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Fate of the soul, role of Furies

The Derveni Papyrus comprises two parts. The first, in columns 1-6, is more fragmentary. There are references to the Erinnyes or Fates (1, 4), to demons that are «servants of the gods» (2, 3), oracles and prophecies (5) and sacrifices (6), while column 4 preserves a hitherto unknown extract from Heraclitus. The text is clearly eschatological and the author appears to be discussing the fate of the soul and the role of the Furies. In the second part, the author comments, line by line, on an orphic cosmogony and attempts to explain it in philosophical terms. Attempting to give a logical explanation of a mystical text, the author resorts to allegory. The language (Ionian dialect with strong elements of the Attic, or the reverse), the style and the content date the author of the text to the late fifth century BC, around the time of the Peloponnesian War, when Socrates was in his maturity. It was written in the last quarter of the fourth century BC, at the time when Aristotle and Alexander the Great died. The information it contains about Orphism and previously unknown aspects of pre-Socratic philosophy make it «the most significant new evidence about ancient Greek philosophy and religion since the Renaissance,» say Tsantsanoglou, Kouremenos and Prasaoglou. «The author,» they note, «influenced by the thinking of various pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Empedocles and Democritus, but above all by Anaxagoras and Diogenes Appolloniatis, imaginatively interprets the orphic Hymn to Zeus, the ruler of all, as an allegory of the evolution of the universe from an extremely hot and chaotic state to a cosmos, in the original sense of the world, with an orderly system.» According to the anonymous author, the successive reigns of gods are no more than successive stages in the creation of the present world. «When Orpheus refers to Uranus, the sky, he means the mind that determines creation. Cronos (or Saturn) is the mind that shapes beings. Aphrodite and Armonia are just names for copulation and the piecing together of beings. There are no deities such as Earth, Demeter, Rhea and Hera. They are the names of the air, the mother from whom all flows, the mind that man named Zeus.»

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