Sunday, March 27, 2011


Feyo L. Schuddeboom, Greek Religious Terminology – Telete & Orgia: A Revised and Expanded English Edition of the Studies by Zijderveld and Van der Burg. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 169. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009. Pp. xxii, 285. ISBN 9789004178137. $138.00.

Reviewed by Alberto Bernabé, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (

Version at BMCR home site


This book examines the use of two Greek religious terms: τελετή and ὄργια and it consists of three parts.


Part One Τελετή in literary sources: Chapter One. Introduction (pp. 3-5),1 Chapter Two (pp. 7-37) The use of τελετή up to Alexander, Chapter Three (pp. 39-101) The use of τελετή after Alexander, Chapter Four (pp.103-118) Τελετή in Jewish and Christian authors, and Chapter Five (pp. 119-124) Summary.

Part Two Ὄργια in literary sources:

Chapter Six (pp.127-129) Introduction, Chapter Seven (pp. 131-144) The use of ὄργια up to Alexander, Chapter Eight (pp. 145-196) The use of ὄργια after Alexander.2

Part Three Τελετή and ὄργια in Inscriptions: Chapter Eleven (pp. 201-225) The use of τελετή in inscriptions, Chapter Twelve (pp. 227-238) The use of ὄργια in inscriptions.

Appendix A (pp.239-248) Falsa et dubia, Appendix B (pp. 245-248) The Proper Name Τελετή, Bibliography and Indexes

Part One is a revised edition of C. Zijderveld, Τελετή: Bijdrage tot de kennis der religieuze terminologie in het Grieksch (1934). The author has added new literary sources (listed in pp. XVII-XVIII) and has moved the inscriptions to a new chapter in Part Three. Part Two is a revised edition of the third part of the study by N.M.H. van der Burg, Ἀπόρρητα - δρώμενα - ὄργια: Bijdrage tot de kennis der religieuze terminologie in het Grieksch (1939). The author has supplemented the literary sources (for a list, see pp. XVIII-XIX) and has collected the attestations of the Latin loanword orgia in a new chapter.

The interest of this book is the collection of sources, that will be very useful for further studies about religious language.3 Nevertheless the analysis of passages and meanings, as in Zijderveld's book, is superficial, a criticism that Schuddeboom has not attempted to mitigate (in his own words p. xii). Observations accumulate with little order, and conclusions are frequently somewhat vague. For instance, in p. 35 (about Leg. 870d) the author states: "evidently τελεταὶ here refers to a special religious ceremony teaching the transmigration of the soul". One might want to ask what to what sort of ceremony Plato alluded.

There are also some mistakes in the philological, religious or semantic analysis. I will give some examples.

a) The author includes among the examples of the use of τελετή before Alexander a passage of the Batrachomyomachia that is considered Hellenistic or post-Hellenistic by modern scholars,4 arguing that the parodist possibly used terms derived of old epic (p. 8). He should be more cautious with this testimony, because it is precisely the only place in which the word does not refer to a religious rite, as he correctly states (p. 8); nevertheless in p. 36 his first conclusion is that 'The original, general meaning (performance without a sacral connotation), appears to be attested only at Batrachom. 305'. And in p. 119 he asserts that the original meaning is achievement, performance in a neutral and wide sense. It is hardly acceptable to consider that a single, later testimony that comes from a parody, probably a Hellenistic or post-Hellenistic work, had the original meaning of τελετή against the consistent evidence of his religious character in the other examples from much earlier times. Schuddeboom follows here a prejudice common among 19th-century scholars, according to which the 'original' meaning of all terms was vague and general, against the evidence of examples.

b) Schuddeboom explains why Herodotus calls Egyptian ceremonies τελεταί arguing that 'all Egyptian religious acts were ... performed with meticulous care and a certain underlying dogma' (p. 45). It is easier to consider it a clear example of the well-known Herodotean practice of the interpretatio Graeca of Egyptian rituals.

c) He correctly remarks that Plutarch connects τελετή with τελευτή (p. 4), but it would be interesting to indicate that Plato clearly precedes Plutarch in this connection.5

d) A passage by Chrysippus (fr. 42 v. Arnim) presents τελετή in a metaphorical use, indicating that the philosopher considered philosophy as the highest form of τελετή. Surprisingly Schuddeboom (p. 40) considers that the word has here the meaning 'end doctrine'.6 Evidently, as author states (p. 40) 'this Stoic theology was not intended for everyone'.

e) The use of τελετή in magical papyri is a consequence of the well-known tendency of the magicians to be equated with the professionals of the mysteries; it is not a different use of the term.

Finally, the bibliography is frequently superseded or incomplete.7 Many authors are quoted from old editions.8

To sum up, Schuddeboom's book is useful as a collection of classified and translated materials, both literary and epigraphical, about two important religious terms related with the interesting world of the Eleusinian, Bacchic and Orphic mysteries, but the treatment is rudimentary and there are many shortcomings in both semantic and religious methodology.


1.   It is a sketch of the meanings of τελετή, hardly a list indicating the words to which some Greek authors relate this.
2.   This time the Conclusion takes one page at the end of the Chapter Ten.
3.   I have noticed only one omission: Lyrica Adespota 1038 ΙΙ Campbell ἐμῇ κενώσω τελετῇ. The author could have used some indirect evidence of the use of τελεταί in old epic, for instance, Eumelus' Europia 27 West (Schol. D Il. 6.131) διδαχθεὶς τὰς τελετὰς καὶ λαβὼν πᾶσαν παρὰ τῆς θεοῦ τὴν διασκευήν (Antoninus Liberalis 3.5.1, quoted by author in p. 75, probably refers to the same text); Hesiodus fr. 131 Merkelbach-West (Apollodorus 2.2.2) ἐμάνησαν, ὡς μὲν Ἡσίοδός φησιν, ὅτι τὰς Διονύσου τελετὰς οὐ κατεδέχοντο; Onomacritus F 4 D'Agostino (Pausanias 8.37.5) παρὰ δὲ Ὁμήρου Ὀνομάκριτος παραλαβὼν τῶν Τιτάνων τὸ ὄνομα Διονύσωι τε συνέθηκεν ὄργια κτλ.
4.   Apart from Wolke's monograph (1978), quoted by the author (p. 8 n. 3), cf. H. Ahlborn, Untersuchungen zur pseudo-homerischen Batrachomyomachie Diss. Göttingen 1959, and Pseudo-Homer, Der Froschmäusekrieg, Berlin 1968.
5.   Pl.R. 364e λύσεις τε καὶ καθαρμοὶ ἀδικημάτων διὰ θυσιῶν καὶ παιδιᾶς ἡδονῶν εἰσι μὲν ἔτι ζῶσιν, εἰσὶ δὲ καὶ τελευτήσασιν, ἃς δὴ τελετὰς καλοῦσιν. Using the particle δή Plato states that these rites are called τελεταί because they have something to do with the dead (τελευτήσασιν).
6.   Cf. a similar procedure in Plato, Phd. 69c, who asserts that the real βάκχοι are οἱ πεφιλοσοφηκότες ὀρθῶς. It would be a misunderstanding to affirm that βάκχος means 'philosopher' at this time.
7.   I give only some examples: a) about τελετή: G. Casadio, "Per un'indagine storico-religiosa sui culto di Dioniso in relazione alla fenomenologia dei misteri, II", Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni VII, 1, 1983, 123-149, Ch. Riedweg, Mysterienterminologie bei Platon, Philon und Klemens von Alexandrien Berlin-New York 1987, R. M. Simms, "Myesis, Telete, and Mysteria", Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 31, 1990, 183-195, and specially (Hispanicum est, non legitur) Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal, "Consideraciones sobre las τελεταί órficas", in Actas del X Congreso Español de Estudios Clásicos, Madrid, III, 2002, 127-133, ead., Rituales órficos, Doct. diss. 2004, 753 pp. ( b) about Orphic Hymns: Gabriella Ricciardelli, Inni Orphici, Milan 2000, Anne-France Morand, Études sur les Hymnes orphiques, Leiden 2001; c) about rhombos (p. 36): A.S.F. Gow, "Ἴυγξ, ῥόμβος, turbo", Journal of Hellenic Studies 54, 1934, 1-13, O. Levaniouk, "The Toys of Dionysos", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 103, 2007,165-202. d) On Christian authors: M. Herrero de Jáuregui, Tradición órfica y cristianismo antiguo, Madrid, 2007, BMCR 2008.07.54, new edition, in English, Orphism and Christianity in Late Antiquity, Berlin 2009 BMCR 2010.10.52.
8.   So, for instance, a fragment of Aeschylus (p. 11) and another by Sophocles (p. 12) are quoted from Nauck's edition, which has been definitively superseded by Radt's, while Dionysius Scytobrachion is quoted on p. 42 from Jacoby's edition, instead of Rusten's. The examples could be multiplied.

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