Sunday, September 13, 2015


Marie-Christine Fayant, Hymnes orphiques. Collection des Universités de France. Série grecque, 509. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2014. Pp. cii, 776. ISBN 9782251005935. €117.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Alberto Bernabé, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (

Version at BMCR home site

Editions of the Orphic Hymns are not many. In the 19th century they were edited with other Orphic texts by Hermann and Abel1, in the 20th by Quandt and, at the end of the century, by Ricciardelli, both excellent editions.2 Nevertheless, the lack of an edition of the Hymns in English-language scholarship is surprising.3 In French-speaking ambiance, two eminent scholars had the intention of making a new edition, F. Vian and J. Rudhardt, but the inclement passing of time prevented both of them from fulfilling their aim. M.-C. Fayant was invited by Vian to collaborate in the edition he was preparing (p. vii), and when he died (2008) she decided to finish the work. Now Fayant's book completes the collection of Orphica in the Budé series.4

The book has the following parts:
Avant-Propos (i-x)
Introduction (xi-cii)
Edition (1-666) 5
Annexe: Quelques aspects de la théologie des Hymnes Orphiques (667-709)
Bibliographie sélective (711-716)
Liste des hymnes du recueil (717-719)
Lexique des épithèts divines (721-754)
Index (755-771).

Regarding the stemma codicum and the transmission the author accepts without changes the results of the study by Quandt (xxxiv). Among the corrections and conjectures proposed by her, some clearly improve the text6; others are hapax legomena but are plausible7; others are contra metrum8; others unnecessary or dubious.9

Concerning the translation, the author rejects the proposal by Rudhardt of making explicit a "latent syntax under the parataxis"10; instead she proposes to make "une traduction unique pour chaque épithète" (ix). It is a translation more faithful than elegant, which undoubtedly improves on the scarce precedents in French.

Commentaries on particular questions are ample and useful. However, the book shows some inadequacies in the references to the Orphic literature or religion in general. The main sources repeatedly quoted are a book by M. L. West, important but published more than thirty years ago, and works in French.11 From the plentiful recent bibliography about Orphism, some titles are present in the "Bibliographie selective" but never quoted in the text12, and authors and works fundamental for relevant questions are not even present.13 A quotation of p. 711 exemplifies the author's lack of interest for Spanish bibliography by mentioning "A. Bernabé, F. Casadesús, M. A. Santamaria (sic) (éd.), Orfeo y la tradición órfica, nuevas perspectivas, Madrid 2008". This book does not exist. The author has mingled the titles of two different works that have very different contents: a book in which a kind of summa of Orphic literature and religion is presented14 and another in which various essays about relevant problems of Orphism are collected.15 In both of them prestigious authors from other countries have collaborated with the Spanish ones. This seems to indicate that the author has not used either of them; as a consequence, on the one hand, she quotes a work by Anne-France Morand, "Etymologies of divine names in Orphic texts" as belonging to the same ghost book; and on the other, she seems to ignore such papers as Ana Galjanić's "Three and then some: Typology of invocation and enumeration in the Orphic Hymns", published in Orfeo y el orfismo: nuevas perspectivas, or Gabriella Ricciardelli's, "Los himnos órficos", included in Orfeo y la tradición órfica: un reencuentro. In both books there are plenty of questions that would be useful for the commentary, but ... Hispanicum non legitur.

It is also strange that the edition of Orphica by O. Kern16 is quoted in the "Bibliographie sélective" (714), but not my own edition, which is actually used in the book. It is quoted indeed on p. xi n. 3, but not accurately, because it is indicated as published in 2005, while in fact it consists of three volumes (2004, 2005, and 2007), the third of which includes a complete edition of the Derveni papyrus with critical apparatus, commentaries, and indices.17 A look at the index fontium of this edition would have avoided the author's erroneous assertion (56): "c'est (sc. l'Hymne à Protogonos) le seul de la collection qu'O. Kern puis A. Bernabé ont incorporé dans leur recueis respectifs (fr. 87 K. 143 B.)". In fact Bernabé's edition incorporates also the whole hymn 44 (fr. 327 VII Bernabé).

References in the introduction or in the commentaries to capital Orphic texts, such as the Derveni papyrus18 or the Gold Tablets19 show the same lack of information about recent bibliography, causing some mistakes.20

To sum up, the book is a good edition of the Hymns, which will be welcomed especially by French speakers; it includes a faithful translation and useful notes about specific questions, but is not sufficiently up to date in the general vision of Orphic religion and literature.


1.   G. Hermann, Orphica cum notis, Lipsiae 1805, E. Abel, Orphica, Lipsiae-Pragae 1885.
2.   G. Quandt, Orphei hymni, Berolini 1941 (21955).
3.   The text by A. N. Athanassakis, Orphic Hymns: Text, Translation , and Notes, Atlanta 1977 is that of W. Quandt. His translation is the first in English after Taylor's (1792).
4.   F. Vian, Les argonautiques orphiques, Paris 1987; R. Halleux-J. Schamp, Les lapidaires grecs, Paris 1985 (including the "Lapidaire orphique").
5.   The edition of every Hymn is preceded by an introduction and followed by a commentary.
6.   This is the case of σὺν ὀλβιοδώτισιν Ὥραις (10.29, 26.11, 32.6) or κάρπιμε κοῦρε (52.12).
7.   For instance σφαράγιαι (24.2).
8.   Examples are περιθρόνια (7.4) or Δυσαύλου παῖδ᾽ ἅγνόν (41.6).
9.   For instance: θείην (Prol. 19) that creates an asyndeton and presents two epithets referred to the same deity; αὐδῶν (Prol. 39), that is the unique participle agreeing with the subject in all the poem, or χαριτωπέ (17.5), simply unnecessary (χαριδῶτα is acceptable).
10.   J. Rudhardt, "Quelques réflexions sur les hymnes orphiques", in Ph. Borgeaud (éd.), Orphisme et Orphée en l'honneur de Jean Rudhardt, Genève 1991, 263-288, especially 265.
11.   M. L. West, The Orphic Poems, Oxford 1983, L. Brisson, Orphée et l'Orphisme dans l'Antiquité gréco-romaine, Aldershoot 1995, A.-F. Morand, Études sur les Hymnes orphiques, Leiden 2001, F. Jourdan, Le Papyrus de Derveni, Paris 2003. On p. xvii the author quotes a paper by C. Calame, "Qu'est ce qui est orphique dans les Orphica", 2002, without indication of the publication to which it belongs (Revue de l'histoire des religions 219, 2002, 385-400).
12.   A. Laks and G.W. Most, Studies on the Derveni papyrus, Oxford 1977 (quoted as authors not as editors of the book), F. Graf and S. I. Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife. Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets, London-New York 2007.
13.   This is the case for Gabor Betegh, Radcliffe Edmonds III or, incredibly, Walter Burkert. Also an important paper is missing: F. Graf, "Serious Singing: The Orphic Hymns as Religious Texts", Kernos 22, 2009, 169-182.
14.   A. Bernabé, F. Casadesús (éd.), Orfeo y la tradición órfica: un reencuentro, Madrid 2008
15.   A. Bernabé, F. Casadesús, M. A. Santamaría (éd.), Orfeo y el orfismo: nuevas perspectivas, Alicante 2010 Biblioteca Virtual, Miguel de Cervantes.
16.   O. Kern Orphicorum fragmenta, Berlin 1922.
17.   Poetae Epici Graeci. Testimonia et fragmenta, Pars. II, fasc. 1-2, Orphicorum et Orphicis similium testimonia et fragmenta, Munich-Leipzig 2004-2005; II fasc. 3, Musaeus · Linus · Epimenides · Papyrus Derveni · Indices, Berlin-New York 2007.
18.   For example: regarding the Derveni Papyrus the editor mentions (xvi) "les vingt-trois colonnes reconstituées (plus des fragments de quatre colonnes précédentes)"; that is odd, because the number of the surviving columns of papyrus is 26; reconstructing the Derveni theogony she says that "Zeus avale Prôtogonos" (xix). The author does not mention that many authors, among them W. Burkert, consider that Protogonos in the Derveni theogony is a epithet of Uranus, not an independent character, cf. the discussions in G. Betegh, The Derveni Papyrus. Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation, Cambridge 2004, 111ff, and A. Bernabé, "The Derveni Theogony: Many Questions and Some Answers", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 103, 2007, 99-133.
19.   Discussion about the Orphic character of the Gold Tablets is reduced to a reference to Calame (xvi n. 23). Works such as A. Bernabé - A. I. Jiménez San Cristóbal, Instructions for the Netherworld. The Orphic Gold Tablets, Leiden-Boston 2008, or R. G. Edmonds III (ed.), The "Orphic" Gold Tablets and Greek Religion. Further along the Path, Cambridge 2011 are not even mentioned.
20.   To quote only a few of them about theogonies: the author expresses the odd idea that the Derveni theogony is an "interprétation allégorique ... de la théogonie d'Hésiode" (xx). On the other hand, she accepts without discussion affirmations by Luc Brisson that run counter to the communis opinio: a) dating the Rhapsodies to the 1st-2nd centuries AD (normally there are dated to the 2nd- 1st BCE); b) considering the Theogony by Hieronymus and Hellanicus earlier than the Rhapsodies (the widespread idea is that the order is the reverse), or that the theogony quoted by the Pseudoclementina is that by Hieronymus and Hellanicus (W. Burkert, "Orpheus und die Vorsokratiker. Bemerkungen zum Derveni-Papyrus und zur pythagoreischen Zahlenlehre, Antike und Abenlandland, 14, 1968, 93-114, especially 109 n. 45 argued that it is the same as the Rhapsodies, followed by M. L. West, Orphic Poems, Oxford 1983, 266, and by me, A. Bernabé , "La teogonía órfica citada en las Pseudoclementina", Adamantius 14, 2008,79-99). These problems are to be expected when only one source is consulted.

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