Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juli 2006

4.3. Die inter- und transdisziplinären Verhältnisse kultureller Vermittlung
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Edit Técsy (Szeged)


Orpheus is a complicated figure of the Greek mythology. He is a poet, a musician, a lover, who descended into the underworld to lead back his beloved wife, Eurydice - but he failed.

It is not possible to state with certainty whether the Thracian hero, Orpheus ever really existed or not. If he was a real historical figure he was a religious leader, a theologos, a prophet and a martyr, and he had followers, called the orphic.

As the mysteries had no dogma, their ideas are uncertain, it is difficult for us to reconstruct the Orphic cosmogony, ethos and imaginations. Scholars however describe the life-work of some authors as "orphic" - yet, they have never defined that term.

And it is not easy to explain that word, because orphism itself was antonymic in the antiquity. According to the myths, Orpheus was the son of Apollon and a priest of Dionysos, so he is connected to light, the Sun, the nous, and to darkness and instincts.

However Hungarian scholars in the 20 th century had a more-or-less common view of orphism.

According to Béla Hamvas, poems of Sándor Weöres returned to pure music, the ancient form - in Hamvas’s opinion this is the rebirth of orphism(1).

He thinks that the main point of Orphism is the descent to de deepest level of the soul, and at same time it was for the ancient Greek people an epiphany. Orpheus is trying to go beyond the myths, the figures of Orpheus and Christ blend in the images which flash in the depth of the human psyche.

But Weöres does not place Orpheus between opposing ideas but makes him the holder of opposing ideas - he sees contradictions as complementation. That concept is analogous to mythopoetic method. According to the above orphism is magic, it features the unity of the pieces of the world, and shows the belief in the constructive power of music and words.

Béla Hamvas suggests an allegorical explanation of the myth when he interprets the musician’s descent into Hades as the catharsis of the soul. In his view man has to go to the underworld to regain the other part of his soul (feminine), which was heavy, and sunk into the dark matter. This is the essence of the Orphic mystery(2). Károly Kerényi also describes the descent into the psyche as something specifically orphic. When we use the word: orphic, it usually refers to the Neue Gedichte of Rilke , where the borders are not clear. Outside and inside, earth and heaven, up and down are not the opposites of each other, the basis of this poetry is not the platonic dualism.

This is similar in the texts of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, who was the translator of many of Rilke’s poems. There is always a point, when the senses can meet, and unity of form is possible.

So my question is why scholars - when talking about orphism - mean only the platonic or new platonic ideas. I think this is because the final stage of orphism was Platonic. In the 4 th century BC an elite school of Orphics adopted Platonic ideas. But previously probably the orphism had 3 stages.

"A work of art can only arrest transitory nature if it is rooted in two dimensions: life and death at the same time"(3)

Ernő Kulcsár Szabó thinks that we need to separate the orphism of the Neue Gedichte from the concept of Hamvas and Weöres, because he discovers that the Neue Gedichte is free from all mystical or magical meanings. However, he defines it with almost the same words (Die Sonette an Orpheus is a pursuit of creating unity again between the two dimension of life by going back to the orphical tradition which is the most ancient function of poetry.)

By these words we come closer to the essence of magic, because in the age of magic the world was not divided, gods walked between humans. Thus the words above lead us to the essence of magic. Arthur Danto calls our attention to the connection between magic and art, and he claims, that there is no art in the magical view of world, because the world does not consist of two parts, therefore categories of reality and fiction are meaningless. He thinks that art began when man realized these separations. The art of Neue Gedichte is magical, borders become burred between living and inanimate, creator and creature. But it is important that they do not disappear completely, yet sometimes there is a slight hope that they can be united. But being one is never complete, just the borderland becomes dim, the field of "between".

We need a new different definition of orphism, free from mysticism and magic.

The poetry of János Sziveri shows a new unfamiliar aspect of the orphic. Sziveri’s life-work seems to be devoid of mysticism but all elements of the tradition of orphism can be found in his poems.

We can discover the elements of the orphic cosmogony in his poems, for example, the beginning of the world in an egg, then life goes on from Oceanos and Thetys’s wedding.

There is duality in mysteries: initiation is accompanied with a different state of mind: the initiated goes into trance or has a pure consciousness, but initiation happens according to strict rules and through successive stages.

The title of the first piece of the cycle "Anti-poetic" is "Orphic daily routines". Therefore we expect a set of rules - and indeed we get one. The basis of these poems is the exact keeping to the rules of ceremony and rite, but these are connected to objects of the daily routine. The formal regularity is not unknown in the orphism, as Karoly Kerényi wrote: the orphic religion has no spiritual feature. This is a delusive instruction of travelling priests in the age of Augustus.(4) The orphic is a paradoxical phenomenon: the carnal-minded approach to the world connected with exceptional adoration of sacred books. That is why it becomes an ascetic life style fixed by rules, "literature-manufacturing" in the course of time.

There are two interpretations of orphism; the question is, why the first one is familiar to literary history. Probably this is due to the deficiency of sources, so on the basis of the existing fragments it is difficult to reconstruct the orphic principles, and furthermore it came to light that the orphic hymns - which are said to be written by Orpheus himself - were formed after the Homeric hymns, and not in a mythical period.

The papyrus from Derven(5), the only orphic find in Greece can help us with the reinterpreting. It contains not only an orphic poem but also its explanation from 340-320BC. The author of the papyrus is trying to interpret the rite, thus making an attempt at rationalizing it, and claims that faith and knowledge are the same and they are based upon understanding. According to János Pilinszky: "true mysticism is in fact hyperrealism"(6). According to the papyrus, to pronounce, to speak and to teach are the same, and so are prophesy and endurance. Sziveri seems to be having a dialogue with the author of that papyrus, in his texts the rite is always connected with questions concerning the meaning of rite.

But the orphic world-egg is equal to the poem, the poem is broken and it is born again from itself. So the universe of the poems is a broken one, born from a broken language. If I use the word: broken, it means: supposing that there was a "whole"; but only when we compare parts to the whole the parts are fragments. I don’t want to dwell on the idea of broken world - I just wanted to mention that it is connected to orphism.

Orpheus is the son of Apollo, he gets his lyre and prognostic power from his father, so he partakes of harmony, the Sun, the future. But he is also linked to Dionysus, who is also called Hades, the underground-Dionysus. Orpheus is the initiated to his mystery, he could enter the underground, so he has knowledge of death and the past, so he is connected with Night. They also suffered the same death, the sparagmos - they were torn to pieces. So one part of the orphic mystery can also be the tearing of the body. Truncation is central in contemporary art. The figure of Orpheus becomes significant in the 20 th century-literature because art experiences many border crossings and violations of frontiers. Art while trying to define itself, all the time insists on its own limits. The borders of the arts are crossed, philosophy and art, art and life. Arthur Danto distinguishes the ‘disturbational’ art - in which reality is an actual component, for example blood, obscenity, frontal nudity, mutilation, actual pain - from art which is disturbing in the traditional sense through representing disturbing things even in disturbing ways - but only in museums, kept away from real life(7).

Developing the above train of thought about magic, we must recognize that the border between art and real life is vanishing, so we could call it magic.

The Cold-test quotes the Apocalypse of St John, part of the Holy Bible which is close to the mysteries, since predictions, prophecies, apparition, visions are important in the pagan cultures also. Only the initiated can interpret the apparition, because it is a confused mass without any meaning for the profane crowd.

But initiation needs not only the presence of those who are going to be initiated and liturgy but also that of a mediator, an initiatory, who opens the knowledge. We connected the orphism with the worship of books, we made the world and the poem equal, and the initiatory in this structure is the literary tradition. What is Sziveri’s attitude to tradition? He refuses to belong to any tradition, did not identify ancestors, the roots and the purpose are also uncertain. He queries whether there were any great masters in the past (Where are you, fictitious masters?). It seems that he contradicts himself when he proposes mottos, dedications to his verses, then he includes in his poems texts of previous authors and of the Bible which is the base of the European culture into his own verses in inverted commas (or not). But it just seems to be inconsistent, since it is not about the total refusal of the tradition, only the absence of the interpretation - that is why it becomes lifeless, because it does not have any part in human life. These poems suggest that we need an interpreted tradition, because the feeling that life is fragmented arises from the absence of the interpretation. The essence of this modern orphism is the experience of that fragmentariness.

In the Dionysian mystery after tearing the body, the omophagy, eating the flesh is next. In the natural order the son kills his father and takes his place; but in the Dionysian mystery the mother kills her son, so the genesis is annihilated. The Greek and the biblical Genesis have the same structure: the creation of the world means dividing the impartible into dichotomies: light - dark; liquid - massive; up - down; human and divine world. Eating the body of the god usually symbolizes rebirth, victory of life over death. The consuming of the body of the god symbolizes possession of his power. Cooking can be a mediatory action, where we need "mediators": water, a pot, air. So preparing a meal is symbolically a mediatory action between heaven and earth, life and death, nature and civilization(8). But we find just remains, leftovers, waste material, so the meal is not food any longer. Somebody always leaves food behind on the table, which has only one feature left: disgustingness.

The poetry of Sziveri contains all of the Dionysian elements of the orphic mystery - cutting into pieces then eating - but he, who made the sacrifice, still did not become initiated, when he finished the action.

This absence involves problems of poetry: (my rough translation ) "It’s not a poem any more. There is something wrong with both the poet and poetry: if I described the family tree of my desk, I would nist under its shade" To find the roots, to connect with the tradition could mean protection, safety, shelter, but the world of poems talks about tradition as something separated from presence. But Sziveri highlights, that it does not originate in the nature of tradition, but in the relationship of the present to ideas.

Undigested seeds/ In our craw - this is a repetitive motif in the book. Is the role of the poet to preserve thoughts as messages?

But the poet’s task is not only to save ideas but also interpretations. But seership is not accepted, instead, the role will be defined as wavering, in a conditional mood.

"all of my things could be understood / but language is not exact and fragile / on my dissecting-table, under my accessories" (Sign)

I claimed that initiation can be failed because of an absence of initiators, or because the connection was broken with them. If one - of those who are going to be initiated - is trying to restore that relation by interpretation, he will see that his tools are inadequate. He needs to trust in language for the interpretation, but it is clear that words are feeble and useless, the language itself is just a fragment, it has no power to evoke anyone, as it has in magic: " heavenly saliva doesn’t yet drip down on the limbs (+ taste). Mysteries of Word are not accessible for us". Here is all that was stressed in the Dionysian mystery. The Hungarian word "íz" can mean "piece" and "taste" and "soul", can allude to sparagmos and omophagy - but neither of them is linked to divine presence, though this would be essential to incarnation. Therefore the word remains insoluble, there is no mediation between earth and heaven, between divine and human. When there is a possibility in the place "between" where elements of the world can unite in the Neue Gedichte of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, then in Sziveri there are no such borders, either because the world was not divided - "In the beginning: there is only the waste and the desert. / there is nothing between them. But the "between" does not exist either" (beginnings) - or it is irrevocably parted, and man exists in a vacuum , in a "gap": "Gap - I think - gap is infiltrating - / epochal mystery" (gap) Initiation does not involve getting to know of the god and sharing in his fate - since the world consists of separate parts, which do not have a real connection with each other - just a participation in the liturgy and ceremony - and this goes for poetry too: "unopened, braised meat-pieces. Samples. / Fogsieves shake the cliff, each other’s standard meal" (Nine verses of me). "There is just a rite remains: nails are driven in the glazed wall of the workshop." (oo-) But it proves insufficient to observe rules of liturgy in life and in poetry too, so the individual is driven out of everything. "We must be continued in the "out" (Some point of history)

There is one more essential element of the mystery, which I haven’t mentioned yet: eroticism, love-making is also part of the initiation. It is an effort to define the Other and to reach the essence of the Other in poems (for example: Possessive case).The initiation is an erotic action, flesh and soul are united. The initiation of the text is nothing else but the recognition of its own identity.

Worship of body is blended with the Christian tradition. Figures of Orpheus and Christ were compared already in the Middle Ages, apocrypha claim that Jesus descended to the inferno, Orpheus appears as a good shepherd in paintings, and both of them died as a result of violence.

There is the Christian tradition in the poems of Sziveri, and critiques are confused at that point. "He liked to see himself as a fulfilment of Christ’s role"(9) But Sziveri made a statement to a critic: "It seems that they saw irony as a prophecy"(10). We have to recognize the tragedy in this poetry, the continuous border-crossing, which never fulfils hopes, there is always another borderline, there is no point, where beings can be connected. But irony can show the rebound of the modern individual who lost his tragedy. It can be an erotic rehandling, an uncontrollable intrusion of the transcendent demon (the knowledge) to the immanent discourse to the text.

© Edit Técsy (Szeged)


(1) Hamvas Béla: Medúza. In: Domokos Mátyás: Magyar Orpheus. Szépirodalmi, Bp.,1990.

(2) Hamvas Béla: Orpheusz. Orpheus 1991/ 2-3. 39-54.

(3) Kulcsár-Szabó Ernő: Mérték és hangzás /Az orfikus tárgyiasság Rilke kései lírájában. Orpheus / 1991.2-3.152-170, 168.

(4) Kerényi Károly: Halhatatlanság és Apollón-vallás. Magvető, Budapest, 1984.313.

(5) Col. I-VII.: K. Tsantsanoglou: The First Columns of the derveni Papyrus and their Religous Significance. In: Studies on the derveni Papyrus. Edd. A Laks-G.W. Most, Oxford, 1997. Col. VIII-XXVI: Der orphische Papyrus von Derveni. ZPE, 47, 1982, 300. vv.

(6)Symposion 1983/4. 216.

(7) Arthur C. Danto: The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. Columbia University Press, New York, 1986.

(8) Vö. Jan Kott: Zjadanije Bogów. Widawnictwo Literackie, Krakow, 1986

(9) Fekete Vince: Léttapasztalat és elmúlástudat, avagy az egzisztenciális helyzetértékeléstől a személyesség megtapasztalásáig. Kortárs/1997/1.69-75.

(10) A forrásvizek barbársága. Keresztury Tibor beszélgetése Sziveri Jánossal. Alföld/1989.11.46-60.

4.3. Die inter- und transdisziplinären Verhältnisse kultureller Vermittlung

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