Skip to main content

Algis Uždavinys – Reconciling The One and the many Into Harmony

‘Calliope teaches Music to the young Orpheus’,

painted in 1865 by Auguste Alexandre Hirsch (1833–1912),

in the collections of the Musée d’art et d’archéologie

du Périgord, Périgueux-France.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is an excerpt from professor Algis Uždavinys’ work ‘Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism’, published in 2011 by The Matheson Trust. ‘The present book is closely related to that famous Pre-Socratic fragment about the bow and the lyre, where their “back-stretched” or “retroflex” harmony (palintonos harmonia) is said to depict the tense inner cohesion of a diverging unity. The same authority, Heraclitus of Ephesus, employs a Greek pun to show how in the bow itself, one of whose names is bios, both the name of life and the act of death coexist. Orpheus, as a mythical hero-indeed, one of the famed Argonauts-stands right at the centre of these junctions. So it is no wonder that this book shares in that harmonious tension: a tension rooted in the nature of the lyre and the bow, whose products may be piercing sounds or slaying arrows.’ (From the Foreword). ‘Orpheus, as the archetypal singer, prophet, priest and healer, reconciles the one and the many with his “prophetic lyre” and through the song of harmony (tes harmonias te ode).’ (From chapter XV). Excerpt from page 61 to 64.


διαφερόμενον αὐτὸ αὑτῷ συμφέρεσθαι,’ ‘ὥσπερ ἁρμονίαν τόξου τε καὶ λύρας.’

The One at variance with itself is drawn together, like harmony of bow or lyre.’

Heraclitus, fragment 41.


Chapter XV

In Greece, Orpheus, Linus, Musaeus and other “revealers of mysteries” proclaim the programme of salvation, presenting Persephone-Kore and Dionysus, for instance, as saviours of mankind. This “Greece” of Orpheus is not the scholarly construct that depicts the eulogised tiny city-state of Athens incomparable with either the highly bureaucratised state of Late Period Egypt 149 or with the Neo-Assyrian cosmopolis and its Persian imitations. Rather, Orpheus belonged to the world of wandering demiourgoi-the performers of purifications
(katharmoi) and initiations (teletai), the seers, singers and healers able to discover the “ancient guilt” (palaion menima).

As Burkert relates: ‘Orphic anthropogony… has the story of the most ancient and most general kind of ‘menima’ inherent in man as such, the “ancient grief of Persephone” in the words of Pindar…. The myth, especially when combined with the doctrine of transmigration and the ensuing ascetic life-style, could have been the basis for a religion of salvation.’ 150

The seers and magicians claimed to be able to restore the imagined ideal state of harmonia, governed by the “universal law”, the Vedic rta, as “the unifying principle which animates the parts into a single cosmic machine“, 151 like the animated “chariot of truth” (harma dikes; Sanskrit ratham rtasya) drawn by a pair of horses-the divine twins. Similarly, Parmenides speaks about the axle of the chariot on which he rides. He mentions the “rounded wheels” (kukloi), or the “whirling wheels” that can bring him to the great open threshold where the Heliades kourai, daughters of the Sun, hasten to the light revealed through the Eye’s rounded pupil. Hence, the symbol of helios (of the Egyptian aten, viewed as example of the primaeval fire) is the rounded sound-like image of kosmos noetos, the object of contemplation and theurgic glorification for the Thothian apes of the Sun, the Eastern bau: “Their importance lies in the fact that they represent the divine community of worshippers of the sun god, whose ranks the sun priest joins with his hymn. By praying to the sun he becomes one of them.”152

Orpheus, as the archetypal singer, prophet, priest and healer, reconciles the one and the many with his “prophetic lyre” and through the song of harmony (tes harmonias te ode). The later Byzantine tradition describes the divine Logos as producing a kind of miraculous music which, by means of “the iunx of resonance” (iunx meaning both the iunx-bird and the magic iunx-wheel),153 has the ability to charm (katakelon) and attract (methelkomenos) the human soul. 154 These iunges (plural of iunx), sometimes referred to as “tongues of the gods“, are the four-spoked wheels of brass, iron or gold, hanging from the ceilings of temples and capable of producing a seductive sound like that of the Sirens. As a result, they functioned as instruments of the divine voice, an important aspect in theurgy (viewed by Sarah Johnston as “a form of Platonic mysticism“): “The sounds produced by iynges whirled by the theurgists were understood to affect and influence not only individuals and objects on earth, but the heavenly bodies as well.”155

Likewise, Orpheus’ music and voice may stir human beings, animals, trees, stones, and even the gods-Persephone herself is charmed, and therefore allows him to bring up his dead wife from Hades. The enchanting Orphic song is somewhat analogous to the wind sound produced by an iunx-wheel: its peitho dolia-the charmed power of persuasion and seduction that tricks 156-belongs to Orpheus’ divine instrument, his lyre.

Nicomachus of Gerasa, the Neopythagorean scholar, describes it as follows: ‘Hermes invented the lyre from the tortoise-shell, and providing it with seven strings, handed down the art of lyre-playing to Orpheus. And Orpheus taught Thamyris and Linus. Linus taught Heracles, by whom he was killed. He also taught Amphion, the Theban, who built Thebes with seven gates after the seven strings of the lyre. When Orpheus was killed by the Thracian women, his lyre was thrown into the sea and was cast up in the city of Antissa in Lesbos. Fishermen found it and carried it to Terpander and he took it to Egypt.’ 157

In the Orphico-Pythagorean milieu, mousike, mantike and iatrike (music, divination and medicine) are united in the contemplative harmony of the “yoking” and “joining” succession of order-in Sanskrit terms, yoga and yuj-that “describe the harmonic connection of string to instrument” and “the weapon’s changing harmonic states“. 158



149. Tom Hare, Remembering Osiris: Number, Gender, and the Word in Ancient Egyptian Representational Systems (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 289.
150. Walter Burkert, “Craft Versus Sect: The Problem of Orphics and Pythagoreans,” in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, Vol.3: Self-Definition in the Graeco-Roman World, ed. Ben F. Meyer and E.P. Sanders (London: SCM Press, 1982), pp. 8-9.

151. John Curtis Franklin, “Harmony in Greek and Indo-Iranian Cosmology,” in The Journal of lndo-European Studies, vol. 30, nos 1 & 2, Spring/Summer 2002, p. 8.
152. Jan Assmann, Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom, p. 24.
153. Sec Algis Uždavinys, Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity (San Rafael, CA: Sophia Perennis, 2010), pp. 107-18; Sarah lles Johnston, Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature {Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), pp. 90-uo (ch. VII: “Hekate’s Top and the lynx-Wheel”).
154. Sarah Iles Johnston, “The Song of the lynx: Magic and Rhetoric in
Pythian 4,” in transactions of the American Philological Association 125, 1995, p. 183.

155. Ibid., p. 182.
156. The Manual of Harmonics of Nicomachus the Pythagorean, tr. Flora R. Levin (Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1994), p. 189.
157. Ibid.

158. John Curtis Franklin, Harmony in Greek and Indo-lranian Cosmology, p. 8.

Banner of the Matheson Trust’s website.


More about Algis Uždavinys:ždavinys 🌿More about the book and its publisher:
Algis Uždavinys – Reconciling The One and the many Into Harmony

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

all rights reserved Via Hygeia 2022