(τὰ Ὀρφικά). Orpheus (q.v.) gave his name to a kind of monastic order which sprang up in later times in Greece calling themselves οἱ Ὀρφικοί, who, under the pretended guidance of Orpheus, dedicated themselves to the worship of Dionysus. They performed the rites of a mystical worship; but instead of confining their notions to the initiated, they published them to others, and committed them to literary works. The Dionysus with whose worship the Orphic rites were connected was Dionysus Zagreus, closely connected with Demeter and Cora (Persephon). The Orphic legends and poems related in great part to this [p. 1146] Dionysus, who was combined, as an infernal deity, with Hades; and upon whom the Orphic theologians founded their hopes of the purification and ultimate immortality of the soul. But their mode of celebrating this worship was very different from the popular rites of Bacchus. The Orphic worshippers of Bacchus did not indulge in unrestrained pleasures and frantic enthusiasm, but rather aimed at an ascetic purity of life and manners, abstaining from meat, though not from wine, dressing in white, practising frequent purifications, expiations, and incantations, and professing a creed, in which the doctrine of the transmigration of souls (metempsychosis) held an important place. This sect degenerated by the time of the early Roman Empire into a mere fraternity of jugglers, and died out finally amid general contempt.
All the part of the mythology of Orpheus which connects him with Dionysus must be considered as a later invention, quite irreconcilable with the original legend, in which he is the servant of Apollo and the Muses; but it is almost hopeless to explain the transition.
Connected with the Orphic cult is the so-called Orphic literature. Many poems ascribed to Orpheus were current as early as the time of the Pisistratidae. (See Onomacritus.) They are often quoted by Plato, and the allusions to them in later writers are very frequent. The extant poems, which bear the name of Orpheus, are the forgeries of grammarians and philosophers of the Alexandrian School; but among the fragments, which form a part of the collection, are some genuine remains of that Orphic poetry which was known to Plato, and which must be assigned to the period of Onomacritus, or perhaps a little earlier. To the original portions, which grew under the hands of the Orphici into a vast literature, were added also interpretations and liturgies by the Pythagoreans, some of whose doctrines were akin to those of the Orphic brotherhood. Aristotle and even Herodotus attacked the pretended antiquity of the Orphic works, yet the myths and songs retained their acceptance as antiques down to the third and fourth centuries A.D., when we find them quoted by the Fathers. The Orphic literature, which, in this sense, may be called genuine, seems to have included hymns, a theogony, oracles, etc. The principal productions which have come down to us are: (1) Argonautica, an epic poem in 1394 hexameters, giving an account of the expedition of the Argonauts;
(2) Hymns, eighty-seven or eighty-eight in number, in hexameters, evidently the productions of the Neo-Platonic School;
(3) Lithica (Λιθικά) treating of properties of stones, both precious and common, and their uses in divination;
(4) fragments, chiefly of the Theogony (Θεογονία), which show the influence of Hesiod. It is in this class that we find the genuine remains of the literature of the early Orphic theology, but intermingled with others of a much later date. There are also a number of other poems, of which a list is given in Christ's Griechische Litteraturgeschichte (pp. 658, 659).
On the Orphic brotherhood, see especially Lobeck's Aglaophamus (1829); Gruppe, Die Griechischen Kulte und Mythen, i. 612-674 (1887); Maury, Les Religions de la Grce Antique, iii. 300-337 (1859); Lenormant in the Gazette Archologique for 1879, pp. 18-37; and Gerhard, Orpheus und die Orphiker (1861). On the Orphic literature, see Hermann's Orphica (1805); Tyrwhitt's Lithica (1781); Abel's Orphei Lithica (1881); id. Orphica (1886); Kern, De Orphei, Epimenidis, Pherecydis, Theogoniis (1888); Buresch, Klaros (1890); and Rohde in Psyche, ii. 395 foll. See also the article Mysteria.