Orpheus, a general history of religions - PDF by Salomon Reinach

Orpheus, a general history of religions

Orpheus, a general history of religions

Why does the name of Orpheus, "the first of the world's singers, as Lefranc de Pompignan called him, appear on the title page of this volume ? Because he was not merely " the first singer," though the Greeks knew of poems by him which they held to be much earlier than those of Homer.

Orpheus was also, to the ancients, the theologian par excellence, founder of those mysteries which ensured the salvation of mankind, and no less essential to it as the interpreter of the gods. Horace designates him thus: he was who revealed first to the Thracians and afterwards to the other Greeks the necessary knowledge of things divine. 

True, he never existed; but this is of little moment. Orphism existed and, as Jules Girard has justly said, it was the most interesting fact in the religious history of the Greeks. It was something more, something still better.

Not only did Orphism enter deeply into the literature, philosophy and art of the ancient world; it survived them. The figure of Orpheus charming the beasts with his lyre is the only mythological motive that appears and recurs in the Christian paintings of the catacombs. 

The fathers of the church were persuaded that Orpheus was the disciple of Moses. They saw in him a type or rather a prototype of Jesus since he too had come to teach mankind and had been at once its benefactor and its victim. An emperor placed a statue of Orpheus in his lararium, beside that of the Christian Messiah. Between Orphism and Christianity, there were, indeed, analogies so evident and so striking that it was impossible to accept them as accidental.

A common source of inspiration was assumed. Modern criticism seeks the explanation of these analogies in a hypothesis less daring than that of a supposed relation between Moses and Orpheus. It recognises that Orphism has traits in common not only with Judaism and Christianity, but with other more remote creeds such as Buddhism, and even with the very primitive beliefs of existing savages. If on examination we find something of Orphism in every religion, it is because Orphism made use of elements common to them all, drawn from the depths of human nature, and nourished by its most cherished illusions.

A little book destined to summarise religions and their histories could not invoke a better patron than Orpheus, son of Apollo and a Muse, poet, musician, theologian, mystagogue and authorised interpreter of the gods. Having explained my title, I may add a few words in justification of the method I have adopted. We have two learned manuals of the history of religions, by Conrad von Orelli and Chantepie de la Saussaye respectively.

Both of these great works omit the history of Christianity. To study this, we must turn to other works, most of them very voluminous and full of details concerning sects and controversies which are of interest only to the erudite. I see no reason for isolating Christianity in this manner. It has fewer adherents than Buddhism; it is less ancient. to set it apart in this fashion is becoming in the apologist, but not in the historian. Now it is as a historian that I propose to deal with religions. I see in them the infinitely curious products of man's imagination and of man's reason in its infancy; it is as such that they claim our attention.

the book details :
  • Author:Salomon Reinach
  • Publication date: 1909
  • Translator: Florence Simmonds
  • Company:London: W. Heinemann

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