The Parodos of Euripides’ Cretans (fr. 472 Kannicht) between an Amalgam of Epichoric Mystic Experience and Dionysian Metatheatricality

  Bierl, Anton. 2023. “The Parodos of Euripides’ Cretans (fr. 472 Kannicht) between an Amalgam of Epichoric Mystic Experience and Dionysian Metatheatricality.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

The fragment from the parodos of Euripides’ Cretans (fr. 472 Kannicht)—in Harrison’s words “the most important literary document extant on Orphic ceremonial” [1] —as well as the reconstruction of the entire play remain an enigma. As it is the case with all work regarding fragments, we can keep to the undisputable facts or start speculating in order to solve the riddle. I agree with the critics who refute the superseded argument that this fragment is a daring intellectual syncretism. [2] Recent scholarship has proved that everything fits a genuine Orphic world view. [3] Moreover, Euripides bases everything on Cretan reality, which ties in with some Athenian resonances as far as the myths of Theseus and Daedalus are concerned. Along with other voices, I distance myself from the opinion that Euripides was a representative of modern rationality strongly opposing religious rites of mysticism, superstition, and marginality. [4] In this vein, all speculations were retrospectively projected from the much later Bacchae, again seen in the wrong perspective of Euripides as an advocate and vanguard of the Greek enlightenment, [5] to the much earlier Cretans (ca. 431 BCE). [6] Euripides, on the contrary, uses ritual and mythic material to compose dramaturgically attractive and captivating tragedies. The intellectual and sophistic poet deploys the religious subtext to expose the ruptures, fissures, and tensions inherent in these epichoric discourses about eccentric ritual practices and accompanying mythic beliefs. His main goal is to create spectacular, exotic, and intertwined plots full of surprise that showcase emotional upheaval and extreme pathology. [7]

The inconsistencies as orphic riddles

The apparent and numerous incompatibilities in the Euripidean fragment under review, especially the dissonance between cannibalism and vegetarianism, at least between the eating of raw meat in sacrificial contexts (or only the handling of bloody pieces in cult), [8] after tearing the victim apart in mythic context, and the religiously motivated total abstinence from meat, can be subsumed under the category of inconsistencies. In an important and large-scale project, Versnel analyzed inconsistencies and tried to cope with them in the field of humanities, especially in matters of religion, with historical tools. [9] In the past, one strategy to explain unlogic or irrational dissonance was to attribute prelogical thinking to the ancient texts or to make the genre of tragedy responsible for a general tendency towards ambiguity. Thus, Oudemans and Lardinois argued that an unbridgeable gap separates the ancient tragedy from modern statements due to the fundamental difference in their cosmologies. [10] While the ancient one is “interconnected,” the modern Western cosmology is based on a “separative” thought. Both authors give no reason for why just Attic tragedy was a corollary of ‘interconnected’ thought in cosmic terms. Tralau found the subterfuge in “prelogical” thought as far as Euripides’ poetics is concerned so disturbing that he tried to solve the dissonances in Cretans with a theory of sacrifice that was developed by Detienne. [11] According to Detienne, Dionysian omophagia and Orphic vegetarianism represent a revolt against the norm of Olympian sacrifice that is constitutive for the polis culture. [12] Thus, the play would explore the underlying Greek code of civilization by contorting the normative principle of sacrifice from both an Orphic and Dionysian perspective downwards and upwards. Fornari, on the other hand, applied Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry and the resulting crisis of sacrifice in the context of a scapegoat. [13] Indeed, sacrifice is without any doubt central in Cretans, since Minos refused to kill the white bull, as he had vowed to Poseidon before, and kept the superior animal for himself while he replaced it with another bull. However, against these attempts based on theories regarding Greek sacrifice, [14] I will argue that Greek myth and religion in general notoriously feature inconsistencies, more so when the god Dionysus and Orphic elements are prominent as it is the case in Cretans. If tragedy is quintessentially ambiguous, I would like to argue that the reason for this lies with its patron god to whose honor it is performed in the frame of Dionysian festivals. I defined the paradoxical and highly “palintropic” doings of Dionysus elsewhere. [15] Based on its tendency to contort order, tragedy can explore numerous questions that are vital for the civilized life of the polis of Athens in “othered” scenarios, ranging from the Self to the total Other and running the whole gamut from Athens, Delphi, and Troy to Thebes, the Anti-Athens par excellence. [16] Perhaps Crete—at least in the scenario of Cretans—outdoes even Thebes on the level of perversion. Moreover, some studies on the Derveni papyrus (which seems to have been written by a reform Orphic to explain Orphic theologies combining Presocratic thought and Orphic terms) emphasized to what extent riddling constitutes its texture. [17] In the same manner the Bacchic-Orphic gold leaves and new findings like the P.Gurob (OF 578 Bernabé) reveal a neat web of highly enigmatic and dissonant contents.

The Cretan context and configuration

In addition, the specific Cretan constellation, the cultural context and literary image of what Crete and Cretans stand for, is constitutive for and interpenetrates the highly ambiguous scene, as Tzifopoulos has highlighted. [18] Cretans are often portrayed as people exercising and/or prone to ambush, running, sailing, piracy, and commerce. They possess a particular affinity to telestic, mantic, and cathartic practices. In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo the god chooses them as his priests and religious specialists in Delphi by virtue of their quality as orgiones, paieones, and semantores. As ὀργιόνες (Hymn to Apollo 389) Cretans are experts in orgia, priests and performers of ecstatic rites, sacrifices, and mysteries; the word παιήονες (518) underlines their quality as dancers and singers of paeans and iepaian-cries; and by being called σημάντορες (542), Cretans stand out as interpreters and seers of signs. As manteis they know about the past, the present, and the future. In addition, they are called prophetai in Porphyry’s introductory note to the citation. [19] As such they possess divinatory abilities and foreknowledge in oracular contexts. In addition, Cretans are also distinguished as practitioners of hermeneutics, of reading signs and traces of the past to cope with crises in the here and now.
Diodorus (5.77.3–8) declares that Crete is the origin of all other mysteries and initiatory rites in Greece, that is in Eleusis, Samothrace, and Thrace. The Cretan Epimenides gained fame as an exemplary cathartic, theosophic, and proto-philosophic expert. He was included among the Seven Sages. As both “master of truth” and telestic poet who uses riddling and epic language taken from both Orphic and Homeric traditions, Epimenides created a wide impact in Crete and Greece in general. [20] In this regard, his authoritative performances and speech-acts could be situated on the boundaries between lethe and mnemosyne, falsehood and aletheia. Epimenides, the theios aner, god-like priest and divine man, was so deeply associated with the Couretes in Crete and so emblematic for the Cretan ritual constellation that he was called “a New Koures.” [21] In the 56th Olympiad (596–592 BCE) Delphi gave him the order to purify Athens from the agos committed by the Alcmeonids that resulted from the murder of Kylon’s followers, who had taken refuge on the altar of Athena. This deed is one of the numerous relations between Crete and Athens that play a role also in the Cretan myths.
Cretans are goetes and notorious liars. “Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψεῦσται” became a famous saying of proverbial status. Their ambiguous reputation as unreliable speakers is owed to their fame as masters of authoritative poetics with religio-political implications. They were prone to invent enigmatic myths about gods dying and being reborn. In this regard Callimachus challenges their strange belief about Zeus/Zagreus and the existence of his tomb (Hymn to Zeus 8–9). [22] Cretans stood out as performers of fictitious words, rituals, and movements, as well as of weird doings and fantastic narratives of fused realities and paradoxical quality. They were particularly renowned for their poetics of lies and fiction blurring true and fake. In riddling signs and performances of hocus-pocus they administered and explored the boundaries between life and death; purity and exorbitance; holiness and pollution; ecstasy and enthousiasmos; animal and men; hero and god; truth and fabrication, deception, or lie; myth and cult; scapegoat and priest; poet, magician, and sage; Dionysus, Zagreus, Mater, Zeus, and Apollo. As poetic experts they put and glued things together; they composed and created harmony from disorder. In bricolage they transformed and combined elements from myth and cult to new contexts and novel stories about gods murdered, torn apart, recomposed, and reborn.

Theatrical implications

It goes without saying that as performers and bricolateurs of fused realities and mingled status of mimesis Cretans are very prone to theater and mimetic plays. Euripides, the radical innovator of tragedy, notoriously creates scenes of paradoxical fusion, breaches, and fissures. In Cretans and mainly via its chorus of prophetai, Euripides applies the Cretan configuration, Crete’s particularly interlaced and conflated reality, to tragedy in his new palintropic perspective. Another element of the Cretan constellation, which Tzifopoulos did not mention, is the transgressive sexuality, the excess of lust, infatuation, and desire on both male and female sides. The tragedians, in particular Euripides, make use of erotics and emotions for creating effective plots full of pathology and tragic outcome. Cretan figures like Phaedra in Hippolytus and her mother Pasiphae are paradigmatic for this trend. In line with his othering perspective Euripides draws upon Orphic elements to create a most tragic and pathetic atmosphere. Dionysus, the god of theater, mania, ecstasy, transformation, and palintropic interlacement of opposites, [23] plays an increasingly important role in Euripides’ poetic project. [24] In the form of Zagreus, the god being torn apart, killed, roasted, and eaten, Dionysus can serve as the emblem of the genre’s focus on violence, suffering, pathology, and tragic death. Tragedy in general and especially Euripides explore religion through fused logic, violence, and highly distorted world views. [25]
In Cretans, we encounter the Other raised to second power. In riddling perspectives, the audience experiences the mysterious in various dissonant views of a logic that collapses. In an act of hybris the sacred king Minos, himself born from the union between Zeus as a white bull and Europa, refuses to sacrifice the most beautiful, white bull which has been sent to him by Poseidon as a sign to excel his brothers in their race for power in Knossos. Poseidon’s revenge consists in having his wife Pasiphae fall madly in love with the attractive animal. Therefore, she orders Daedalus to construct an artificial wooden cow in which she can hide to facilitate the sexual union with the divine animal. The fruit of this hieros gamos is the hybrid Mino-tauros. The chain of mimetic desires for power and sex brings forth the monster that consists both of Minos and the bull. Minos is partially identical with his father Zeus, the god who dies and is reborn on Mount Ida, as the king is famous for disappearing every ninth year in the grotto of Mount Ida to visit Zeus and returning with laws as taught by his father (Plato Laws 624a–b with reference to Homer Odyssey 19.178–179). Even Minotaur is to some extent similar to Zeus. The monster is imprisoned in the labyrinth that Daedalus has built for the tyrant. Minotaur thus suffers symbolic death in the underworld, where the beast allegedly devours human beings. He will also threaten both the life of Pasiphae, who will be incarcerated there for having had intercourse with the bull, as well as later the Athenian youth, in the form of a cruel tribute imposed by Minos. Ariadne’s thread and choral dancing help to lead Theseus and the youth out of the realm of Hades.
Daedalus is another Athenian involved in mimetic rivalry with his nephew Perdix, who became a student of his to be taught in the mechanical arts. Soon the great talent of the young apprentice became obvious. The envious uncle threw his rival from the Acropolis, but Perdix was transformed into a bird, the partridge. Due to his crime Daedalus had to flee from Athens and found asylum at Minos’ palace. But he seems to have met the disgrace of the tyrant soon. Therefore, Daedalus escaped from the labyrinth by putting on birds’ wings and by flying away with his son Icarus. In Crete, Zagreus/Zeus/Dionysus and his new instantiations as Minos and Minotaur are both passive victims and active monstrous killers or practitioners of human sacrifice, tearing their prey apart and eating it raw. As Nietzsche has already argued in chapter 10 of The Birth of Tragedy, Zagreus/Zeus/Dionysus is the ultimate emblem of tragedy, and the plots and its heroes reflect the scenario of the suffering god in various ways. [26] Daedalus, the clever artisan and architect, is somehow the mirror image of the poet who artfully “weaves,” “crafts,” and composes his tragedy, which revolves around emotion, suffering, violence, politics, death, sacrifice, and the underworld. The choros of ritual experts, authoritative voices, and dancers, whom Minos calls to come from Mount Ida to help him in the crisis that Minotaur provokes, self-referentially reflects, in its marginality, the status and multifaceted potential of any chorus of the genre.

The reading of the fragment (fr. 472 Kannicht)

Since the fragment has been treated in detail from the point of view of history of religion, this contribution aims to explore its theatrical implications in the larger frame of the mythic-ritual complex and poetics of the entire play situated between Crete and Attica. The paper focuses thus on the interplay between religion and theater. It revolves around the role and function of the chorus and the reasons why Dionysus plays an important role, albeit implicitly in the text; the political ramifications of this interplay will also be considered.
First of all, I will go through the fragment (Euripides fr. 472 Kannicht = OF 567 Bernabé = fr. 1 Cozzoli = 3 Cantarella = 79 Austin): [27]

          Φοινικογενοῦς τέκνον Εὐρώπης
          καὶ τοῦ μεγάλου Ζηνός, ἀνάσσων
          Κρήτης ἑκατομπτολιέθρου·
          ἥκω ζαθέους ναοὺς προλιπών,
5        οὓς αὐθιγενὴς στεγανοὺς παρέχει
          τμηθεῖσα δοκοὺς Χαλύβωι πελέκει
          καὶ ταυροδέτωι κόλληι κραθεῖσ᾿
          ἀτρεκεῖς ἁρμοὺς κυπάρισσος.
          ἁγνὸν δὲ βίον τείνομεν, ἐξ οὗ
10      Διὸς Ἰδαίου μύστης γενόμην,
          καὶ {μὴ} νυκτιπόλου Ζαγρέως βροντὰς
          τάς τ’ ὠμοφάγους δαῖτας τελέσας
          Μητρί τ’ ὀρείαι δᾶιδας ἀνασχὼν
          μετὰ Κουρήτων
15      βάκχος ἐκλήθην ὁσιωθείς.
          πάλλευκα δ ̓ ἔχων εἵματα φεύγω
          γένεσίν τε βροτῶν καὶ νεκροθήκας
          οὐ χριμπτόμενος τήν τ’ ἐμψύχων
          βρῶσιν ἐδεστῶν πεφύλαγμαι.
Porph. De Abstinentia 4.19; vv. 4–8 (ἥκω . . . ἁρμοὺς): Erotian. α 4 (cf. Cozzoli 47–50); vv. 12–15: Papyri Oxyrhynchus 2461, fr. 4 (valde damnatum: ad Papyri Oxyrhynchus 2461 cf. F 472b infra); v. 12 (in part): Hesychius ω 218 Schmidt 1 post Φοινικογενοῦς Porph. habet παῖ τῆς Τυρίας prob. Kannicht (del. Bothe, prob. Nauck, Arnim Austin) || 5 οὓς Porph., Erotian.: οἷς Bentley || 5–6 von Arnim, Austin: στεγανοὺς παρέχει post Χαλύβωι πελέκει, Porph., Erotian. || 6 δοκοὺς Erotian.: δορὸς Porph. (unde ἀν’ ὄρος Arnim) || 7 κόλληι κραθεῖσ᾿ Hermann: κολληθεὶς Erotian.: κρηθεῖσ᾿ Porph. || 8 κυπάρισσος Bentley: -ίσσου Porph. || 9 τείνω μὲν Arnim: τείνων Nauck prob. Cantarella: trad. def. Hartung Wagner Austin et servant Collard, Cropp et Lee et Kannicht || 11 μὴ secl. tacite Grotius, prob. ed. | βροτὰς cod. Lips.: βρονταῖς Bergk: βιοτὰς ed. Valent. prob. Wagner Arnim Cantarella: βιοτᾶι Hartung: βούτας Diels: unde βούτης Wilamowitz prob. Austin Collard Cropp et Lee Kannicht: σπονδὰς Lobeck: trad. def. Nauck Corbato West Casadio Cozzoli || 12 τάς (τ’ deleto) Bergk prob. Hartung Wagner Arnim Cantarella Austin et Kannicht: τοὺς Nauck: trad. (et in Papyri Oxyrhynchus) def. Casadio et servant Collard Cropp et Lee | δαῖτας Hartung prob. Wagner Wilamowitz Austin Casadio Collard Cropp et Lee et Kannicht: δαίτας cod.: unde δαΐτας Bergk (coll. Hesych. s. ὠμοφάγους δαίτας· τοὺς τὰ ὠμὰ κρέα μερίζοντας καὶ ἐσθίοντας, eod. δ 110 δαίτας· μειστάς, eod. δ 144 δαιτροί· μερισταί) prob. Cantarella || 13 Μητρί Cantarella: μητρί ed. | ὀρείαι δᾶιδας Scaliger ed. Valent. prob. Hartung Wagner Arnim Cantarella Austin Collard Cropp et Lee et Kannicht: ὀρείωι δᾶιδας Nauck: ὀριοδᾶδας libri || 14 μετὰ Κουρήτων Wilamowitz prob. Arnim Austin Collard, Cropp et Lee: καὶ Κουρήτων cod. Papyri Oxyrhynchus: καὶ Κουρήτων ἐνόπλοισι χοροῖς West, Orphic Poems, Oxford 1983, 153 adn. 141 || 17 post βροτῶν add. ψυχῆς τε λύσιν Wilamowitz, Berliner Klassikertexte V 2, 1907, 77 adn. 1: at de lac. postea dubitavit ipse, Glaube der Hellenen II 183 adn.2: lac. denuo stat. Austin qui e. g. γένεσιν τ’ ἀεὶ θάνατον τε βροτῶν tempt. | νεκροθήκας Wecklein Arnim prob. Collard Cropp et Lee: νεκροθήκαις Wilamowitz prob. Austin: νεκροθήκης cod., serv. Hartung Wagner Nauck Cantarella || 18 τοῖσιν μυσαροῖς post νεκροθήκας ex. gr. Diggle | τ’ del. Wilamowitz prob. Cantarella Austin
Son of Phoenician-born Europa
and of great Zeus—you who rule
Crete and its hundred cities!
I have come here from the most holy temple
whose roof is provided from native cypress-wood
cut into beams with Chalybean axe
and bonded in exact joints with ox-glue.
Pure is the life I have led since
I became an initiate of Idaean Zeus,
celebrated the thunderbolts of night-ranging Zagreus
and performed his feasts of raw flesh;
and raising torches high to the Mother of the mountain,
among the Curetes,
I was consecrated and named a Bakchos.
In clothing all of white I shun
the birth of men, and the places of their dead
I do not go near; against the eating of animal foods
I have guarded myself. [28]

The first part (1–8): The temple and metapoetry

The first three verses address Minos. The arriving chorus, obviously summoned to come and give advice in the situation of a severe crisis, puts emphasis on the king’s descent from the union between Europa and the mighty Zeus. Thus, by birth Minos is oaristes, darling, of great Zeus (Odyssey 19.178–179 [Διὸς μεγάλου ὀαριστής 179]; Plato Minos 319b6). If it is right to take Pseudo-Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 3.1.3–4) as the background, we know that after the death of King Asterios, who remained childless, Minos, Zeus’ son, wants to impress his brothers, since they are his rivals, with a divine portent that would prove his legitimacy as king through the Olympian support. During sacrifice he prayed to Poseidon, his uncle, to make something appear from the sea—obviously a hint at Crete’s maritime empire—and promised to sacrifice whatever it was to the god in return. Poseidon fulfilled the wish and let a white and magnificent bull arrive, resulting in Minos becoming king. However, Minos refused to kill the splendid animal and kept it in his herd for himself, but he offered another, less precious bull. But this meant hybris, a breach of reciprocity. Therefore, a chain of revenge was set in motion. Poseidon maddened the bull and made Minos’ wife Pasiphae fall in love with it. With the help of Daedalus’ wooden construction of a cow, in which the woman could hide, the frantic bull mounted the coy cow. Pasiphae inside became pregnant and gave birth to Minotaur, a hybrid monster called Asterios, the Starry one, just like the former ruler, son of Tektamos, with the same name. Old Asterios became husband of Europa and adopted Minos, whom Europa had begotten with Zeus. In prehellenic times Ζεὺς Ἀστέριος seems to have been a skygod, who manifested himself in form of a bull and whose attributes went to Zeus himself. At the same time asterios occurs frequently on Bacchic-Orphic gold leaves and epistomia, also found in Crete, particularly in Eleutherna close to Mount Ida. The adjective starry belongs to the formula to designate the disembodied soul of a human being that has been initiated and is freed from its human ties, the Titanic sin, and has already joined the ranks of the gods and heroes. Another circumstance for using asterios is when a soul has reached the guards of the underworld. It declares then that it is “child of Earth and starry Sky.” [29] Occasionally the initiate even bears the name Asterios, the Starry (25.4 Graf/Johnston).
Obviously, in the beginning of Cretans Minos is already in power. He rules over the island of Crete, the political entity of one hundred poleis. The entering chorus then point out where they departed from (4). They left their most holy temple, the tightly built architectonic construction which is described in the most unusual manner. The building is firmly enclosed by a roof made from the special wood of native cypress. This tree is often associated with the landscape of Hades as described in the Bacchic-Orphic lamellae that were also discovered in Crete. [30] Cypresses are also mentioned in the groves near Knossos (Plato Laws 625b). The wood for the roof of the temple —a sign of its archaic date— was cut with a special axe from the Chalybeans, an ancient people of Pontus, celebrated for working in steel and iron. Then the beams were combined and merged to one tight and solid structure with a gluing substance, which binds them together in exact joints. The glue stems from the bull (ταυροδέτωι κόλληι, 7), from its blood, saliva, and connective tissue boiled and coagulated. It functions as a preservative encapsulating the surface with a dense film. It is well known that the activity of the carpenter often alludes to the creative process of poetry in a self-referential manner. [31] Therefore, in describing the construction of their holy building as a combination of single joints (ἁρμοὺς, 8) that form a harmonious whole, the chorus fuse their temple with their poetic and musical capacity and actual performance. [32]
The choral priests declare that they usually dwell in a compact and holy building that is associated with their mystic experience. As seen, the glue of the bull ties everything together just as the tauros is the central theme of the Cretan play. Moreover, the complex description of the sophisticated construction of the temple serves as a mise en abyme for the different enclosures associated with bulls in the plot. The wooden buildings and boxes as well as the respective bulls are thematically interlaced and entangled with each other conveying the mystic, enigmatic sense of Cretan mysteries, religion, and rites. The refusal to sacrifice the bull that showed up in an epiphany from the sea causes mania induced by Poseidon. Pasiphae, “the one who makes everything come to light,” falls prey to her ecstatic lust to make love with the erotically charged animal. The sexual union takes place again in a miniature wooden temple manufactured by Daedalus, the emblematic personification of daidallein, “to produce a sophisticated artifact.” As seen, Daedalus’ like the chorus’ carpenter work is a mirror image of the creative process of the poet. [33] In the shield-scene in the Iliad (18.590–594) Daedalus is mentioned as fashioner of the choros, the dancing floor of Ariadne in Knossos, where she weaved her dances and transmitted her art to Theseus. Hephaestus’ artful production of the shield envisioned in its making is metapoetically reflected in the act of creating this marvelous song and marked by a plethora of δαιδαλ-terms. [34] Daedalus’ coy cow as fabricated device of an untruthful mimesis between techne and physis equals the speech-acts of a lying poetics on the side of the chorus. In addition, the temple, where other paradoxical performances in mimesis will have taken place, here merges with a contrivance to facilitate a hybrid copulation between bull and queen. Finally, the fruit of the fantastic sexual intercourse is a hybrid being, a mimetic and poetic construct of myth between fact and fiction.

The bull and the myth

Dionysus often appears in the form of a bull. I need only point out the famous hymnos kletikos of the Elian women calling the hero Dionysus ἄξιε ταῦρε (PMG 871), [35] cited by Plutarch Moralia 299a–b, and the formula on the gold tablets: “Bull you jumped into the milk …” (ταῦρος εἰς γάλα ἔθορες, Pelinna 26a and b.3 Graf and Johnston). Zeus did the same when he, in the shape of a beautiful bull, abducted Europa to Crete, where he changed back to his godlike nature and begot Minos with her. The fruit of the union—a holy and unholy gamos—between the bull and Pasiphae, is a perverted form of a tauros, a monstrous and hybrid bull that bears the negative features of Minos who committed the initial hybris. Minotaur is a threat to civilization as he is about to tear apart and devour the raw flesh of human beings alive. He is an alter ego of Minos as tyrant and of Zagreus/Dionysus/Zeus in their dangerous aspects. The Cretan bull, on the other hand, a sacred, beautiful, and scandalous creature between god and animal, substituted the king as sexual partner. It should have been offered, but Minos, having himself desire for it, replaced it with another, less splendid sample. As a result of the pursuing crisis of sacrifice, the king comes close to being sacrificed himself.
After many years Heracles brought the Cretan bull to the Peloponnese where it devastated the land. Minos’ son Androgeos went to Attica where he won a prize at the Panathenaia. This made the Athenian king Aegeus feel envy. Therefore, he sent Androgeos out to kill the Cretan bull. In the dangerous fight the young man lost his life. The son had to die for the father. In bitter revenge, father Minos ordered the Athenians to send seven boys and seven girls to Knossos every nine years to be offered to Minotaur. After some time, Theseus will free his age group from the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos. Minos’ end comes in consequence of Daedalus’ flight from the labyrinth. The king imprisoned the clever artisan into his underworld dungeon as well, since he had revealed to Ariadne a way how to escape from it. Minos pursued him as far as Sicily where king Cocalus’ daughters and Daedalus tricked him out with an act of hospitality by offering him a bath before the common meal. As a result, they brutally scalded him to death with boiling water in the tub. To sum up, Minos’ horrible end equals a sacrifice, somewhat comparable to the death of Zagreus/Dionysus, which Minos had to face from the very beginning. Minos’ house and rule are destroyed. The myth fits into Seaford’s pattern of the Dionysian destruction of the tyrant’s household. [36] Yet the mythic paradox still goes on. The brutal tyrant became a judge of the dead in the Underworld, together with his brothers Rhadamanthys and Aiakos. Minos had after all the decisive vote over the souls (Plato Gorgias 523a–526d).

Raw-eating: dangerous rites and transgressive cannibalism

As a matter of fact, Poseidon sent the tauros against Hippolytus, another figure furnished with Orphic features (Euripides Hippolytus 952–957). [37] The bull, as a symbol of power, must obviously be associated with Poseidon. But Minos mainly invoked Poseidon because the divine sign of power should appear from the sea. However, as seen, the bull is primarily linked with Zeus and Zagreus/Dionysus in the Cretan ritual complex. The chorus of Cretans consists of manteis and prophetai, wise men who know how to read the signs (semantores). Minos summoned them as eccentric experts associated with the Orphic mysteries to solve the critical situation, help understand how it originated, and give advice. They seem to have counseled the king to have the labyrinth built by Daedalus to incarcerate Minotaur. With their mediation Pasiphae recognizes the true causation of the crisis; in fine Euripidean rhetoric she argues that it is not her erotic perversion, but Minos’ fault due to his failure to sacrifice the bull (fr. 472e). Minos is thus finally responsible for the birth of Minotaur. In her logic the madness is a god’s onslaught prompting her perverse erotic instinct. The “disease” of love is therefore caused by the daimon of Minos (fr. 472e.21). On the other side, the refusal to offer the bull functions as the mythic aetiology of the Orphic prohibition to slaughter animals. Pasiphae tried to hide the god-driven stroke, but Minos made it public (fr. 472e.30–32). Sarcastically she accuses him, as he thinks about revenge, of a lust for murder and cannibalistic love for her raw-flesh (ὠμοσίτου τῆς ἐμῆς ἐρᾶις φαγεῖν / σαρκός) (fr. 472e.38–39).
This rhetorical attack in full rage and self-defense highlights Minos’ less noble or less holy side, and especially his tyrannical character. Obviously, both positive and negative features coalesce once again into Minos’ personality in a paradoxical manner. As Zeus’ son and as a sacred king, he cooperates with the holy men who themselves show problematic traits. Pasiphae’s harsh accusation clearly harks back to the striking self-characterization by the chorus. The collective of priests stresses in the typical I-form that “it has been initiated in celebrating raw-eating meals” (ὠμοφάγους δαῖτας τελέσας, fr. 472.11). Yet in striking contrast to this statement, they claim to live in total asceticism, abstaining from animal food (18–19). The apparent discrepancy seems to be solved by a temporal order of an initiation in the past leading to the group’s purity now. [38] In the mythic-ritual logic of Dionysus purity is marked by an excess of the civilized norm. Minos’ closeness to the holy men can easily shift towards their uncivilized side. People full of vengefulness like Achilles or Hecuba are associated with omophagic desires targeting their enemies. [39] Pasiphae reveals her husband’s brutal, cannibalistic, and tyrannical aspects, which bear ritual undertones. As a matter of fact, Minos plans a severe punishment for his wife, who committed an outrageous deed in terms of sexual conduct. But, at the same time, she can claim that she is not responsible for her doing. Moreover, her sexual union with the most beautiful white tauros has, again, ritual connotations of a hieros gamos with the bull-god. Since Minos does not realize this aspect and responds in a totally self-centered manner, he plans to imprison her in the labyrinth. In so doing, he acts in a similar way to Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone in 442 BCE, i.e. a few years before the performance of the Cretans, which were probably performed around 431 BCE. As is well known, Creon confined Antigone for ritually burying her brother Polyneices in a subterranean cave. The chorus’ appeal to the ruler’s moderation is to no avail. We have no surviving fragments testifying how Pasiphae’s story continued. From other sources we can subsume that Daedalus, the clever artist and architect, perhaps liberated her. For helping her, the tyrant has apparently arrested Daedalus as well, and it was Pasiphae who freed him. Be that as it may, we have an ongoing alternation between desis and lysis, between enclosure in compact constructions and wild roaming in freedom. This is what happened to the Cretan bull, and it is also the idea of the parodos where the chorus declares that it has left its neatly tied temple.

The second part (9–19): The pure life

Let us now come back to the rest of the fragment. After emphasizing the original sacred space from where they departed (1–8), the Cretan priests and extraordinary telestic specialists describe their pure life as initiates since the very day they had become mystai. [40] The initiation apparently comprised bloody rituals of eating flesh raw (12). In the typical manner of choral songs, the chorus oscillates between first singular and plural forms. Here the I-form is especially striking, as it marks the absorption of the individual into the collective group. The sacred can be defined by a specific delimited time and space that is assigned to divine powers. The group’s pure life is denominated with the adjective hagnos (ἁγνὸν δὲ βίον τείνομεν, 9) implying the inviolate boundary of a “field of forces” or “a protective cloak which no indignity can penetrate,” thus an inner psychic attitude against “sexuality, blood, and death.” [41] Agos, the defiled, is the opposite of hagnon. Agos, “the negative taboo,” [42] equals a life of slaughter, sacrifice, and animal food. The mystai, on the contrary, lead a life totally dedicated to the Cretan mystery gods, to Zeus, Minos’ father, the god from Mount Ida, to Zagreus, who is in many respects identical with Dionysus, and to Mountain Mother (10–13). This triad is also well documented in Lesbos, where it is made up by Hera, Zeus, and Dionysus. [43]
The sentence of line 9 continues: the life of the mystic specialists is pure, since they have performed the initiatory rites of thunder and lightning as well as of feasts where raw meat was handled. This is in the domain of Zagreus, [44] the complementary god to Dionysus. According to the Orphic mythic scenario, which can already be found in the Bacchic-Orphic lamellae, Bacchus was torn apart by the Titans. [45] The gold tablets testify a close vicinity between Dionysian and Orphic mysteries already in the fifth-century BCE. Despite the implicit mention here, the myth of Zagreus is explicitly documented only later by Callimachus (fr. 643 Pfeiffer) and Euphorion (fr. 13 De Cuenca). In the narrative Zagreus functions as the emblem of the human being exposed to suffering but freed by Persephone in the Bacchic mystery rites through lysis. Euripides’ Bacchae is a play entirely based on these initiations. [46] In a hunting context, Dionysus is called ἄναξ ἀγρεύς, an allusion to Zagreus (Bacchae 1192). The rites take place in a pannychis; that is why in the fragment of the Cretans Zagreus is a “night-wanderer” (νυκτιπόλου, 11) and the initiands carry torches (δᾶιδας ἀνασχὼν, 13). The omophagic feasts (ὠμοφάγους δαῖτας, 12) clearly point to Dionysus. [47] Βροντὰς (11), slightly emended from βροτὰς as preserved in the manuscript, should be adopted in the text, instead of Diels’ conjecture βούτας or the widely accepted Attic form βούτης introduced by Wilamowitz. Diels’ and Wilamowitz’ readings would imply that the chorus became mystes and then boutes, cow-servitor of Zagreus, another step in the initiation. [48] But a mystery group under this name is not attested. The conjecture seems to be a reprojection of the category of boukoloi in imperial times. [49] On the other hand, βροντὰς stands parallel to ὠμοφάγους δαῖτας dependent from τελέσας (12). It is an inner accusative which indicates the content of the rites that the chorus has performed. Celebrating thunderbolts (βροντὰς) with lightning [50] reenacts the birth of the god. It causes the terrible noise and light, which the chorus as initiates, full of terror, must endure. On a bone tablet from the fifth-century BCE found in Olbia we have a zig-zag sign (OF 463 Bernabé) of lightning and read Διό(νυσος) Ὀρφικοί at the bottom. [51] The pannychis was celebrated in an oreibasia, a festival on the mountains, where Mountain Mother participated (Μητρί τ’ ὀρείαι, 13).
In the circles of Orphic specialists, the Cretan Zeus was fused with Dionysus/Zagreus and Mater. The initiation took place on Mount Ida (cf. 10). The Couretes, the companions of Mountain Mother, are the masculine counterparts of the maenads. [52] Often Kybele, the Phrygian Mater (connected with the Corybantes), is merged with the Cretan Mother, who is associated with Dionysus through orgiastic ceremonies of dance and ecstatic music. [53] Having celebrated with the Couretes, the chorus envisions the mythic Kouroi, the ephebes of the polis and notorious dancers. After being initiated in the rites, the chorus attained a holy status and assumed the name bakchos (15). The names μύστης and βάκχος denote the initiates in these Orphic-Dionysian mysteries, as we know from Heraclitus DK 22 B 14 and the lamellae from Hipponion in southern Italy. [54]
Although an explicit reference to the god Dionysus is missing, it is my contention that the Dionysian context is underscored through the marker of the special name bakchos. A formula known to Plato highlights the unmarked worshippers of Dionysus in contrast to the special Orphic group of bakchoi, the mystics: πολλοί μὲν ναρθηκοφόροι, παῦροι δέ τε βάκχοι (“many are the thyrsus-bearers, but few are the bakchoi”). [55] As I have shown elsewhere, bakchos always gains a special effect in theater, as Dionysus is the god of theater. [56] This is what I mean with Dionysian anchoring. The actual performance of the chorus members in the here and now of the orchestra in Athens fuses with their dramatic role in the then and there, on Mount Ida in Crete. By being initiated, the Cretans, the Orphic priests and choral members, become the god himself. In the same way the Orphic gold tablet from Thurioi (3.4 Graf and Johnston) has the formula “You have become a god instead of a mortal” (θεὸς ἐγένου ἐξ ἀνθρώπου), and each chorus dancing and singing for the god merges with its god.
The remaining lines of the fragment (16–19) speak about the results, that is the initiates’ life as well as their ascetic and vegetarian customs. The white dress (16) underlines the chorus’ pure status. At the end the choristers announce what is forbidden for them: they shun the everyday life perspective, especially birth and sexual contact. In addition, they do not come in touch with or approach places where the mortals deposit their dead, that is cemeteries (17–18). Finally, they have guarded themselves against eating food of being endowed with life and souls (19).
This scenario clearly designates the eccentric practices of Orphic specialists, whose customs stand in contrast to the everyday life, the usual contact with life and death, and to the normative animal sacrifice and nutrition habits. Whereas during the initiation the initiate touches, handles, and even consumes raw meat, the Orphic specialist must refrain from it when he has become a mystes. The vegetarian asceticism of the chorus is also opposed to the sexual transgression of Pasiphae. In consequence of the union with the bull, she gives birth to Minotaur. But while the bull is sacred to Zeus and Dionysus-Zagreus, an untouchable animal, Pasiphae commits the worst thing possible on the mythic level. Moreover, the transgression of longing for having intercourse with the animal is caused by Minos’ hybris, his breach of promise, and Poseidon’s revenge taking the sexually charged woman as his instrument. At the same time, achieving a sexual union with the holy animal is a “distinction,” which symbolically refers to Pasiphae’s initiation. By receiving the bull, the symbol of Dionysus-Zagreus, inside herself, she becomes part of the god. Minos, the son of Zeus, opposes the bull and his wife’s sexual contact with the animal that can only be accomplished via the apparatus guaranteeing her enclosure. Therefore, he punishes the engineer and especially Pasiphae with imprisonment and putting her on the death row. The labyrinth turns out to be a νεκροθήκη (cf. 17). The result of the transgressive sexual union is Mino-taur, who is partially identical with both Minos and the God. As Asterios he is Starry, a name for the initiate as it often occurs on the lamellae. [57] The monster’s madness devastates the country, just like Minos’ harsh punishment of the “initiated” Pasiphae entails the dissolution of the palace and power. At the same time her name means “the woman who shows the mystic content to everybody.” The taboo of getting in touch with birth and death is also stressed by the strong verb φεύγω “to flee, take flight,” and the middle voice of the verb χρίμπτω (= “to draw near,” “approach,” “get in direct touch”) in negative (οὐ χριμπτόμενος), since one must stay away from and avoid any physical contact with the places where mortals bury their dead.

The dancing chorus and parallels

The chorus consists of prophetai or manteis, wise and initiated men, who should give advice to the king in danger. They are called to help, to analyze the background, mediate, reflect, and comment on the situation. But as bakchoi they are also Bacchic. It has not occurred to the commentators and critics that this Dionysian and Orphic chorus will also have a performative and metatheatrical aspect, as the chorus usually has in tragedy. [58] Euripides was a master in exploiting this effect; I only point to Helen or Bacchae, his most metatheatrical tragedies. [59] Therefore, we should not forget that the chorus of our Cretan mantic specialists also sing and dance, accompanied by loud music, during the play and, like any tragic chorus, can trigger reflections on the theatrical process as such. [60] It is my contention that the mythic-ritual scenario of Cretans and its chorus mirror the mechanism of tragedy and its Dionysian kernel. The Cretans are not pure monks or static, strict puritan priests, but orgiones and paieones, inspired performers and ecstatic dancers. At least in the previous phase of initiation on Cretan Mount Ida they celebrated primordial feasts and rites together with the Couretes and Corybantes, notorious for their dance. Together with the Couretes they become new Kouretes, just like Epimenides, wild dancers for Mater, Zeus, and Dionysus. They reenact the mythic Couretes who drown out the cries of little baby Zeus, the megistos Kouros, with choral means.
We recall the noisy and dancing Couretes whom the Lydian female worshippers of Dionysus ecstatically enact in the parodos in Bacchae (especially in lines 120–134):

120    ὦ θαλάμευμα Κουρή-
          των ζάθεοί τε Κρήτας
          Διογενέτορες ἔναυλοι,
          ἔνθα τρικόρυθες ἄντροις
          βυρσότονον κύκλωμα τόδε
125    μοι Κορύβαντες ηὗρον·
          βακχείαι δ’ ἅμα συντόνωι
          κέρασαν ἡδυβόαι Φρυγίων
          αὐλῶν πνεύματι ματρός τε έας ἐς
          χέρα θῆκαν, κτύπον εὐάσμασι βακχᾶν·
130    παρὰ δὲ μαινόμενοι Σάτυροι
          ματέρος ἐξανύσαντο θεᾶς,
          ἐς δὲ χορεύματα
          συνῆψαν τριετηρίδων,
          αἷς χαίρει Διόνυσος.

O secret chamber of the Curetes,
O holy haunts of Crete
where Zeus was born!
There in the cave the thrice-helmed
Corybantes invented for me
this drum of tightened hide;
and in their intense ecstatic dance
they mingled it with the sweet-hallooing breath
of Phrygian pipes and put it into the hands of Mother Rhea,
to mark the measure for the bacchants’ ecstatic dance.
And the maddened satyrs obtained it
from the Goddess Mother
and added it to the dances
of the second-year festivals
in which Dionysus delights.

Euripides Bacchae 120–134 [61]

The caves are most holy (zatheoi, Bacchae 121) just like the roofed temple of the Cretans (cf. ζαθέους ναοὺς, fr. 472.4). The closed chamber corresponds to the building where the chorus lead their pure life in the thiasos. The bull-sound of the drums, the so-called bull-roarer, mimics thunderbolts and thus the pangs of birth of the child, a major theme in Bacchae, especially in the parodos. Aeschylus’ Edonians fr. 57, similar in theme to Bacchae, also draws on the oscillation between man and bull. The scene is extremely performative. [62] Shortly before the citation above we encounter the makarismos in the same parodos of Bacchae:

          ὦ μάκαρ, ὅστις εὐδαί-
          μων τελετὰς θεῶν εἰ-
          δὼς βιοτὰν ἁγιστεύει
75      καὶ θιασεύεται ψυ-
          χὰν ἐν ὄρεσσι βακχεύ-
          ων ὁσίοις καθαρμοῖσιν,
          τά τε ματρὸς μεγάλας ὄρ-
          για Κυβέλας θεμιτεύων
80      ἀνὰ θύρσον τε τινάσσων
          κισσῶι τε στεφανωθεὶς
          Διόνυσον θεραπεύει.

O blessed the man who,
happy in knowing the gods’ rites,
makes his life pure
and joins his soul to the worshipful band,
performing bacchic rites upon the mountains,
with cleansings the gods approve:
he performs the sacred mysteries
of Mother Cybele of the mountains,
and shaking the bacchic wand up and down,
his head crowned with ivy,
he serves Dionysus.

Euripides Bacchae 72–82

The passage speaks about a similar life in purity and initiation, but in this case the chorus is clearly envisioned as dancing. Moreover, Mater is also present on the scene of Mount Ida fused with Mount Tmolus in Lydia, as we see in the following passage:

          ἴτε βάκχαι, ἴτε βάκχαι,
          Βρόμιον παῖδα θεὸν θεοῦ
85      Διόνυσον κατάγουσαι
          Φρυγίων ἐξ ὀρέων Ἑλλάδος εἰς εὐ-
          ρυχόρους ἀγυιάς, τὸν Βρόμιον·
          ὅν ποτ’ ἔχουσ’ ἐν ὠδί-
          νων λοχίαις ἀνάγκαι-
90      σι πταμένας Διὸς βροντᾶς
          νηδύος ἔκβολον μά-
          τηρ ἔτεκεν, λιποῦσ’ αἰ-
          ῶνα κεραυνίωι πλαγᾶι·
          λοχίαις δ’ αὐτίκα νιν δέ-
95      ξατο θαλάμαις Κρονίδας Ζεύς,
          κατὰ μηρῶι δὲ καλύψας
          χρυσέαισιν συνερείδει
          περόναις κρυπτὸν ἀφ’ Ἥρας.
          ἔτεκεν δ’, ἁνίκα Μοῖραι
100   τέλεσαν, ταυρόκερων θεὸν
          στεφάνωσέν τε δρακόντων
          στεφάνοις, ἔνθεν ἄγραν θηρότροφον μαι-
          νάδες ἀμφιβάλλονται πλοκάμοις.

On bacchants, on you bacchants!
Bring the roaring
son of a god, Dionysus,
from Phrygia’s mountains to Hellas’ streets,
broad for dancing! Bring Bromios!
His mother long ago
in forced pangs of labor,
after Zeus’s thunderbolt had sped,
gave birth to him untimely
as she left her life behind
under the lightning’s stroke.
Straightway Kronos’ son Zeus
received him in birth’s secret recesses
and concealed him in his thigh,
closing it up with golden pins
to keep him hid from Hera.
Then, when the Fates brought him to term,
he gave birth to the god with the horns of a bull
and crowned him with garlands of serpents:
that is why maenads catch beast-eating snakes
and drape their tresses with them.

Euripides Bacchae 83–104 [63]

The birth is in fact expressed with thunder (βροντᾶς, Bacchae 90), and shortly later the god is called ταυρόκερων θεὸν (Bacchae 100). Furthermore, they conjure up Dionysus himself on the mountains in raw-eaten delight (ὠμοφάγον χάριν, Bacchae 139). Once the scene of Mount Ida with Mater is mentioned, we associate dance with it.

Another passage of musical and choreutic performance in the realm of Mother of the Mountain on Mount Ida comes to mind: the second stasimon of Euripides’ Helen (1301–1368), with its ecstatic ending:

          †ὧν οὐ θέμις οὔθ’ ὅσια
          ἐπύρωσας ἐν θαλάμοις,†
1355  μῆνιν δ’ ἔχεις μεγάλας
          Ματρός, ὦ παῖ, θυσίας
          οὐ σεβίζουσα θεᾶς.
          μέγα τοι δύναται νεβρῶν
          παμποίκιλοι στολίδες
1360  κισσοῦ τε στεφθεῖσα χλόα
          νάρθηκας εἰς ἱεροὺς
          όμβου θ’ εἱλισσομένα
          κύκλιος ἔνοσις αἰθερία
          βακχεύουσά τ’ ἔθειρα Βρομί-
1365  ωι καὶ παννυχίδες θεᾶς.
          †εὖ δέ νιν ἄμασιν
          ὑπέρβαλε σελάνα
          μορφᾶ μόνον ηὔχεις.†

What is not right or holy
you sacrificed/enjoyed in your chamber.
And you will incur the wrath
of the Great Mother, my child,
by not honoring the goddess’ sacrifices.
Great is the power
of the dappled fawnskin robes,
and the greenery of ivy
wound about the holy reed,
the circular curling shake
of the bull-roarer in the air,
the long hair leaping
in Bacchic joy for Bromios,
and the goddess’ all-night festivals;
the moon surpassed her well by day,
you gloried in your beauty alone.

Euripides Helen 1353–1368 [64]

The mysteries of Demeter Chthonia and the Mountain Mother, without Zeus, but perhaps with Dionysus, also occur in association on a new gold leaf from Pherae (end of the fourth and beginning of the third century BCE).

Πέμπε με πρὸς μυστῶ⟨ν⟩ θιάσους· ἔχω ὄργια [Βάκχου]
Δήμητρος Χθονίας τε ⟨τέ⟩λη καὶ Μητρὸς Ὀρεί[ας].

Send me to the thiasoi of the initiates; I possess the orgiastic rituals of [Bakchos]
and the sacred rites of Demeter Chthonia and of the Mountain Mother.

OF 493a Bernabé = 28 Graf and Johnston [65]

Thiasoi of initiates notoriously like to dance. I only recall the parodos of Aristophanes’ Frogs (312–459), [66] a play where the comic poet shows a special interest in Cretan themes, monodies, and matters. [67] Crete was notorious for its dancing (Pindar fr. 107b; Sophocles Ajax 699). Therefore, it would be surprising if the chorus of Cretans were not dancing at all.

Movement and dance, but in this case in association with initiation into the civic body and with political implications, come to the fore at the end of the famous Hymn to Zeus of Mount Dikta or Palaikastro followed by the very last refrain (lines 32–35): [68]

Θόρε κἐς] πόληας ἁμῶν
θόρε κἐς ποντοπόρος νᾶας,
θόρε κἐς ν̣[έος πολ]είτας,
θόρε κἐς Θέμιν κλ[ηνάν.

[Leap up also] for our cities,
Leap up also for our seafaring ships;
Leap up also for the y[oung ci]tizens,
Leap up also for themis. [69]

The Megistos Kouros, young Zeus, leading the Couretes in choral dance, is responsible—besides fertility—for Justice and Peace (23–25), and is summoned to jump and leap up into Crete’s cities, into the ships, the new and young citizens to be initiated, and finally into themis, that which is laid down or established, that is divine and customary law in an annual festival. States of affairs merge into the divine personifications of them. In addition, our chorus of the Cretans dance with the Couretes, who are their model. In a similar way, the priests act in the political framework to help Minos, they highlight the hundred cities of Crete, and of course, they act to grant well-being, peace, and themis. In their dancing the Couretes as well as our Cretan chorus in fr. 472 will stand for the Megistos Kouros, Zeus, Zagreus/Dionysus. In the hymn of Palaikastro, mystery and puberty initiation go hand in hand. Through an initiation the choral specialists became pure and divinatory experts, whereas the young ephebes were received into the polis as men.

Moreover, the link between this leaping and the bull—an animal preferably leaping—is provided by another phrase appearing on Dionysian-Orphic gold leaves in the formula: ταῦρος εἰς γάλα ἔθορες, / αἶψα εἰς γάλα ἔθορες, / κριὸς εἰς γάλα ἔπεσες (“Bull, you jumped into milk / Quickly you jumped into milk, / Ram, you fell into milk”). [70] The god is the bull, and the initiate is equated with the god. Perhaps due to the milk that is to be found in the cultic context, the bull has the attractive white color. The ram, the male sheep (krios) or goat (tragos), is another typically Dionysian animal, like the bull, and closely associated with the origins of tragedy in a sacrificial context. [71]
Choreia and ritual, just like animal sacrifice, play a big role not only in the political life of Crete, but also in Attic drama. With the Dionysian anchoring the Cretan group become both eccentric specialists and initiates into theater qua choreutai and bakchoi. Minos takes the divine bull for personal purposes and does not sacrifice it for the benefit of Knossos and Crete. Via the descendance from Zeus, Minos is part of the bull but does not use its energy for the polis and its themis. Therefore, the bull will roam madly just like the dancing chorus that makes Minos understand the nature of Minotaur-Asterios, who encompasses the binary opposition of monster and Starry Zeus. Through his refusal to offer the bull, Minos makes Pasiphae play her role as representative of Mater in a mythic mystery scenario of a hieros gamos in which she becomes the mother of another bull, the Minotaur, the hybrid monster. As far as the cultic, purely positive side is concerned, an epigram from Phaistos, a city south of the Idaean Cave (second century CE, to be found in the temple of Mater) can be associated with the Cretan epistomia and our fragment of the Cretans. [72]

          θαῦμα μέγ᾽ ἀνθρώποις | πάντων Μάτηρ προδίκνυτι: |
          τοῖς ὁσίοις κίνχρητι καὶ οἳ γον|εὰν ὑπέχονται,
5        τοῖς δὲ π|αρεσβαίνονσι θιῶν γέν|ος ἀντία πράτει.
          πάντε|ς δ᾽ εὐσεβίες τε καὶ εὔγλωθ|{ι}οι πάριθ᾽ ἁγνοὶ
10      ἔνθεον ἐς | Μεγάλας Ματρὸς ναόν, | ἔνθεα δ᾽ ἔργα
          γνώσηθ̣᾽ ἀ|θανάτας ἄξια τῶδε ν|αῶ.

A great marvel for humans | the Mother of all performs by example (in advance):
for the hosioi she divines and (for those) | who maintain (stay within) their race;
but for the transgressors of the race of gods | she does the opposite.
Every pious and eloquent (or sweet to the ear) | come pure
to the holy temple of the Great Mother, | and the divine works
you will learn | of the immortal (Mother), worthy of this very temple. [73]

The great wonder is performed as a divinatory and mystery practice. The recipients are holy men, hosioi, just like our choral members in the parodos of the Cretans, as they remain pure. The same applies for their divine doings and the pious objects in their sacred district. The goddess is benevolent to those who stay within human norms, but she will punish those who transgress the limits of the gods. Minos and perhaps Pasiphae fall under this category. He breached his promise to sacrifice the bull. In consequence, instead of taking care of the ephebes and the city, through his doing Pasiphae’s bull-son Minotaur is threatening the life of all the citizens and he will devour the young ephebes, a reflection of their ritual death in puberty initiation. The myth of the Athenian tribute of seven young boys and girls is another elaboration of this theme.


In conclusion, the chorus as a local group of initiates functions as the ideal mediator between ecstasy and purity, wise divination and choreia, crime and holiness, eccentric outsider and advisor, religion and politics, Crete and Athens, transgression and themis. From the very beginning the chorus introduces itself in all its facets to assume this important role. Due to the lack of further fragments, we can never be certain whether the chorus would not transgress during the play the limits of a pure and wise attitude towards the unpredictable and problematic demeanor of the gods, to whom the group of highly ambiguous features is so close. The holy Lydian chorus of pure Bacchants can serve as a warning example, as, in the course of Bacchae, they turn into mean women that incite the Theban maenads on Mount Cithaeron to extreme violence against the god’s enemy. Euripides as poeta doctus amalgamates and condenses manifold strands of the mythic-ritual Cretan complex to compose a play that is neither anti-religious, rational, sophistic nor Orphic propaganda. Rather, it does what tragedy usually aims at: it explores and problematizes religion and the workings of the gods. [74] By doing so Euripides provides the audience with a mental space to reflect upon politics, tyranny, and lawful behavior in the higher ramifications of the cosmos and the gods. At the same time, the tragedian finds an opportunity to metatheatrical play as well as to heightening the dramatic effect and emotional impact by integrating the Dionysian into the Cretan drama. Zagreus, in both his cruel sufferings and his mystery dimension full of Bacchic-Orphic flavor, is a mirror of the Athenian Dionysus, the god of theater. Cretans thus reflect the origin and essence of tragedy, the tragic paradox.


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[ back ] 1. Harrison 1922:478, in general 478–571.
[ back ] 2. Latte 1913:53; Cantarella 1963:66 (with rich literature); Austin 1968:51 (fr. 79 ap. crit.) (“Poeta varios cultus in unum contraxit, et errant qui hoc fragmentum ad Orphicorum doctrinam spectare credunt.”); Allan 2004:132–133; pace Casadio1990:283, 296; Cozzoli 2001:18.
[ back ] 3. Bernabé 2016:191–202; Casadio 1990; Cozzoli 2001:18–26.
[ back ] 4. E.g. Wilamowitz-Mollendorff I 1955:111; II:184. On other representatives of this opinion and the arguments against it, see Cozzoli 2011:26–31.
[ back ] 5. Bierl 1991:177 with n. 2.
[ back ] 6. Cozzoli 2001:29 
[ back ] 7. Bierl 2020:61, 64, 74, 80.
[ back ] 8. On the omophagion in the cult contract of Miletus as the handling of pieces of meat in cult, see Henrichs 1969:235–236. See also Henrichs 1978:150–152.
[ back ] 9. Versnel 1990; 1993. See the introduction into the problem by Versnel 1990:1–35.
[ back ] 10. Oudemans and Lardinois 1987.
[ back ] 11. Tralau 2017.
[ back ] 12. Detienne 1979.
[ back ] 13. Fornari 1997. See Girard 1978; 1986.
[ back ] 14. See Bierl 2007:33–37.
[ back ] 15. Bierl 2012; 2018.
[ back ] 16. Zeitlin 1986; 1993.
[ back ] 17. Rangos 2007; Bierl 2011; 2014.
[ back ] 18. Tzifopoulos 2010:151–189.
[ back ] 19. On Abstinence 4.19: ὃς (Euripides) τοὺς ἐν Κρήτηι τοῦ Διὸς προφήτας ἀπέχεσθαι φησὶ διὰ τούτων (λέγουσι δ᾽ οἱ κατὰ τὸν χορὸν πρὸς τὸν Μίνω).
[ back ] 20. Tzifopoulos 2010:167 with n. 56 with regard to the Suda, on Epimenides, and Detienne 1996.
[ back ] 21. Tzifopoulos 2010:177–178.
[ back ] 22. “Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψεῦσται”· καὶ γὰρ τάφον, ὦ ἄνα, σεῖο / Κρῆτες ἐτεκτήναντο· σὺ δ᾽ οὐ θάνες, ἐσσὶ γὰρ αἰεί.
[ back ] 23. Bierl 2012; 2018.
[ back ] 24. Bierl 1991:137–226.
[ back ] 25. See Sourvinou-Inwood 2003.
[ back ] 26. Nietzsche 1872:72.11–20.
[ back ] 27. Apparatus after Bernabé 2004: 259–260; 2005:130–134; 2016:191–192; Collard, Cropp, and Lee 1995:58–61; Jouan and Van Looy 2000:323–324; Cozzoli 2001:57–58; Kannicht 2004:505–507 (TrGF vol. 5, fr. 472). On the entire play, see Cantarella 1963; Collard, Cropp, and Lee 1995:53–78; Jouan and Van Looy 2000:303–332; Cozzoli 2001; Kannicht 2004:502–516; Collard and Cropp 2008:529–555. On fr. 472, see Casadio 1990; Bernabé 2016:191–202.
[ back ] 28. Translation Collard and Cropp 2008:536–539 with alterations as in Bernabé 2016:192.
[ back ] 29. 1.10, 2.6, 8.12, 10–14.3, 16.3, 18.3, 25.3 Graf and Johnston.
[ back ] 30. See the lamellae from Eleutherna, 10.2, 11.2, 12.2, 13.2, 14.2; Mylopotamos, 16.2; Rethymnon, 18.2 Graf and Johnston. See also the gold leaves from Hipponion, 1.3; Petelia, 2.2; Entella, 8.5 Graf and Johnston.
[ back ] 31. On the poet as tekton, see Pindar Pythian 3.112–114. See Nagy 1979:297–300; 1996:74–75.
[ back ] 32. On arariskein and harmo on tablets in Knossos, see Nagy 1979:298–299; 1996:74; on the link of harmos with harmonia, see Nagy 1979:298–299.
[ back ] 33. On the technical aspects of metal-working, wood-working, and weaving in association with δαιδάλλειν, see Frontisi-Ducroux 1975:52–63; on the metaphorical use of δαιδάλλειν and ποικίλλειν in association with the poem/song and choroi as metapoetic markers, see Nagy 2010:273–310; Fanfani 2017:430–434.
[ back ] 34. Iliad 18.379, 390, 400, 479, 482, 612; see Coray 2018:206 and 263 and on δαιδάλλειν (479); on the metapoetic significance of the shield, see Coray 2018:203–204; on the association of poetry with handicraft in general, see Nünlist 1998:83–125.
[ back ] 35. Furley and Bremer I 2001:369–372 and II:373–377; see also Scullion 2001.
[ back ] 36. Seaford 1994:344–362 (“Dionysos Destroys the Household”).
[ back ] 37. Bernabé 2016:184–191.
[ back ] 38. Casadio 1990:291–292; Bernabé 2016:193–195; on omophagic rites, see also P.Gurob, OF 578.2 Bernabé.
[ back ] 39. Achilles against Hector: Iliad 22.346–347; Hecuba calls Achilles omestes (Iliad 24.207); see also her omophagic desire to eat his liver (24.212–213); see also Brügger 2017:90–92.
[ back ] 40. See mystes, 9–10; on mystes, see the gold leaves 20, 21, 22 Graf and Johnston.
[ back ] 41. Burkert 1985:271.
[ back ] 42. Burkert 1985:270–271.
[ back ] 43. See Sappho fr. 17 Neri with commentary and notes by Bierl 2021a:246–248; see also Alcaeus fr. 129 as well as 130 and 130b V.
[ back ] 44. On Zagreus, see Aeschylus TrGF vol. 3, fr. 5 Radt from Aigyptioi, and fr. 228 from Sisyphus; on the thunder, see fr. 57 from Edonians.
[ back ] 45. See Johnston 2007.
[ back ] 46. See Seaford 1981.
[ back ] 47. Omophagic mystery rites linked with Dionysus as their administering priest feature in Euripides Bacchae 139.
[ back ] 48. On a three-step initiation, see Wilamowitz-Moellendorff II 1955:184.
[ back ] 49. But compare the play Boukoloi by Cratinus (PCG IV:130–133, fragments 17–22), in which the chorus, according to Crusius 1889:34–35, might have consisted of mystic worshippers of Dionysus-Sabazius in bull-form; on other possible alternatives, see PCG IV:131 ad Βουκόλοι, ii and Bianchi 2016:114–115.
[ back ] 50. See Graf and Johnston 2007:125–127; on heroes getting struck by lightning as a means to reach rebirth or immortality, see Nagy 2013:43–44 (1§47) and 517–518 (18§41 and 43).
[ back ] 51. See all three tablets from Olbia, OF 463–465 Bernabé with clear references to Dionysus.
[ back ] 52. See Harrison 1922:499.
[ back ] 53. See also Euripides Bacchae 120–134.
[ back ] 54. On 1 Graf and Johnston = OF 474 Bernabé, lines 15–16 recommend the road to the underworld, which other initiates, μύσται and βάκχοι, travel: καὶ δὴ καὶ συχνὸν ὁδὸν ἔρχεαι, ἅν τε καὶ ἄλλοι / μύσται καὶ βάκχοι ἱερὰν στείχουσι κλεινοί.
[ back ] 55. OF 576 embedded in Plato Phaedo 69c: εἰσὶν γὰρ δή, ὥς φασιν οἱ περὶ τὰς τελετάς, ναρθηκοφόροι μὲν πολλοί, βάκχοι δέ τε παῦροι.
[ back ] 56. Bierl 1991.
[ back ] 57. OF 477 Bernabé = 25 Graf and Johnston, lines 8–9 where Asterios occurs; in line 3 on the epistomia from Eleutherna in Crete (478, 479, 480, 482, 483 Bernabé = 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 Graf and Johnston) we read the phrase “I’m son of Earth and starry sky.”
[ back ] 58. See Bierl 1991.
[ back ] 59. See Bierl 1991:163–218 (on both plays) and Bierl 2013a (on the parodos of Bacchae).
[ back ] 60. See Bierl 2009:1–82 (Introduction).
[ back ] 61. Translation Kovacs 2003.
[ back ] 62. See Bierl 1991:231–232.
[ back ] 63. Translation Kovacs 2003.
[ back ] 64. Translation after Kovacs 2002.
[ back ] 65. Translation after Graf with slight alteration.
[ back ] 66. See Bierl 2013b; 2021b:41–42.
[ back ] 67. Frogs 849–850, 1043, 1329–1364, 1471–1478.
[ back ] 68. Furley and Bremer I 2001:68–76; II:1–20; Tzifopoulos 2010:35–40 (no. 16).
[ back ] 69. Text and translation after Furley and Bremer 2001.
[ back ] 70. Pelinna, late fourth century BCE, OF 485 Bernabé = 26a Graf and Johnston, lines 3–5; in OF 486 Bernabé = 26b Graf and Johnston the second line (4) is missing.
[ back ] 71. See Burkert 1966. See also the adjective βοηλάτας (“which gains a bull for the prize”) regarding the dithyramb, the Dionysian genre par excellence, in Pindar Olympian 13.19: βοηλάτας διθύραμβος.
[ back ] 72. OF 568 Bernabé; Pugliese Carratelli 2001:86–93, 87 (on the link with fr. 472, see 89–91); see Tzifopoulos 2010:41–42 (no. 17) and 205–210.
[ back ] 73. Translation after Tzifopoulos 2010.
[ back ] 74. See Sourvinou-Inwood 2003.