Orphic Hymns: Taylor vs. Athanassakis

English: Orpheus

English: Orpheus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Classicist Apostolos Athanassakis recently released a new edition of his English translations of the Orphic hymns—previously released in the 1970s and, to the best of my ability to determine, the first new translation since Thomas Taylor’s in 1792.  I’ve been going over the hymns and notes for the last month, and using the hymns in my rituals for the last two weeks.  I must admit, that I’ve been rather surprised by the results.

Firstly, the Athanassakis translation is every bit as different from the Taylor as I would have imagined: no anachronistic rhyming couplets, no 18th century euphemisms or evasions, no substitutions of Roman names for Greek.  Because Classical scholarship has come a long way in the last two hundred years, I do not hesitate to assert that the translations are more accurate for reasons other than the brutal mangling needed to turn Koine iambic hexameter into English rhyming couplets.  And, to my delight, my own translation of the Hymn to Phanes ends up looking pretty solid.

For worship of the Hellenic gods, the new translation is by far superior: epithets are better preserved, and Athanassakis pointedly maintained what he felt to be the religious feel of the texts.  Dionysus, Phanes/Eros, Hermes, and Aphrodite have all responded well in my private rites.

For in/evocation of the Planetary powers, however, and to my extreme surprise, I have found the Taylor translations to yield much better results.  This is partly because, however I may despise them aesthetically, rhyming couplets make great magic.  This may also be partly because the Taylor translations have been so thoroughly incorporated into the Hermetic tradition, and thus provide better access to that magical current.  Further, the actual textual differences between the texts(coincidentally or otherwise) align the Taylor translation more closely with the Planetary powers than with the divine mythology.

Thus, while I must strongly advocate that any Hellenic-flavored neo-Pagan invest in the Athanassakis translation, as well as anyone with a scholarly interest in the hymns, ceremonial magicians have no need to do so.

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Filed under scholarship, witchcraft

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