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Derveni Papyrus

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franciscosan View Drop Down

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    Posted: 02 Mar 2016 at 04:25
The Derveni Papyrus is the first, and probably the only papyrus ever found in Greece.  Unlike Egypt or Palestine, Greece is not condusive to the preservation of papyrus.  The Derveni Papyrus, however, was found in a grave in the remains of a funeral pyre, the heat of which dried it out and carbonized it, preserving a significant portion of the scroll.  The scroll was a commentary on an Orphic poem, a theogony, and it represents the only surviving example of that genre of ancient literature (the commentary, that is) otherwise unknown from ancient Greece.  The scroll dates from the 4th century BC and thus is one of oldest Greek papyrus known.  The text, however, dates to an earlier period, the commentary quotes the philosopher Heraclitus, (c. 500 BC) and reflects an influence of the philosopher Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, who was a friend to Pericles of Athens (c. 420 BC).  As far as the thought represented in the commentary, it is basically derivative of known philosophers.  While different than our popular conception of ancient Greek mythology, this Orphic theogony resembles other Orphic theogonies surviving in the works of the Neoplatonists, c. 3rd to 5th century AD.

I think that the Derveni Papyrus represents esoteric doctrine for the Orphic Mystery religion and was supposed to be destroyed with the death of its owner.  Charles Kahn suggests that the original author may be Euthyphro, who conversed with Socrates in the Platonic dialogue of the same name, where piety is being discussed.  (Or it may be another representative of Euthyphro's priestly profession.)  Socrates also says in the Cratylus, that Euthyphro is his inspiration for the (fanciful) etymologies made by Socrates in that dialogue.  There is a kind of equation of gods (or rather goddesses) with each other and some playfulness with names.  I think that two etymologies in the Cratylus, equating Hera with air, and Rhea with water, are "wrong" which leads me to the belief that the etymologies in the Cratylus are intentionally wild and off-base so that Socrates (and Plato) are not violating any mystic interpretations of these names that may be in mystery religions. 
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