution. Such is the system of Asclepiades. But the more modern Heraïscus says that the third, who is named Kamephis from his father and grandfather, is the Sun, equivalent in this case to the Intelligible Mind. But greater accuracy upon the subject can only be obtained from these authors themselves. It must be observed, however, with regard to the Egyptians, that they are often wont to distribute subsistences according to union, as when they divide the Intelligible into the individualities of a multitude of gods, as may be learnt from their own writings by those who will examine them: I refer particularly to the commentary of Heraïscus upon the Egyptian doctrine addressed to Proclus the philosopher alone, and to the concordance of the Egyptian writers, begun by Asclepiades and addressed to the other Theologists.
- The Chaldean Magi: A Library of Ancient Sources
- Ammianus Marcellinus
- Clement of Alexandria
- Derveni Papyrus
- Dio Chrysostom
- Diodorus of Sicily
- Diogenes Laertes
- Dionysius the Areopagite
- Emperor Julian
- Eudemus of Rhodes
- Firmicus Maternus
- Gregory Nazianzus
- Justin Martyr
- Lactantius Placidus
- Mithras Liturgy
- Philo of Alexandria
- Philo of Byblos
- Pliny the Elder
- Quintus Curtius
- Saint Augustine
- Socrates of Constantinople
- St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea
- The Chaldean Oracles Attributed to Zoroaster
- Zosimus of Panopolis