Latent meaning and manifest content in the Derveni Papyrus

Rhizai. A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 1:35-75 (2007)
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The present essay explores plausible affinities between the Orphic theogony embedded in the Derveni papyrus and its interpretation in the mode of physikē philosophia by the Derveni author. It focuses specifically on the relationship between latent meaning and manifest content in the text as a whole. The Derveni author’s complex techniques of allegorical exegesis and his mental makeup are the subject-matter of the firstpart. The ways in which he is influenced by, and diverges from, Heraclitus in a crucial column of the papyrus are taken as indicative of his specifically Orphic concerns. The sequence of the mythical events narrated in the poem is established in the following part, and those which seem to be original with the poet are distinguished from the traditional material of Hesiod’s Theogony. Special emphasis is put on the psychological significance that a narrative stressing a double or two-phased generation of the world-order, may have had for initiates of the so-called Orphic type. In the third part of the essay, a similar two-phased creation of the world-order is discerned in the Derveni author’s ‘scientific’or‘rational’cosmogony. A table of tentative correspondences between the Derveni author’s cosmogony and the Orphic poet’s theogony is also included. The final remarks explore the place of the Derveni author in ‘the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry’, and highlight what seems to have been his most perplexing concern: the simultaneous immanence and transcendence of divinity with respect to the world



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