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

Orpheus, a general history of religions 

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, besides 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. 

They are not all equally interesting, for those who have filled the greatest place in history are naturally those who deserve most study. In this modest volume, I have accordingly given greater importance to Judaism and Christianity than to the religions of Assyria, Egypt and China. It is not my fault if, during the last two thousand years, the history of Christianity has intermingled to some extent with universal history, and if, in sketching the one, I have been obliged to make a brief abstract of the other. 

The most readable, the most brilliant, the least pedantic of general histories I do not say the most exact or the most complete is to be found in Voltaire's Essai sur les Meurs, supplemented by his Siecle de Louis XIV. and his Siede de Louis XV. I do not share Voltaire's ideas of religions, but I have a due admiration for his incomparable gifts as a narrator. Dealing with the same facts after him, I could only do worse what he has done so well. I have therefore borrowed freely from him always with due acknowledgement, of course. 

Those who accuse me of having cut my book out of Voltaire will only prove that they have read neither Voltaire nor me. I am deeply conscious of the moral responsibility I assume in giving for the first time a picture of religions in general considered as natural phenomena and nothing more. I believe that the times are ripe for such an essay and that in this, as in all other domains, secular reason must exercise its rights. 

I have tried not to wound any conscience, but I have said what I believe to be the truth with the emphasis proper to the truth. I do not think that the persecution of the Bacchanals by the Roman Senate,  and of dawning Christianity by the Emperors, the furies of the Inquisition, of St. Bartholomew's Eve and of the Dragonnades ought to be coldly chronicled as insignificant episodes in history. I execrate these judicial murders, the accursed fruits of a spirit of oppression and fanaticism, and I have shown this plainly. There are zealots still among us who glorify these crimes and would wish to see them continued If they attack my book, they will do both me and it a great honour.

some contents:

Religion and mythology. The etymology of the word religion. Religion is a sum of scruples, i.e., of taboos. Examples of taboos. Animism. Poetic survivals of animism. The theory of primitive revelation. The theory of imposture. False ideas of the eighteenth century. Fetichism. Fontenelle's true ideas. Totemism hypertrophy of the social instinct. The worship of plants and animals: metamorphoses. The bears of Berne. Totemism and fables. Domestication of animals. The sacrifice of the totem. Alimentary prohibitions. The Sabbath. Abstinence. The codification and restriction of taboos by the priesthood. The progressive secularisation of humanity. Magic and science. Religions the life of primitive societies. Explanations of apparent retrogressions. The future of religions: the necessity of studying their history . .
I. The complexity of religious phenomena in Egypt. Essential traits of the religious evolution. Expansion of the Egyptian cults. Animism. Belief in future life. Magic. Totemism. The religious function of the Pharaohs, priests and rituals. The myth of Osiris. The Egyptian cosmogony. II. Babylonia and Assyria. The code of Hammurabi. The Babylonian gods. Animism. Cosmogony: the Deluge. The god Tammuz. The legends of Ishtar and Gilgamesh. Rituals, psalms and incantations. Divination. The calendar. Belief in future life. Astrology and Astronomy. The lasting influence of Babylonian ideas. III. The antiquity of the Phoenician civilisation. Gods and goddesses. The worship of animals, trees and stones. Baal, Melkart, Eshmun. Adonis and the Boar. Sacrifices. Ideas of a future life and of the creation. Syrian forms of worship. Atargatis, the fish and the dove. Syrian forms of worship at Rome. The Stone of Mesa . . page 26

I. The Aryans and the Aryan tongues. The diffusion of the European physical type. Hindu and Persian Gods. The history of India. Animism and totemism. The migration of souls and asceticism. The worship of the dead. Cosmogonies. The Deluge. The Vedas. Vedic Sacrifice. The Vedic Gods. Ritual. Brahmans and Brahmanas. Upanishads. The laws of Maui. Philosophical systems. Ja'inism and Buddhism. The life of Buddha. The Buddhic books. Nirvana. Buddhism and Christianity. King Asoka. Buddhist conquests in Asia. Lamaism. Hinduism. Siva and Vishnu. Reformers in India. The Sikhs. The future of Indian religions. II. Indo-Iranian unity. Medes and Persians. The Zendavesta : Zoroaster. The Magi. Animism. The worship of animals and plants. The conflict of good and evil. Insistence on ritual purity. Belief in future life. The weighing of souls. Fire-worship. The main features of Mazddsm. Mithra and the spread of Mithraism in the Roman Empire. Analogies with Christianity. Manichaeism. The Mandaeans . . page 45

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

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