The Derveni Papyrus: The Most Ancient Book in Europe Involved in a Campaign Against Orpheus?
Cronus castrates Uranus (16th Century) by Vasari and Gherardi. Palazzo Vecchio. ( Public Domain )
Was the Derveni Papyrus part of a Religion Smear Campaign?
Richard Janko, one of the leading researchers on the Derveni Papyrus and one of the first to publish (an unofficial) version of the text, has said that the importance of the papyrus indicates that “Ancient Athens was in the grips of a culture war between science and religion.”
In the Derveni Papyrus he credits the unknown writer with the disclosure of details of the Orphic and other mysteries, seemingly with the goal of “putting people off” from initiating into the mysteries. Janko asserts that the argument against the Orphic mysteries culminates at column 20.
Here is a copy of the text from column 20:
those men who, while performing the rites in the cities, have seen the holy things, I wonder less that they do not have knowledge. For it is not possible to hear and at the same time to understand (or: learn) what is being said. But all those who (hope to acquire knowledge?) from someone who makes craft of the holy rites deserve to be wondered at and pitied. Wondered at because, thinking that they will know before they perform the rites, they go away after having performed them before they have attained knowledge, without even asking further questions, as though they knew anything of what they have seen or heard or learned; and pitied because it is not enough for them to have spent their money in advance, but they also go off deprived even of their judgement. Hoping before performing the holy rites that they will attain knowledge, they go away after having performed them deprived of hope too. ... by his own... mother ... sister ...
Simplified, Janko believes that the author was saying that the initiates “Are gullible and waste their money…because they accept the priest’s explanation and do not enquire further into what they have heard.” According to Janko, the issue for the Derveni Papyrus’ author was not with religion, but instead with taking all religious ritual and text as literal.
However, the claims the Derveni Papyrus’ author made in writing may have been seen as blasphemous if they were presented publically and, as Janko says, “If the Athenians did sentence him to death for impiety, as they sentenced Diagoras of Melos [one of the proposed authors of the text], this would certainly have been in accord with the attitudes that they are documented to have held in the closing decades of the fifth century BC.” All of this leads one to wonder, who was within the funeral pyre and why did the individual have this text? These questions remain unanswered.
Diagoras of Melos in the painting ‘The School of Athens.’ Some scholars believe that Diagoras of Melos was the writer of the Derveni Papyrus. ( Public Domain )
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A UNESCO Inscription to Protect the Derveni Papyrus
UNESCO’s recent inscription has the goal to preserve the Derveni Papyrus as part of the Memory of the World Register “for present and future generations in the spirit of international cooperation and mutual understanding, building peace in the minds of women and men.”
Well before UNESCO noted the importance of the Derveni Papyrus, it was already accepted as a significant manuscript by many scholars and, if one is interested, copies of the text in the original Greek or translated into English are available at several online sites, such as: the Imouseion Project and the Art of Wise .
Featured image: Section of the Derveni Papyrus. ( To BHMA )
Betegh, G. (2004). The Derveni Papyrus: Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation. Cambridge University Press.
Ideas Roadshow. (2013). The Derveni Papyrus - A conversation with Richard Janko. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyOMfrVwgGk
Janko, R. (n.d.). Reconstructing (Again)the Opening of the Derveni Papyrus. http://ancphil.lsa.umich.edu/-/downloads/faculty/janko/reconstructing-again-derveni.pdf
Muellner, L., Nagy, G., Papadopoulou, I. (2015). The Derveni Papyrus: An Interdisciplinary Research Project. http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5418
NEOnline (2015). The Most Ancient Book in Europe. http://neurope.eu/article/the-most-ancient-book-in-europe/
Pearse, R. (2006). The Derveni Papyrus (PDerveni). http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/manuscripts/derveni.htm
Pearse, R. (2012). An Online Version of the Derveni Papyrus. http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2012/06/23/an-online-edition-of-the-derveni-papyrus/
UPI (2006). ‘Oldest’ Papyrus is Finally Decoded. http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2006/06/01/Oldest-papyrus-is-finally-decoded/23991149183747/