Orpheus

Rozalias, mysteries, bacchanalias, orpheids

Thracians worshiped wine and during the festivities indulged in wild ritual orgies called rozalias. Greeks enriched these festivities with their inherent poetry and called them Dionysian mysteries.

Dionysian mysteries in ancient art

The Greek god of wine and merriment Dionysus was borrowed from the Thracian philistic god Zagreus. Dionysus was the son of the supreme god Zeus. At first he was born of the goddess Persephone and was called Zagreus. Later, he was torn and eaten by the Titans. Then he was again reborn of Semela. Surrounded by a numerous retinue of satyrs with goat hooves and wonderful maenads, Dionysus roved the Earth teaching people to grow grapes, making it fragrant and intoxicating the head wine. Dionysian mysteries heralded the theater.

Romans renamed Dionysius to Bacchus and the Maenads to Bacchantes. The holidays became Bacchanalias, and the Romans made them even more dissipated.

Thracian rozalias, Greek mysteries and Roman Bacchanalias are closely interlaced with the myths of Orpheus. He was a Thracian singer and musician who founded a doctrine and was considered to be the greatest musician and poet of antiquity. We know that the birthplace of the singer was somewhere in the Rhodope Mountains. It is believed that he was a Thracian king who lived in the Old Iron era. In Thracian mythology, Orpheus was a priest and magician, endowed with supernatural power -anthropodemon, God-man.

According to Greek mythology, Orpheus was son of the Thracian river god Eagar and the muse of poetry, nymph Calliope. Superb poet and singer, Orpheus competed even with the God of music and song Apollo. He played the lyre with seven strings, pulling out magical sounds. His incredible voice charmed all living beings. His songs drove rocks and mountains to move, forest animals to go after him, and wild beasts to lie down at his feet. During the expedition of the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece, he muted the dangerous song of sirens and saved the heroes.

His beloved dryad Eurydice died bitten by a poisonous snake on the day of their wedding. Since then Orpheus sang only sad songs. He already ignored female beauty and for this reason was killed by the maenads during a mystery along the banks of the Hebros River (Maritza). Parts of his body were washed away by the waves and stranded ashore on the island of Lesbos, where they were buried. For edification, Dionysus turned into trees the maenads who killed the hero.

Orpheus lived generation before the Troyan War and was among the Argonauts quest for the Golden Fleece to Colchis. It is assumed that this was around 1400 BC. Orpheus was believed to be the author of one of the poems “Argonautica”. His first images are from 600 BC. So far, some 92 of his images, painted on antique vases, are known.

Orpheus is the inspirer of a philosophical and religious system that is named Orphism. It originated in Thrace between the end of the 2nd millennium and the 9th c. BC. Later, the doctrine spread to Greece and over the Mediterranean world. Many Roman emperors were even supporters of Orphism.

Only initiates were involved in Orphic mysteries. Sacraments were performed in closed societies and hidden places. Symbolic death of the king-priest, identified with the dismembering of Dionysus by the Titans, was recreated through the blood sacrifice of animals and sometimes people. The symbolic birth of the mother goddess, the beginning of life, was imitated by mass mating of men and women. This led Herodotus to blame Thracians in sexual promiscuity. As if the ancient Greeks were a model of chastity!

Some of these traditions passed in monotheistic religions. In the Orthodox Christian calendar, on February 14 is celebrated St. Trifon, the patron saint of winegrowers and winemakers. Catholics on the same date celebrate the day of love, known as St. Valentine Day.  Again, wine and love go hand in hand.

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