In this essay, I distinguish between the ancient tales relating to the dismemberment or sparagmos of Dionysos and the modern fabrication which I call the "Zagreus myth." This myth is put together from several elements: 1) the dismemberment of Dionysos; 2) the punishment of the Titans; 3) the creation of mankind from the Titans; and 4) the inheritance humans receive from the first three parts - the burden of guilt from the Titans' crime and the divine spark from the remains of Dionysos. Building upon Linforth's critical review, I first examine the pieces of evidence out of which this Zagreus myth has been assembled, demonstrating that the few pieces of evidence used to construct the myth fail to support the existence of such a story before the modern era. While ancient sources provide testimony to the first three components of the myth, the final component-the resulting original sin-is an addition of modern scholars. I next show that, viewed without the framework of the Zagreus myth, the pieces of evidence provide testimony to a variety of tellings of the dismemberment myth, which was not the exclusive property of the "Orphics" but rather a well-known element in the Greek mythic tradition. I then explore the Christian models of religion within which the myth was mistakenly reconstructed, noting the role this reconstruction of Orphism played in the turn-of-the-century debates surrounding the nature of the early Church. Finally, I conclude that the gold tablets and their religious contexts have been misunderstood because these texts have been interpreted in terms of a modern fabrication dependent on Christian models, the Zagreus myth. The "Orphic" gold tablets themselves have nothing to do with the stories of sparagmos and anthropogony, but instead supply important evidence for the study of Greek eschatological beliefs.
Research Article| April 01 1999
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Radcliffe Edmonds; Tearing Apart the Zagreus Myth: A Few Disparaging Remarks on Orphism and Original Sin. Classical Antiquity 1 April 1999; 18 (1): 35–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/25011092
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