The (Re)creative Figure of the Orphic Zeus


This paper analyses the divine figure of Zeus as creator and supreme divinity as it emerges in the Orphic Hymn to Zeus, a hymn-like Greek text dedicated to Zeus and handed down in four versions dated from the 5th to the 1st century BCE.

Zeus is here represented as beginning (principle), centre and end of the world, of which he epitomises also the divine artisan and ruler. The god appears to be immanent part of that world but also a transcendent creator: he is in control of time, both present and future, and identified with the personification of destiny (fate).

This main divinity is described as being both origin (first) and ruler. The god also holds the supremacy and origin of the divine family after having defeated and given new birth to the previous generations of gods, thus giving a new start to the theogonic and cosmogonic history: he absorbs and (re) creates the whole universe.

My analysis will focus on the creative figure of Zeus in the Hymn. Here, in fact, the focal point is also both diachronic and synchronic: diachronic because Zeus re-originates the universe and the other gods, and synchronic because in swallowing and creating the universe he partly identifies with it. I will argue that what emerges from this text is a henotheistic side of the Orphic belief, in which the figure of a one, ‘cosmic’ and creator god is represented through features that characterise him in relation with the other gods and with the universe, in both a syncretistic and hierarchic way, both in synchronic and diachronic terms. Such a conception expresses a sort of completeness and roundedness that can be considered as both temporal and spatial, in what I would more specifically define as ‘circular’ theopantism.