Jean-Baptiste-Claude Delisle de Sales – About Orpheus
Orpheus, as in ‘Le Monde Primitif’, by Antoine Court de Gebelin.
Another sharing for the day from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, a notice about Orpheus in Jean-Baptiste-Claude Delisle de Sales’ ‘Philosophie de la Nature’, Volume six , book five, chapter two, paragraph one. Page 383 to 388.
‘We do not have any true historical monument that dates back only to four thousand years, and one may blame the physical revolutions that our continent has bared and not the youth of the human specie.
It has been thirty centuries ago that Orpheus gave to the nomad and cannibalistic Thracians customs, laws and a religion (a).
Egypt, in his time, seemed to be the center of human knowledge; he went there, read the books of Hermes, was initiated into the mysteries of Isis (b), and came back in Greece to establish his homeland.
It was said that of this great man, that he knew with his lyre to tame tigers: It meant, for the philosopher, that he derived the morality of the harmony of intelligent beings, and that the Thracians having tasted this harmony, from tigers they were became men.
Orpheus, initiated into the mysteries of physics, must have operated marvels; it is likeable, for instance, that he knew through the study he made of herbs and the human machine, how to heal Eurydice from a mortal disease, and that he lost her because he wanted to bypass her convalescence by involving her back into his life. That event gave the idea of his descent to the Underworld, immortalized by the music of Glück and by the verses of Virgil.
If we are to believe the enthusiasts who walk among miracles only, Orpheus, found guilty to have revealed the mysteries to non-initiated, was stricken by a lightning bolt (c); the history of this marvel was repeated later by the Greeks, when they wanted to explain Ajax’s shipwreck, and by the Romans, when they wanted to justify Romulus’ murder. It is much more likeable that the women of Thrace, irritated by their husbands abandoning them to follow their lawmaker, conspired against him, got drunk, to compensate by the hysteria of blood their lack of courage, and cowardly murdered the man they were unknowingly indebted with.
Orpheus composed many books that time did not respect: Even his hymns that were recited for so long in Athens at the opening of the mysteries, are intangible monuments that their authenticity is contested (d).
The philosophical tradition tells us that this great man was the best astronomer of his time, that the true planetary system wasn’t unknown to him, and that he wrote about the plurality of the worlds (e).
The diet regime he gave to the Thracians is very well know, perhaps because of its austerity, or because it preceded a great number of centuries Pythagoras and his school. He imposed to his fellow citizen to be fruit eaters, even forbidding eggs, because he thought of it as the origin of the chicken and in a more elaborated system, as the principle of beings (f). This regimen known under ‘Orphic way of life’ was the mean, together with the laws, that contributed to soften the Greek customs and inspire to the Thracians the disgust of shedding human blood.
Orpheus, superior by his genius to his contemporary fellows, was regarded as an inspired man but never claimed to be one and that is why Celsius the philosopher dared proposed to the Christians to take him also as their lawmaker.
Tolerance was the foundation of the Orphic morality and it is by adopting it that the Thracian cannibals became men of nature.
The theism of this man wasn’t a problem: Orpheus on this subject had ideas as sublime as that of Marc-Aurelius. He even dared to express them in verses and never Poetry deserved better than that of language of the gods. The following verses may perhaps give an idea of this precious monument of the antiquity:
‘This god, people of the river Nile, that rules over your masters,
Is himself the root and the trunk of the beings,
His hand supports heaven, earth and the underworld,
Matter and spirit share its essence.
He unites the rings of this immense chain
That from the star to the atom embraces the universe.
Of the organized being his voice produces the seed.
He is the principle as much as the word,
The Memphis sage gets a grasp of him
in the torches of the night and the star of the day.
The Earth, in its bosom unfolds its finery,
The water refreshes the greenery’s enamel,
The fire that maintains the vigor of our senses,
Everything, to the enlightened eye, describes a first cause:
God comes like a spouse to impregnate nature.
He comes to the ungrateful, but by striking them.
He speaks, and his orders are carried, without a whisper,
From the nothingness to the being, and from the being back to nothingness.’
(From a fragment of a hymn attributed to Orpheus by Aristotle in his letter to Alexander about the system of the world, chapter 7, paragraph 1. Many critics pretend that what is left to us of Orpheus’ hymns is from another hand; but who would guess about this such eloquent piece that I’ve just translated?)
The people, the conquerors, and time-even more destructive, added many absurdities to the ancient theogony of Orpheus. But the theism that it consecrates was preserved during many centuries in the celebrations of the mysteries in its integrity and if the doctrine shared in these mysteries would have been made public, Greece would not have to blame itself for Socrates’ death.’
(Notes are at the bottom of the below French original)
As a bonus,
by Hector Berlioz,
‘La Mort d’Orphée’