Monday, September 20, 2010

Prisca Theologia

"There are likewise several Vulcans. ... A fifth, whom we call, in their language, Thoth, as with them the first month of the year is called, is he whom the people of Pheneum worship, and who is said to have killed Argus, to have fled for it into Egypt, and to have given laws and learning to the Egyptians." -- Marcus T. Cicero, philosopher statesman, The Nature of the Gods, Book III, Chapter XXII, 1st century B.C.

"Pythagoras, therefore, of Samos, lived in very ancient times, and was esteemed a person superior to all philosophers in wisdom and piety towards God. Now it is plain that he did not only know our doctrines, but was in very great measure a follower and admirer of them. There is not indeed extant any writing that is owned for his but many there are who have written his history, of whom Hermippus is the most celebrated, who was a person very inquisitive into all sorts of history. Now this Hermippus, in his first book concerning Pythagoras, speaks thus: 'That Pythagoras, upon the death of one of his associates, whose name was Calliphon, a Crotonlate by birth, affirmed that this man's soul conversed with him both night and day, and enjoined him not to pass over a place where an ass had fallen down; as also not to drink of such waters as caused thirst again; and to abstain from all sorts of reproaches.' After which he adds thus: 'This he did and said in imitation of the doctrines of the Jews and Thracians, which he transferred into his own philosophy.' For it is very truly affirmed of this Pythagoras, that he took a great many of the laws of the Jews into his own philosophy. Nor was our nation unknown of old to several of the Grecian cities, and indeed was thought worthy of imitation by some of them. This is declared by Theophrastus, in his writings concerning laws; for he says that 'the laws of the Tyrians forbid men to swear foreign oaths.' Among which he enumerates some others, and particularly that called Corban: which oath can only be found among the Jews, and declares what a man may call 'A thing devoted to God.' Nor indeed was Herodotus of Halicarnassus unacquainted with our nation, but mentions it after a way of his own, when he saith thus, in the second book concerning the Colchians. His words are these: 'The only people who were circumcised in their privy members originally, were the Colchians, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians; but the Phoenicians and those Syrians that are in Palestine confess that they learned it from the Egyptians. And for those Syrians who live about the rivers Thermodon and Parthenius, and their neighbors the Macrones, they say they have lately learned it from the Colchians; for these are the only people that are circumcised among mankind, and appear to have done the very same thing with the Egyptians. But as for the Egyptians and Ethiopians themselves, I am not able to say which of them received it from the other.' This therefore is what Herodotus says, that 'the Syrians that are in Palestine are circumcised.' But there are no inhabitants of Palestine that are circumcised excepting the Jews; and therefore it must be his knowledge of them that enabled him to speak so much concerning them." -- T. Flavius Josephus, historian, Against Apion, 1st century

"For Clearchus, who was the scholar of Aristotle, and inferior to no one of the Peripatetics whomsoever, in his first book concerning sleep, says that 'Aristotle his master related what follows of a Jew,' and sets down Aristotle's own discourse with him. The account is this, as written down by him: 'Now, for a great part of what this Jew said, it would be too long to recite it; but what includes in it both wonder and philosophy it may not be amiss to discourse of. Now, that I may be plain with thee, Hyperochides, I shall herein seem to thee to relate wonders, and what will resemble dreams themselves. Hereupon Hyperochides answered modestly, and said, For that very reason it is that all of us are very desirous of hearing what thou art going to say. Then replied Aristotle, For this cause it will be the best way to imitate that rule of the Rhetoricians, which requires us first to give an account of the man, and of what nation he was, that so we may not contradict our master's directions. Then said Hyperochides, Go on, if it so pleases thee. This man then, [answered Aristotle,] was by birth a Jew, and came from Celesyria; these Jews are derived from the Indian philosophers; they are named by the Indians Calami, and by the Syrians Judaei, and took their name from the country they inhabit, which is called Judea; but for the name of their city, it is a very awkward one, for they call it Jerusalem. Now this man, when he was hospitably treated by a great many, came down from the upper country to the places near the sea, and became a Grecian, not only in his language, but in his soul also; insomuch that when we ourselves happened to be in Asia about the same places whither he came, he conversed with us, and with other philosophical persons, and made a trial of our skill in philosophy; and as he had lived with many learned men, he communicated to us more information than he received from us.' This is Aristotle's account of the matter, as given us by Clearchus; which Aristotle discoursed also particularly of the great and wonderful fortitude of this Jew in his diet, and continent way of living, as those that please may learn more about him from Clearchus's book itself; for I avoid setting down any more than is sufficient for my purpose." -- T. Flavius Josephus, historian, Against Apion, 1st century

"The Greeks say, that after Orpheus and Linus, and the most ancient of the poets that appeared among them, the seven, called wise, were the first that were admired for their wisdom." -- Clement of Alexandria, theologian, Stromata, Book I, Chapter XIV, 2nd century

"Now, Linus was the teacher of Hercules, but Hercules preceded the Trojan war by one generation; and this is manifest from his son Tlepolemus, who served in the army against Troy. And Orpheus lived at the same time as Hercules ...." -- Tatian, theologian, Address to the Greeks, Chapter XLI, 2nd century

"He [Thoth/Hermes Trismegistus] is called the first author of theology: he was succeeded by Orpheus, who came second amongst ancient theologians: Aglaophemus, who had been initiated into the sacred teachings of Orpheus, was succeeded in theology by Pythagoras, whose disciple was Philolaus, the teacher of our Divine Plato. Hence there is one ancient theology (prisca theologia) ... taking its origin in Mercurius and culminating in the Divine Plato." -- Marsilio Ficino, scholarch, Preface to Pimander, 1493

"And now we pass out of Asia into Europe, from Zoroaster to Orpheus. It is the opinion of some eminent philologers of latter times, that there never was any such man as Orpheus, but only in Fairy-land; and that the whole history of Orpheus was nothing but a mere romantic allegory, utterly devoid of all truth and reality. But there is nothing alleged for this opinion from antiquity, save only this one passage of Cicero's concerning Aristotle: 'Orpheum poetam docet Aristoteles nunquam fuisse;' Aristotle teacheth, that there never was any such man as Orpheus the poet:—-in which notwithstanding Aristotle seems to have meant no more than this, that there was no such poet as Orpheus senior to Homer, or that the verses vulgarly called Orphical were not written by Orpheus. However, if it should be granted, that Aristotle had denied the existence of such a man, there seems to be no reason at all, why his single testimony should here preponderate against that universal consent of all antiquity, which is for one Orpheus, the son of Oeager, by birth a Thracian, the father or chief founder of the mythical and allegorical theology amongst the Greeks, and of all their most arcane religious rites and mysteries; who is commonly supposed to have lived before the Trojan war (that is, in the time of the Israelitish judges), or at least to have been senior both to Hesiod and Homer; and also to have died a violent death, most affirming him to have been torn in pieces by women. For which cause, in that vision of Herus Pamphylius in Plato, Orpheus's soul being come down again into another body, is said to have chosen rather that of a swan (a reputed musical animal) than to be born again of a woman, by reason of that hatred, which he had conceived of all womankind, for his suffering such a violent death from them; And the historic truth of Orpheus was not only acknowledged by Plato, but also by Isocrates, senior to Aristotle likewise (in his oration in praise of Busiris); and confirmed by that sober historiographer Diodorus Siculus, he giving this account of Orpheus, That he was a man, who diligently applied himself to literature, and having learned ta mythologoumena or the mythical part of theology, travelled into Egypt, where he attained to further knowledge, and became the greatest of all the Greeks in the mysterious rites of religion, theological skill, and poetry. To which Pausanias addeth, that he gained great authority, ... as being believed to have found out expiations for wicked actions, remedies for diseases, and appeasements of the Divine displeasure.—-Neither was this history of Orpheus contradicted by Origen, when Celsus gave him so fit an occasion, and so strong a provocation to do it, by his preferring Orpheus before our Saviour Christ. To all which may be added, in the last place, that it being commonly concluded from the Greek word threskeia, that the Greeks derived their Teletae and mysteries of religion, from the Thracians, it is not so reasonable to think with the learned Vossius, that Xamolxis was the founder of them (and not Orpheus), this Xamolxis being by most reported to have been Pythagoras's servant, and, consequently too much a junior; and though Herodotus attribute more antiquity to him, yet did he conceive him to have been no other than a demon, who appearing to the Thracians, was worshipped by them; whereas in the meantime, the general tradition of the Greeks derived the Thracian religious rites and mysteries from Orpheus and no other, according to this of Suidas; ... It is commonly said, that Orpheus the Thracian was the first inventor of the religious mysteries of the Greeks, and that religion was from thence called Threskeia, as being a Thracian invention.—-Wherefore though it may well be granted, that by reason of Orpheus's great antiquity, there have been many fabulous and romantic things intermingled with this history; yet there appears no reason at all, why we should disbelieve the existence of such a man." -- Ralph Cudworth, philosopher, The True Intellectual System of the Universe, Volume II, The History of Orpheus: Not a Mere Romance, 1671

"But though there were such a man as Orpheus, yet it may very well be questioned for all that, whether any of those poems, commonly entitled to him, and called Orphical, were so ancient, and indeed written by him. And this the rather, because Herodotus declares it as his own opinion, that Hesiod and Homer were the ancientest of all the Greek poets, ... and that those other poets, said to have been before them, were indeed juniors to them;—-meaning hereby, in all probability, Orpheus, Musaeus and Linus. As also because Aristotle seems plainly to have followed Herodotus in this, he mentioning the Orphic poems (in his book of the soul) after this manner, ... verses that are called Orphical.—-Besides which Cicero tells us, that some imputed all the Orphic poems to Cercops, a Pythagorean; and it is well known, that many have attributed the same to another of that school, Onomacritus, who lived in the times of the Pisistratidae: wherefore we read more than once in Sextus Empiricus of ... Onomacritus in the Orphics.—-Suidas also reports, that some of the Orphic poems were anciently ascribed to Theognetus, others to Timocles, others to Zopyrus, &c. From all which Grotius seems to have made up this conclusion: That the Pythagorics entitled their own books to Orpheus and Linus, just in the same manner as ancient Christians entitled theirs, some to the Sibyls, and others to Hermes Trismegist.—-Implying therein, that both the Orphic poems and doctrine owed their very being and first original only to the Pythagoreans. But on the other side Clemens Alexandrinus, affirmeth, that Heraclitus the philosopher borrowed many things from the Orphic poems. And it is certain, that Plato does not only very much commend the Orphic hymns for their suavity and deliciousness, but also produce some verses out of them, without making any scruple concerning their author. Cicero himself, notwithstanding what he cites out of Aristotle to the contrary, seems to acknowledge Orpheus for the most ancient poet, he writing thus of Cleanthes: 'In secundo libro de natura deoruin, vult Orphei, Musaei, Hesiodi, Homerique febellas accomtnodare ad ea, quas ipsedediis immortalibus scripserat, ut etiam veterrimi poetse, qui haec ne suspicati quidem sint, Stoici fuisse videantur.' Cleanthes, in his second book of the nature of the gods, endeavours to accommodate the fables of Orpheus, Musaeus, Hesiod, and Homer, to those very things, which himself had written concerning them; so that the most ancient poets, who never dreamed of any such matter, are made by him to have been Stoics.—-Diodorus Siculus affirmeth Orpheus to have been the author of a most excellent poem: and Justin Martyr, Clemens Alexandrinus, Athenagoras, and others, take it for granted, that Homer borrowed many passages of his poems from the Orphic verses, and particularly that very beginning of his Iliad ....—- Lastly, Jamblichus testifieth, that by most writers Orpheus was represented as the ancientest of all the poets; adding, moreover, what dialect he wrote in, .... Most of the historiographers declare, that Orpheus, who was the ancientest of all the poets, wrote in the Doric dialect.—-Which, if it be true, then those Orphic fragments, that now we have, (preserved in the writings of such as did not Dorize) must have been transformed by them out of their native idiom. Now as concerning Herodotus, who supposing -- Homer and Hesiod to have been the ancientest of all the Greek poets, seemed therefore to conclude the Orphic poems to have been pseudepigraphous; himself intimates, that this was but a singular opinion, and as it were paradox, of his own, the contrary thereunto being then generally received. However Aristotle probably might therefore be the more inclinable to follow Herodotus in this, because he had no great kindness for the Pythagoric or Orphic philosophy. But it is altogether irrational and absurd to think, that the Pythagorics would entitle their books to Orpheus, as designing to gain credit and authority to them thereby, had there been no such doctrine before, either contained in some ancient monument of Orpheus, or at least transmitted down by oral tradition from him. Wherefore the Pythagorics themselves constantly maintain, that before Pythagoras's time, there was not only an Orphic cabala extant, but also Orphic poems. The former was declared in that ancient book called The holy Oration—-if we may believe Proclus upon the Timaeus: ... Timaeus being a Pythagorean, follows the Pythagoric principles, and these are the Orphic traditions; for what things Orpheus delivered mystically, (or in arcane allegories,; these Pythagoras learned when he was initiated by Aglaophemus in the Orphic mysteries, Pythagoras himself affirming as much in his book, called The holy Oration.—-Where Proclus, without any doubt or scruple, entitles the book inscribed ... The holy Oration, to Pythagoras himself. Indeed, several of the ancients have resolved Pythagoras to have written nothing at all; as Fla. Josephus, Plutarch, Lucian, and Porphyrius ; and Epigenes in Clemens Alex, affirms, that the ... holy Oration, was written by Cercops, a Pythagorean. Nevertheless, Diogenes Laertius thinks them not to be in good earnest, who deny Pythagoras to have written any thing; and he tells us, that Heraclides acknowledged this ... holy Oration, for a genuine and indubitate foetus of Pythagoras. Jamblichus is also of the same opinion, as the most received; though confessing some to have attributed that book to Telaiiges, Pythagoras's son. But whoever was the writer of this Hieros Logos, whether Pythagoras himself, or Telauges, or Cercops, it must needs be granted to be of great antiquity, according to the testimony whereof, Pythagoras derived much of his theology from the Orphic traditions. Moreover, Ion Chius in his Trigrammi testified, as Clemens Alexandrinus informeth us, that Pythagoras himself referred some poems to Orpheus as their author; which is also the general sense of Platonists as well as Pythagoreans. Wherefore upon all accounts it seems most probable, that either Orpheus himself wrote some philosophic or theologic poems, though certain other poems might be also fathered on him, because written in the same strain of mystical and allegorical theology, and as it were in the same spirit, with which this Thracian prophet was inspired; or, at least, that the Orphic doctrine was first conveyed down by oral cabala or tradition from him, and afterwards, for its better preservation, expressed in verses, that were imputed to Orpheus, after the same manner as the Golden Verses written by Lysis were to Pythagoras. And Philoponusa intimates this latter to have been Aristotle's opinion concerning the Orphic verses; he glossing thus upon those words of Aristotle before cited: ... Aristotle calls them the reputed Orphic verses, because they seem not to have been written by Orpheus himself, as the same Aristotle affirmeth in his book of philosophy. The doctrine and opinions of them indeed were his, but Onomacritus is said to have put them into verse.—-However, there can be no doubt at all made, but that the Orphic verses, by whomsoever written, were some of them of great antiquity (they being much older than either Aristotle, Plato, or Herodotus) as they were also had in great esteem amongst the Pagans; and therefore we may very well make a judgment of the theology of the ancient Pagans from them." -- Ralph Cudworth, philosopher, The True Intellectual System of the Universe, Volume II, The History of Orpheus: Not a Mere Romance, 1672

"964 B.C. Sesostris crossed the Hellespont and conquered Thrace, killing Lycurges, their king. He gave the kingdom of Lycurgus and one of his Muses or singing women named Calliope to Oeagrus, the father of Orpheus." -- Isaac Newton, alchemist/mathematician, Revised History of Ancient Kingdom's, 1721

"938 B.C. Orpheus deified the son of Semele by naming him Bacchus and created ceremonies to honour him." -- Isaac Newton, alchemist/mathematician, Revised History of Ancient Kingdom's, 1721

"Timaeus (says Proclus) being a Pythagorean, follows the Pythagoric principles, and these are the Orphic traditions; for what Orpheus delivered mystically in secret discourses, these Pythagoras learned when he was initiated by Aglaophemus in the Orphic mysteries." -- Thomas Paine, The Hymns of Orpheus, 1792

"Marsilio Ficino not only asserted repeatedly the parallelism of Platonism with the Mosaic and Christian doctrines but absorbed the idea, chiefly from [Gemistus] Pletho, of an ancient succession through which certain truths came down from the Hebraic to the Hellenic culture. But it was Pico della Mirandola who was most influential in disseminating this doctrine. Notably in his Heptaplus he focused attention on Moses as the source of the truth attributed to the Greeks, his judgement being summarized in his famous statement: 'Was not Plato rightly called by Numenius Moses Atticus?'" -- Danton B. Sailor, historian, Moses and Atomism, Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 25, Number 1, Pages 3-16, Jan-Mar 1964

"In the Theologia Platonica, [Marsilio] Ficino gives the genealogy as (1) Zoroaster, (2) Mercurius Trismegistus, (3) Orpheus, (4) Aglaophemus, (5) Pythagoras, (6) Plato .... In the preface to Plotinus commentaries, Ficino says that divine theology began simultaneously with Zoroaster among the Persians and with Mercurius among the Egyptians; then goes on to Orpheus, Aglaophemus, Pythagoras, and Plato...." -- Frances Yates, historian, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 1964

"Thus the more ancient philosophers, such as Orpheus, who were closer to the true philosophy, held that gravity was a direct result of the exercise of divine power." -- J.E. McGuire and P.M. Rattansi, historians, Newton and the Pipes of Pan, 1966

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