Orphic Hymns for Weekly Devotions
The following are seven Orphic Hymns selected for a weekly devotional cycle. On each day of the week the corresponding hymn should be chanted or sung and used as a subject for contemplation. You may find it useful to commit them to memory, as the ancients would have done.
The hymns chosen are based on the Gods traditionally associated with the days of the week (Helios, Selene, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Kronos: Sunday through Saturday). These are, of course, not the only Gods that demand our devotion, and the Orphic hymns for these others may be substituted in the weekly cycle, or used in a longer monthly cycle.
The translations are based on Thomas
Taylor’s, but with Roman god names replaced by the original
Greek, with occasional replacements for obscure or inaccurate
words, and with some spelling and punctuation modernized. When I
have modified his rendition, I’ve consulted the original Greek
and the more literal Athanassakis and Wollkow translation in
order to improve accuracy, although that is not the first
concern for these devotional hymns. Notes from Taylor are marked
- Sunday, To Helios (pounded frankincense)
- Monday, To Selene (aromatic herbs)
- Tuesday, To Ares (frankincense)
- Wednesday, To Hermes (frankincense)
- Thursday, To Zeus (storax)
- Friday, To Aphrodite (myrrh*)
- Saturday, To Kronos (storax)
Hear golden Titan, whose eternal eye
With broad survey, illumines all the sky.
Self-born, unwearied in diffusing light,
And to all eyes the mirror of delight,
Lord of the seasons, with thy fiery car 
And leaping coursers, beaming light from far,
With thy right hand the source of morning light,
And with thy left the father of the night.
Agile and vig’rous, venerable Sun,
Fiery and bright around the heav’ns you run. 
Foe to the wicked, but the good man’s guide,
O’er all his steps propitious you preside;
With various-sounding, golden lyre, ’tis thine
To fill the world with harmony divine.
Father of ages, guide of prosp’rous deeds, 
The world’s commander, borne by lucid steeds,
Immortal Zeus, all-searching, bearing light,
Source of existence, pure and fiery bright,
Bearer of fruit, almighty lord of years,
Agile and warm, whom ev’ry pow’r reveres. 
Great eye of Nature and the starry skies,
Doomed with immortal flames to set and rise,
Dispensing justice, lover of the stream,
The world’s great despot, and o’er all supreme.
Faithful defender, and the eye of right, 
Of steeds the ruler, and of life the light,
With sounding whip four fiery steeds you guide,
When in the car of day you glorious ride.
Propitious on these mystic labors shine,
And bless thy suppliants with a life divine. 
Ver. 3. Self-born. Although Helios has parents in traditional mythology, as the Sun he is reborn from himself each day.
Ver. 7. With thy right hand, &c. Proclus in lib. vi. Theol. Plat. p. 380 says that those who are skilled in divine concerns attribute two hands to the Sun; denominating one the right hand, the other the left. [TT]
Ver. 13. With various-sounding, golden lyre, etc. According to the Pythagoreans, each of the planetary spheres has its own tone, which together create the cosmic harmony. Here Helios is being identified with Apollo (vid. note on v. 17), who creates this harmony on his seven-string lyre.
Ver. 15. Father of ages. As the Sun is called the “father of time” (χρόνου πάτερ) because he creates the day and year, so the Moon is called the “mother of time” (χρόνου μῆτερ) because she creates the month (see Monday, To Selênê, v. 7).
Ver. 17. Immortal Zeus. According to the Orphic and Platonic philosophers, the Sun is the same in the sensible, as Apollo in the intellectual, and Good in the intelligible World. Hence Proclus, in Theol. Plat. p. 289, from the occult union subsisting between Good, Apollo, and the Sun, calls the Sun βασιλεὺς του παντός, or king of the universe, and it is well known that Zeus is the demiurgus of the world. So that the Sun in perfect conformity to this Theology is called immortal Zeus. [TT]
Ver. 23. Dispensing justice. As the “eternal eye” (v. 1) Helios oversees all things and as “the world’s great despot” (v. 24), he enforces justice (vid. note on v. 25). So also he is invoked in oaths (v. 25).
Ver. 23. lover of the stream. Perhaps because the Sun sinks into Okeanos in the evening.
Ver. 25. Faithful defender. Proclus, lib. v. in Timæum, informs us in the words of Orpheus ὅτι ἥλιον μὲν ἐπέστησε τοῖς ὅλιος, ὀ δημιουργὸς, καὶ φύλακα ἀυτὸν ἔτευξε, κέλευσε τε πασιν ἀναάσσειν. “That the demiurgus placed the Sun in the universe, and fabricated him as its guardian, commanding him to govern all things.” [TT]
Hear, Goddess queen, diffusing silver light,
Bull-horned and wand’ring through the gloom of Night.
With stars surrounded, and with circuit wide
Night’s torch extending, through the heav’ns you ride;
Female and Male with borrowed rays you shine, 
And now full-orbed, now tending to decline.
Mother of ages, fruit-producing Moon,
Whose amber orb makes Night’s reflected noon,
Lover of horses, splendid, queen of Night,
All-seeing pow’r bedecked with starry light. 
Lover of vigilance, the foe of strife,
In peace rejoicing, and a prudent life,
Fair lamp of Night, its ornament and friend,
Who gives to Nature’s works their destined end.
Queen of the stars, O all-wise maiden hail! 
Decked with a graceful robe and shining veil,
Come, blessed Goddess, prudent, starry, bright,
Come triple lamp with chaste and splendid light;
Shine on these sacred rites with prosp’rous rays;
Preserve thy suppliants, accepting mystic praise. 
The Moon is called in this Hymn both σελήνη and μήνη: the former of which words signifies the Moon in the language of the Gods; and the latter is the appellation given to her by mortals, as the following Orphic fragment evinces.
Μήσατο δ᾽ ἄλλην Γᾶιαν ἀπείριτον, ἣντε Σελήνην
᾽Αθάνατοι κλήζουσιν, ἐπιχθόνιοι δέ τε Μήνην·
Ἥ πολλ᾽ ὄυρε ἔχει, πολλ᾽ ἄστεα, πολλα μέλαθρα.
That is, “But he (Zeus) fabricated another boundless earth, which the immortals call Selênê, but mortals, Mênê. It has many mountains, many cities, many houses.” Now this difference of names arises, according to the Platonic philosophers, from the difference subsisting between divine and human knowledge. For (say they) as the knowledge of the Gods is different from that of particular souls: so with respect to names some are diverse, exhibiting the whole essence of that which is named; but others are human, which only partially unfolds their signification. But a larger account of this curious particular, is given by Proclus, in Theol. Plat. p. 69, as follows. There are three kinds of names: the first and most proper, and which are truly divine, subsist in the Gods themselves. But the second which are the resemblances of the first, having an intellectual subsistence, must be esteemed of divine condition. And the third kind which emanate from Truth itself, but are formed into words for the purpose of discourse, receiving the last signification of divine concerns, are enunciated by skillful people at one time by a divine afflatus, at another time by energising intellectually, and generating the images of internal spectacles moving in a discursive procession. For as the demiurgic intellect represents about matter the significations of primary forms comprehended in its essence; temporal signatures of things eternal; divisible representatives of things indivisible, and produces as it were shadowy resemblances of true beings: after the same manner I think the science we possess, framing an intellectual action, fabricates by discourse both the resemblances of other things, and of the Gods themselves. So that it fashions by composition, that which in the Gods is void of composition; that which is simple by variety; and that which is united by multitude. And by this formation of names it demonstrates in the last place the images of divine concerns. And as the theurgic art provokes by certain signs, supernal illumination into artificial statues, and allures the unenvying goodness of the Gods; in the same manner the science of divine concerns, signifies the occult essence of the God by the compositions and divisions of sounds. [TT]
Ver. 2. Bull-horned. Mithras, according to the Persian theology as related by Porphyry de antro Nymph., is the father and creator of all things, And he informs us that the ancient priests of Demeter, called the Moon who is the queen of generation ταῦρος or a Bull (p. 262) and (p. 265) ὡς καὶ ὁ ταῦρος δημιουργὸς ὣν ὁ Μίθρας, καὶ γενεσέως δεσπότης. i.e. “Mithras as well as the Bull is the demiurge of the universe, and the lord of generation” [after TT]
We often speak of the “horns” of the crescent moon.
Ver. 4. Night’s torch extending. As a torch-bearer, Selênê is connected with both Hekatê and Artemis.
Ver. 5. Female and Male. This is not surprising, since according to a manuscript fragment quoted by Ficino in his Platonic Theology (lib. iv, p. 128), all souls and the celestial spheres are endued with a two-fold power, gnostic (knowing) and animating (vivifying and governing); one of which is male and the other female. And these epithets are perpetually occurring in the Orphic Initiations. [after TT]
Ver. 7. Mother of ages. The Moon is the “mother of time” (χρόνου μῆτερ) as the Sun is the “father of time” (χρόνου πάτερ) for the lunar cycle governs the month as the solar cycle governs the day and year. See also note to v. 15 of Sunday, To Helios.
Ver. 10. All-seeing pow’r. Like the Sun (Sunday, To Helios, vv. 1–2), the Moon vigilantly oversees all the earth.
Ver. 14. Who gives to Nature’s works, &c. In the original it is τελεσφόρος, i.e. bringing to an end. And Proclus, in Theol. Plat. p. 483, informs us that Artemis (who is the same with the Moon) is so called, because she finishes or perfects the essential perfection of matter. [TT]
Ver. 15. Queen of the stars. As the evident ruler of the night sky, the moon leads the planets in their circuits.
Strong-spirited, unconquered, daimôn brash,
In darts rejoicing, and in bloody clash,
Fierce and untamed, whose mighty pow’r can make
The strongest walls from their foundations shake,
Mortal destroying king, defiled with gore, 
Pleased with war’s dreadful and tumultuous roar,
Thee, human blood, and swords, and spears delight,
And the dire ruin of mad savage fight.
Stay furious contests and avenging strife,
Whose works with woe embitter human life; 
To lovely Kypris, and to Loos’ner yield,
To Deo give the weapons of the field;
Encourage peace, to gentle works inclined,
And give abundance, with benignant mind.
This deity, according to Proclus, in Repub. p. 388, perpetually discerns and nourishes, and constantly excites the contrarieties of the universe, that the world may exist perfect and entire from its parts. But he requires the assistance of Venus, that he may insert order and harmony into things contrary and discordant. [TT]
Empedocles said that the two fundamental forces in the universe are Love (Philotês or Philia) and Strife (Neikos). Philotês causes union and joins things together, whatever their kind, while Neikos sorts things out and separates them, giving form and definition to all things. Both are necessary for a determinate and evolving reality. They are Aphrodite and Ares at a cosmic level. Harmonia is the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares.
Ver. 9. Stay furious contests, etc. Peace prevails when Ares stands down. But we must also recall that Ares is a defender who preserves the peace. Chained statues of Ares were used to bind Ares to a town for its protection. The remainder of the hymn calls on Ares for the benefits of peace: love, freedom, and abundance.
Ver. 11. Kypris and Loos’ner. Kypris is an epithet of Aphrodite (vid. Friday, To Aphrodite, v. 23), and Loosener (Luaios) is an epithet of Dionysos.
Ver. 12. Deo. Another name for Demeter. “The weapons of the field” are, of course, agricultural implements.
Hermes, draw near, and to my prayer incline,
Angel of Zeus, and Maia’s son divine,
Studious of contests, ruler of mankind,
With heart almighty, and a prudent mind.
Celestial messenger, of various skill, 
Whose pow’rful arts could watchful Argos kill,
With winged feet, ’tis thine through air to course,
O friend of man, and prophet of discourse,
Great life-supporter, to rejoice is thine,
In arts gymnastic, and in fraud divine, 
With pow’r endued all language to explain,
Of care the loos’ner, and the source of gain.
Whose hand contains of blameless peace the rod,
Korukian, blessed, profitable God,
Of various speech, whose aid in works we find, 
And in necessities to mortals kind,
Dire weapon of the tongue, which men revere,
Be present, Hermes, and thy suppliant hear;
Assist my works, conclude my life with peace,
Give graceful speech, and memory’s increase. 
Ver. 2. Angel of Zeus. In Greek angelos means messenger, and Hermes was the principal messenger of Zeus.
Ver 3. Studious of contests. Hermes oversees contests, especially athletic contests, and is the bringer of good fortune in them.
Ver. 6. Whose pow’rful arts could watchful Argos kill. Hermes is called Argeiphontês, which means slayer of Argos, the many-eyed giant. Crafty Hermes was able to evade his watchful gaze.
Ver. 11. With pow’r endued all language to explain. Hermes is the principal interpreter (hemêneus), an important function of his role as boundary crosser and patron of travelers.
Ver. 14. Korukian. Athanassakis and Wollkow (p. 122) say this refers to Hermes as lord of Korykos, a promontory in Kilikia. Perhaps Κωρυκιῶτα (like Κωρύκιος) refers to the Korukian (Corycian) Cave on Mt. Parnassus, which was a site of early divination (see my Oracles of Apollo).
O Zeus much-honored, Zeus supremely great,
To thee our holy rites we consecrate,
Our prayers and expiations, king divine,
For all things round thy head exalted shine.
The earth is thine, and mountains swelling high, 
The sea profound, and all within the sky.
Kronian king, who doth the bolt set loose,
Magnanimous, commanding, sceptred Zeus,
All-parent, principle and end of all,
Whose pow’r almighty, shakes this earthly ball; 
Ev’n Nature trembles at thy mighty nod,
Loud-sounding, armed with lightning, thund’ring God.
Source of abundance, purifying king,
O various-formed from whom all natures spring,
Propitious hear my prayer, give blameless health, 
With peace divine, and necessary wealth.
Ver. 7. Kronian king. Zeus is the son and successor of Kronos (vid. Saturday, To Kronos).
Ver. 9. All-parent, principle and end of all. In the Orphic Rhapsodies, Zeus swallows the entire cosmos, so he is the only thing in existence and can create a new cosmos. He is the first principle from which everything emanates and back to whom it looks in acquiring its order and form. Zeus timelessly remains, proceeds, and returns.
Ver. 14. O various-formed from whom all natures spring. As demiurgus, Zeus contains the forms of all things in his divine Intellect (Nous).
Heav’nly, illustrious, laughter-loving queen,
Sea-born, night-loving, of an august mien,
Crafty, from whom Necessity first came,
Producing, nightly, all-connecting dame,
'Tis thine the world with harmony to join, 
For all things spring from thee, O pow’r divine.
The triple Fates are ruled by thy decree,
And all productions yield alike to thee;
Whate’er the heav’ns, encircling all contain,
Earth fruit-producing, and the stormy main, 
Thy sway confesses, and obeys thy nod,
Awful attendant of the Brumal God,
Goddess of marriage, charming to the sight,
Mother of Loves, whom banquetings delight;
Persuasion, bed-fond, secret, fav’ring queen, 
Illustrious born, apparent and unseen,
Spousal, she-wolf, and to men inclined,
Prolific, most-desired, life-giving, kind,
Great sceptre-bearer of the Gods, ’tis thine,
Mortals in necessary bands to join; 
And ev’ry tribe of savage monsters dire
In magic chains to bind, through mad desire.
Come, Cyprus-born, and to my prayer incline,
Whether exalted in the heav’ns you shine,
Or pleased in Syria’s temple to preside, 
Or o’er th’ Egyptian plains thy car to guide,
Fashioned of gold; and near its sacred flood,
Fertile and famed to fix thy blest abode;
Or if rejoicing in the azure shores,
Near where the sea with foaming billows roars, 
The circling choirs of mortals, thy delight,
Or beauteous nymphs, with eyes cerulean bright,
Pleased by the dusty banks renowned of old,
To drive thy two-yoked swan-drawn car of gold;
Or if in Cyprus, where all thee revere, 
Where married women praise thee ev’ry year,
And beauteous virgins in the chorus join,
Adonis pure to sing and thee divine;
Come, all-attractive to my prayer inclined,
For thee, I call, with holy, reverent mind. 
* The Orphic Hymns do not prescribe an incense for Aphrodite. As one of the two goddess represented in these seven hymns, I suggest myrrh, but other incenses would work well too.
Ver. 1. Heav’nly. Refers to Aphrodite Ourania as opposed to A. Pandêmos.
Ver. 1. laughter-loving. This is a common epithet of Aphrodite. A&W point out that this word philommeidês sounds almost identical to philommêdês (genital-loving), also a common epithet of the goddess (p. 167).
Ver. 2. night-loving. This means rather more that enjoying evenings. A&W translate νυκτερία ζεύκτειρα as “you couple lovers at night” (p. 45).
Ver. 3. from whom Necessity first came. In Orphism Necessity (Anankê) can be identified with the Fate Adrasteia, The Inevitable. Orphism may view the three Fates as A.’s daughters (cf. v. 7). [AW 167] Perhaps this is referring to the irresistible force of A., which was proverbial.
Ver. 4. all-connecting dame. Aphrodite corresponds to Philotês (or Philia), the principle of Love, which with Neikos (Strife) form the two fundamental forces in the cosmos, according to Empedocles. Love connects and Strife separates. See also the notes to Tuesday, To Ares.
Ver. 5. 'Tis thine the world with harmony to join. According to the Orphic theology as related by Proclus. Venus is the cause of all the harmony and analogy in the universe, and of the union of form with matter; connecting and comprehending the powers of all the mundane elements. And although this Goddess ranks among the supermundane divinities, yet her principal employment consists in beautifully illuminating the order, harmony, and communion of all mundane concerns. [after TT]
Ver. 12. Brumal God. Bakkhos.
Ver. 14. Mother of Loves. That is, mother of the Erôtês, the daimons who do her work of love.
Ver. 15. Persuasion. Peithô (Persuasion) is often an attendant goddess of Aphrodite.
Ver. 15. bed-fond. Literally, “fond of the marriage bed” (λεκτροχαρής).
Ethereal father, mighty Titan, hear, 
Great sire of Gods and men, whom all revere,
Endued with various council, pure and strong,
To whom perfection and decrease belong.
Consumed by thee all forms that hourly die, 
By thee restored, their former place supply;
The world immense in everlasting chains,
Strong and ineffable thy pow’r contains;
Father of vast eternity, divine,
O mighty Kronos, various speech is thine; 
Blossom of Earth and of the starry Skies,
Husband of Rhea, and Promethean wise,
Forebear of Nature, venerable root,
From which the various forms of being shoot;
No parts peculiar can thy pow’r enclose, 
Diffused through all, from which the world arose.
O, best of beings, of a subtle mind,
Propitious hear to holy prayers inclined;
The sacred rites benevolent attend,
And grant a blameless life, a blessed end. 
Ver. 1. Great sire of Gods and men. Kronos is the father of the Olympian Gods, but this line might refer to him as Father Time (Khronos) who brings all things into existence. According to Orphic dogma, humans were made from the ash of the Titans after they were blasted by Zeus. But they had eaten the flesh of Dionysos, so humans are both Titanic and Olympian in their nature.
Ver. 3. Endued with various council, pure and strong. Plato explains Kronos’ name as koros Nous, that is, the pure Intellect, which contains all the forms as potencies, which are explicated by Zeus as demiurgus. See also notes to v. 11. Note also vv. 13–14, 17 in this translation.
Ver. 5. Consumed by thee all forms that hourly die. Time (Khronos) conquers all. Recall also that Kronos consumed his children (the Olympian Gods).
Ver. 6. By thee restored, their former place supply. As Time destroys, it also creates in an endless cycle. So also Zeus caused Kronos to vomit up all of his children that he had consumed, thus recreating the universe. Likewise, in Orphic mythology Zeus recreates the cosmos (vid. note, v. 9, Thursday, To Zeus).
Ver. 11. Blossom of Earth and of the starry Skies. Kronos is the son of Earth (Gaia, Gê) and Heaven (Ouranos). Likewise the Orphic golden tablets have the initiate declare in the underworld, “I am a child of Earth and starry Sky.”
According to the Orphic theology, there are two worlds, the Intelligible and the sensible, the former of which is the source of the latter; so, according to the same theology, the first contains in a primary, causal, and intellectual manner, what the second comprehends secondarily and sensibly. Hence it contains an intellectual Heaven and Earth, not like the material, existing in place, and affected with the circulations of Time; but subsisting immaterially in the stable essence of eternity. In this divine world, another Sun, and Moon, and stars shine with intellectual light; for every thing there is perfectly lucid, light continually mingling with light. There, as Plotinus divinely observes, every star is a sun: and though all things are beheld in every thing, yet some things are more excellent than others. Now from this intellectual Heaven and Earth, resident in Phanes, the king and father of the universe, Orpheus, according to Proclus, derives the orders of the Gods, subordinate to this sensible heaven and earth: and among these he relates the following progeny of the intellectual Earth, as preserved by Proclus in his excellent Commentary on the Timæus, p. 295, and by Athenagoras in Apol.: “She produced seven beautiful pure virgins with voluble eyes, and seven sons, all of them kings, and covered with downy hair. Therefore Kronos is called “blossom of the Earth,” and likewise the other Titans. [after TT]
Ver. 12. Promethean wise. The word Προμηθεῦ compares Kronos to Promêtheus (Fore-thought) with respect to wisdom, perhaps identifying the two Titans. A&W translate it “prudent.”